Pentecost 2B–“Seen and Unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

How does one believe something to be true? Usually, it requires that they be able to see it for themselves. Thomas required seeing the resurrected Jesus rather than believing what the disciples had told him. Often times for us, we desire to see something in order to believe. It’s not necessarily that we doubt what we are being told, but we find it easier to believe something when we have that visible and tangible truth.

As we look at our Epistle, Paul is carrying over thoughts that he had spoken of earlier in chapters 2 and 3 regarding the ministry. What he writes here speaks of the convictions we cling to in carrying out this ministry which we have been charged with by Jesus Christ, as well as the comfort we have from God in His promises to us as Christians.

Paul begins this portion of his letter by quoting Psalm 116:10. He writes, “I believed, and so I spoke.” He quotes this to explain further why he persists in his ministry, even though it means a constant tasting of death. He continues that thought in his own words, “we also believe, and so we also speak.” Paul believed; he continued to trust the Lord in the midst of his afflictions just as the psalmist had done. God never disappointed him, just as He had not disappointed the psalmist. Paul could not help himself but to publicly speak the praises of God that had been shown to him, the chief of sinners, and to all people. That is why he adds, “for it is all for your sake.”

You see, you are ones for whom the Gospel is intended for. You are the ones for whom Jesus gave His life. You are the ones for whom Jesus gave the gift of everlasting life. Everything that is done is done for you. However, the One who has done all of this for you is not seen by you. You do not see Jesus, nor did the people of Paul’s time, yet what Paul focused on was the unseen Christ rather than the things that are seen in this world. What Paul is focusing on for the people at Corinth is not what it is that they can see, but what it is they cannot see. This is one of the mysteries of God. We cannot see God, yet because of faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, we believe. We should put our trust and our faith in the things unseen in this world, namely God, than the things that we see in this world.

While it is much easier to put our faith in things of this world, this world cannot save. That was one of the problems during the time of Jesus. The Pharisees were preaching a salvation through works, through a person’s keeping of the Law. But their salvation did not depend on this world and what it had to offer, but rather their salvation depended upon Jesus Christ and what He had done for them.

The same holds true for you today. Your salvation does not depend on what you do. Your salvation does not depend on whether or not you follow a certain “to-do” list for your faith. Your salvation solely depends on Jesus Christ and what He has done for you and nothing else. Faith in God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, is the focus of Paul. For those at Corinth, they tried to put their faith in themselves or in something other than God. When they did, they received nothing in return. For Paul, when he persecuted Christians prior to his Damascus Road conversion, there was nothing for him to look forward to after his death. When he died, he was dead and would remain dead. But for the Christian, when we die, we have that newness of life in Jesus Christ to look forward to, for He has come, died for us, and has given us everlasting life. That newness of life, the everlasting life that we have, there is no way to see it now. We can’t see heaven, but we put our faith not in what is seen, but what is unseen.

Faith without seeing, even faith with seeing, can be difficult at times, to say the least. For what Paul says can be words of distress or words of comfort: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….”

We all at times lose heart. We become tired, faint, discouraged by the pressures and apparent failures in our lives. Discouragement occurs and wavering faith can afflict you. Outwardly, we are wasting away. Our bodies become frail with age. We suffer from disease and decay, and eventually, we will die as a result of our fall into sin. But instead of turning to this world for comfort or salvation, we look to the Gospel’s power in Word and Sacrament which keep us alive and sustain our faith, even in those times when our faith gets rocky.

What Paul needs more than anything, what you need more than anything is Jesus Christ. When all things around us pass away, inwardly through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are continually being renewed and strengthened. It is not the world that sustains us, but only the saving act of Jesus Christ, who through His death and resurrection, grants to us that wonderful gift of everlasting life. And so we turn our eyes, not to the things of this world, but we turn our eyes to the cross. We turn our eyes toward Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Everything that Paul had preached to the Corinthians, in fact, everything about Paul’s ministry, was Christ-centered as it should be. This was in direct contrast to the prevailing thought of the day of a person’s salvation depending on themself and their own actions. For us living 2000 years later, that thought hasn’t changed. We are still inundated with the theology of glory that says we’re doing something for God, continually being told that we can bring about our salvation by doing this or by doing that, by following a series of steps that lead to Jesus as if He is the ultimate goal of our multi-step program. But as Paul preached then and as the Church preaches today, it is Jesus Christ who comes to us, coming to us in those means that He has promised through His Word and Sacraments which forgive.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what we see, but what is unseen. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” The things of this world will ultimately disappear, fail us, or hinder us from keeping our eyes on the prize, that is, Jesus Christ and His life-giving salvation.

Ultimately, death will be changed to life, new life in Jesus Christ. Our troubles will be short-lived and turn into glory, glory in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has given us His Word and His Sacraments, which strengthens the faith that we have received from the Holy Spirit. Finally, the things of this world that we see will pass away and we will be left for eternity what is unseen: God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, who have prepared for us a new home, free from all troubles where there will only be glory, forever and ever, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.