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Sunday, March 29, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Israel Stumbled"

“Israel Stumbled”
All Roads Lead to Romans
March 29, 2015 :: Romans 9:30-10:21 

We’re now more than halfway through the book of Romans. This is our twenty-first message in this series that we’re calling, “All Roads Lead to Romans.”

And last week, we saw Paul take his letter in some very surprising directions. Very surprising directions!  Paul went from exultant joy that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord to great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart.

Do you remember that?

Paul dove from the highest of heights to some pretty low depths between chapter 8 and chapter 9.

Do you remember why Paul is so troubled? So tortured?

It’s because of what we called last week, “The Problem of Israel.”

Paul looks around him and sees very few Jewish followers of Jesus Christ.

He sees followers of Christ, yes, but they are now many and mostly Gentiles, non-Jews.

Where are all the Jews?

Paul loves his ethnic kinsmen, and so he’s anguished that there are so few of them who believe in Jesus the Messiah.

And we saw that it’s more than that.

Paul is deeply concerned that his readers (and for that matter us today) will be shaken in their faith because of the problem of Israel.

Because his readers might think that the word of God has failed.

Has the word of God failed?

You might think so when you realize all of what the Israelites were given, all of their great privileges and tremendous blessings and yet so few are saved.

Has the word of God failed?

That’s the question that Paul is answering in these three chapters: 9, 10, and 11.

Because if the word of God has failed Israel, then it might fail us.

And all of the promises we’ve learned in Romans 8 might not make it all the way to us. And what a tragedy that would be!

Has the word of God failed?

The short answer is, “No,” but the way that Paul gets to that answer takes some surprising turns.

The first answer that we saw Paul offer last week is that it was never God’s plan to save every Israelite in the first place.

The first answer was the doctrine of election, God’s sovereign choices of whom He would have mercy on and whom He would harden.

And we won’t rehash all of that this morning except to say that the word of God has not failed because the word of God never said that every single Israelite was chosen for salvation. Not all Israel is Israel.

And, in fact, God has chosen more than just Israel to be saved.

God has also chosen many Gentiles. Many Gentiles like you and I are also objects of God’s mercy.

God has done another surprising thing. He has chosen many Gentiles to be saved.

That’s how Paul sums up where we are at in verse 30 of chapter 9. He says, “Here’s where we are at.” v.30

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [there’s our big Romans word again], have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.”

That’s an unexpected turn of events!

The Gentiles, the pagans, the non-Jews who didn’t have all of the privileges of the Old Testament have surprisingly found their way into [dikaiosunay] righteousness.

But the Israelites who did have all of those privileges and pursued the Mosaic Law with zeal have not obtained righteousness.

Why? V.32

“Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’ As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

So, this is the second answer to the problem of Israel.

Has the word of God failed?

No, the people of Israel failed.

Israel stumbled.

It’s not a failure of the word of God. If anything, the word of God predicted that this would happen.

It’s the failure of the Israelites. They stumbled.

Paul says that “they stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’”

Who or what is that?  It’s Jesus the Christ. V.33 again.

“As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

Where is that found? It’s two verses, actually. One is Isaiah 28, verse 16 and the other is Isaiah 8, verse 14. That Isaiah 8 passage is one that we just studied together right before Christmas when learned about Immanuel, remember?

God has laid in Zion (Jerusalem) a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, BUT if you don’t stumble over it and trust in Him, in that rock, then you will never be put to shame.

That’s Jesus.

Israel stumbled over Jesus.

Now, that stumbling was on purpose. It wasn’t just a mistake.

We have a little stool in our kitchen, so that short people can reach things in the cupboards. It’s a little blue plastic thing, and I’m always stumbling over it.

You’d think I’d learn, but I never see it there and I’m always running into it.

This is not that kind of stumbling.

This is seeing that there is rock in the road but choosing to not believe in it.

It’s telling yourself that that rock can’t be real. If that rock is real, everything changes, and I don’t want everything to change, so it can’t be there.

And then running along and falling headlong over it.

“They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’”

That’s why there is this massive problem of Israel.

Let me try to put that stumbling into a short sentence.

Israel tried to establish their own righteousness through obedience to the Law and rejected their rightful Messiah’s righteousness that comes through faith.

That’s how they stumbled.

Did you see it in verses 31-32?

“Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness [not just righteousness but a law-righteousness], has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.”

Salvation has always been by faith, but Israel had acted as if it were by works.

And what has been the message of this book all along?

Romans 3:28? “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

And that’s where Israel went wrong.

Israel stumbled.

It’s their fault they are where they are.

Now, some of you will be wondering how this fits together with what we learned last week. Last week, we saw that this was God’s choice.

Now, Paul is saying that it’s on them.

Human responsibility.

Their sinful, unbelieving choices.

Which is it?

The answer is, “Yes.”

There is no conflict in Paul’s mind between God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility. We don’t understand how that works, but it doesn’t bother Paul in the slightest. It doesn’t bother any of the biblical writers in the slightest.

And they don’t try to answer all of our questions about this mystery. They just hold the two things up as true and believe them both.

The great Baptist preacher of the 19th century Charles Spurgeon was asked how he reconciled God’s sovereignty and our responsibility, and he said that he never tried to reconcile them because you don’t have to reconcile friends.

It’s a mystery, but they are both true.

The second answer to the problem of Israel is that Israel stumbled.

And that fact tears Paul’s heart out. Chapter 10, verse 1.

“Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”

So many are not. The focus of Paul’s heart and the focus of Paul’s prayers were for his brother Jews to believe in Jesus.

And notice again that there is no contradiction between God making His sovereign choices in salvation and our prayers for someone’s salvation. The two go hand in hand. I don’t completely understand how but there they are right next to each other in Romans.

Paul prays and prays and prays that his kinsmen would be saved.

Do you know that this the only place in the New Testament that records a prayer for someone to be saved?  A prayer for someone’s salvation?

Most of the prayers about evangelism in the New Testament are prayers that Christians would be bold share the gospel. Surprisingly, there aren’t many that say that we should pray for others’ salvation.

But this one does. And it’s very good thing to do.

Wally Kephart has an idea for a new prayer meeting for Lanse Free Church.

I’m sure he’ll be telling others about it soon. But he wants to establish a monthly prayer meeting just for praying for outreach.

He wants to meet once a month for one hour and pray for the lost and for our ministries that are reaching out to the lost: the Ladies’ Tea, the Pittsburgh Ministry Trip, Family Bible Week, the Good News Cruise, and next year’s Wild Game Dinner.

I think that’s a great idea and an application of Romans 10:1.

I invite you to get involved in this new prayer initiative.

And I invite you to turn Romans 10:1 into your own prayer for people. Put someone you love who is not yet a believer in the place of “the Israelites” in verse 1.

Fill in the blank: “My heart's desire and prayer to God for [your loved one] is that they may be saved.”

Use this verse as a prayer pattern in your own prayer times.

Paul was praying for the Israelites. He wanted more for them than they wanted for themselves. He wanted Jesus for them. V.2

“For I can testify about them [the Israelites] that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge [right understanding]. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”  Stop there for a second.

Do you see how Paul is saying the same thing but in a different way?

Israel has stumbled.

They have zeal. They have passion towards God.

But they are ignorant about the way that righteousness really comes.

Now that ignorance is willful ignorance. It’s a choosing to be ignorant.

It’s seeing stone in the middle of the road and not believing in it.

“I don’t want righteousness that way. That’s not right! I won’t have it. I’m going to do it my way!”

Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”

They stumbled.

That’s the stumbling of self-righteousness. They wanted to establish their own righteousness.

That’s pride, plain and simple.

Self-righteousness, a do-it-yourself righteousness is pride, plain and simple.

And self-righteousness is ugly.

Don’t you just hate it when you encounter a self-righteous person?

The problem is that we often don’t recognize our own self-righteousness.

Our own attempts to justify ourselves.
To think better of ourselves and how good we are.

That’s a problem that religious people have.

That’s a problem that conservative people have.

It’s a problem that orthodox people have.

Self-righteousness is a problem that many professing Christians have.

I think it’s true that we are much more prone to being Pharisees than we think we are.

It’s easy to look down our noses at the Pharisees as we read the gospels. They are just pathetic and pitiful.

But I think that many good, upstanding, churchgoing people would be the Pharisees, if we had a chance.

When was the last time you recognized your own self-righteousness?

The last couple of weeks, I’ve caught myself smugly to myself, “I’m glad I’m not like that. I’m glad I’m not like them.”

Have you said that recently? Maybe not out loud?

I’m glad I’m not like those Muslims.
I’m glad I’m not like those Democrats or those Republicans, depending on your political persuasion.
I’m glad I’m not like those gays.
I’m glad I’m not like those hicks or those city-folk, depending on what you look down on.
I'm glad I'm not like those black people rioting in Missouri.
I'm glad I'm not like that guy who cut me off in traffic.
I’m glad I’m not like those stupid people I see on the Internet.

I’m glad I’m a good person.

In fact, we sometimes give God the credit but it’s still pride.

Remember that Pharisee in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18?

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified [righteous] before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

Israel had not and would not humble themselves, so they stumbled. But verse 4.

“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Christ is the end of the law, meaning it’s termination and it’s goal. The 2011 NIV translates it, “Christ is the culmination of the law.”

That is the law was always leading up to Christ and when Christ finally came, the Mosaic Law had reached its fulfillment. It’s no longer binding as the Law for Christians because what it was trying to do has been fulfilled.

And because Christ has now come, the Jews should stop trying to use the law to achieve righteousness. Misusing the law! Christ is the end of misusing the law for righteousness.

That way won’t work but the way of faith in Jesus will.

“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Everyone! Including you and me. V.5

“Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ [Sure. If you perfectly kept the law, you would be saved. But we learned already that nobody does that!] But the righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or 'Who will descend into the deep?'’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:”

Paul is saying through his creative use of Deuteronomy 30 that the stumbling gospel is spelled D-O.

Do.

Do these things, and you will live.

Be a good person and you will be saved.

Do, do, do.

But the gospel of grace is spelled: D-O-N-E.

Done.

Nobody needs to ascend to heaven to bring Christ down. Why?

God already did it for us.  We call it Christmas.

And nobody needs to descend in the deep to bring Christ back from the dead. Why?

God already did it for us. We call it Easter! Resurrection Sunday is next week.

You don’t have to do things. You need to believe.

‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: [v.9] That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

That’s going to be our text for next week’s sermon and our next “Hide the Word” verse to memorize together.

We’ve got 5 young people who are going to confess their faith in Jesus next week and take the step of water baptism.

And verse 11 says that they will never regret it.

“As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Everyone!

Because Jesus has DONE it for us.

Jesus paid it all on the Cross. And we get, when we believe in Him, His righteousness  reckoned to our account.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Have you called on the name of the Lord? V.14

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

Paul is pointing out how important it is to this gospel of grace, this gospel of DONE shared with others.

Because if we don’t share it, if we don’t have those beautiful feet that run with these words to the world, then how will they believe?

This is one of the strongest passages in the Bible on the importance of missions.

We need to be SENDING. Sending. V.15.

“And how can they preach unless they are sent?”

I love that we have a missions minded church that sends people to share gospel.

We need to honor those who take the gospel to the world. They have beautiful feet.

But Paul is bringing this up because the Israelites have heard the gospel yet haven’t accepted it. V.16

“But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. [They stumbled.] For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ [So few, so few.] Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. [The stumbling stone.] But I ask: Did they not hear? [Is the problem of Israel the fault of no preaching. Did they not heart? V.18] Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? [They don’t understand because they don’t want to understand.] First, Moses says, ‘I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.’ And Isaiah boldly says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’”

Israel stumbled.

That’s what happened.

It was a part of God’s plan, but it was their fault.

God has given the gospel to the Gentiles. Those who did not ask for him.

And He has offered the gospel to Israel, but they have refused Him over and over and over. “A disobedient and obstinate people.”

They should have chosen Christ, but they rejected Him.

Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember how Jesus triumphantly rode into Israel on a donkey.

On that day, it looked like Israel was receiving their Messiah.

But by Good Friday, we see that they, in the main, certainly did not.

God held out His gracious hands to them in the Messiah, and they said, “No thanks.”

And Jesus was crucified.

“They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’”

Four quick points of application before we go to the Lord’s Table together.

#1. DON’T WORRY.

Where do I get that?

Don’t worry because the word of God has not failed.

Remember the problem of Israel? Paul is concerned that we will worry that God’s word has failed because so few Israelites are saved.

But he’s answering that. Not only is all a part of God’s plan, but it’s Israel’s own fault for rejecting her Messiah and trying to establish their own righteousness.

It’s not the fault of God’s word. So you can trust that all of those promises we’ve learned about will be true for you if you believe.

Don’t worry.

God’s got this.

#2. DON’T BE SELF-RIGHTEOUS.

Don’t got it on your own.

Don’t try to impress God with your goodness, with your good deeds.

And don’t get all prideful when you are good.

Humble yourself or God will humble you.

Repent of saying, “I’m glad I’m not like them.”

Because that’s actually stumbling over Jesus.

#3. TRUST IN CHRIST ALONE.

The gospel is spelled D-O-N-E.

Jesus has done it all.

Don’t trust in your own works, your own keeping of the law, even your own law.

Trust in Jesus and what He did for you on the Cross.

That’s where the gift of righteousness comes from.

Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone.

Believe.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

#4. PRAY FOR AND TELL OTHERS ABOUT JESUS.

Fill in the blank of 10:1 with your loved-ones names and don’t stop praying for them.

And get some beautiful feet.

Faith comes from hearing the gospel message, so we need to tell people about Christ.

They don’t get saved unless they hear.

You can’t be responsible for whether or not someone else stumbles like Israel did.

But you can tell them about the stone that God has laid in Zion and that anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.


***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: #ReformingSocialMedia


#ReformingSocialMedia
#ReformingSocialMedia by Mandy J. Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



A good primer for digital newbies and also a heart-check for using social media wisely.

Hoffman has clearly invested time in thinking through many of the issues and brings pertinent biblical principles to bear with concise, fluffless prose. She is neither alarmist nor dismissive of the inherit digital dangers and offers very practical strategies for glorifying God while being social online. Good counsel. I've already thought of several people to whom I will recommend "the book with the hashtag in the title."



View all my reviews

Red Rose of Lancaster (#3)

Yet another view of this flower (#1 and #2)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Beautifully written and really depressing.

Gawande movingly explores how Western culture has made end-of-life about medicine, safety, and quantity of days instead of life, liberty, and quality of days. Full of stories (profound, humorous, and sometimes personal) and research (clearly a scientist and a scholar) and insights (I read things I never knew before but instantly accepted when he said them), I couldn't stop reading portions of this book out loud to anyone who would listen. The author is a true smith of words.

Gawande is short on answers--our problems in this area seem intractable, but he does show the outline of ways forward. Surprisingly, even though he is a surgeon and the child of two doctors, he doesn't believe medicine is the primary answer (and often is the problem).

It was sobering to think more clearly about my own frailty. As a Christian pastor, I am very aware of mortality and try to remind others of it to make preparations for the next life, but I don't often think about the painful lead-up to that inevitable death. It led me to make better and more informed plans for myself and my loved ones.

The author is respectful of religion (his family is Hindu) but doesn't seem to be a believer himself. I wonder what he would say differently if he was a Christian.

Highly recommended but not to be read in one big gulp--the suffering is to real and raw. Best to read in pieces and ponder as you go.



View all my reviews

A Recipe for Disaster

Image Courtesy of RGB

(See also Mandy J. Hoffman's comments about this verse and soberness in social media in #ReformingSocialMedia, pg. 47)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Taking Resisting Gossip Seriously

One of the most gratifying thing about being the author of Resisting Gossip is interacting with readers who are using it to study God’s word and grow in discipleship.

I recently had this email interaction with a Bible study leader whose group had been struggling with questions that the opening story of chapter seven (about a landlord who was hurt by the gossip spread by a supposedly Christian tenant) had raised.

It’s so encouraging to hear that people are taking these truths to heart.

***

Bible Study Leader:  Hi Matt,

One of the ladies in my Resisting Gossip group came to me yesterday. We are studying the chapter this week concerning when you are the target of gossip. She was significantly concerned about the fact that "William" did not confront "Nicholas" as a brother in Christ about what he was doing. She asked if you were saying that confrontation of the gossipers was not a valid step in the process when you are the target.

I told her that I doubted very much that that was what you were trying to communicate, but that your focus was on turning to God to help us deal with it. She asked if I could ask you about it. It genuinely disturbed her.  I think she felt that if William didn't confront, he was unnecessarily allowing himself to be more of a victim than he was, and that he was not allowing God the option of working conviction in Nicholas' heart.

Is there more to the story about this that you didn't share because of the focus you were aiming at?

Thanks for clearing this up!

Me:  Great question!

Please thank your classmate for caring so much about my friend "William!"

You are right that this chapter is about trusting God with our reputations. The next chapter is about loving our enemies–one of the valid biblical strategies there is confronting. You'll probably get to it in your next class time. Hopefully that will help her.

So, what I was emphasizing here was how William tried to control his reputation but couldn't and needed to trust God with it.

I'm not sure if in real life William did confront "Nicholas" about that part of their conflict. He definitely confronted him on other parts of their broken relationship and the gossip would have been fair game. But even if he had, William would need to continue to trust God with all of the places where the lies had been spread.

Does that help?

Bible Study Leader:   Sure does. I've read the book, but am working through it again chapter by chapter and had forgotten that. I will share your answer with her and set her heart at ease.

Me: Great!

I do mention William again in the next chapter briefly, but I don't bring up his story to say that he should have or could have confronted. That would have been a good way of tying the two chapters together.

I love that people are reading this and thinking deeply about living as Christian in these situations.  It's a joy to be used in this way. Please thank your friend for me for reading it and interacting with it so thoroughly.

Bible Study Leader:  All of the women in my group are.  They have even committed to holding each other accountable in this area. I've been so excited to see how seriously they are taking it. I also have 3 others, in addition to the 11 in the group, who are reading it one their own and interacting with it at a deep level. It has been one of the most applied studies that I've done in a while.

We recently lost one of our pastors – he was asked to resign. That usually leads to a lot of gossip and rumors. That was one of the main reasons I had wanted to do this book. I think it has helped put out a couple of little fires that could have spread among certain groups.

Me: So encouraging to hear these stories!



Sunday, March 22, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "The Word of God Has Not Failed."

“The Word of God Has Not Failed”
All Roads Lead to Romans
March 22, 2015 :: Romans 9:1-29 

I hope your hearts are still ringing with the glorious truth that we discovered together over the last two months in Romans chapter 8. Mine is.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.”

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I hope that you have basked in that glorious gospel truth all week long!

We slowed down our study of Romans in chapter eight to soak up all of that goodness. Because our hearts so desperately need it.

As we go forward, we’ll pick up the pace once more.

I promised not to be like some pastors who go into Romans, get lost, and never come out again!

So, today, we’ll do most of Romans 9. We’ll do verses 1-29.

And this passage, Romans 9:1-29, might contain several surprises for you. For many people, at least the first time they read it, they are surprised by what they find.

And the first surprise is the dramatic change in tone.

It goes from ecstatic joy to deep lament.  Ecstatic joy to deep lament.

It’s like Paul takes a great big breath at the end of the exultation of chapter 8 and then wrinkles up his face to tell us about his anguish.

You see, Paul is troubled by something, tortured by something. He’s got a big problem. He’s got what he calls “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart.”

And that’s a surprise because he just came off of delivering to us those awesome promises of our never being separated from the love of God.

Whatever is bothering him must be big enough to almost threaten even those massively secure promises.

In fact, it is big enough to take Paul three chapters to fully answer it.

It’s what we might call “The Problem of Israel.”

I almost titled this message, “The Problem of Israel.” I didn’t. You’ll have to wait a minute before I tell you what the title of this message ended up being.

But I almost titled it “The Problem of Israel” because that’s what chapters 9 through 11 are all about. The problem of Israel is the theme of Romans 9, 10, and 11. So we’ll be studying it for a few weeks together.

***

Have you ever worried that all this Christianity stuff was not real?

Have you ever worried that all of these promises that we just heard about in chapter 8 is basically just wishful thinking?

Or that it doesn’t apply to you?

Last week, I asked you to fill in the blank of verse 39 of chapter 8 for what is your “nothing else in all creation.”

What do you sometimes worry will separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

What do you worry might happen to keep you from experiencing all of what we just got done learning about the last two months?

Here’s what Paul thinks might worry us:

Paul thinks we might be worried that the word of God has failed.

And if it has failed before, then we could rightfully worry that it might fail again.

That’s what I mean by the problem of Israel.

Let’s see what Paul says, chapter 9, verse 1.

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Stop there.

Do you feel the change of tone? From “nothing can separate us” to “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”

Do you see how intent Paul is on verifying his honesty about these feelings?

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.”

This is legit. This is how he feels.

It’s possible that because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles that some people thought that he didn’t really care about his own ethnic people. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

He cares so much that he could (if possible) wish to be cursed and cut off from Christ if it would somehow help his own Jewish race to know Christ!

Do you feel that?

What’s the problem? The problem is that Israel appears to be cursed and cut off from Christ.

As Paul looks around, he see so many Gentile Christians and so relatively few Jewish ones.

And it’s same today, isn’t it?  When you look around, do you see millions of Jewish Christians? There are Messianic Jews for Jesus, but they are relatively few and far between.

And that bothers Paul. It bothers him because he loves his Jewish brothers.

But it also bothers him because it might lead his Christian readers to think that God’s word had failed.

So many Jews lost!

And these Jews had so many privileges. So many blessings. Do you remember how Paul has brought this up already in the book? In chapter 3 verses 1 through 8, Paul started down this train of thought, and I said back then that we’d be finding him pick it back up when we got here.

Israel was so privileged and blessed. That’s the point of verses 4 and 5.

“Theirs [Israel’s] is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

They had all of that. All of what we’ve learned as we’ve studied the Old Testament together.

Those are amazing privileges. Just take a few of them. The covenants. Like the Abrahamic Covenant. That was given to Israel. And the Law. We’ve seen that the Law is good gift. It’s been misused, but it was good. And Jesus Himself came as a Jew. And He is God to be worshiped!

Israel had all of that, but look around!  Why are there are so few Jewish believers?

Has all of that stuff in verses 4 and 5 come to nothing?

Has the word of God failed?

That’s the problem of Israel.

And Paul is going to give several answers to that problem over chapters 9, 10, and 11.

He’s going to give several interesting, perspective-gaining answers to the problem of Israel over chapters 9, 10, and 11. Today, we’re only going to get through one of them.

But the basic gist of his fundamental answer is in the next sentence in verse 6.

“It is not as though God's word had failed.”

That’s our title for today: “The Word of God Has Not Failed.”

Don’t worry.

God’s word has not failed and therefore will not fail.

That’s what Paul is striving to teach.

In many ways, it’s just an extension of chapter 8.

Chapter 8 was full of those glorious promises that were as certain as anything in all creation.

But what about God? Was He certain?

What about His promises? Could they be trusted?

If Israel wasn’t experiencing the salvation and blessings that God had promised, then did God’s word fall to the ground?

Maybe God can’t keep His promises!
Maybe He’s not strong enough.
Or maybe He’s not good enough to do it.
Maybe he offers promises that He doesn’t intend to keep.

No.

V.6  “It is not as though God’s word had failed.”

You can go home now. That’s the message in a nutshell. Really for the next several messages on Romans. More assurances. “It is not as though God’s word had failed.”

And if you’ve never had the worries that God’s word might fail, then this information may not do very much for you.

But if you’ve ever laid awake at night worried about this whole Christianity thing like I have, then lean in and listen closely because Paul is going to argue that the word of God has not failed for Israel and because of that, you can trust that it will never fail for you.

Sound good?

Now, here comes the second big surprise.

The first answer that Paul gives to the problem of Israel is that it was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

God had a different plan based on different choices that He had made.

Paul goes firstly to the doctrine of election. The doctrine of God’s choice.

Now, you and I would probably not start there.

I know that I would start with how Israel had failed to believe God’s promises and that’s why they seem to be accursed and cut off.

Israel wasn’t cooperating with God. Israel didn’t have faith. Israel rejected the Messiah, so that’s they’re in such a mess.

And Paul is going to go there. He’s going to go there next week in the last few verses of Romans 9 and a good bit of Romans 10 and 11.

Paul doesn’t let Israel off of the hook, at all, in the slightest.

But that’s not where Paul starts. Paul starts with the choices of God. The doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is the first answer to the problem of Israel.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place. V.6

“It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Now, that’s confusing. Not all Israel is Israel.

I think what he means is that not everyone who is physically Jewish is spiritually Jewish. Not everyone who is of the Jewish race is spiritually an heir of the promises. We saw this idea before in chapter 2.

Not all Israel is Israel.

He starts illustrating this with Father Abraham. V.7

“Nor because they are his descendants [physically] are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’”

Do you remember all of this from our study of Genesis?  I know it’s been awhile. I preached through Genesis in 2003.

God promised Abraham some things. Do you remember the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Offspring, Land, and Blessing.

How many sons did Abraham have?

Two. Ishmael and Isaac.

Did they both inherit the promises?

No, which one did?  Isaac.  V.7, “It is through Isaac [not Ishmael] that your offspring will be reckoned.”

It was never God’s plan to save all of Abraham’s descendants in the first place.

Now, you could point out that Ishmael had a different mom than Isaac.

So, Paul moves to the next generation. V.10

“Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. [And therefore the same mom, they’re twins.] Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Now, there’s a lot there, but the bottom line is pretty clear.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Isaac’s descendants in the first place either.

God chose the younger to eventually get the blessings and carry them on.

And it wasn’t because of anything they had done, good or bad.

Paul wants to make that clear.

God has a purpose in election, in His choosing, that brings Him the most glory in salvation, namely that we can’t claim credit for it.

“Not by works but by him who calls.”

I think that means that we don’t get to boast about our works and how they saved us. God didn’t chose us because we were so good.

Our salvation is based on God’s gracious call not our good works.

Now, has Paul surprised you? Where he’s gone with this?

Do you have any questions for him?

I’ll bet you do. And so do I.

Paul has argued that the word of God has not failed because the word of God never promised that everyone who calls themselves Israel, even everyone who is descended from Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob will be saved.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

He chose some, and He rejected others.

But that raises questions and even objections. V.14

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!”

Do you feel that one?

“Is God unjust?” The word there is “adikia,” another word that could be translated unrighteous.

Is God unrighteous? Is He doing something wrong?

And Paul answers with his favorite little phrase, “May genoita.”

“Not at all!” “God forbid!” “May it never be!” “By no means!” “Of course not!”

And he dips into the book of Exodus to prove his point. V.15

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Was that another surprise?

Our minds don’t tend to go there, but Paul’s does. The Holy Spirit’s mind does, and He led Paul to Exodus 33:19 to defend the righteousness of God.

Do you remember Exodus 33 when Moses asks to see the glory of God?

“Show me your glory!”

And God says you can’t see that! But you can see the after effects of the tail end of my passing my glory before you.

He says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

It’s like the definition of God.

God is sovereign.
God is free.
God gets to choose.
God decides who His people will be.
God decides on whom He will place His mercy.  V.16

“It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort (on us), but on God's mercy.”

And the opposite is true, as well. Paul drops back in the story to Pharoah. God told Pharoah that he had raised him up to lead Egypt and also hardened his heart to be disobedient to God’s command–for God’s own purposes.

Pharoah did not receive mercy.

Because God is God. V.18

“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

This is the word of the Lord.

V.19 “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’”

Stop there.

How would you answer that? From what you know about God.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

Theologians throughout church history have tried to put together how God’s sovereignty over our salvation can be reconciled with our responsibility as humans.

Both things are taught in Scripture. Both things are true. How do they fit together?

In January, I attended the EFCA Theology Conference held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.

And we had a whole afternoon of presentations on this question from three different Trinity professors who all believe in our EFCA Statement of Faith but have three very different answers to how these things fit together.

There are those who follow Augustine and then Calvin who emphasize God’s absolute sovereignty over all things especially our salvation. Modern proponents of this approach would include John Piper, Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, and D.A. Carson (the presenter from this perspective at the conference).. Their’s is the approach that makes the most sense to me.

Then there are those who follow Arminius and then John Wesley after him who emphasize our human responsibility for our owns sinful choices and our responsibility to exercise faith. They believe that God’s choices in salvation are predicated on God’s foreknowing the decisions to believe or not believe that people will choose in the future. Or in the case of Molinists, the free choices that people might make in any possible world.  Modern proponents of this approach would include Roger Olson, Grant Osborne (one of my professors from Trinity), and Jim Cymbala. And I’m sure many of you here. The one who took that position at the conference was a Trinity prof called Tom McCall who I got to meet and appreciate while there.

And the third approach was a Lutheran approach, named after Martin Luther. It came at it from a very different perspective. I wasn’t as familiar with that approach before this conference. It emphasized mystery. How this whole thing is mysterious and almost contradictory or paradoxical. The Trinity professor with that view was called David Luy.

I tell you all of that to say that this is a complex area of doctrine that has no easy answers and various approaches to putting it all together are acceptable within the EFCA because they all have a lot of biblical basis.

For instance, there are a lot of passages that teach that God wills for all to be saved. How do those passages fit with Romans 9?

Well, I have my answer for that which I’ll share with you if you ask [I think the most helpful way forward is this perspective from John Piper], but it might not be satisfying for you. And your answer may not be satisfying for me.

We’re in the deep end of the pool here, and we need to show humility and love towards each other as we grope towards the truth.

I will say this, however. Whatever your answer is to these deep theological questions, make sure that it explains Romans 9 and doesn’t disagree with it.

Because what Paul is saying here is that it is God’s right as God to choose.

Read verse 19 again and see what the objection was. V.19

“One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’”

Here’s Paul’s answer to that. V.20

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'’”

Paul says, “Be careful. Be very careful. You’re talking to God here.

Who do you think you are to question God’s choices?

Are you the authority over God?

Notice, that he doesn’t say, “Oh no, God doesn’t blame you. He made a choice and it’s on Him.”

And he also doesn’t say, “Oh no, you can and often do resist His ultimate will for you.”

No, he just says, “Don’t talk back to God.”

God has the authority. God has all of the rights here. God is God.

Is that hard to swallow? I think it can be hard to swallow because of our pride.

But God has the rights. V.21

“Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? [Yes.] What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–  prepared for destruction? [Like Pharaoh.] What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

And there’s the next surprise!

God is showing grace to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. And many Gentiles.

Even Gentiles in central Pennsylvania!

Paul’s point is that God has the right to choose some for wrath and some mercy.

Correct? He has that right?

And perhaps He has done it this way to show in stark relief just how gloriously good He is to those whom He has shown mercy.

“The riches of his glory [made] known to the objects of his mercy...even US.”

Mercy shines brightest against the backdrop of justice.

God has the right to narrow whom He chooses, “Not all Israel is Israel” and to expand whom He choose, “also from the Gentiles.” Verse 25.

“As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one,’ and, ‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'’”

Remember when we went through Hosea together? That was 2006, I think.

Paul applies that teaching from Hosea to Gentiles.

Those who were not God’s people have become God’s people.

People like you and me.

Grace and mercy poured out on us.

And also on the Jews. Right now, just a small number, a remnant. V.27

“Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.’ It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.’”

It’s God’s grace that any of them are saved, as well.

We’ll learn more about the remnant theology when we get to chapter 11.

The point of this is mercy.

It’s all about God’s mercy that any of us are saved.

It’s about God’s amazing grace.

What was stunning to Paul was not what is stunning to us.

We are stunned that God wouldn’t plan for everyone everyone to be saved.

Because, I think, deep down we think that everyone deserves it. Including ourselves.

But Paul was stunned that God showed mercy to sinners.

Because we certainly don’t deserve it.

It’s all because of God that we saved.

Now, I’m sure that this sermon has raised more questions for most of you than any sermon I’ve ever preached here at Lanse Free Church.

I have to say that I’ve studied longer and harder for this sermon than most of the sermons in the last 17 years.

Because it’s just not the way that we tend to think.

It’s so full of surprises and different perspectives. Divine perspectives.

So, if you have questions, bring them to me. I’ll be glad to do my best to answer them.

But let me share with you 3 points of application that I think flow naturally from this text. And they all start with a “W.”

#1. WORRY NOT.

Why?

Because the Word of God has not failed.

Remember, that’s the point of this section.

We can get all caught up in confusion over the doctrine of election and forget that the whole big point that Paul is making is that God’s Word has not failed.

God has not failed Israel. He hasn’t made any promises that He is not intending to keep.

And if God has not failed Israel, then He will not fail you.

This whole Christianity thing will hold up.

So trust God.

Trust Jesus. He’s the Sacrificial Savior. He’s the Messiah. He’s God to be praised (v.5). Put your hope in Him.

Everything we learned last month about our forgiveness and adoption and future and the love of God in Christ Jesus is TRUE.

So worry not.

Don’t fret about anything, especially the future because it’s in the bag.

God’s got it all taken care of for His children.

Don’t worry.

#2. WORSHIP!

This passage reminds us that God is God.

That God is righteous. He is not unjust. He is holy.

This passage reminds us that God is sovereign. He is free. He has all of the rights.

We need to not just be careful how we talk to Him or object to Him, but to open our hearts in amazement at how gloriously powerful and autonomous and supreme He is!

God is God!

We don’t limit Him. We worship Him.

#3. WONDER!

Wonder at the mercy that He has shown you.

There is no human reason for your salvation.

It’s not because of anything you did good or bad.

It’s not because of your willing or running, your desire or effort.

It’s because of God.

If you’re saved, it’s because of God.

It’s because God has been merciful to you.

If you have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, then stand amazed at the grace of God.

Be stunned that you are included in Christ!

Where Israel failed with all of their privileges, you have been given their promises!

You have received amazing grace.

Be amazed by grace.

Wonder at the riches of God’s glory made known to the objects of His mercy whom He prepared in advance for glory–even us.


***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Who?"

“Who?”
All Roads Lead to Romans
March 15, 2015 :: Romans 8:33-39 

Romans eight has been so full of glorious gospel truth that it was important for us to slow down and savor each step.

Starting with verse 1. Say it again with me–“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

No condemnation. Has that truth sunk into you yet?  We’re going to return to it today because Paul does in verse 34.

Then Paul went on in Romans 8 to talk about the role of the Spirit who is living inside of us who brings us life and peace and the ability to kill sin and to know that we are the children of God and have help in our prayers. The Spirit of Sonship.

And then it got even better! Paul began to tell us just how good the good news is. Because we are joined to Christ, everything–even the bad things–are being worked to our ultimate good and God’s ultimate glory.

We know this.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And then last week, we saw Paul begin to sum up his argument by saying that because God is for us then nothing will ever beat us and everything will be given to us. He said:

“What, then, shall we say in response to [all of] this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

All things! Everything is ours because of Jesus.

And today, we finish off the chapter, and it doesn’t slow down in the slightest. It gets bigger and better and more glorious and more good.  And it soars. And it sings!

This is a very familiar passage and is so comforting to every believing heart.

In verses 33-39, Paul asks some more key questions to make his points.

And all three questions begin with the same little word which we’ll make the title of today’s message. The word, “Who?”

W-H-O.

He used it in verse 31 and now Paul asks three “who” questions rapid-fire. Verse 33, verse 34, and verse 35.

And the answer he gives and then elaborates on is the same for all three questions.

The answer is “No one.”

That could have been the title for today’s message, as well. “No one.” “Nobody.”

“Nobody” is the answer to all three of these key questions, and that’s such good news for you and me today.

I’d like to take the first two of Paul’s Who questions together because I think they work together to make the same point.

I’ll summarize it like this in point #1 of 2.

#1. WHO WILL SUCCEED IN CONDEMNING US?

And what’s the answer, “Nobody!” That’s right. Let’s see how Paul says it as we pick him up in verse 33.

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”

Do you hear it?

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?”

Well, lot’s of people, right?

Just like last week we saw that many people and things can be against us but not successfully against us.

Lots of people can bring a charge against us. Can lay a charge at our feet.

Satan certainly does, right? Satan loves to levy charges at believers.

Satan loves to bring accusations.

And they are often true.

Very often Satan says, “You are a wretched sinner. You did this, and you did this, and you did this, and you did that.”

And he’s right.

And when Satan isn’t doing the charging, I’m happy to do it for him. It easy to fall into self-recrimination.

And the world wants into the act, as well.

The entire world of social media loves to bring shame on those that it considers shameworthy.

Spend a little time on social media and you will see people laying a charge.

And often a deserved one.

But the answer is still “Nobody.”

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?”

Nobody.

That is, to those people whom God has chosen, to God’s children, to faith-followers of Jesus Christ, no charge will stick. No charge will carry the day in the highest court.

Why? Last sentence in verse 33. “It is God who justifies.”

Now, I’m often tempted to pass over these two verses quickly and get right to the inseparable love of God. Because that’s the good stuff.

And it is really good stuff.  But this is the step we need to take to get to that love.

Justification.

That’s been our big word throughout Romans, hasn’t it?

The Greek word here is “Dikaoan.” The one who justifies. It’s related to that word “righteousness” that we saw Paul using again and again in chapters 1 through 4. “Dikaiousunai.”

Paul is saying, “It is God who declares us righteous.”

That’s why no charge will stick! Even the true ones. Because the ultimate judge has ruled in our favor.

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”

The verdict is not guilty.

How can this be? Why are the charged dropped? Why is there no evidence to convict?

Why are we not condemned? V.34

“Who is he that condemns?”  What’s the answer to that?  “Nobody,” right?

The one who could bring condemnation has brought salvation instead. V.34

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–  is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Who will succeed in condemning us? Nobody. No one. No how.

Why?  Because “Therefore there is not no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

You see how Paul is bringing the chapter together?

Our condemnation landed on Jesus at the Cross. “Christ Jesus, who died.”

He died for our condemnation.

That’s what we will be remembering on Good Friday.

But Paul says it was more than that. He was raised to life. That first Resurrection Sunday!

And because He’s alive, He can intercede for us. He stands between the wrath of God and us forever pleading the merits of His blood.

So we sing:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me

God the Risen Son is interceding for us with God the Just Father.

So nobody, nowhere, no how can bring a charge that will succeed in condemning us.

Amen?

And it’s because of that forensic fact. Because of that verdict of “no condemnation” from the ultimate Judge, that we experience the unstoppable inseparable love of God in Christ Jesus. V.35

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

What’s the answer to that one?

“Nobody!”

Come and try. You will fail.

#2. WHO WILL SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST?

Paul gives seven possibilities. V.35

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

Now, that’s a sobering verse.

Because those are live options for Christians.
Those are all possibilities.
Those are all normal for Christ-followers in this broken world.

He’s not listing them because they are far out there or something that Christians never experience.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Well, it’s not like Christians ever have trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or extreme poverty or danger or death?

Do they?

I thought that Christians lived the #blessed life?  Right?

No, suffering is normal for Christians and has been for a very long time.

Anyone who tells you something different is selling you something.

That’s why Paul quotes the Old Testament here. Psalm 444, verse 22. Our verse 36.

“As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”

Followers of God face death. They face persecution. Our chief leader was a sacrificial lamb, why wouldn’t we expect to be killed like a sheep, as well?

The point Paul is making is not that true believers escape all of that suffering but that all of that suffering does not and cannot separate them from the love of Christ.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Shall trouble [No!] or hardship [No!] or persecution [No!] or famine [No!] or nakedness [No!] or danger [No!] or sword? [No!]”

Those things may well come, but they won’t take us away from the love of Christ.

Verse 37.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Precious. “In all these things.” There’s that “all things” again! In all of this list, we are more than conquerors. Or super-conquerors. It’s the word for conqueror or victor with an intensifier on it. Mega-victors. More than conquerors.

That doesn’t meant that we will be rescued from the sword.

It means that the sword, even if they take off our heads, will not separate us from Jesus and His love.

I think this is important to get into our heads as Christians, especially in America.

We have lived so long with a positive status in this nation. A “Most favored religion” status. Because of the rich Christian heritage that our country has enjoyed.

So we are taken by surprise when we find out that the world hates us.

And there are plenty of preachers out there who will tell you that God wants you healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.

So if you are suffering. If then you must not have enough faith. Or you must have done something to bring it on. Or you must be out of the will of God.

But the Bible says that followers of Jesus should expect to experience suffering. Sometimes massive suffering.

And not whine about it.

But also to not worry about it.

Because it can’t take us away from the love of Christ.

What could?

What could take us away from the love of Christ?

Being condemned to Hell could do it.

But all those whom God has chosen will be those who are glorified, right?

We saw that back in verses 29 and 30. The Golden Chain?

Those who belong to God through faith in Christ Jesus have been justified.

So now, there is no force on earth that can take away God’s love for us. V.38

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Amen?

Let’s pick that apart. Verse 38.

“For I am convinced.”

This is settled for Paul. Is it settled for you?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life” can do this separation.

If you kill me, I go to be with Christ.
If I live, I live with Christ.

Do you see how this works?

I am convinced that “neither angels nor demons” can do this separation.

Angels wouldn’t want to and demons are powerless to effect it.

If you belong to Christ then a demon can’t take you away from Christ.

Think about that.

The most powerful demon earth cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I am convinced that “neither the present nor the future” can do this separating.

There is nothing happening right now or nothing that could happen in the future to separate me from God’s love.

Do you believe that? Do you feel that?

This is supposed to get right down into the core of our beings and become our operating system.

Neither the present nor the future, “nor any powers.” I’m not sure what he means exactly or why there is no word paired with it like all of the others. Maybe he’s just putting an exclamation mark in there. There is no power! No power can separate us from God’s love.

“Neither height nor depth.” No dimension, no spatial quality. Go as far in any direction as you might. Get kidnapped and taken to the far end of the universe, and you will not separate me from God’s love.

And just in case Paul missed anything. V.39

“...nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Go ahead and fill in the blank with your worry.

What have you worried at times would separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Depression?
Some sin in your background?
Something you worry that you didn’t do right?
Some powerful person?
Cancer?
Fill in the blank there with verse 39.

“nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Who?

Nobody.

Absolutely nobody.

The only person who could is God Himself and God is the one who has chosen you and sent His Son to died for you, and raised His Son from the dead for you, and loves the intercession of His Risen Son for you, and who justified you and has promised to see you through.

Nobody else can stop God from loving you!

Do you remember the first message in this series?

You might not, it was 19 sermons ago back in September.

But one of the applications of that first message was to remind yourself that you are the beloved of God.

I am loved by God.

I told you to write that on bathroom mirror.

“I am loved by God.”

And nothing can stop my being loved by God.

Three points of application as we close.

#1. Be Convinced.

Paul was convinced (v.38), but we need to be convinced, as well.

For some of us, that includes getting saved in the first place.

Putting our faith and trust in Jesus and Jesus alone.

That’s where it all starts.

You can’t be sure that you are inseparably connected to the love of God if you are not (v.39) “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s where the love is.

Some people think that God loves everybody all the same and that everybody is okay because God loves the world.

But God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son so that whoever believes in HIM will not perish but have everlasting life.

It starts with faith in Christ.

But if you have faith in Christ, then get this settled in your mind and heart.

“Nothing can separate me from God’s love.”
“Nothing can separate me from God’s love.”
“Nothing can separate me from God’s love.”

No matter how bad life gets.

“Nothing can separate me from God’s love.”

Be convinced. Let this soak into your heart so that it becomes your operating system.

Be convinced.

#2. Be Comforted.

Isn’t this amazing truth?

Nobody can succeed in condemning us.
Nobody can succeed in separating us.

That should be massively comforting.

You’re going to suffer. If you haven’t yet, get ready, because it’s coming.

But it’s nothing compared to having the love of Jesus.

If you have that, you have everything.

Be comforted.

And #3. Be Conquerors.

And by that, I mean rise above the bad things that are coming your way.

Believing that they cannot ultimately harm you, that they are in fact being worked to your ultimate good, and will one day be given to you as a gift of God’s grace, means that nothing can shake you, nothing should be able to stop you from doing what God has called you to do.

Nothing can keep you from taking risks for God’s kingdom and loving others with abandon.

Because nothing can stop you now. You are invincibly connected to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can even taunt the world, the flesh, and the devil, because they cannot beat you.

You can taunt trouble, hardship, persecution, nakedness, danger, and sword!

Because “all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Let’s live like it.


***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Iris


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Zip It (If You Know What's Good For You)

"When words are many, sin is not absent,
       but he who holds his tongue is wise."

                  - Proverbs 10:19

Sunday, March 08, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "For Us"

“For Us”
All Roads Lead to Romans
March 8, 2015 :: Romans 8:31-32 

As I’ve been saying for the last several weeks, every single sentence towards the end of Romans chapter 8 could easily become its own sermon. It’s just that good.

Romans 8 is often called “The Great Eight” because of the awesomely incredible truth and nearly unbelievable promises that it contains.

Last week, we read the amazing promise of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God is in the process of working all things to our ultimate good!

For those who love God and have been unstoppably summoned to Him.

God is in the process of working all things to our ultimate good!

Isn’t that wonderful?  I just can’t say how wonderful that is.

I don’t feel like I have adequate words to express it.

And that’s exactly how the rest of this chapter feels. Every step gets even greater with more exalted language and unblushing audacious promises that are unstoppable and sure.

I said to Tim Beck yesterday, “I just don’t have words.”

I just don’t have words for how awesome these promises are.

But we’ll do our best.

Today, I just want to make it through two more verses. I hope, next week, to finish the rest of the chapter in one fell swoop, but today, just verses 31 and 32.

Verse 32 is my absolute favorite in the whole book.

In this last section, verses 31-39, the apostle Paul begins to use some key questions to make his points.

Paul asks three questions in our passage for today (two of them rhetorical where the answer is bound up in the question itself) and then 3 or 4 questions in the last part of the chapter.

Romans 8:31 and 32.

“ What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Do you see what I mean about these verses?

It doesn’t get much better than this!

The title of my message for today is, “For Us.”

Those two little words appear in both verses.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

And

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

For us.

Now, this passage is not ultimately about us. It’s about God.

But amazingly in these two verses, we find that God is for us. And God has given His son for us.

So those two little words are very important for the application of these verses to our lives today.

In verse 31, Paul begins to sum up his argument. He says (v.31), “What then, shall we say in response to this?”

Now, I think that he’s actually summing up chapters 1 through 8.

You can make the case, that he’s summing up chapter 8 or some part of chapter 8. Maybe 8:28-30 like last week’s message.

But I think that Paul is reaching all the way back to the beginning of his argument in chapter 1, verse 16 about how he’s not ashamed of the gospel and then flowing through his explanation and defense of the gospel of grace from chapters 1 through 8.

The bad news about sin and the wrath to come.
The good news about justification by faith and all of the blessings that come with it.
The answers to objections to the doctrine of justification by faith like should we sin all the more and does this mean the law was bad. That sort of thing. And then ending with the teaching of chapter 8 that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

No condemnation because of the Son of God and because of the Spirit of God who brings us life and peace and sonship.

I think that Paul is summing up the first eight chapters of his letter of good news and is saying, “So what?”

“What, then, shall we say in response to this?”

What is the upshot?

What’s the bottom line?

What’s the implication of ALL of what we’ve learned so far?

And Paul sums it all up with these two little words, “For us.”

God is for us.

V.31 again.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us [and He is!], who can be against us?”

God is for us.

That’s an amazing thing to say.

Do you feel that?

Do you feel in your bones that God is for you?

Only Christians can say that.

The “us” in verse 31 is the same as the people in verse 28, those who love God and have been called according to His purposes.

The “us” in verse 31 is the same people as those who are traveling across the golden chain of verses 29 and 30.  Those who were foreknown (those whom God established  a relationship or love with before they even existed), those who were predestined to be made like Jesus in every important way, those who were called–summoned by the Spirit to believe the gospel, those who were justified by faith alone in the sacrifice of Christ alone, and those who are going to be glorified–re-made like Jesus with new hearts in new bodies forever. From God’s point of view, a done deal already. Remember, there are no dropouts!

That’s who the “us” is in verse 31.

You and me if we belong to Jesus.

God is for us.

Do you see why this is the upshot of the gospel presentation that Paul has presented?

When we learned the bad news that the wrath of God was coming, we learned that God was NOT FOR US.

He was against us, and rightly so. We were sinners who deserved the active opposition of God.

But the gospel has changed all of that!

God’s wrath has been satisfied by the propitiating sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for all who believe. All who believe! Jew or Gentile.

So that now God is for us.

And here’s the rhetorical question with a punch in it.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us [because of the gospel], who can be against us?”

What’s the answer to that?

No one and nothing.

Point #1 of two this morning.

Because God is for us:

#1. NOTHING WILL BEAT US.

I think that’s the point of the question, “Who can be against us?”

Because lots of things are against us.  The point is that nothing can be successfully against us.

Nothing can beat us even though it opposes us.

Because we have plenty of enemies. This is not teaching that Christians have no enemies.

It’s teaching that the enemies of Christians cannot beat the Christians.

Ultimately.

I say ultimately because of course Christian can lose in the short run.

Christians can lose their health, their prosperity, their status, their jobs, their relationships, their families, even their lives.

But they can’t lose anything really important.

In the end, they can’t lose.  We can’t lose.

Because God is for us.

This is ultimate reality. It’s not talking about what we normally see and feel.

We feel lots of things against us.

The new atheists are against us. ISIS is against us.

Satan is against us. The world system is against Christians.

Our own flesh is against us. We are often our own worst enemies.

But none of those foes will ultimately beat us.

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.

And if God is for us, nothing will beat us.

Is that helpful to you?  It sure is to me.

Because I often feel beaten. I often feel like I’m on the losing team.

It’s not obvious that our team is winning the battle of the world.

That’s why I need this verse.

It’s why we need eschatology. Why we need the book of Revelation. We need to be reminded of the end of the story. God wins! And because God wins, we win.

Nothing will beat us.

And that’s happening now.

Last week, my wife said that I talked a little too much about how God will work everything to our good and left out that God is working it all to our good right now.

And she’s right.

And that means that we are winning right now because we’re on the winning side.

It may not feel like it, and there might be terrible set backs. But all of those setbacks are all set ups our for comeback.

Because if God is for us, who can be against us?

Who can beat God?

Nobody and nothing. And because of Jesus, God is FOR US.

That’s where Paul goes next. He points out how deep this promise is grounded. V.32

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Notice that all things in verse 32 is the same all things as verse 28.

We’re talking about everything here. Every single thing.

Point #2 of two.

Because God gave His own son FOR US:

#2. EVERYTHING WILL BE GIVEN TO US.

Nothing will beat us and everything will be given to us.

I love Romans 8:32.

It has become one of, if not the, most precious verses in the whole Bible for me.

I preached it once before from this pulpit. It was April 25, 1999.

How many remember that sermon?

You might remember it because it was a week after our first daughter died.

I hadn’t been your pastor yet for a full year, and we were only 25 years old. Heather was six months pregnant with a bouncy little girl. She was really active. She loved to tumble around in her mommy’s belly. And when Heather was cooking at the stove, she would react to the heat off the burner.

She was our delight and we couldn’t wait to meet her.

And then she stopped moving.

We had traveled to Ohio for the Allegheny District Conference but Heather couldn’t feel the baby moving any more. Something was wrong.

So, we went to the emergency room in the pouring rain. Praying the whole way and reminding ourselves of Romans 8:32.

I had just read a chapter about Romans 8:32 in this book Future Grace by Pastor John Piper and it had captured my attention and carried me along as we got our very bad news.

We went to the ER for testing and the doctor told us that our baby had died in the womb.

It turned out to be a cord accident. Her umbilical cord had wrapped too tightly and oxygen had not gotten to her so that she died. Nothing that could have been prevented or fixed.

I have never cried as hard as I did in that emergency room. I can still taste the salt flowing down through my tears into my mouth, as I held Heather and wailed.

We drove all the way home the next day so that Heather’s doctor here could deliver our little girl at Centre Community Hospital in State College.

And we got to hold her, and see her face, and say goodbye. But she was already gone.

So far, that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

This isn’t a contest. Don’t try to compare with my story. Yours might be much more horrific or not. That’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying, what is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

Is it possible that that worst thing will be worked together for your good?

And that it might actually be given to you, ultimately, as a gift?

Not that it will be good itself but that God’s grace will be evident in it for you forever?

Let’s look at the precious logic of Romans 8:32.

“He who did not spare his own Son [whose that? God the Father did not spare his own Son], but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him [along with Jesus], graciously give us all things?”

Do you see the logic?

In Latin, philosophers call that logic “majori ad minus” which is just a big word that means arguing from the greater to the lesser.

If the greater thing is true, then how much more will the lesser thing come true.

If God did the greater, harder thing, then what would keep God from doing the lesser things that He promised.

Does that make sense?

What is the hardest thing for God to do in this verse?

The hardest thing, the greater thing for God to do was to keep from sparing His own son and give Him up for us all.

Do you see that?

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all...”

It’s incredible to think that God didn’t spare his own Son.

I would spare my son. I have three sons and I love them. I wouldn’t give any of them for you if I could help it.

Do you think that God loved His Son more or less than I love mine?

“This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

But He didn’t protect Him.

He didn’t spare Him.

He didn’t hold Him back from pain and suffering and death.

He gave Him up...what? FOR US.

That’s what the Cross is all about. As we go into this season of contemplating the Cross. Some people call it “Lent” but that doesn’t mean much.

Passion Season. Cross season. As we focus this time of year on Jesus’ suffering and the Cross, we are reminded that God gave Jesus up for us.

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

God gave Him up for us all.

Jew and Gentile. For us all.

That’s the hard thing. That’s the big, greater thing.

Now, follow the logic.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

How would God fail to do the easy stuff if He did the hard stuff?

What’s the easy stuff?

Graciously giving us all things.

Turning everything to our good.

Fulfilling every single promise He’s ever made.

Giving us everything.

Everything with a bow on top.

With Jesus.

“[H]ow will he not also, along with him [along with giving us Jesus], graciously give us all things?”

He will.

He will.

We won’t fail to give us everything.

Now, do I understand how that works?

Do I understand how that works with the loss of our daughter?

Not really. I can see a lot of the ways that God has used that tragedy in our life.

I grew up a lot really fast. I became more mature.
I am able to help others in ways that I couldn’t have before our daughter.
I appreciate the daughter and the sons that I have been given in the ensuing years much more than I ever would have if I hadn’t had to say goodbye to our first.

But those things don’t add up enough for me to have chosen it.

I still would go back and change it.

But believe that even that worst thing that ever happened to me (so far, there could worse some day around the corner but even that) will be stripped of its evil and given to me as a gift for all eternity.

That God, in His sovereignty and goodness, will work it all together for my good and His glory and “graciously give” it to me.

The Greek word translated “graciously give” is charisetai.

So that’s what we named our daughter.

We named her Charis, the word for grace.

Because we believe that God–mysteriously, unexplainably, beyond our comprehension, but truly–ultimately gives us everything as a gift of His grace.

Everything!

All things.

And we know it because God did the hard thing of giving up His son.

If He could find it in Himself to do that, He’ll make sure that all of the pain and suffering and opposition and animosity that we experience in this short life will be worth it all and worked to our good and made to be grace.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

That’s not a bumper sticker.

That’s not a glib little saying.

“God is for me, who can be against me. Get out of my way!”

It’s a deep truth. Some of the deepest truth in the universe.

God is for us.

And because of that nothing will beat us and everything will be given to us.

Two points of application.

First, you’ve to believe in Jesus for God to be for you.

These deep truths are not for everyone.

They are only for those who have been justified by faith in Christ Jesus.

They are only for those who believe the good news.

The gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe.

And for all who believe, God is for us.

But if you have not yet trusted in Jesus, God is against you.

Turn from your sin and put your faith in Christ and Christ alone.

Don’t trust in yourself or your good works or your religion or your relationship with any church. Trust in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Trust in His sacrifice on the Cross. And you will be saved and God will be for you.

Don’t stand outside of this and look in.

Come in.

And second application, live inside of these truths.

Make these precious promises, your home.

Memorize them. Trust in them. Bank on them. Believe them.

This truth is strong enough to build your entire life upon.

In my message from 1999, I closed by saying this:
We will despair if we do not live inside of this verse.  Because in this life, we do have many enemies–cancer, racism, war, poverty, sin, and Satan. But take heart, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.”  And He did that at the Cross.
And because of the foundation of God's willing sacrifice of his beloved Son, we can trust God to do the easy thing, giving us ALL THINGS with Jesus as gracious gifts.  Just like my daughter Charis Mitchell.
Do you believe this verse?  If not, that's why your life is so flimsy.
Ask God for the faith to believe this verse, and you can make it through the worst thing that ever happened to you.  You can make it through–even with joy–the worst thing that will ever happen to you. If you don't believe, you need to petition God for more faith. And he will graciously give it to you along with all things and Jesus.
I invite you to join with me in believing God for all things because of the unshakable foundation of the great sacrifice of His Son.
John Piper wrote in Future Grace, "The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life."  (Piper, 123)
That's what Heather and I are learning through all of this. That God is trustworthy to take the worst thing that has ever happened to us, strip it of its destructive power, and turn it to our benefit, our ultimate good with Jesus.
Live inside of this verse, and you will experience an unshakable life.”
That was true for us in 1999, and I believe it is still true in 2015, and will be until God brings everything together in the fulfillment of all of His good promises.

“ What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”


***

Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know