1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
The Purpose behind Grace
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we stand on the edge of new year. 2012 is all used up and 2013 is just about to begin. In some ways it is a big thing - and in others, it is just another day, and really nothing special, except that we mark it as special. We gather here for worship, so that we may thank God for the year which is drawing to a close, and for all the blessings He poured out on us in it. We also want to ask His blessings on the year to come, that we might be the people of God as He would have us be, and that our work in Him might bear abundant fruit. Our text for our mediation tonight the Epistle lesson for New Year's Eve, and it explains something that will be useful for those who seek to serve God - the purpose behind Grace. And that is our theme.
Grace is one of those mysteries of God. He tells us about it, but He doesn't explain it in great detail. Why has God chosen me? Why has God chosen You? We cannot unravel that. It is the nature of God's grace that He chooses us for His reasons, and not for any that we can identify. He did not choose us for our rank in this world. He did not choose us for our talents or our gifts. They are all, in point of fact, gifts from Him. Paul points this truth out in our opening verse of our text tonight, "there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble". There was nothing in us that caused God to choose us in particular. It was all in Him. That is part of what we mean by "Grace".
In fact, God chose us because we are not something special. "but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised." Far from deserving something, or being the best of humanity, we are the losers - sort of. God chose us for what we are not. We are not the great, the wise, the trusted, the clever ones, the ones with superior talents. He chose us to be His own at least in part so that no one would boast before God. The reason that we cannot name the cause of our being chosen is so that we must humbly recognize that our faith and our rank as His chosen people would clearly be on account of nothing special in us or about us.
God want us to know that He chose us, and not the other way around. He wants us to be seen as incapable of accomplishing what God works through us, so that on some level, men would have to recognize that the Church is the work of God and not the result of the talents of those who make up its membership. All of this was to nullify the pride of man, and teach us true humility.
Now that doesn't mean that there are no talented people in the church. God gifts each of us with the talents we need to accomplish our part in His great work. Some of us He gives wisdom. Some of us He gives courage. Some of us He gives worldly success - although you will note that they are few in number, and even they are generally not seen as the truly wise or courageous , or successful of this world. In part, our lack of recognition is tied to the fact that we are part of something so un-appreciated and un-respectable as the Christian Church. The other part is that God chose those as His own who have no identifiable reason to be chosen by God.
Haven't you ever heard the challenge, "Why should you be right and the rest of the world be wrong?" Why should you know what is true when the wise men of the ages, and of different nations and religions, are all false? The concept that there is an absolute truth has always challenged man's ego. Each man always wants to think he has captured the truth, and that he is right. Just listen to call-in shows on Radio or T.V. and you will hear that tone of expectation that others will finally see that they are right! It is particularly hard for man today. One of the foundational ideas of post-modern, post-Christian thought is that there is no absolute truth which is true for everyone. The only heresy in our culture is to claim to have hold of that which is undeniably and universally true.
And why you? And why me? We aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. We aren't the clearest thinkers. We are not recognized as experts in truth or morality or how anything ought to be. Why should our little congregation stand? How dare we be so brazen and bold as to think we can be something - or do anything - when those who know everything clearly do not agree with us?
It is that sort of question which underlines the purpose of God's grace. Of course, His purpose is our salvation, but He tells us that His purpose is also that we don't get a big head about being 'the chosen ones', as ancient Israel did, and that no one will look at us and say, "Why, of course God chose them. It's obvious that they would be the ones chosen." No, the world will look at us and say, "If their God is true and wise, He would have chosen me - He would have chosen us!"
The problem of grace - "Why some and not others?" - has plagued both believer and unbeliever alike since the time of Christ. Many false starts at answering the question have given rise to denominations and theologies that seek to answer the question on the basis of something in us. — God chose us because we are good people. God chose us because He saw that we were the ones that would ultimately believe. Or, God didn't choose any of us, He opened the way for everyone and left the decision up to us - decision theology. Or, God saves those who are wise enough to find Him, or decent enough to do good works.
But He chose me when I was two months and five days old. He named me His child and claimed me for salvation at my baptism. Many of you were also chosen as infants. Some of you came to faith through God's holy Word later in life, but it was still by His choosing and His work in calling you by the Gospel and enlightening you with His gifts.
Don't tell me it was because I grew up in a Christian home. I have brothers and sisters - and they all grew up in the same home, went to the same churches, were instructed by the same pastors as I was. But they are not all believers. Not every child I have trained to confirmation has kept their promise and stood steadfast in the faith and resisted all temptations to turn away, even to the point of dying for the faith. Some didn't last the summer after their confirmation. Some have turned away and become enemies of the faith. No, I made it up to today, and you have come this far, by the grace of God and nothing more.
Paul writes, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." It is by His doing - so that it cannot be denied that it is by His doing, and NOT because of who we are, or what we are capable of, or what we have done to remain steadfast and faithful.
You did not die on the cross. Nor would it have served anything but your demise to have done so. You did not earn eternal life. Jesus did. He came, and He lived with utter purity so that even those of dubious worth, such as me, could be rescued from our sins, forgiven, "purchased and won from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death."
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." God chose you to save you, and He chose you to show the world that it was His grace and not your worth, or your effort, or your talent, so that men could see Him behind the scenes - so to speak.
He pulled us together to be a congregation. He called me from Minnesota, and some of you from New York, or Illinois, or Kansas, or wherever to form a congregation. He brought you to this community at different times and through different methods, and by different routes. He prepared some of us for this, and others He just invited in. But it is His doing, as we are His people.
Now Jesus is our wisdom. He makes sense to us, while the wise men of the world call our faith "myth" or "superstition" and our redemption - the Vicarious Atonement - "barbaric". Jesus is our righteousness. He took our sin. He left us with His perfect righteousness as our own, so that we stand as "beloved," and "well-pleasing" before God in Him. He is our sanctification. We don't get better and better - leastwise so as you might notice. We continue to sin, but Christ is working in us that which is pleasing to God and that which builds His church, just as Paul once wrote, "For me to live is Christ". And, just as Paul says in our text, Jesus is our redemption. He bought us back from sin and death at the price of His own suffering, and "His innocent suffering and death", as the Catechism says it.
So that when we boast of being Christian, and when we boast of being Lutheran, and when we take pride in being confessional and faithful, we can only praise God and boast of His goodness, grace, and love. ". . . just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" His glory is saving us, those who don't deserve it, because of His goodness and grace. His purpose in saving us, is particularly to make that glory - His grace - abundantly clear and evident - to us, and to the world around us.
So let us end the old year with thanksgiving for His grace, and begin the new year with a prayer that God will continue to bless us and hold us in His grace and love. Let us pray for His blessing on our congregation, that it may shine brightly with His grace, and let us live this coming year in such as way, as much as it depends on us, that we live deliberately and knowingly in His grace and fulfill the purpose behind grace! Then it will be a happy New Year indeed.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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