There’s a scene in the movie, Luther starring Joseph Fiennes, when Luther’s Father-Confessor, Johann von Staupitz, is trimming Luther’s hair. It’s the night before Luther is to appear before the emperor at Wurms. Von Staupitz is talking about how dangerous the moment was for Luther. His insistence on the authority of God’s Word and on the fact that we are saved from sin, death, and the devil by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ had brought Luther to the brink of being branded a heretic and of being given slapped with a death sentence by Emperor Charles V. Fiennes’ Luther grabs the hand of von Staupitz and asks, “Did you think this was going to be easy?”
The season of the Church Year we begin today, the Sundays after Pentecost, comes around each year to remind us that while salvation and new and eternal life are free gifts from the God Who died and rose to erase sin’s power over the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ, following Christ in this world is not easy.
The old Adam and the old Eve within each of us want to be like God. We want to call the shots and tell God that His ideas of right and wrong aren’t the way we see things. Our old selves do not yield easily to someone else being in control, even when that someone is the God Who made us, the God Who took on human flesh in Jesus Christ and died and rose to give life to those who believe in Him.
Nor do the sinful world in which we live each day or the devil who, in Luther’s words, has “sworn to work us woe,” simply stand aside politely because we believe in Jesus Christ.
But even in the face of temptation and testing, the one who has been made right by God through their faith in Christ has joy, hope, and peace. This is what the apostle Paul talks about in our second lesson for this morning, Romans 5:1-5. Please turn to it in your Bible.
The passage begins with the word, “Therefore.” That little word is significant. It means that everything that follows is built on everything that comes before it. So, what came before?
Well, in chapter 1, Paul gives a ringing assertion that he is not embarrassed by being associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ because “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”
Later, God, Paul says, counts us right with God when we entrust our lives to Jesus Christ.
He goes on to paint an ugly picture of the human race. By nature, Paul says, human beings exchange the truth about God for the lies we would rather give first place in our lives.
He then says that all human beings fall short of the glory of God, deserve death and condemnation, and that no religious act we might think to do can change that. The only thing that can save us from judgment is if we turn from sin and surrender our lives and wills to Christ. Although we are guilty as charged, Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross, has paid the penalty for our sin and by acknowledging Him as our God and Lord, we are “justified,” counted righteous and worthy of citizenship in the kingdom of God.
In Romans 4:25, the verse just before our lesson, Paul says that Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father “because of our justification.” The war between God and us ends when we believe in, trust in, surrender to Jesus Christ.
That’s why Romans 5 begins as it does. Take a look at it, please. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin, death, the devil, and the world no longer can accuse us or bother us when we believe in Jesus Christ. As someone has said, whenever the devil reminds us of the sins of our past to show us how unworthy and miserable we are, we can confidently say that by faith in Christ we belong to God forever and then remind the devil of his miserable future! Jesus Christ sets us free to be the people God made us to be. We know that Christ has done everything necessary to give us peace with God!
Paul goes on to describe the blessing that Christ gives us in verse 2: “...through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory God.”
Access. Imagine for a second that you are a big Reds fan and want to have access to everything about the Cincinnati Reds. You not only want tickets for every game, you also want to be in the room when Bob Castellini, the Reds general manager makes deals to keep the team winning. You want to be next to manager Dusty Baker during team meetings. You want to be there for batting practice and in the locker room before and after the games. How on earth would you gain that kind of access? Well, maybe by some fluke someone like Joey Votto, the Reds first baseman, or Brandon Philips, the second baseman, might befriend you and tell everybody, "It's OK, she's with me." Or, "He's friend of mine." But let's get real: How likely is that?
Yet through Jesus Christ, we can gain access to the God of all creation! The way--the only way, Jesus says--that human beings like you and me--sinful, imperfect, unworthy of life or forgiveness--can gain access to God is through Jesus Christ, Who befriends sinners and welcomes them into God's grace and presence when they believe in Him!
Speaking for myself, there are two things that constantly strike me when I come into God’s presence in prayer each day. One is how unworthy I am to come into God’s presence. The other is how amazing it is that Christ died and rose for me to allow me, by His great love and charity, to know Him, relate with Him, praise Him, seek His blessings and guidance, and know that I belong to Him for all eternity!
In Christ, we can have constant access to God and His grace. Access to the Reds club house, or the Vatican offices, or Warren Buffet, or the White House is, by comparison, chump change!
Because we belong to Jesus, Paul says, we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” This is a hope we have no matter what’s happening to us!
A man I visited before he underwent major surgery couldn’t seem to stop smiling after we’d prayed. He explained: “I know that however this turns out, it will be a win.” No matter what happens to we Christians, no matter how the world may try to drag us down with its skepticism, enmity, and hopelessness, we rejoice in our hope of one day being with God in eternity! By grace in Christ, God always gives us a win.
That makes sense. And it's encouraging. But the next verse may strike us as odd. Paul writes, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces endurance.”
The word translated as tribulations is, in the Greek in which Paul originally composed his letter to the Christians in first-century Rome, thlipsesin. It can also be rendered as afflictions or sufferings.
Now, who but a mentally sick person rejoices in suffering? Christians can rejoice in suffering though, because we know that God will never let any experience we go through with Christ go to waste. No experience is pointless if we will go through it with Christ as our God and guide! When Christians know that Jesus Christ is by their sides, they persevere when everything inside of them and all the enemies of Christ around them tell them to quit. Christians tuned into God simply do not know how to quit!
Dale Galloway was a thirty-one year old pastor of a large congregation in Oregon. After just thirteen months there, the congregation, already enormous, doubled in size. His life seemed perfect in every way: He was married to the woman he had fallen in love with as a college freshman. They had two beautiful children: a boy eight and a girl five. He thanked God every day for His blessings. But then came a day in October when his wife told him, “I don’t love you. I never have. I’m taking the kids and moving back to Ohio.”
She went on to tell him with apparent contempt and relish, that he was the loser and would lose everything: his wife, his kids, his pastorate. There would be, she told him, nothing left for him.
How do you go on after something like that?
You place yourself again in the hands of the God you know in Jesus Christ.
You repent for that which the Holy Spirit shows you that you may have contributed to the demise of your marriage.
You find Christian mentors who help you relate to people differently.
You seek help and healing from the God Who went to the cross for you.
And God helps you to persevere in being loved by God and, in His power, to persevere in rejecting cynicism, instead loving God and loving others.
This is the process through which Dale Galloway went as he grieved while holding onto Jesus through unspeakable pain. Today, he teaches others about the grace and power God gives to those who believe in Jesus Christ so that they too can persevere in the face of suffering.
Listen: God values perseverant, enduring faith in Christ in us above everything.
In fact, the difference between a Sunday morning rabbit’s-foot faith in God, on the one hand, and perseverant, enduring faith in God seven days a week is, for the Christian, the difference between heaven and hell.
- In Romans 11:22, Paul says: “...consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
- And in 1 Corinthians 9:27, he talks about why he constantly submitted himself to the authority and correction of God: “...I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Paul turned to Christ with enduring faith.
- Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:13: “...he [and she] who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Verse 4 says that this “perseverance [or endurance produces] character.” The word translated as character is in the original Greek, is dokime. It’s a compound word that carries the meaning of character that is tested and approved.
When God sees us endure the tests of life and learn through them to look to God and not to ourselves for the power and courage we need to make, our faith is deepened and our character, approved by God, is also deepened.
And something else happens. Verse 5 tells us that tested and proven character built up by God leads us to a deeper hope in Jesus Christ!
When you’ve experienced the pit of hell--whether in physical suffering, in the temptation you can only resist with the intervention of the Holy Spirit, in emotional or relational discord, in grief and loss, in the lies of detractors, in the face of persecution for your trust in Jesus Christ--you gain a deeper certainty of your hope for eternity. You know that the One Who sustains you through the darkest hour has a bright destination for you. You have a hope that nothing can destroy!
You’ve heard me before tell of the experience of Corrie ten Boom, the Christian evangelist, who, along with her father and sister, were put in a Nazi concentration camp for aiding Jews attempting to escape the Nazi-controlled Netherlands.
Each day of her imprisonment, Corrie went to the only place she could go where her captors wouldn’t harass her, the camp garbage dump, rife with rats and lice and horrible smells. There, she and her sister would pray and worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
In time, that dump, Corrie ten Boom said, became heavenly to her, a place filled with the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Unlike her father and sister, Corrie survived the horrors of Nazism and after she did, she affirmed the words of Paul in verse 5: “Now hope [in Jesus Christ, God the Son] does not disappoint, because the love of God [the Father] has been poured into our hearts by [God] the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.”
It’s a hope the Christian has always.
We know that, as Paul writes later in Romans, when we entrust our lives to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God given in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let the Holy Spirit give you an enduring faith.
Yield all your moments--even the hard ones, especially the hard ones--to the Son sent by God the Father to save you from sin, death, and the devil.
Hope in people and hope in things always disappoint. That’s because people and things are just people and things and it isn’t fair to place a hope in them of which only God is worthy.
Hope in Jesus Christ never will never disappoint you.
Jesus is the hope Who will never let you down. Amen!