Monday, February 27, 2017

The Embrace of the Father: Romans 7:14-24

The other night, I had just drifted off to sleep.  It had been a long several days, and my body was craving sleep so badly, that I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.  But I awoke with a start as I heard someone moving in my room.  It was my oldest daughter.  She was breathing heavily, on the verge of tears.  “Daddy, I had a night mare.  I’m scared.  I can’t go back to sleep.”

I reached out and held her for a few moments.  I reassured her.  I sent her back to her room.  She left.  I looked at the clock.  Only thirty minutes had passed since I laid down.  I curled up, hoping to recapture the dreams that had held me captive and in restful sleep.

But sleep did not come because only minutes later, my daughter returned, this time in tears.  “Daddy, I can’t fall asleep.”  This time, there were no reassuring hugs.  I was stern, “Turn on you radio.  Go to sleep!”

She left, and once again, I pursued much needed rest.  It was not to be had.  Just a few minutes later, my other daughter entered the room.  “Daddy, I’m really scared!  I can’t sleep.” I hugged and reassured her. I told her, go back to sleep.”  As she exited the room, she said, “Kiera’s in her bed crying.”

By that time, I had had it.  I was angry.  Not only had my sleep been interrupted, but so had others.  It was time for stern measures.  It was time to force the issue of sleep.  I headed to my eldest’s room.

“Go to sleep!” I said as soon as I entered.

“I can’t go to sleep!” my daughter said through tears.  She had taken all of her stuffed animals off her bed.  She had the bare minimum of sheets and pillows.  I reached for a blanket next to her bed to cover her with, and she cried, “I don’t want that.”  And then, she reached for me.  She stretched out her arms and wrapped them around me, and I did the same with her.  I laid my head next to hers, and I simply held her.  Her crying stopped.  Her breathing slowed.  In moments, her breathing was rhythmic, and she was fast asleep.  Whatever nightmares had haunted her, they had vanished in seconds.  They had vanished because of the embrace of her father.

I arose and walked out of the room, and I looked in my middle daughter’s room.  She had turned on her bathroom light, her closet light, and the light next to her bed.  She was laying in bed with the covers pulled up to her neck and eyes wide open.  I walked to her bathroom saying, “No.  No.  No.”  I turned off the bathroom light, the closet light, and the light by her bed.  “No.  No.  No.”  I sat down next to her.  Embraced her.  Laid my head down next to her and held her tight.  Within moments, she too was sleeping soundly.  The fears and anxieties that had haunted her were gone.  She was at peace all because she had been wrapped in the arms of her father.

I thought to myself at that moment, “That is what it is like to be embraced by the loving power of God.”  Whatever fears, whatever anxieties, whatever nightmares haunt you, they are erased in moments when you find yourself resting in the powerful arms of your heavenly Father–when you understand what grace is all about.

Unfortunately, today, most folks don’t understand grace because either they don’t believe in God or they have no fear of God’s anger toward sin.  There is a message seeping out into society that says, “You may make a few mistakes from time to time, but basically, you are a good person.  You are fine just the way you are.  Don’t get down on yourself at all.”  If you take God seriously, you simply cannot feel that way about yourself.  You can’t think that you are just fine.

The apostle Paul certainly did not feel that way about himself, and he is one of the greatest messengers of the Christian faith that walked the earth.  Last week, in out snippet from Romans Chapter seven, he laid out his case for how the law works–how it confronts us with our sinfulness.  If you were here last week, you were presented with a list of the demands of God.  I don’t think anyone in this room could fulfill even one of those demands.  If we use God’s standard for measurement, we are not simply sinful–we are sinners.

Paul knew this down to the very marrow of his bones.  He knew how he stood in comparison to the law.  He knew where he stood when it came to accomplishing following God, and it scared him.  It literally scared him to death.

Paul knows that there is a power at work within him.  He knows there is a power that is corrupting his body.  He knows that something is very wrong deep within him.  He knows that the law comes from God and is spiritual.  He knows that the law is holy and just and good.  But he also knows that he is fleshy.  He knows he is still under the influence of this world–sold into slavery under sin, as he puts it.  And he is not happy about this.  Because he wants to be good.  He wants to do good.  He wants to do the right thing at all times and in all places.  But he cannot, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.”

Have you ever found yourself there?  Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I know what I should do...”  I know I should be more generous, but the economy looks shaking.  I know I should give my new neighbors a chance, but they have some weird ideas and don’t do things like I do them.  I know I should be forgiving, but the pain that person has caused me is so great.  I know I should talk about my faith in Christ to others, but I don’t think I know enough and people might get upset with me.  Can any of you relate?  Can any of you understand what it means to know what is right and yet fail to do it?

So, what is the problem?  Why is it that we know there is a standard that is good but fail to do it?  Why is it that we know that the law is good, but we fail to implement it?  Because, Paul now says, that deep within us–deep within him–is a power that is at war with the good.  There is a power that is moving deep within our members that is corrupting us and leading us astray.  There is a power that won’t release its hold on us.  A power that is subtle when it needs to be subtle; brutal when it needs to be brutal.  It is a power that will do whatever it takes to lead us away from what we know deep down in the innermost part of our being to be right.  That power, Paul says, is sin.  And it continues to corrupt us.  It continues to influence us.  It continues to work on us toward its purpose so that we do not become what God intends us to be.  “I can will what is right,” Paul says, “but I cannot do it.”  Sin dwells in me.  It corrupts me.

And so, I find myself at war, Paul says.  Deep within my heart, I love God and His law.  I love the commandments because I know that they are for my good.  I want to please God and honor Him.  I want to implement these things because they are given to me by God Himself.  Deep down, I know this.  Deep down, to the core of my being, I want to do this.  But, outside the core of my being, sin holds the rest of me captive.  I cannot escape it.  I cannot avoid it.  I cannot overcome it.  I am wretched!

What a horrible thing to say about one’s self.  What an absolutely horrendous thing to say.  When you call yourself wretched, you are saying that you are worthless, of no value, miserable, devastated, heartbroken.  None of us want to feel this way.  None of us want to go down this path.  But if we hold ourselves to the standard of God’s law and take God’s law in its entirety seriously, then this is exactly where we cannot help but end up.  Wretched.  Paul, when he gets to this point cries out, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  Paul is having a nightmare.  Paul is unable to sleep.  Paul is scared to death.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Who rescues us from this nightmare?  Who wraps His arms around us so that we can sleep?  Who brings us peace in the midst of this conflict?  Jesus.  Only Jesus.

“Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands”
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone, thou must save, and thou alone”
Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked come to the for dress; Helpless, look to the for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior, or I die.
Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”

This hymn speaks deeply to what God has done in Jesus Christ.  It speaks of how Christ gave Himself up for us to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  It speaks of how in the midst of our sin, Christ washes us clean and clothes us with His righteousness.  We are indeed wretched, but we are cleansed.  We deserve God’s righteous anger, and we have received His marvelous love.  We are sinners who deserve just condemnation, and we are saints who have received salvation.

I wish I could convey to you better what this means.  I wish I had the ability to help you see this just like I had the ability to wrap my arms around my daughters in the midst of their fear and anxiety and bring them rest.  I wish I could convey to you the deep love of God for you–to show you the depths that He has gone to redeem you.  I wish I could make it tangible–to make it come alive within you so that each and everyday you might cry out, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  I wish I had the ability to have this settle deep within your hearts because it was this Gospel that changed the world so long ago.  It was this gospel that inspired a small group of disciples to take this message throughout the world.  It was this gospel that transformed individuals and then societies.  It was this gospel that brought people to a place where they didn’t fear to die; they didn’t fear loving those who were different than they were.  They didn’t fear the future.  They were consumed with loving God and loving their neighbor.  They offered forgiveness.  They offered hope.  They were at peace.

This is desperately needed in our world right now.  The anger, fear, and anxiety in our society are palpable.  You need only to read the news and see how people are treating one another today.  You need only to turn on the television to see how the seeds of distrust have been sown–how we tend to walk on eggshells because we don’t want to cause someone to erupt with anger and hatred.   How we have to measure every single word that we say or type because of how it can be misconstrued and used against us.  How we cluster into our various groups: conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, men, women, race, color, creed and look at others as a threat to us.  How we worry about threat after threat after threat.  Sin is using these things to divide.  To scare.  To breed hatred.   Sin is still very much a disease that infects not only us, but the world.

Jesus is the cure.  Jesus can bring healing.  And it starts right here.  With us.  With our hearts being captured by His love.  With our being a community of people focused on Him.  I pray this day that we all may know the depths of His love for us, that we too might find peace and rest in Him; that we may be a community that lives in Him; that we feel His presence with us and that our fears and anxieties may cease.  May we all know the love of Jesus.  Amen.

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