Lent 2 B, March 1, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
In our Old Testament lesson, Abraham is told by God to walk before Him “and be blameless, (so) that (God) may make (His) covenant between He, Abraham, and we this morning who make up the multitude of nations that have come from Abraham. [Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16] How are we to feel about this seemingly impossible task of being blameless? How was Abraham able to walk before God and be blameless? Can we do that? How is one even suppose to initiate that process? This morning our message will answer those very questions through the teaching of our Epistle lesson (Romans 5:1-11).
Well right off the bat, let me tell you what this message should do for you this morning; you should leave here with hope and joy, and the reason is because this message declares that you have been made right with God, that is you have been justified and, you are filled with faith. How? Because God says so, and what God declares, simply is our reality. You have been declared righteous. That is how Abraham was able to walk before God and it is how you do the very same thing today. But what is of interest to us this morning is how, or why you have been declared righteous.
You have been declared righteous by faith, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, you have, not “will have” but you have, peace with God right now! Isn’t that what we all want deep down inside, peace? We desire first, peace within ourselves, peace with each other, and then peace throughout the world. Wait, what about peace with God? And there is the rub; the very source of peace is excluded from our wrong desires of peace. And what happens without peace with God? We see everything fall apart.
I’m reminded of that old Three Stooges routine that spoofs World War II. “The unruly crowds are outside of the government building chanting, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And then the evil Axis leaders chime in, “Yes, a piece of this and a piece of that!” Isn’t that the real reason we don’t experience peace today? Whether it is within our hearts, our homes, our church, our community, our nation, or throughout the world, everyone has their own self-serving idea about peace.
What is peace? Well if you were to ask the people of the Middle East or many parts of Africa that question, they would tell you that peace is the absence of war or conflict. To those in conflict, peace is a very emotional, or subjective term. But once again, that leaves us with a problem, because that idea of peace excludes the Creator and is instead, focused on the creation. But God wants us to remember what we stated in the beginning of this message; true peace can only come from God and His declaration of our new identity, which becomes our reality.
Every Sunday, we close God’s Divine Service with what is called the Aaronic benediction. God instituted that blessing to give His children peace. Listen: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” [Numbers 6:24-26] Now did you hear anything about what you need to do? All of our blessings are simply a result of God’s actions of being gracious and having favor towards us!
Here is God’s simple truth for each of us this morning, “Through His Son Jesus Christ, He has imposed His saving covenant promise upon you who are redeemed and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In that name is included the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names who alone, by His cross makes you right with God. In that name is given to you what only God can give… peace and righteousness. Another way to say that is, we have peace with God because God made us right with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.”
So peace is a relationship that we have with God, and that relationship can only come from God and according to His means. Even Abraham was not made right with God because of any goodness that came from within Him, but instead it came through his trusting in God’s faithfulness to send a Messiah through Abraham’s bloodline.
Through Jesus Christ, we have obtained and retain access to God’s kind and loving heart by faith. Do not underestimate this little word access. To have access with God should be understood within the context of a common servant having complete access to a king, as a close friend yet still a servant. What this means is you have nothing whatsoever to fear of the King of all creation! The reason again is because of grace, which you have heard me teach before means “God’s riches at Christ’s expense!” Through Christ you have the undeserved kindness and favor of the Creator of the universe.
Since this is who you are now through Jesus Christ, I would say you have something to celebrate; you have something to rejoice over. Another way to say this is, you have something to boast about!
So let’s boast… let’s rejoice! “We rejoice (or we boast) in hope of the glory of God.” What else could we boast about? Our righteous living? Our great faith? Our wonderful stewardship or care of our families and church?
Here is a truth worth remembering. Any boasting or rejoicing outside of God’s glory is always self-serving and sinful; it is a violation of the First Commandment. So our hope, our rejoicing and boasting is always based in the glory of God and who we are because of Jesus Christ.
But why rejoice or boast over God’s glory in our lives? So that others will know! But know what? Well actually it is to know the Who and then the what. We boast, that is we testify to God, and then His goodness that has unconditionally been given to us through Jesus Christ, so that others may know that they too can have this same faith that has been given to us.
Faith is certainly the substance of things hope for but not seen, but it is also completely foreign to us; it must be given to us. Why? So that the promise of God will be certain to us. The promise says we shall not only receive righteousness but actually hold onto it forever. St. Paul says that faith not only gets us into God’s grace but it also maintains that condition until the day we actually join Jesus Christ in paradise sharing the glory of God. In other words, faith alone is both the beginning of our peace with God, the middle, and the end of everything. (FC SD KV 34)
At this point of our message, even seasoned and mature Christian’s maybe wondering, “Since I have so much favor with God, then why is my life so miserable. Why do I seem to simply be moving from one period of suffering to another? And the answer is…
We all have our cross to bear. In our gospel lesson (Mark 8:27), Jesus asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And to that, Peter speaking for them all answered Him, “You are the Christ.” Peter speaks for us today as well, so what Jesus says next is important, it is crucial for understanding the times of suffering in our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
St. Paul puts it this way in verses three and four of our Epistle reading: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Another way to explain the sufferings in life is to look at them as pressure that tempts you to take your eyes off of God’s glory and the peace you have as you rejoice in that glory. But instead of choosing to focus on the temporary suffering that you are going through, you choose to receive it and pass through it as another opportunity to praise God, Who was with you through it all.
Did you know that no where in scripture does God say that our suffering is good; scripture simply acknowledges that it is a present reality of this sinful world. So in our message today, please do not misunderstand St. Paul and think that he is saying that your suffering is something to look for or chase after, as if it gives you bragging rights. But instead, St. Paul is saying that the basis of boasting or being joyful is that even in the midst of your suffering God and His glory will not abandon you.
Your hope dear saints is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. All other ground is simply sinking sand. Your hope allows you to continue boasting and being joyful in the middle of those hard times. Why is that? Because hope looks ahead to the ultimate enjoyment of God’s glory. We are able to stand up under those sufferings because we know that within it we are being given the gift of patient endurance.
A way to look at patient endurance is to see yourself standing in the intersection of where several rapidly moving streams meet; streams that are pushing in different directions trying to knock you down, but you have found your solid ground, which is Jesus Christ, and you are able to stand firm until the flow dies down and you may be safely moved to the shore line. So a way to sum this idea up is to say, “While God sustains our faith, tribulations and suffering produce endurance.”
Another way to speak of endurance is to speak about testings. When we pass through the troubles of life still faithful, we have been proven, or tested to be genuine, and afterward our tested character produces what we started out with, hope! Hope in what? Jesus Christ and His righteousness.
If we begin with hope and we end with hope, then it only makes sense that God must give us something to hold onto; something that was done for us that is completely outside of us, which gives us hope. And that something is…
Holy Baptism. Within our baptism, St. Paul points out in verse 5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Why are we hopeful? Because God’s love has been poured into and remains within our hearts. This is a kind of love that only God can give and it is the kind of love we can only give back after He gives it. This love has been poured out upon you and it remains within you as long as you cling to Christ alone and live out this hope of sure and certain salvation that was given to you on that day when you were saved by the washing of the water and the Word. (Life Preserver and Anchor)
Within your baptism, God has given you the greatest gift you could ever receive… He has given you the indwelling Holy Spirit. Together with the Holy Spirit, you receive the uncountable and incomparable blessings of God’s love poured out upon your dry and dead heart, and now it is alive and full of the vitality and new life of God.
So now that you are justified and faith-filled, you go out into this broken world hopeful and joyful. You have been entrusted with a message of hope and promise. And that message is something to boast about and not keep to yourself, because it is a message of forgiveness and new life. And the message goes like this: “While we were weak and unable to help ourselves, at just the right moment, Christ died on behalf of all sinners; on behalf of the world. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified (made right with God) by his blood (the blood of Jesus), (so) much more shall we be saved by him from the (anger) of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (or received through Christ a loving and gentle God). May God empower you to both boast and live out this message of hope and reconciliation, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!