Summary: What does it mean that we carry in our body the death of Jesus? On this Memorial Day, remember that our strength comes from His sacrifice, that we are memorials with a mission, and that to fulfill the mission, we must be in motion.
Memorials With a Mission
2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 16-18
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18
Intro: I saw three ships…
This week, I read about three Navy warships—the USS New York, the USS Arlington, and the USS Somerset. Each of them is a San Antonio Class warship. They are given the classification LPD for Landing Platform Dock. The New York is 684 feet long and can carry up to 800 Marines. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
At an average cost of over a billion dollars each, they represent the cutting edge of military technology.
But what is most striking about each of these ships is not what they can do, but what they represent. Watch this, and you’ll see what I mean:
[Video Segment 1]
The USS Arlington contains steel salvaged from the west wall of the Pentagon. And the keel of the USS Somerset, named for Somerset County, Pennsylvania, contains 22 tons of steel from the crash site of United Flight 93.
Emblazoned on the ship’s crest of the New York are the words “Never Forget.” When the Navy took delivery of the Arlington, first responders from the Pentagon were there to welcome the ship to its home port of Newport News Virginia. And whenever the Somerset leaves for a mission, the words “Let’s Roll” echo over the ship’s PA, a reminder of the last words heard from the courageous passengers on board flight 93.
All of this helps illustrate what Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul understood that every christian is a living memorial to the sacrifice Jesus christ made for us. The official motto of the USS New York is “strength forged through sacrifice,” and that is an appropriate motto for Christians as well.
1. We have a strength forged through sacrifice (4:7-9)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
We don’t have any strength in and of ourselves. That’s why Paul describes us as “jars of clay.” Clay is pretty fragile and brittle. And by the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he probably felt pretty fragile and brittle himself. Many scholars have speculated that when Paul wrote about his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12, he was alluding to some chronic physical affliction, such as poor eyesight, migraines, or even epilepsy. We know from chapter 11 that he had been given the 39 lashes five different times, had been beaten with rods three times, had been shipwrecked three times, spent a day and night at sea, had been stoned and left for dead. So, yeah, he probably feels a little bit like a fragile jar of clay. But look at what he says in verse 10:
“[we are] always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may always be manifested in our bodies.
Go back to the USS New York. The steel in her bow came from the WorldTrade Center. Steel from Flight 93 is in the keel of the Somerset. Sacrifice is literally forged into the bones of those ships. Without the steel from the wreckage, they would literally fall apart. And that is how we ought to see the cross of Christ in our own lives. I want to so identify with the cross that its in my bones. Without that sacrifice, I would fall apart.
Let me ask you this: how deeply do you identify with the sacrifice Jesus made for you? When Paul said we always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, this was more than a cross necklace, or a WWJD bracelet, a christian bumper sticker, or even a tattoo. In Galatians 6:18 he says “See that no one does me harm, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” Some people interpret this as stigmata—that Paul was so pious and holy that the wounds of Jesus supernaturally appeared on his hands and feet. I don’t think so. I think when you looked at Paul, you saw a man who had suffered for the sake of the gospel. The lesson for us is that following Jesus is going to leave a mark.