Midweek 5 – 2019 LSB #766:1-3, 4-6, 7-9
Text – 1 Timothy 2:4
[God our Savior] desires all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth.
GOD’S WILL THAT ALL PEOPLE ARE SAVED
Well . . . isn’t that a nice saying? I mean, somebody ought to put that on a bumper sticker. Really. You see, the world thinks that we hate them. For many, Christianity stands against so much that people don’t know what it’s for. It’s just offensive. A saying like that might change things for us. It might make our lives easier.
That’s what a bumper sticker Christianity is all about, isn’t it, making life easier – for you & me? Do you smell the rat? Am I overplaying this Bible verse? That can be the issue with this text. It lends itself to a bumper sticker mentality, & once we reduce Christianity to something we can paste on our car, it often is no longer something that stays in our heart.
There is a whole form of Christianity out there that is nothing more than a bumper sticker religion, a meme like wisdom that doesn’t make sense in the real world. God calls us not to live in our platitudes, but in His beatitudes, & one of His blessings is that He has a vision of salvation that reaches to the ends of the earth.
What does this mean for us as Christians? How are we to respond to this desire of God? If we want to put this truth not on our cars but in our hearts, how will it change the way we live in the world? That is the question I’d like to consider tonight as we read & meditate on this text: What does it mean for us that God desires all people to be saved?
First, it means we might need to have a good conversation with ourselves. If we let God put this saying in our heart, guess what happens? The next time you run into someone who really ticks you off, someone who has violated the ways of God, someone who has done things so horrible you wish the Last Day would come & they would burn in eternity for what they’ve
done, you have to stop & ask yourself if they can be so easily written off. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s judgment & anger. Sometimes we turn to those examples when we want to write off certain people.
When a person’s actions have been so disastrous, their words so despicable, we turn to stories of God’s judgment to make disposable human beings that were created by God. We pull out God’s destruction of the Canaanites, God’s fire & brimstone on Sodom & Gomorrah, God’s opening the flood gates of heaven to destroy the world except for Noah & his family.
Then we take our place beside Noah & wait for the judgment to come. People become disposable to us. But is that what they are to God? A verse like the sermon text when planted in our heart will give us 2nd thoughts. Think about the apostle Paul & his experiences.
He once stood there, watching as Christians were being killed & he reveled in their destruction. The wrath of Satan was being poured out in front of him & he rejoiced in that. But then Jesus met Paul on the Damascus road to speak to him. God had a word about Paul, & a word about people, that opened his eyes to see just how vast was God’s love for His Creation.
In killing those people, Paul was persecuting Jesus. God desired all people, even Gentiles, to be saved. He was going to show Paul just how much he would suffer for the Lord’s name. Paul was going to be filled with this expansive love of God & was going to find that the more he sought the salvation of all, the more he would end up persecuted & imprisoned.
But this word of God, this truth of the Lord, went straight to his heart & changed how Paul viewed people of the world. Likewise, for us: what people is God calling us to reconsider today? Whom have you just about written off your list? You know the ones I’m talking about - the list of those that you want to be saved & the list of those that you’ve given up caring about.
There shouldn’t be that 2nd list. No matter how horrible the person, no matter how
heinous the sin, in heaven God’s heart desires the salvation of all people. On earth, He made this known by the death of His Son. Because of the death of Jesus, God forgives sin &, when all sins are forgiven, all people are invited by God to the party of heaven. What does it mean for us that God desires all people to be saved?
It means we need to have a good conversation with ourselves & honestly name the people we have trouble forgiving, identify the people we love to hate, & confess this sin before God who wants all people to be saved. We take this sin to Jesus & today He forgives you of your sin.
But if that’s where it ends, notice how we’ve just reduced Christianity to simply a matter of our heart. The heart may be in the right place but our lives can still be out of kilter. Perhaps there’s more to this word from Paul than just having a good conversation with ourselves. Perhaps, we also need to have a good conversation with God.
Sadly, when we see the evil that occurs in this world & find ourselves angry at others, we do have a conversation with God, but it may not be the right conversation. We ask God why He doesn’t do anything about this! The apostle Paul could have felt that way when writing to Timothy. Think about all that Paul endured in his missionary work for the church in Ephesus.
For three months Paul was preaching & teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus but people resisted him. Paul tried hard & winsomely to reason with these people from 11am to 4pm in the court of Tyrannus, but, eventually exhausted, at the end of his rope & at the end of the day, these Ephesians would still walk away. (Acts 19:8-10)
Then, there were the sons of Sceva. (19:11-20) Con artists & tricksters, they wanted to
use the name of Jesus to do great deeds for themselves rather than for God. Paul could wonder, “Does God want them to be saved? They’re little better than pagans who think that Jesus’ name is a magical talisman.” Next, there was Demetrius the silversmith (19:23) who started that riot because Paul’s message was hurting his business. In the business of making idols, his business had become his idol. He was willing to tear the world apart, causing pain, destruction & violence over his commercial religion. How do you think Paul might have felt about him? But, lest there be any question about Paul’s feelings towards these people, he told Timothy:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions & thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings & all who are in high positions…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Paul desires that God’s people be in a conversation with God on behalf of others. Since God desires all people to be saved, He desires us to be interceding for all people.
Praying for people just may change your heart. Paul’s advice to Timothy in our reading is God’s Word for us tonight. Pray for all people. Pray for your enemies. Pray for those who disturb you, for that ‘fill-in-the-blank’ person you cannot conceive of God having mercy for. Paul urges you to pray for them because in so doing you will know the power of prayer.
No, not the power of changing them or the power of a prayer that cures them of whatever they are or do, or even prayer like a transaction that covers their debt to God & to you. The power in prayer is the power to change… you. Paul says that in prayer you will meet the one Mediator between God & man.
Jesus is the one person who can affect the power you need for change & the power that they need for saving. That Mediator is Jesus Christ. So Paul’s advice is not a platitude but a direction, a way forward. Go to God in prayer, he says, & the Christ who changed you will help you to see His heart for the lost & the sinful, & even for the evil.
In prayer you will draw near to the heart of God. He’ll take care of you there, changing the rhythm of your heart to match His pulse for the world so you will know His desire for saving the lost. He will change the way you live & move & see in this world. He will provide in prayer
a place for the whole world to meet Christ. In fact, you already know this truth as a praying person if you pray, “in the name of Jesus. Amen.” That ending is not a hash tag on your prayer. It’s not a punctuation mark on your time with God. It’s not even a platitude. It is the bold declaration that you believe & choose to accept God’s will for your prayer only through Christ.
When you pray in Jesus’ name, you’re saying to God: “I have faith to understand that You’ll answer this prayer in Christ. And through Jesus, I trust in Jesus to help me know what that’ll look like for my life & for Your will.” So you see, you do believe that God desires all to be saved & come to know this simple & obvious fact:
“God so loved the world (everyone) that He gave His only Son (Jesus) so that whoever (& I mean whoever) believes in Him will have eternal life.” (John 3:16 emphasis added) The same radically saving grace, which you hope for yourself, is what God gives to others as well. So we leave the saving decisions up to Him.
In prayer we understand God’s desire “for all” through Christ who’s still working on us to see the world in the way He does. So, what does it mean for you & me that God desires all people to be saved? It means that we need to have a good conversation with ourselves, & it means that we need to have a good conversation with God.
It also can mean something more – we may need to have a good conversation with others. When God reveals to you His heart for the world, you’re seeing just a small glimpse of the love of God. If you take one person that you love who does not know Christ, & think about how your heart breaks for them... well, imagine what God’s heart is like.
His heart breaks not just for certain people, but for all. Your heartbreak for others is just a thimble tossed into the ocean of God’s heart for the lost. He desires all to be saved & come to knowledge of the truth. Not only does He desire this but God did something about it. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish this salvation. Oh yes, God felt every inch of rejection, every millimeter of pain, suffered every injustice & every abuse. Yahweh took all the suffering of the Canaanite genocide, every war & every holocaust, every violation & every beating.
He felt the pain of every separation, abandonment & heartache. He felt that in the flesh & blood of Jesus. The justice of God was placed on His Son & He died for it, but my friends that is not the only word. The good news, the final word is a word not of death, separation or despair. It is a word of life. Paul says it in the letter to Timothy.
Jesus’ suffering the injustice of the whole world was a “ransom” – a price paid so that life might be had – your life & that of the whole world. His death is the ransom to set you free & the proof of life was the empty tomb to guarantee that God meant this salvation sincerely & fully. This risen Christ continues to work through you now.
Jesus sends you out with His Spirit to share His love with the world. He’s working to change your heart to be a person who seeks the lost. He’s acting by His Spirit in your life so you might mourn for the lost in the way that He does. Before Paul left the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17ff) he prayed that God would continue to send out people, & today God is sending you.
I still remember sitting at his bedside – his mother’s words buried in my ears. She said: “I’m praying that God gets through to him. I’ve been praying for him for so long, & I want him to go, but I want him to go with God.” So there I sat. A mother’s plea occupying the same space in my mind that God the Father’s heart for the lost resides.
There I sat confused & powerless in front of Shirley’s dying son. His name is Tom Jones (can you believe it… what a name… no… not the singer). Tom is quite a character & let’s just say he had a tense relationship with the church. To his mind those potlucks & coffee were things the church is all about & did best. Tom had a real problem with money & the church & the way his family was treated. But above all this Tom’s chief problem was with God. He didn’t blame God for the cancer, though to my mind that would be enough. No, his problem with God had to do with whether or not he had the right deity in mind, & whether the church had the right deity picked out.
So there I sat by his bed, not chatty, just present. After some time I asked him: “What’s on your mind Tom?” He said readily: “I’m scared.” I asked him: “Scared of what?” He said, rather honestly, “What if I pick the wrong one? I mean there are so many gods; what if I choose the wrong one?” I sat back, nodded & agreed with him:
“Yup, you’re right. That is pretty scary. That is a really big choice. I mean what if you do pick the wrong one?” And now his fear added confusion to its expression (as I see in some of your faces this moment). He was surprised, as I am sure you are, that a preacher, a believer, a “man of words” would seemingly agree with this desperate conclusion.
But he also looked a little relieved, too. I wasn’t going to debate with him or try & minimize his lifelong fear by telling him he was wrong as he lay there dying. Something we too often do is not really hear people in their moment of need. Tom knew by these simple words that I had truly “heard” him. I said:
“Tom that would be a difficult decision; an impossible decision if it was left up to you or to me. If it were left up to us, well, I’m afraid I might screw it up like I do so many other things in my life. But the good news is this, Tom. You don’t have to worry about that… Because your God chose you… you don’t have to worry about making that choice. He made it for you.
In your baptism God picked you, & He made the right choice. I know this because He’s given you Jesus. Jesus wasn’t somebody’s idea about God. He is a real person in real time, in real flesh & blood. God provided Christ to you in this moment to deliver you from death to life. God made that choice for you, because only Christ is capable of safely delivering you from death to life, from here to eternity, from hospice to heaven. Christ knows the way from death to life, Tom. He knows the way because He went that way through the death He died on the cross & the resurrection life He lives even now. He is the Way & He has chosen to take you.
It’s not because you were a great guy or because you suffered enough. He chose you just because he loves you, Tom.” He looked back at me & said: “I like that.” So we prayed.
God desired that Tom be saved. He desires that for you & your family & friends – for the whole world – good or bad, right or wrong, big or small. And every one of us knows somebody who is not yet saved. So have a conversation with yourself about that person, have a conversation with God – the God who in Christ has the power to change us.
Then, have a conversation with others. Through such conversations, we will know God more fully & find a way of dealing with the reality of this sinful world. Through such conversations, God is changing us to be the people who never give up hope, but trust in Christ for all things, always.
Through prayer, Christ moves us from a posture of speaking to God to a place where we can speak to the lost about God’s loving heart & His choice to give them Christ freely & fully forever. Amen.
Your gracious will on earth be done as it is done before Your throne, that patiently we may obey throughout our lives all that You say. Curb flesh & blood & every ill that sets itself against Your will. Amen. LSB 766:4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet