The 7th Sunday After Trinity July 10, 2005

INI

The Secret Hope of the Sheep

Romans 8:35-39

Scripture Readings

1 Kings 17:1-16
Ephesians 4:29-32
Matthew 18:15-22

Hymns

11, 325, 32, 45

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus, Beloved of God:

The painting is considered a masterpiece. It has gained admirers for centuries, but it has puzzled people for centuries as well. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa sits in her chair with that expression—that “secret smile.” Just why is she smiling? Nothing in the picture gives any clue.

People who live with a hope in God will say they have something to smile about too. In fact, there are times where they may not have to say anything at all. It may be that a person’s carriage and manner under difficult circumstances will say it all. That is what it means to live with a secret hope. But to suggest that we should always live and look as though that nothing stresses, depresses, or oppresses us is to lay a tremendous burden on anyone’s shoulders. That’s like saying “a Christian never fears death.” Let’s be honest about our human frailties and admit that, yes, we sometimes are afraid, sometimes we fail to wear the smile or live on the strength of our Hope. Then let us look to the things that will encourage and nourish our faith and hope. Let us consider why the world does often see an unquenchable light in the eyes or a resiliency in the spirit of those who are Christ’s. When we are reckoned as “sheep for the slaughter,” let us look again to the secret hope of the sheep. I. This victorious hope lies hidden with Christ II. This secret hope prevails over the Adversary

I.

This hope of which we speak is a secret hope, not because it can’t be known, but because it is so completely bound up with someone hidden—someone whom the world does not know with any understanding. Our hope lies with Jesus Christ, and since it is bound up with Jesus it is a victorious hope!

Jesus once pointed out how foolish it is to start building a tower without first counting the cost to see if the one has the resources to finish the job. From time to time we have seen large hotel projects or office complexes started by builders in boom times who couldn’t finish when the boom turned to bust. The tax rolls are loaded with empty monuments to foolish investment.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about real estate. He was talking about attaining the goal of everlasting life. All too often people are convinced that they have the resources and fortitude to win God’s approval and adoption on their own. Jesus was confronted, for instance, by the rich young man who boasted “All these things (the commandments) I have kept from my youth(Luke 18.21). This man’s tower of pride came crumbling down under the test Jesus suggested: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me(Luke 18:22).

The Apostle Paul put the same problem in more straightforward terms: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin!(Romans 3:20).

God, our Savior, through His own love, has provided the alternative and effective means of salvation: a “righteousness of God apart from the Law.” This is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe(Romans 3:21f).

This is the heart of our faith. As we gather to worship, we confess the utter futility of our own righteousness before God for we are “poor miserable sinners.” In repentance, we have abandoned the idea that we will ever accomplish anything of value on our own. We believe and hope instead in a completed righteousness, accomplished in our name, through the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Still, there are doubts. There are uncertainties. There are trials and tribulations. When we baptize a child, we see a whole lifetime of obstacles ahead before that child ever tastes the full reality of Christ’s gift. When you were confirmed as a youth, you professed your faith in Christ and vowed to remain faithful to Him, but you little realized how difficult that faithfulness would be. As the years go by and the centuries have gone by, Christ-confessors have shared in tribulations, distresses, persecutions, famines, nakedness, peril, and sword. These things are not coincidental to our Christianity, they are because of it!

So it has always been for children of God. Paul reached back 900 years before Christ for the quote “For [God’s] sake we are killed all day long; We are counted as sheep for the slaughter(Psalm 44.22). But remember, it is not, nor has it ever been, the business of Christ-believers to build their future on their own resources. We rather have the joy—the privilege—of building on a fully victorious foundation. It is the foundation laid by Christ who loved us. We have Christ, who was sent by God out of love for a world lost in the tragedy of sin. We have Christ who loved God with a perfection that eluded us and who loved us with a willingness to die a thousand deaths for us. Believing in Christ we have His Spirit who binds us together in love toward a Lord we’ve never seen and reveals His love to our hearts and minds.

It was with that awesome love—God’s love—that a great victory was won in spiritual realms. By love we were redeemed from the just punishment of our sins. By love we were delivered from the power of Satan who hates us and attacks us in deceptive ways. God in Christ holds a love for each of us that relentlessly pursues our eternal welfare. God, for Christ’s sake, loves us as though we cannot be tarnished because Christ continues to intercede for us in our sins of weakness or ignorance.

Possessing Christ by faith, we are more than conquerors because what we look forward to and what we build our lives upon is complete in Him. That gives us every reason to smile through all.

II.

Our secret hope prevails over the Adversary. The question arises for every one of us along the way: “If we are so loved by God, if we belong to Christ, the King of kings, why do we suffer for confessing His name?” That is the issue of the whole Psalm which Paul quotes in our text—a people which struggles valiantly to be faithful to their God sees themselves as abandoned by Him.

It is important to recognize that every challenge to our faith and every problem goes back to one adversary and one mastermind with many allies. Luther taught us to pray for help so that “the wicked Foe may have no power over us” (Luther’s morning and evening prayers). So when we feel our love for God being tested, or our confidence in His presence turning to doubt, that is the time to start asking questions from the Kingdom perspective: What is Satan up to in all this? How might he be trying to work things to his advantage? Satan has but one goal—to separate us from Him!

Our strength and hope lie outside ourselves. They are bound up with the victorious Christ. It is a comfort to realize that all the things that come our way have no ability to separate us from Christ and everything He promised. Death cannot separate us for Christ is the Resurrection. Life cannot, for we have died to self and live for Him. Angels cannot fool us because we have His written Word as a lamp to our feet. Principalities (some translate “demons”) and powers have no power beyond what God allows; and whatever God does allow, He manages for our eternal good. Christ does not change. We were chosen in Christ long before time began, so nothing present, nor future, is able to cancel our election. We are safe as safe can be!

Our safety in Christ is lost only if we walk away from it. If we would abandon this Hope, if we begin to smile on this world and its false pleasures rather than smile in spite of its assaults, if His love for us means little to us, then we take that as a warning to repent and return to Him who loved us. When we confess our sins, it is an honest inventory of ourselves. We are rightly amazed that this God is so willing to forgive. When we hear our Lord’s absolution and when we partake of the Lord’s table, we do so in awareness of the awesome sacrifice which we was made for our salvation.

In this way, walking in Christ, we will understand Paul’s “we are more than conquerors.[v.37] It may not look like it. Paul reminds the Corinthians that it often appears that “the outward man is perishing…” But fixing our minds on Christ’s everlasting love “the inward man is being renewed day by day(2 Corinthians 4:16). This is the hope that will surely bring light to your eyes and form a knowing smile on your lips. Praise God for this secret, unquenchable hope! Amen.

—Pastor Peter E. Reim


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