2 Corinthians 1:12-22
We are in 2 Corinthians for the next 4 weeks. I am feeling inclined in this pre-Christmas season to share a series that I call the Divine Yes. It’s a series that focuses on our purpose as God’s people, but is a way of capturing what this season is all about because Jesus is indeed the divine “yes” of God. And so if you will turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1:12-22, we will read the text out of which this comes. Also, I am not going to do as much expository preaching as perhaps topical and also since many times visitors and guests come during these weeks, I want to be clearer about who Jesus is and why he has come, so let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians from Chapter 1 of 2 Corinthians verses 12-22.
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no?’ 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 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 on ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Corinthians 1:12-22
Let us pray. “Lord we thank you that you are here with us-and that you have come to us and you always are coming to us. I ask that your Spirit would touch our hearts as we hear your word and that we are drawn to a deeper relationship with you. We ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Of all the words in the English language there are few more beautiful than the word “Yes.” When my children were little, as I’m sure you have experienced, we’d be swimming in a pool and they’d be standing at the side and they’d say, “Daddy will you catch me?” and I’d say, “Yes, come on jump”. All over the world, people are asking, “Will you catch me?” of God, of you, and of others. “Will you be there for me?” “Will you trust me?” “Will you forgive me?” “Will you give me another chance?” How beautiful when the answer to those questions is “Yes”. Our family, as I’m sure your family, enjoys going to Oriole games. It seems that during every other game somebody, Fred, for instance, in section 35, has a question for Freda. Then in big letters “Will you marry me, Freda?” comes up on the scoreboard. You’d have to be a pretty confident fellow to put that question up in front of 40 thousand people and It seems that the answer is always yes, but then I imagined what would it be like if Freda put a big “No” up on the message board in response to Fred’s proposal. And yet that’s the way, either because of negative life experiences or plain ignorance, many people see God and life as one big “No.” “God,” they say, “is leaning over the balcony of heaven saying ‘No, no stop it, you can’t do that. You oughtn’t do that.” It’s a sad thing. Bertrand Russell said, “Life is a bottle of very nasty wine that leaves a bad taste in our mouth.” That’s the way some people see life in God.
Not to long ago, I was reading about the Columbine incident again. When Cleabolt and Harris did that awful thing, people were speculating before the details came out of why they were motivated to be so evil. Some people said that they were insane, some people said that they just had lost their minds and that they were trying to act out some sort of fantasy. Later on, their diaries revealed something quite different. They wrote in their diaries that they knew that they were doing something wrong. They knew exactly that what they were doing was going to bring shame to their family. But in their diaries they wrote that they were tired of life at age 18, that they were tired of life and that there was nothing worth living for. That’s a sad commentary in a world where God has entered in and said, “Yes” not “No” through Jesus Christ.
You know, many people might choose Christianity to investigate the claims of Christ and see if there is something affirming to say, but they think that’s what Christianity is: “you can’t do this or you can’t do that” or maybe they are among Christians and they’ve seen a rigidity, a hardness and they think Christianity is one big “No.” I’m sharing with you today that Christianity is exactly the opposite, and that’s what Paul says in his text. “As surely as God is faithful our message is not yes and no for the Son of God who is preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy has not been yes and no. But in him it is always been “Yes” and as many are the promises of God they are yes in him” (verse 19-20). That’s what advent, or “the coming,” means. Advent is the coming of Jesus Christ to this world. Whether two thousand ago or presently, God is coming into our midst, even further. When He comes, it is always “Yes. I am for you.” That’s the divine “Yes.”
I often speak with Christians who have been around for some time. As the conversation unfolds, I hear things that tell me that a major part of them still has a hard time seeing God as non-punishing. That God is really there waiting for them to trip up. That’s not the God of the scriptures. The message is just the opposite. When God speaks and acts in Jesus Christ there are no hidden negatives. There are no negative convictions. Have you ever asked someone to do something for you and they say, “Well I think I can” or “Now wait a minute if I say yes are you really going to hold me to this?” Or they’ll say, “If nothing else comes up, I think I’ll be able to a help you out.” Then they call and say, “I’m sorry I’ve changed my mind and I can’t make it.” None of that with God. When God says yes, God means it. In Jesus Christ, when we say to God, “God are you for me?” He says, “Yes.” When we ask, “Will you help me with my problems?” He says, “Yes, I will.”
C. S. Lewis coined a phrase called The Divine Humility. I’ll explain it to you this way. What if somebody entered into a relationship with you and said, “Look, I would like to be your friend unless something or someone better comes up.” or “I would love to enter into an intimate relationship with you, maybe we can even get married down the road unless I meet somebody else.” Now most of us listening to this would say, “Take a hike,” right? How many of our testimonies are “I tried this, I tried that, I tried the other thing and finally when I got into my desperate moment I called on God.” That’s the divine humility–that God waits for us and doesn’t mind being the last resort. That’s who Jesus is, the humble and lowly one who came into this world to touch us where we hurt. And then the Bible says that all of the promises of God are “Yes” in Him. Think about that. People say, “Now let me think, do you mean that when God says to Joshua, ‘I’ll be with you wherever you go’ that is ‘Yes’ to me in Jesus?” Yes. “Do you mean when God says to Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope.’ That’s a promise to me directly?” Yes!. Jesus Christ is the sum of all God’s good promises and good intent.
Now somebody here is thinking, “Now wait a minute. There are times when God says No.” For instance, I asked God the other day about something and He said no. But like any good parent, no is in the context of a greater good. We all know this illustration; if our children come and ask mommy one thing and then they say to dad, “Mommy won’t let me play with the steak knives.” That’s a “No” that counts greater than a “Yes.” Because God is always for us, to protect us and to provide for us. Job was suffering and he said to God, “God, why is this happening?” We want to know why this needs to happen this way. God may not always tell us why. But God will always reveal himself to us. You know what Job ended up with right? “I have darkened counsel without knowledge. I have spoken of things too wonderful for me to know.” But God came to him. God came to him with a “Yes,” even in the midst of his suffering. That’s why Paul says to the Corinthians that Jesus is the source of our life. He is our purpose and if you will turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 18, we see part of what our purpose is in this world. Whether you are a Christian here today or you are a non-Christian, this is the possibility. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord and is the spirit” (verse 18). As we sit before Jesus Christ, as we wait upon him, as we pray to him, as we come to him, it is like looking at light in the mirror and we become more like the image of the Christ who has come to this world. Our purpose is Christ likeness. At times our circumstances can seem dark and we figure, “Wait a minute, there is no purpose in what is happening.” I remember seeing a video, a product of World Vision, called “Love, Inc”. Maybe some of you have heard of Love, Inc. It is an organization that goes into a town, a city or an area and networks all of the Christian services so that there is no duplication of effort so that churches can tie in to needs of people in need. For instance, if an older person struggles keeping their house or cleaning their gutters, they will call Love, Inc. Then, somebody on the other end of the line will hook them up with a church member who has already said that if anybody needs their gutters cleaned out they will do it. Love, Inc. is a real network in faith. In the video, the man who received all the calls was a quadriplegic. He had a headset and a microphone and from his bed, he was taking calls. Then, with one finger, he punched the computer keys to come up with the people who could meet the need of the caller. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought, “There is a person who anybody would look at and say, ‘What purpose does this person have anymore?'” But in Jesus Christ, he was connecting human hurts with Christ’s love. That’s the way things can be in Jesus Christ. The Lord fills our lives with divine purpose. But we have got to be connected.
That’s why I brought a little visual aid today. (A light bulb.) This is valueless at this point. There is no use for this other than the fact that it is an illustration right now. It has to be connected to the power source. You know, people today are cynical and negative. They don’t believe in God. That’s living life by a No. If you live life by a No, you are going to turn into a No. Somebody said that, “You are not responsible for the face you are born with, you are responsible for the face that you die with.” If you want a lovely face, you must truly live in him by a Yes and when you live in him by a Yes, you get connected and your purpose is realized. Apart from his power, your purpose can’t happen. Jesus said, “I come that you might have life and have it abundantly. That it might be full and meaningful.” If you want to know your specific purpose don’t call psychics or look at horoscopes. How can big blobs of matter floating in the universe possibly tell us our purpose? Jesus Christ is the divine “Yes” to purpose.
A little boy was found weeping and someone asked him what was wrong. He said, “I have been playing hooky all day from school and I just found out that today is Saturday.” When we play hooky against the divine Yes, we are at cross-purposes with the universe. That’s what Jesus is, the one who helps us see what our true purpose is. You know, one of the things that keeps us from understanding our purpose in life is a little thing called sin. I remember Bill Bright speaking about this illustration and it has always struck me how it makes the point. This is the time when people go to see train gardens. I think something is going on in Timonium with model trains right now. Bill Bright said that one time he had a pretty elaborate train garden and he tried to get it to run. Everything was plugged in and it wouldn’t work. He looked at all the connections but nothing. Finally, as he examined his train garden, he saw that one little metal telephone pole had fallen across the track and short-circuited the power. Then it dawned on him. He said, “Look at that little thing. All the electrical power of Los Angeles and it stopped working because of one little thing.” And so today, the Word of God is, “What are those little things that may be short circuiting you from either performing the purpose that God once called you to, or wants you to pursue?” Today, you may need to confess these things to God in order to be restored in his power. Don’t live apart from Jesus. When we live apart from Jesus, even though he is in there, we can be short-circuited. Am I right?
Now what does all this have to say to Central Church in the year 2000? That a vital congregation embraces the reality of the divine Yes. To the point of shaping everything it does so that other people can come to know the Savior and grow in him. When we reach beyond the walls of this congregation, we live out the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the things that Jesus said to people was, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women.” One of the very first sermons he preached was, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women. I will help you to fulfill a purpose that you can’t even imagine that will transform peoples’ lives.” And that is why we are going into the 3rd service. Let me tell you, there is a part of me that would love not do the 3rd service. Life would be much less hectic if we weren’t doing the 3rd service. Sometimes, I have to admit, I say, “Lord, please, please after February bring that new pastor as quickly as you can.” But there is a part of me that is spelled LAZY. Why are we doing this? To grow a church? No, to help people connect with the divine Yes. That’s why we labor and struggle so that might happen. You know, I listened to a message from someone else. Actually this person was translating this illustration so if you have heard this illustration directly and I missed something forgive me. It was an illustration that apparently Tony Campolo put in one of his messages and the story goes that he flew to Hawaii to a major conference and because of jet lag, he couldn’t sleep. He went into a coffee shop next to the place where he was staying, I think it was Harry’s Cafe, and he was there about 2:30 in the morning. As he was sitting there at the counter, eight prostitutes came into the place. They were loud, crude, and are talking with each other like they ought not be talking and one of them shouts, I think her name was Judy, “You know tomorrow is my birthday!” Then one of the other ones loudly says, “What do you want a party or something?” And Judy said, “You know what, I will be 39 years old and nobody has ever given me a birthday party.” When they all eventually left, Tony Campolo says, “Harry, do those women come in here every night?” Harry said, “Yeah, they do.” Then Tony said, “How about we throw a birthday party for Judy? If I get a cake, could you decorate your place and get the word out that in a couple of days we are going to have a birthday party for Judy?” So now the word is getting out on the street and people are like, “Wow, what is going on?” All of the street folks and everybody they know come in Harry’s cafe about 2:15. Then here come all of these women, the other women are in on it and Judy walks in the door and everybody starts singing happy birthday. She starts weeping uncontrollably. And right there she looks at the cake and it says, “Happy Birthday Judy.” Then, somebody says, “Come on Judy, blow out the candles and cut the cake.” She said, “Do I have to? Couldn’t I just take this with me and look at it a while?” Everybody said, “Yeah, that would be okay.” Tony Campolo said that Judy picked up the cake like it was the Holy Grail. And just slowly walked out. But just as she was at the door, Harry said, “Wait, Tony, why don’t you say a prayer.” Tony thought, “How do I say a prayer in this crowd, what prayer do I say in this context.” So he prayed some short prayer thanking God and asking Him to be real to these people. After the place cleared out, Harry was talking to Tony at the counter and he says, “Tony what kind of preacher are you anyway?” Tony didn’t know how to answer that question. He just said, “Well I guess I am one that holds birthday parties for prostitutes at 2:30 in the morning and I try to teach the people that I speak to to be that way too. I try to teach people in my church that.” Harry says, “There is no such church like that. If there were a church like that, I would join it. And I suspect that a lot of other people would too.” The question is; are we so in tune with the divine Yes that we will recognize when it happens?
Let’s pray. Lord we ask that you would help us to be people with yes faces. People who welcome others, regardless of their status in life as you have welcomed us. Lord we ask even as we commune with you now that you would restore us and fill us again with your spirit, that you would strengthen us to be fulfilling your purpose. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.