The Second Sunday in Lent March 4, 2007
151(1-3,6-7), 346, 342, 47
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
In Christ Jesus dear fellow-redeemed:
The cross is probably the most common and most recognizable of all Christian symbols. It is visible in churches, on greeting cards, in artwork, and jewelry. The cross has become so common and so popular that one has to wonder whether all those who see it, wear it, draw it, or use it really know and appreciate what it means, or if it has just become part of fashion.
The form of a cross has no special power to defend against danger or perform miracles. To believe that it does is superstition and no different than trusting in a rabbit’s foot. Nor should the cross itself ever become an object of worship. Any such worship would be idolatry.
The cross is a symbol. It has no value or significance of itself. The value and significance come from what took place on a cross, outside of Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago. When the symbol brings to minds and hearts all the things that Jesus accomplished by dying on a cross, it is then that the cross becomes the most beautiful thing in the world. SEE THE CROSS OF CHRIST AND REJOICE! We are I. Reconciled by it. We will consider our II. Response to it, and we are III. Confident in it.
Two words, justification and reconciliation, are both used by Paul to describe what Jesus did for us on the cross. Justification is a courtroom term and means “to be declared righteous.”
God is the judge of all. The guideline for His judgment is His Law. The judging is really quite simple. If God’s Law is kept perfectly, the judge declares the person innocent. If the Law has been broken in any way, the judge declares him guilty. God’s verdict on us is Guilty! We are justified—declared free from guilt—because of what Christ did in His life and what He completed on the cross.
The second word, reconciliation, is a personal term. A broken friendship is restored when the friends are reconciled and brought back together. The reconciliation removes whatever had divided them and they are once again friends.
God takes no pleasure in sin. He hates it and demands punishment for it. Those who are sinning take no pleasure in God and hate Him. A little later in Romans, Paul writes, “The carnal (natural / fleshly) mind is enmity (hatred) against God” (Romans 8:7). Sin separates man from God. It drives them apart. Where sin exists there is no reconciliation. When the sin is removed, sinners are no longer God’s enemies but are reconciled with Him and restored as God’s own children.
Our justification and reconciliation depend on the removal of sin’s guilt. Sin and its condemnation is the problem which once solved will solve everything else. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom also we have access into this grace in which we stand…” [v.1-2]. We are justified by faith…through Jesus Christ.
There can be no justification or reconciliation by ourselves or through ourselves. We are justified and reconciled—the action is done to us. The only way to be declared righteous is to have righteousness and “all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In order for us to be reconciled with God, His Law had to be kept and our sin against it had to be punished. Jesus did both. He led a perfect life in our place and on the cross died for the sins of all the world. Through Jesus’ life and death there is forgiveness, justification, reconciliation for every sinner. “[God] has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing (charging) their trespasses to them…” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Jesus accomplished everything and finished it all on the cross. There is nothing left for us to do, which is good, because there is nothing we can do for our salvation. “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ…for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
God tells us that the work has all been done by Christ. It was accomplished on the cross. There is forgiveness and reconciliation for you through Jesus and what He has done. Believe it!
Two beautiful results of being justified and reconciled with God is that we “have peace with God” and we “have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Having been justified through Jesus Christ we are in harmony and at peace with God. His righteous anger toward our sin was put upon Christ on the cross. Now, God looks on us with pleasure because we have Christ’s holiness. There is peace for our conscience because we know that Jesus was punished for us. No longer do we have to fear God. He is our loving Father and we have free and complete access to Him just as children have to their loving earthly fathers. We enjoy all of these blessings because of God’s grace—His undeserved love. We have been brought into that grace and continue on living in it because of Jesus and the work He accomplished on the cross.
See the cross of Christ and rejoice because what He did on the cross was for you. He died for your forgiveness and through Him you are reconciled to God and have the blessings of God’s children.
The natural response to good news is happiness and excitement about whatever that news may be. Paul says, “through whom (Jesus)…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” [v.2] The work of Jesus on the cross and our reconciliation means that we have something wonderful to which we can look forward. It is natural to rejoice in the coming glory of God which we will experience for all of eternity.
Paul goes on with something that, at first, seems to be an unnatural response. “…through whom we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations.” [v.2-3] Having been justified through Christ, we can rejoice and glory even in troubles and not only when tribulations come but because they come. This contradicts every bit of human reason and worldly wisdom. Having no problems sounds so good and so easy that it seems foolish to speak about rejoicing in troubles.
God does tremendous things for us. We know that He is the one who gives us every blessing, takes care of us, answers our prayers, that He is the one on whom we can truly rely and trust that He will always help us. We know all of this and yet how often don’t we forget? Are you more likely to remember God when the things are going well or when you have some trouble? God allows troubles to come to help you and to strengthen your faith, therefore you can rejoice even in tribulations. Paul describes a chain of events. “Tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character hope.” [v.3-4]
Tribulations remind sinners that they are weak and helpless. We have need for daily support and blessings from God just to survive. We should be more afraid of good days and prosperity than of the troubles because the good things in this life are going to tempt us into forgetting the One who gives us everything. The ease of this life may tempt us into forgetting our heavenly goal. Proverbs explains the dangers, “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).
In trouble, we are reminded to look to the One who helps us. When you are in trouble of any kind, look to the Lord and ask Him for the help you need. Are you sick? Remember from where healing comes and ask the Lord for that healing. Emotional strain or difficulties, an empty checkbook, disagreements with friends, the world caving in, troubles and sorrows on every side—all of these find remedy with the God who loves you, who has redeemed you, who controls all things, and who gives you everything you have.
When troubles arise, and you cast your cares on God perseverance will be the result. A patient endurance will build up when you know that God is going to see you through difficulties and that He will solve every problem according to His wisdom. Each tribulation when it is face together with your Lord, will be overcome and will find a good ending. The patient endurance and blessed end of that trouble will give further endurance to patiently trust the Lord in the next time of need. James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3).
What is described as “character,” is literally, “the proof of standing the test.” With each tribulation that is overcome by perseverance in the Lord there comes the proof that the trouble was survived and endured. Having seen how the Lord has brought us through a certain trouble, our confidence is increased and this leaves its mark on us. The more and more we see of what God has done, can do, and does, the greater confidence and trust we will have. That trust and confidence will show itself in us. We will be more patient, more ready to look to the Lord, and less eager to find help in ourselves. That character will build and be more and more focused on Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
The final step in the chain is that character produces hope. As our patience and trust build and as we grow stronger and more confident in our Lord, we will hold on all the more dearly to the hope that we have in God. God uses tribulations to produce perseverance and character so that our faith will withstand the temptations of this life. Then we will one day see in person the glory of God which is now our hope.
All of the trouble in this world is a lasting result and effect of sin. God allows certain troubles to come to us in order to strengthen our faith and trust in Him. It is like an athlete who lifts weights to build strength. When more weight is added it is hard to lift the bar, but in the end that is what increases his strength. Each difficulty that we experience may seem heavy and hard to bear but we can rejoice and glory in it because we know that God is using that to strengthen us.
We need continual strengthening from God so that we are able to withstand the attacks of the Devil and reach our goal. “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall life by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:36-38). “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Our tribulations give us no comfort in themselves. It is the hope of the glory of God through Christ that comforts us in troubled times. We are able to respond to the cross of Christ with rejoicing even in tribulations because of the chain of events which Paul describes. We know that the God who sent His Son to justify us is also using the troubles of this life for our greater good.
Sometimes hope ends in disappointment—something didn’t work out right and everything we expected failed. The hope we have as a result of Christ’s death on the cross does not fail nor disappoint. It does not leave us empty-handed as if we were tricked into putting our trust in something uncertain. Our hope is sure. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” [v.5]
The hope we have comes to us from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost testifies to us through the Word of God and convinces us that God loves us and that His love is our possession. The knowledge of that love is the reason for our joy, confidence, and hope. Hope that is built on God and created by God cannot end in failure. Our hope is built on the reality of God’s love for us. What is that love? How deep does it go? How far does it spread? Paul gives us the answer. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [v.6-8].
Imagine that a man was proven guilty of horrible crimes, was sentenced to his just reward, and was to be executed…but you could be executed in his place. It would be hard to see any good reason to sacrifice your life for someone who deserved to die. You might jump into a lake to save someone who was drowning, but to die in place of someone who deserved to be executed would be another matter entirely. You are the person on death row. Your crimes against God deserve execution, eternally.
God demonstrates the quality and quantity of His love for you in that Christ did offer Himself in your place. We can see and appreciate love among ourselves, but that is nothing compared to the love of God toward us. When we love someone else it is a result of their love for us or is at least prompted by something in them. There is absolutely nothing in us to prompt God to love us.
By ourselves we are as Paul describes us, “without strength, ungodly, and sinners.” Weak, helpless, condemned sinners and under God’s wrath is what we are without Christ. What Christ did on the cross He did for us as enemies of God. His sacrifice displays true love and is the love we see in the cross and the love on which we build our confidence.
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” [v.9-11]
Sinful mankind was at war with God yet He loved such sinners with so great a love that Jesus died to reconcile them and make them God’s children. Now, through Christ, we are God’s beloved children. If God did all of these things when we were His enemies, can you imagine what He will do now that we are His children? We have no need to fear anything in this life, and more importantly no need to fear God’s anger in eternal judgment.
Love is shown by deeds and deeds establish confidence. The indescribable love of God is shown in what He did. That gives complete confidence for the present and for the future that lies ahead. The certain hope that comes from this confidence will not leave us ashamed or disappointed. We have life in Jesus’ life. He promised, “Because I live you shall live also” (John 14:19).
Everything that we have in Christ and everything to which we confidently look forward, makes it possible to rejoice and boast in the things which God has done. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
The cross of Christ is cause for rejoicing because of all that it has brought to us. Keep the cross fixed before your eyes and in your heart and you will always see it and rejoice.
Hold Thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies,
heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee.
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.