1 Corinthians 15:9-10
Please turn your attention to our second reading for today from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Like Paul, it is only by the grace of God that we are what we are.
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David, Paul, Noah, even the great Abraham, they were all great heroes of faith. But they all had their faults and God doesn’t hide their faults from us. That makes it easy for us to identify with them. It enables us to say with Paul, by the grace of God I am what I am.
What was Paul? He says he had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He could have been the person in the temple thanking God that he was so much better than others. He had been circumcised on the 8th day as the law demanded. He was extremely zealous for Jewish traditions, advancing in Judaism beyond others of his own age, even to the point of having the great Rabbi Gamaliel as his teacher. He was so zealous for the Jewish traditions that he was convinced that Jesus was a false prophet and he became the leader of the persecution of anyone who taught or even said that they believed that Jesus the promised Messiah who had risen from the dead. He was convinced that he was doing God’s will when he put Christians in prison, divested them of their property, and even presided over their execution.
What was Paul? He had been a persecutor of God’s church. He was a sinner, humanly speaking, a more obvious sinner than any of the other apostles.
What are we? Like David, like the Pharisee in the temple, like the tax collector, like Paul, we are sinners. Like David we have lusted. Like David we have tried to cover up our sins. Like the Pharisee in the temple we have looked down on others and considered ourselves less sinful, better than they. Like the tax collector there are probably times when we have cheated, maybe at school, maybe on our taxes, or in other ways. Like Paul there have been times when we thought we were being zealous for the Lord, but we were just being judgmental and unloving, letting tradition blind us to the truth.
Because of his sins Paul realized that any good thing he had done was the equivalent of garbage. He realized that he deserved to have God strike him dead on the spot and send directly to Hell for all eternity. Do you need someone like Nathan to help you realize that the same is true of you? Do you need a blinding light from heaven to knock you off your high horse? Whatever it is, we all need something to happen in our lives that makes us pay attention to God’s law and realize that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God but his eternal punishment.
By the grace of God Paul was what he was –a sinner who was also a forgiven child of God, and heir of eternal life. The brightness of the presence of Jesus that knocked him off his horse and blinded him brought him to see how wrong he was about Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a false teacher. His body wasn’t stolen from the tomb. He really had risen from the dead. That meant he really was the Messiah, the savior of the world. Jesus was appearing to him in glory, speaking to him from heavenly glory, and, although he pointed out that by what Paul was doing he was actually persecuting him, he didn’t destroy him! Instead, he graciously sent a man named Ananias to him to restore his sight. But even more important that receiving his physical sight, through Ananias he received baptism. He received the assurance that his sins had all been washed away, paid for in full by Jesus’ life and death in his place. He received the assurance that he was a child of God and an heir of eternal life. He realized that Baptism had such power because the promise of the resurrected Christ was attached to it.
What a blessing it is, that when we recognize our sins and humbly bow our heads like the tax collector, throwing ourselves on the mercy of God as we pray, God be merciful to me a sinner, we too experience the grace of God. What a blessing it is when God sends us a Nathan, or an Ananias, who through the word and Sacraments assures us that all of our sins have been washed away, paid for by Jesus. We too experience the grace of God as we hear the absolution, as we remember our baptism, and we are assured that we too are children of God, heirs with Jesus of eternal life. What a blessing that we can leave this building and return to our homes justified, declared not guilty of our sins, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us.
Like Paul, we admit that we are the least, a chief of sinners. We admit that we don’t deserve to be called a child of God. But, by the grace of God, that is what we are. By grace alone God chose us to be his child even before we were born. By grace he sent his son Jesus into this world to take our place under his law and under his wrath. He paid the price to redeem us. By grace he called us through the gospel in the word and sacraments. By grace he worked faith in our hearts to believe that Jesus is our savior so that we are justified, declared not guilty; so that there is no condemnation waiting for us. By grace he has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to sanctify us, to cause us to grow in faith, to keep us in the faith, and to enable us to serve him daily until he takes us to be with him forever.
Paul says that God’s amazing grace was not ineffective. Because of what Jesus did for him, he devoted himself to serving Jesus. He was determined to do everything he could to reach as many people as he could with the gospel. He was willing to give up things that he liked, that were part of his culture, the food he liked, traditions he liked, he was willing to put what anyone else liked ahead of his own likes, to become all things to all people just to get the chance to proclaim to them what he had proclaimed to the Corinthians – that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the only way for anyone to be saved. Because of what Jesus did for him he was enabled to endure all kinds of hardships and persecution for the sake of the gospel.
Like Paul, you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. By God’s grace you have forgiveness, peace, and joy right now, and eternal riches beyond imagination waiting for you later. Don’t let his grace to you be ineffective. Let God’s grace to you move you to devote yourself to the one who gave up everything for you. Let God’s grace to you move you to make everything else secondary to making sure as many as possible hear the saving message that Jesus lived and died for them and then rose again. Peter says, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we recognize God’s amazing grace to us, may we, like Paul, be driven to use whatever gifts God has given us to serve him and our neighbor in love. And, if someone notices what we are doing, like Paul, we will remind ourselves and them that it is not us, but the grace of God working in and through us that is doing anything good.
By the grace of God we are what we are- sinners redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ, called by the gospel to be children of God who are devoted to serve him and our neighbor in a way that gives God all the glory.