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Prepare to be Amazed!

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Sun, Mar 1, 2015 

One of the amazing things about the Scriptures is that they exist.  In the ancient world, education was less common than we moderns might imagine and reading and writing was rare.  We can read Plato and Aristotle and, in fact, many of us were forced to do so reluctantly in school.  It seems natural to us in a world awash in literature that people would write and read and so forth.

But, while knowledge was comparatively rare, the stuff you might use to write was expensive.  Paper was not mass produced.  People often wrote on papyrus sheets formed of reeds woven together and pounded flat into something like paper (which draws its name from the word "papyrus") or on very thing sheets of vellum, which was not a fancy paper product as it is today, but an animal hide cut very thin and scraped smooth.  A single piece took so much work to prepare it was insanely expensive. That is why they did not waste much of it. When they made a mistake, since they were writing in ink, and you could not usually afford to crumble it up, throw it away and start over on a fresh sheet, they would take a sharp knife and scrape the ink off and write over the mistake. They also did not use much punctuation, if any, and did not leave spaces between the words, so you had to know how to read and know the language very well to ether write or read.

So books, which we consider so common today, were rare and precious and only read by a few.  There were no cheap romance novels or pulp fiction back then.  Romance stories existed, but they were not cheap.  Even they were meant for a select few who were wealthy enough to buy a book, or a scroll, and who could read or pay someone else to read to them.

So Scriptures were a tremendous investment of education and time and resources.  That is the amazing thing I mentioned at the start of this. Modern scholars, particularly the unbelieving kind, tend to make the mistake of historical perspective when they postulate their many fanciful schemes about how we got the Bible today and why it is not as unique or precious as it actually is.

Therefore, when I read the Word of God written down for me, I have to pause in wonder, and take what God has given me with utter seriousness.  It isn't a common thing, however common it may appear because of the printing press and the digital world and common abundance of paper and ink and education today and so forth.  It was worth the investment, and God inspired it, and took the time and resources to tell us so.

What has me waxing rhapsodic today is 2 Corinthians 5:19: "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation."

Consider, God was in Christ.  Yes, I pulled those words out of context.  But they are true as they stand.  God chose to take on human flesh and blood and human nature and to become man in that specific male human being. 

It is fashionable today to try to downplay or dismiss every word in that sentence.  Some don't like the concept of God, let alone the reality of Him or His existence.  Doctrinally true, politically true, religiously true, people often do not want anything to do with the deity.  There is a whole wing of human endeavor devoted to denying the existence of the divine.

But God was in Christ. He became incarnate, that is, He took on flesh.  When Jesus walked the earth, God was striding the earth.  One might imagine that His very steps would shake the earth like the brontosaurus, but there is no mention of anything of the sort in Scriptures.  No one could tell from a few feet away that there was anything divine about the man, and yet there God was, filling Him up and working through Him and speaking when He spoke.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  Not only was God in Christ, but in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.  Everything He did, everything He said, everything He endured in Christ was part of the great work of redemption and reconciliation that God was working in and through Christ.

God did not wait for the world or any part of it to come to Him and try to make amends.  Men might try, a few here and a few there, but there is no way to undo sin, to un-ring the bell, so to speak.  When the standard is perfection, once you have lost it, there is no going back.  Even if you could stop sinning at that point, you cannot go back to when you had never sinned.  Perfection is lost.

The dilemma God faced was how to keep His word of judgment on sin and rescue His creation, man.  Of course we all know the answer, but it was an answer unimaginable to anyone except God, until He had done it.  Still today, men (and women) are actively denying it could possibly happen, or that a good God would do such a thing, or any number of denials based in the human slavery to sin and Satan and from their twisted devotion to unbelief.  I only wish I could write the glory of the Gospel in such winning terms that I could change their hearts, but I can't. The power to believe and to come to faith resides in God and His grace and His choice, and when the Word of God does not work repentance and faith in the hearts of men, the words of a poor writer like me certainly cannot.

I don't really write for them.  I write to encourage those who do believe and need to hear again and again the wonder of the Gospel.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  He reconciled us to Him, not Himself to us.  He didn't settle for sin and say, "Well, I guess that's the best I am going to get out of them."  He crushed sin and Satan by becoming one of us and resisting temptation and enduring the full fury of the wrath of God - His own wrath, and yet not His - against sin while completely innocent of the crime and undeserving of the punishment.  He did that so that He could bear the burden for us that we could not bear and survive, not even with eternity wrapped around our necks like a millstone.

This is what Lent is for.  We rehearse the whole thing, the goodness of the man and the awful nature of our sin, and the severity of the punishment, and the wonder of the result.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  He chose the only One who could bear the full fury of His wrath to the last bitter drop and come out the other side.  The nature of the wrath of God against sin is eternal.  Christ, as true God, bore that wrath also in eternity. 

The result is that we have been reconciled to God.  When Jesus said, "It is finished," it was.  He had returned us to the proper relationship with the Father.  We now stand declared innocent with His sinless perfection because He stood in our place under the burden of sin and endured the wrath of God for us.  All that remained when Jesus spoke the word "Tetelestai"from the cross was the death of the sinner, and He gave up His life willingly and died our death.

God did all of that to reconcile us to Himself.  Amazing and often incomprehensible and full of glory, and yet when men hear of it they quickly become jaded and bored with it and look for something new and interesting to say or think about.  Scholars look for something else to say, something new to write, something to assist them in making their name in the academic world, when what they should be concerned with is holding up His name.

He reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.  How profound and yet how hard to hold onto and believe.  We can say the words just fine, but trusting them, particularly when things are not going as we would like, is another thing altogether.  Surely God knows my sin!  Surely this pain or sorrow in my life is deserved and therefore is His response to my guilt and shame.  That is the argument the devil makes in our minds, although it doesn't sound like the devil when it bedevils us.  It sounds like our own thinking and our own guilt.

The argument works so well because it is true, in part. God does indeed know our sins.  We are not deserving of forgiveness, and the thing that has us so terrified, whatever it may be, is much less trouble than we actually deserve.  All of that is true.  What is not true is the certainty that our sorrows, sicknesses, reversals and pains are His response to us and to our sin.  It is true that we are certain, but we are wrong.  God was in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them, and them is us!

The place to look to see how God is minded toward you is the cross and the open tomb of Easter.  The cross is His wrath poured out on His Son for your sake and mine.  It tells us the disposition of God toward sin, being such an instrument of torture and death, but that it is His only-begotten Son hung on that cross tells us what God is willing to do to rescue us and spare us from the just punishment of our sin.  The cross alone tells us of His love and the depth of it.  The open and empty tomb of Easter tells us that it worked, that it was sufficient and that our sins are forgiven. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow."  Now, in Christ, it is not just that they shall be, according to Paul, but that they are!

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.  Does that include you?

Only if you are in this world and part of the world.  This brings us to the great question of why some and not others?  If it is for the whole world, why is not everyone included?

Well, not everyone wants to be included.  Sure, it seems to make sense that they would, but some don't.  Some want it only on their terms, whatever those terms may be.  Some want to earn their way.  Some want the credit for making it by conscientious effort.  Some don't want to believe that they are so evil that they deserve to die and go to hell.  Many just hate God, openly and fiercely.  Everyone who goes to hell has chosen to go to hell, even though they may never have conceived of their choice in those words.

For example, if you cannot accept the idea of God, or the idea of the judgment at the end, or of eternity and having to go one way of the other, you might consider your choice a choice not to believe those things - but if you had known with certainty that hell existed, was forever, and this was the only way out, surely you would have made the right choice.  The idea of hell is mind-blowing.  Surely there must be an end to torment.  But the Word of God says otherwise, and the choice to reject reality in favor of some construct that suits your intellect more comfortably is the choice to endure reality without the hope which that same Word of God affords.  Adam and Eve bear witness to the fact that you do not need to understand the full ramifications of your choices when you make the wrong one and yet you must bear the consequences.

And the truth is that their disposition is ours.  There, but for the grace of God, we also would walk.  Why some?  God's grace.  Why not others?  One's own perverse and sinful will.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

He has committed to us the word - the message - of reconciliation.  We don't have to make it happen, we are just charged with telling about it.  Our part is to speak about it and live it out so that others can see it and hear it.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

That is the purpose of Lent.  We need to think on that for a while.  And give thanks. And we can start by giving the right value to the gift of Scriptures, that bring us these wonderful truths, and understand what amazing things God has done for us and given to us, and not let the unbelieving world around us persuade us that the Bible is not the treasure that it is!

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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