“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Sometimes we wonder, because of our utter sinfulness, if God can forgive us and accept us as His own dear children. When we consider going to the Lord’s Table, we wonder if He will accept us and give us a blessing – forgiveness and life eternal – rather than the cursing and condemnation we deserve under God’s law. And so, today, I direct your attention to the Apostle Paul.
God was indeed merciful to Saul of Tarsus (we know him as the Apostle Paul), for he was a persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ! Being zealous for the Jewish Faith, but misguided, he spoke against the Lord Jesus Christ and arrested, imprisoned and even put to death followers of Jesus (Read Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-2).
But the Lord Jesus showed mercy to Saul when He met him on the road to Damascus and then washed away Saul’s sins through Holy Baptism (Acts 9:3ff.; 22:16).
When the risen and ascended Christ converted Saul and made him Paul, a preacher of the Gospel, he could testify: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
Paul testified to the truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And Paul qualified; he was a sinner, one who even persecuted Christ and His Church!
Paul could also say, “If He could be merciful to me and save me, He can also show mercy to you and grant to you salvation.”
What a comfort this truth is to sinners like you and me! “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” And, as sinners, we know that Christ Jesus came into the world to save us! He paid the penalty for the sins of all.
By His holy life and innocent sufferings and death on the cross, Jesus has redeemed you and me – He paid in full the punishment for our sins – that God might be merciful unto us and grant to us eternal salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, His Son (John 3:16; Col. 1:19-23; 2:11-15; Titus 3:3-7).
Dear Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for coming into the world and redeeming us, and for having mercy upon us and bringing us to faith in You and Your atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Graciously keep us in Your mercy throughout our earthly lives that we may receive the eternal joys which You have purchased for us when You shed Your holy and precious blood upon the cross for our sins. Amen.
[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]
“And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:13-14 (Read 2 Kings 5:1-15a)
Through a servant girl who had been taken captive from the land of Israel, Naaman, commander of the Syrian Army, heard of a prophet in Israel who could heal him of his leprosy. And so, with the blessing of the Syrian King, he sets out to Israel in hopes of being cured.
He expects that Elisha the prophet will come out to him, call on the name of the LORD, wave his hand over the infected spot, and cure him; but what happens? Elisha doesn’t even personally come out to meet Naaman but sends a messenger to him, telling him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be cleansed of his leprosy.
Naaman is furious. He was an important man and had come all this way, and the prophet doesn’t even come out to see him; and the rivers of his homeland are far better than the Jordan. And so, Naaman begins to return home in anger and disappointment – that is, until his servants remind him that he would have done some great thing if the prophet had asked, so why not this small thing?
You know what happened. Naaman dipped himself seven times in the Jordan and was cured of his leprosy. His diseased flesh became again like the flesh of a little child.
What do you expect of God when you come to Him for help? Do you expect a special appearance and a spectacular miracle? Are you unwilling to believe when He offers you help through humble means?
What if He tells you to trust in the shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins? What if He says to just look to Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross and you will be saved?
What if He offers to wash away your sins through the waters of Baptism? What if He says He will cleanse you and make you clean in His eyes through simply washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost?
What if Christ offers and gives to you His body and blood and the assurance of forgiveness of sins and life everlasting by means of eating and drinking ordinary bread and wine used in accord with His Word in His Supper?
What if God’s Spirit speaks to you and works faith in your heart through the reading and hearing of the Bible? What if He encourages and comforts you through the simple preaching of a minister in a little church?
Will you go off angry, expecting something better and more spectacular? Would it be better if we met in a great cathedral, if the minister wore papal vestments and if there were special ceremonies to forgive sins and create faith? Would it be better if we had some role in the process, some good work to add?
Or, will you believe what God says to you and trust that He can and does work mighty miracles through simple means? Through the faithful preaching of His Word? Cf. Romans 1:16-17; 10:17. Through the washing of water with the Word? Cf. Ephesians 5:26: Titus 3:5; John 3:5. And, through eating and drinking bread and wine consecrated and set apart by the Word of God? Cf. Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
If God told you to do some great work to be helped of Him, wouldn’t you do it? Why not, if He offers to heal your body and soul through hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Son? Through being baptized in His name? Through partaking of the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper?
O gracious and merciful God, forgive us for failing to believe Your Word and make faithful use of the humble means You have given us to create and preserve faith in Christ Jesus and to grant to us forgiveness for all our sins and life eternal. Grant that we not turn away from Your Word and Sacraments but make diligent use of them. Amen.
[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]