Monday, May 8, 2017

Certainty: Romans 8:31-39

I am going to begin my sermon this morning with a confession: I don’t like uncertainty.  I like to be able to say firmly and confidently what I believe; what I think will work; what the future holds.  I like to think that I have the answers to life’s greatest questions.  I like to think that I am an expert in matters of theology and church growth.  I like to think that if someone asks me, “Pastor, what do I need to do or say to convince my friend to come to church?” that I have the answer.  I like to think that if someone asks me, “Pastor how do I deal with this illness?” that I can give them the techniques.  I like to think that when people ask me, “Pastor, can you make sense of the doctrine of the Trinity?” that I can give the perfect explanation.  I like to think that when people ask me, “Pastor, what can we do to make the church grow?” that I can give them a perfect step by step plan that will lead to growth.  I like to think that I can be certain about such matters.  I like to think that I have all the answers.  I like to think that if folks just did what I told them to do, then everything would work out.  Deep within, there is an arrogant man who wants to think that he has the answers and is certain about them.

But then reality smacks me in the face.  Despite my own efforts to ask friends to come to church: they don’t.  Despite my efforts to help people through illness, folks are often left wondering why things are happening to them, and sometimes they become depressed and anxious.  Despite my efforts to explain the doctrines of the Christian faith and explain the Bible, people are often left scratching their heads.  Despite my efforts to lead within two congregations, I have not managed to get them to explode with growth.  Even though I have read many books and articles; even though I have prayed many prayers; even though I have written many blogs, newsletter articles, and preached many a sermon, when I look at the evidence, I have to wonder about how certain I can be about being certain.  Do I really know what I think I know?  It is highly possible that I don’t.

Have you ever found yourself with such doubts?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why things aren’t turning out the way that you envisioned?  Have you ever found yourself walking the path that supposedly will lead to success and then finding that instead of moving forward, you were on a treadmill going nowhere?  Have you ever had things happen to you that shook you to the core and made you rethink the way you looked at things?  Have you ever stopped and thought: what in the world can I count on?  What in the world can I be certain about?  Is there anything that I can trust?

In a world where things are changing rapidly; where technology is out of date a week after you buy it; where the morals and values we once grew up with are cast aside; where deeply held societal convictions are questioned and shaken; is there something we can rest assured of–something that can never change?

Let’s pray.  Heavenly Father, the world around us is constantly changing.  We are constantly changing.  Society is constantly changing.  And yet, we need something that is certain.  We need something that we can rest upon.  We need a firm foundation.  Open our hearts and minds and lead us to the unchanging truth that gives us certainty.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Our lesson from Romans begins with a question, “What then are we to say about these things?”  What are these things?  In a word, everything that Paul has just told us about God’s action through Jesus Christ.  How we are fallen; how we deserve the wrath of God because of our rebellion against God; how no matter how hard we tried, we have failed to make ourselves right with God; how we have been justified by grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forward as a sacrifice of atonement effective through faith; how if we trust in Jesus and His action we are no longer a slave to the fleshy desires of the world but are now in Christ; how when we are in Christ we have changed our allegiance and live for God; how when we live for God the Holy Spirit sets up a base of operations in our hearts to transform us from the inside out; how God uses every single event in our lives to conform us, to mold us, to make us into the image of Jesus.  This is an all too brief snapshot of what God has done in Jesus Christ, and it is these things to which Paul is referring to.  And he says, given all of these things; given what I have just told you in the first section of this letter, what conclusion can we draw?

His answer first takes us to the court room.  There are a series of questions and answers that are full of legal language.   And this question and answer series begins preparing the ground and laying the re-bar for and unshakable, unbreakable foundation of certainty.

If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Paul is looking at the person who is in Christ; who trusts in the cross and says, “Do you think that anyone can stand against you?  Do you think that your enemy has power over you?  Do you think that anyone can put a road block in between you and what God has destined for you?  God gave up His Son for us.  God gave up Jesus for us.  God gave up the second person of the Trinity to death on the cross for us.  Would God allow such a sacrifice to go to waste?  Would God allow the costliness of grace to be wasted?  It doesn’t matter what anyone or anything does to you.  It doesn’t matter what kind of things people do to try and lead you astray.  It doesn’t matter how often you are ridiculed; hated; persecuted; picked on; or bullied.  It doesn’t matter how often you are told that God hates you.  If you are in Christ, everything given to Jesus will be given to you.  God does not just walk with you through the times of trial and tribulation–when you are in Christ, God is for you, and He will work everything to your good–to your transformation into the image and likeness of Jesus.  You can be certain of that!

Verse 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  The answer to that question is: a lot of folks.  A lot of charges will actually be brought against us.  Those who are not believers in God will charge us with hypocrisy.  They will charge us with failing to love one another. They will charge us with being just like everyone else.  They will charge us with failing to care for the poor and needy.  They will charge us with failing to live up to the expectations of our founder, and they will be right!  And Satan Himself will accuse us.  I told you this was courtroom language, and on the day of our trial, not only will the accusations of non-believers be brought forth, but Satan will accuse us as well.  He will bring the charges of our failure to live according to God’s will and God’s law.  Not only does God know the deepest, darkest secrets of our heart, so does Satan, and he will use them against us on that day. He will tell God all of our deepest lusts and secrets that we have tried to keep hidden.  He will tell God of our failure to keep our hearts and minds pure.  He will point out our failure to worship.  He will point out our failure to sing.  He will point out our failure to be generous.  He will point out our failure to work for justice and peace.  He will point out our failure to love one another as Jesus loved us.  He will be merciless!  And every single word coming out of his mouth will be true!  Every.  Single.  Word.  We will stand, convicted.  We will know what we deserve.

But, It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  And if we try to justify ourselves, we will get exactly what we deserve.  If we stand before God and make excuses.  If we try to explain away our behavior.  If we try and weasel our way out of Satan’s accusations, we are toast.  God will indeed give us up because we are trying to save ourselves.  We are acting selfishly.  We are arrogant about what we have done.  We have no humility.  We will hear God say, “Depart from me...”  The judgment will be rendered!

But, if we are in Christ, we will acknowledge the truth of the accusations.  We will acknowledge our shortcomings.  We will acknowledge our sinfulness, and we will turn to Jesus.  And Jesus will plead the cause for us.  “Dad, everything the accuser says is true.  This brother of mine...this sister of guilty of each and every thing brought forward, but I took that sin upon myself.  I paid the price for it.  I went to hell for them.  I withstood your wrath for them.  Those times they were unfaithful to their spouses in word and deed, I paid for it.  Those times they did not give their tithes and offerings, I paid for it.  Those times they skipped worship to pursue their own wants and desires, I paid for it.  Those times they lived in hate instead of love, I paid for it.  They know their wrongs, and they have come to me and have found themselves in me.  They have no condemnation.”

And the Almighty Judge will render the verdict.  “Justified.  Not guilty.  Enter into my presence.”  If you are in Christ.  You are justified.  You can be certain about that.

And, now Paul shifts the scene.  We are no longer in the courtroom.  We are now in Christ.  We are now in this world faced with life before we are put on that final trial.  We are faced with all the things in life that come our way.  Remember, in the ancient world the prevailing thought was that if you were going through hardship, then God had cursed you.  If things were going wrong, God had removed His love from you.  Paul says “NO!!”

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’” I want to stop here just a moment to explain this little snippet.  I’ve read this text for years, oftentimes at funerals, and I could never make heads or tails of this sheep being slaughtered quote.  It’s actually a quote from Psalm 44.  In that Psalm, the people of God are being persecuted–being killed all day long even though they had been faithful!  Paul is showing that even in the Psalms, in the Old Testament, tragedy befell God’s people even in their faithfulness.  God wasn’t turning His back on them then, and He was certainly not turning His back on them now.  “37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing.  We can be certain about that.

And with that, the concrete is poured.  The foundation is set.  The unmovable rock is in place.  Nothing will be able to shake it.  Nothing.

It has taken me a long time to arrive at this point in my own life.  Time and again, I have been disappointed in people.  Time and again, I have been disappointed in technology.  Time and again, I have been disappointed by knowledge.  Time and again I have been disappointed in the church.  Time and again I have been disappointed in myself.  Time and again, I have been disappointed in the Dallas Cowboys.  Okay, I had to lighten the mood a little bit, but the point is the same.  All of these things did not bring any certainty.  All of these things were flawed in some fashion.  Pick anything else, and it will disappoint you as well.  None of them bring certainty.  We cannot find it anywhere except in God.  We cannot find it anywhere except in Jesus.

If you want certainty in your life; if you want a foundation that cannot be moved that you can trust; if you want to ensure that nothing can rattle the entire way you look at the world; put your trust in Jesus.  Nothing can be against you. No one can charge you.  No one can condemn you.  Nothing can ever separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Nothing at all.  He bought you with a great price when He stretched out his arms and died for you.  And he will not let you go.  This is certainly good news.

Let’s pray.  Heavenly Father, you have showed your love through the cross where Jesus redeemed us.  Despite our sinfulness, despite our rebellion, you loved us enough to die for us, and now you have shown us that when we put our trust in Jesus, you will never let us go.  You will never let anything drive your love away.  May the Spirit implant this truth deep in our hearts so that we can live with a sure and certain foundation.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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