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Sermon for March 4, 2012

Romans 5:1-11 (2nd Sunday in Lent—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 4, 2012

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text for today is the Epistle lesson recorded in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath 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.

If you remember the old episodes of Sesame Street, there was often a segment of the show where you were asked to tell which of the four things shown didn’t belong with the others.  In looking at our Epistle lesson this morning, I found something like that.  In verses 2, 3, and 11, in the English Standard Version, we have the word “rejoice.”  In verse 2 the text says that we are to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  In verse 3 the text says that, more than that, we “rejoice in our sufferings.”  Then in verse 11 we read that we “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now which one of these three doesn’t seem to belong?

Before we make a decision consider that our word translated “rejoice” here doesn’t really mean to be happy about, or be joyful over, or celebrate.  The Greek word really means “to glory in or to boast about.”  It’s used to express an unusually high degree of confidence in someone or something.”  Well that makes sense for verse 2:  “Having been justified, therefore, by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we have extremely high confidence in hope of the glory of God.”  Similarly, it makes sense for verse 11, “More than that, we also have extremely high confidence in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we now have received reconciliation.”  But what are we to do with verse 3, “. . . but we also have extremely high confidence in tribulations?”  Clearly, this is the one that doesn’t belong.  Or does it?

Through Jesus we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand as baptized children of God.  As His children we have been declared “not guilty” of sin and therefore, are now at peace with God through what Jesus accomplished by His death on the cross.  But we wouldn’t know this peace if God had not poured His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us in Word and Sacrament.  We would not be able to have extremely high confidence in hope of the glory of God since we would not know we had that hope if God had not poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  We would not be able to have extremely high confidence in God through our Lord Jesus Christ because we would know nothing of our being reconciled to Him.

We call that being lost in sin.  Sinners have no right knowledge of God nor of God’s love for them.  Sinners are God’s enemies.  Enemies are not at peace with each other.  Enemies are not reconciled to each other.  They are enemies!  I preached on Ash Wednesday about this.  I said God’s Word tells us that God hates sin, and that when we sin, God hates us.  And boy did I see people squirm.  How could I say that about God?  He hates us when we sin?  Isn’t that too harsh?  You bet it is harsh.  God’s Law is very harsh.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross for God’s friends and bosom buddies.  Jesus didn’t suffer hell and death for people who are sweet and innocent.  Jesus died for His enemies.  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”

I simply love the way the Early Church Father Origen says it in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.  He wrote, “Peace reigns when nobody complains, nobody disagrees, nobody is hostile and nobody misbehaves.  Therefore, we who once were enemies of God, following the devil, that great enemy and tyrant, now, if we have thrown down his weapons and in their place taken up the sign of Christ and the standard of His cross, have peace with God.  But this is through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God through the offering of His blood.”  He goes on to say, “In order to show more fully what power the love which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit has, Paul expounds the way we ought to understand it by teaching us that Christ died not for the godly but for the ungodly.  For we were ungodly before we turned to God, and Christ died for us before we believed.  Undoubtedly he would not have done this unless either he himself or God the Father, who gave up his only begotten Son for the redemption of the ungodly, had superabundant love toward us.”

God hates sin, but God loves the sinner more.  “The fact that we who were such terrible sinners were saved is a very great sign, indicating how much we were loved by him who saved us.” (Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans)  This is why we do have extremely high confidence in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  God loves us and He showed that love to us by giving up Jesus into death to save us from our sins and to rescue us from God’s wrath against us.  We are now at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  With our sins forgiven by Christ’s shed blood on the cross we are no longer God’s enemies.  We are His friends.  Even more, He has made us His own children through the waters of Holy Baptism.

This is now where we fit verse 3 back into the puzzle.  Because we have been justified by faith and have peace with God, because Christ died for us while we were still sinners and reconciled us to God you and I are able to have extremely high confidence in our sufferings.  Why?  Because we have extremely high confidence in God through our Lord Jesus that hope won’t put us to shame.  We read in our text, “We have extremely high confidence in our tribulations because tribulation produces endurance, and endurance produces character that has been tried and tested, and a tried and tested character produces hope.  And hope does not put us to shame because the love of God was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Will the God who gave His only Son to die for us while we were His enemies leave us to languish in the troubles of our sins and in life’s sufferings?  Will He not, as He has promised, work all things together for good for those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose? (Rom. 8:28)  Yes, He will do that.  We know that we do not suffer alone.  We know that the troubles we face in this messed up, corrupted world God uses to increase our endurance in faith.  He produces in us a strong Christian character that brings us through the times of testing even more highly confident in hope of the glory of God through our Savior Jesus.

Johann Gerhard, one of the three greatest classical Lutheran theologians, wrote, “[God] loved us while we were yet enemies, will He forget us now that we are reconciled by the death of His Son?  Can He be unmindful of the precious blood of His Son, when He numbers even the tears and the steps of His godly children?  Can Christ possibly forget in His life, those for whom He was willing to suffer death?  Can He, throned in glory, forget those for whom He bore such awful anguish upon earth?”

Of course He cannot and will not.  Jesus whose hands were pierced with nails has inscribed your own name upon the palms of His hands.  He will never forget you.  In this life when we face suffering and tribulation, where we bear many crosses and endure many temptations, we have extremely high confidence in our God and Savior.  And we glory in Him.  We exult over Him because He is with us.  He showers upon us His abiding love and forgiveness throughout all tribulations.  He is producing in us endurance, character, and hope.  And we are certain that hope will never put us to shame because God’s love in Jesus Christ has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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