Finding Glory in Our Crosses – 2 Corinthians 4:7-18


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2 Corinthians 4:7-18
January 17, 2016
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service

Pastor Steven Nicoletti

I’m picking up tonight where we left off last Sunday evening, looking at Second Corinthians together.

Last week we looked at Paul’s discussion of why he was not discouraged – why he did not lose heart – and we considered how that applies to us.

In tonight’s text, Paul continues his line of thought, but he moves to a deeper and more foundational question. And it’s an important question in his dialogue with the Corinthians.

The Corinthians knew that the gospel of Christ was a glorious thing. They believed that firmly. And that was the root of why they were having trouble with Paul. Because when they looked at Paul and his ministry, they saw the persecution he had undergone – they saw the troubles he had endured – and they finally felt compelled to conclude that his ministry was not very glorious. And so to them Paul and his ministry seemed incongruous with the glory of the gospel of Christ.

Paul, in this letter, has been responding to that objection. And the first thing he does is to argue that rather than calling his ministry and apostleship into question, his suffering and trouble is actually an affirmation of his ministry and apostleship. Paul argues that rather than being alien to the Christian ministry and the Christian life, trials, difficulties, and hardships – crosses, in one form or another – are a fundamental part of what it means to follow Jesus.

But then, in chapter three, Paul also affirms the glorious nature of the new covenant and the new covenant ministry.

And that leaves us with an unresolved question: If the gospel is so glorious, why does Paul’s ministry look like a crucifixion? Why is it filled with crosses? Why does it resemble death?

And that is a question that can be raised in our Christian lives as well – can’t it? The gospel of grace is a glorious thing. The work of Christ in the world for his people is supposed to be a glorious work. What God is doing now in the world through us, his people, is supposed to be glorious. If that is the case, then why do our lives so often look like the cross? Why can it feel more like crucifixion? Why are our lives so filled with crosses?

Now we should say a little bit about what we mean by “crosses.” What I have in mind are any kind of trials, struggles, and suffering that come into our lives as a result of our faithfully following God’s call on our lives. The trials, the struggles, and the suffering that comes into our lives as a result of our faithfully following God’s call on our lives. And those trials, struggles and sufferings can be big or small. They can also be a direct or an indirect result of our following Christ. Paul, for example, in chapter 11 of this letter lists the sufferings he has endured as a result of being a faithful servant of Christ. He includes items that we would expect, like imprisonments and beatings that were the direct result of his preaching the gospel. But he also includes being shipwrecked three times and spending a day and night adrift at sea. Now, Paul’s ships were not torpedoed by people who knew an apostle was on board. The shipwreck just happened. But it was a trial and a suffering he faced because of his faithfulness to God’s call. He would not have been on those ships except for his work to fulfill God’s call.

And it’s similar with us. Sometimes trials, struggles, and suffering come into our lives as a direct result of our faithfulness to Christ – but other times it is less direct. Some are big and some are small. But in each case it is a cross. It is a difficulty that could have been avoided if we had rejected God’s call in our lives.

For many of us, we can see sacrifice – we can see crosses – that have come into our lives because we have tried to be faithful to the Christian calling to love someone whom God has put in our lives. It could be a family member, whether a parent, a child, or a spouse. In other cases we see relationships with friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or fellow church members, where our commitment to care for, to love, or to minister to them has led to sacrifice. At other times it may be a task we need to complete, a job we need to do, a ministry we need to fulfill, because someone needs it done, and God has placed us in the position to do it.

What these different callings in our lives share is that they involve a cross. They involve a sacrifice. In each, being faithful to Christ – obeying the gospel in the particulars of our life – has led us to trial, struggle, or suffering.

What does that look like in your life?

Paul in many ways is an ideal representative of this. Paul is an apostle who has suffered often as a direct result of his ministry. And while Paul begins by speaking of himself, he goes on, both within tonight’s text, and in the next chapter, to generalize the points he makes about himself to all believers. So even if Paul’s crosses are different than ours in intensity, they are not different in kind. He is an acute case study of what every faithful Christian will face on some level.

So the question we come to is: If the gospel is so glorious, then why do our lives have so many crosses? Why does God’s calling on us so often feel like carrying a cross – an instrument of death?

That is the question Paul seeks to answer in our text tonight. And what we will see emerge from our text is that Paul tells us that the glory of the gospel actually emerges from our crosses. The glory of the gospel emerges from our crosses.

And more than that, Paul is going to point to three specific ways that that happens.

Now, it’s a common preaching technique to make three points, and to then connect them using some sort of wordplay or alliteration, and that’s not usually my style, but that’s just sort of how my sermon came out this week. So if you find that helpful, then great; and if you find that kind of cheesy, then please forgive me.

But here is what we’re going to see tonight. In explaining how the glory of the gospel emerges from our crosses, Paul will direct us to consider:
– The glory in our perseverance
– The glory in our purpose, and
– The glory in our perspective

So, when we are struggling, and asking ourselves “If the gospel is so glorious, why does my life have so many crosses?”, Paul tells us that the glory of the gospel emerges from our crosses, and that when we look closely at our crosses what we should see is:
– Glory in our perseverance
– Glory in our purpose, and
– Glory in our perspective

With that in mind, let’s hear from our text, 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word.

Paul writes:
4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

“13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

“16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This is God’s Word.

So, we said that Paul answers our question about why we face crosses in our lives by telling us that if we look closely at our crosses what we should see is:
– Glory in our perseverance
– Glory in our purpose, and
– Glory in our perspective

Let’s look at each of those.

First of all, if we look at our crosses rightly, we should begin to see the glory of the gospel in our perseverance.

When facing the crosses in our lives, there are two main temptations we can fall into. And each of us tends, based on our personality, to be tempted to one of these or the other. When faced with our crosses we can be tempted either to wallowing self-pity on one end, or towards stoic self-reliance on the other end. Towards wallowing self-pity on one end, or towards stoic self-reliance on the other end. And the first thing Paul does here is push back against both.

First, he pushes back against wallowing self-pity by refusing to state the struggles without also stating the deliverances. Wallowing self-pity says, “We are afflicted in every way … we are perplexed … we are persecuted … we are struck down.” Wallowing self-pity focuses on our fragility.

And Paul does not deny the struggles. He also does not deny the fragility – the picture he chooses for himself is a fragile jar of clay. But Paul will not state those things without also stating the deliverance God has provided. So we are jars of clay – but we are filled with a treasure of surpassing power. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Paul affirms the struggle and the pain – but he always pairs it with the deliverance God has provided.

So Paul pushes back against wallowing self-pity.

But he also pushes back against stoic self-reliance. Paul Barnett notes that in verses eight and nine Paul is using a format that was common among Hellenistic moralists, and also among the Roman stoics. It was a format that usually listed the struggles an individual faced along with the ways they remained serene and emotionally untouched by their circumstances. The Roman stoic Seneca, for example, wrote of an ideal hero who “is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm.” While it is questionable whether Paul ever read Seneca himself, the format was likely a popular one among Stoics, which Paul was likely to have encountered. [Barnett, 228 n.1]

So Paul seems to adopt the stoic rhetorical format, and yet by using it, he is also subverting it. He’s challenging it and turning it on its head

You see, for the stoic, the ideal was found in self-determination – in not allowing himself to be controlled by anything outside of himself [Adamson, 82]. And Paul turns that on its head. Paul does not speak of his inner-strength or inner-power to resist outside forces. Paul speaks of himself as a jar of clay. A jar of clay in the first century was known for being both fragile and disposable. J. T. Fitzgerald calls jars of clay “the disposable bottles of antiquity.” [Barnett, 230 n.13] Paul emphasizes his weakness.

Far from valuing self-determination, Paul attributes his perseverance in the midst of trials not to himself, but to God’s power and deliverance. He does not list how he has overcome each trial, but how God – an external agent – has delivered him.

And far from being unaffected by his struggles, Paul recounted in chapter one of this very letter how in the midst of his affliction he “despaired of life itself.” Not exactly the stoic ideal.

And so while Paul refutes any sort of wallowing self-pity, he is also refuting the opposite temptation of stoic self-reliance: the temptation to minimize our struggles, to banish any negative emotions, and to muster our own inner strength to deal with our problems.

Which end of the spectrum do you tend towards? Do you tend to get stuck in just seeing your problems? Or do you refuse to feel the struggles in your life, and try instead to just pull yourself up by your bootstraps?

Rather than embracing either of these, Paul insists on seeing his struggles through the lens of the death and resurrection of Christ – and that is the key.

He writes in verses ten and eleven that we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Once again, Paul returns to his theme that God works through death and resurrection in our lives. We are united to Christ, and so in our lives we share in both his death and his resurrection – not just in our eternal destiny, but also in how we experience the Christian life in the here and now.

And so Paul points to the fact that as God causes us to persevere through the crosses in our lives – to persevere through the process of “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” we come out the other side with the life of Jesus – with the resurrection of Jesus – also in some way manifested in our bodies. God leads us to persevere through our crosses, and the result is a form of glory. God brings glory out of our perseverance through the crosses in our lives.

And that glory and resurrection life does not stop with us. In verse 12 Paul explains that it spreads to others. Paul says to the Corinthians “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” In other words, when Paul carries his cross, the glory of the gospel and resurrection life of Christ are not only manifest in his own life – but it spreads to others as well.

Many of us can probably think of examples from Biblical and church history of this – of people who have persevered through suffering that resulted in a display of the glory of the gospel, not only in their own lives, but the lives of others. We know of many stories from the historic heroes of the faith.

The problem, though, with many of those stories is that we already think of the person they are about as a hero of the faith. And so we tend to romanticize their sufferings and their crosses. We tend to think of their suffering like that in a movie – with an artfully framed shot, and a good quality soundtrack that already makes their suffering seem noble and glorious.

Of course when we bear our crosses the frame is not artfully set, and there is no soundtrack. And so our suffering seems remote from those of the heroes of the faith.

As I was considering that, it made me think of a character from Marilyn Robinson’s novel Home. A character named, funnily enough, Glory. Glory Boughton.

Glory Boughton is a single woman in her late 30s who moves in with her father in order to take care of him. Her father is an aging retired Presbyterian minister and a widower. Glory Boughton’s life, on the surface, seems far from glorious. She helps him dress and bathe, does the cooking and the cleaning, and tries to love him well. She is a faithful Christian – she prays and reads the Bible every day, goes to church on Sundays, but is generally perplexed as to the direction her life has gone and why she is where she is now. She has many disappointments.

Her situation is made more difficult when her brother Jack also comes home to stay with them. Jack is the black sheep of the family. He rejected the faith of his family, struggled with alcoholism in the past, and had brought pain to his family many times, in a number of different ways. But he comes home to stay, in part to try to reconnect with his father. It does not always go well. But Glory tries to love and serve each of them – and to help each understand the other.

Things get harder one night when Jack goes out in the evening and does not come back before morning. Worried about what he might be up to, Glory gets up early and, after getting her father situated, goes out to try to find Jack. She goes to the garage to get the car, and there she finds him, leaning against the car, and very drunk. Glory is startled. She is angry. She knows what this might do to her father. She begins to talk to him. She realizes he spent most of the night drinking alone in the garage. And as they talk further, she also realizes that in the midst of his drunken despair, he had also tried, though quite unsuccessfully, to end his own life. And Glory, moving from anger, to betrayal, to deep sadness, is cut down. Robinson describes her reaction:

“‘I have to sit down,’ [Glory said.] She could hear herself sobbing, and she couldn’t get her breath. She leaned against the car with her arms folded and resting on the roof and wept, so hard that she could only give herself over to it, though it kept her even from thinking what to do next. Jack hovered unsteadily at a distance from her, full of drunken regret.” [Robinson, 243-244]

Glory is no stoic. But Glory’s response does not stop there. It does not end in wallowing. She eventually picks herself up, picks up the cross that has been laid at her feet, and begins to carry it. She sits Jack down and goes into the house to get soap and a bucket of water. She brings him to a chair behind the garage (because she knows she can’t let her father see Jack like this), and she helps him bathe – twice – to get the smell, grime, and alcohol off of him. She brings him new clothes, and she shaves him. Through all this she is both tearfully sad, and angry. She brings him back into the house and puts him to bed. She goes back to the garage and dismantles the set-up he had constructed to try to end his life. She comes back in the house and makes sure her father is settled, and then goes to the kitchen to begin preparing a meal that might help everyone feel just a little bit better. All the while, through every step of this, she is in emotional turmoil, struggling with questions and grief.

It’s moments like these – moments where struggles just look like struggles, and crosses just look like crosses, it’s moments like these that feel more like the difficulties we face – whether the trials we face are as significant as hers, or if they are just the ordinary everyday trials of life following Jesus – the trials we face every day.

And yet, even though Glory Boughton’s struggle is not romanticized, as we look at her response to the situation we begin to catch glimpses of Christ’s glory in her actions. She neither wallows, nor does she separate herself from the pain of her situation. She faces it, and walks through it. And as she sacrificially serves her brother and protects her father, we see the glory of the God manifest – even just a little bit – in her. More than that, we see the life of Christ spread – just a bit – to those around her.

Granted, in the moment, it didn’t feel that way to Glory Boughton any more than it does for us. And it is important to remember that Paul didn’t feel that way in the moment either. N.T. Wright brings that point out in his commentary on this passage in Second Corinthians. He writes: “Under pressure but not crushed, says Paul in the present passage; at a loss, but not at our wits’ end; persecuted but not abandoned; cast down but not destroyed. But when we read chapter 1 [of this same letter] we discover that at the time it really felt as though he was being crushed, at his wits’ end, abandoned and destroyed. It felt as though he had received the sentence of death. What he says here he says with the benefit of hindsight, but he hasn’t forgotten that it didn’t feel like that when it was going on. This passage is an enormous comfort to all those who are going through persecution, temptation, suffering, bereavement, tragedy and sorrow of every kind. It feels as though you are being crushed – of course it does. That’s how it felt for Paul as well. But it may actually mean that you are living out the gospel. This is what being a servant of Jesus Christ is often like. It is a way of making sure that neither you nor anyone else mistakes the servant for the master, the envelope for the letter.” [Wright, 46]

And so it is in our lives. Our struggles and suffering – our crosses – don’t feel glorious. But Paul tells us that they are. Paul tells us that when we suffer rightly and as followers of Christ – when we rightly take up our crosses – then we are living the gospel. And the glory of the gospel will emerge as we persevere by God’s strength.

Where do you see the need to persevere in the midst of struggle in your life right now? Where do you feel like you are being crushed? In what area does life feel like death – like a crucifixion?

Paul tells you that even if you cannot see it, the glory of the gospel is being manifest in you as you persevere in that trial. Paul says that just as you are walking in the footsteps of Christ’s death, so also glorious resurrection is being manifest in you. Paul tells us to persevere, because in that perseverance, the life of Christ is manifest not only in us, but for others.

If you’re in the midst of suffering, then you probably don’t feel that right now. But can you believe it anyway?

So Paul first, in verses 7-12, tells us that as we bear the crosses in our lives, the glory of the gospel is first manifest in our perseverance.

Second, he tells us that the glory of the gospel emerges in our purpose.

But before we dig down too deep into that, we need to think about what purpose is, and how it works in our lives.

Our purpose, far from being an abstract mission statement, is usually more shaped by some sort of vision. Some image we hold onto of the good life. And then our purpose – consciously or unconsciously – is to move towards that vision as best we can.

And we all have that vision. It is often the picture of our lives that we daydream about. Maybe when we’re driving to work. Maybe when we’re bored with our lives. Maybe when we’re frustrated with our lives. We have those pictures of where we wish things were – of where we hope things might someday be. Such visions might vary in how realistic they are. But they’re there.

Our culture just went through a week with a higher-than-normal rate of unrealistic daydreaming. I was listening to NPR the other night and they were having a panel discussion on the week’s news, and the host was asking why people play the lottery. There was a Powerball drawing for about 1.5 billion dollars this past week, but the chances of winning were so incredibly low that the host wanted to know why anyone would spend money to play. One panelist said that the lottery was such an odd business because they are trying to get people to pay money, but they’re not really selling a product. But then another panelist disagreed. He said that Powerball is selling a product. He pointed out that for just a couple dollars a person could buy a lottery ticket, and then they get to spend the entire week dreaming of what they would do with a billion dollars. And while the chances of them getting a billion dollars is incredibly low, it’s still a possibility, and so they dream.

But even when we don’t play the lottery, we have those dreams – those daydreams for the future of what we hope our lives will be. Maybe it has to do with our career. Maybe with our family. Maybe with our finances. Maybe with our own character. What is it for you? What is the vision you have for your future that gives you purpose – that gives you direction? That motivates you?

Do you know what Paul’s vision is? Do you know what gives him purpose? He tells us in verses 13-15. Paul’s vision for his future is the picture we get in Revelation 7, and 21, and 22. It’s a vision of the resurrection. It’s a vision of the day when men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will gather around the throne of God and give him praise. And with that vision in his mind, Paul’s purpose is to gather as many people as he possibly can and make sure they are numbered among those who will be praising God on that day. He wants to increase those who will be giving thanks and praise to God on the day of the resurrection.

That is Paul’s vision of the good life. That is Paul’s purpose. That is his motivation. And it is glorious. It brings glory in the midst of trials.

Do you know what’s wrong with many of our visions of the good life – what’s wrong with many of our dreams for the future? There are several things.

They’re usually self-centered dreams – they’re usually all about us. More often than not it is unlikely that we will ever be able to make them a reality. They are characterized by a thin and cheap kind of glory – usually our own glory. And trials and tribulations are always a contradiction to them – making them even more unrealistic.

But Paul’s vision is different. It is God-centered. It is an assured future hope, because God has promised it. It offers a weighty kind of glory – a real glory – the glory of the gospel and of our God. And the trials and tribulations of our lives now, are no contradiction to it. Paul can go through the trials he does, he can carry the crosses he does, because his goal, his purpose is not his own comfort in this life. Instead his goal and purpose, is to gather more and more people for the resurrection – more and more people to worship God.

And when Paul enters into suffering with that purpose, then once again we see glory emerge from a cross.

What would it be like if we were to live that way? What if we made our chief goal, our chief purpose, gathering people to Christ, so that they might stand by our side at the resurrection, and glorify God?

What if in our friendships, along with all the other ways we care about our friends and enjoy being with them, what if chief among our hopes and dreams for that friendship was our looking forward to the day when they would stand with us around the throne of God and praise him along with us? What if that shaped our relationship and influenced our purpose in that friendship?

What if, among all our hopes and desires for our marriage, chief among them was an intense anticipation of the day when we would stand beside our spouse, at the resurrection, before the throne of Christ, praising and worshiping him? What if that shaped our interactions with our spouse, and what if we responded strongly to anything that might threaten that future?

What if, among all our hopes and ambitions for our children, chief among them was our desire to see them counted with us among those invited at the resurrection to the marriage supper of the Lamb? What if our desire for that was so strong that we spent more time daydreaming about and strategizing for that, than we spend daydreaming about and strategizing for them to have a successful career, or a financially secure future, or a big family, or a fulfilling vocation? What if our desire to see them thank and praise God dominated our thoughts more than all those other things?

In each of these cases and more, adopting Paul’s vision of the future gives us a glorious purpose in this life. It gives us a purpose that will make us willing to take up a cross in the service of someone else, but which is always working towards the goal of glory. It is a purpose in which glory emerges from our crosses.

So, Paul shows us that glory emerges from our crosses in this life through our perseverance, through our purpose, and finally, he tells us that we can find glory in our perspective.

One of my favorite pictures of the importance of perspective comes from the book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book in the sci-fi comedy series of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And in that book, the greatest torture device in the universe, known to drive men insane in just a moment, is called the Total Perspective Vortex.

What makes the Total Perspective Vortex so horrific is that “When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic not, which says ‘You are here.’” [Adams, 194]

The book goes on to explain how the device came to be. It says:
“The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.
“Trin Tragula – for that was his name – was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.
“And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analysis of pieces of fairy cake.
“‘Have some sense of proportion!’ she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.
“And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex – just to show her.
“And into one end he plugged the whole of reality […], and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.
“To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.” [Adams, 198]

Perspective is significant. Perspective changes everything. Perspective gives or robs our lives of meaning.

But here of course is the important thing. Douglas Adams, the author of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, was, in his own words, a “radical atheist”. And so his view was that if we truly saw our lives in perspective it would lead to despair and make us unable to function.

But what we see in the Bible, over and over again, and especially here in Paul, is the opposite. Paul tells us that the only way for us to properly function – in fact the only way for us to really be sane – is to see our lives in perspective. And especially for us to see our lives in perspective of eternity.

The issue of perspective comes up in verses 16-18. Paul writes:
“16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Again, we need to be careful not to misread Paul here. Paul is not saying that we will experience our crosses in this life, when they occur, as light or momentary. As we already noted, Paul began his letter by talking about a cross he had to bear that he said made him despair of life itself (1:8).

Paul neither downplays our future hope in Christ, nor does he downplay our suffering in the moment. And in fact, it is when we really acknowledge the true extent of our suffering that we declare how great our future hope really is, by saying it still dwarfs our present struggles.

Downplaying our present struggles actually reduces the meaning of this statement. If our present affliction is not really a big deal, then to say our future hope is much bigger is not saying much.

But if we say, as Paul does, that our present struggles both are great enough to make us despair of life itself, AND that at the very same time they look like “light momentary affliction” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that is our future hope – then we are rightly proclaiming how great our future hope and future glory really are.

To put it another way – Mt. Everest is really big, and no human can honestly stand before it without experiencing the big-ness of it. But in the Total Perspective Vortex, it would look quite different.

What would it look like for us to take a view that puts our current trials and crosses in the perspective of our future glory? How would it affect us if, without denying the severity of our current struggles, we also viewed them in light of eternity? What would it be like to put our crosses in the perspective of glory?

I was talking with a student about this just this past week. They were asking why Jesus wasn’t acting more quickly to end all pain and suffering in the world. We discussed it from several angles, and I was suddenly struck by the importance of perspective on that question.

I said: You know, so far Jesus has waited about 2,000 years. 2,000 years where we all still experience sin, and pain, and death. What if he takes a lot longer? What if it’s 50,000 years before Jesus comes back? That seems right now like a really long time. But now fast-forward. Imagine us talking about this 10 Billion years into eternity – 10 Billion years after Jesus has come back, raised his people from the dead, and all things were made new, and sin, sickness, sorrow, pain, and death had all been cast out of the world. After 10 Billion years of that, if we were to look back at the 50,000 years where the word was so afflicted, what would it look like? I imagine it would look like the blink of an eye. And how much more so if we were to look back at the 80 or 90 or even 100 years of affliction of our own life before the resurrection?

What would it be like if we were to view our current struggles and sufferings from the perspective of being 10 billion years into the eternal kingdom, looking forward to the next 10 billion? What would it be like if we looked at our crosses now from the perspective of glory?

That is what Paul is doing. That is what we are encouraged to do as well.

And so Paul tells us that the presence of crosses in our lives – whether big or small – does not mean the absence of glory.

Our tendency is to view suffering and glory as opposites. When one is present, the other must not be. But Paul tells us that the only way we can do that is by viewing our lives through something other than the death and resurrection of Christ. But when the death and resurrection of Christ are central to how we view the world, and to how we view our lives, then what we see begins to make sense.

We all want glory. We all want to experience the resurrection life of Jesus. And we all assume glory and life are missing or reduced when suffering or struggle are present. But Paul tells us the opposite is true. Paul tells us that when we consider our perseverance through struggle, when we consider our purpose in the midst of struggle, and when we consider our perspective on our struggle, then glory can begin to emerge – and it emerges from our crosses.

In his commentary on the passage, N.T. Wright might sum it up best. He writes: “If you want to see resurrection at work here and now, in your own life, you have to be prepared to see crucifixion at work as well.” [Wright, 45]

Thankfully, our Father does not leave us to walk through it alone. He is the surpassing power that dwells in us, fragile jars of clay. He will see us through to the other side, just as he did with Christ. Let us trust him, take up our cross, and follow Christ, through the big and the small trials – the severe and the mundane – and in doing so, let us experience his glory.

Amen.

This sermon benefited from material from:
Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004.

Illustrations & Other Information are Drawn From:
Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide. New York, NY: Portland House, 1986.
Adamson, Peter. Philosophy in the Hellenistic & Roman World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Robinson, Marilyn. Home. New York, NY: Picador, 2008.
The Week in Review on KUOW. January 16, 2016 Episode. Host: Bill Radke. Panelists: John Roderick, Erica Barnett, and Paul Guppy.

Faith Presbyterian Church
Faith Presbyterian Church
Finding Glory in Our Crosses - 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
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