Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:12-17, for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, "Magnify the Grace of God"

Sermon Outline:
·         Paul’s mini-story—blasphemer (evil and foolish words against God), persecutor (tried to destroy the church), and insolent opponent (did great damage to the church through words and violence—opposed the Gospel, arrested, gave approval of martyrdom), acted ignorantly in unbelief. Why the story? Why him? That God might make an example of him for those who were to believe (for us!).
·         What kind of example? What does it usually mean? To strike fear? Create doubt or dread?  No! To create hope—not lose hope! To give comfort and joy to the troubled conscience. See Jesus love on display. You are counted in. Example that shows the greatest sinner was not outside of God’s merciful reach. Example that “Magnifies the Grace of God.”
·         Define “magnify” in context of this theme—not a “magnifying glass”—as though God’s grace and mercy were too small to see, or needed enlarging. Not that we add anything to God’s grace and glory. But to proclaim it’s greatness. To remove any blinders to its full brilliance. To see God’s mercy shine forth full strength, so that we are filled with wonder and awe at His love.
·         Paul’s example magnifies God’s grace because it shows Christ’s unimaginable love and perfect patience. Who but Christ could have endured Paul’s persecutions, and still shown mercy and love to Him? Trustworthy saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Shines forth the brilliance of God’s glory in both law and gospel. Law—we’re sinners, I am the foremost (chief). Gospel—Christ Jesus came into the world to save (us) sinners. To let the greatness of God’s mercy shine forth undimmed, we must not reduce the light of either the law or the gospel. We cannot put on blinders to the law or the gospel, or we will obscure and diminish the grace of God.
·         Paul refused to reduce or dilute the law—applied it unsparingly to himself—I’m the worst sinner. Not mock humility, but genuine remorse over the evil he’d perpetrated. Likewise, we cannot build a shelter or shade for our sins, hide them from the light of God’s law—excuse or diminish them—push others lower than us so we seem artificially higher. Exalts himself > humbled. Humbles himself > exalted. Instead, when Law is raised to full height—shows us to be completely undeserving—furthest chasm separating us from God—this is just where Christ rescues us, as He came into the world to save sinners, the lost. Then God’s grace is magnified—our sin is seen in full measure, and God’s grace overflows, abounding, pouring out like a bottomless, welling spring. What could Paul count to his credit, to make himself deserving? Only sin. Nothing. Grace by definition comes undeserved.
·         What about dimming or reducing the light of the Gospel? How can this happen? When we neglect to teach it, when we underestimate it (my sin, or their sin is too great to cover/forgive), when we confuse it with the law or turn it into law, as though we could earn God’s grace, when we take it for granted (don’t need to hear, receive, already know…). But when we stand in the awe and radiance of the Gospel, the grace of God is magnified. Astonishing lengths—incarnation, humiliation, crucifixion, death, resurrection. We see great and terrible sinners redeemed by mercy. We see most sharply ourselves, with all our various sins, forgiven, Jesus’ words from the cross proclaiming life to us. We forget our selfish being at the marvel of God’s heavenly splendor (“Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow”) and gaze with joy at the beauty of His love. A love that is so altogether unlike our poor, selfish love, that it warms us with its Divine kindness and generosity.
·         What did Paul do to qualify for grace? Precisely nothing—in fact worse than nothing—he was acting contrary to Christ, and should have been least deserving. Didn’t hinder the amazing grace of God, which saved even a wretch like him. But if we can’t sing “like me” also—if we can’t say that we have sinned, are wretches and undeserving of God’s grace—then we’ve only deceived ourselves and God’s grace is not for us. If you don’t think you are a sinner, or don’t have sins to confess, then recall that Christ Jesus came into the world not for the righteous, but for sinners. But if we are sinners, and we’ll readily admit it—if we are chief of sinners, then Christ is for us. He takes all the undeserving, those who could only count negative marks to our credit—He takes even the “exceptional” sinners and forgives them and makes them His own.
·         So great is the power of His forgiveness. So great is God’s love that even hatred, persecution, insults and blasphemy could not stop Him from redeeming Paul, and making him into one of God’s most useful servants for the Gospel. Have no doubt that God has a plan and a use for you—that your life is also redeemed for His service. You cannot count up your sins and wrongs and say “God no longer can use me!”—you cannot say that He has no purpose for you. Paul has pulled that rug out of under us—no one can claim they are out of reach of God’s grace—that Christ’s forgiveness could not reach them. Some may refuse His grace—that is true—but it won’t be that God didn’t want to save them. God has claimed you in Christ Jesus—claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism—claimed you for His service—claimed  you for an example of His love. God’s grace will be magnified also when it is multiplied—when yet another lost soul is claimed for the kingdom of God. All heaven will rejoice—celebration and music will ring out in God’s courts—over every lost sinner that repents! Can you imagine what’s it’s like to be there when heaven throws a celebration for a sinner come home to God?!
·         Till we get there—we can magnify the grace of God—tell out the greatness of the Lord! Be overwhelmed together with Paul, by the overflowing, abounding grace of God in Christ Jesus. Stand in the river of His mercy, carried up by the strength of His love, and witness your sins washed away in Jesus’ forgiveness. Echo back in thanksgiving those great words of praise to God: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Review the story of Saul before his conversion (later known as the Apostle Paul). Acts 7:58-8:3; 9:1-31. How would you characterize his opposition to the Christian faith at that time? How did Paul himself measure it? Galatians 1:13-15; Philippians 3:4-8; 1 Timothy 1:13.
  2. How did Paul’s conversion magnify the mercy of God? How does the example of Paul give hope to all the “tough-minded” and stubborn? Romans 5:6-11. Why is it still urgent that everyone believe in Jesus, and not delay? Matthew 10:32-33; Hebrews 9:27
  3. Paul describes the grace of our Lord “overflowing” or abounding to him with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. What is excessive, abundant, or unexpected about God’s grace? What troubling sins of yours have been covered by God’s undeserved love?
  4. Memorize the “trustworthy saying” in 1 Timothy 1:15, and keep it in your heart. What was God’s will and purpose for sending Jesus? Luke 5:31-32; 15:1-4; 19:10. What is so difficult about making the awfully honest assessment, like Paul, that we are “chief of sinners?” 1 Corinthians 2:14; Mark 7:20-23. Why is it necessary that we face our sin with such honesty? Luke 8:9-14; 1 John 1:8-10; Luke 15:7, 10.
  5. Paul says that in the mercy he was shown, Jesus’ perfect or whole patience was shown. His patience did not rush to judgment, but anticipated the time of Paul’s turning. Where in our lives might we exercise greater patience? Though God’s mercy is unfathomable and His patience is perfect, there is a point at which time runs out. 2 Peter 3:9-10; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16. To turn to Jesus is to be spared that judgment.
  6. Reflect on the amazing truth that the Immortal, invisible, only God became incarnate (took on human flesh) in Jesus Christ, and subjected Himself to death, made Himself known to us, and opened salvation to us.

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