Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sermon on Romans 5:6-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Romans 5:6-11,

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when 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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

There’s a lot of talk today about knowing where you’re from; remembering your roots. Some celebrities who have had a rise to fame, either as a singer, musician, actor, sports star, or wealthy businessman, are often heard to say that they always try to remember their humble roots. Of course there are just as many or more celebrities who do just the opposite: in their rise to fame, they try to forget their past and their pride in their achievements leads them to look down upon the less prestigious.

There is a similar temptation for us as Christians, to forget where we came from. To forget our roots—what our status was before Christ saved us. It’s especially easy if we live an outwardly moral life, and if things are going well for us, to develop a kind of forgetfulness of how great our sin was and is in God’s eyes. This forgetfulness can turn into a sort of self-righteousness as well; that doesn’t want to see oneself as a poor, miserable sinner. When we lose that awareness of our depravity before God, and don’t see our own sin, then forgiveness seems less important. An example of this kind of thinking is the statement from the playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge; a man must pay his debts.” Sadly, he underestimated the weight of sin, so that he thought he could actually pay the cost. On the other hand, the first part of his statement rings true: we are all beggars before God, and forgiveness is indeed our refuge. And there is no shame in that. And furthermore, there is a man who did pay our debt—Christ Jesus! So beware of the danger of minimizing sin; thinking that we can pay the cost, or that maybe forgiveness is just there for our occasional 'slip-ups' or mistakes, but that most of the time it's not really what we need. When self-righteousness leads us to think this way, then we no longer comprehend God’s grace. Grace becomes just that little bit of whiteout to cover some minor blemishes. Do you see how our sinful mind can work?

This passage from Romans gives us a sharp correction from our forgetfulness. Paul reminds us again where we came from; what our status was before God saved us. We were powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God! Not a pleasant description! From our sinful nature poured out a disobedience to God, a rebellion against His Law. We stood powerless to help ourselves; powerless to turn our lives around. We were dead in our transgressions and sins—utterly powerless. That was our spiritual condition; yes we were ungodly sinners. And because this sin was something that dwelled within us, it didn’t matter if we were pretty good on the outside, in the world’s eyes. The opinions of the world don’t matter in God’s eyes. The praise of other people wouldn’t count for anything if God were to expose all your innermost thoughts and sins for His righteous judgment. Ungodly because we didn’t seek after God; powerless because even had we wanted to, we’d have been unable to seek Him on our own.

And enemies! Sometimes this comes as a tough pill to swallow because as humans we judge by external appearances, rather than by the heart, as God does. But we were actually God’s enemies before we were saved! As if we were fighting a losing war against God. And that is what sin always was, is, and will be: a futile resistance against the Holiness of God. Satan is like the foolish, prideful general who fights in a battle he can never win. Fighting a power far, far greater than him; with a wicked desperation and pride that can never give in, but only continue fighting the losing battle to the end. And like tiny pawns who signed on as enemies of God, we found ourselves hopelessly destined for the wrath to come. We were separated from God, at enmity with Him, and deserved death for our rebellion. But here’s where our story changed!

God had seen our wretched state and as a dear Father weeps over a child who has gone astray, He was moved by His great mercy to plan salvation for us. And then, as our text says, “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” In God’s divine timing, He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for the powerless, the ungodly, the sinners—God’s enemies! Perhaps we sometimes lose the utter surprise of this truth! Paul reminds us that it’s very rare for anyone to die for even a righteous person, though it does sometimes happen. Somebody dying for another person is a rather exceptional circumstance. And so we rightly honor those who have done so, with great bravery. We think of the fireman, policeman, and rescue workers who died saving the lives of people they didn’t even know on 9-11. We think of the soldiers who cast themselves in harms way to rescue a fellow soldier who was wounded, or to protect their troops from an attack. Many of these heroes may have sacrificed their lives out of a sense of duty; others may not have even had the chance to think about it, but just acted on instinct, or the instantaneous reaction to danger that moved them to protect a friend. These heroes and others certainly deserve our earthly recognition.

But what if circumstances allowed for plenty of thought and deliberation beforehand, instead of being thrown into the situation? What if it had to be a conscious, willing choice to step in and die for that person? It would be very rare for a person to give up his or her own life under these circumstances, but a person might—if it was for a good person. Given time to think, we might start to waver and weigh the significance of the decision. “Is this person really worth dying for?” What if the person were already as good as dead? What if they were a drug addict or a prostitute? What if they were your sworn enemy? What if they had brought this upon themselves? Now you can begin to see how miraculous Jesus’ self-sacrifice for sinners really was! He knew full well what He was getting into. He knew His death wouldn’t be short and painless, but quite the opposite. He knew that despite His great compassion and love for those He would die for, many would scorn and hate Him for it. He knew that we were already dead—in our transgressions and sins. And Jesus did die for the drug addicts, the prostitutes, and yes, even for the self-righteous. And as much as our sinful nature wants to deny it, Jesus died for God’s enemies, and before we were saved, that was us. We were God’s enemies, because of our sin. But despite it all, He died for us! He became our substitute, to rescue us from all the misery and guilt of sin—and its punishment, God’s wrath. This is why Paul calls attention to our sin, and that we were enemies of God before Christ saved us—because when we remember where we came from, what our ‘so-called’ roots are—it helps us to realize how great the compassion and mercy of God is, and to have an attitude of humility and repentance.

Christ’s death for God’s enemies was God’s demonstration of His love for us! This was how He showed us what True Love is—the Godly kind of love that knows no equal here on earth. The steadfast love and faithfulness that can willingly bear the hatred and scorn of enemies, and still look at them with true eyes and say, “I love you so much, that I’m going to die for you. For the mess of sin and death that you are in. I want to take that from you, so you can live again! To be back with me, the way things were meant to be.” The Father showed this love through Jesus Christ, who did just that, dying for His enemies, to reconcile us to God through His death.

Just like that! Jesus wasn’t searching for anything good in us, as if He had to weigh the decision of whether or not we were ‘worth it’ before He’d be willing to die for us. No, He knew we had nothing good to offer before God, and that we were even enemies of God, but He declared us innocent of any wrongdoing by His blood! Unlike the example I gave earlier about celebrities, we didn’t get where we are by hard work and determination—we are saved completely by grace, not a work of our own. He counted all our wrongdoing to Him, and all His innocence, He counted to us! And that’s what it means to be justified! Declared innocent; righteous before God. And Paul says, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when 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!” How much more shall we be saved! We had been engaged in a futile war against God’s Holiness by our sin, and Jesus captured us from enemy lines and forgave our crimes against God! He saved us from the certain punishment of God’s wrath that we deserved, by taking it on Himself. Saved for something better.

We were saved to become a new creation in Christ Jesus. Saved from the powerless, ungodly, sinful life we lived when we were still God’s enemies, to be saints in God’s Kingdom. Saved so that we might renounce ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12). And in Christ Jesus, we now have a new life that is marked by the working of the Holy Spirit, that is powerful in our weakness. A life not yet free of all sin, but one characterized by the love of Christ motivating us to do good. And a life where we are not God’s enemies, but soldiers in God’s army, dressed in the armor of God, resisting Satan’s attacks. And most of all, we were saved to be with God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier for all eternity. Saved to rejoice in the love He has for us and has shown for us—the Love that reconciles His enemies through Christ’s death, and saves them by His life. Truly, a matter for rejoicing!

Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

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