Sermon for March 19, 2017

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Romans 5:1-8

Sermon Theme:  “Don’t Keep Clutching the Hot Pot”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Lutheran Cyclopedia; Footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible; Footnotes, Life Application Study Bible; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Original Ideas; Westminster Dictionary of the Bible)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thousands of books have been written about “justification,” probably enough books over the years to fill a library.  In chapters preceding our sermon text, Paul has attempted to explain “justification,” and much of the letter to the Romans is about justification. Harpers’ Bible Dictionary devotes almost a whole page to defining “justification.”  On our own turf, The Lutheran Cyclopedia gives one definition of “justification,” followed by eight explanations.

Here’s the official definition of The Lutheran Cyclopedia: “’Justification’ is a judicial act of God which consists of non-imputation of sin and imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”  Clear as mud, huh?  We’re better off sticking with Paul’s definition.

What the Lutheran Cyclopedia meant is that we are by nature sinful and incapable of obeying God’s Laws ourselves.  God is moved to justify us, that is, declare us not guilty, by grace through faith alone.  The righteousness of Christ is given to us by God (that’s what the Lutheran Cyclopedia means by “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness), by His grace, by the sacrifice of Christ, through faith.  Justification is then ours.

Today’s text is about the blessings we receive from justification.

Last Sunday, I told a story about a grizzly bear; it was a made-up story and it was a joke.  Well, today, I want to tell you another story about a grizzly bear, but this one is supposed to be true, and it’s not a joke even though it’s kind of funny.

Today’s grizzly bear roamed the forest and was known for terrorizing campers while searching for food, though, unlike last Sunday’s bear, he never killed anybody.  Seems a group of Scouts had set up camp one evening, and they all went down to the river for a midnight swim.

The old bear came crashing into their campsite and spotted a kettle of soup simmering on the campfire, with the lid bouncing up and down from the steam.  The bear lumbered over to the pot, and greedily picked up the kettle by its handle.  It burned his hands badly, but instead of dropping it, he clutched it tighter and tighter.  The more it burned him, the tighter he gripped it.  Gripping something tighter is a natural, instinctive defense mechanism for a grizzly bear.

In our text Paul reminds us that Christ died for a world that continues to clutch the very things that hurt it, and being justified by God’s love frees us to drop those boiling kettles that only bring misery.  In the text, Paul presents four blessings of justification.  They are:  ONE, we have access to God’s grace; TWO, we rejoice in the prospect of sharing the glory of God: THREE, we rejoice in our suffering because it produces endurance, character and hope; and FOUR, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Let’s talk about all four of these.

FIRST, we have access to God’s grace.  In verse 6, Paul says, “Christ died for the ungodly,” and then in a parallel passage two verses later, he says, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.”  In those simple, straightforward words, Paul talks about access.  Christ didn’t die for the people who already have ready access to God’s grace, or “assumed” access, but for the weak ones, the ones who are lacking, the ones who need redemption, the ones, presumably, lower down on the totem pole.  Paul says in verse 2, “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace.”

You see, it is Jesus who ushers us into the presence of God.  The heavy curtain in the Temple that separated man from God and God from man was torn asunder at the crucifixion, and thus has been removed.  Before, the people had no access to God, only the High Priest.  Now, we all have complete access to Him.

SECOND, we rejoice in the prospect of sharing the glory of God.  If a parent goes to great extremes to buy his child a grand piano, will he then deny that same son piano lessons?  Of course not!  And according to the text, if God has gone so far as to give us His only begotten Son, will He not give us all other things vital to our well-being as well?  Not only will He give us the endurance, character, hope, etc., but at the second coming, He will also let us share in the full glory of Christ.

THIRD, we rejoice in our suffering because it produces endurance, character and hope.  As you probably know, the Apostle Paul was an avid lover of sporting events, especially foot races.  How many times hasn’t he written passages using the picture language of athletic events.  He himself was not an athlete, but he loved being a spectator, a fan.  When he talks about suffering, endurance, character, and hope, he is thinking of the athletic competitions he enjoyed watching so much.

Marathon runners know all about suffering, endurance, character, and hope.  Marathon runners know that, in the process of accomplishing their goal, they will experience some suffering.  Some part of their body will be pushed, strained beyond its normal limits, but if proper care is taken, it will heal.

For the marathon runner, the training that produces the suffering also produces strong lungs and heart muscles.  These strengthened organs allow the runner to endure for the long race.

Christians learn that, with Christ by our side, we will survive the suffering, because Christ will not let go of us.  From endurance to character.  It is the 35-year old marathon runner, not the 18-year-old, who is seasoned by suffering, who knows how to train, who knows how to compete.  The 35-year-old uses his or her whole being to run the race, not just his or her body.

The Christian’s life is shaped in God’s presence, as we endure the difficult times of life on this earth.  Indeed, the character of our being changes when we place ourselves in God’s hand to be molded into a child of God.  And hope.  Confidence, trust.  The marathon runner trusts his body.  The Christian trusts in God’s graciousness to continue with him during this earthly life and beyond.  A Christian can rejoice in suffering because he knows that it is not meaningless.  Part of God’s purpose is to produce character in His children.

FOURTH, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  You know, “justification” is an instant thing, — it’s not long, drawn out like “sanctification.”  It happens instantly, and the moment it does, the Holy Spirit indwells in us, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Copernicus pointed out that “if the first button of your coat is buttoned wrong, all the rest will be out of place.”  The first man, Adam, was out of place, and so then, the rest of us are, too.  We’ve all had days where nothing starts out right, and it’s downhill from there.  Well, you see, that’s the way we were with God; because of sin, we started out wrong with Him.  But when God’s love was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, all of that changed and we start out right with Him.

Often, we think of our Christian faith as a life insurance policy.  In other words, there are no present benefits; the payoff is in the future.

‘Not so!,’ Paul would argue.  Paul says in verse one of our text, “Therefore since we ARE justified by grace, we HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He says we ARE justified by grace, not “we WILL BE justified by grace, and he says, “we HAVE peace with God,” not we WILL HAVE peace.  If we accept God’s grace, peace will flower in our hearts.  Instantly, now, not just in the future.

To be sure, our world is increasingly torn by violence and strife, — so much so it’s painful to read the daily headlines, — constant turmoil in the Middle East and a daily threat of terrorism in the rest of the world.  At the same time, our personal lives are often filled with conflicts, suffering, and struggle.  Amidst all this, God offers us peace through Christ.  So, — accept God’s gift of righteousness and you will have peace with God, and peace with yourself and peace with others.  You may not even be tempted to pick up the hot pot, but if you do, you won’t hold on to it!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.