The Gospel Fulfilled in Weakness–Sexagesima 2014 (2 Cor. 11:16-12:9)
In Nomine Iesu
Sexagesima means “60”; we’re about 60 days from Easter. The church since ancient times has counted the days for Easter; waited eagerly for it. The readings for Sexagesima Sunday, kind of like last week’s readings, call us to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.
Of course it isn’t the celebration of Easter on April 20th, 2014 that is most important. It’s how—whether—we will be able to celebrate the Resurrection on the day when the trumpet sounds and we are raised. When we rise either to rejoice forever in Christ who was raised for us, or to weep and gnash our teeth for eternity and wish we had never been born.
The readings tell us what we need in order to be prepared for the resurrection. It’s one thing—not hard to remember. It’s the Word of God.
“The seed is the Word of God.” Jesus doesn’t talk about anything else. The kingdom of God is like a sower who goes out and casts seed around his field. Jesus has nothing to say about the sower and his skill at sowing. He only talks about the seed, which is the word of God. That seed doesn’t malfunction. It always grows and produces fruit. The only other thing Jesus mentions is the soil the seed falls on. The only time the seed doesn’t grow and produce fruit is when it doesn’t fall on good soil.
So there are only two questions for you and me to answer this morning. The first is, Am I hearing the Word of God? Am I receiving the seed?
The second is, What kind of hearing does God’s Word get from me? Am I like the path, or the rocky soil, or the soil with weeds, or am I good soil?
Not that those are easy questions!
But let’s begin with the first question. “Am I receiving the Word of God?” This is the question Paul was discussing with the Corinthians in the Epistle.
The church in Corinth had first received the Word of God from Paul when he came on his missionary journey through Greece. But since Paul had left the Corinthians had gotten some new teachers. Paul calls them the “super-apostles.” Many of the Corinthians had come to the conclusion that because these preachers were so much more impressive than Paul they must actually have the true word of God, or at least a more full word of God, than Paul brought them.
These preachers apparently boasted about their qualifications as preachers or apostles. They were apparently eloquent, powerful speakers. They boasted about their labor in Christ and the visions, revelations, and superior knowledge they had received from Christ.
The Corinthians thought that because these men were so impressive they could be sure that now they had the true word of God. So Paul is writing to the Corinthians saying—No, these men are not superior to me, and the message I brought to you is God’s Word.
I have the same qualifications as them. I am an Israelite, Abraham’s seed. And I am more a servant of Christ than they are. And I too have had visions from God.
But when it comes time to brag, as the super-apostles had done, Paul brags about strange things. He doesn’t brag about his visions, his knowledge, his successes in winning converts. He brags about his weaknesses, his infirmities.
I was given the 40 lashes minus one 5 times. Beaten with rods by the Romans 3 times. Stoned once.
I was caught up into heaven and saw and heard things that we are not allowed to say on earth. But that doesn’t prove I am an apostle. Instead I was given a thorn, a spike in the flesh, to buffet me (that is, beat me, hit me in the face). He calls it a “messenger” or “angel” of Satan. Does God allow his apostles to be tormented by the devil and made weak? Is that what you should expect from a real apostle or preacher?
And the Lord did not take it away because, “My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.”
So Paul says, “I delight in infirmities” and in persecutions, distresses, being weak and hungry, being abused and treated scornfully, so that “the power of Christ may rest on me.”
The power of Christ, the grace of Christ. It is the Gospel. It comes to us in the Gospel. (Romans 1:16-17…I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.)
The Gospel of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.
We despise the word because it appears weak and brings cross, weakness, infirmity to us.
Note the way Jesus describes the Gospel: “The seed is the Word of God.” An unimpressive delivery system.
The only question is, are we getting the Word of God? That is not proven by the greatness of the minister or the church.
That is why most of the types of soil Jesus describes do not receive the seed in a fruit-bearing, saving way. Human beings are not able to receive God’s Word apart from a miracle.
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay
Death brooded darkly o’er me
Sin was my torment night and day…
My own good works all came to naught, no grace or merit gaining.
Free will against God’s judgment fought…
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share
The pangs of hell I suffered.
Yet the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation to all who believe…it rests upon us even in our weakness and infirmity. Jesus says its “power is made perfect in weakness.”
But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great
He planned for my salvation…
Though he will shed my precious blood
Me of my life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the victry win
My innocence will bear your sin
And you are blessed forever.
So if you have the Word of God, then you hear it, and you go on hearing it, and you daily die to the rocks of pride and the weeds of lust…and you put on the new man. You come to Him who destroyed our old nature in His flesh and who has been raised and hide in Him.
The desire to be good soil is the Spirit’s work. The good soil are sinners who flee to Christ.
His power rests on us in our infirmity. Preachers and hearers. He bears good fruit in us who by nature can’t do anything good. It is a miracle. We die and he lives in us, but solely through the Gospel word that declares that He has already done it.
The peace of God…