The Lord's Day Morning
May 22, 2011
2 Corinthians 13:14
The Reverend Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
I'm going to miss these songbirds for sure. Now turn with me to 2 Corinthians chapter 13. As you’re doing so, I neither believe in the doctrine of the secret rapture, nor for that matter in the any-moment return of Jesus, in that I think some Scripture prophecies need to be fulfilled before Jesus returns, but as I was sitting in a house that was three-quarters packed up yesterday, I sort of wished I was a “pre-trib” dispensational kind of guy and I wouldn't have to face today, or if I was facing today I would be in big trouble.
Now as I was thinking through a text — I've only moved once in my adult life and when I left the church in Belfast where I had been a minister for eighteen years, I chose as my text, “And finally brothers, farewell,” which was kind of clever when I was choosing it, but emotionally heart wrenching when I tried to preach it. But as I thought about you dear folk and just the sheer joy and privilege that it's been for me on staff here for the last twelve years, serving with one of my dearest friends in all the world, Ligon, and my colleagues — some have now left, but others are still here — and you dear folk, what text do I choose? And I chose the benediction. And I chose the benediction for three reasons.
One, because it's short, but that wasn't really a reason. (laughter) One, because one of the first things that a minister, in our tradition, one of the first things a minister does on being ordained is to pronounce the benediction. As I think of my relationship with all of you dear folk, that's one of the most glorious things that a minister gets to do, to pronounce these words of Gospel, of covenant faithfulness on the part of God to His people.
Secondly, because liturgically, the benediction comes at the end. It's the last thing that a minister says before you all depart. So there was a, kind of a link, between pronouncing a benediction and my departure.
But perhaps thirdly and most importantly, the benediction — I wanted to speak on something that was central and foundational — Gospel, God-centered, Christ-focused, Spirit-infused. These are Trinitarian words. Notice, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” It's a staggering, it's a staggering fact that Paul, a Jew, who would have pronounced the shemma of Israel — Deuteronomy 6:4 — “Behold the Lord your God is one.” You know that's what distinguished Israel from all the surrounding nations in the ancient near east. They were all polytheistic. Israel was monotheistic. How does someone like Paul, a rigid confessional monotheist, come to say a statement in which there is more than one who is the one God? It's staggering. And the only explanation for it is the sheer testimony of Jesus, that the encounter of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road taught him something that burned into his mind and soul and heart. Yes, the Father is God, but Jesus is God too, without their being two Gods. And the Father is God and Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God without their being three Gods, but only one God.
So before we read this text together, let's look to God in prayer.
Father, we need Your help because we are a needy people. We need to be reminded and baptized with the Gospel again today. We need to be drawn to our Lord Jesus Christ. We need the witness and testimony of Your Spirit, so Holy Spirit, we ask now for a work that You do again and again and again and again. Bring these words to light and life in our hearts that these words might be true for us today in a way that perhaps we have not seen for a very long time. We ask a great thing of You, but You are the Lord with whom all things are possible. So hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
2 Corinthians 13 and verse 14:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first thing I think that we need to think about here is that you cannot separate grace from Jesus. When Paul thinks of Jesus, he thinks of grace. It's not that you can be in fellowship with Jesus, it's not that you can be in union with Jesus and not experience grace. Grace isn't something additional to Jesus and we need to be reminded of that because we tend to use language that sometimes might convey that impression. We talk about the “means of grace” — the reading of Scripture, praying, singing of Scripture, the Lord's Supper, baptism, fellowship of the Lord's people together. These are all means of grace but they’re not means of grace in separation from our relationship to Jesus. It's all about our relationship to Jesus.
Grace. There are two basic meanings of the word grace. The first meaning, it's perhaps the most fundamental meaning in the Hebrew - the Hebrew word, “hen,” has as its basic idea the idea of gracefulness, meaning beauty. Grace is beauty. Grace is a beautiful thing. The beauty of Christ; the beauty of who Christ is; the beauty of His face; the beauty of His person; the beauty of His offices as Prophet, Priest, and King; the beauty of that which He has made. The songbirds were reminding us of beauty. The confluence of notes in and out of harmony — it's a beautiful thing. We appreciate that beauty. Jesus defines for us what is beautiful. We appreciate that because that's His creation. He made us to appreciate that and there is a beauty, what does the hymn writer say, “that blinded eyes have never seen.” There's a beauty that when you become a Christian, when the Holy Spirit indwells your heart, you begin to see the world, God's creation, in an altogether new and fresh way. Things that you've seen before now have a hue about them, a beauty about them. It's the grace of Jesus.
But I'd love to take that a little further, especially the light of lots of discussions about the relationship of Christianity and culture but I want to bring it more to another thought. Perhaps the most dominant thought for us when we think of the word grace, we think of God's undeserved mercy to us in Christ. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see.” It's grace. Everyone who's a Christian, everyone who trusts in Jesus only, every single one of you who names the name of Jesus, who's united to Jesus, you are recipients of grace. Grace is what defines you. Grace is what has made you what you are. You live each moment of every day in union with One who is gracious to you. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It's in this epistle. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. “That though He was rich, yet for our sakes, He became poor, that we, through His poverty, might become rich.” We are rich folk, are we not? This morning we sit here in fellowship, in union, in communion with the Lord Jesus. We are recipients of grace.
Ligon, at the end of a baptism in line with Scottish Presbyterian, North American Presbyterian tradition, pronounces a benediction. Parents with children will stand here and he will lift up his hands and he will say, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” But at the expense of words spoken but unheard to Jesus on the cross — “The Lord curse You. The Lord make His face to turn away from You, to shun You, to be angry with You, and give you hell.” How does Paul put it in the fifth chapter of this epistle? “God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be reckoned the righteousness of God in Him.” “Grace ‘tis a charming sound, harmonious to the ear. Heaven with the echo shall resound and all the earth shall hear.” The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. His willingness to die for us. His willingness to bear the curse for us. His willingness to be crucified for us. His willingness to suffer the unmitigated wrath of God for us. Grace. Every day, every moment of every day, we live in a condition of grace. Every moment of every day, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The love of God,” understood here in the Trinitarian dimensions of this text, to be the love of God our Father. It says, first of all, something about the nature of our relationship, the nature of redemption itself. Redemption is not Jesus trying to win from a reluctant Father a love that otherwise wouldn't be there. It's the love of our Father that sends the Son. What's the most famous text in the Bible, at least since Billy Graham made it the most famous text in the Bible? John 3:16 — “For God, the Father, so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He loved the world.
But there's a pastoral question that arises here. It's intriguing. Why would Paul think that the Corinthians needed to be reminded of the love of God the Father? And let's think about that for a minute. And perhaps, perhaps in part because many of us need to be reminded because of relationships that we have born to our earthly fathers that have not been of the best kind and we psychologically imprint that relationship onto our relationship to our heavenly Father. And Paul wants us to be reminded that our heavenly Father loves us. But perhaps more significantly because there's, there's a — I don't know what to call it. An Adamic gene in the very fabric of our nature that distrusts the dimensions of the love of our Father for us. You see it in the Garden of Eden. They had everything except one little thing, but they had everything. And Satan was able to manipulate his way into the hearts of Adam and Eve a thought that if God forbade them one thing it meant that God didn't love them that much.
You see it in the parable that Jesus tells of the prodigal son, the older brother. He's all bent out of shape. You remember when the father is killing the fatted calf and giving him his ring and cloak and so on and he protests and he says, “You never did that for me! All these years — “ what does he say? “All these years I have been slaving for you.” He saw his relationship to his father as one of slavery trying to win and carry the favor of a father who was otherwise reluctant. And what does the father say to him? “All things are yours. Everything I've got is yours. You've always been my son.”
Is that where you are this morning, unsure of whether your Father loves you? You've come to understand something about your sinfulness, the wretchness of your heart. The good that you would, you haven't done. The evil that you would have shunned, you've found yourself doing and you've discovered something about your heart and you begin to think, “God cannot love me now.” Listen my friend, listen. He knew all about that in eternity. He knew all about that when He sent His Son. There isn't a sin that you commit, there isn't a sin that you commit that God doesn't already know and isn't already atoned for in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing. There's nothing that you can do that can make God love you less than He already loves you. Is that where you are this morning and you’re spending a fortune on counseling? No disrespect to counselors whatsoever, but you’re spending a fortune on trying to meet this problem. Listen to the Word of God, listen to the Scriptures! The Father, in Jesus Christ, loves you. He loves you.
And then, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Well, there's an interesting debate in New Testament scholarship. Is this an objective or a subjective genitive? I see you’re interested too. Is this, is this the fellowship that we have with one another brought about by the Holy Spirit and sustained and nourished and fed by the Holy Spirit? Or, as I'd rather think, is this the fellowship that we individually have with the Holy Spirit or perhaps the fellowship that the Holy Spirit has with us? You know, back in chapter 1 of this epistle, Paul reflects on this a little. Right at the end of chapter 1, verses 20 and 21 — “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” Paul uses several different thoughts and ideas and words to describe the relationship we have with the Holy Spirit or perhaps the relationship the Holy Spirit has with us. He is, He is the seal. His presence in us is the seal, it's the guarantee that everything that God has ever said is true. It's the “arrababohn,” in Greek, down payment.
I've told you this before. In the village where I grew up in Wales, I would come home once a month from high school on a bus, school bus, and get off at three-thirty, four o’clock in the afternoon. On the last Thursday of every month there was a horse trading fair in the little town and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of traders. And there was a legal section and then on the perimeters of the fair there was an illegal section where trading would take place but no money would be exchanged because they were using the premises and the occasion to sell without having to pay commission. So they didn't part with any money, but what they did — and I'm sorry, it's kind of gross — but they would spit on their hands and they would shake hands and that was called the seal. It was their bond. It was their word.
The presence, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, “the witness” as Paul calls it — “the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God and if children, heirs, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.” You wouldn't have written that. You get the heirship but joint-heirs with Jesus Christ? With God's own Son? The Spirit testifies to us, witnesses with us, ministers to us, nourishes us, feeds us, cares for us, feeds us, grows us, rebukes us, hems us in, guides us, directs us, and it's the guarantee. It's God saying, “Having begun a good work, I'm going to finish it. Having brought you into relationship with Jesus, I'm going to bring you all the way home.”
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Father, we come to You in the name of Your Son and by the strength of the Holy Spirit to thank You for these covenant words, words that speak of blessing, that whereas our Savior received the curses, we receive blessing upon blessing upon blessing upon blessing. We are a blessed people because we are the people of God. Receive our thanks in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's sing together number 689, Be Still, My Soul.
Receive the Lord's benediction. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
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