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Sermon for March 19, 2017

Sermon for March 19, 2017 (third Sunday in Lent)
Scripture readings:
Ex. 17:1-7, Psa. 95:1-11, Rom. 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

By Ted Johnston

In Romans 1-4, Paul focuses on justification—the gift of right standing with God received by those who trust in Christ for their salvation. This gift unites believers with God and thus with other believers, including Abraham, who Paul identifies in Romans 4 as the “father” of all who have faith in God. Whether Jew or Gentile, these believers are all part of one family. This is Paul’s theme throughout Romans 5 and 6 as he writes to believers in churches in Rome composed of multiple ethnicities.

Paul begins our passage today (Romans 5:1-11) with six joyous “we” affirmations that exclaim how believers are united in their rejoicing in six results (or aspects) of the justification that is theirs in Christ.

1. We rejoice that we have peace with God (v. 1) 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

All humans want, and to some degree pursue, peace—between nations, within families, within themselves. Yet, more fundamental is peace with God. Through Christ, God has reconciled all humanity to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). It’s a “done deal,” we might say. But it is those who are living into that reconciliation by trusting in Christ who are experiencing this peace (2 Cor. 5:20). This peace with God is ours through Jesus, the Prince of Peace—the one who, on our behalf and in our place, was delivered to death for our sins and raised from death to life for our justification (Romans 4:25).


2. We rejoice knowing we stand in grace (2a)

…through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

The phrase here is literally, “through him [Christ] we have obtained our introduction into this grace in which we have taken our stand,” implying both the receiving of and continuing in that grace. The first verb, access, is perhaps better translated introduction (NASB), because the initiative for entering this grace is God’s, not ours. The verb in Greek is suggestive of being brought into God’s sanctuary to worship or into a king’s audience chamber to be presented to him. The second verb, stand, suggests that we are privileged to stand firmly in or on the grace into which we have been introduced.

As believers, the peace we have with God is our relationship with God, into which justification has given us entrance. This relationship, this peace, is not sporadic but continuous, not precarious but secure. We do not fall in and out of this grace like courtiers who may find themselves in and out of favor with their king, or politicians with their voters. No, we stand in it, for nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38).

3. We rejoice in hope (2b)

…we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Our hope as believers is not uncertain, like ordinary, everyday hopes about the weather or our health. Instead, our hope is a joyful and confident expectation that rests on God’s promises with the object of our hope being “the glory of God”—God’s radiant splendor, which in the end will be fully displayed. Already that glory is being revealed in the heavens and the earth (Psalm 19:1; Isa. 6:3). Already it has been uniquely made manifest in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14; 2:11). One day, however, the curtain will be raised and God’s glory will be fully seen. First, Jesus will appear “with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Second, we will not only see his glory, but be changed into it (1 John 3:2). We who in this present age “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) will share fully in the glory of the glorified human Jesus (Romans 8:17). Third, even the now-groaning creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The renewed universe will be filled with God’s glory.

All of these things are included in what Paul means in referring to “the glory of God,” which is the object of our hope. This vision of future glory is for us a powerful stimulus for living every day in eager anticipation—this too is part of the grace that gives us peace.

Note that the fruits of our justification relate to the past, present and future. “We have peace with God” (the result of our past forgiveness). “We are standing in grace” (our present privilege), and “We rejoice in the hope of glory” (our future inheritance). Peace, grace, joy, hope and glory. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Yes it does, but now notice Paul’s fourth affirmation:

4. We rejoice in our sufferings (3-8)

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The sufferings Paul refers to here are the opposition, even persecution of a hostile world against believers. John used the same word to report Jesus’ warning to his disciples that “in this world” they would “have trouble” (John 16:33), and Paul warned his converts that they “must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). What should our attitude as Christians be concerning these sufferings—these pressures, troubles and hardships we endure for the cause of Christ? Instead of merely gritting our teeth, we rejoice—not as masochists, but as those who recognize and appreciate God’s reasons for allowing these trying circumstances. Paul points to three such reasons:

a. Our sufferings lead to glory
As with Christ, so for Christians. As Paul will soon express it, we are “co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). That is why we are to rejoice in them both.

b. Our sufferings lead to maturity
If we respond positively, suffering can be productive. We know this, especially from the experience of God’s people in every generation. “Suffering produces perseverance” (v. 3, meaning endurance). We could not learn endurance without suffering, because without suffering there would be nothing to endure. Next, perseverance produces character, which is the quality of a person who has been tested and passed the test—a mature character. Then the last link in the chain is that character produces hope (v. 4), perhaps because the God who is developing our character in the present can be relied on for the future as well.

c. Our sufferings assure us of God’s love
“Hope does not disappoint us” (5a), it is “no fantasy” (REB). The reason our hope will never let us down is that God will never let us down. Our hope of glory rests on God’s steadfast love. But how can we be sure of that love in the midst of sufferings? Paul points to two reasons: First, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (v. 5b). The Spirit is God’s gift to all believers, and one of his distinctive ministries is to pour God’s love into our hearts. The Spirit makes us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. The second reason is that God has proved that love by Christ’s death on the cross (vv. 6-8). The essence of love is giving, and “God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). The degree of love is a function of two things:

1) The costliness of the gift to the giver. God’s gift of love in his Son cost him everything. God gave his only Son, and in doing so he gave himself.

2) The unworthiness of the recipients of that love
We, for whom God made this costly sacrifice of his Son, are described by Paul with four epithets: sinners (v. 8), ungodly (v. 6b), God’s enemies (v. 10) and powerless (v. 6a), meaning helpless to rescue ourselves. Thus the recipients of God’s supremely costly gift of his Son are the most unworthy of recipients. Yet it is for people like these that God’s Son died. Paul then adds that “very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man” (probably referring to somebody whose uprightness is rather cold, clinical and unattractive), “though for a good man” (whose goodness is warm, generous and appealing) “someone might possibly dare to die” (v. 7). “But God” (the stark contrast is underlined) “commendeth” (AV), “demonstrates” (NIV), even “proves” (REB) “his own love for us” (a love uniquely God’s own), “in this: ‘While we were still sinners'” (neither good nor righteous, but ungodly, enemies and powerless), “‘Christ died for us'” (v. 8). Hallelujah!!

Though we humans can be very generous in giving to those we consider worthy of our affection and respect, the unique majesty of God’s love lies in the combination of three factors, namely that when Christ died for us, God (a) was giving himself, (b) even to the horrors of a sin-bearing death on the cross, and (c) doing so for his undeserving enemies. How then can we doubt God’s love for us?

To be sure, we are often profoundly perplexed by the tragedies and calamities of life. But then we remember that God has both proved his love for us in the death of his Son (v. 8) and poured his love into us by the gift of his Spirit (v. 5). Objectively in history, and subjectively in experience, God has given us good grounds for believing in his love. The integration of the historical ministry of God’s Son (on the cross) with the contemporary ministry of his Spirit (in our hearts) is one of the most wholesome and satisfying features of the gospel. And so, trusting this lavishly loving, gracious God, we even rejoice in our sufferings! Glory to God!!

5. We rejoice knowing we will be saved (9-10)

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 

Have you been saved? If you are a believer, Paul’s answer in verses 9 and 10 is “yes and no.” For yes, we have been saved through Christ from the guilt of our sins and from the judgment of God upon them. But no, we have not yet been delivered from the indwelling sin or been given new (glorified) bodies in the new heavens and new earth. What Paul has in mind here is the future tense of our salvation. He uses two expressions, the first negative and the second positive.

First and negatively, we shall “be saved from God’s wrath” through Christ (v. 9). Of course we have been reconciled already to God by Christ’s cross, and thus already have peace with God, and are standing, with God, in his grace. But at the end of history there is going to be a day of reckoning that Paul calls “the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). Those who reject Christ, who is their righteousness and peace with God, will experience God’s love for them as wrath (Romans 2:8). For us who trust Christ and thus stand before God in his righteousness (and not our own), there is eternal peace, the fullness of salvation. Or as Jesus himself put it, those who trust in Christ “will not be condemned; he has [already] crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Second and positively, Paul says that we shall “be saved through his life” (Romans 5:10). Because Jesus who died for our sins was raised from death and now lives, as believers who are united to him, we will experience the full power of his resurrection life in our own glorification. We share that life now, but then, on the last day, we will share it fully.

This stunning truth is very good news in the midst of suffering. Indeed, the best is yet to come! In our present (though incomplete) saved condition, we eagerly ancticipate our full, final salvation. But how can we be sure of it? It is mainly to answer this question that Paul pens Romans 5:9-10. The basic structure here is this: if one thing has happened, much more will something else take place. We have been justified (v. 9), and reconciled (v. 10), both of which are attributed to the cross. Already our Judge has pronounced us righteous, and our Father has welcomed us home. It’s a done deal! Therefore (and here is Paul’s logic), if God has already done these glorious, difficult things, we can trust him to do the comparatively simple thing of completing our salvation. If God has accomplished our justification at the cost of Christ’s blood, “much more” will he then save his justified people from any negative consequences of final judgement (v. 9)! Again, if he reconciled us to himself when we were his enemies, “much more” will he finish our salvation now that we are his reconciled friends living at peace with him; trusting him (v. 10). These are the grounds on which we dare to affirm with complete assurance that we “shall…be saved.” As we like to say, “you can take that to the bank!”

6. We rejoice in God himself (11)

Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

In Romans 2:17, Paul chastised Jews for bragging about their relationship to God as if he were their exclusive property. Yet here in Romans 5:11 Paul uses the same word to declare that as believers we are privileged to “rejoice in God.” This is quite different than the Jews bragging in God. It begins with shamefaced recognition that we have no claim on God at all, it continues with amazed worship that while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us, and it culminates with the humble confidence that God will complete in us the work he has begun. So to exult in God is to rejoice not in our status but in his mercies, not in our possession of him but in his of us.

In spite of our knowledge that for Christians all boasting is excluded (Romans 3:27), we nevertheless boast (rejoice) in our hope of sharing God’s glory (Romans 5:2), in our tribulations (Romans 5:3) and above all in God himself (Romans 5:11). This exulting is “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” because it is in, by and through him that “we have now received” (the or our) reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).

It seems clear, then, that the major identifying mark of believers—of those living by faith and thus at peace with God—is joy, especially joy in God himself. We have every reason to be joy-filled people! Rejoice!

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