Sermon: The Red Thread of Salvation (cont’d)

[This sermon was originally preached on Sunday, March 13, 2016 as part of a series of  Community Lenten Evening Services between rural RCA and PCA churches in our area.]

I invite you to open your bibles with me to 2 Corinthians 1:18-24. If you don’t have a bible with you, feel free to grab one from the pew. 2 Corinthians is in the New Testament. It comes after Acts, Romans and 1 Corinthians, and before Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. 2 Corinthians 1, verses 18-24.

Throughout our lenten evening services we have been following the red thread of salvation, looking at pieces of this intricate tapestry of Holy Scripture that point to salvation in Christ alone by grace alone to the glory of God alone. We’ve looked at several Old Testament passages that point us directly to Christ. All of that has brought us to tonight, where we see everything brought together. But, before we hear God’s word, let’s take a moment to come before Him in a time of prayer.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit, our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ, our single concern. Amen.

Hear the word of the Lord from 2 Corinthians 1, beginning in verse 18.

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.

These are the very words of God. Thanks be to God.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ.

How many of you have ever made a promise?

How many of you have you kept every single promise you’ve made?

If you’re honest, I’m guessing you’ve broken at least one. Maybe you said you would sweep the floor, but in the hustle and bustle of the day, you completely forgot. Maybe you said you’d get a project finished by a certain day, but procrastinated a little here and a little there, and didn’t complete it in time. Maybe you said you would go to a friend’s party, but didn’t realize you had other commitments at the same time. We all make promises, keeping many, but also breaking them. We say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’,

but Scripture tells us that

All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ.

All of God’s promises are ‘Yes’ in Christ. All of them – from the beginning to the end, each one finds its ‘yes’, it’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ. That is what we have been seeing together this Lenten Season – that every single promise of God points to Jesus Christ.

On our first night together, we heard God’s word from Genesis 1-3. We learned that, even when Adam and Eve had sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, God still sought them out. Where are you?, God asked. God seeks the lost. He seeks us where we hide.

That same God would come in the flesh and call out to sinners, eat with them, to ‘seek and save the lost.’

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ.

On our second night we heard God’s promises to King David,

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.

God would raise up someone from David’s lineage to establish his kingdom forever. He would be beaten and endure much suffering at human hands, but God’s love would never be taken away from him.

Jesus was beaten. He suffered and died — all so that we might have life.

And then,

on the third day, he rose again from the dead. 

He ascended into heaven, 

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

His kingdom was established — an everlasting kingdom.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ.

Last week, we saw how in Jeremiah 31 God made more promises.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

    “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel

    and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant

    I made with their ancestors

when I took them by the hand

    to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,

    though I was a husband to them,”

declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

    after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put my law in their minds

    and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,

    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

    from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

    and will remember their sins no more.”

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ.

William Barclay writes,

“Had Jesus never come, we might have doubted the tremendous promises of God, might have argued that they were too good to be true. But a God who loves us so much that he gave us his Son is quite certain to fulfill every promise that he ever made. He is the personal guarantee of God that the greatest and least of his promises are all true.”

And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 

All of them, all God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus, in his work on the cross for us. But how? How are they all fulfilled in Christ? What is it about this in Christ reality that is the answer to all God’s promises, that is exactly what we have been waiting for? Let’s look at our passage, verse 21:

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. 

He anointed us, 

set his seal of ownership on us, 

and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, 

guaranteeing what is to come.

God makes us stand firm in Christ. He makes our life sure upon the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus. How does it do it?

1) He anointed us, 

2) set his seal of ownership on us, 

3) and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, 

guaranteeing what is to come.

He anointed us

Why were people anointed?

In the Old Testament we read of many people being anointed — prophets, priests, kings. Think of Aaron and his sons, Saul, David, Isaiah, and many more. All of them were set apart, called by God for a particular service in His mission.

We too have been anointed. Jesus is the one who anoints us. He calls us, claims us — in fact, we share in his anointing. Like all of those prophets, priests, and kings we have been set apart for a particular work in God’s mission. What is that?

The Heidelberg Catechism says it well. I invite you to join me in reading this with me. Q & A 32 asks us:

Q. But why are you called a Christian?

A. Because by faith I am a member of Christ

and so I share in his anointing.

I am anointed

to confess his name,

to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks,

to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil

in this life,

and afterward to reign with Christ

over all creation

for eternity.

We have been anointed to confess the name of Jesus Christ, to present ourselves to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.

God has also set his seal of ownership on us

In the ancient world, a slave who wanted to be freed needed to pay off their debt. To do this, they would work very hard, saving every penny they could. They would open an account at a local temple. They would go to the god of their choice and put their money on deposit. Once they had saved up enough money, their master would go to the temple, draw up an agreement, and sell them to the god. The freed slave would then be owned by the god who freed them.

The story is different for us, though we too were once slaves — slaves to sin. We owed a debt. But we were not freed by saving up our pennies or stringing together our good works. We were freed by Jesus’ work on the cross. Jesus’ work pays our debt and sets his seal of ownership upon us. This is why Paul can repeatedly speak about being a ‘slave of Christ.’ This is why it is good news when the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that our only comfort in life and in death is that “I am not my own, but belong -body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” God’s promise to free his people from sin was accomplished, fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross. It is then applied to us by the Spirit, as it places Christ’s seal of ownership upon us. This promise is made visible in the waters of baptism.

Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s promises to this covenant people.

In baptism God promises by grace alone:

to forgive our sins,

to adopt us into the body of Christ, the church,

to send the Holy Spirit daily to renew and cleanse us, and

to resurrect us to eternal life. (Worship the Lord, RCA Liturgy)

Lastly, God put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Before his death Jesus promised his disciples that His Father would send the Holy Spirit to help us and be with us forever. Jesus said, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

On the day of Pentecost that promise was fulfilled, when the Holy Spirit came down.

That Spirit has been put in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. We are still waiting — waiting for Christ to return. It has not happened yet, but we have hope — a guarantee. Even though God’s promises are all ‘yes’ in Christ, we do not yet see them in their fullness today. We still wait for Christ to come again and set all things right — to make all things new. But, until that day, Christ has given us the Holy Spirit, placed upon our hearts like a deposit, a foretaste, a promise of more to come. We can also hold tight to the promise that no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ.

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