Sermon — 2 Corinthians 4:11-18 — 04/01/12


2 Corinthians 4:11-18      11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Theme: Learning to look at the things which are not seen 1. Paul’s challenge 2. Jesus’ salvation 3. Our blessing

Dear friends in Christ,

I have in my hands a paperback book that I’m going to put on the table in the entry way after the service for you to look at.  It is a collection of eye tricks – also called 3D stereograms.  When you first look at the page, all you see is a colorful pattern.  But after you learn how to train your eyes to look “through” the page as it were, you see fascinating 3D figures and forms.  The first time I saw one of these it took me a long time to figure it out – but I learned to see things which I didn’t see the at first.  When the Apostle Paul wrote v. 18, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” of course he didn’t have a 3D stereogram in mind.  The idea is similar though – rather than looking at a pattern on a page and learning to see something which isn’t there at first, Paul is speaking of how we Christians learn to look at life – particularly looking at “the things which are not seen” – to see things that are spiritual in nature.  In this connection, we will look first at the challenge faced by Paul and his fellow Gospel workers; then the salvation that Jesus accomplished during Holy Week and how He did it, then last of all we will apply what we learned from Paul and Jesus to our lives and take home God’s blessing.  So first of all – let’s put ourselves behind the eyes of the Apostle Paul.  What would we see with his physical eyes when we looked at his life?  It would be hard to miss – in v. 11 he says, “we are always delivered to death” – v. 12 – “death is working in us” – “our outward man is perishing.”  To look at life through Paul’s physical eyes would be to see a life full of suffering and persecution and hardship.  It was true what he wrote of himself later on in this same letter – in chapter 11, Paul cataloged all the abuse that his body had been put through either by human sources or nature – (vv. 24-25) “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked…”  That is what the human, physical eye would see.  But even in the face of such incredible human suffering, even in the face of death itself, what does Paul say?  v. 16 – “We do not lose heart.”  How could that be?  Because Paul was “not looking at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”  A person would think that he would be weighed down almost beyond endurance by the physical suffering he faced – but no. In v. 17 he writes, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  It isn’t that Paul’s challenges had driven him out of his mind, that he was living with some altered sense of reality.  No – rather through God’s revelation in His Son Jesus Christ, Paul had been brought to faith – and by faith he now saw things “that could not be seen.”  And since he now saw things by faith, he was able to look beyond and endure those things which his physical eyes could see.  Physical suffering?  Even to death?  Yes, Paul’s physical eyes saw it, and experienced it.  But he knew that it was coming upon him (v. 11) “for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”  He knew that the reason he was suffering so was because he and his fellow evangelists and apostles were going out into the world, “preaching the Gospel to every creature.”  And the devil was doing all he could to put a stop to that Gospel work!  But Paul knew who the Winner was – Jesus Christ had defeated sin, death, and the devil!  And Paul himself had experienced the greatness of the love of God in the forgiveness that he was given for Jesus’ sake – he himself had once persecuted and had Jesus’ followers killed!  But now he knew what was his for Jesus’ sake – an eternity in heaven itself!  So when Paul looked at his physical reality of suffering and incredibly heavy affliction, and compared it with an eternity of joy and blessedness, he could say, (v. 17) “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  Knowing what was his in his Savior Jesus Christ was what gave Paul the strength to continue on.  He purposefully looked beyond the suffering he faced and saw rather the opportunity and responsibility to share Christ, knowing that he would be “raised up with Jesus,” that God would use the Gospel he was proclaiming to bring even more to faith, (v. 16) “causing thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”  He knew that no matter what anyone would do to his body, they could not harm his soul.  They may take his earthly life from him, but he would always have eternal life for Jesus’ sake!  When Paul purposefully did not “look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” he was doing nothing other than following the example of Jesus Himself.  As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, He knew what was lying ahead of Him in just a matter of days.  If we were to look out through His physical eyes, we would see what He had told His disciples long before it happened – Matthew 20, “Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify.” (vv. 19-20) And in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He knew the Jews were but moments away – His sweat was “as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.”  He saw – He knew – the physical reality of what was ahead.  But as we read in Hebrews 12, “Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  It isn’t that the cross and the shame were nothing – far from it!  Still to this day mankind has not come up with a more cruel death than crucifixion.  But Jesus “looked at those things which are not seen.”  He knew that what He was doing “had to be done that way,” and that by His suffering and death He would redeem the world from sin – that by His crucifixion He would once and for all defeat the power of the devil himself, that His satisfactory sacrifice would mean salvation for all!  It is such a blessing to you and me today that we have the Apostle Paul and Jesus Himself to learn from.  We are very much in our world – we know what we see with our physical eyes.  But like Paul, we do not CLOSE our eyes to what we see, rather we look beyond it, looking “at the things which are not seen.”  When we share the Gospel, we learn to not let difficulties or rejection or ridicule stop us, but rather recognize those challenges as roadblocks which the devil wants to use to stop our witness.  And instead of letting the challenges we can see with our physical eyes stop us, we “look at the things which are not seen” – we join Paul in putting our trust in God and His Word, and continue to “speak as we also believe,” so that God’s grace may “spread and cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”  And when we look with our physical eyes and see our lives full of problems and bad health and financial challenges and so much more, let us “not lose heart” – for we have a Lord who will cause “all things to work out for the good of those who love God.”  And when we look at our world with all of its sin and evil and wickedness, when we look ourselves and see that the “evil that I don’t want to do, that I practice” – let us remember to purposefully look to Jesus our Savior with our eyes of faith, for in Him is forgiveness for sin and strength to fight sin, and finally compete deliverance “from this evil world to Himself in heaven.”  And when we look with our physical eyes at the written record of Jesus – that He was wounded and beaten – even killed like a common criminal, let us not ever be offended at Him, but rather run to Him – for with the eyes of faith we see that this One is enduring what He did for us – that He is there to take away our sins – that by His death we now have everlasting life!  Amen.