February 25, 2018

Why We Talk about Jesus Every Week

Lent 2

First Lesson:  Genesis 28:10-17

Second Lesson:  Romans 5:1-11

Gospel Lesson:  Mark 8:31-38

Sermon Text:  Romans 5:1-11

Maybe you’ve heard this. Years ago, when people still wrote letters to the editor, a man responded to an article about going to church. He said, “I went to church for 20 years - never missed a Sunday. But one day I stopped. Why? I realized it was the same stuff every time. Sure, there were some particulars, but I can’t remember them. I know what Jesus did. Why go back Sunday after Sunday to hear something I already know and to hear other things that I will forget?”

That letter was printed. Another man read it and responded. In his letter, he said, “To the man who says he doesn’t see the need to go back to church… I can’t cook. Every day for 45 years, my wife set a meal before me. Can I tell you what all those meals were? No. But I knew I’d always be fed.  Whatever it was I needed it to keep my strength up to get through my day. Church is that same for me. I know I’m going to get a meal and be fed by Jesus.  I can’t remember a lot of what we talk about in church much longer than a week either. But like my wife’s food, it was what I needed, when I needed it.”

I think that story speaks to us in two ways. One, it is easy to think like the first guy. Honestly, when is the last time you heard something new about Jesus, heaven, faith, or forgiveness here? It’s not like there are sequels to the Bible coming out. And I can hardly remember some of the specifics about a sermon on, for example, how to forgive others, a week after I preach it. Those were my words and I can’t even remember them. How can I expect you to do so?

But two, doesn’t the response to the letter speak to us as well? I can’t tell you how often it happens that after a service, someone contacts me and says, “It was like you were in my head this morning. You talked about something I dealt with 2 hours before church.” While I’d like to take credit and imagine I have the gift of foresight, that isn’t the case. I often sit at my computer and try to guess what you guys might be going through. But however it happens, God does address your issues regularly here.  Like the wife who sets the meal her husband needs before him that day, so God does the same for us. 

Keeping that in mind, turn to our text. “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”  Let’s boil that down. God worked faith in our hearts at baptism. That faith connects us to Jesus.  Because of his work for us, God justifies us - declares us not guilty. Thus, we have peace with God.  Not an absence of hostilities, but real peace.  We can count ourselves as his beloved children.  And all this is because of God’s grace for us, a love we have that is undeserved.

Pause. Anything new there? Is that info we are stumbling upon for the first time in our lives?  No.  Those two verses are basically the same message you here every time you are here. So should we stop saying it? If you’ve suddenly become perfect, then yes. If you no longer ever have any doubts about your forgiveness – that your sin is too big God can’t forgive it, then yes. If you never have any crises of faith that cause you to wonder about your place in God’s family, then yes, we can.

But here on earth, that will never be you/me. Since sin is a daily issue, the answer to sin has to be the same.  Husbands, would you ever say to your wives, “I’ll tell you I love you once a week. The other days, just remember what I said on day 1”?  I pray every husband would say no. Or imagine a husband says, “I told you I loved you at our wedding. If that changes, I’ll let you know.” Regularly/daily a wife wants to be reassured of what she already knows - her husband does indeed love her.

Are we any different?  Because of the junk we face and the struggles we deal with every day, we need to constantly be assured of God’s forgiving love. That’s what Paul does. So great is that love not only does it wash sin away. It also causes peace between us and God.  No matter what our struggle is, we can take it to him and know he’ll hear us and help us. New news? No. But can we hear it too often? No way. That is a meal we need to eat regularly, a meal God sets before us here.

Back to Paul. “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Paul knows the truth of Jesus’ love means something always. But, as he says, it esp. means something in times of suffering. Back to the meal thing. You appreciate a meal always, but doesn’t it mean much more when you are famished? Sufferings in life spiritually famish us. We’re hungry, aching, cranky. We are the kid who comes home and says, “If you don’t feed me, I am going to die.” And what does our Lord do for our hungry souls?  He feeds them.  And doesn’t that meal seem even more sumptuous when we are suffering?  Let’s say your personal struggle right now is that someone sinned against you and you don’t know what to do.  And let’s say that you either turn one day to a portion of God’s Word that talks about this matter or we have a sermon/service about that.  Aren’t those times like an oasis in the desert?  Like coming home famished and seeing steak on the table? Exactly what you needed and were looking for is exactly what God gave you.

And just as the food fills us up to so we can keep going, doesn’t a spiritual meal do the same?  Paul says this feeding allows us not just to handle suffering, but to persevere through it.  And as we persevere, our character – the core of who we are – as Christians is built up.  And as we keep spiritually eating our way through one problem after another, hope fills our heart, because the God who promised to bless us in all this is doing exactly what he promised, exactly what we need.

Pause again.  What sort of suffering did you bring with you today? A health issue? A relationship problem? Some fear or anxiety?  Well, what message are you hearing, which is the same message we hear every time we are in this place? God is with you.  He will bless you.  He will forgive you and fill you up to keep moving forward.  And through it all, he will give you a stronger faith and build up your Christian character so that you have hope regardless of the situation.  Is any of that new? No.  But do you need to hear it again?  Do you need to eat that meal one more time and be filled up?  Most definitely yet.

Back to our text.  Paul says, “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 person, though for a good person 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.”

Here is something that better not be new.  If it is, you haven’t been listening or I’ve totally failed in my job. Your relationship with your Savior is founded on grace – his undeserved love for you.  You were powerless to come to him. We came into this world as sinners - spiritually dead and totally unable to bring ourselves to life.  So Christ did it for us.  What we couldn’t do and didn’t even want, he did for us.  He brought us to faith and into God’s family only because his love for us is so perfect.

So, since you know that, we should just move on, right? Chances are we all have a sin we just can’t shake from our brains.  Maybe it was a “big” one.  Maybe it was very public.  Maybe we’re still feeling the effects of it though it occurred years ago.  It happened. What does the sinner in us say?  “God can’t love, can’t forgive you.  You failed him.  Now get ready for some comeuppance.” That is not a possibility. For us as believers, that is the reality of how our sinful minds work every single day.

We can try to fight against it by saying, “But look at how good I am! Look at all the things I’ve done.”  Yeah – that works. No, it fails because we know us. But Jesus does too.  In fact, he came precisely for the failed, flaw sinner all of us are.  When we are at our lowest, beating ourselves up for some sin, and dropping our heads in despair, Jesus calms us and lifts those heads up.  He reminds us of the peace he won and blesses us with that peace. We can drop the matter and move forward confidently. New info? No. But a meal we need to eat daily that reassures, comfort, and strengthens us? Of course.

Once more to Paul: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while 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! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Again, there is a ton here, but let’s sum it up.  Paul is saying that due to all God has done, we can absolutely, positively be sure of our salvation, our forgiveness, and our part in God’s family.  We don’t have to doubt it.  Notice the phrases he uses.  “We have been justified,” we “shall be saved,” “we were reconciled,” we “shall we be saved,” and “we have received reconciliation.”  100% certainty of our status as forgiven, heaven bound believers is what God is giving us here.

Raise your hand if you know you are going to heaven. You know that. But God is not the aloof husband from before.  Yeah, you know that, but don’t you need to hear it on a regular basis?  I think most of you would agree that the older you get, the more you think about heaven.  That is only natural.  But as I look around at the crazy state of our world, that leads me to long for heaven all the more.  I see Christian morals being mocked, and everything contrary to them being praised.  I see God’s plan for families jettisoned and the resulting negative fallout.  I see God’s truth being exchanged for a lie.

These are not new things.  They have been happening since the beginning.  But the longer we deal with them, the more of an effect they can have on us.  We can slip into despair.  We can wonder if there are any other real Christians out there.  We can worry we might get sucked into all this garbage as well.  Don’t you need to constantly be reminded that better is coming, and it is because of your Savior?  Don’t you need to have something real and constant to hold on to?  Don’t you need a bright shining light that leads you out of this world that is often dark and dreary?  And don’t you need that on a pretty regular basis to keep that darkness at bay?  Isn’t that a meal we need to eat often?  Yes, it is.

Just like last Sunday, the Sunday before that, and Sundays for the past whatever, you are hearing the same stuff.  But it is not only good stuff.  It is necessary stuff. It is stuff that reminds us that God’s love for us will never change.  It is stuff that assures that Jesus’ work was done perfectly and was done for us.  It is stuff that helps us stay strong and persevere through the struggles of this life.  And it is stuff that reassures us how things end – with us at our Lord’s side in eternity.

You can walk away from this and say, “Nice work, Pastor. Thanks for telling me what I already know.”  Or you can thank God and say, “Lord, I have had this meal before.  And it is just as delicious as the last time you served it.  Use this food to build me up, that every day I can wake up with fresh confidence and hope.  Keep doing this every day, until by your grace I eat the banquet feast in heaven.” Amen.