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It’s all about good news this morning. It’s all about peace
Check these lines from Robert Browning. They’re about spring rather than autumn, but we can put ourselves in the middle of them:
“The year's at the spring, And day's at the morn; Morning's at seven; The hill-side's dew-pearl'd; The lark's on the wing; The snail's on the thorn; God's in His heaven—All's right with the world!”
It may be hard for us to put ourselves in the middle of these lines. Many of us are dealing with different things; major changes in life; major changes or uncertainty about our health; uncertainty about the world and the state of war and peace in it; uncertainty about how our kids will grow up/get educated/have a career and what kind of world will they live in; concern about those we love the most.
How much are we longing to hear and live in good news? The lines I read are from a verse drama which Browning wrote called “Pippa Passes.” They reflect something of what Paul is describing in this passage. A rightness. An “all is right with the world” -ness. On this journey that we’re on with Paul, it is as if we are taking a pause to stop in a sun-drenched clearing with leaves scattered all over the forest floor (or on a sun-drenched peak if heights aren’t a problem for us) and just… stop. And enjoy. The blessings. The good things. The goodness that is life in Christ Jesus.
So it’s good to stop. We’ve been in Romans for three weeks now. We’ve gone over the good news – the grace that we have received through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have gone over how things went so badly wrong for us, and how God has acted and acts and will act in history to make all things right. We have looked at Abraham and the good and fitting and proper response to Christ’s faithfulness, which is trust and faithfulness and gratitude and thanksgiving on our part. Acknowledgement on our part of the glory of God – the grace, the love, the mercy, the forgiveness, the justice of God.
Now we stop and say “So what?” It would be very easy to dismiss what we’ve heard about the story of God or to gloss over it as we go about our busy lives. Abraham lived a long time ago – mm-hmm. God’s son Jesus died a long time ago. Interesting! God raised him from the dead a long time ago. That’s so nice!
Now we stop and say “So what?” This news that we’re talking about is life-changing in the most meaningful sense of the word. When we hear good news, we expect it to change our lives, don’t we? News of a new job, new education path, new home, new lease on life, new life…New. Life. What does all this mean for those who follow Christ? Paul is writing these words to followers of Christ, and we may be hearing them as followers of Christ. If we’re not a follower of Christ, Jesus made the invitation very simple – “Follow me.” Follow him. Believe in him. Trust him. Before the gospel/good news is an invitation, it’s proclamation. Paul is not looking to prove or argue about what God has done, he is proclaiming it or telling it - God raised Jesus our Lord, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification (our pardon, our forgives, our right-standing-ness with God). The invitation, which is before each of us every day, is to live in faith or trust in God.
God helps us to be winsome invitations in our words and by our lives.
Paul comes to the end of the Abraham section with these words, which lead directly into the good news that we’re looking at today – “Therefore his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now the words ‘it was reckoned to him’ were written not for his own sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (22-25)
So to you who hold the same faith. To you who are part of the same family as Father Abraham… Let’s pause here and enjoy the light. Enjoy the blessings. Let us be reminded of the blessings if we’ve been in this Christ-following life for a long time and for some reason we’ve forgotten them, or they’ve become old hat, or the wonder of them has faded or we maybe even take them for granted. Paul is saying here that we’ve only just begun. We’ve only just begun to live, and it only gets better.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” The wall of enmity between ourselves and God has been broken down. This is what we were created for – right relationship with God our creator (this is the proclamation thing I was talking about a few moments ago – the invitation is to step into this relationship in trusting faith). We get this, don’t we? It’s what humans were made for – right relationship with God and right relationships with one another. We see the evidence of unright relationships all around us every day. It’s what families were made for – right relationships with one another. Do you know what it’s like for members of a family to be estranged to one another? Do you know what it’s like for family members to cut themselves or to be cut off from one another? I’ve known this from both from being the cutter ad the cutee. I pray that you’ll never know it if you don’t, but I know that many do. A wall of hostility exists. At the very least it just feels wrong. At the most, it's heartbreaking.
The wall of enmity, which we set up between us and God when we decided that something other than God was worthy of our worship, has been broken down and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. “… through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our of hope of sharing the glory of God.” The gift of God has reached us, and through the gift of grace in Jesus we’re given access to the grace in which we stand. In Jesus, those promises of God have come true. I will be with you. I will carry you. He will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them close to his chest and gently lead the mother sheep. As followers of Christ we are situated/we stand in the grace of God. “Here I stand, I can do no other,” as someone once said. “Lord, to whom would we go?” as someone else once said, “You have the words that give eternal life.” You have the words of life of the ages. You have the words of life. And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. We celebrate. We rejoice. We exult in our hope of sharing the glory of God. NT Wright describes standing in this state of grace as being “in a position where we are surrounded by God’s love and generosity, invited to breathe it in as our native air. As we do we realize that this is what we were made for; that this is what truly human existence ought to be like; and that it is the beginning of something so big, so massive, so unimaginably beautiful and powerful that we almost burst as we think of it.” We celebrate it no matter our circumstances. We exult in it no matter our circumstances.
“And not only that, but we boast in our sufferings.” We celebrate even in our sufferings. We don’t celebrate our sufferings, any more than we give thanks for all things, even our sufferings – that would be rather monstrous. We celebrate as we give thanks in all things, even sufferings. This theme of facing trials runs throughout the NT. In Hebrews suffering is spoken of as God disciplining or teaching us as a loving parent teaches their children (Heb 12:7). Peter (1 Peter 1:6-7) writes of gold being purified by fire, and how much more precious are we to God as we are purified by trials in order that praise and glory and honour result when Jesus is revealed? James focuses on the result of trials: 2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4) Life in Christ has been described as a long obedience in the same direction. “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Rm 5:3-5a)
Hope for the follower of Christ is not wishful thinking. It is assured expectation. It’s based on endurance or perseverance, even If the going is slow. Charles Spurgeon once said “It is by perseverance that the snail reached the ark” (which I must remember in my studies!) Living in peace with God means we never see a trial in our life as an expression of God being against us. It means knowing that God has promised to use every circumstance, good or bad, to guide us toward greater faithfulness and trust. Hope is not simply wishful thinking or wistful longing. Hope is assured expectation, as we call into the present the assurance of God’s future promises- based on the truth that we stand in God’s presence through trust in the grace of Christ Jesus. Which seems like a good time to bring up the Holy Spirit. We were being thankful for the whole Trinity last week with the kids in our service. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit as God’s gift to us. The one through whom the love of God is poured into our hearts. The agape of God. Love that wills nothing but the good of the other for the other’s sake. The first time this word has been used by Paul in his letter. Peace. Hope. Joy/boast. All of these themes have been going on here, and they’re all grounded in the agape of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We’ve heard of the Holy Spirit being poured out like water. Now it’s a matter of God’s love being poured out in the innermost part of our being by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, like God’s grace itself, is a gift. None of the peace, joy and hope that we’re celebrating this morning come as a result of our own efforts. Following Jesus is not a life of ease or everything coming naturally to us or every morning a “God is in his heaven, and all’s right with the world” kind of morning. Our faith is not dependent on our feelings, which ebb and flow. Our faith is not dependent on how near or far we perceive God to be. Our faith is not dependent on our ability to pray. It’s hard at times to pray, and there are times that we don’t know what to pray for, and we groan, and the Holy Spirit prays for us. The Holy Spirit is a gift, and we say “Thank you Lord for your Spirit!”
Let us remember who we are in the family of God and let us remember where we stand – in the light of God through the grace of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us metaphorically open up our curtains every morning and stop and bask in the sunshine of the good news of reconciliation and peace with God through Jesus as we hear the words of God’s love: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.” Everyone gets this. We honour those who die in the line of duty. We get giving up our life for those we love. And then there is this:
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” A day will come when all things will be made new, and all things will be finally made right, and God’s righteous, just judgement will be made known. To be in Christ means this is not a day to fear. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Talk is cheap, as they say. God does not only love us in word and speech but in deed and in truth. May the Holy Spirit teach us to love in the same way. This is the assurance in which the follower of Christ lives, no matter what is going on around us. What does this tell us about the people whom we consider enemies? We’ll get back to that in weeks to come.
But more than that? We even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation. We even celebrate. We even exult. No more estrangement. No more rebellion. He is our peace. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.