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The Gospel Contrast

We don’t have the recording for the sermon today, but we do have the text.


1 Timothy‬ ‭1:12-17‬ I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Good morning Grace. As always, it’s an honor to preach God’s word and may I never fail to remember that. Before I begin, I just wanted to thank Matt and Kyle for preaching the last two weeks. While I know it’s a joy and an honor for them, it’s also on top of all of the other responsibilities they have. So when you have a chance, thank them for their hard work. If God has worked in your heart through their preaching, let them know that too.

How many of you love a good rags to riches story? Whether it’s a fairy tale like Cinderella or a sports team that is the huge underdog that wins the championship, we love to hear about how someone goes from bad circumstances to good ones. The 1990 Minnesota twins were a last place baseball team. They were bad. And out of nowhere the following season in 1991 they not only finished in first place, they won the World Series.

What about these kind of stories makes them so compelling?

It’s the contrast in seeing just how bad things were before compared to how incredible things have turned out. Why don’t we celebrate the story of a millionaire who wins the lottery? There’s no contrast. A millionaire is doing just fine if nothing changes. If he doesn’t win the Powerball, he is still a millionaire instead of a billionaire.

My prayer is that we are able to see ourselves as the poor person desperately needing riches and better circumstances instead of the comfortable millionaire who can’t understand how bad things really are. That we would know how bad we have sinned against a holy God, and that we are way worse off than simply financially poor and compare that with the glorious work of Jesus Christ. And that, because of the gospel, we really have hit a jackpot far greater than millions of dollars. Would you pray with me?

Some of you might have seen that I was preaching from the New Testament and felt relief. Finally we are out of the Old Testament. I can hear some good news for a change. We will hear good news today, and it’s probably not as heavy as Hosea or Jeremiah, but don’t think this sermon isn’t directly related to what we have heard over the recent months. Pastor Dave and Matt have worked hard to show us the deadliness of our sin. One of the reasons is so that we can more easily how how wonderful Jesus is.

The main idea of our text is Seeing our sin contrasted with God’s mercy leads to worship.

  1. Appreciate the contrast (v 12-14 The before and after of Paul’s life and ours)
  2. How the contrast happens (v 15-16 through the gospel)
  3. Respond in worship (v 12 and 17, service and praise)

While this is the general flow of the text, I will jump around a little bit more than usual within the text. Let me give some background for our passage. Paul is writing to his young disciple Timothy, which is considered one of the pastoral letters along with 2nd Timothy and Titus. The main theme of First Timothy is to instruct Timothy on the order of the church at Ephesus. Our text is one of several places where Paul uses the phrase, ‘this is a trustworthy saying’. These are the tent pegs for the rest of Paul’s instruction. It’s the gospel truth on which everything else is based. In other words, before we can move on to the specific issues that Timothy or Titus face, Paul makes sure that the gospel underscores everything else he will address. (trustworthy sayings: 1 tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 tim 2:11, Tit 3:8).

Our passage also comes right after Paul addresses some of the false teachings Timothy was facing in the church. Some were teaching that the obedience to the law could save. But Paul knew better and wanted to be clear that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. It’s only through faith in christ, believing that he really lived a sinless life, really died for our sins, and really rose from the grave to sit at the right hand of God the Father, that we will see eternal life in his glorious kingdom.

1. Appreciating the contrast

This passage is filled with words to highlight the before and after of Paul’s life. Words like ‘though formerly’ and ‘but’. I was ‘that’, but now I have received ‘this’. We see who Paul was before he met Christ. If we want to see the contrast the gospel creates, we first have to look at our sinfulness and see it how the Bible sees it. We have spent months digging into our depravity through the prophet Hosea. Last week we saw the horrendous effects of being comfortable with sin. Sin only destroys.

Several times in this passage Paul mentions how bad his sin really is. Look at verse 13. Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.

Why would he say this? Here’s a quick sketch of Paul’s story before encountering Christ. He was a Jew who believed that keeping the law would make him righteous. He was trained to know the scriptures well and how to obey the law. When word began spreading that Jesus was the Messiah, he saw that as blasphemous and so began seeking to destroy these so-called christians. In Acts 8 after stephen is stoned for his belief in the risen christ we see this:

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

And then it continues in chapter 9: But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

This is who Saul was before he encountered Christ. He was on a rampage to destroy Christians and in his rage, he blasphemed against God. He denied that Jesus Christ was God, was actively persecuting Christians, and stirring up violence. And yet he received mercy. You may be familiar with Acts 9 when Saul is on the road to Damascus he is blinded by light and Jesus speaks to him. Then Jesus tells him he will become a servant for Jesus. Saul would become the apostle Paul. Here is the contrast for Paul. But I received mercy.

Paul goes on to say he acted ignorantly in unbelief. He’s not claiming innocence, but ignorance. In his zeal as a Pharisee, he truly thought he was honoring God. this is who Paul was. How many of us have been ignorant like Paul too? We were, or still are, convinced that we are pretty good people. We’re polite, we try to love others and do what’s right. God will understand that. Kids, I want you to hear this too. Just because you have grown up in a church with parents who love Jesus, are you are surrounded by talk of the gospel, don’t be confused into thinking that is good enough. You too need to know how bad your sin is and see how good Jesus is too. Apart from repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ, we will live in ignorance.

Paul isn’t into false humility or hyperbole. He isn’t just saying he’s the foremost of sinners to make a dramatic point. He understands exactly who he is both in his sinful nature and in his redeemed life with Christ. He is not asking you to think of yourself as something you are not. He is asking you to understand who you are apart from the mercy of Christ. Had Jesus not come on his rescue mission, you, the foremost of sinners are doomed. Can you identify with Paul in your sin? Are you able to see your wickedness for what it is?

You might compare yourself to Paul and think “I’m not as bad as Paul. I’ve never persecuted anyone or blasphemed against God. I know I’ve done some bad stuff, but it’s not like I murdered anyone.” And yet we are that guilty. Because our sin is against a holy God. King David wrote in Ps 51: “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Forget the comparison to Paul or anyone else around you. Your sin is first against God, and the penalty for sin requires payment by death. Christ had to die for sin. Your sin and mine require a payment of death. We are all guilty because we are born in Adam.

What’s the other side of the contrast? It’s the blessings we receive through salvation. Paul lists several of them in this short passage: He received mercy. In other words he didn’t get what he deserves. He, and we, should receive God’s wrath. But we receive mercy.1 Peter 2:10 says it this way: Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

On top of mercy, we receive grace. We get what we don’t deserve. Look at verse 14. It’s not a little bit of grace as if Paul was less than anyone else. Paul received overflowing grace. And so does anyone and everyone who puts their trust in Jesus. Just like when Jesus turned huge jars of water into wine, it’s an abundance of grace, so much that it overflows. Our sin is bad, his grace is super-abundant and covers over our bad. Want more? Verse 14 says faith and love are packaged in with grace. We get saved from our sins and saved unto eternal life.

But there’s more. Even more than any of these blessings, and this is not explicit in our text, but is throughout the Bible is the fact that Jesus saving sinners, means that we get Jesus. We get relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Philippians 3:8-10 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

When we fail to see the reality of our sin, we can fail to see just how glorious Jesus is. If a millionaire wins the lottery, that’s nice, get a few more bucks, but if he loses it doesn’t really hurt either. There’s no great contrast. That’s not our reality though. The gospel isn’t a nice addition to our lives. Do not make the mistake of tacking Jesus onto a life you see as decent. The gospel is the difference between life and death. Blessing or curse. heaven or hell.

2. How we are changed

Hopefully we can better see how desperate our situation is and how great the blessings can be. But seeing the before and after is only part of the story. How does this contrast actually happen? Most rags to riches stories portray someone who just grits their teeth and works harder to overcome their circumstances, or by mere good fortune they wind up with a happy ending. Against all odds Rock Balboa refused to quit until he became a boxing champion. That might be the American story, but the reality is that our sin renders us incapable of obtaining all of these blessings on our own. We are not the hero. We have no way of changing our desires for sin without heavenly intervention. This is where the gospel becomes good news.

Jesus came to save sinners. The good news is that we all qualify. The first requirement for salvation is to recognize you are a sinner. Why did Jesus come into this world? Jesus did plenty of good things during his earthly ministry: he taught with authority, he healed people, he was the perfect moral example, but the foremost reason, the one at the top of the list, was to save sinners. And by doing so, he displayed God’s glory.

He left perfect communion with his heavenly Father. Jesus didn’t stand afar in heaven and wave a wand to save us from sin. He actively pursued us in this world. God didn’t passively wait until someone asked for a savior, that couldn’t happen. He became a man. He Felt all of the effects of sin around him, yet he himself did not sin. He revealed the invisible God to the world through his coming.

How did Jesus save sinners? Not only through Jesus’ perfectly obedient life, but also through his death on the cross. He became an atoning sacrifice. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin. He was made to look like sin on the cross and absorb the Father’s wrath. Isaiah 53, one of the most well-known passages on Christ’s death describes it this way,

“He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

By entering this world, through his life, death and resurrection, he saved people from God’s wrath to eternal life. Paul is not the only one to receive mercy. Jesus grants mercy to all who believe.

Jesus came to save the worst of sinners. Why? To display his glory. He came to show his perfect patience. In other words, people will be able to see how Paul was saved and marvel, “This God can even save a wretched sinner like Paul? Wow! He must be slow to anger.” Some of you have dramatic stories of salvation. You were saved from really hard circumstances. Praise God that he pulls people out of our own sin and the damage of other people’s sin. Addiction, abuse, abandonment. Unbelief. It might be easier to appreciate the contrast we looked at earlier. But know and remember why God saved you from your circumstances. It’s for his glory. It is so that others could hear your story and think, “wow, what a good and patient God.”

3. Response in service and praise (worship)

Finally, our third observation in this passage: Paul received mercy and he responds in worship. This is consistent with others in scripture too. Luke 17 gives a story of Jesus cleansing 10 lepers. They ask for mercy and receive healing. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. shows the proper response to receiving mercy: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.

When we are able to see the contrast of our wickedness and Christ’s glory, we respond in worship. Paul envelopes this passage in a wrapper of praise and thanksgiving. First in verse 12 he gives thanks to Jesus Christ. Then in verse 17 he writes a doxology.

The two aspects Paul mentions about worship are service and praise. In verse 12 He gives thanks because Jesus has strengthened him for what? For service. For Paul it was as an apostle. For each of us it is for different roles, but we are all called and all strengthened for service for Christ. Imagine that. Jesus not only saves sinners by showing them mercy and overflowing grace, but he actually uses these sinners to carry out his purposes. And don’t mistake what Paul is saying in verse 12. Jesus didn’t look at Paul, see a pretty talented guy and think “I could use Paul on my team.” No it’s the other way around.

Ephesians 2:10 – for we are his workmanship, created in christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

If you believe that Jesus came to save sinners and his work on the cross paid for your sins, God has appointed you to service too. And he has given you strength to do it. Many of you do serve here at Grace. Keep serving and remember why you serve? It’s a response to what Jesus has done in you. If you aren’t serving Christ’s church, let us help you find ways to do so.

Secondly, Paul’s response to the truth that Jesus came into the world to save sinners is to give praise to God. In verse 17, this one small verse, Paul packs a lot of theology about God. He acknowledges God as king. He tells of God’s attributes: his eternal reign, his immortality, his invisibility and his exclusivity. And then he recognizes that this great God deserves all of the credit. That’s glory. That’s who God is and has always been. And we simply respond and return what rightfully belongs to God.

One of the easiest ways to give God praise is through song. Mat, Scott and the others who lead worship take great care to choose the songs that they do. They choose songs that are filled with these same ingredients as verse 17. We approach God in song with humility, confessing who we are compared to a Glorious God, praising his attributes and giving him all the credit and honor for saving us. The point is not to sing with great skill, but to sing as a response to who God is and what he has saved us from.

So sing. Sing with joy and give our king the glory he deserves. Sing with us. Allow a song to get stuck in your head so that it pops up later in the week. When Thursday rolls around and you have lost sight of what God has done, fill your head with rich lyrics that remind you of the gospel.

Conclusion: There are numerous examples of faithful saints who have seen their sin rightly and when they received mercy they responded in worship in both service and praise. I want to highlight just one of these saints. John Newton was a man who lived in the 1700’s in England. He was raised in a Christian home but rebelled and lived in sin for many years. This led to imprisonment as a teen and eventually he found himself working as a sailor. This included Newton working on slave ships. One day his ship was caught in a terrible storm and Newton cried out for mercy to God. And Newton received mercy and was saved from his sins. As a Christian he increasingly saw the horror of his sin. His response was a new life of worship to God. He became a minister and was a voice for the abolition of slavery. And he responded in praise through writing hymns, including Amazing Grace. John Newton grew to understand his sin as wretched. And he appreciated the gospel in increasing measure. And his response was to give everything he had to God in worship.

Sin is first and foremost sin against a holy God. All of our sin, no matter how tame it appears to the world, is heinous in God’s sight. We have to dive deeper into the muck of our sin, not to revel in how bad we are or boast in it, but to better appreciate just how marvelous Jesus is. Lord willing, Dave will resume our series in Hosea next week. Use Hosea as a chance to appreciate what you have been saved from. Look at you sin as the Bible sees your sin. And the hope is that you will see the blessings of salvation as glorious. Because the savior who won those blessing is glorious.

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. Accept this trustworthy saying. Believe the gospel is able to save you and turn away from your sins. Receive mercy. And then recognize that it is able to save anyone. Jesus came to save sinners. And then go and tell sinners this news.