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March 1, 2020

Sermon II Corinthians 4:4 . . . “Paul said:  ‘He’s blinded the minds’”

“Paul said:  ‘He’s blinded the minds’”

II Corinthians 4:4

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was 1876, and Western Union had a monopoly on the telegraph.  And since it was the most advanced communications technology in the world for it’s time, it was easily one of America’s richest and most powerful companies, worth, in today’s money, close to a billion dollars.

So imagine the surprise when a man named Gardiner Greene Hubbard approached its president, William Orton, with an offer.  He said he was willing to sell, for a measly $2.5 million, the patent for a new invention he had helped to fund.

But Orton thought it was such a ridiculous idea, he didn’t even bother to talk with Hubbard.  Instead, he sent a letter directly to the inventor.  He wrote:  “Mr. Bell, after careful consideration of your invention, while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities.  What use could this company make of an electrical toy?”

Needless to say, Orton made a big mistake.  After all, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone would have been perfect for Western Union.  The company already had a nationwide network of telegraph wires in place, and Bell had shown that it worked just fine on their lines.  All the company had to do was to hook up telephones and, in a matter of months, it could be the proud owner of the world’s first nationwide telecommunications network.

But since Orton refused, Bell decided to keep the patent.  And, a few decades later, Bell’s company, American Telephone and Telegraph, also known as AT&T, became not only the largest corporation in America, but the single most valuable patent in history.

So instead of becoming one of the architects of the telephone age, William Orton is remembered for having made one of the worst decisions in American business history.

So why did he make such a terrible, ridiculous mistake?  Because he couldn’t see the “electrical toy” for what it would become.  He was too blinded by his present success, that he failed to appreciate the profound implications the opportunity held for years to come.

Too blinded.  That reminds me of the words of the apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1227.  II Corinthians 4, beginning at verse 1:  “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.  We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:1-6).

If you’ve been with us for the past couple of months, you know we’ve spent some time hearing the words of the apostle Paul.  He wrote in his letter to the Romans, chapter 3:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  And he wrote in chapter 8:  “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us...for I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And for the past couple of weeks, we’ve also spent some time looking at his first and second letters to the Corinthians.  It’s where he wrote:  “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” and “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”

Now after commending the people of Corinth and encouraging their walk with the Lord, Paul penned the words of chapter 4:  “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

If you think about it, Paul had every reason to lose heart.  Anyone could have told you he was well on his way to a great academic career.  Born and raised in Tarsus, he could have easily become a renowned teacher, lecturer, and professor of Old Testament at the University of Jerusalem.  Gamaliel would have been proud to have him take his chair.  

Even Paul himself made it perfectly clear when he wrote to the Philippians:  “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, faultless.”

But when he came to Christ, what did it get him?  Countless days and nights of worry, hardship, beatings, imprisonments, poverty, and sickness.  Even more, as one author put it, “It wouldn’t have been so bad if the churches he served had expressed some gratitude for all the sacrifices he made, but half the time, they were a worse burden to him than anything else.”

Still here in chapter 4, he was able to write:  “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

Why?  Because of the joy and the privilege of sharing the love of Christ.

Now go with me to verse 3:  “And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” he wrote.  Who’s the god of this world?

He’s the ruler of this world, as Jesus called him in the book of John.  He’s the prince of the power of the kingdom of the air, as Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 2.

And what has he done?  Verse 4:  “He’s blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

If you know anything about football, you might have heard of something called, “face guarding.”  It happens when a receiver is trying to catch the football.

Picture, for a moment, a defensive player, facing the receiver, with his back to the ball.  But instead of turning around and trying to catch the ball, (which he assumes is coming from behind), he simply waves his hands and arms to block the receiver’s vision.  In effect, he’s trying to blind the receiver so he can’t see the football.  It’s called, “face guarding.”

So how does Satan, the god of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, try to face guard us?

There are lots of ways.  After all, as one author put it, “He’s the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes, and views of most all people.  And his influence encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce.  The thoughts, ideas, speculations, and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.”

Let me take you back to a couple hundred years after Christ, to a Greek philosopher named Celsus, and his book, True Doctrine.

This is what he wrote:  “Let no one come to Christ who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent; but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence.”  And he wrote:  “Only the silly, the simple, and the stupid, with women and children, are worthy of their God.”

To put it another way, only stupid people come to Christ.  Smart people know better.

Fast forward to the late 1800s, to a German philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche.  Not only did he say, “God is dead,” he also wrote, “When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning, we ask ourselves:  Is it really possible?!  This, for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said He was God’s Son?  A ‘god’ who begets children with a mortal woman, who accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice, who orders His disciples to drink His blood; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god, the form of the cross in a time that no longer knows the function of the cross.  Can one imagine that such things are still believed?”

Well, frankly, yes I do!

As Celsus put it, only stupid people come to Christ.  Smart people know better.

Sound familiar?  It should, because that’s exactly what Satan said to Adam and Eve in the garden.  “You won’t die,” he said.  “Instead, your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.”  And that’s what he said to Jesus in the wilderness:  “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.”

It’s that sense of pride that says, “I don’t need a religious crutch.  I don’t need a Savior.  I can do it all by myself.”

Then what?  As Paul wrote in verse 4, with their mind blinded, they never see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

So what hope is there for them to believe the good news?  There’s only one way.  As Paul wrote in verse 5:  “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Whether you know it or not, Jesus is Lord.  Whether you believe it or not, Jesus is Lord.  And whether you receive Him or not, Jesus is Lord.

But when you believe and receive His Lordship, as Peter wrote in his first epistle:  “He saves you, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”

For twenty-two years, Bill Buckner was a first baseman and outfielder in the major leagues.  And for those twenty-two years, he had quite a career.  He led the league in doubles twice, and finished twice in the top ten for stolen bases.  He was the National League batting champion in 1980, and was an All-Star in 1981.

But through all of Major League Baseball history, there’s probably no player whose career was defined more by one play.

It was the fall of 1986.  The Red Sox had a 3 win-2 loss series lead over the New York Mets.  And in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a simple roller to Buckner at first base.  But it trickled through his legs and into the outfield.

The Mets scored on that play to win Game 6.  Then they went on to win Game 7, as well as the World Series.  And Buckner’s error at a clutch moment catapulted him to the list of sports’ worst-ever blunders.  After his playing days, so many were still mad at him, he moved to Idaho.

But after the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, in 2008 they invited him back to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch of the home opener.  For two minutes, he received a standing ovation that brought tears to his eyes.

When he died this past year at the age of 69, his family said, “Our hearts are broken, but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

That’s the power of forgiveness.  That’s the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

 

Only You could save us, dear Father, from sin’s death and defeat.  Help us, by Your grace, to walk in the light of Your wisdom and truth, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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