Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21

                                                                                      Good Friday
                                                                                       2 Cor 5:14-21

Stephen Curry is on top of the basketball world. Last year Curry was named NBA Most Valuable Player as he led the Golden State Warriors to the championship. This year he is on track to do the same thing as he leads a dominant Golden State team.

Curry is probably the best pure shooter in basketball today. His ability to handle the basketball and his passing prowess compliment his shooting, and together make him into one of the best players in the game. His greatness is recognized by everybody.

That is how people see Curry now. Yet the shocking thing is that ten years ago when he was graduating from high school, nobody saw him this way. Curry’s father Dell was a good shooter who played his college ball at Virginia Tech and then went on to have a career in the NBA. Stephen Curry wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play at Virginia Tech. However, Virginia Tech did not offer him a scholarship. In fact, all they would do was to say that Curry was welcome to walk on.

This was the response that Curry received from all the major college programs. Curry was a very good shooter. But when coaches looked at him, all they saw was a skinny kid who was six feet one inch tall, and only weighed 160 pounds. Everybody thought Curry was just too small to succeed in the physical demands of major college basketball.

So Curry ended up playing at Davidson University. There he finished his physical maturation as he grew to six foot three inches and gained some weight. During his three years there he put on a show as he led Davidson to NCAA tournament success. In his junior year Curry led the nation in scoring and was a First Team All American. He entered the NBA draft where he was taken as the seventh pick.

College coaches looked at Stephen Curry in only one way. They saw a skinny kid who was just too small. Yet because they viewed him in this way, they completely missed out on a great player. They failed to see him for what he really was.

In the epistle lesson for Good Friday, the apostle Paul discusses the problem of viewing Jesus Christ in one way that completely misses what he really is. The world looks at a man dying on the cross and sees a nobody – a nothing. But Paul declares that this way of looking at things is all wrong. Instead Jesus was on the cross because God was reconciling the world to himself. And when we see this, it changes everything.

The text for tonight is found in 2 Corinthians. In this letter, Paul is defending his apostleship because some very slick people had come to Corinth. Public life in the Greco-Roman world revolved around rhetoric. The process by which a person generated arguments, expressed them in language and presented them in speech dominated all of life. The entire education system sought to teach this one skill. It formed the basis for how the culture evaluated individuals.

When judged on this basis, the apostle Paul probably wouldn’t even have been considered average. And that was the problem. The Corinthians lived in a culture that prized rhetoric above everything else. And so when some Christians came to Corinth who had rhetorical skill and opposed Paul, the Corinthians were very impressed. They found it easy to look down on Paul and his message. Paul didn’t deny that these other teachers were better in rhetoric. What he wanted the Corinthians to understand was the reason that he and his coworkers like Timothy had come to them in the first place. He begins our text by saying: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Paul says that Christ’s love for us controlled and guided what the apostle did. Jesus had died on the cross. But this was not just another example of some poor schmuck getting crushed by the machinery of the Roman Empire. Instead he had died on behalf of all. In fact, because he had died on behalf of all, Paul can say that through Christ all have died.
It is not until the end of our text that Paul explains in more detail what was happening. He writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The reason Jesus Christ died was sin.

Now talk about “sin” is very uncool these days. You see, for there to be sin, there must be some ultimate standard. There must be some absolute right and wrong. And for a Christian understanding of sin there must be a holy and just God against whom all sin is committed. There must be a God who will pronounce eternal judgment on the Last Day. And this is no fun. Because it means that I don’t get to do whatever I want. It means that don’t get to be god in my own life.

Trying to be more than what we are – trying to be like god – is what got us in this whole mess in the first place. That’s how the devil got Adam and Eve to commit the first sin. And once sin got rolling, it has never stopped. In thought, word and deed we just keep putting ourselves first even as we put God and our neighbor second.

We were created in the image of God, because we were created for fellowship with God. But instead, sin had made us enemies of God. And there can be only one outcome for enemies of God. They are judged. They are condemned. They are damned.

And so God acted to reconcile us to himself. Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

How did this reconciliation work? How did God do it? God is just and he had to remain just. Where there is sin, it must be judged; it must be condemned. And so the apostle says at the end of our text, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Although Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God was free from sin, God made him to be sin in our place. Like a sponge, he soaked up all of the world’s sin – all of your sin – into himself. And then God poured out his wrath and judgment against Jesus. He condemned sin in Christ, so that now you have received God’s salvation – his righteousness. Because of what Jesus has done in your place you are now able to stand before God as one who is justified. You have been forgiven and will be declared “not guilty” by God on the Last Day.

In our text Paul describes in theological terms the meaning of the event that our Gospel lesson narrates. Those who lived in a world where crucifixion was an ongoing reality knew that there was nothing good about the cross; there was nothing heroic and meaningful about it. Instead, it was a painful, degrading and humiliating way to die.

But the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what God was doing through him has made everything look completely different. That is why Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” To regard Christ according to the flesh is to think about him in the way of the world. It is to see the crucified One as weak, abandoned and futile

But the apostle Paul says we no longer consider Christ in this way. Because Jesus has risen from the dead and revealed through his Spirit what God the Father was doing on Good Friday, we now marvel at the mighty work God accomplished. We see not folly, but divine power graciously poured out for us. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Because we no longer view Jesus Christ according to the flesh – in the way of the world – we rejoice in the foolishness and weakness of the cross. As Paul went on to say, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This wise foolishness, this powerful weakness, has won salvation for us. And because we have seen God work in this way in Christ, we are able to trust in him when the events in our life look like foolishness and weakness. We do not look at these things according to the flesh - in the way of the world. Instead, we view them as those who are a new creation in Christ. We have seen God work our salvation through the cross, and so we know that in faith we can entrust ourselves to him. We can be confident that he is still the One who loves us and has redeemed us. He remains in charge, even if we don’t understand what he is doing. We know this is true, because of what happened on Good Friday.

Today we remember that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. He did it on our behalf - in our place – in order to reconcile us to God. This fact now determines how we look at everything. It guides how we do everything. As Paul says in our text tonight: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

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