3rd Sunday of Easter
2 Cor 2:12-16
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In Jesus’ name dear friends in Christ, who is successful? #1 – 78.3 billion, #2 – 75.8 billion, #3 – 69.6 billion. 78.3 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft and supposedly the richest man in the world. 75.8 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Carlos Slim Helu who made his fortune in Mexican tele communications. And 69.6 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Warren Buffett the owner of a large holding company in America. Having 70 billion dollars, makes you successful right? Is that what makes someone successful? I’m guessing that the majority of people in America would say yes that’s what it means to be successful, but would you? What about you, are you successful in life? How would you define a successful person?
We could maybe come up with a bunch of different answers to describe a “successful person.” But, finally, isn’t the only definition of success that really matters in the end, God’s definition of success? I mean, if you are very successful in the eyes of people in the world but not in the eyes of God, what good is it? Jesus said something similar, didn’t He? 3 out of the 4 gospels record Jesus saying, “What good will it be for a person if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Obviously God operates with a much different definition of success than our world and perhaps a much different definition than we do.
The words before us are the inspired words of a very successful person. But keep in mind some of his background. He didn’t attend a prestigious business school, he never formed a multi-billion dollar company, but what had happened to him? He had numerous plots on his life – people all over the world wanted to stone and kill him, in one city he was actually stoned and left for dead, in another he was brutally flogged and imprisoned, and just before he wrote this letter he had been driven out of Ephesus because there was a riot against him. And then to top it all off the congregation he started in Corinth was a disaster – all kinds of sin and error taking place and there were false teachers there spreading rumors about him behind his back and trying to lead the congregation away from the truth!
Paul had written the letter we know as 1 Corinthians and since there wasn’t, of course, email or the postal system, he sent it with Titus. It was a rather stern letter calling the Christians in Corinth to repent. He had hoped to meet up with Titus in the city of Troas to find out how things were going in Corinth, but Titus didn’t show up. So now, Paul had all kinds of questions: Why didn’t Titus make it? Were things such a mess in Corinth? Was the congregation deteriorating? Was it all hopeless? In fact, we’re told that he had no peace of mind that he actually passed up an open door to spread the gospel in Troas to go to Macedonia to meet up with Titus. Such was his concern for his fellow Christians in Corinth.
Success? It sure doesn’t look like it, right? But then what does Paul say? “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.” Stop and think about that for a moment. God says He’s doing what? Leading us in triumphal procession. And He’s doing it…always!
The picture is from the Roman military. When the army would win the victory over their enemy they would return to Rome and have a grand parade through the city. People would stand a cheer and applaud their soldiers. The defeated enemies would also be dragged along in the parade often chained to victory chariots and at the end of the procession they would be put to death. Part of the celebration they would burn quantities of incense and garlands of flowers would be draped around the victorious soldiers. This would cause a fragrance in the air. To the enemy this fragrance meant defeat and even death, but to the winners this fragrance was great it meant that the war and all its troubles were over and they could look forward to undisturbed security for the future.
Now God through Paul pictures our lives as being a constant marching in that victory parade. The “smell” of that parade is life for some – as we tell people about Jesus we bring them eternal life. But the “smell” of the parade is also death for others. Some will recognize that we believe in Jesus, but will refuse to listen to the Word and will be condemned to an eternity in hell. That’s death.
But note what God is saying: He’s leading us in what? A victory parade! And when? Always! He went into battle, defeated sin, death, and the devil with His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection and we get to join him in that victory parade. Talk about success!
But what about you? What about me? Would you describe your life as one big triumphal procession? Let’s just think about this last week, would you describe this last week as a triumphal procession? This was my last week, pastor’s conference in New Ulm, MN with the family, long car trips, 4 small children, fun- yes, triumphal procession? Not the first word that comes to mind. Opening worship service at the college in the beautiful Chapel of the Christ with over 200 people most of whom were pastors, pretty neat, sitting in church with 4 small children for an hour and a half, triumphal procession? Last part of the week, one child got a nasty flu virus, then my wife, and then it proceeded through each of my children, triumphal procession?
What about as a congregation? One member was hospitalized for half the week, another one’s dad just passed away, and another one’s mom is very near death. Would you describe your last week as a triumphal procession? A success? Far worse than all the un-pleasantries of this past week are our sins, the sins of my heart, the sins of yours. What about the times we were stressed out, said things we shouldn’t have said, failed to say things we should have said, the people whom we failed to love, times we failed to give attention to God’s Word, times we failed to rejoice in the things he’s done for us. If our week was a “parade” perhaps we would think it would look not like the parade of a winner, but a loser.
But that’s not what God says. What God says is that He’s always leading us in triumphal procession in Christ! Not sometimes, not most of the time. Always! And yes, that included this past week! Yes, that includes today! Sure, we failed! Sure, we sinned! Sure we messed things up! But remember in whom we trust! We trust in Jesus, the one who went to the cross, the one who lived perfectly in our place, the one who died in our place, and most importantly, the one who rose in our place! We follow the ultimate conqueror, we follow the ultimate winner! That’s true success! The war is over, our hero has won, like those soldiers marching through Rome, the victory is ours and we look forward to a future of undisturbed security.
Yet, how easy it is for us to attach “success” to the outward, physical things of life and not to the most important? How easy it is for us to let our mood, our enjoyment of life, our definition of success be defined by something else than how God defines it! Success in our world is often defined in the outward visible results, in having this or that, and yet for God, success is found in bringing one soul safely into His kingdom, in strengthening the eternal souls of those who are His, and of bringing one soul at a time home to heaven. That’s true success. That’s a triumphal procession.
So did your trials this week drive you closer to Jesus? Did the craziness of your life cause you to come here to hear about the one, the only One who can bring the pieces of your life together and make sense out of a life full of pain and hardship and trouble? That’s success. Did someone, maybe a co-worker, maybe a child, watch as you displayed love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control in a situation or some kind of attitude that reflected your faith in a crucified and risen Savior? That’s real success.
Real success comes the more we know about our Savior and His gospel and the more we smell. The more we smell like Jesus, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him. The realtor knows that you always bake cookies before the open house, it helps sell the house, how many people have pulled into the driveway of a fast food restaurant just because they could smell the burgers? In Burlington, WI where I used to live there was a Nestle factory that every once in a while the whole town smelled like chocolate and made you crave chocolate. Smells are powerful. Well, as we share the gospel as we live as people who have been brought from death to life, people whose sins have been forgiven, we give off a fragrance around us, people watch us and we have opportunities to give the reason for the hope that we have. That’s success.
Finally, success isn’t found in the outward things of this world. True success is being brought to saving faith in the crucified and risen Savior. True success is basking in the results of Jesus’ glorious resurrection no matter what outward things or even inward things are going on in life.
What Paul knew was that Jesus is alive. Jesus already won the victory. Jesus is right now leading His own to the final and eternal celebration of that victory at the wedding feast in heaven. You are also a part of that success, that triumphal procession. Knowing that Jesus is alive, that victory is won, that sins are forgiven, that is what gives you success every day. Not success as the world sees it or describes it or defines it, but real success as God defines it. No, your life may not feel like a triumphal procession. BUT! Where will your life ultimately end? Your life will ultimately end in the glories of heaven! Your life will ultimately end in leaving this world and entering into life which is eternal! You will stand in glory next to Jesus your Savior! You will have glory which will be never-ending! And day by day, God is leading you to that place. Which means what? It means that your life is indeed a triumphal procession! Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ! That’s success, no matter what. Amen.