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Appearances Can be Deceiving


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Preached February 5/6 2016 at First Pres Bethlehem (PA).

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Appearances Can be Deceiving

  1. 1. 1 “Appearances can be Deceiving” 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 | Colossians 1:15-20 16 Fromnowon, therefore,we regardnoone accordingto the flesh.Eventhoughwe once regarded Christaccordingto the flesh,we regardhimthusnolonger. 17 Therefore,if anyoneisinChrist,he isa newcreation.The oldhas passedaway;behold,the new hascome. 2 Cor. 5:16-17 15 He isthe image of the invisible God,the firstbornof all creation. 16 Forby himall thingswere created, inheavenandon earth,visible andinvisible,whetherthronesordominionsorrulersorauthorities—all thingswere createdthroughhimandfor him. 17 And he isbefore all things,andinhimall thingshold together. 18 Andhe is the headof the body, the church.He is the beginning,the firstbornfromthe dead, that ineverythinghe mightbe preeminent. 19 Forinhimall the fullnessof Godwaspleasedtodwell, 20 and throughhimto reconcile tohimselfall things,whetheronearthor inheaven,makingpeace by the bloodof hiscross. Col. 1:15-20 On January 12, 2007 commuters in a Washington, DC subway station were treated to a free, unpublicized concert by violinist Joshua Bell. You may have seen the video online. He played for 45 minutes on his 1713 Stradivarius violin, which is reported he bought for $3.5 million. Bell’s performance was part of a study to figure out how we humans make decisions when we’re confronted with something of immense beauty, impeccable skill, all in a context where we’re not expecting it. Subway commuters are all familiar with musicians playing on the platform—it’s part of the cityscape. Most of the time traveler tune out the beauty. Some may hear it and then immediately move on, ready to get where they’re going. Some may throw a buck into the violin case either out of guilt or because they appreciate the snapshot of beauty in the bleakness of the subway. Does the calculation change if the musicianis really good…or really bad?
  2. 2. 2 What is the moral mathematics of the moment? Just days before this impromptu performance, Bell and his Stradivarius had played to a full house at Boston’s Symphony Hall were decent seats cost $100. Bell’s subway performance elicited $32.17 in donations, which were contributed by a mere 27 of the more than one thousand commuters who passed him. Only seven people stopped to listen to his performance, of them one alone recognized him as a famous violinist. Appearances can be deceiving, can’t they? No one expects a virtuoso to perform on a Stradivarius in a subway station. It doesn’t make sense. Why do it? Do you see Christ, truly perceive him as he is? Or is Christ tucked away in the margins of your life playing beautiful music that you’re ignoring? As Paul continues his letter to the Corinthian church, he points out to them that they are like commuters hurrying through the station and missing the performance. Their understanding is superficial, it’s shallow, they’re looking only at the surface, and not going deeper. Is that you? Is that us? Are we like the Christians in Colosse? They received a letter from Paul in which he bursts into the beautiful doxology we read just now. Why did he do so? Paul’s doxology corrects the Colossians’ poor theology—the heart of their problem is what is often at the heart of our own problems: an inadequate view of the person and work of Christ. The Colossians faced the temptation that each of us faces: the voices, the influences, the forces that tell us that we need Jesus + something else in order to be made right with God.
  3. 3. 3 The truth of the Gospel is that salvation is found in Christ alone and in Christ only. The atoning death of Christ is the only means by which men and women can be reconciled with God. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, ordinarily that happens as people hear the gospel communicated, receive it, and turn—by the Spirit’s empowering—to embrace Christ as Lord. That can happen through no other name and by no other means. Lose this, and the church loses its identity. It’s in Christ alone that salvation is found. And it’s also in Christ only. So often we hear that we need to believe and then to do in order to be made right with God. Michael Horton is one of my favorite theologians. In his book The Gospel-Driven Life, there’s a chapter with the prophetic title, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” How many of us are busy? How many of us are busy in an attempt to please others? How many of us are busy in order to prove our worth to ourselves? Most importantly: how many of us are busy in order to prove our worth to God? Jesus + something = nothing The “do more, be more, try harder, produce more” Christianity is not the biblical gospel. Listen: there is nothing you can do to make yourself any more valuable to Christ than you already are. Nothing. The moment you try to add something, grace vanishes. It’s gone like a vapor. We cannot justify ourselves to Christ. We can only receive his grace, his gift. Then we can rely on him to change our lives.
  4. 4. 4 Our message here at First Presbyterian Church is “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Jesus. Get away with Jesus and you’ll recover your life. He’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. We’ll be exploring this more deeply in Lent, so make sure to check it out. The Colossians had added things to this gospel. Paul uses worship, doxology to correct their faulty theology. Why? ...Because good theology produces good worship …Poor theology produces deficient worship We have lost any sense that theology is something for everyday Christians. It is! It has to be! Theology is the church’s before it is the universities! That’s because theology is the knowledge of God, it is Christian truth.1 Poor theology distorts God and leads people away from Him. For this reason theology alone of all the “academic disciplines” has an eternal context: the eternal destiny of the human race is affected by the knowledge of God. How we believe and what we believe isn’t some adjunct to the Christian life. Yes, you can be deeply Christian without knowing the first bit of theology. However, the moment you start to share your experience of God with another person, you’re doing theology—you’re finding words to make sense of your experience. And according to the 1 G. L. Bray, “Rescuing Theology from the Theologians” in Themelios 24:2 (Feb 1999): 48.
  5. 5. 5 New Testament, our experiences cannot stand alone as authoritative for validating our faith or our maturity as disciples of the Lord Jesus. So, the next time someone tells you: “theology divides.” Tell them: “Yes. That’s the point.” How are you like the Colossians: adding things to the gospel to try to prove our worth before God? How are you like the Corinthians: simply looking upon Christsuperficially? Paul says that the Corinthians were “regarding Christ according to the flesh.” That’s a strange turn of phrase. What might it mean? Paul uses the word (Gk.) sarks, which literally refers to the flesh or the skin or the body. As a comparison, think of our English phrase, “beauty is only skin deep.” It means that appearances can be deceiving and that physical beauty is not a sure guide to a person’s character. During his earthly ministry, the vast majority of people encountered Christ from a worldly perspective, according to the flesh—they looked at outward appearances. He was rejected and crucified as a blasphemer and a trouble maker. He was, in fact, the Messiah and the Son of God, in whom the new creation and reconciliation with God is found. Just as we easily view Christ outwardly, it is easy for us to view one another outwardly as well. Paul says that we are no longer to do that—to view people exclusively from an outwardly perspective. “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh…” (5:16). Instead, we are to use prayerful spiritual judgment and insight as we consider others’ lives and situations. Our experience of Christ’s love moves us to stop viewing others
  6. 6. 6 according to superficial standards of success and to learn to view them in the light of God’s decisive act of salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. We look around us and we see people who disagree with us or who don’t like us or whom we don’t like. And as we do that, we exercise a very superficial discernment. You see, you’ve never met an ordinary person. Did you know that? Never. There are no ordinary people. There are only people who have been created in the image and likeness of God, who are loved by God, and with whom God desires a relationship in and through Christ. We, as Christians, have been given the mission of connecting people to Jesus Christ so that he can change their lives. That’s why we’re here. You’ve never met an ordinary person. Stop for a moment. Look around you. There are no ordinary people in this room— just people who are God-created and God-loved. Here’s something else to consider: there is not a person in this room who is not immortal. In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis notes that all kinds of things are mortal Lewis notes. Things like cultures, nations, arts, and civilizations. Those things pass away, what remains are the immortal souls that we—in Lewis’s words—“joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”2 We’ve been created to live everlastingly—the body may pass away but we live on, and one day we will have a new body, at the resurrection. 2 C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in Lyle W. Dorsett, ed. The Essential C. S. Lewis. Touchstone, 1996, 369.
  7. 7. 7 There are therefore no ordinary people. There are kind people, generous people, rude people, supercilious people, grateful people, ungrateful people, bitter people, contented people, but there are no ordinary people. Every person you’ve ever met, Lewis pointed out, is on a journey. Each of us, today, is on a journey to becoming what we will be in eternity. Those who are traveling God-ward in the company of Christ, falteringly become more like Christ until in the age to come they resemble Christ perfectly. Those who are living as if there is no God are on a journey away from Christ till in eternity they receive their self-imposed punishment: God’s absence. God says to them, “thy will be done.” There are no ordinary people. There are only people who—in Lewis’s view—would either one day be “immortal horrors” or “everlasting splendors.”3 [Closing] 3 Ibid.