Delivered April 23, 2017
I want you to think for a moment about a time when someone hurt you very badly, when someone did something incredibly unjust to you. Don’t say it out loud, but consider how you responded.
There is a range of responses that we might have in such a situation. Let’s take a look at some of them here:
- Retaliation: The author Hunter Thompson wrote the following about the Hell’s Angels biker gang — “When you’re asked to stay out of a bar you don’t just punch the owner–you come back with your army and tear the place down, destroy the whole edifice and everything it stands for. No compromise.”
- Retribution: Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
- Rejection: In the sense of ignoring or disregarding the wrong, looking the other way, pretending it didn’t happen
- Remission: Forgiveness, as in Matt. 26:28, where Jesus shares the wine with his disciples and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the remission of sins.”
- Reconciliation: Forgiveness with restoration of the relationship
What do you notice about this progression?
Grace and love increase.
Today, we’re talking about reconciliation, a response to wrongs that calls for a truly agapao approach to love — that selfless love that Jesus talked about over and again during his teaching at the Last Supper. We’ll talk today about how we are reconciled to God and how that act on His part should lead us to seek reconciliation with those who have wronged us.
But first, we have to understand the need for reconciliation.
In our sinfulness, we have rebelled against the perfect and holy King, creating a great gulf between us. And the gulf is the same, no matter how “good” we are.
Imagine that I called Glenda to come up here and stand next to me for a jumping contest. Whom would you expect to jump higher? Now imagine if your perspective on this contest were from the moon? Which of us could come closer to touching the moon? Not even the very best athletic shoes on the market would make a difference. From that perspective, we both are powerless.
The difference between my “goodness” and God’s holiness is the same. My sin creates a chasm that I cannot cross.
That’s part of what Paul is trying to tell believers in Rome in the letter we’re examining today. None of them is worthy of reconciliation with their Creator. None of them has a right to hope for that reconciliation. But God had a plan.
Look at Chapter 5, starting with verse 6:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
We were helpless to overcome the result of our rebellion against God, but Christ came for those who are unable to help themselves – in other words, everyone.
Note that Jesus didn’t come to make us better sinners. He didn’t give us a new pair of sneakers that makes us jump one inch closer to the moon. He came to do what was impossible for us.
Vv. 7-8: “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.”
We did nothing to earn this amazing gift. We did nothing to merit it. This was God’s love for us etched in blood on a cross.
And that blood, the blood of the sinless Christ, sacrificed to pay the debt that each of us owes for our sins, justifies and reconciles us to God. Scripture tells us that the blood of Jesus covers our sins; it justifies us. It satisfies the King’s reasonable expectation of seeing justice served for rebellion. But God didn’t stop there; He wanted reconciliation – He wanted to restore a relationship with fallen man.
And here’s the point Paul wanted to make clear in the following verses. That justification, that reconciliation — they both come from the work of Christ, and they are both something that believers can have assurance about.
Vv. 9-11: “Since we have now been justified by the 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.”
If God engineered the death of His Son to save us while we were still His enemies, now that we’ve been reconciled to Him, how much more strong should be our faith in His care for us! And how loudly we should proclaim that great blessing.
We all have doubts at some time or another, and Paul wanted to give his readers assurance in the midst of terrible and very real persecution at the hands of the Romans.
So he reminded them about God’s love.
We’ve been talking about the perfect love of God for the past several weeks, and it seems fitting here to mention what Paul said to the church in Corinth about it. Remember the Love Chapter? 1 Cor. 13:13 — “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Notice how I’ve drawn these concepts here. Our faith brings us hope. But why do I have love below them both? Love — God’s love — is the greatest of these. It is the very foundation upon which they rest.
But there’s a mistake that’s made in a lot of modern churches when it comes to understanding what God’s amazing love means for us. And the way they characterize its effects frankly weakens the message of the Gospel.
Turn to Chapter 8, and let’s see if you can point to the concepts that are so often twisted:
Vv. 31-34: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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.”
Do you seen the dangerous parts?
Those who interpret this passage as a promise of prosperity and smooth sailing in this world make a mockery of what Jesus did on that cross. He triumphed over death itself. He paid the ultimate price of separation from His Father so that we could be reconciled with the Father. Jesus didn’t die on that cross so that we can be confident in the power of positive thinking, of naming the blessings we want to claim or of the role of positive confession in creating wealth in our lives.
The prosperity gospel claims to trade on the power of God, but those false teachings water down the true power of what Christ did. His death — and his resurrection — give believers hope in eternity, not hope in the things that are passing, the things that are corruptible, the things that moth and rust will destroy.
And if we truly recognize and believe in the true great work Christ did on our behalf, the work of reconciling us to God – of bridging that chasm created by our sin – the work of conquering death, then we can see and boast in the power of Him who loved us enough to make us more than conquerors along with Him.
37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
This is so much bigger and so much more powerful than another worldly get-rich quick scam by a preacher with a jet plane and a smooth delivery. Our reward for simply following Jesus will be so much greater than anything we might have lost here in this temporal plane.
That’s how Paul could write what he did in the next two verses:
Vv. 38-39: 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.
Nothing can overcome the love of God for you. It is utterly certain. When you’re feeling pressed down by life, remember that. Remember that God loves you and that He has conquered death and promised that we are conquerors along with Him. Whatever you lose here is nothing compared to what you as a follower of Christ have to gain in heaven.
Stand firm and strong in the hope you have through the certainty of God’s love as demonstrated on that cross at Calvary.
— R.E. Spears III