September 18, 2011

Righteous in Christ Alone - Sept 18, 2011

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For the past four Sundays our sermon readings have taken us into the eighth chapter of Romans. There the apostle Paul talks about the suffering that followers of Christ must endure in this life, before they finally get to experience the bliss of living with God in heaven.

Toward the end of chapter eight Paul ramps up his encouragement to his fellow Christians and lists off reason after reason for us to keep on trusting in God, no matter what sufferings come in this life. He says…

God’s on our side, who can oppose Him?

God didn’t spare His own Son in saving us, so we know He’ll give us everything good!

Nobody can overturn God’s verdict of “sins forgiven”. God is the ultimate judge, and in Christ our verdict is “not guilty”.

God’s own Son who suffered to take our sins away stands at the Father’s side speaking up for us.

Paul concludes by saying that he’s convinced that as long as we keep on trusting in Jesus ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.

The Bible tells us that we are sinners who deserve nothing but punishment from the Holy God who created us. But because of Jesus, our sins have been paid for. All who trust in Jesus stand sinless in God’s sight. In Jesus we don’t just have a good head-start on getting to heaven, we have heaven itself. Through faith in Christ’s cross, our passport reads “Citizen of Heaven”.

It’s this complete security in Christ that moves Paul to write the words we meditate on today.
We read the beginning verses of Romans chapter nine and ten…

Romans 9:1-5, 10:1-4 (NIV)

9:1I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Paul is on a high at the end of chapter eight. He’s thinking about the sure salvation that is HIS because of Jesus. He’s already laid this secure salvation before his Roman readers as the foundation for their comfort in suffering. But then his mind turns to think of those who don’t have this basis for comfort. His heart turns to think of his nation, the Jews. And he expresses his sincere sorrow that most of the Jewish nation has rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and by doing that they have rejected their only hope.

When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, do you think of all the people who only have a cup of rice and a handful of dirty water? In the winter, when you curl up in a warm bed with a solid roof over your head, do you sometimes think of those who are sleeping outside, with only the shirt on their back to keep them warm?

This is what Paul thinks of as he rides the high crest of the wave of comfort that is salvation through Christ. He thinks of those who don’t have what he has. He thinks of those who don’t have Christ.

Some of the Jews followed Paul from city to city trying to stamp out this “new” religion. But Paul harbors no ill will toward them. His heart is filled with compassion. He knows that he too is a sinner who doesn’t deserve the gift of God’s free forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

Here. Meditate on these passages from Scripture. Jesus says…
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
In Ephesians it says…
“7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV).
In Romans it says…
“…Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11 NIV).
“…sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
When contemplate certainty of forgiveness that we have in Jesus, it moves us to compassion for those who don’t know this security. It makes us want to share this security with others.

This is why we need to keep on coming together on Sunday morning, and on other days we set aside for worship. The more we see that we are truly, freely, absolutely forgiven through what Jesus did for us, the more we will gain the courage and the wisdom to share this message with adults and children around us.

It’s when the Gospel becomes some bland fact that we know in the back of our minds that we sit back and let mission opportunities slip through our fingers. It’s when we get caught up in the daily grind or the daily busyness or daily distractions, that we begin to lose perspective, lose sight of where we sit because of Jesus’ cross. Above the law. Above condemnation. Above our well deserved guilt. Free and victorious.

Paul brings us back to reality with his word of sorrow. We are children of God through Christ. But there are many who do not know this peace. And WE can give it to them through the simple Gospel of Jesus’ cross.

Paul really feels for the Jews because they are his own people. And he knows their history. In our reading Paul points out how much interaction the people of Israel have had with the true God. He says in verse four
“…Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 8:4-5 NIV).
The Jewish people descended from Abraham. Back in the day when Abraham was still called “Abram”, God came along and said, Abram, leave your family ties here and travel west. Eventually you’ll reach a land that I’m going to give you and your descendants. Eventually, I’ll bless the whole world through you.

So, Abram trusted in this covenant that God made with him. And he went west, not KNOWING what would come, but TRUSTING that God was true.

Then came Isaac, and Jacob. Then came the twelve tribes of Israel. And when the descendants of Israel had become a huge nation enslaved by Egypt, God took them to be His own people. In Exodus 6 God tells Moses…
“…say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:6-7 NIV).
And for no other reason than God’s undeserved love, Israel became God’s chosen nation. They were adopted as His people.

Then came the Ten Commandments, and all the other laws through which God showed Israel what kind of a God He was. A loving God who would reveal the way of blessing to them.

Along with the Law which showed the Israelites what His will was, God also gave them a Temple in which to worship Him. And when that Temple was dedicated, His own visible glory descended and filled it. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, we read…
“10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:10-11 NIV).

Along the way, God blessed the Israelites with all sorts of famous leaders. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Moses. King David.

Eventually, the very Savior of the world was born from the nation of Israel. The Savior through whom the whole world would be blessed, was born to a Jewish girl named Mary. This was God’s own Son. The One who God had promised would crush the power of the Serpent, and restore sinners to God once and for all.

All of this history Paul knows and summarizes as he thinks about the Jewish people. How they have been blessed by God.

The glory of the Israelite people has ever been God’s interaction with them. But it seems to Paul that this glory will end in tragedy, for when the promised Messiah finally arrived, the Jews crucified Him. After all God’s prophecies, and all His steadfast love, most of them rejected the Savior, and held stubbornly to their own self-righteousness. A righteousness that is really none at all.

There is a warning here for us. Outward association with God’s things does not connect us to God. Even outward association with God’s Word does not connect us to God. Even knowledge of God’s Savior does not connect us to God. Only inward faith, TRUST in Jesus as the sin-cleanser, connects us to God and salvation.

There is a tendency in human beings to hold onto outward things as our hope.

The ancient Israelites once walked into a battle carrying the Ark of Covenant. God hadn’t told them to do this. They carried it because they figured it was an amulet. A charmed box that would guarantee their victory. But God hadn’t told them to do it, so they were defeated soundly in battle and many lost their lives.

In Jesus’ day, the Jews thought that the fact that they were descended from Abraham would get them points with God. But John the Baptist tore this superstition to rags. In Matthew we read…“
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9 NIV).
After Jesus had ascended back into heaven, there were people who tried to cast out demons by using His Name, even though they were not His true followers.

Acts 19 says…
“13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16 NIV).
Jesus Himself said…
“21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV).
Outward association with God’s things does not connect us to God. Only trust in Christ as our Savior from sin does that.

In the book of Romans, Paul’s main theme is that we are righteous in Christ alone.

To grow God’s church outwardly, we have to start with Christ and what He did to save us from sin.

To grow inwardly in our connection to God, we have to start with Christ and what He did to save us from sin.

We have to start with Christ.

And when we start with Christ, we find miraculously that we have reached the end also. In Christ we have the beginning of our salvation, and the end.

Like Paul says…
“4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 NIV).

If you fire up your internet browser and type in “the rest is just the details” you’ll get a parade of things that people love.

Golf is life, the rest is just the details.
Football is life, the rest is just the details.
Horses are life, the rest is just the details.
Surfing is life, the rest is just the details.
Sewing is life, the rest is just the details.
Education is life, the rest is just the details.

If the apostle Paul had a Facebook account, he’d have this as his daily status, “Christ is life. The rest is just the details”.

Let’s make that our motto in every area of our lives. If we’re talking mission work, lets start with Christ, the rest is just the details. If we’re talking about our inner faith, lets start with Christ, the rest is just the details.

May the Holy Spirit enable us all to see where we stand through faith in Jesus. As forgiven children of God. And may the clear perception of all that this means for us in this life and in eternity, move us to compassion for those who don’t have this motto. And may the clear perception of all that we have in Christ move us to grow in knowledge of our great God, to His glory, and our eternal security. Amen.

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