Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode · 11 months ago

Our Only Hope in Life and Death

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Romans 8:28-30

Can read a passage you all are familiar with, but we will read it because it's good to be reminded. It's excerpted from a flow of a text that really begins in chapter one of Romans, but we're coming to the crescendo of Paul's thought and he writes, and we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose, for those whom he fore knew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. This is the word of the Lord. So I'd like you to imagine as we consider this text. Just to start here, and I'd like to imagine you have a boring job. Your daily work is repetitive and meaningless, long hours, very little vacation, working conditions are stark and uncomfortable, and this is not an unrealistic picture. I had a summer of job back the summer before Randie and I were married in Memphis Tennessee where that's exactly what my job was. I would awake each day at thirty, we get in the cart five drive to a gravel pit out east of Memphis, Tennessee, and there for eight to ten hours have the exciting job of sitting in a birth with one other man, a small mobile home you might say, or trailer, and trucks would load up with gravel from the shovels and then drive over this passage and stop on the scales. And this is this was the activity of the day. We do the counterweight, get the read, pull the counterweight, write the number on a ticket and handed to ten hours a...

...day. Didn't talk to them. A lot of the Times they complained about the weight and that was a summer job for me. But the man I worked with and been there about twenty five years and and let's just say he was not a conversation partner. Partner, he I would come into work every day and he'd say how are you mark, and I'd say fine. James, how are you? We'd say fine and that was it for the day and we rotated back and forth because of the rules of the Union. Now imagine that our boss and both of us are doing this job long term, shows up one day and pulls each of us aside in private and he says, Mark, I hate to do this to your b business has been hard and we're going to have to reduce your wages five percent this year and if it doesn't turn around, we're going to take away some of your friends benefits. Are Left to pay for your health insurance and part and I just want to tell you in advance. And then he pulls James Society says, James, I want you to know that things are going really well in the business and you're a faithful worker and I want you to know if you can finish off your thirty years here, I'm going to give you a bonus at the half a million dollars. Now, do you think the next day there would be any change and how we would go about our work? Well, obviously, because our futures had been painted in very different colors, and what we expect in our future affects us now, because we're human. Human's live in the past and we live in the future. In the past we look back with regret and guilt, and in the future we look forward with expectation or...

...dread, with fear and anxiety and how we live now is directly related to our believed in future and he would have changed our believed in future with those words. Now, I don't know if you ever heard of a gentleman named Victor Frunkel. He was a Jewish Austrian psychologist who was interred in the concentration camps under Hitler and World War Two. Ended up in four different camps, ended up in Auschwitz Berkenhew at the end of his stay in the concentration camps. And he was a student of humanity and he noticed the ways people cope with life in those brutal conditions and and he said what he would he noticed, more than anything else, so there were certain people that seemed to rise above the hatred and the brutality and the torture and and all that was part of living under the thumb of the Nazi regime in those days. And what he what he found, is that the people who were able to rise above it always had a believed in future that gave them reason to endure. They had a picture of what the future was going to be like that put wind in their sales, even in the most difficult circumstances. And if they didn't have it changed everything. He tells the story in his book about one of his friends in the camp who had a dream that the war would end in March, and his friend was convinced the dream was a revelation from God and it filled him with hope. But as the date drew nearer, it became clear from the news reports they would catch that the war was not going to end on March thirty and as that became clearer and clearer, on March twenty...

...nine he began to run a fever. On March thirty he lost consciousness and on March thirty one he died. For uncle says his loss of hope had lowered his body's resistance to all the diseases in the camp. That's how significant are believed in future is. He was healthy as long as is believed in future was positive. He lost all confidence in life and died when his hope was destroyed. And that's what we're talking about her his hope. Hope is what we have when our future looks positive. We we need to know that the end of the story makes sense of all the bad stuff and the first chapters. Andrew del Bunco, who is a professor New York University may be retired by now. Put it this way, human beings need to organize the sensations amidst which we pass our days. Pain, desire, pleasure and fear into US story and when that story leads somewhere, it helps us navigate through life, through inevitable death, because it gives us hope. So we're talking about hope. Everyone has strategies to generate hope. Right, if you talk to anybody anywhere in this country or any country the world, they have ways of generating hope. They have to have a hope for future. So they think that say things in the midst of suffering. They say I believe something good will come of this, or I know there's a purpose in my suffering, or it's always darkest before the Dawn. The only problem is that may not be true. That's just wishful thinking. I had an older friend who used to say in the midst of difficulties in life, people would come to...

...and say cheer up, things can be worse, and he said I cheered up and they got worse. So hope has to be grounded, doesn't it? It's not just wishful thinking and God gives us certain truth about our future. That gives us reason for a certain hope, not what may happen in the future, but what will happen now. Just want to start with thinking about hope as we enter two thousand and twenty two. are believed in future, as defined by God, will affect how we live day by day. Now let's turn from the subject of hope and talk about a catechism question you're probably familiar with at the Heidelberg Catechism. Question One, what is my only comfort in life and in death? I when I first read that catechism question about ten years ago, I was I was just struck by the wisdom of the wise pastors who put that down because they knew that the primary question the members of their Church would ask in the midst of the set sorrow and pain and sin of their daily loves, was what what's big enough to give me comfort in this life and as I face death? They looked at their lives and they said every day or every month there's some kind of two hundred pound guerrilla pain and suffering in my life, and what is big enough to take it on? And answering what's the five hundred pound hope. That answers the two hundred pound trouble or sorrow or sin. So I'd like to think that you could Redo the catechism question to what is my only hope in life and in death? What is what is the believed in future that's big enough of...

...for whatever I face in life and whatever I will face in a certain death? Well, I think Paul answers that in this passage. I think. I think Paul is taking up the subject of hope because he talks about it just a few verses before and he's he's giving an answer. Let me let me reread the passage and what I want you to notice is how much Paul is talking about the future. We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good. For those who are called according to his purpose, that's future. They will work together for good. For those are me, for near, that's past. He also predestined to be conformed with the image of his son. That's future, in order that we might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those are me predestined. He called in those of me called, he justified, in those whom he justified he glorified. That is future. He is writing to people who are asking what is my only comfort in life and in death, are groaning with suffering, there aware of their sin, and he tells them about the certainty of their future in Christ, the grounds at an eternity past. He talks about present realities, but it's very much about a certain future before them. So we've introduced hope. We've talked about the value of future certainty as we face all kinds of difficulties in life. So let me now turn to two ways this speaks to us. They're too, too two hundred pound guerillas in our life, if I can put it that way. Picking up on that analogy, one is sin and the other suffering. One is sin and the other suffering, or sin and sins. So let's talk about how the hope that Christ gives is greater than sin and sins. BELTTLE autobiographical here. When I was first...

...converted in one thousand nine hundred and seventy one, God gave me a profound sense of freedom from sin. The sins that he had used to show me my sinfulness fell away in a day and I became very aware of my forgiveness before God and very aware that I was a new creation that was my verse. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. And four months that went on this this total freedom from sins of the past. And then it was as though the Lord said, okay, batter reality, and I began to experience that passage in Romans seven where Paul says, for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. I found in me an inner law. I delighted in the Law of God, but I found something warring against my delight in God's law and defeating me many times. And it turns out that this what I thought was a permanent freedom from sin's power, such that I would never sin again, turned out to be a temporary law on the battle. And now I was engaged in the day and day out, of being in a war, the flesh warring against the spirit, the spirit against the flesh and the words of Galatians five and and from that day to this, almost daily, fifty years now, it is it is my regular experience to face the fact that sin still dwells in me, as Roman seven says, and the battle must be engaged and the desires of the flesh are deeply rooted in my heart and no matter how hard I pulled, they don't get rooted out. We lived in Portland, Oregon when we were first married in reading...

...bought a house and Little Arya called Laurel Hurst and I was in seminary and then serving in my first call in a church right in that area of Portland and we were working in our backyard trying to first time homeowners, trying to fix up the yard, plant things, and I discovered weeds in my backyard, surprise, surprise, and I decide to go out and pull those weeds. So I went out and spend a couple hours pulling all the weeds, but I was all done. Next Day came out, same weeds. They come back and and I went to a friend. I said what, what is this thing? He said all those are morning glories. He said that plant in your backyard probably has its roots in my yard two miles away. I mean he said these things they just spread everywhere and he says there's no way you're going to get them all up. What's what? That's what it feels like with sin, doesn't or let's switch from rain soaked organ to the dry desert of Arizona. Have One of my first great surprises in coming to Tucson was in the middle of the hot month of June, hundred ten degrees outside, you go out in your backyard and a weed has sprung up. There hasn't been a drop of rain in two and a half months and there's a weed. It's about that hot and you think I'll reach down pull it out and you grab hold of that thing and ten minutes later your breaking out in a sweat, your hands are bleeding in the wheed is still there. That that's what sin is like, isn't it? That's what sin is like and we face that day in and day out. The sinful disadvires of my heart seem as though they never give up. So why should I keep pressing on? That's battlings. And what about sins? Well, let's talk about in that battle with sin. Sometimes God's people, yes, God's people,...

...commit sins that, in the words of the Puritan, wound the conscience they are. They are such transgressions that it's almost as though they gain a grip in the person's heart and they become accusing sins and they spend their whole life tempted to regret and wish they had never done it and wonder how they could go on as a Christian and have any respect of God's people having done the things that they had done. It really does happen, David King, David, would be an example. And we lose heart. We lose heart people, God's people, do sin that way and God's people, in the face of such great and public sins, lose heart. So we have sin, we have this constant battle and we had sins and that persistence of presence of sin can take the wind out of our sails and we can become listless and discouraged. And the actual sins we commit, they overwhelm us with fears and doubts and accusation. So where do we go with that is? Is there an end of the battle? Well, Paul wants us to know that they is a certain future. That gives us hope and that hope gives us reason to endure. Look at look again at verses twenty eight to thirty. We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose, for those who me for nearly predestined to be conformed the image of his son, chosen an eternity past, Paul says, you, you, you are called according to God's purpose. He knew by name before the world's were made. What that means is very simply this. When God, the father, gave God the Son to bear your sin, he already knew everything about you and no matter what you...

...do or think, it's already factored into the equation. The father never says, well, I didn't know you're going to do that. This goes back into the mind and heart of God, an eternity past. And then he calls us, he predestines us, he calls us out of death into life. He justifies this, which means we're fully accepted before God, just as we are. And then he looks ahead and says you will be glorified. And to be glorified, as it is a hard term to describe, it means we will share in the fellowship of Father, son and Holy Spirit, in a new creation forever as sons and daughters of God. That's the certain future than that is ours. The father gave his son for us, Jesus gave his body and blood for us. He intercedes for us, Paul says, and the future is certain. He has fully paid for all my sins and set me free from the tyranny of the devil, which is the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. He who began a good work and you will complete it in the day of craigs. He is able ultimately to keep you from stumbling. He is able ultimately to present you me, with all the battles of sin we have, with all the sins we have committed. He is able to present US faultless before his presence, with exceeding joys. So God gives us that vision of a certain future in the face of our sin, in the face of our sins, because the question we ask in the battle is why should I keep fighting? And the answer is the outcome is certain. The outcome is certain. God gives us promises to motivate us. Now just a word about how God motivates. God has two...

...ways of motivating his people. One his warnings and the others promise us. And for many years, being a good reform Christian, I thought the accent was on warnings. It isn't. The accent of scripture is on these fantastic, unbelievable promises of God about the certain future he holds for us, because because God, God knows that. Yeah, we can be motivated by fear, but it's much better to be votivated by hope, isn't it? If, if my hope is if my future is certain, then that gives me reason to joyously keep pursuing, rather than if God is threatening me, I'm afraid of being punished and so I better keep pursuing. Those are worlds apart in terms of how I live. God gives me promises, so I have reason never to give up and confidence of what God might do. So today, for you, for me, no matter what your present battles, no matter what your past record is, your sin or your sins, you have in the father, son and Holy Spirit, the father giving the son, the son giving himself, the spirit of God given to show you Jesus. You have, in God, in Christ, every reason to never give up hope in the face of our sin and our sins. And I think there's something else we face that might show us the need for a believed in future that God has promised, and that is suffering, sins and suffering I have. I have an awe of suffering in a pastor forty years and sixty six...

...years, old. I have it. I have an amazement at what seems to be the infinite variety of ways God ordained suffering in our lives. Suffering, I almost say suffering, is holy. It's to be walked around with a whisper and to tread the ground softly around it. They're all kinds of suffering. Prolonged suffering, severe pain, loneliness, betrayal by a friend, the loss of a child in a tragic death, financial loss, injustice, violence, war, wrongs done to us, wrongs that we have done. That brings suffering to us. Paul calls it groaning. We grown in this life, we do, we do. And yet Paul has a promised future for us that answers the most severe forms of suffering, the most prolonged forms of suffering, and it's in verse Twenty Eight. And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who were called according to his purpose. Now that's about the future, isn't it? You're in the midst of the old things and Paul wants you to know that God is going to work all things for good. It's a bold assertion. He people said, well, how can God bring good out of this, whatever that suffering may be. I've stood with people next to the grave of the child they've buried. Parents are not supposed to bury their children, and...

...they've asked how can God bring good for this? What's a bold assertion. It's a very simple statement, but we know he can because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God is able to work all things together for our good because he worked all things together for our good and the death of his sirm Jesus was made like us in every way, tempted in every point as we are, yet without sin. He was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, and at the end of his days he was betrayed, rejected, abandoned, hated, slandered. People in power use their power to oppress him and to destroy him. He experienced a mock trial of injustice, he was tortured with the delight of those to the delight of those who tortured him, and then he experienced the most shameful and excruciating death ever designed by man, crucifixion. Chrisifixion was designed to obliterate every good memory of that person's life. Real felt suffering beyond anything I've ever known. He entered into our world with us. And what was the outcome? Here was the outcome. God is able to take all things and work them for good. Well, exactly, because that's what he does, because he takes all the injustice, all the torture, all the betrayal, all the abandonment, all the mockery, all the shame of Crucifixion, his trial, his murder, and out of it he brought the salvation of an uncountable multitude of all nation. That's sounds like all things work together for good, even the most evil...

...things. Perfect it almost seems to be too weak a word to describe what God has done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Maybe when you were a child or heard about alchemy. Alchemy was a quest among medievals that lasted for centuries. It found out so many cultures of the world and it was it was the goal of these medieval alchemists to find a way to turn base medals into gold that will, for obvious reasons right, I never did figure it out, but God did God turn the lad the Base metals of human perversion and wickedness and its most vile expression into the redemption of a countless multitude. See, in the ancient world there were a couple different ways suffering was viewed. The stoics at except suffering, sort of lean into it. The epicurean said avoid suffering much as you can. There were massochist who said make suffering happen. But it's interesting is in Christianity and in Jesus you have someone who didn't accept suffering and didn't avoid suffering it. didn't merely embrace suffering. In his death and resurrection he swallowed up suffering and transformed it into glory, which is why Paul and said Granthan's for says this momentary light affliction is working for us an exceeding weight of glory. It's being turned from lead into gold. And the Heidelberg had chism asks this question, and it's twenty six question. What does it mean for God to be my father? And one of the answers is he is able to turn to my good whatever evil...

...he sends me in this sad world. The last word is not suffering, the last word is not send the last word is the triumphant saving grace of God for his people through the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, Intercession of Christ. That's the last word, and you will, I will, will one day be presented to him faultless and with great joy, and every pain, every sorrow we have had in this life will be transformed into a weight of glory and we will not remember anything else. It's hard to believe that, though, isn't it? The suffering in the sin seems so, so much more real than these are just words on a page, and I got to apply this personal I'll end here. I teach. I go to the country of Serbia three or four times a year to teach at a school for Future Church leaders. Small Church, one tenth of one percent of the population. God raising up a new generation of leaders. God bringing students to this school from who knows where. Not An impressive number of students, but God as at work that since I've been going back, they had this thing about testing. To get back in the state I have taken te negative. Have to have a negative covid test within now, within one day of travel. When you get there, you get a test. You you're able to go. Tested negative, get in the plane, twenty four hours arriving Belgrade, teach for the week, but the fourth day of teaching I'm thinking what if I test pausive. So, just so you know, you need to get this scene here. Serbi is on nobody's bucket list, okay, and there's a reason for that. It's not the kind of place you want to...

...spend ten days in quarranty. I didn't even know if the hotel would let me stay if they throw me out on the street. So I'm thinking about this a lot, matter of fact, pretty much every waking moment. In the back of my mind I'm saying whatever I to stay. And then this passage came to mind. God is able to work all things together for good. So I began to say so, Lord, if whatever you have from me, you have something good in it for me, and if I'm supposed to be here another ten days, then there's something of you and of goodness that you have for me in that that I'll experience in a way. I never wonder if I just tested negative and came home and that hope that God will take all things and work them together for good was sufficient to answer my fear. And then I tested negative and came home. Sort applies in the daily life, whatever it is you're facing, whatever the sin is, whatever the suffering is take take this five hundred pound guerrilla promise and use it to answer that lightweight guerrilla of sin and suffering in your life. It's bigger, it's stronger, it's truer. In the face of sin, God gives me a promise of a certain future of freedom from all sin and the face of suffering, God gives me the promise of a certain future of my suffering being transformed into glory. Amen, let me pray for us.

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