Pastor Sherry’s Message for February 14, 2021
Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Ps 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9
This past Wednesday, I preached the funeral of D.W. Williams, a 94 year old member of this congregation. After the service ended, one of his nephews—a man about my age—approached me for conversation. It turns out he works for Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse organization in North Carolina. He told me he is in charge of the distribution of the Christmas shoeboxes we help with annually to a large section of Africa. In fact, on his last trip over, he contracted the Covid virus in Rwanda, but said he got excellent medical care. We chatted at length about how fabulously God works through those gift boxes to bring so many children to a saving belief in Jesus Christ. My particular favorite tale was of the young boy who desperately wanted a black shirt and a black cap. Those two items were among the bounty in the shoebox he was given. Only God could make such a thing happen!
From there, he segued into telling me that not every member of his family at the funeral service was a professing Christian. This is often the case, so I was not surprised. It almost seems easier to reach children in Africa, who have so little–with some small gifts—than privileged and highly educated adults in the U.S.
Paul speaks to this phenomenon—and our response to it— in his 2nd Corinthians (4:1-6) passage today. Paul begins by affirming that we have all been given the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. We may do this by preaching and teaching, like me, or like Ken and Jenn who evangelize in Eastern Europe each summer. Or we may share our faith with friends who are open to it, through conversations or writing books—like Jenn or like my son, David. Or we can reach others by writing and singing worship songs, like Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, or other contemporary Christian singers and composers. Or we may witness to others by simply trying to live out a life pleasing to God, letting what we do and what we don’t do be our model to others. I don’t believe we are called to stand on street corners and wave our Bibles at passersby, or to go door to door to try to convey the Gospel. Jesus didn’t do this. He spoke to those who were open to His message, and he told the disciples to share with those who were interested, but to shake the dust off their feet and move on when they encountered those who were not.
Next, Paul says our ministry is best served if we live lives that demonstrate Jesus’ transforming effect on us. Listen to how Peterson’s The Message paraphrases v.2: We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God. In other words, we are not hypocrites. We are not posers or fakers. We believe the Word we present. The fellow at the funeral said he could tell I believed in Jesus as I preached. Though we’re not perfect, the way we live should, as much as possible, reflect well on Christ.
However we go about it, Paul says (v.1)…we do not lose heart. We don’t look at our lack of results and give up. I could tell by watching peoples’ faces and by observing their body language (at the funeral) who was open to the Gospel and who was not. We remember that even Jesus did not convince everyone in His day. We remember that we are called to share our faith, but the results are up to the individual and to God.
And we don’t contort God’s Word to justify things we want that God does not condone. We don’t add to God’s Word. For example, you’ve probably heard folks say that, “God helps those who help themselves,” but this proverb comes from Benjamin Franklin, not Scripture. In addition, we don’t take anything away from it, even if we don’t always understand or like God’s message. For example, our culture is at odds with God on the issues of marriage, life, and homosexuality. God has said that marriage is between one man and one woman, only. Similarly, God is the giver of life and we are not free to justify the killing of unborn children. Finally, I have read Romans chapter 1 in the original Greek. It is very clear there that God is opposed to homosexual acts—both those done by men and by women–just as He is to heterosexual acts of fornication. I cannot honor God and “shack up” with a man. The only legitimate place for sexual activity is within marriage. We must remember, though, that we love the sinner while not excusing the sin.
Paul goes on to say (vv.3-4) that not everyone is going to understand God’s message. Paul blames “the god of this world” for blinding people to the truth of the Gospel. He writes, The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Satan applies scales to their eyes so they cannot see/perceive the Truth.
Haven’t you heard nonbelievers say, “I read the Bible but I cannot understand it.” Or, “There are things in the Bible that I just cannot believe.” When we don’t understand, we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us (which is one of His jobs), or to lead us to a pastor or a Bible study to help us get it. I recommend any Beth Moore study, or for folks to tune into Dr. David Jeremiah or to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, both of whom are excellent at explaining God’s Word. Again, as Peterson presents it, If our message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
Consider today’s Gospel lesson (Mark 9:2-9): John, James, and Peter actually get to see Jesus in His glorified or heavenly state. Scales removed, or vision transformed, they see Jesus as God’s Divine Son. There is an otherworldly glow or aura about Him. He is encompassed with bright, almost blinding light—not light that shines down on Him but light that shines forth from within Him. If that weren’t enough, they encounter God the Father. Much as He did in the 40 years of the Israelites’ desert wanderings, He manifests as cloud and fire or bright light. Additionally, He speaks and they hear, Mark 9:7: Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them and a voice came from the cloud: This is my Son, Whom I love. Listen to Him! Literally, John, James, and Peter see the Light of Christ. They hear God’s voice and they later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, faithfully recount this experience.
Back to Paul, in verse 7 he says, But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in jars of clay [our ordinary/ human minds and bodies] to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are simply messengers of the Gospel to others. How amazing of God to trust its transmission to us!
In verses 8-9, Paul reiterates the troubles we may encounter when we share Christ with nonbelievers (as per Peterson): You know for yourselves that we are not much to look at. [Again, the power of the Gospel comes from God, not us.] We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, He does in us—He lives!
The nephew at the funeral commended me for preaching the Gospel even though unbelievers were present. As I stated last week, I can’t not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was my first ordination vow.
It is also commended to us by Scripture (2 Timothy 4:2), where Paul tells the young pastor Timothy, Preach the Word; be prepared, in season and out of season [the Gospel is clearly out of season in our country today, isn’t it?]: correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
I believe that time is now. Many, even in our denomination, have abandoned the wisdom of God for their own faulty perceptions. In over 40 years of counseling others, I have heard people justify all kinds of sinful things: murder, theft, not repaying debts, committing adultery, and even abusing children or the elderly. Human beings are remarkably good at justifying whatever they want to do. But we have a standard, and that standard is the Word of God, the Bible. May we not be justifiers of immoral behavior, our own or that of others. May we stand fast for the Gospel! May we not lose heart, but continue to place our trust in Jesus Christ. Amen!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams