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Worship Theme: Does Jesus Care?
Sermon Theme: Pressure Pinches but Power Prevails
Life is not always easy! And at times it can be downright hard! Are any of you going to fight me on those statements? Is anyone going to challenge them or disagree? All you have to do is turn on the news to hear the daily reports of tragedies and disasters. You can’t visit the doctor without the constant reminder that you – like all other people - are feeble and frail. Take a moment and list in your head the number of people that you know that are battling serious health concerns. For many of you your own name is on that list! Put those lists from all of these individuals and you have a long catalogue of people for whom we can pray. And you also have a long catalogue of proof that life in this world is challenging.
The Apostle Paul knew a lot about the struggles of life. He struggled, inside and out. He had friends but a lot of enemies. He had people who loved him and plenty who hated him as well. There were people who supported him and wanted to help him in any way that they could, and there were some that threw rocks at him and wanted him dead!
The words that are before us today are from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians chapter four. It’s later on in this very same letter (chapter 11) that Paul catalogues his struggles: I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
But yet it’s Paul who went through all those struggles and all that pain that writes the words of comfort that are before us today! It’s Paul – himself a struggling human – that speaks these words to the believers in Corinth and he speaks them to us. Paul tells us that pressure pinches but power prevails.
It’s been the story since the beginning of time. Ever since, Satan slithered into the Garden and turned the screws of temptation onto Adam and Eve, life has been a series of challenges for us to face. And the impact of their sin has been felt by every generation since. Thorns and thistles, weariness and weakness, pressure and pain, they all are a direct consequence of sin in the world. And it’s not just them to blame! Our own sin brings our own hurt, and hardship and harm. Life is hard, and we have no one to blame but ourselves!
And now our lives are exactly what Paul describes them to be: we are hard pressed, as we face the pressure of temptation. We are perplexed, as we try to make sense of the pain and hurt in our lives, as we learn that on our own, we are lost. We are pursued and persecuted, by an onslaught of attacks by the evil one. We are struck down in defeat when we realize that we aren’t strong enough to stand on our own.
That’s life for us. That’s life in a sinful world! But those realities aren’t our undoing! They aren’t the end of us. They don’t define us! No! In fact, Paul offers hope and relief to us them all! He says: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Why? Why can Paul be so hopeful? Why can he speak so clearly and confidently? If he was a sinner and the Corinthians were sinners, and the same goes for you and for me, why can Paul tell us that sin will not be our undoing? It’s because of the one that Paul came to proclaim. It’s because we have a Savior from sin. And he saved us from sin by becoming our sin and by bearing our sins in his body on the cross. Jesus was hard pressed as the pressure of the world’s sin weighed down on him. He was perplexed as he prayed to his heavenly Father. He was pursued and persecuted by those who rejected him and mocked him. He was struck down and he willingly bore the wrath of God in your place and in mine! Isaiah tells us of all that we deserved and all that Jesus was willing to endure for us: Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-6).
The weight of sin’s curse fell heavily upon Jesus. Our sin pinched and prodded and pierced him. It caused him to bleed, it took his life, but Jesus struck back. He swiped at sin with his perfect life. He reversed the curse as he shouted those Good Friday words of victory from the cross. He demolished death three days later when we rose up mightily from the grave!
And now even what was weakness before has become a strength. Jesus has turned our fragility in firmness and our frailty into faith. Paul says: For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Even in death, Jesus brings life! Even in pain, he points us to the happiness that is ours in him! Even in hardship, he shows us the confidence and peace that we can find in sins forgiven and life restored.
What do you do with your most precious treasures? People keep money in banks. They store precious gems in safety deposit boxes. They keep find jewelry in safes. They store important documents in fire-proof containers. Do you know where God keeps his treasures? Clay pots! But we have this treasure in jars of clay. The most precious thing that this world has known, the message that sins are forgiven and that death has been defeated, God stores that message in fragile, frail, crumbly pots like you and me. Hardly a vessel worth the value of the treasure. But the reason he does that is simple. Because in God’s eyes the real treasure is the jar of clay! In God’s eyes the thing that has value is you! That’s what the gospel is really all about. The good news that God sent a Savior from sin is for you! It’s to save you! It’s to buy you back! It’s to have you with him forever!!
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. The all-surpassing power to destroy our enemies is from God’s and not from us. The all-surpassing power to bring life where death reigned is from God and not from us! The all-surpassing power to change your heart is from God and not from us. The all-surpassing power that will turn clay pots like us in glorified and perfect people in the mansions of heaven is from God and not from us! And it’s that power that God willingly and lavishly bestows on us!
So “Bring it on, sin! You can hurt us anymore! Jesus put you in your place!” “Bring it on Satan! We know the truth! Your head has been crushed by Jesus and his all-surpassing power.” “Bring it on death! You can’t touch us anymore. You are powerless in the face of the Lord of Life!”
Paul speaks his confidence this way: We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. Heaven is ours in Jesus. New life is ours in the life that Jesus took up from the grave. Victory over our enemies has been secured by Christ and given freely as God’s gift to us!
It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak. It’s good news! We aren’t dying - but living with God and for him. We aren’t defeated – but we are more than conquerors through him who loves us! We aren’t alone, but are adopted into the family of God. We aren’t weak, but can overcome anything, through Jesus who gives us strength.
And now we can speak! We can share this precious message of forgiveness and life! There are a lot of clay pots out there that God wants to hold the gospel! There are a lot of weak people that God wants to make strong and a lot of dying people that Jesus wants to bring to life – new and real and eternal life! And it’s possible through the all-surpassing power and the all-surpassing love of our God!
This side of paradise, we won’t ever be free from the impact of sin on our life! It will remain true until Jesus changes all things that pressure pinches. Life here on earth might hurt for a little while. But Jesus knows the hurt and he knows how and when to bring comfort and peace. Take heart! Never Forget! Rejoice that Pressure Pinches but Power Prevails. Amen.
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