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Do not Lose Heart: A Cross-Shaped Mission

Sermon by Guest Minister on Feb 17

2 Corinthians 4:1, 5-12

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Good morning. It’s a great joy to be worshipping the Lord together with you this morning. Would you bow your head with me and pray as we ask the Lord to reveal to us this morning His good news from His Word.

Father, our hearts are thirsty for the joy and the wellspring of life from Your Word. And we pray this morning that as we come and hear from it, Lord, that Your Spirit would be among us, that Your Spirit would open our eyes to see Jesus and the glory of the risen Son of God that we might delight and find joy in being Your children and worshipping You today. It’s in Your name we pray, Lord. Amen.

Friends, it’s a great joy to be with you. My name is ———————————. I am one of the missionaries sent out from this church working in ————————-. And we have been greatly blessed by your church praying for our family and caring for us and supporting us as we’ve been kicked out of our field of work and have relocated to ————————-. where we are now. This morning as we come to God’s Word, we’re going to be looking at 2 Corinthians chapter 4. I invite you to open your Bibles there right now. But 2 Corinthians chapter 4 is a place where Paul is really showing a depiction of his ministry, the struggles that he went through. And I think as you guys begin to talk about evangelism as a church and developing a culture of evangelism as a church, this passage really helps us understand the heart of Paul and what ministry looked like for him and the heart of Jesus and how this ministry is shaped by the community, by the church.

So do open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians chapter 4. This morning we'll be looking at verses 1 and 5 through 12, and then in the evening, we'll be looking at 13 through the end of the chapter. In your pew Bible, I believe it's on page 965. Hear now the Word of the Lord:

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart...For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Friends, this is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, as it is without flaw. It is for our good and your joy and His glory. Thanks be to God.

Ed asked me to speak on evangelism as we are preparing for this Missions Conference focused on developing a culture of evangelism. And so I thought this morning that I would begin by sharing with you my most recent experience in evangelism. We were in Orlando about a week ago on a sunny, Saturday morning, 75 degrees - a beautiful Florida day. And I was in the backyard with my kids and some of the neighbor kids and they were playing and there was a knock at the door. And a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses had come down the street and were doing the rounds in the neighborhood. On Saturdays, they are regularly out on Saturdays doing that. Well, I saw, scanned the street and saw that there were quite a few of them out that day and I thought to myself, "This would be a great opportunity to practice what I'm preaching! This would be a great opportunity to sit with these neighbors and share with them the glorious riches of the Gospel." And so I invited them inside. They came in, we had a brief interchange, we went through the Gospel and sure enough, they became Christian! No, that's not what happened! Everybody's just looking at disbelief at me! I did think that though. "This would be a wonderful opportunity to share with these neighbors the good news of the Gospel." But then I thought, "But I'm just so busy right now." And I didn't. And I actually waited until they left behind the house.

And I share that with you sort of as a confession to say to you that I desperately need the motivation, the power, and the strength of Jesus to help me do something that I know I’m supposed to do but I struggle in doing. And maybe you’re not like me. Maybe that’s not an issue for me. But this passage is helpful for me. Paul is helpful for me showing this picture of what Gospel ministry looks like and how we as Christ’s church are on mission for God being the light of the good news of Jesus in a dark world, bringing it into the dark world. And there are three things I want to show you from this passage that Paul pulls out for us. Three things to help us move outside ourselves on an incredibly hopeful mission together - this mission that God has called His church to be on with Him. The message that we carry will be the first point. The second point, the nature of the messenger. And then finally, the means or the way in which the world is going to see Christ in the church, in us. And my goal for us this morning is that our hearts would be so captivated by the beauty of Jesus and the joy of His Gospel that we would be compelled, we would be compelled to commend Him to our friends and the world, no matter what the cost is.

The Message of This Mission

So first, the message of this mission; the message of the Gospel. Paul says in verse 5, “for what we proclaim, for what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” This, friends, is the message. This is the message he is saying we proclaim. In another place, Paul puts it this way. He says, “We proclaim Christ and him crucified.” Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ and Him crucified. This frames the meat of Paul’s understanding of who Christ is and what Christ did. That Jesus the Nazarene, who walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, is Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He is sovereign God incarnate. God with skin on. All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him. And He demands our allegiance. He deserves our allegiance.

Christ

But more than that, He is also a loving Redeemer. And in His selfless love for His sinful creation, He stepped into history, He demonstrated His love by His willingness to die on the cross, a guiltless death, forgiving us of our sins, giving us His righteousness, justifying us, adopting us into His family, taking upon Himself the sin and the shame of the world in order to rise again from the dead, defeat death and totally subvert the world’s notions of power and might and to prove both God’s mercy and justice on that cross. And He will sanctify us. He’ll give us His Spirit. He’ll change us. He’ll make us more like Christ - the full expression of the glory of God. And what Paul says in verse 6, he says, “This Jesus is that! The full expression of the glory of God.” What was veiled in Moses, what was veiled to the priests in the tabernacle and the temple and to the unbelieving world by the veil of darkness, he says in verse 3, you can now see explicitly in the face of Jesus. In another place, Paul says “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ.”

News

You see, friends, what we proclaim, what we are heralds of as Christians in this mission of God, we proclaim this good news of who Jesus is and what Christ has done for us. And friends, it is news. It is news. It is not self-help. It is not good advice. It is not a new leaf people need to turn over. It is not a new way to live. It is news that you and I are desperately evil and lost and failing to live in the fullness that God has created us to live in. And this Jesus has, in His life, death, and resurrection, made a way for all who would believe in Him to receive God, to receive the light in the darkness of our hearts, as Paul says, that we might see the very face of God in Christ, unveiled. Now, what a message that is. What a powerful message. What good news that is!

Light

And look at how Paul describes what that news does to our hearts. Look at verse 6. “God said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’ He has shown in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Paul here is reaching back to Genesis chapter 1 verse 3. In the very words of creation that God spoke to miraculously bring light from darkness, something from nothing. And what he’s saying is that every single one of us, every single one of you, if you are a born again Christian, if you believe and trust in Jesus’ name, this was no less a creation miracle equal to God speaking the Word out of nothing. And it is not because you are more special. It is not because you are smarter or more capable or gifted. It wasn’t because you were beautiful. Jesus came to make you beautiful. Jesus came - the work of God is entirely initiated by Him, completed by Him. Jesus didn’t choose you because you are greater than someone else. He chose you because of His grace towards you. You didn’t have anything to do with it any more than you had something to do with your own natural birth. You see, what Paul is saying is that your value, your identity is ontological. It is spoken into existence by a living and loving heavenly God. It’s spoken into existence. It’s not earned. And He invites you and calls you into fellowship with Him, with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but my experience of evangelism last week, there’s a lot of pessimism in my heart, there’s a lot of fear in my heart, and there’s a lot of pride in my heart that led me to chose poorly how I spent my Saturday afternoon. But what does a message like this do to our pessimism? It dismantles it. It says that nobody is beyond the reach of grace. Neither is anyone beyond the need of grace. And what does it do for our fears? It says that we don’t have anything to fear. We have nothing to lose because it’s God who works, it’s God who calls, it’s God who justifies. What does it do to your pride in evangelism? What does it do to your pride? The Gospel undermines that and it says that it has nothing to do with us. It dismantles the pretense in us and humbles us because we didn’t do anything to deserve it. You see, this is a beautiful message that we’re called to proclaim as ambassadors of Christ in this world.

Nature of the Messenger

Well while marveling at this message of incredible value and our identity that we have in Christ, those who have seen the face of God, Paul goes on to say in verse 7 a little bit more about the fact that this message should humble us as messengers, as bearers of this message. Look at verse 7 with me. Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” When I proposed to my wife thirteen years ago it was at a beautiful overlook in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, a beautiful part of the country, and I did what any good romantic man would do - I made sure it was a perfect scene, everything was going as planned, I got down on one knee, pulled out the blue box with the ring in it, I opened it up and asked her to be my wife and she looked at it and said, “Wow! What a beautiful box! I can’t believe you got me that box!” No, she said, “Look at that beautiful ring!” That was the point of it.

Power and Weakness

And what Paul is trying to say here in this passage is that the clay pot that we so often elevate, the clay pot - he's using a metaphor here, a common item that is quickly thrown away, that serves its purpose to be a vessel of something of importance, but it's quickly thrown away. He's using this metaphor to say that we are that. We so often think it's the box that counts. We so often think the box needs to be more beautiful, more special. But Paul says no. The box must decrease so that the beauty of the ring might increase. I want to suggest to you today that God didn't pick Paul, He didn't pick you and He didn't pick me because of some great worth that we have to bring to Him, because of some ability we have. He picked us not even in spite of our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses because God likes to make foolish the things of the world because God is designing something beautiful in both the incredible power of the message that we bear and the weakness and brokenness of the messenger.

The Gap

They're both entirely unexpected. They're both entirely unexpected to the world. And there's something about the message of the Gospel that requires a certain kind of messenger. You see, God has called you and me not in spite of our weaknesses and brokenness but in fact, because of them because God wants to call attention not to you or to me but to the gap between the all-surpassing power and majesty and holiness of God and the complete and utter weakness and brokenness of the messenger. God has designed this gap to be the place where the extent and the beauty of His glory are put on display for all the world to see. And the greater the gap, the bigger the Jesus. Later in chapter 12, Paul says that God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited, to keep him humble, to call attention to that gap. Because it's in that gap where he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

And friends, it's my tendency, it's our tendency and sin that as messengers we get incredibly uncomfortable with that gap and we try to narrow it by pretending and performing, we try to compensate for the harsh reality that we are deeply, deeply flawed and that God's holy and majestic nature is so much greater than us. And we need that Gospel, we need that Gospel to bridge the gap. Not calling attention to the box, but to the treasure that's inside. As Christians, we often think that the onlooking world, what they need from the church is a bunch of put-together, capable, smarter, articulate do-gooders. "If they could only see us be a little better. If they could only see us putting our best foot forward a little better." But that's the exact opposite of what I think the world needs to see.

Some of the most powerful moments that I’ve seen in our little church in ——————— is when the preacher repents from the pulpit, when he mourns his sin visibly and lets the Gospel work in his heart. He shows the gap. This might show or demonstrate an incompetent or sinful minister, but it sure demonstrates the beauty of the treasure that’s there. Not to call attention to the person, but to call attention to what Christ has done in the person, that which was of surpassing worth. Some of the most beautiful conversations that we’ve had with new believers in the church and people who have joined our church was always how they saw in the brokenness and in the repentance of that community the grace of Jesus exemplified. You see, friends, it’s in the gap where Christ manifests the true power for witnessing to this world through His Spirit in your life. When we become less, He only then becomes so much more. And isn’t that what the world needs - much more of Jesus and much less of me?

Well, Paul goes on to describe his experience of proclaiming the Gospel. Part of the criticism of Paul from the critics of Paul that he's answering in this letter is that they criticized him for suffering. They said, "Because Paul is suffering and out there having so much persecution, it must mean that God is not with him!" But Paul says, "No, it's because of the message that I proclaim that these afflictions are upon me, that I am suffering. There is persecution because of this." And he goes on to say his experience of being crushed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. By this, what he's saying is that the Christian experience of suffering and persecution is actually normative for how the Gospel goes forward. It's not the exception; it's not the exception.

The Means of How the Gospel Goes Forward

Look at this third point with me - verses 11 and 12 - the means of how the Gospel goes forward. He says this in verse 11, "Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are also being given over to death, for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." Two principles that I want to end with today about how the kingdom of Jesus advances through these clay pots. The first is this. The first is this, friends - we are not above our Master. We are not above our Master. We must also bear the cross. We die that others might live. That's the dynamic that Paul is pulling out here. That's what he's showing us - death for life. Paul says it another place. "I want to share in Jesus' sufferings, becoming like Him in His death."

Carrying a Cross

Friends, the way the Gospel goes forward to our friends and neighbors and the nations has always been and always will be patterned after our Savior. Christians choosing to lay down their rights and not fight for them. To give up honor and influence, not pursue them. To love others selflessly and leave comfort and safety, forgiving our enemies. What Paul is saying is that in doing so, we participate in the death of Christ. We die little deaths every day. We carry a cross because there’s no resurrection without a cross. That’s how we live. If you want to live in resurrection power, you need to meet Jesus at the cross first and see the work of dying as the means to bring life to others and life to you too. The cross always comes before the resurrection.

Let me give you a few examples of what this looks like. In ———————, a huge part of our ministry is hospitality. Sacrificing your home, opening up your home, practicing hospitality - welcoming in orphans and neighbors and immigrants and students, people who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. It’s one of the most powerful evangelism tools. It’s when you’re able to see your home not as yours but as God’s gift to you to use for the furtherance of His kingdom in this world. There’s a great little book on this by Rosaria Butterfield called, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and I commend that to you. It’s a great example, a great story of Christians using their home to further the Gospel in their communities.

Another wonderful way we see this worked out is fostering kids, orphan care, elder care. You die a lot when you do those things. One of my really great joys and something that excites me a lot about our church in —————- - seeing our small groups going out on mission together to orphanages, going to elder homes, serving them, loving them; serving people who could never repay them, who could never give them anything back. And loving them. That's dying to self so that others might live. We live in a city in ——————— of 12 million people but there's so much loneliness, so much brokenness, and addiction and pain. And just being friends with people who otherwise wouldn't have friends - what a ministry that is. Who can you befriend? Who can you reach out to and listen to and care for and serve? See, friends, the way the church goes forward is patterned after our Savior. It's not by pursuing prosperity or influence. Our witnessing is by being kind, by being patient, by being prayerful, by serving, by being hospitable, loving self-sacrificially. This is what death for life means.

Christ Being Manifested

And that's not all. Look at what Paul also says. This is how we're going to be able to do that. This is where we're going to be able to get the resources and strength to do those things. He says this - "so that the life of Jesus also be made manifested in our mortal flesh." Don't you see, on one hand, there is dying so that others may have life, but at the same time, there is Christ's life being made manifested in us so that we also might live. He's saying that you might lose everything else for the sake of Christ but you get Christ! And what joy comes with getting Christ. When I read this passage I can't help but think about Galatians 2:20 as well where he uses similar language. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me." Or Colossians 3:3-4, "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

Friends, what Paul is saying is that somehow, though you are here in the flesh, though you are being given over to death, your life isn’t. Your life is hidden with Christ. It is united to Him, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Now I don’t understand how all this works. There’s mystery to it to some degree. But at the very least it means this - as Paul says, “by our death, the life of Jesus is made manifested in us.” Nothing, nothing that happens to you can ruin you. Death can’t touch you. It can’t destroy you. It can’t end you. It can only serve to propel you deeper and deeper into Christ and ultimately into the very presence of Christ in heaven. Because “Christ died once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God,” He’s got you. You’re in His grip. Your life is hidden in Him. Your identity isn’t tied to anything in this world. It’s tied to Him. Nothing about the fluctuations of this world, the up and down markets - if you are tethered to Him, you can give up everything and lose everything but still have everything because you have Him. Nothing can take that from you.

And Paul is saying that life is being made manifest in him by him giving up his life. As Christ gave up His life for the world, so that life of Christ is being manifested in him in this world. All because one man died for your sins and rose that you might rise. And that resurrection power explodes from the cross throughout the world as you bear witness to His name.

When our family got kicked out of ——————— about six months ago, we felt less like what Paul says in verse 8, “afflicted yet not crushed.” We felt more like what he says in chapter 1 where he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware brothers of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” The days and nights that my wife and I spent weeping as a family, as we were uprooted from our home watching everything that we had given our life to crumble, taken from us, the depression that I fell into for months where I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning, watching our kids really, really struggle and wrestle through the hardship of being uprooted over there and planted over here, falling behind in school by about a year, losing their friends - our youngest two children still won’t sleep through the night. We were utterly burdened beyond our strength. Where do you find strength for that?

Paul goes on with so much hope. He says, “But that was to make us rely on not ourselves but on a God who raises the dead.” Friends, the cross always comes before the resurrection. God brought me out of ———————— and put our family through the hardest turmoil that we have ever faced to get me to quit relying on myself and my own strength and to show me again that His power is made perfect in my weakness because He is a God who raises the dead. I might have lost a lot. I might have had a lot of deaths. But really, it was nothing, because I got a greater Jesus. And don’t you know that every cancer that you’ve faced, every bout with depression, every loss of something or someone dear is lovingly designed by your Heavenly Father to plunge you deeper and deeper into His Son, to be like Him in His death and to be filled with His Spirit so that the life-giving light of the knowledge of the glory of God would explode from you in resurrected power to bring that light into the darkest parts of the world. Do you believe it? Do you believe it? Now let’s not lose heart. Shall we pray?

Father, thank You so much for this beautiful passage. Lord, thank You for the miracle of our salvation that You spoke light into the darkness of our hearts and You’ve given us Jesus. And that in the face of Christ we see the face of God. We thank You for this beautiful message. Would You, Father, help us to turn to You in strength, in our weakness for strength, to proclaim this message to a world that so desperately needs it. It’s in Christ’s name that we pray, amen.

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