Paul begins Romans 5 with the word “Therefore” – and in that word summarizes everything he has said in the first four chapters – “since we have been justified through faith.” Justified, not because we are Jews, or because of our moral goodness, or because we look better compared with others, but justified through faith. Because this is true, Paul says, there are several things that take place:
We have peace with God
• Most of us aren’t even at peace with ourselves. Whether we are in conflict with our family members or our co-workers or in our own hearts, we have never experienced real peace. Peace is such an elusive quality, because we never can really find it as an end in itself. The more we pursue peace, the more turmoil we experience. The only place we can find real peace is in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
• But when we experience peace with God, and really, only then, can we experience peace in any other area of our life. The problem we experience in our marriages, isn’t that we are at odds with each other, it’s first and foremost that we’re at odds with God. But when we are at peace with God, then we can start to find healing and harmony in our relationships with others.
• And Paul says that when we enter into this relationship of grace through faith, then and only then will we experience peace with God.
We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand
• What a fascinating term – “gained access.” It is that welcome into the family – free entry, no restrictions – you’re given the key to the front door and told to make yourself at home.
• And it has a permanence and a sturdiness that many of us have never experienced – Paul writes, “this grace in which we stand.”
• Wouldn’t you like to have a confidence in your relationship with God? No more wondering, have I been good enough? Have I sinned too much? Will God let me into heaven? Paul says when we enter into this relationship of grace, we stand boldly and confidently in the presence of God.
• We don’t have to worry about sneaking in under the radar, hoping God doesn’t notice and toss us out. No, he welcomes us in with open arms – through the front door – with the enthusiasm and joy we would express when our son or daughter comes home after being gone too long.
We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
• Ever notice how reality never lives up to expectations? First car, graduation, promotion, new baby? At first they seem exciting and full of promise – but that car gets its first ding, graduation means you have to get a job, a promotions comes with extra responsibility, and babies? They’re a lot of work – 3 am feedings and dirty diapers.
• In this new relationship where grace embraces us, hope brings a joy to our lives. Hope isn’t a pipe dream of “wouldn’t it be nice, but it probably won’t happen.” Hope built on God’s grace brings rejoicing to our hearts because we know it is based on what God has promised, not on what we have accomplished. Hope doesn’t wear out and tarnish. Hope gives us strength for each day, keeps our faith fresh, fills us with anticipation as we look forward to what God is going to do in our life today.
Not only do we rejoice in hope, but we rejoice in our sufferings
• When we are in God’s grace we are able to reframe – put into perspective – all of the events and experiences in our lives. We are no longer victims of fate, never again battered and shamed. God takes all of our suffering and uses it to mold and shape us - to strengthen and forge us into men and women of God.
• It is a process of growth and maturity in which we see God build block upon block, strength upon strength – suffering produces perseverance – perseverance, character – and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.
And finally, Paul writes, God forges us in the furnace and on the anvil of suffering into vessels into which God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.
What does that look like? Paul doesn’t throw some abstract concept out and leave it at that. In vs. 6 Paul begins to paint the most powerful portrait of love we could ever imagine. It is the story of love that is uniquely God –
Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
• We can imagine someone who reciprocates love to someone they care about and who loves them back.
• We can even imagine sacrificing our self for a friend or a loved one.
• But when we have loved out of the deepest depths of our human capacity to love – we have not even begun to scratch the surface of God’s love.
• God doesn’t just talk about love, he demonstrates it. And here is the most powerful demonstration one can imagine. Jesus died for us. Not in the prime of our goodness, not just for those who are godly, not for those who try their hardest – but while we were still sinners.
Here’s what God’s love looks like:
• God loved us while we were powerless, helpless, ungodly, sinners.
• Vs. 10 – he adds that God loved us while we were his enemies.
• He didn’t wait for us to successfully complete a 12-step, clean-up-your-act program.
• He didn’t refuse his love until we came begging.
• He didn’t hold up reconciliation until we signed a contract.
• He didn’t wait for anything or anyone.
• He took the first step – he sent his son to die for us – in spite of the fact that we didn’t even begin to deserve it.
What did all this accomplish?
5:9-10 “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Did you hear what God did for us? We were:
• “Justified by his blood”
• “Saved from God’s wrath”
• “Reconciled to God”
• “Saved through his life”
What we needed most, God did for us. Remember, we were helpless, powerless, hopeless, undeserving. We could not save ourselves – God was the only one who could.
I want to take you, for a moment, to another story in the book of Acts, ch. 4. It was a very normal day for this man whose name we do not know. He was crippled and depended on the goodness and generosity of others to survive. Each day, his friends would carry him to the gate of the Temple to beg (most days he would get just enough to buy a leftover stale loaf from the baker for his evening meal – some nights he went hungry.)
But every day, rain or shine, in heat or frost, he was there – a fixture. For most of the Temple-goers, he blended into the wall – they no longer saw him.
Today, he had no way of knowing what was about to happen. It was about 3 in the afternoon, it was hot, he hadn’t received much in his cup that day. The 3:00 prayer crowd was starting to make their way in through the gate. He began to plead loudly – “Alms for the poor!”
Peter and John were going up to the Temple to pray. They begin to walk by this beggar like everyone else shuffling through the gate. Suddenly Peter stops and looks at him –
“Look at us! Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Suddenly, he feels his ankles grow strong, Peter takes him by the hand and lifts him to his feet. He jumps up and begins walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him they were filled with wonder and amazement.
As you know, no good deed goes unpunished – you can’t just have people going around healing cripples – so Peter finds himself in shackles before the Sanhedrin being interrogated – “By what power or what name did you do this?” And I love Peter’s response – his directness and boldness –
Acts 4:8-12 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
It’s not just that there is an exclusiveness (and it is exclusive – Jesus himself said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life” – he’s not one way among many) – it’s that the power to save – the authority to save – is found in Christ alone. What is at the heart of this contention – what is at stake in all of the Bible – is that God’s grace alone is sufficient to save.
We are all beggars at the gate, powerless to help ourselves, enslaved to sin, separated from God, hopes dashed, and promises crushed. Then Christ comes – he lifts us up, makes us whole, fills us with hope. Listen once again to the way Paul describes it – Romans 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The beggar rejoiced – Paul says, so do we – 5:11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Let me close with the story of Maximillian Kolbe, a man who, though not a Jew, helped a great many Jews escape the Nazis during WWII. He was arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz in February 1941. At Auschwitz there was a camp rule, that anytime there was an escape from that camp, ten people would randomly be selected from the cell block where that escape occurred to die by exposure and starvation as an object lesson to the other prisoners not to attempt, aid or conceal an escape. In late July of 1941 there was an escape from the section of the camp where Kolbe was kept. And so the prisoners from that section were called out into a cinder covered courtyard and ten names were called at random from a roster to be marched off to be stripped of their clothes and left to die without food or water. The name Francis Gajowniczek was called, and when he heard his name he screamed, “Have mercy, I have a wife and children!” At that point, Maximillian Kolbe, whose name had not been called raised his hand, stepped out of line and said, “Commandant, I will take his place, I have no family.” And for some reason, the exchange was allowed, and Gajowniczek stepped back into line and Kolbe marched off with nine others to his death. Two weeks later, on August 14, Kolbe died. Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz, and live the rest of his life living in Warsaw, Poland, where he died in 1995 at the age of 95. But his life was never the same. He lived his life with a purpose, as he explained it “to tell the story of the man who died in my place.” He never forgot what had been done for him.
And that, really is our purpose in life – to tell the story of the man who died in my place.
Sun, March 11, 2012
by John Roberts