Summary: The proof of God's activity in our lives is not so much about the magnificent and the miraculous as it is about the grace that sustains us even in our weakness.
Title: The Exception and the Rule
Text: II Corinthians 12:2-10
Thesis: The proof of God’s activity in our lives is not so much about the magnificent and the miraculous as it is about the grace that sustains us even in our weakness.
When he was born his mother named after gospel writer Mark in hopes that he would tell the gospel truth. But 13th Century Europeans found his tales of faraway places impossible to believe. He claimed that at the age of 17 he began an epic journey that lasted a quarter of a century. He traveled across the steppes of Russia, the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, the wastelands of Persia and over the top of the world through the Himalayas. He was the first European to enter China and through an amazing set of circumstances served in the court of the Kublai Kahn, the most powerful ruler on earth. What he saw in China absolutely dwarfed anything he had ever seen in Europe.
When he returned to Italy loaded down with gold, silk and spices people dismissed his stories as mythical. His family priest rebuked him for spinning lies. At his deathbed, his family and friends begged him to recant his tales of China. But setting his jaw and gasping for breath, Marco Polo spoke his final words, “I have not even told you half of what I saw.” Ironically, history has proven that Marco Polo was truthful about his adventures.
1300 years before Marco Polo wrote about his adventures there was another man who wrote of his vision of the glories of heaven in the Book of Revelation and it may well be that he only told of half of what he saw. And I suspect that like Marco Polo, history will prove that John was truthful about his vision as well.
Our text begins today with a similar tale. The Apostle Paul wrote:
I. The Exception
“…I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” II Corinthians 12:2-4
Our text begins with the Apostle Paul offering up a disclaimer for what he is about to write. He seems embarrassed by the fact that he is actually going to tell about his spiritual experience because he knows it will sound like he is bragging. But he feels compelled to tell his story non-the-less. It seems some other spiritual teachers have come to town and telling the people who made up the church at Corinth how important they were. In II Corinthians 10:12 Paul’s words almost drip with sarcasm where he wrote, “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are!”
Seemingly people were getting all giddy about the arrival of the latest proponent of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, compliments of Sweet Jesus. And the Apostle Paul, who was not exactly chopped liver, was feeling pressured to defend himself as a worthy representative of Jesus Christ. He feels embarrassed to have to defend himself. He is embarrassed that he needed to produce his credentials and drag out his resume’ in order to get a little respect.
But he reluctantly brought to mind and told the a story he had kept to himself for fourteen years… a story so magnificent that it forever cemented in the minds of the people in the church at Corinth a lasting appreciation for who he was and how God had intervened in his life. He described his experience as having been caught up into the sky where birds fly and then to the higher heavens of the stars and planets and then beyond… to third heaven or paradise.
British tycoon Richard Branson is quite the entrepreneurial adventurist. He has been talking about using Virgin Galactic space craft to mine precious metals from asteroids and to launch small satellites into orbit. This week at the Farnborough, England Air Show, he announced his intention to launch his Virgin Galactic Spaceship the SS2 into space early in 2013. They will launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, fly 60 miles into space on a two hour cruise before returning safely to Spaceport America. 529 people have already signed up at $200,000 a pop to take the ride.
However, what Paul describes far outreaches the vision of Richard Branson. Paul’s adventure took him well beyond the 60 mile mark into the depths of the universe to that place his listeners understood to be paradise. Remember when Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross assuring him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise?” Jesus was speaking of the place Paul wrote of in this text.
I would place Paul’s experience in the category of the paranormal or preternatural. The Ancient Christian Commentary suggests that the reason people do not talk about these kinds of experiences is because they are either too horrible or too glorious. We know people who will not talk about things that are too horrible to recall, much less retell. And sometimes people have experiences they are reluctant to tell because they are just too fantastic to believe. And the experience Paul retells is in that category… he went to Paradise.