Last week, if you were here and if you recall, Pastor Casmer called all of us jars, and, let me just get his words correct here, he called each of us a jar, that is, “this weak think that breaks and dies.” I found that rather rude, maybe you did too. To be told that you are this cracked jar that will eventually fall apart into nothing, it’s not exactly a compliment. But – do you remember? – what does God do with jars like us? He works with us using us to show others a treasure, a treasure that resides in our own broken jar-like bodies. That treasure in us is life, Jesus’ life. God uses jars like us to bring the life of Christ to others.
Suddenly being called a jar doesn’t sound that bad. Yes, I may have this broken beaten body of life. Yes, death will one day take me and everything I know, but now here is this message of life. A message of joy living inside me, a message I not only hold on to and know, but a message I get to share. But here is the thing, the question really, how do we keep those cracks in our jar-like body from leaking out, from slowly losing the treasure inside? Or maybe more simply put, how do we not grow weary as we live in this world that is wrapped in sin and death? Paul answers this question as we walk with him deeper into these verses from chapter four of 2 Corinthians.
The first thing he says is this, “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” This is a quote from Psalm 116. If you’re not familiar with that Psalm, the Psalmist there writes about a lot of hurt, a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, but also a lot of deliverance. He says, “You, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death.” And then his reaction to that deliverance “How can I repay the Lord…I will sacrifice…I will call on the name of the Lord.”
Paul as he quotes this psalm keeps it simple. He doesn’t touch on the suffering and the hardship because he’s only looking at what he knows by faith, that God delivers. This is what Paul must speak, he says, “With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” Here is Paul a jar full of cracks and holes, yet the treasure inside, the message of life through Christ, he refused to let it go. Instead it was the focus, not the cracks of pain, not the holes of despair, but the deliverance, the life. This is what Paul believed and therefore had to speak. Life not here, but there. A resurrection, a place in heaven.
This is Paul’s response to those who wonder how a believer can remain a beacon of light in a world where sin and death seem to reign. This is his answer: Remain focused on what you know. So, here we are walking along with Saint Paul this summer, and Paul, Paul wants to share with us that focus. He wants us to see, and know, and believe, the same thing that he does. He says as much in verse 15, “All this is for your benefit”. My message and my life, my purpose, is to keep you focused on what you know, and here is what you know, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” You know, Paul says in these verses, that you will be raised up with me and together we will stand in God’s presence. Remain focused on this, focused on your resurrection.
I wonder if these words, as Paul wrote them, came with tears. Here was a pastor, a shepherd who truly cared for his flock but he understood this life. He more than anyone knew what it meant to suffer for his faith. He more than anyone saw the effects of sin as he watched countless people reject the message of the gospel. And he knew that even those who carried with them a faith now, might turn away from it later. So, what did he do? He directed his readers to the finish line, the end goal. All he promised was a death, but in that death a life standing together in God’s presence forever.
And we need this reminder. You and I, we do. We need to be redirected at times, refocused on what we know by faith. Think of it this way. We’ve all probably heard this type of conversation between a child and an adult. The parent tells the child something like, “Stevie, you know that it’s impolite to talk with your mouth full of food.” Only to have little Stevie respond, with a mouth full of food, “I know” as bits and pieces go flying out of his mouth. Little Stevie may not understand at the time what it actually means to know how to politely talk while eating, but once he begins to eat in public with friends, or begins to go on dates he will understand, he will know the importance of not talking with a mouth full of food as he seeks not to embarrass himself in front of others.
We often can be a lot like little Stevie, we might understand and nod our head in agreement that our life will end and that there are then two options after death, heaven, or hell, and we might think about that from time to time, but we don’t have an experiential knowledge of death and a resurrection. None of us have died and gone to heaven, not yet. But maybe we do know someone who has, or maybe we’ve been told by a doctor that soon we will close our eyes in death’s sleep. Even then maybe it’s not on the mind at all, something too uncomfortable to think about, but death happens.
Pastor Casmer said as much last week. It will happen to us all. We are those cracked and broken jars. This is why Paul is so insistent that he must speak what he believes. He must share with us and focus us on what we know in our hearts and minds to be true, that through Jesus we will be raised after death and we will stand in God’s presence.
Which makes this a very fitting section for today because Paul is not the only person who has ever taken to time to focus us on Jesus and our resurrection. Today, we say farewell and thank you to three faithful believers, three faithful teachers of our school, Mr. Melso, Mrs. Marose, and Mrs. Miller. Each of them certainly knew a lot of different stuff about a lot of different things and they shared that with us, with your children. But the greatest thing all three of those teachers had to share, and did share, was what they knew by faith. They shared their Savior. They used God’s Word in the classroom to nurture and strengthen the faith of their students. What a blessing. What a blessing each of those teachers were here at Christ the Lord and what a blessing they will be to others wherever they go from here. All because they like Paul, believed and had to speak as they remained focused on what they know, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
So, we thank those three teachers, but also all our teachers, for their faithful testimony and we thank God too for placing people like them in our lives who are focused on sharing their faith for our benefit. That we might be confident in our own faith which clings to Christ alone and gives glory to our God. This, finally, as Paul says, is the purpose of any ministry, “so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
And as we take a few more steps with Saint Paul today we see where this all leads, this life focused on what we know by faith. It leads Paul says, to a life where we don’t lose heart. You think about that. Focused on what we know, focused on the eternal life we have with Christ, suddenly makes this world and its troubles, small. I like how Paul puts it “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Paul isn’t trying to tell us that all our problems and doubts and fears are unimportant and that we need to get over it. He doesn’t seek to explain to us why some of us seem to have harder lives than others. He doesn’t answer the questions that are so often asked in moments of doubt and uncertainty “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Instead, he points us back to what we know that inside this broken life, this jar wrecked by sin, there is another life.
I’m thinking of him who did not deserve to suffer and all the reasons I do. I’m seeing the nails that held him to the cross and the face of pain that bore my sins. And I hear his words, “I’m going to prepare a place for you…” Suddenly I see the purpose of this life that seems to be wasting away. This suffering reduces me to my need. This pain turns my face toward him. We grip the Word because we have to…or is the deeper fact that his Word grips us?
We hear that Word speak to us today, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” And we smile, now I see, now I understand why God wants me to be focused on what I know. Because there is pain here. There is hardship. There is sin. And if that is all that my eyes look at I am lost, and I will despair. And some might say to get out of that despair to be free from that darkness we must try harder or be better. We must stop looking to some God who doesn’t care and take what rightfully is ours. We must earn it! But today Paul shows us that in the darkness of sin there is only one light, the Word, and in that Word, I see that every suffering and hardship in this world is worth it as it refines me and renews me day by day so that I focus only on what I know, that I’m not home yet.
This aching keeps us from being satisfied with this world. We won’t be right until our feet touch heaven. This jar, this shell of life with its suffering and hardship has a way of keeping us awake and longing for the only things that will satisfy us, the one person, the only place. And until we are there seeing him face-to-face, we call out to him “Come soon, Lord Jesus.” He hears us. He is on his way.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” And we then join Paul, the Psalmist, and other faithful teachers and we speak what we believe. We be Jesus to hurting people who don’t know where to look, we hold out a Christlike hand to others and we say “Let me share with you what I know. Let me show you your Savior. Come inside and see.” Amen