The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Faith’s Foundation: To Save Sinners
Proper 19, 12 September 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a) Amen.
About the Cover: How vast is our world from our human perspective, yet how little it is among the myriad worlds of this universe! But it was here on planet Earth that the divine drama unfolded: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He, through whom this world was made, chose to enter it Himself in the fullness of time, that He might save sinners and reveal His astounding grace.
Jesus sinners doth receive.
I understand if you are thinking, “Well Pastor, of course! What you’re saying there is obvious!” If that’s what you’ve been thinking as you sang that seven stanza hymn, I’m glad. I thank the Lord for that.
How about we dig a little deeper? If a Christian hears, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”–if a Christian hears that, he or she will most likely agree. So far so good.
But what happens if someone asks the typical American Christian, “What’s the most important thing about Christianity? What has been the most important thing about Christianity to you?” How will that typical American Christian answer? It’s very likely he or she will say something like, “It taught me and my kids good morals,” or “I get a weekly pick-me-up,” or “It helps me feel like a better person,” or even, “I just go because I have to.” Those things are a far cry from, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He came to save you. This congregation is here to proclaim that trustworthy teaching.
Do you see the point? Many Americans, even many American Christians think they know what’s at the heart of the Christian faith, but are unable to volunteer that Jesus is the Savior from sin, death, and hell, or witness to that fact on their own. They might be able to pick out the name, “Jesus,” if He showed up on a multiple-choice exam, but would have a hard time remembering “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” if it were an essay test.
We think we know what it means to be a Christian, but too often forget the basics. We slip back into the thoughts of our sinful human nature that say, “At least I do better than that guy. God will surely let me into heaven. I do the best I can.” And we’re back to living under the law, trying to earn our own salvation without Jesus. No wonder people in the culture complain that Christians are judgmental, goodie-two-shoes hypocrites.
We think we know what it means to be a Christian, but too often forget the basics. Some groan when we revisit the basics of the faith in the Small Catechism, but could the ones groaning pass the Confirmation oral exam before the elders without some prior notice and a night to cram?
In the Holy Christian Church, the message of the Gospel is faith’s foundation. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including us. We need to be reminded of that because we are all sinners in need of grace, just like St. Paul.
He wrote, I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Paul does not hide from his past sins. He openly confesses them. He openly confessed that he was a poor, miserable sinner long ago and was forgiven. His slate was wiped clean. He was reconciled to Christ Jesus by Christ Jesus. Saul the Pharisee and persecutor of Jesus became known as Paul the Apostle and proclaimer of Jesus.
Before, he had acted ignorantly in unbelief. How much more precarious is our position when we behave sinfully after having known the truths of the faith! The forgiveness of sins does not give us license to sin! Going ahead with something we know is wrong and spiritually deadly: like willful divorce, habitual lying and gossip, adultery, theft, living together, or staying away from God’s good Gifts. We cannot plan to repent later—we should do so before we act and repent of planning to sin.
The grace of our Lord overflows for you with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have no reason to doubt that you are forgiven. Therefore, as a forgiven saint in Christ, go and sin no more. When you do sin, practice daily contrition and repentance, remembering that you are a baptized child of God. St. Paul has come a long way since Jesus appeared in a vision on the road to Damascus saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” You are a recipient of God’s grace, too.
Paul repented. There are sins that bother you. Be free! Confess them. Receive Christ’s forgiveness. Abandon those long-term, culturally acceptable, habitual sins. Live no longer in ignorance, unbelief, or with an unrepentant heart. The grace of our Lord has been poured out on you abundantly. Don’t reject the gift!
Paul was a sinful human being. He wasn’t perfect. He was forgiven. And the Lord appointed Paul to His service, to tell the Good News About Jesus, even though he had formerly been a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. Listen for how he describes his sinful condition and his Savior.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…You’ve heard that before. Did you remember that Paul considered himself the very worst of sinners, or as the hymn goes, “Chief of Sinners though I Be?”
You regularly confess that you are a poor, miserable, sinner. Paul knew he was, too. He knew what he had done. He approved of the murder of Stephen. He persecuted Christians. At the time, he thought he was doing the right thing, but had since realized his sin. He was honest with himself, his conscience, and with the Lord and His Word.
Is such honest self-examination and confession painful? Yes. Is it pleasant to examine yourself thoroughly by comparing your thoughts, words, and deeds, actions, and inaction according to the Ten Commandments? No, it’s not pleasant. We’re often afraid of pain or difficulty just on principle, blind to the benefit of what comes next.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. What comes next? But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
There’s always something next, even after the “Amen.” Even though Paul was a sinner, he received mercy. We are all sinners, too. You have also received the same mercy, in that God does not give to you the punishment you deserve. That’s mercy. And He is gracious, too, giving you faith now, so that you may believe in Him for eternal life.
Your baptism into Christ took place, or, for some of you, will take place at a specific time. The benefits, the “what comes next,” are with you the rest of your life. You have been given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, death, and Satan. What comes next? Eternal life. That’s God’s promise to you in Christ.
Will the wait for that eternal life be easy? No. You will lose loved ones to death. You may suffer other kinds of physical and emotional pain and loss. You may even be persecuted for your faith in Christ. And you will die, as we all will. Remember that God’s mercy has a purpose. Your pain and suffering have a purpose.
What did Paul confess? But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
When people see Christ’s strength as the only possible explanation for what keeps you going, that is a powerful witness to your Savior. In your pain, you can witness better than in your prosperity. When you bear the cross, others can see Jesus in you. They will be able to hear with their eyes when they see Christ’s patience in you. And I pray you would even have an opportunity to verbally say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including me—and you.
Receive the blessing St. Paul gave to Timothy:
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22) Amen.