Monday, January 05, 2009

Sermon - New Year's Eve

Romans 8:31-39
New Year's Eve
December 31, 2008
“On the Making of Lists”

Are you as sick of it as I am? The yearly ritual of new years week – the making of lists. Lists of the top 10 new stories of 2008. The biggest celebrity fashion disasters. The top 100 songs, the best TV moments. Blah blah blah....

But I suppose it's natural for us human beings to take stock once in a while, to look back and count, do an inventory, and then look to the future. We are beings created to live in time, and we couldn't exist without it. So we mark the milestones, the calendars, the passage of days, months, years. It all goes back, in a way, to the 4th day of creation when God set the heavenly bodies up there to mark out our time.

So here we are on a secular holiday, gathered in God's house. It shows that for us Christians, anytime is a good time to hear God's word and meditate on it, and to pray for his future blessings. But now, the end of the year, seems an especially good time to do so.

I'm not sure if 2008 will go down in history as anything special. I don't know what the biggest thing that happened this year was. I suppose it depends on who you ask. But I do know this. 2008 was a year in which God worked wonders for his people, brought people to faith, brought them home in the faith. A year in which sinners came to repentance and in which people were baptized and sealed with the Holy Spirit. A year, just like any other year, in which God has been good to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 8 seems a good passage for us tonight. It's meant to assure of of God's everlasting love for us in Jesus. And if we want to make lists, this is a list-y kind of passage. It starts with a list of rhetorical questions. Let's ask them, and answer them, one by one:

What then shall we say to these things?

What things? All the blessings of salvation Paul has so far described to the Roman Christians. What shall we say in response to those blessings? Paul is about to say it -

If God is for us, who can be against us?
The simple answer to this is, “no one”. Though some would oppose us – in the past or the future – no one can really, ultimately, stand up to us with our God on our side.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

A: He will graciously give us all things. He already gave us his best – his own Son Jesus Christ. And while everything else pales in comparison to that gift, it does show the giving and merciful character of the Father – who wants to give us good things.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?

A: No one. Not Satan, that's for sure. No sin can be held against us. They are all forgiven in Christ.

It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?

A: Again, no one. We stand holy and righteous and blameless and just before God. In his courtroom, we are not guilty, because our advocate Jesus Christ has served the sentence of death in our place.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

A: Again, no one can. No thing can. With the Lord of All Creation going to God on our behalf – interceding for us, there is nothing to fear. We will never be separated from God's love in Christ.

Shall tribulation?

No, though it may come, and often has come to Christians. In fact, in times of tribulation the church has usually grown. In personal times of tribulation, God tends to grow the individual's faith. Think of the tough times from your past, maybe this year, and how God has carried you through. Nothing can separate you from his love.

What about distress? No.

or persecution? Nope.

or famine? No, we have the bread from heaven.

or nakedness? No, we have the robe of righteousness.

or danger? No, he delivers us from evil.

or sword? No, we have the shield of faith.

But the Romans faced all these things. They were persecuted, tortured, thrown to lions, made a gruesome display to satisfy the cruelty of wicked men. Some of the unspeakable tribulations they faced aren't fit to mention publicly. But Paul assures these people of faith that God loves them, even when all appearances seem to show otherwise. Remember Jesus Christ, and you will remember and know God's love.

There's another list – the list of things that might try and get in the way of that love -

...neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation...
None of it is bigger or stronger than God's love for us in Christ.

As we look back, we Christians can count many things. We could count our sins, which are many. And we would fail to count them all. But we could also count God's blessings, which are even more. And we would fail to count them all. We could count his promises to us, and these in Romans 8 are among the best. And when we're done counting, we can look to the future with a clearer eye, and a stronger faith.

For our God, our help of ages past, is our hope for years to come. We look back to his salvation, accomplished for us at the cross and empty tomb, and we look forward to that future day when he comes again in glory. And for now, we look to his word, to his promises, and to his love, which is always for us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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