12/2/2019 4:59:46 AM
December 1, 2019
Rev. David WilliamsSermon:
We have an obsession with superheroes. Superhero movies abound, superhero stories are incredibly popular. I love superheroes! I think many of us enjoy a good story with a superhero at the centre, fighting for the truth, fighting for right, winning the day in the end!
I find the Superman story intriguing. We have a man with tremendous powers who came to earth as a baby. Raised by adoptive parents, the young man explores his powers and becomes a hero. He flies around saving people from trouble, rescuing the helpless and saving the day.
As the Superman story has grown, in order to give Superman a challenge, the villains he faces have become more and more powerful. If you have super powers, regular criminals don’t stand a chance. A superhero needs super villains to face if the story is going to be compelling!
One of the often overlooked aspects of the Superman story is that earth is really lucky he’s a good guy! Some more recent superhero franchises have addressed this, creating secret military departments whose job it is to be ready just in case the next alien who arrives on earth is NOT on our side!
Which brings us to another popular movie franchise- Star Wars! Star Wars doesn’t take place on earth, or even in our galaxy, but here we have another story centred around a young boy with incredible powers- Anakin Skywalker! In Episode 1, his mother reveals to a Jedi master that “There was no father” for Anakin- a sort of virgin birth of some sort! Anakin is thought to be the great saviour, long foretold, who would bring “balance to the force.” Unlike Superman, in this case, the boy with super powers had anger issues, attachment issues and didn’t turn out to be a good guy! He turned out to be Darth Vader!
What is it about us that we love superhero stories? What is so compelling about them? We live in a world in need of heroes. We live in a world in which things are broken. Things are out of balance. There are bad guys we don’t have the power to conquer! We long for heroes, even superheroes, to save the day! We are in need of saving in our world, which means we are in need of a saviour. At their core, superhero stories are saviour stories.
Saviour stories give us hope. They encourage us that, in spite of the brokenness in the world around us now, there is hope that someday in the future things will be put right. -Superhero stories wouldn’t exist in a world without sin. Without sin there are no problems to be faced. There is no need to be saved. There is no need for a hero, let alone a superhero! But we do live in a world of sin and we do look for someone who can rescue us!
Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, remembers and celebrates the arrival of Jesus, from outside our world, born to a virgin, with an adopted father, who grows up to be a hero with supernatural powers! But oh how different Jesus is from the superheroes we create! Why is Jesus so different? Because Jesus understands the real nature of our problem. Jesus came to save us, not from bad guys out there, but badness in here- in our hearts, the hearts of each and every one of us! Let’s turn to our scripture passage- Romans 5:1-5.
What It Says
This passage opens with the great truth of our hope- that we have been justified through faith and therefore we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Not only that, but by this faith, we now stand in a privileged position in the sphere of God’s grace- God’s undeserved favour. We also rejoice, we have joy in the future hope of the glory of God.
Having established the need for justification and the way of justification, Paul now describes the fruit of justification. [Stott, Romans, p. 138] That is- the result of justification, what grows from justification. Remember, justification and righteousness are the same term in Greek. So being justified means being put in a place in which God says our relationship with him is good. Without justification, our relationship with God is broken. We are God’s enemies until God says otherwise. He loves his enemies, but we are his enemies nonetheless! And as the Old Testament shows, we humans are incapable of living up to God’s standards in order to fix that relationship.
Faith moves the weight of reconciliation off our shoulders and onto Christ’s. This is the great hope we have for salvation! We are hopeless in and of ourselves. We can’t restore our relationship with God by our own work or activity. But now, we have peace with God- we are no longer enemies of God- through Jesus Christ and our faith in him. He has fixed the problem of our sin, he has paid the debt we owe God, and the result is not a grudging God who is skeptical about this new situation, but rather an open-armed God gathering those who have put their trust in Jesus to himself, bringing them to stand in his grace.
We find joy in our hope of the glory of God. What does that mean? What, specifically, is the glory of God that we hope for, which makes us rejoice?
It’s normal for us to think of the “glory of God” as God’s radiance, his shining. But that’s not what Paul means! This is actually a technical term! In 1 Cor 11:7, speaking about a different topic, Paul says that man is to be the glory of God. Created in God’s image, it was God’s plan for us to be his glory- to be models of God’s character, to reflect God’s nature in our nature. But this glory, the image of God in us, has been smeared over with the mud of sin. So now we look forward in hope to that day when we, God’s new creations, will once again reflect God’s nature in our nature and show it to the world.
Renewed humanity will be the glory of God. All of creation, Paul says in Ch 8, is groaning under the burden of sin, waiting for renewed humanity to be revealed so all of creation can be renewed as well! Our sin has stained all of creation, so all of creation is waiting for us to be fixed so it can be fixed! That the glory of God is to be revealed in re-created, renewed humanity sheds light on Paul’s next argument- that we rejoice in suffering!
Now, I don’t think anybody here enjoys suffering! We don’t find it pleasant! And that’s not what Paul is proposing. Rather, in Christ, standing in God’s grace, through faith, we can find joy in the pain of suffering because we see its use as a tool in God’s hands to move us closer to being like Jesus.
Through faith, suffering can be a tool by which God makes us more like Jesus. That’s what Paul is saying that suffering leads to perseverance, then to character and then to hope. Our character is refined, reshaped, sanded down, and reformed through suffering when we cooperate with the Spirit and keep putting our trust in Jesus through the experience. And the changes in our character, “sanctification,” produce hope in us. Our character change serves as a teaser, as a preview, of the complete change we anticipate at the return of Christ when we will be resurrected into bodies like his that no longer experience death and decay because of sin. Our new bodies will go along with new characters, new hearts, that also rise above sin.
Our hope is confident because of our current experience of God’s love in our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That’s a mouthful! But we can be confident that our hope is not an empty hope because we experience, now, the love of God in our character through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts- our minds, wills, feelings, desires and imagination- slowly changing them to be more like Jesus. God’s love fills us, we experience God’s love and start to show God’s love and this is the evidence of our change in trajectory. This points us in the direction of what our character will be like when Christ returns!
Once again, our handy diagram sheds light on what Paul is talking about. Along the bottom we have the present age of sin, which is our everyday experience. With the resurrection of Christ, though, the Kingdom of God- the rule of God, has broken into our world in a profound new way. When we come to faith, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God and live straddling these two ages. We look forward to the return of Christ when we will all be resurrected and given new bodies. Our character will be fully renewed and we will be like Jesus!
Suffering is part of our experience of the present age of sin, but it is used by God to shape us to be more like Him and to fit his Kingdom better. We have joy and hope in our suffering, because our suffering here, in the present age of sin, has a goal or effect there, in the age to come, in the Kingdom of God! It makes us more like Jesus, more like the renewed, recreated, resurrected beings we know we will one day be. That gives us hope!
That hope, of being made more like Jesus, brings us joy. Our suffering, when we allow God to use it, changes our character to be more self-giving and more concerned with the well-being of others- agape love. That’s the love of God in our hearts. Christ Jesus brought victory over sin through his suffering. The Holy Spirit brings agape love, transformed characters, in us through our suffering.
So what are we to do with this? How do we apply this? There are 4 candles in Advent: hope, love, joy and peace. Each of these terms actually shows up in our passage today! So this passage really does tie in with Advent! We have hope because Jesus came. But what is that hope? It’s certainly Not the hope of a pleasant stay here on earth for the rest of our lives. It’s not the hope that in Jesus we will avoid all pain, suffering, sickness, mistreatment or hardship. That’s not the hope Jesus brings! Rather, Jesus brings a renewed relationship with God. That renewed relationship, called justification, gives us hope.
The hope Jesus brings is that we will be made more like him. Often at Christmas we get confused. We hope for a good Christmas. We hope we will get the presents we want. We hope we will have a good time with our families. We hope people will like the gifts we give them! But that’s not the hope of Christmas at all! The hope of Christmas is that we will one day be made to be like Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. In Jesus, we see God’s glory- we see the very character of God on display! And that is our hope too- that one day our hearts will be so transformed that, like Jesus, we will reflect God’s nature in our nature.
Our real problem is not “bad guys out there” but “badness in here.” We all look for a hero to save us from the bad people in the world, but in reality, our actual problem is that we are more like Anakin Skywalker than Superman! We have a lot more Darth Vader in us than we want to admit! So in our hero stories, we create superheroes who beat up bad guys, and “average” people are never the bad guys! But in God’s story, the story unfolded in Scripture, we are all the bad guys! We are God’s enemies! And the miraculous thing is that when the superhero of Scripture shows up, instead of beating up the bad guys, he heals them, feeds them, teaches them and then, ultimately, dies for them!
Unlike the superheroes we create, Jesus is the self-sacrificing hero who not only dies for innocent bystanders, but dies for the villains! What a radically different kind of saviour! When we picture saviours, we picture heroes who beat up our enemies. We do that today and they did that in Jesus’ day too. That’s why everybody expected the Messiah, the Saviour, to lead a war against the Romans and drive them out of Israel. That’s the hero they were looking for! And that’s the hero we try to create today. But the real superhero who came to our world, the real hero from beyond, who became a baby, was born of a virgin and grew up with a step-dad, knew the real villain is sin, with which we are all infected! He saved the world in a different way!
Our joy and hope are based on what Jesus did, not what we do. This is what it means to put our faith in Jesus. It means trusting in what he did on the cross to save us, instead of what we do ourselves. When I stand before Jesus on the Day of Judgement, and all my sins are laid out before me, I know that there is nothing in my life to make up for those. I am not certain of my salvation, but I am certain of my hope- my hope is that in that moment, Jesus will lean forward and say, “It’s ok. His sins are covered. He’s with me.” That is my hope! I cannot demand it, I do not deserve it, but that is my hope in which I put my full confidence, that is my faith.
Because of the work of the Spirit in our hearts now, filling them with agape love, we have hope for that work’s completion in the future. The work the Spirit is doing in me now, living in my heart, reforming my heart and filling it with God’s love for me and God’s love for others, is my evidence that my hope is not in vain. It is evidence that Jesus is who he says he is, that he did die for my sins and that on that day he will intercede on my behalf, saying he has paid for my sin and that I’m with him. And that means that once that day is over, I will be purified in my character and be the godly man I was supposed to be from before the dawn of creation! And in the meantime, I know that through suffering, I can be filled with more love!
Our hope in times of trial is not rescue but redemption. What do I mean by that? Jesus didn’t promise to save us from all hardship. Quite the opposite, in fact! Jesus warned his followers that they would experience more hardship and suffering on account of following him! But what we see in our text today, and, in fact, our passage last week, is that we are promised that our suffering is not in vain. It is not without any redeeming purpose. If Christ’s suffering, unwarranted and undeserved, can bring about his resurrection and the defeat of sin, then our suffering can be redeemed too. If nothing else, our suffering brings a transformation to our character that reshapes us to be more self-giving and concerned with the well-being of others.
What trials are you enduring now? Let God use them to reshape you. Cooperate with the Holy Spirit, bring your trials to God. Ask him to deliver you from them, for sure! But be willing to let God redeem your trials rather than rescue you from them. Let your experiences of trials and difficulties now serve to remind you of our future hope of resurrection. Let them pique your appetite for your redeemed body, for the return of Christ, for redemption of all creation!
Let your trials sharpen your hope for God’s glory to be revealed in you. Our hope is for the future. Our hope is for God’s glory to be revealed in us. As you endure trials, as you grow in perseverance, lift your gaze to the future. Lift your thoughts above the present moment and set your thoughts on the return of Christ. Frankly, in the West, we have it better than pretty much everybody else in all of history, which means we have it better than all other Christians in all of history. This has blunted our hope for the future. Now is so good, we don’t long for the return of Christ! I’ve actually heard people say they hope he doesn’t come back “too soon” so that they miss life events, like getting married, or having kids, or grandkids, etc.
The glory of God revealed in us at Christ’s return is far greater than the best experience we can ever have now. The arrival of Christ, celebrated at Christmas, was the first stage in God’s final plan to rescue us from sin. That set in motion the process by which we get to experience the love of Christ in our hearts, the indwelling of the Spirit, reconciliation with God and the peace that brings. This is FAR better than any awesome thing we can experience in our life, let alone the bad things we experience, like pain, suffering and persecution. This is our hope. This is what Christmas should be about. Amen.
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