Advent: Love Romans 5:1-8
12/12/2018 4:53:28 AM
December 9, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Romans 5:1-8
Imagine somebody you don’t like. Picture them in your mind. Do you have anybody whom you think of as an “enemy”? Most of us don’t have enemies, but if you do, think of them. What sorts of feelings do you have for this person? What is your gut reaction to picturing them now?
Now, I want you to picture yourself on Christmas morning opening gifts. Maybe you’re with noisy children. Maybe with your spouse. Maybe you’re on your own. Imagine Christmas morning that as you finish opening gifts you notice one more envelope hidden in the tree. It has your name on the front, but you don’t know who it’s from. You open the envelope and inside is a letter. You’re shocked that it’s from the person you were just thinking about now. In the letter, this person says they want to be reconciled and as a demonstration of their sincerity there is a receipt from your bank that your mortgage has been paid off! How does that make you feel?!?
One measure of a gift is the cost to the giver. Another is their relationship with the recipient. In our scenario, the cost of the gift is huge! The nature of the relationship is one of enmity- being enemies, people who don’t like one another, animosity. That makes the gift that much more profound.
Does this seem far-fetched? Wouldn’t it be amazing though?
Please read with me Romans 5:1-8. Notice, as we go through, that all 4 of hope, love, joy and peace appear in this passage. Those are the 4 candles for Advent! This is, then, the ultimate Advent passage! But today we are focusing on love.
What It Says
We’re going to really zero in on the last few verses, but let’s get there first. Justified is the same word as righteous, and that is a relationship word. Righteous, or justified, means God has decided we are in a good relationship with him. So our text starts with a relationship word! We have had our relationship with God repaired.
Having been justified, having had our relationship with God repaired, we have peace with God. This is the opposite of our former status as rebels against God, as treasonous revolutionaries fighting for independence against our rightful king!
All of this change has happened through Jesus Christ through whom we have been introduced to grace and now stand in grace. It is through faith in Christ that we have had our relationship with God repaired. This gives us tremendous hope- as we talked about last week- our hope for the future return of Christ when we are resurrected to spend eternity in close relationship with God. Having been reconciled to God and having this new hope, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
What, exactly, is the glory of God? Well, 1 Cor 11:7 says we are the glory of God! But, in Rom 3:23 – we all fall short of the glory of God. Here we see we rejoice (have joy) in the hope of the glory of God- that’s us! That’s our future- we will be resurrected and live with God, which is to his glory!
This new relationship and hope changes everything! We can even rejoice in suffering! For early Christians, suffering was expected. In fact, they even appreciated suffering because they regarded it as a sign God counted them worthy of his Kingdom if they endured suffering! [FF Bruce, Romans, p. 124]
Why? Because suffering has a tremendous effect on our character! It’s the difference between a rookie or a veteran on a sports team, or green soldiers vs veteran soldiers – suffering produces character! It is when you have faced difficulty, persevered, learned and grown that you develop character.
Next, Paul says our hope is based on God’s love. The Holy Spirit pours God’s agape love into our heart. This is a subjective experience- to know God’s loves you! Some people speak of being brought to tears over God’s love, others laugh, others shout for joy! It can be overwhelming at times, bring us to tears. But our experience of it is our own.
Another subjective aspect of our experience of the Spirit pouring God’s love into our hearts is seen in our
transformation. Remember, love is God’s very character! God is love. So the HS pours God character into our hearts (mind, feelings, desires, preferences and imagination). As we grow and are transformed, as we experience the fruit of the Spirit, we experience evidence of God’s love, this time at work in us making us to be more like him.
But the evidence of God’s love upon which our hope is based is not just subjective- not just how we feel or what we experience personally- there is objective evidence too! Thomas Watson points out that God sending his son “is a pattern of love without parallel; it was a far greater expression of love for God to give his Son to die for us than if he had voluntarily acquitted us of the debt, without any satisfaction at all.” This generous gift of the Son is objective evidence of God’s love. It’s not dependent upon my feelings or my experience. It is out there for all to observe.
Remember our measure of gifts? We talked about cost to the giver and the nature of the relationship between the giver and the recipient. It cost God greatly to send his Son to die in our place. It cost Jesus greatly to reconcile us to God. It was far costlier to God to redeem us through Christ than to just acquit us of the debt of sin we owe.
And what was the relationship between us? Paul describes us in 4 ways. Christ died for us while we were: Powerless – v6, Ungodly – v 6, Sinners – v 8, and, as Verse 10 says, – When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son! Wow! That’s the nature of our relationship with God before the death and resurrection of Christ! We were powerless to help the situation, we were ungodly, sinners and enemies of God! Yet, in that relationship, God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die a costly death for us! How can we possibly doubt the love of God?!?
What It Means
What does it all mean? This is God’s love in action! It is good to experience God’s love in our hearts. That is what can really move us, motivate us, rejuvenate us! The Holy Spirit at times will fill us with a subjective, emotional sense of God’s love for us and it is wonderful! But we won’t feel that all the time.
But regardless of what your personal experience has been of God’s love, the objective evidence is always there even when you don’t feel it! The nature of agape love is self-giving for the sake of others, even ones enemies. This is the radical nature of God. A few weeks ago I mentioned philosophy and theology and their descriptions of God- omni- this and omni- that. But the NT’s main description of the characteristics of God is agape love! Self-giving for the sake of his enemies!
When we come to Christ, we are opening up that envelope from our enemy who has paid off our mortgage! Only the mortgage is a mortgage we can’t pay and the enemy is God who is pursuing us- we are the bad guy!
This self-giving love is what Christmas is all about. Often we speak of spending Christmas “with loved ones.” We typically spend Christmas with family and friends. And this is a good thing! But when we speak of loved ones in this sense, we are speaking of a different kind of love than God’s love, agape love, the love of Advent. Agape love transcends feelings, transcends affection and family bonds. Agape love is so profound precisely because it goes into action when the feelings are not there- it goes into action for people we don’t like, for people who may, even, be our enemies!
God loves us this much! That while we were still his enemies, God was reconciling us to himself. This is the very nature of God! Some may wonder what God is like? This is what God is like! It is through this love that we have peace, we have tremendous joy and we have hope. Not only does God pardon us for our sin, but he adopts us to be his beloved sons and daughters! He puts us in line to inherit along with his Son Jesus.
The first Christmas, when Jesus was born, was God demonstrating the lengths to which he would go to bring us back to him. This is what Christmas is about- not family and friends, spending time with people we like or have an affinity with. Rather, Christmas is about pursuing our enemies to be reconciled to them! Christmas is about God pursuing us and God pursuing the people around us. Our job at Christmas is to demonstrate the love of God to people so they can know God is in pursuit of them too!
What does this all matter? Do you know God loves you? Have you experienced that subjectively? Has your heart ever been full of the love of God? Are you being transformed by God’s love to be lovely like God is? I hope so!
But sometimes we don’t feel God’s love. Sometimes we need to be reminded of it because the feelings are
not there. No matter how you feel about God’s love, remember that his love is demonstrated in this- while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
Now, I’ve been talking with some of you lately. Some of you are going through very tough times. Some of you are facing very difficult and disappointing circumstances. In such times, it is tempting to question or doubt God’s love. But let me say this: Tough times do not change God’s love for us. They are unpleasant! They are not fun. But they do not change God’s love for us. They do not change God having sent his Son to die for us to reconcile us to himself!
Parents know that sometimes tough times are for our own good! When Megan was 2, she and I were playing outside and she was barefoot. Being 2, she had no callouses on her feet. Somehow she stepped on some plant that had little spines. (Never did discover the plant!) She immediately had 3 green splinters slide deep into the ball of her foot. I got one out, but she started to cry and her foot swelled up a bit. I Called Amy. She came home, I held a screaming Megan, and Amy tried. No good! We went to a walk in clinic. A very kind Dr put a numbing agent on her foot and got the 2nd splinter out. But even he couldn’t get the third. Megan was screaming, crying, afraid, in pain. We asked if it had to come out? He said yes! Otherwise it could get infected. She may need surgery! Finally, he got a needle, we held Megan tight and he got the final splinter out!
For Megan, that was a traumatic experience. (It was pretty traumatic for me and Amy too!) But it was necessary. There was a problem with her foot that, if left untreated, would get really bad and could really harm her. In the short term, she had to endure pain, fear and hardship so that in the long run she would be healthier.
Does that mean Amy and I didn’t love her in that moment? She was angry with us. She was begging us to stop. She was asking us why we were doing this. It was painful and unpleasant. But it didn’t change our love for her. In fact, it was precisely because we love her so much that we went to such lengths to help her! If we didn’t love her much, or if we were just babysitting someone else’s kid, we wouldn’t have done so much to help.
Despite my personal experiences in the moment, the death of Christ shows God’s love for me. This is how we can rejoice in suffering! It’s God getting the splinters out of our hearts!
As I prepare for Christmas, I will remember God’s love for me, even while I was still rebelling against him. As you get ready to celebrate with family and friends, and maybe anticipate spending time with some family you’re not “that” fond of! Remember God’s love for you. As you fight through crowds at the mall, as you face end of year deadlines at work, remember God’s love for you. As you buy, wrap and give presents to people you have affection for, remember God sending his Son, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a gift to you when you had no affection for him! Amen.
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