Read - 2 Corinthians 12v1-5
Message - Scott Woodburn
We heard in last week's devotions that Paul's opponents considered him to be a fool. Turning their argument on their head, Paul played the fool exposing the foolishness of the false apostles. They delighted in visible things, they looked and sounded the part while Paul ministered in much weakness, and yet, only Paul was genuine. Paul has told us that we should only boast in the Lord but he begins here with more boasting (v1a). He knows there is nothing to be gained by it (v1b) but he meets the man centred boasting of his opponents by outlining his own experience as an apostle, in particular his visions and revelations of the Lord (v1c).
The false apostles loved their comfort and could only be silent as Paul outlined his troubles. Here their silence continues as Paul describes how he had been carried up to heaven. Paul writes that he knows a man who had been called up to the third heaven (v2a). This was either a bodily or out of body experience, Paul wasn't sure but God knew the truth (v2b). I'm sure we all often stop at this point and begin wondering about such an experience. Who was this man? Where did he go? Is this experience to be expected for all Christians?
Let's work our way through these questions. Who was the man? Paul was the man. He is defending his ministry against the false apostles and so speaks here of his own experience. Yet not with any arrogance but instead he speaks of himself in the third-person. He leaves no room to shout about his wonderful experience. He doesn't act like the child in the playground singing "I know something you don't know". Paul knows this boasting should be left unsaid, but as he defends himself, he speaks humbly of a glorious experience.
Where did Paul go? Paul says he went to the "third heaven" (v2) and later he states he went to "paradise" (v3). We should stop and marvel here. Paul, either in body or spirit, was taken to heaven where he heard things that cannot be told or uttered (v4). Paul was taken into the presence of Christ. Why the third heaven? Look above you. You see the clouds in the sky, the first heaven. Tonight you will see the stars in the sky, the second heaven. Yet Paul was taken to the heaven above the heavens, the third heaven, Paradise, where Jesus is. Christ has passed through the heavens (Hebrews 4v14) and now stands at the right hand of the Father exalted above the heavens (Herbews 7v26).
Should we expect such an experience? No. There is a big market for books about how the author died and went to heaven before coming back to earth with a God given message. Brothers and sisters, don't buy these books and don't believe them - they are nonsense. Paul's experience took place fourteen years before his letter to Corinth (v2). That means he was taken to heaven probably between 40-42AD before he went on his first missionary journey. This vision was given to him to confirm his apostleship and to prepare him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
We can only imagine what Paul saw and heard and yet instead of trumpeting his experience, Paul would much rather speak of his own weakness (v5). What's going on here? Christ's servant Paul, with more experiences, more trials and more to say than any of his opponents is still content to preach Christ crucified. Charles Spurgeon once said “A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” I know Paul would agree and I trust you and I do too.
Paul saw heaven and one day he went there permanently. By faith in Christ we will join him and see for ourselves what he witnessed. Until our faith becomes sight, just like the Greeks we say "we wish to see Jesus." (John 12v21).
Q28 Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation? Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.