Our Hope In Christ
Resurrection Sunday - April 8, 2007
I want to talk about the one of the ugliest words in the Bible and one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. The first is hypocrisy. The second is hope.
Prayer: Dear Lord, please forgive me of my moments of hypocrisy. Please lead me back to hope in Christ. Use me to help others in their struggle against the temptation to hypocrisy. Save us and preserve us against all deceptions, doubts, and despair. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:19 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
St. Paul was an Apostle of Jesus. Jesus appeared to him after He had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Jesus commissioned him to teach the Gospel message of salvation to the Gentiles – the non Jews.
This is what he taught them: You have been groping around trying to find God. Instead of the true God, you have worshiped idols – gods of your own imagination. These gods always say the same thing: if you at least try to be good, you’ll be saved. But that’s a lie. You won’t be saved trying to be good. Your good works are still mixed with sin, and unless something is done about your sin, you will be separated from the true God forever. The true God knows that we can’t get rid of our sin by ourselves. So He sent a Savior – His Son. His Son joined with us. He became a human being. He was born of a woman named Mary, but His Father is God. His name is Jesus. Jesus loved and obeyed the true God. That made all the idol worshipers and hypocrites angry. They plotted to kill Jesus – but that was no surprise to Him. Jesus knew this would happen, and He also knew that His Father had a plan. He would use Jesus’ death to destroy the power of sin. This is why Jesus is also called "the Christ." "Christ" means one who is chosen. To show the world that this was indeed His plan, He raised Jesus from the dead after three days. This is the true way of salvation. Now God’s Spirit began to spread this message first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Many who were idol worshipers and hypocrites were touched by God’s Spirit through this message. He led them to repent of their sins and to believe in Jesus. When they believed in Jesus, God forgave them of their sins. From that time on they continued to listen to Jesus, to believe in Him, and to live for Him. Even though they would someday die, they knew that they would be raised again like Jesus.
But that’s not the end of the story. Those who have believed this are always being tempted to fall back. They are tempted to become hypocrites and idol worshipers all over again. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote the letters to the followers of Jesus the Christ in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul wanted them to continue believing in Him. He wanted them to have the true hope of salvation from sin and death.
What is a hypocrite and an idol worshiper? This is a person who trades away the truth of God’s salvation for some other way of salvation. But they still call it "God’s way of salvation." They still claim to believe in Jesus.
The Israelites received and believed God’s way of salvation in the account of the Exodus. God delivered them from slavery in Egypt with many miracles. But they became impatient in the wilderness. They didn’t want to listen to what God had to teach them about the life of faith and how to deal with sin. Instead they made a golden calf – an idol to replace the true God. Aaron even said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of Egypt" (Exodus 32.4). Unlike the true God, this one didn’t have any commandments to follow, and so nothing needed to be done about their sin. They could do as they pleased – all the time believing that they would be saved.
Idols are usually shortcuts – maneuvers around the problem of sin and God’s solution to sin in Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection. Hypocrisy is when we call that shortcut "Christianity."
Some of the Corinthians came up with a few shortcuts. They liked some of their sins and saw no need to repent of them and to be forgiven. For that they needed a new Christ – one who didn’t hold them to the Ten Commandments. So they began to say that Christ allows this and Christ allows that. They said, "My Jesus wouldn’t condemn someone who believes in another god – in the end all religions are basically the same." Some of the members of their church were committing sexual sins – hetero and homo. But that was OK since they weren’t hurting anyone. Their Jesus allowed that too. They began to form little groups – some following these teachings and other following those teachings – but that was OK as well. Their Jesus was open-minded and liked doctrinal diversity. Some of the Corinthians got into heated squabbles. They decided to sue each other and so you had two Christians fighting with each other in public. But that was OK also, their Jesus taught that squabbling and fighting are just a normal part of life – there was no need to bring God into it. The Corinthians were especially, and above all logical people. Their Jesus wouldn’t expect them to believe in something that didn’t make sense. For them the Lord’s Supper was a very special meal – but it wasn’t the true body and blood of Christ. And then finally there was this resurrection thing that the Apostle Paul taught. There were a few scientists in Corinth who said that there’s no such thing as a physical resurrection from the dead. Now scientists in Corinth were highly respected as intelligent people. You would have to be a fool to say they were wrong – and nobody in Corinth wanted to be called a "fool." And so the Corinthians began to say, "My Jesus is the one who has risen in my heart. He is the one who makes me feel good and accepts me the way I am."
These are the Corinthians shortcuts. You can read all about them in First and Second Corinthians. But basically they are all ways for human beings to avoid admitting that they are lost people who sin against God in many and various ways. For this they need a fabricated Christ who isn’t really a Savior but an assistant. Jesus assists them in this life to make it as good as it can be. They are right back to where they started. They have good works and they have sins all mixed together. Instead of the true Jesus, they have an idol-Jesus who pronounces his blessings on all their worldly ways.
I know that I need to be forgiven for my sins of hypocrisy. Sometimes I think like the world and act like the world. You and I realize this. We’re like the man who was pulled over by a police office. "I wasn’t speeding" the man said to the office. "I know," he said. "But I did see you cussing out a motorist back there. I saw you shaking an angry fist at another driver. Then I also noticed the ‘fish’ symbol of Christianity on your bumper. When I saw that I figured by the way you were acting that you couldn’t be a Christian and that maybe this car had been stolen."
But God doesn’t give up so easily on the people He loves, even when they fall into the temptation of hypocrisy and idolatry. Paul would not concede one inch from what he originally taught them. He knew and believed that there was one way of salvation through the work Christ for us. He knew that God calls men everywhere to repent and to believe, and that this is the true miracle of salvation. So he prayed fervently for the Corinthians. He sat down and wrote out these great letters. And he sent them in the hands of faithful messengers who traveled hundreds of miles to bring them to Corinth.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Just as Christ could not be held in the tomb, so you do not have to be boxed in by this world. Though there are many temptations that would draw us back to idolatry and hypocrisy, we have an even more powerful truth in Christ.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that there are over 100 books in print whose title includes the phrase "That Changed the World." The most recent is "Gunpowder: The History of the Explosive That Changed the World."
Some of those books considerably overstate the importance of their subject; but among the 100-plus world-changer titles there is one that lives up to the hype.
Dianna Muir, "An Explosive New Look at History," The Christian Science Monitor 5/4/04
The Roman culture of Paul, like our culture today, was steeped in hypocrisy and idolatry. Jesus was secretly arrested and judged. The witnesses contradicted each other. Pilate hypocritically declared, "I am innocent of this man’s blood." But people of this culture like ours were changed by Jesus’ resurrection. Peter, who once denied Jesus, became his greatest confessor. Romans of all ranks, from slaves to city and state officials became Christians. They discovered that Jesus is the only one who can free you from the death grip of sin. Above all, Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, became a believer.
At our Sunday School Teacher’s Meeting last month I shared one of my favorite Easter stories. In order to help her students understand the significance of Easter she gave them an assignment the week before. She gave them each a plastic Easter egg and asked them to put something in it that reminded them of Easter. Now there was a boy in her class that was a little slow. His name was Jeremy. He needed everything explained a couple of times. So the teacher did her best, but she wasn’t sure if he really understood. The next Sunday all the kids came back with their eggs. One little girl had a flower in her egg. She explained that Easter reminded her of new life. A little boy had a plastic butterfly. He said that Easter was the way God transformed like the caterpillar. Finally it was Jeremy’s turn. He opened his egg and there was nothing in it. The teacher’s heart sank. He didn’t understand the assignment. But then Jeremy explained. "My egg is empty because on Easter Jesus’ tomb was empty. Because of Easter Jesus can make our hearts empty of sin and death."
Jesus really is the one who changes everything. Forgiveness really is the beginning of a new and eternal life. If you’ve never heard that before, and you feel like something is pulling you in that direction, be glad. God has come into your life. If you’ve known that but also know that you’ve strayed from it, remember that God does not give up. You wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t drawn you here. Today is a new day. God has turned you away from hypocrisy and idolatry to the hope and true faith of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
The Resurrection of Our Lord, April 8, 2007
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2007
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