March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday - 2 Corinthians 4:11-18

Theme: High Risk – High Reward Shareholding
1. You have gone from death to life
2. You are able to believe and speak 

Ever since the beginning of time, people have shared together. We know that sometimes it takes some learning to grow in sharing with others, but it’s really a natural instinct that we all possess. Learning to share usually involves being willing to give, but we don’t typically have a problem receiving. Both are aspects of sharing.

Sharing became such a big thing early in history that God had to separate people and form different nations at the Tower of Babel. Sinful man had used his sharing capability to such an extent that he was trying to be an equal with God. Equality with God, of course, was the first lie Satan threw at Adam and Eve in the Garden. Satan wanted them to believe that God was holding out on them, not sharing what really should have been theirs to have. This same lie is at the root of all sin even today – wanting to have, to receive things in a shared relationship, that really aren’t good for us. God tells us what gives the most prosperous, spiritually rich and fulfilling existence, but our sinful flesh leads us to want something else.

This idea of sharing is so inherent to the human condition that God has designed it to be a blessing as well. We call it fellowship – sharing with God and with other Christians in the blessings of His Word. One really can’t be a Christian without fellowship, what we also call communion. Faith is a shared gift. We receive from God. We give praise and thanks back to Him. We express our convictions with other Christians for mutual strength and comfort. The Christian faith is meant to be shared, not practiced in isolation.  

As we reach the beginning of Holy Week, we ask ourselves how we share in the work of Christ. It’s only natural to think that if we are truly in a sharing relationship with our Savior, there is something we must contribute. But, it’s precisely the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the uniqueness of our faith. We share with our Lord, but we need not offer anything – He has taken care of it all. To more fully explore this thought, we read from 2 Corinthians 4:11-18, where Paul explains the benefits of sharing with Christ by faith:

2 Corinthians 4:11-18 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Part 1: You have gone from death to life

Publicly, one of the most common ways of sharing is to combine resources in hopes of gaining more for each participant. People join together to do bigger things. People share visions and goals to make a greater impact. The hope is that the better you are at this, the more you’ll get from it. This kind of sharing has been going on in different ways from the very beginning but we probably know it best in the modern stock market. You can use your money to become a shareholder in a company, buying tiny portions, called stocks, and receiving part of the profits. Anyone with experience in the stock market knows that risks are involved. If the company doesn’t perform well, you have to share that loss. If the entire market collapses, everyone suffers. It’s sharing with high risk and high reward.

It’s not surprising then, that God compares the sharing that believers have with Him by faith in the same way – high risk, high reward. Two different parables highlight this aspect – both spoken near the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Luke 19, Jesus spoke the Parable of the Minas. A Mina was a term used for roughly three months of wages. The Master gave His servants a certain amount of minas and expected them to make a return on the investment. This parable was spoken by Jesus just before Palm Sunday – perhaps even on the same day.

The other parable that highlights the shareholder aspect of faith is the Parable of the Talents. Similarly to the minas, in this parable the Master gives out talents, a treasure worth roughly around $1,000 dollars, to his servants, again expecting a return. This parable was spoken by Jesus on Holy Week, either on Wednesday or Thursday.

It’s very clear that as Jesus is approaching His death, He wants His followers to know that they are sharing in this work. They are sharing to receive something valuable. But it wasn’t their time to contribute, that would come later.

Here is where our text from 2 Corinthians enters the scene – for in it we see what we are sharing – and what the result is. The first, and most important gift you have received is the promise of deliverance from death. Paul writes, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. Last weekend we talked about how the treasure of our Christian faith is not about the little details that change over time and cultures. It’s not about how the world sees us or treats us. It’s not even about how we feel about ourselves, knowing that even our own feelings can betray the reality of what Christ did for us. We see the same message being given here.

The Corinthians were being persecuted. Like us, they lived at a time, and in a culture, when it was unpopular to take a stand on God’s Word. They were mocked for their beliefs. They were belittled for their trust in God. They were pressured to conform to cultural standards in their Greco-Roman world. So, Paul takes time to remind them of what they were sharing with their Lord Jesus. They were partakers, shareholders, of eternal life. But along with that gift would come the ire from the world.

This is one the great challenges of being a Christian. We share in the blessings and in the sufferings. We don’t share so that we earn something through our suffering, because Christ already perfected that task. Just like the disciples, our task of building God’s investment comes after God completes His work and our accomplishment in that task is blessed by God. We share in sufferings because we follow the same principles and guidelines of faith that God established through His Word. Our sufferings are marks that we submit and trust in Jesus as our only Savior from sin. But, that doesn’t always feel like a sold investment, however. Sometimes the risks outnumber the rewards.

Isn’t an investment, a treasure, supposed to be profitable for our lives? What about increasing that investment among others? Who wants to share in sufferings? Well, no one, but that’s why we need to constantly remind ourselves of what Paul says. We are receiving life instead of death. We have confidence that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will rise also. We will be presented to God, blameless and righteous – fit for the kingdom of heaven eternally. This is true because this is the treasure that Jesus has won for us and freely given by faith in Him. We are privileged to share in His life.

Part 2: You are able to believe and speak
Along with that blessed gift now comes the response. What we give now that we have received. Paul, quoting Psalm 116, writes, And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak. Like that privilege of life that we share with Jesus, so also we share the privilege of telling others about this gift. This is where the investment idea of the parables enters. The blessing of faith in Jesus is meant to be given just as it was given to you. It is meant to be received just as it was received by you.

Here, I’d like to paraphrase what a prominent atheist once said, “I don’t believe in Christianity, but I admire their desire to witness. If a person actually believes that they have the key to eternal life, how much must they hate someone not to share that gift?” As shareholders with Christ, we are now given the responsibility to increase the impact of the investment He made on the cross. Often there is a lot of fear and uneasiness that comes along with witnessing.         

How do we combat that fear? Focus on the gift, as Paul outlines:
·       v.16 tells us: Renewal in the heart by faith is real today and it corresponds to renewal on the last day for eternity.
·       v.17 tells us: Suffering is temporary, life is eternal.
·       v.18 tells us: The true value of the gift of faith is not seen. What is seen is what gives fear. While we often focus on the seen, what will last is not seen.  

Being afraid of the earthly consequences of trusting in Jesus will always be an easy option for you. Willingness to speak and act in His name takes determined purpose and effort. A determination that God creates and sustains by His Word. Paul summarizes perfectly: We believe, therefore we speak. We are able to share the treasure of our faith because we believe in Jesus. That means faith unlocks the ability to serve God. As the Bible says elsewhere, without faith we cannot serve God (Hebrews 11:6).

How does faith have this ability? How can it take a weak Christian and make them confident? Well, think of it from Jesus’ perspective. Was He timid as He approached the cross? Physically weak, yes, but not timid. Was He confident? Was He in control? Absolutely, yes. The cross was tough for Jesus but the difficulty did not consume Him to the point of altering His determination. In our moments of fear or weakness, it helps to remember this because we share with Jesus in what He did. We share so much so, that it’s as if His actions become ours. It’s as if we suffered the torments and hung on the cross. That’s how much God deems us to be justified. In the very same way as Christ. Faith makes us a shareholder in that work.

And so, it is true that faith is necessary. It is true that determination and courage are necessary. But, those blessings do not come from our will. They come from Jesus. We become different when we believe in Him because He is different. He changes us. It’s not that we have reached this level on our own. Sadly, when people struggle they are so often pushed back to something about themselves. Do better. Try harder. Be wiser. None of those things will help. Rather, let us say: I believe, therefore I speak. I believe and in that believing I share with My Savior. I share in what He accomplished and achieved. I share in His victory. I share in His death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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