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Second Sunday in Lent 2024

Second Sunday in Lent
Romans 5:1-11
February 25, 2024

Luther called the Book of Romans the “Chief part of the New Testament and purest Gospel,” and that a Christian should, “know it by heart, word for word,” and “study it daily, for it is the soul’s daily bread.”

Luther wrote this in the preface to his commentary on Romans. And Luther is correct. St. Paul wrote this letter to the church of Rome, Italy and none of his other letters are quite like it. This letter, or what we call a “book,” it gives us everything we need to be Christian.

It begins with the human condition, that because of the sin of Adam, all humanity is born into sin, that no one is inherently righteous, but every human soul from every part of the world from the fall of man to this very moment is conceived as a slave to sin and death.

This horrible, hopeless, dark reality of our sin and unrighteousness because of the law of God should cause us to cry out, “What do we do, help us, someone, please,” and it is in this cry where Paul’s letter to Rome proclaims God’s answer: God declares us righteous for the sake of Christ. That because Christ our Lord has died, we are now set free from this condemning law. Outside of Christ there is nothing but God’s wrath against all who sin and fall short of His perfect glory. In Christ, we are set free by faith and faith alone.

Then we get into our text for today which proclaims to us the inevitable consequence for our salvation, that we now have peace with God because of Christ Jesus. And we’re going to get into chapter 5 of Romans in a bit but let me finish outlining the letter first.

After we learn of the wonderful consequence for God’s grace given in Christ through faith, he then answers the question, “What now.” This is chapters 6 through 8, and we learn that, as people who have been set free from the law, and who have peace with God, that we must no longer live according to the flesh, that we must battle against the sinful desires and passions of our hearts and flesh, that we must battle against the temptations of this world and the devil so that we do not fall back into slavery once more.

Yes, the reason we should fight against sin, that we should live a life of daily repentance, is not because it makes us right with God. We are already made right with God because of Christ. But we fight against sin because God does not want us to be enslaved to sin again. With God’s Holy Spirit living in us, and with God’s holy name inscribed upon us by Baptism, we have died to sin and God helps us even in our weakness, to fight against it. Part of the battle against sin is to have a faithful, habitual connection to God’s church, God’s family, to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament often.

Then Paul gets into the issue of suffering for the faith, that our suffering is nothing when compared to what awaits us in paradise. That God gives us great help from the Holy Spirit so that we do not bear our suffering alone.

St. Paul then confronts the matter of Israel. What happens to Israel now that the Gentiles have been brought into the kingdom of God. And those three chapters alone, chapters 9, 10, and 11, we could Yspend an entire year or more working through.

The final chapters again, concern Christian living and the battle against sin, that our bodies are not to live by the patterns of this world, but our bodies and minds and hearts are to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, and that we are to make decisions about our lives that reflect our faith, that everything we do, and I mean not just the one hour we meet on Sundays, but EVERYTHING we do, every part of our lives is to be a reflection of our faith in Christ. God is not a light switch where we can switch Him off for the week and go about living our lives as we please, and then on Sunday mornings at 8:59 AM, flip Him back on and pretend it’s the Christian way. It’s not.

Christians are to hate evil and sin and hold fast to what is good – every day, and use the gifts God has given to serve one another – every day. We are to submit to those who are in authority over us, including the government, including our parents, our pastors, our teachers, and we are to look at the commandments of our Lord, not as burdens which we cannot keep, or that we must keep perfectly to be saved, but as statements of God’s love. We flee from adultery, from murder, from theft, from slander and gossip because we love God and we love one another. Loving our neighbor with a godly love, not a worldly love, but a godly love is fulfillment of the law.

Paul ends his letter with some final greetings to various people in Rome and finally with the words, “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Here ends the summary of Book of Romans.

Dear Christian, I exhort you to read the Book of Romans. If your Bible has collected more dust as it sits idly on your coffee table or on your bookshelf and has collected little in the way of fingerprints and pen marks and a worn binding, start with Romans. Read it with your spouse and your kids, with your friends, with whomever. But read it. Because the Book of Romans has got to be better and more life-changing than most of the garbage we read, watch, or listen to on a daily basis, garbage that is produced by the world and the influence of Satan.

But today we’re looking at Romans 5…

To start off, take notice the word, “since.” The text doesn’t say, “IF” we have been justified, but “SINCE,” we have been justified, right? Through Him we “HAVE” obtained access by faith into this grace in which we do “most certainly, absolutely” now stand.

This is the Gospel. This is the result, the consequence for us because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done for us on the cross. We ARE considered righteous and just in heaven because of Christ’s one righteous act on earth – His death on the cross. There is no longer hostility between God and man, but peace, comfort, hope, joy. You don’t have to wake up in the morning wondering if God still loves you after a day of sinning and falling short of His glory. He does! And His love for you, poured out upon you in baptism through the Holy Spirit, this love changes you into a people who rejoice, not just in the good things, the pay raises, the long vacations, winning a game, getting an A on a paper, but also in the suffering.

God allows suffering, immense, difficult suffering in our lives because as people of the Spirit of Christ, our suffering leads to us holding on tightly to His grace and promises, so that as we hold fast to our Lord, we learn to let go of and turn away from the sin and evil that once held us down. This trust and endurance in our suffering makes us a people of character, a people shown to be genuine.

Yes, there are people, and we know plenty of them, who because of suffering or fear or anger or resentment or whatever, walked away. They walked away from God, they walked away from His church, and now they’re living their lives as if the devil and his lies is going to save them. Jesus’ death on the cross was a wonderful and joyful thing for them…that is until the concerns and pressures and pleasures of life stole their attentions away and suddenly Jesus became a hindrance, a roadblock to their life choices and sinful living. And Jesus is clear about this: we cannot serve two masters. We cannot claim Christ as Lord and then, like a light switch, shut Him off and go back to living as if He isn’t there.

But this is our world today, and this philosophy has certainly found its way into the more worldly and liberal churches. Repentance has become, for so many, a turn off, so they go back to living in the illusion of freedom and love painted by the devil who holds them captive.

You know, there are a lot of Christians in the world, and a lot of people who make money off these Christians, by the way, who pursue a faith which precludes suffering. They search for a Jesus who delivers them from suffering, a Jesus who supports them in their pursuit of worldly things, of money and possession, of barns filled with their heart’s desires, and when suffering comes, they shrivel up, they walk away, the abandon the pursuit.

Our Lord never once says that His people will escape suffering in this life. I mean, just look at our Gospel reading today. What does Jesus say to the crowd and to His disciples? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Before this, just after Jesus spoke of His own suffering and death, Peter sternly rebuked Him. Peter said to Jesus, “stop talking about suffering and death, that’s uncomfortable, bad stuff. We want to hear good stuff, positive, kind stuff, helpful stuff,” and Jesus had to say to Peter’s face, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” How often do we do like Peter and rebuke our Lord and shun His Word because it’s uncomfortable for us?

Consider how we live in very overly sexualized society. Man, how difficult it has become these days to preach against adultery. So many, even Christians, have been brainwashed into this glamourization of adulterous living. But being a Christian does not make sin any less sinful and it does not set you free TO sin, and as Christians we must stop turning a blind eye to sin. We must relearn to speak the truth of God’s Word, to speak in love, but to speak none the less.  Our concern must be for the eternal souls of our neighbors and not their immediate creature comforts and sinful desires.

See, we have peace with Christ because in Christ we have died to sin, sin and our old nature has been buried away in our baptism and the new temple has been raised up in which Christ dwells. So, will you now take your body, the temple of your Lord, and live in unholy ways, doing what the world does? No, and I pray it may never be.

In the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie with Gene Wilder, the guy who owned the candy shop with all the kids running in after school, do you remember that part of the movie? What were the kids doing? They had their hands out and they were screaming, “me, me, me, give me, give me more,” right? And what was the shop owner doing? He was just throwing out candy and candy bars and gumdrops and liquorish all over the place. And you can just imagine those kids’ teeth were all rotten and their kidneys were shutting down…but that was GREAT marketing for Hershey’s and the other candy companies around the country, wasn’t it? “The Candyman can fulfill all your desires and dreams and hopes in a little sugary morsel…”

But the candy store is not the Christian faith, and the Candy man is not our heavenly Father. God is not throwing about all our heart’s desires of wealth, health, and worldly bliss and happiness, along with all carnal pleasures, is He? No, and in fact, every one of us in this room suffers and has suffered on account of the faith, and our greatest suffering is our battle against sin and the sinful flesh, right?

And no, it’s not easy to hear. Me telling you that you will suffer for the faith seems very counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It’s almost like the world has a better sales pitch. “Get good grades, play a lot of sports, go to school and earn a degree and you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and everyone will like you and it’ll all be fun, and you can do whatever you want.” But what the world doesn’t tell you, and what’s barely legible in the fine print, is that you may gain everything in this little sliver of life; you may avoid suffering in this brief breath of air called human existence; you may have thrills and bliss and your flesh tantalized whenever you wish, but you will most certainly lose your life forever if you are ashamed of Christ’s words and shun His call to repentance, and pass up His gift of salvation.

See, Jesus offers us truth, reality. His Word casts out the illusion of this world, the lie that says we can have our best life now and escape suffering as long as we follow the world’s plan. We can’t. We will either suffer in this life on account of Christ, or we will have everything we want in this life and suffer forever in the next. Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the situation; He doesn’t try to soften the blow.

See, the truth shall most certainly set you free, but it’s work of making you a free and an eternal child of God doesn’t mean that it won’t bring a bit of suffering your way. Being set free from sin and death doesn’t mean that you won’t have to make some hard choices about your life and your convictions and what’s important, that it won’t bring about a fair bit of suffering as the Lord rips those idols and household gods from your hands and crushes them under His foot.

But as you endure, God is making you to be a person of character, of conviction, of genuine faith. And it is this gift of faith and character and endurance which ultimately brings you hope because you know that the suffering you endure in this short life is done for your glory, your benefit.

THAT’S true love! True love dies for you, even when you are the worst kind of sinner. True love goes the distance even for those of us who are not deserving of His first step. True love speaks the truth, whether it bring joy and happiness, or discomfort and heartache, because the death of God’s Son is the only way to save you and humanity from sin, death, and the devil.

So, as you go about your days and weeks pondering the mystery of salvation and forgiveness of sins revealed in Christ, look intently to your Lord who, out of pure joy, suffered much for you, and then take up your cross and learn to suffer for Him, because it is your suffering which produces endurance which produces character which produces hope, where His true work in your life shines through. Amen.