1 Timothy 1:12-17 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 19—Series C)
“Chief of Sinners”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 11, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is today’s Epistle reading from 1 Timothy 1:
12I am grateful to the One who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He considered me faithful, placing me into ministry, 13being formerly a blasphemer, and persecutor, and a violent, disrespectful man. But I was shown mercy because, being ignorant, I acted in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The word is trustworthy and is worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. 16Yet on account of this, I received mercy in order that in me, the foremost, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His whole patience as an example to those who are about to believe in Him for eternal life.17Now to the King of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, only God, be honor and glory into the ages of ages, amen.
There are 106 days until Christmas! Anyone counting yet? Christmas decorations should be out in stores in a few weeks. And no, I’m not anywhere near ready to think about Christmas, but the phrase, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” did pop into my head this week. That phrase is often used to remind us that the Christmas Season is about Jesus’ incarnation and birth among us, and not all about presents and Santa and trees and decorations. But then I got to thinking. That little slogan is really accurate. Jesus ISN’T the reason for the Christmas Season. You are.
St. Paul writes in our text, “The word is trustworthy and is worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.” The Church Father, St. Augustine, wrote, “There was no reason for Christ the Lord to come, except to save sinners. . . . If a great doctor has come down from heaven, a great invalid must have been lying sick throughout the whole wide world. This invalid is the whole human race.” And the great sickness is sin. Christ Jesus came into this sin-sickened world for the purpose of saving sinners.
Consider what Paul writes to Timothy a few verses before our Epistle text today. “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9-10 ESV). Just look at this long list of terrible sinners! At one time, Paul confesses that he belonged in this list, and not only that, but at the top of it! Are you willing to confess that you also belonged in this list?
Maybe you think that you are not a murder because you have never physically taken someone’s life. But the Bible tells us that hurting or harming our neighbor in his body and failing to support and help him in every physical need is just like murder. Doing or saying anything that injures or endangers another person’s life is a sin against the Fifth Commandment. Neglecting to assist people in their bodily needs is a failure to show them love. Harboring anger or hatred in your heart against another person also makes you guilty. Jesus declared, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22 ESV). St. John writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:19-20 ESV).
And which one of us has never been a liar? Who of us hasn’t been disobedient to God, to parents and teachers and other authorities? Is there anyone here who has never been profane or unholy, who has never lusted or coveted? Put my name on the list along with yours, right next to Paul’s name—sinners one and all!
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. From what do we sinners need to be saved from? Well, from our sins, yes. But to be more specific, we need to be saved from our sins which result in the punishment of physical and eternal death. Our sins are the breaking of God’s commandments in thought, desire, word, and action—our lust, our profanity, our disobedience, our hatred, our immorality. Our sins merit God’s wrath and displeasure, the punishment of death and hell. So we have a couple things going on here. As sinners, you and I transgress and break the Law, God’s holy, perfect Law. Because we break God’s Law, we deserve His just punishment which is death and hell. That’s what we need to be saved from—the breaking of God’s Law and the subsequent punishment which we deserve because we have broken God’s Law, His commandments.
And so the reason that Christ Jesus came into the world is . . . for the purpose of saving sinners from their sins and from death and hell. YOU are the reason for Christmas. YOU are the reason God the Son took on human flesh and dwelt among sinners (John 1:14).
Jesus became incarnate, fully human, so that He might fulfill God’s Law and keep the commandments on your behalf as your substitute. Jesus satisfied your obligation to keep the Law. We read in Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience [Adam’s] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Jesus’] the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19 ESV). God the Father accepts Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law perfectly as your fulfilling of His Law perfectly. God credits Jesus’ righteousness and sinlessness to you; He applies it to your account and so makes Jesus’ righteousness and holiness your righteousness and holiness. That takes care of keeping God’s Law. Christ has done this for you, on your behalf, because you are sinners who cannot perfectly keep God’s commandments. But what about all the sins you and I have committed? What about the punishment for all the times you and I have broken His Commandments?
Not only has Jesus fulfilled our obligation to keep the Commandments, but He has also paid the penalty of our sin. He exchanged His righteousness and perfection for our sinfulness and our sins. He took all our sins upon Himself as if they were His own and gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus suffered on the cross the full anger and wrath of God that was against our sins and the sins of the whole world. Christ was forsaken by the Father, enduring hell itself as He bled and died on the tree of the cross in our place.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus came to purchase you back from sin and the punishment of sin—death and hell. The Son of God was born under the Law in our place so that He alone might keep that Law perfectly for us. The result is that we receive the credit for having done so. The Son of God took on human flesh so that He, as the God-Man, might be able to suffer and die in our place, shedding His holy, precious blood to redeem us, to buy us back, from sin, death, and hell. The result is that you and I receive the forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and hell.
You, then, are saved from your sins. The Law has been fulfilled on your behalf by the Savior. God credits you with Jesus’ perfect work. In the eyes of the Father, you have done what He has commanded you because it has been done by Jesus on your behalf. You are saved from your sins. Jesus shed His blood, suffered hell on the cross for you, and died your death so that you might receive total and complete forgiveness for all your sins. Your sin is paid for in full with His blood. You have the free gift of eternal life.
You see, dear friends, you indeed are the reason Christ Jesus came into the world—so that He might save you from your sins and from death and hell. That’s why you and I are able to sing so confidently as we did in the sermon hymn,
Chief of sinners though I be,
Jesus shed His blood for me,
Died that I might live on high,
Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine,
I am His and He is mine. (LSB 611:1)
As great and terrible as Paul’s sin was with all the ignorance that went with it, the Lord’s grace went beyond it with its abundance. Along with Paul and every other sinner going all the way back to Adam and Eve, you and I have been shown that great and abundant mercy and undeserved favor of God. The grace of our Lord has overflowed to us in the gifts of faith and love that are ours in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit as He works through the Means of Grace in the Gospel and through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Because of Jesus’ incarnation—His perfect life, death, and resurrection—your sins and mine are forgiven. You and I are saved in body and soul; life everlasting, not death, is ours. Why? Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save you and me!
You are the reason for Jesus’ incarnation. You are the reason for His perfect life lived for you. You are the reason for His sacrificial death and the shedding of His blood. You are the focus of His grace and mercy. That’s why God the Father through the Holy Spirit has given you faith in Christ as your Savior. That is why you have been favored with God’s mercy and love in the forgiveness of your sins. Christ has saved you from your sins, from death, and from hell so that you might live forever with Him in a resurrected and glorified body and soul in the new creation that He will make . . . , you guessed it, for YOU!
Now to the King of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, only God, be honor and glory into the ages of ages! Amen.