For The Hope Of Glory

Sermon Text – 08.25.2019

[Romans 4]
          A long time ago there was a guy named Martin Luther, he was a reformer couple hundred years ago. You probably recognize the name because there was another guy named after him called Martin Luther King Jr – but the original guy was born in Germany five hundred years ago. In his writings, Martin Luther has this moment when he writes about the failures of the great founders of our faith. He writes about the time when Paul and Barnabas got in a big fight, which is described in the book of Acts. He writes, “Here it appears either Paul or Barnabas went too far. It must have been a violent disagreement to separate two associates who were so closely united. Indeed, the text indicates as much. Such examples are written for our consolation: for it is a great comfort to us to heart that great saints, who have the Spirit of God, also struggle. Those who say that saints do not sin would deprive us of this comfort. Samson, David, and many other celebrated men full of the Holy Spirit fell into grievous sins. Job and Jeremiah cursed the day of their birth; Elijah and Jonah were weary of life and desired death. No one has ever fallen so grievously that he may not rise again. Conversely, no one stands so firmly that he may not fall. If Peter and Paul and Barnabas fell, I too may fall. If they rose again, I too may rise again.”

Today is the last sermon in our series Road To Rome, Part I. We’ll be back in the book of Romans in a couple months, but today we are wrapping up the first four chapters. Chapter one was all about the glory of God, how incredible the real God is. Chapter two introduced the darkness – if God’s glory is the light, there is a shadow in each of our hearts. We talked about judgment and what happens when the light meets the dark. Then just last week Paul outlined the path into that light. We saw that God is both the source of all good things, and also the way we get to those good things. It’s really all about God’s glory in the beginning of Romans. Today we have a bit of an odd project in front of us. Today we are going to follow Paul as he looks backwards, into our history in order to look forward and find hope in our future.

          To understand chapter four of Romans, we need to take a second and remember the story of Abraham. Abraham was a character in the very earliest chapters of the first book of the old testament. The story is kind of odd, but basically God shows up one day and says, “if you follow me, and trust me – I will bless you.” It was very one sided, God is the one who does all the blessing – all Abraham had to do was listen to God, trust God and God poured out blessings on him. Abraham was a really old man, and his wife was a really old lady – but God said you will have a son. And not just you will have a son but your descendants will be so many that you will be the father of a nation. I feel like, some of us want kids, and some even want grandkids – but we don’t really think much past that. Maybe great-grandkids – anybody got great grandkids here? But can you imagine the promise – your descendants will create a nation. And actually most of the story of Abraham is God telling him to do stuff, stuff that seems impossible and Abraham just trusting God to get it done. And we know that the promise to create a nation was fulfilled in the people of Israel – the Jewish nation. Now, part of the story of Abraham was a sign of the covenant – also known as circumcision. Now, I’ve been dodging that topic for weeks now, but we got to talk about it for a second because it has come up every single chapter in the book of Romans. Circumcision, as you know, is the cutting off of the tip of a man’s penis. I know, I know, move past it – we’re adults, in it’s in the bible, we can handle it. Now this was not a normal practice – it’s normal in the modern world for medical reasons, but back then this was a religious practice that nobody would ever do. It was a sign of the covenant that said, “I’m Jewish, I’m part of this group of people and there’s no doubt because there’s no other group of people crazy enough to let a knife go anywhere near that part of the body.” There’s a comedian Jim Gaffigan who says, “boy those challenges in the bible really took a leap there. Don’t eat this apple, build me a boat, cut off a part of your penis.” It’s very intense. (Little side note, because I think this is amazing. Some people ask – why circumcision? Why would that be the sign of the covenant? And I had a professor point this out one time. Think about Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross. There were three men hanging on that cross. Now I know that modern imagery covers him up, but historically, most likely Jesus was not wearing a diaper on the cross. They were usually naked. And because of the sign of the covenant given to Abraham three thousand five hundred years before, it was very easy for common folk who couldn’t read the sign to figure out which one was the Jewish man, the son of God. So the story of Abraham is important, particularly in chapter four of Romans, because Paul looks back to Abraham to give us hope for the future.   
           As we begin chapter 4, if you’ve been following along these last couple of weeks, you might notice that Paul has distinct style. In his letters, he spends a lot of time talking to himself. Like, he’ll ask a hypothetical question and then provide the answer. It’s like his writing is basically just him thinking out loud – what if they say this? Well, here’s my response to that. It’s almost like he’s imagining the objections that people might bring up, or imagining the questions that people might ask and then trying to answer them ahead of time. In fact, that’s how the chapter starts. He says, [read verse 1]. In the last chapter, Paul outlines the path to Glory – basically trust in God, have faith in Jesus. And now he’s looking back into the past and comparing this new teaching about Jesus with what happened in the past. And Paul wants to know – how did Abraham get right with God? Did he earn it by being a good guy? Or was it something else? [Read v.2-4] If it was about his good works, he would have something to brag about. If good works were like wages, then God would owe us – it would be an obligation. But in the middle there, verse 3 gives us the big idea: it’s not about works, it’s about faith. Abraham believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness. Works are not wages, and there’s no bragging rights.
Verse six, Paul basically says, “to prove it, let me quote King David.” Verse 7 and 8 are the quote of King David from Psalm chapter 32. See, there’s something going on here I don’t want you to miss. Paul is reaching back and using the authority and the power of the major players of the Old Testament. Paul is taking the story of Jesus, this thing that is happening right now in his modern world and he’s tying it in to the greater narrative of Jewish History. He’s giving his words weight, he’s giving his argument validity by attaching it to the heroes of old. There’s two big reasons here – first, the church in Rome has a lot of Jewish converts. People who were Jewish, but are now Christian – and so Paul is speaking their language, he’s talking right to them using characters and quotes that mean a lot to them. The second reason Paul is giving us a little history lesson is that there’s a lot of Gentile converts in the Rome as well. Gentile just means, non-Jewish people, right? The other part of what Paul is doing here is that he is bringing the gentile converts into the family history. He’s making them a part of this new thing that Jesus is doing in the world. Verse 16 it says, [read it]. The promise of God’s blessing comes through faith, through belief in Jesus – not through circumcision, not through any amount of good deeds. You see what Paul is doing – he started by talking about Abraham and King David, the big Jewish players from the Old Testament – but now he is extending the family of God to include all faithful people. Paul is looking at a church that has two very different groups of people trying to live and work and worship together in one church.
Verse 17 says [read it]. Now, can we just stop for a second and soak up that last phrase. Because I feel like it’s super easy to just blow past that – God who gives life to the dead, and calls into being things that were not. Think about that. It’s not “god took some cake batter and a couple eggs and made something else – it’s not God took some stuff and made a different stuff.” It’s God who calls into being things that were not. Just sit for a second in the raw power of a thing that can do that. That’s why we call God the creator. He’s the only thing in the universe that can actually call something into being. 
Then we get to the end of the chapter, which is my favorite part in here, v.18 say, [read it]. Against all hope. Abrahams situation was such that there was no hope, and yet he had hope. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”[1] Basically what he’s saying there is that hope is not a real thing until you are standing on the edge of hopeless. When you are hopeless, and you right on the edge, you are one shred away from giving up – that is the only moment in your life that hope becomes a real thing. Against all hope, he had hope. It keeps going [read v.19]. Okay, remember – he had a kid when he and Sara were like 100 years old, literally. Without weakening in his faith, Abraham faced the facts – my body is almost dead, there’s nothing left in my wife’s womb. Abraham is not denying reality, he’s not denying the mountain of obstacles and difficulty in front of him – he is recognizing that God is bigger than any obstacle. [read v.20-21]. I usually wait until the end of the sermon to do the application part, but this application is just screaming at me out the text right now. Abraham had some really serious obstacles, some impossible hurdles he needed to overcome. God is greater than the obstacles. Now think about your obstacles. What sin dominates your life? Do you struggle with lust? Pornography, attractions to the wrong people in the wrong way? Do you struggle with addiction, substance abuse? Do you struggle with greed, fear, doubt, apathy, pride, gossip, lying? Or are you just a little bit of everything? What is your mountain made of? What is killing you in this life? And do you believe in a God who tear down mountains? Do you believe in a God who can give life to the dead? Against all hope, when it seems impossible – can you find hope? Can you trust in the God, being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promised – to defeat your sin, to conquer your struggle, to raise you from the death you created for yourself and give you a new life?
Verse 14, [read it]. If you depend on the law, if all you needed was circumcision, then faith is meaningless. If all you needed was to follow the law, to work hard enough to earn salvation like it was wage. If all you needed was to just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just do better – than faith would be useless, and I could go do my dream job at a putt-putt golf course instead of being here. But Paul is telling us that God wants more. God goes deeper. It’s not just about following a list of rules. God doesn’t just care about “are you following the letter of this law?” God wants you to trust him. To boil it down – faith is greater than rules. Faith is better than rules. Having an actual connection with the creator of the universe, trusting him with all your heart – that is more important than playing the part. It’s more important than looking good on the outside.
Verse 23 tells us [read v.23-24]. The good news this morning is that God credits faith as righteousness. God takes our faith, our trust in Him, and he counts that as a good deed. Trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is the only good deed that you’ll need to get into heaven. Because when we do all these good deeds, all this stuff we do to earn our way into heaven. We think, I’m a good person, I’m basically a good guy and so God has to let me into heaven, but God looks at that and says “not good enough.” Because faith is better than the rules. God wants more than obligation. More than your rule following, more you’re your legalism. God wants your trust. God wants your love. Now I can already hear the objections, “Now, wait a minute – does that mean I can just go out and sin and stop doing good deeds, do whatever I want?” And Paul deals with those objections, because the people in Rome thought the same thing. The title of the sermon for chapter 6 which is coming in October is literally “Shall we go on sinning?”  But for right now, trust me when I say all you need is to trust God, and that trusting God is the proper motivation for a living a fulfilling, godly life doing good in the world. God credits faith as righteousness. The only way to be righteous in God’s eyes is to trust him, to trust in Jesus. [the short version: trusting God is trusting God enough to live the way he asks us to, rather than trusting in our own morality]
The response is really simple – a lot of us spend a lot of time working, earning our wages and we figure when we get to the end God will owe us heaven. We have this weird pass fail good deeds versus bad deeds picture of judgment. If I did more good than bad, I get to go to heaven. And so we do good deeds, and we avoid bad deeds to hope we are good enough. But when we find out that the only way to be righteous in God’s eyes is to trust him, to trust Jesus as our Lord – it shifts our world. The response to what we learned today is… don’t hope you are good enough to get into heaven. Hope that God is good enough. Don’t trust in your efforts, trust in God’s efforts. There’s a casting crowns song called Who Am I? that captures this, it says, “not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are!” It has, all this time, always been about God’s glory and what God does for us. We just have to trust him, like Abraham did.


          There’s two pieces of application and then we’re done. First, what we see when Paul takes a look at the story of Abraham, is that we are included in the family of God. Because it’s not about circumcision, it’s not about the law, it’s about faith – that means that anyone who has faith can join. So if you believe in Jesus Christ, son of God, savior of the world – then welcome to the family. It’s a really weird family, full of sinners and hypocrites. You look back over our history – it’s really, really messy. There’s not a single perfect person in our history until we get to Jesus. We are, all of us in the Christian faith, heirs to an embarrassing, humiliating history full of failures and hypocrites, full of pain, sadness, betrayal, hope, joy, heartbreak, moments of love. There is a story, a story you are part of – full of broken, beautiful people that God loves and pours his forgiveness and grace on. We in the family of God, are not better than other people. We don’t believe that we earned something, that God owes us something. We don’t believe we are better than non-christians – we believe that God is better than us all. We are not good enough for heaven, we never will be – but we trust in the God who is good enough. So, if you are broken, far away from God this morning – stop trying to be good enough all by yourself. Don’t hope you are good enough for heaven, hope that God is good enough – trust in Jesus and welcome to the family.
          The second piece of application from Romans four is that after you trust God, and you’ve joined this messy family we call Christianity, let that trust lead you to hope. Be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promised.  Look back into our history, into the wealth of stories that we have to learn from. Look to Abraham – against all hope, facing the obstacles head on, as verse 20 says, yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. Trust God, enter the family of God – and let that trust lead you to hope.          

Understand this, if your salvation rested on your shoulders, on whether you were good enough – we would all be doomed. But a connection to light based, not on how good we are, but based on how good God is, and whether we believe in that good God – in that system, what we call grace – there is hope. Martin Luther says, “no one has ever fallen so grievously that he may not rise again. Conversely, no one stands so firmly that he may not fall. If Peter and Paul and Barnabas fell, I too may fall. If they rose again, I too may rise again.” And so I’ll leave you with this. May you look back and pay attention to the rich history of the family you are a part of. May you stop hoping you are good enough, and start trusting that God is good enough. And may that trust lift your spirit and lead you to hope. Amen.    [1] Signs of the Times, April 1993, p6

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