Often, he was seen as a disappointment, viewed with distrust and doubt. His authority was questioned by friend and foe alike. Constantly, he had to defend his apostleship and the message he shared yet he did it tirelessly. He wrote letters in which he spoke both the hard law of God and the comforting message of his gospel. And he walked, he walked, and he walked, and he walked to share a message that had gotten others killed and himself jailed and stoned.
Why did he do it? How did he do it? I’m talking about the Apostle Paul. Why did he dedicate his life to people who often didn’t want to listen, rejecting or abusing his every word? How did he wake up each day to take that next step, to write that next letter, to face that next threat? Today, as we walk with Saint Paul, he pulls out a letter, a letter which he will soon deliver to his brothers and sisters in Corinth and in that letter he says is the answer to our questions. “It’s a story. The most compelling story ever told, he says, and I want to share it with you, because this story changed the world and this story is yours also to share.”
He points to the verses before us today and says, “It starts here, this compelling story starts with what I by faith am convinced of, that one died for all.” One died for all, the recipients of this letter from Paul knew whom that one was, it was Jesus, and his death changed the world. Here God in Christ shows us himself, loving, caring, forgiving, dying for all people.
God takes a giant world size rubber stamp and stamps “innocent” across our very lives for Jesus’ sake through no merit of our own. His love is no carrot on a string. Our salvation is offered unconditional because it is a finished fact for all human beings, no matter who they are. Forgiveness is freely given. Peace laid into every lap.
Yet, I can’t help but notice and maybe you can’t either that often I don’t see this peace in my lap. I don’t find that mark of innocent stamped on my life. Instead, I find my hands grasping in the air finding nothing but my own sins and my own failures. I feel guilt and shame over my thoughts and my actions. Is this what Christ died for? I look at others around me, yes, even those in church with me and I know we are all cut from the same cloth and even though we may sit here in worship, put money into the plate, and join in prayer it doesn’t mean that we somehow have earned what God offers. We are the rebellious, sin-filled, still-falling race. And God promises to punish sinners like us, “The soul who sins is the one that will die” he proclaims to us through the prophet Ezekiel.
We are those sinning souls. There is no getting around it. We will die. “Yes”, Paul says, “but that death has already happened, remember? “We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” God, through Paul points us back to his most compelling story and shows us how it truly changed the world as it has changed each of us. Every human being is one for whom Christ died. He was our substitute and by his substitution we died as our sin and our sinful nature was put to death with him forever.
For as God sought to gather every sinner into one spot to destroy and condemn them. That terrible spot became his Son and that unthinkable substitution as “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” There on that cross which Jesus carried one did die for all. There on that cross we were both judged and saved, put to death with Christ, but then given life, completely condemned, but even more thoroughly loved. God’s demand for payment of sin and his deep love for a world lost in sin met at the death of his Son.
“Who can fathom that when sinful humankind and its holy God met, it was the holy God who withered and died? But first he shouted, ‘It is finished.’ ” Then “he died for all.” One died. Jesus died. He died for you because you needed him. We needed him. And that right there is the key. We cannot stake our claim on a merciful God without first admitting that it’s precisely mercy that we need. That changes everything for us. Especially as we begin to understand the sacrifice God made for us and that he even made it for us in the first place. Jesus did not have to come, you know that? God certainly could have left us here with not even a whisper of who he is and just watched as one by one we passed through the gates of hell.
There is nothing special about any of us that God had to save us. Yet, he did. He died for all “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” And it changed the world. It changed us. In Christ we rose from a spiritual death to a spiritual life. A life that is marked, not by self-love but by love for a Savior who loved us first. Here we start to get a glimpse of what motivated Paul to carry out his ministry, he realized it wasn’t his ministry and it wasn’t his life; it all belonged to God. Are we starting to see the same? That this life and all we have is not ours, but God’s? A Professor J. Meyer in his book Ministers of Christ called this new life a “borrowed life” but even though it is borrowed it is blessed. To be in the arms of the living God, to know the one who died for all. This is all we need. The story of our Savior, the story of our life, an eternal life. It is the most compelling story ever told and, as Paul continues to share with us what God inspired him to write, it only gets better.
He says, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Here we are shown a new way to look at the people of this world to see them as God sees them. God doesn’t see an appearance, a race, an age, or an income, but a person, a soul, someone who might be lost, someone who might be found, and always someone whom Jesus gave his life to save. What difference that makes as we look out at the millions and billions of this world. All these people are like us, they’re loved by God; one died for them too. We get to share that message with them, that relative who isn’t quite sure, that friend who we haven’t seen in church, our child, our grandchild. We have a compelling story to tell them, a story that by God’s grace will end for them in heaven for as Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Gone! Paul cries out to us as he recalls what he once was, “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, but that’s all gone. “And all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting our sins against us.” This is what makes this compelling story so unique. In Christ what needed to be done for our salvation has been done for us. Yes, we are accountable to God for our sins, yet through Christ we are forgiven. Yes, we had alienated ourselves from God, but God in Christ made us his sons and daughters members of his family. God did this for us; to make us new so we could be in fellowship once again with him. He picked up that dirty nasty worthless penny that no one else would ever notice he scrubbed it clean and now he holds it always, he holds us always, his creation, his possession.
“And now,” Paul says, “I give this story to you. No, God gives this story to you. He has committed to you this ministry of reconciliation. “We then are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” We know one died for all. We’ve heard the most compelling story ever told. We’ve seen God’s love for this world, we know his love for us. God did it all and he now sends us to plead with sinners everywhere to receive what he freely offers to them, a new life, a place with him forever.
And that might seem like a tough task one that is all but impossible to share with this stubborn, sin-filled world, to share about a Savior they don’t think they need. Yet, We, Christians, are called to speak for God according to his inspired Word. To make sinners hear the hardest parts of Scripture as they are meant to be heard – hard law, wrapped in punishment and death as if there were no gospel – so as to bring the sinner to his or her knees, but only for a moment. So, that we can offer the refreshing water of forgiveness, the gospel without condition, as we point them to the cross upon which their every sin has been nailed. The cross upon which God made Jesus, who had no sin to be sin for us.
This is the story we share. This is the story you share. It may not be a popular story to share in this day and age – it really never was. It might not win you friends, in fact you might lose some. It may leave you tired and feeling hopeless as your voice falls on ears that listen but reject. And you might stumble over your words and wonder if this is something you should even be doing at all, but then you remember your time spent with Saint Paul and the question you asked him so long ago. “How do you do it?”
You remember the letter he pulled out and the way he lifted his head slowly up as his lips formed a slight grin and his eyes looked at you as if you were the only person on this earth. Then you heard him say, “It’s the story, the most compelling story, that Jesus died for all, that he died for me, and that he died for you. This is what I must share, God’s love for me and for you. And then he sighed, not a sigh of sadness or weariness, but a sigh of peace, and he softly said, “Christ’s love compels me. May it compel you too as you share the greatest most compelling story ever told. The story of your Savior.” Amen.