June 14, 2015

There is a New Creation

Passage: 1 Samuel 5:34 – 16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians 5:6-21, Mark 4:26-34
Service Type:

Note: Due to technical difficulties, no audio is available for this sermon.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The 2011 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to two teams of astronomers for a discovery that has been hailed as one of the most important astronomical observations ever. In 1929 the astronomer Edwin Hubble realized that the distant galaxies were all rushing away from us, establishing that space itself is stretching, it's expanding. The prevailing wisdom was that the expansion must be slowing down. Much as the gravitational pull of the earth slows the ascent of an apple tossed upward, the gravitational pull of each galaxy on every other must be slowing the expansion of space.

Fast forward to the two Nobel Prize winning teams of astronomers. Inspired by this theory of slowing expansion, they attempted to measure the rate at which this expansion has been slowing. Here's the surprise: They found that the expansion is not slowing down. Instead they found that it's speeding up, going faster and faster. That's like tossing an apple upward and it goes up faster and faster.

I am not a physicist so will not attempt to unpack what that means other than to say it profoundly impacts future scientific work. Further, such discovery does illustrate that the universe we live in has many marvels yet to be understood by humans. Our growing body of knowledge makes evident to the astute observer that much is unknown. As you reflect on the wonders of creation it is instructive that Paul chose creation as a metaphor for describing what it means to be in Christ (to be a believer)—there is a new creation!

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! When Paul says that everything old has passed away the tense of the verb (aorist) points to a definitive moment when something ended. When he writes that everything has become new the tense changes (perfect) indicating continuing action; that things continue to be new; there is no end to the newness. It is like discovering that the expansion of the universe into new territory is speeding up when we once thought it would slow down. There is no end to the newness that is in Christ. Like throwing the apple in the air and it goes faster and faster. There is no event that will occur that can exhaust or extinguish the newness of spiritual help needed to supply all you need. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.

You might not be feeling very “new” today. Aging with its accompanying physical diminishment and deterioration makes talk of newness sound like a message for the young. It’s for those with some reasonable expectation of life yet in front of them. For the believer, there is always much life yet to be lived—it is the nature of eternal life. Furthermore, the hope of the gospel is that “new creation” isn’t merely a metaphor for spiritual life. There is a new creation! The first fruits of this new creation is seen the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be in Christ is to be in this new creation now. Right now we walk in it by faith and one day—what a day of wonder that will be—we will walk in it by sight. This is the promise of our Saviour.

At Easter of this year the National Post asked readers to respond to the question “Do you believe in God?” Too often we have treated this as an armchair discussion when in fact answering it couldn’t be more profound for life. The answers of believers to the newspaper’s question spoke of the grandeur of the natural world as pointing to a creator. Non-believers spoke often of human wickedness and the suffering of the innocent as proof that a loving God does not exist.

As to this objection about suffering, it could be answered that perhaps a wicked or selfish god exists, visiting his vices upon humankind. As Father Raymond J. de Souza noted, “It is a mark of how thoroughly the God of the Bible shapes our thinking that the wicked god is not seriously considered as an option, even though the ancient world—not only Egypt and Rome and Greece, but also the aboriginal peoples of the new world—was replete with capricious, arbitrary and even cruel gods.”

Do you believe in God? Answering this question can never be reduced to an armchair discussion. It is always a discussion about the way you view and live life—whether you answer “yes,” “no” or “am reserving judgement.” If not the God revealed in Jesus, then perhaps another god is conceived. Or maybe a person believes in themselves. Or maybe Karma. Or maybe what goes around comes around. Or maybe nothing as all. Each of which profoundly impacts life.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. “This,” wrote one commentator, “is the starting point and base camp for a differently motivated and directed life.”

1. I invite you to reflect with me on Paul’s discussion of how this new creation shapes the believer’s experience of life and death (living and dying). The Apostle wrote, “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This is the text that is often cited at a Christian funeral—from the King James rendering—to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Death, for the believer, is seen as a small interruption as we go from life to life.

Think for a moment about “at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” Paul does not mean to say that Jesus is not present in the believer’s life while in this world—it is how we experience our Lord’s presence that is changed—here it is by faith there it will be sight. Faith is simply a kind of knowing the presence of our Lord just as sight will render its knowing to us there.

Note too that Paul describes both experiences as a being at home. At home in the body and at home with the Lord. Whether here in this life or there in that life to come both places are the scene of God welcoming people home. In other words, the believer already finds himself at home.
Now while Paul states a preference for “being at home with the Lord”—for me a very sensible preference—he is no way writes off this life as unimportant. If he thought so why would he bother to be a support to these believers or raise funds for the relief of the famine stricken in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8 and 9)?

Author Philip Yancy wrote that “we (Christians) find it difficult to maintain a commitment to both this world and the next, to this life and the next. A friend of mine uses the analogy of a busload of tourists en route to the Grand Canyon. On the long journey across the wheat fields of Kansas and through the glorious mountains of Colorado, the travelers inexplicably keep the shades down. Intent on the ultimate destination, they never even bother to look outside. As a result, they spend their time arguing over such matters as who has the best seat and who's taking too much time in the bathroom.”

The church can resemble such a bus. We should remember that the Bible has far more to say about how to live during the journey than about the ultimate destination. At the same time the fact that we know the destination should free us to throw the shades on the bus open and take joy in the world that God so loves and has made.

Paul twice speaks of being confident in this one paragraph. This is not the self-confidence of a high self-esteem. Paul noted that the treasure of the good news was a treasure held in “clay jars.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) He means there was nothing special about him as the vehicle of that good news—just clay jars, plain vanilla envelopes. The confidence Paul speaks about is the confidence in Christ, that confidence whose giver and object is God. The confidence that comes in knowing that “all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself in Christ.” It is true that knowing yourself loved by God frees us to live for him and does promote a healthy sense of worth. God gave his life for us; you don`t have to prove you are valuable to God.

It is interesting how dying fades from sight in Paul’s discussion, as a thing of dread and how the focus is on living; a living that is integrated in both places—at home or away—by our relationship with our Lord. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) The theme of the life for the Christian is to aim to please our Lord and as well our accountability to him. “For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Now Paul has written elsewhere “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So is he contradicting himself here to the Corinthians—there may be some condemnation after all? Notice that Paul does not use the word condemnation here in this text in 2 Corinthians. For the believer the verdict is already pronounced at the cross: acquitted. Acquitted because condemnation was borne by another, our Saviour Jesus Christ. As Paul would go on to assure believers, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here Paul indicates the connection between the two places—one kingdom but two places—at home with the Lord and away in the body. Paul does not speak here of any danger of condemnation but of how the dross of our life is consumed and the good that we have done is rewarded. While many might hear “judgement seat” and cringe remember it is Christ who is the judge who gave himself for us. It also assures us that nothing that we do for his sake goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Nothing that is good and noble is ever lost. Smartphones have technology so that you can voice activate its functions. Some worry that if your smartphone is always listening that you are vulnerable to hackers having access to your private conversations. The believer already knows the One who has access to all our conversations; it is good to be accountable to the One who wants to bless you with a future who newness never becomes old.

2. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. You are part of the new creation. God has done and is doing a work in you that is ever leading to ongoing newness of life. Think, for example, how you can find that you never exhaust a text of scripture as you read it afresh from a different experience in life. A text like “for God so loves the world” can be the great amen on days that are good or at a moment of success. The same text can also be the word that sustains you in deep sorrow or tragedy. How is that? “Everything has become new.”

Some may wonder how I can know that I am in Christ. It simply means to believe. Faith begins by trusting as much as yourself as you know of yourself to as much of God as you know of him. It can begin out of need. “I’m not even sure of you are there”, many have prayed only to go on to find that he is and did hear the cry of desperation. And so it begins and now moves to more and more.

Paul wrote that God has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. I remind you that the experience of this spiritual life with our Lord resembles happiness in one respect: if we pursue it, it forever escapes us. Happiness, everyone knows, overtakes people when they aren’t looking for it but are getting on with what they have to do. In the same way God’s Spirit assures us of our standing with him as we are preoccupied with what God has given us to do. We are called by the gospel to make the good news known and the public worship of the church is designed for this purpose. As we participate in its worship we find ourselves sustained in the faith. We can’t quite explain how it is that we know we believe but like happiness the assurance overtakes us as we get on with what we know to do. Our Lord who loves wants us to know that that he loves us; his assurance steals upon us as we pray, as we worship, as we work and love others for his sake.

Permit me a small side note. I am not a marriage counsellor but from time to time people seek out counsel on such matters. I would point out here that happiness is found in getting on with what we know to do. It is not found staring across the table at the other person expecting they should make you happy. Furthermore a crucial part of that doing what we know to do is to for the couple to get focussed outside themselves knowing that ultimately their life is for service of God. Now, it is no guarantee as if a formula, but if happiness is to be found it will steal over you in the pursuit of what you know to do.

3. I see much these days about maintaining work-life balance. I wonder about that. It seems to me that balance may be a value for those who can afford such. Many of the people in the Corinthian church would have lived an indentured existence or as a slave. Work-life balance would hardly have been a concern of theirs. Further balance as a value seems to be focussed on this life only. I am not sure that I want to be balanced as much as to live whatever is my lot in life as a servant of Christ to please him. This is not to say that balance is not to be valued. It is to say that in Christ this life is only the book cover on all the chapters of the book that is yet to be written about my life, of which every succeeding chapter is new.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!