Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sermon on Romans 7:14-25, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, "Christ, our Deliverer", Part 3

Note: The following sermon is part 3 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.          

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The section of Romans 7 that we have before us today is familiar to Lutherans. It names a struggle, the struggle between sinner and saint. This struggle is real and hidden in the heart of every Christian. Some people confess this struggle openly, asking others to help keep them accountable; other people hide this struggle, putting on the best face they can. It’s the struggle that is magnified for every Christian, between the desire to do what is good and the temptation and desire to do what is evil. We all face this struggle and it isn’t something we can leave behind. Until the day when our conqueror, Jesus Christ, returns, we will be both sinner and saint.
Paul’s description is personal, individual. It tells the story of one man and one struggle that never seems to end. Paul knows the good that God desires and Paul himself agrees with this desire. What God wants is truly good. Yet Paul also discovers that he is “sold under sin” (7:14). Paul uses the language of slavery and of captivity. His members “wage war” and he is “captive” to the law of sin (7:23). Paul knows the good he wants to do, but can’t do it. Instead, what he doesn’t want to do, that he does. Slave to sin, captive to his flesh; Paul cries out for deliverance.
His story, however, is not only one man’s story. It’s a universal story that touches all people. Paul’s cry echoes through the Scriptures, with saints of the Old Testament and New, who wrestled with their old sinful nature; experiencing triumphs and more often than not, failures. Our Old Testament reading from Zechariah speaks to spiritual prisoners locked in that struggle, and the hope of the coming Deliverer, when it says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” It speaks of a captivity or slavery that will be broken. It speaks of a coming freedom; a double restoration. From individuals to families to nations, the captivity to sin is nearly as old as our human story. But Zechariah and Paul both zeroed in on the same hope: the promised Messiah, whom Paul knew in Jesus Christ.
We probably can all identify with Paul’s small story, his one small revelation of this personal private experience. This, however, is not the main story that Paul wants to tell. In fact, it’s God’s Greater Story, that Paul wants to highlight for all people. The story of God’s faithfulness. Not the story of how our personal victories and triumphs won us salvation—because they don’t. Not the story of our faithfulness to God; but God’s faithfulness to his people. The story of God conquering sin for us in Christ Jesus, and how that victory spills into our lives.
As early as the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God had begun telling this story of his love. As Adam and Eve stood there, naked before God, ashamed of themselves, and yet unable to hide, God began to speak of his love. They overheard it, in a conversation he had with the snake. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Here, was the first glimpse of God’s promise. He would send one, the offspring of a woman, who would bruise the head of Satan and conquer in the fight. Adam and Eve lived in hope. They were “prisoners of hope” waiting in confidence for their restoration.
That hope was passed down as God’s promise from generation to generation of individuals, families, and nations that followed them, struggling with their sinful nature, but living in the hope of God’s story of a Deliverer coming true. And the apostle Paul writes this letter to proclaim that it did come true, in Jesus Christ. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul cries out. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In this section of the letter, Paul lets his one small story become swallowed up by a much larger story. The story of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is the one who came as our deliverer. We delivered him up to death as Satan worked through us to bruise his heel and yet he delivered us from death and from the kingdom of Satan as He rose in power in His resurrection and called us into the kingdom of God. This God loves us, dies for us, and rises to gives us new life.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” Paul proclaims and, with those words, he invites everyone into God’s greater story. Jesus Christ rules, as God Himself, and is our deliverer. He is at the heart of God’s greater story of the rescue of his people from slavery and the redemption of all people in the world. Sold in sin was where our story began, but it ends in the redemption of our bodies through Jesus Christ. In the ancient slave markets, redemption was when someone purchased your freedom for you—paying off all your debts. Likewise Jesus Christ has paid all the debts of our sin, He has redeemed us or bought us back, so that we are freed men and women in Christ Jesus. Since we are in Christ Jesus, the law has no claim for judgment against us because of our sin, because Jesus paid in full on the cross. There is no “debt-collector” who can hound us for our sins, as we have confessed them in Christ Jesus and He has delivered us completely from them. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
As I said in a previous sermon, we don’t use this new-found freedom to throw it away, by returning to the captivity of sin. Our rescue from sin by baptism into Christ’s death is the very entry point into our struggle and Paul’s struggle. The struggle between the new freed man in Christ Jesus, the saint—and the old enslaved man in us, the sinner. The sinner hungers for the pleasures of sin, but is blind to their chains. The saint hungers for righteousness and to do what is right, but finds that whenever we pursue doing what is right, evil lies close at hand. This is the tension between the “now and the not yet” of the Christian faith. We already have the forgiveness and promises in Christ Jesus, we already now have no condemnation in Him. But we have not yet reached the end of our sanctification, which is eternal life. Daily now we put to death that old sinner in us, by repentance in the waters of baptism, and our sins die in the cross of Jesus Christ. But we have not yet been delivered from this body of death, this flesh. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul exclaims.
See, the victory doesn’t depend on you. You have the Champion who has won the war, fighting in your daily battles too. Jesus Christ has not left us to die alone on the battlefield after He sealed the victory and turned the tide. Rather He is with us in all the places He has promised to come to us for our aid. He has joined Himself to us in Baptism. We are clothed with His righteousness. He has armed us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to guard us against the tempter. He feeds us with His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, strengthening us for the journey and the battle. He will see us through to victory. Whenever our eyes are cast down by the suffering and fury around us, He lifts our eyes back to His cross through the preaching of His Word, through messengers that He has sent.
The evangelists tune our ears in to this message; this much larger story. Listen today to the words in Matthew: “Jesus declares…Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29). Jesus calls those who are weary and burdened under the guilt and burdens of life, to find rest for their souls in Him. When we are forgiven we rejoice that the love and the healing of Christ Jesus comes into our heart to cleanse us from all sin and heal us from our self-inflicted wounds, the festering guilt, or the scars left by what others have done to us. His forgiveness and healing is both comprehensive and intensive. His love and forgiveness can heal even the most ingrained sin. It makes new life where before there was only death—it creates freedom where before there was only slavery. Finally Paul’s great comfort is to know that the only escape and freedom from the wretched struggle with sin is through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today, in a very tangible way, Jesus brings you once again to the heart of this greater story of God. As we gather for the Lord’s Supper, we join the much larger story of God’s loving rule over his world. This is the story of Jesus, our Deliverer, now come among us in his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, we come with our smaller private stories, the moments when we failed to do the good that we wanted to do, and the moments when we did the evil that we didn’t want to do. That struggle is there and it is real and we come today confessing our sin. But we also come trusting in our deliverance. Jesus is faithful. He remains faithful to his promises. “Take eat. Take drink. This is my body. This is my blood. Given for you. For the forgiveness of sin.” We come as prisoners of hope—captive to the joy and the freedom of our Lord—confident of a destiny secured for us by Christ Jesus. A destiny far from the shackles of sin, death, and pain, but made perfect in the image and likeness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. How do you experience the struggle between saint and sinner in you? Where are your weakest points, that the tempter will seek to exploit? Why must your confidence for victory depend not on you, but on Christ Jesus? Romans 7:25-8:1; 1 John 4:4; 5:4-5

  1. What kind of captivity do all humans experience because of sin? Romans 7:14, 23; Psalm 51:5. How does the prophet Zechariah anticipate freedom from that captivity? Zech. 9:11-12; Isaiah 61:1ff; Luke 4:18ff.

  1. “Redemption” means to “buy back” and was especially a rich concept in the context of the New Testament world, where slaves were commonly sold or purchased—but then could be “redeemed” by someone who was generous enough or cared enough to purchase their freedom. How does the New Testament tell us that Jesus purchased our freedom? 1 Peter 1:18-19. What does this redemption mean for the accusation of our sins? Colossians 2:14; Revelation 12:10-11

  1. Explain how the Christian experiences the “now, but not yet” of the Christian faith. How is this tension related to our life as at the same time “saints and sinners?”

  1. How do we find rest from the constant battle with sin in us? Matthew 11:28-29. How is the Lord’s Supper one of the ways that Christ has promised to be with us and strengthen us for our journey? What is our hope?