Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Lord, the God of Salvation

Texts: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 1 Samuel 17:1-54; Mark 4:35-41

"AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,
‘In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.’
"I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation."

"I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation."

These are the words of the Apostle Paul that begin our epistle reading for today. He wrote initially to the church in Corinth, in Greece, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, these words are for us as well. God’s grace and salvation is an urgent matter. We must not receive this gift of God in vain; that is, merely outwardly or to go along with what our friends and family are doing; no, the salvation of God must be received sincerely, humbly, with awe and holy love, that the grace of our Lord may have its effect in us.

All of our Scripture passages this morning have to do with the salvation of God, including the Psalm we recited for the Responsive Reading. It stands to reason: From start to finish the Bible is the story of God’s salvation. The saga of His work for humanity from the days of Adam to the days of the New Testament church is often called "salvation history." There is nothing in this life more essential for you to know. There is nothing in this world more disastrous if you ignore it or take it for granted.

We don’t use this word "salvation" much outside the Church. But we all know what it means to be rescued or saved from some terrible situation. Maybe you’re caught in a flash flood like the ones that hit the area last Wednesday, and the water picks up your car and rushes you into the nearest creek. But a brave policemen comes in a boat and fishes you out. Maybe your house catches fire and you’re trapped inside. Then a strong fireman comes and saves you. Or maybe you don’t have quite enough to pay your mortgage. But a generous relative or friend comes along in the nick of time and gives you the cash you need. In all these cases, you were in a desperate fix and somebody came along and rescued you from it. You received salvation.

But the word "salvation" these days seems reserved for use by the Christian Church, and really, that’s appropriate. Because as bad as it would be to be swept away by a flash flood or to be burnt up in a fire or to have your house sold out from under you, far, far worse is the situation all human beings are in that makes us all need the salvation of God. Financial loss, even utter destitution, could never be as devastating as the loss of fellowship with God forever. Physical danger, even physical death, is nothing compared with the agonies of eternal death and hell that await those who insist on continuing in their sin. The God of salvation rescues us from dangers that we cannot even imagine this side of eternity. His saving power is better and stronger and more effective than the most heroic earthly rescue could ever be.

And as wonderful as policemen and firemen and generous friends can be, far more glorious and worthy of praise is God Almighty, who rescues us from eternal death and everlasting loss. Jesus our Saviour knew it would cost Him everything to come to our rescue: Position, dignity, reputation, His very life-- even in that terrible moment of abandonment on the Cross, He suffered the loss of His relationship with His Father. Christ our God was not compelled to save us. We didn’t earn it; we didn’t put Him in our debt; when He saved us it was not because we were so cute and winsome, like kittens up a tree. Rather, out of His own free grace the Lord our God chose in love to grant us salvation through our His Son Jesus Christ. Such grace must never be taken for granted or received in vain!

I wonder, when we read the responsive Psalm, did you see yourself as one of those who knows the name of the Lord and trust in Him? Or did you recognise yourself as one of "the enemies," the wicked nations who dig pits to trap the righteous? When you heard the word of the Lord as written in the seventeenth chapter of 1 Samuel, whom did you identify with? Were you cheering for David and Israel, or for Goliath and the Philistines?

If I believed in betting, I’d lay money you were all identifying with Israel, with those who seek God. But why? On what basis? The Scripture teaches us in the Psalms and in Paul’s letter to the Romans that no one seeks God. We read in the Letter to the Ephesians that naturally-speaking, we non-Jews were separated from Christ and excluded from citizenship in Israel. We have no right to claim the salvation of God! And even if we can claim some Jewish blood, the Old Testament Scriptures teach us that Israel was not chosen by God because it as a nation was stronger or more numerous or more deserving than any other people. As human beings, the Jews of old were just as rebellious and disobedient as the pagans were. All of us start life as enemies of God; we deserve nothing from Him but defeat and destruction! So how can any of say that like David we’re soldiers in the army of the living God? How can we rank ourselves with the righteous and not only wait for God’s salvation, but also confidently expect it?

But we do, and we can, for by His grace God makes us part of His covenant people, with all the rights and privileges pertaining to our position with Him. The Lord long ago called our spiritual father Abraham and made a covenant with him, a covenant that was all about what God would do for Abraham and his seed; all Abraham had to do was humbly receive God’s favour through faith. That covenant was not set aside by the secondary covenant that God made with Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai; in truth, the covenant of Sinai was tributary to the earlier covenant, showing us more clearly His divine righteousness and our sin and driving us to depend on Him alone for salvation.

It was this covenant of grace that David the shepherd boy appealed to when he walked into that valley to answer the challenge of Goliath of Gath. More than once in this passage David refers to his opponent as "this uncircumcised Philistine." Is David just calling names? Absolutely not. Circumcision was the sign the Lord gave Abraham to signify that he and his descendants were the people of God. It identified Israel with Him and His salvation. But there stood Goliath, insulting the armies of Israel and thereby mocking and defying God Himself. Goliath cursed David by his false gods, who could not save. David relied on his covenant Lord, the God of Israel’s salvation, and through God he defeated the giant and won the victory.

We can claim God’s salvation in our day, for the covenant of grace that God made with our father Abraham is made perfect in His Messiah, Jesus our Saviour and Lord. We inherit His salvation through the new covenant made in His blood. David the son of Jesse took his stand in the Valley of Elah, but Jesus the Son of David took His stand on the hill of Calvary, and there He defeated the ultimate enemy, Death. Now through God’s favour we are included with His covenant people and rejoice in how He has saved us.

We can even rejoice in situations that might make the unsaved world think hadn’t received salvation at all; at least not the kind the world would understand. Paul writes in our reading from 2 Corinthians of troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, and so on and on. There’s some good things listed in here, but mostly it’s one long tale of suffering and woe. They’re the kind of thing we’d beg to be rescued from, but for Paul they became credentials that proved that he and his fellow apostles were truly the servants of God. For if Paul and his fellow-workers were suffering, it was for the sake of Christ who first suffered for them and for us all, that we might receive the salvation of God.

Our passage follows on from Paul’s teaching in chapter 5. There Paul reminded the Corinthians that Jesus Christ died for us, that He has reconciled us to God through His blood. That is the salvation our God offers us! Everyone who proclaims this gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, like Paul is an ambassador of God the King, and like every duly-appointed ambassador, each one must show his or her credentials.

All who bear the name of Christ, especially those who are ministers of the salvation of God, must be ready to commend themselves by their willingness to suffer for Jesus’ sake; they must show themselves genuine by their holiness and graciousness of life and by their kindness and love to all people, especially to the people of God; they must demonstrate their total dependence on the Holy Spirit and the power of God. They must be willing to suffer rejection, even rejection by the very churches whom they love.

How could any human being bear such a cross? Only through the power of the Lord, the God of our salvation, working in him.

Paul could bear all his hardships and even display them as proofs of God working in him, for Jesus Christ was and is the God of his salvation. Through Christ Paul was assured of life and joy and fellowship with Almighty God, in this life and in the world to come. And so we can be assured as well.

As we go through life, often we’re like the disciples on the boat with Jesus that night on the Sea of Galilee, tossed by the storm and thinking He doesn’t care if we drown. But we’re forgetting who this Man is. He is Jesus Christ, the Lord, the God of our salvation. His very name reminds us of that-- for it means "Jehovah saves." At His word giants fall, wind and waves are calmed, and our very sufferings for His sake become badges of honor, credentials that show we are ambassadors of our Lord the crucified and risen King.

Our God is the God who saves. Jesus the Son of David came down into the valley of this world and won for us the salvation we need, the rescue we could never manage for ourselves. Hear Him as He speaks to you in love through the words of His servant Paul. Do not receive God’s grace in vain. Don’t ignore the Good News for some pleasure or interest in this world you think is more important. Don’t allow the troubles of this life lead you to despise the salvation won for you by Christ on Calvary, to make you think He’s helpless in this fallen world. Rather, know that it is in the midst of battle and storm and difficulty that the Lord shows His saving power most clearly. It is when we face our helplessness, when we have given up any hope of saving ourselves, that He moves us to turn to Him and accept the salvation He brings.

This good news is for you if you’ve been a Christian for ninety years, or if you’ve just been going through the motions and aren’t yet a Christian at all. The Lord, the God of your salvation offers His grace to you through His Son, your Saviour Jesus Christ. In humility and trust, accept what He has done for you. For with Paul, I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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