Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
“Harmony with God”
A number of years ago a major American magazine published the results of a most fascinating survey. The editors had asked 16 prominent Americans what they did in order to find peace of mind in the midst of our stressful world. The responses were quite revealing. One said that he gets peace of mind by walking his two dogs along deserted country roads, old streams and fields that had not been plowed for half a century. Another found peace of mind in his hobbies—boating, photography and flying. He especially found peace of mind by taking reflective walks in the Grand Canyon. Another preferred solitude, usually by “going to sea in a small boat.” One would look for the best in others as a way to find peace of mind. Finally, one said his peace came from attending family reunions, preferably those held in out-of-the-way places.
All the responses are essentially subjective and dependent on outward circumstances. They reflect a desire for an ideal world, a quiet place to think, a place to be alone, with people you can trust. Who among us cannot identify with those longings? In this hustle-bustle world where we live in a continual pressure cooker, we all would like to find that “old stream” or that “little boat” or those forgotten towns where we can stroll down the street unnoticed. The responses show that there is a universal desire for peace of mind.
What are the most sought-after things in life? I think the answer must be that the satisfaction we seek—the peace of mind we crave, the sense of fulfillment we so desperately want—is quite simply not found in this world. Nothing in this world satisfies the hunger within; the answer must come from outside the world. What we seek comes from the unseen realm of the spirit. Satisfaction comes from God—and from nowhere else. That’s what Augustine was trying to say 1500 years ago when he wrote his famous prayer: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal said the same thing when he commented that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each man.
Our scripture says we are justified by faith. To be justified means to be acquitted, to gain a right standing. Justification frees the guilty man from paying the just penalty of his sin. It declares that he is totally exonerated. All charges are dropped. Nothing you can do can add in the least bit to your salvation. Thank God, you don’t have to be good to go to heaven. All you must do is believe. That’s what justification is all about. The moment you trust Jesus Christ, God says, “All charges are dropped. In Paul’s mind, there is no such thing as an “unjustified” Christian. If you are not justified by faith, you aren’t a Christian at all.
Paul describes many benefits to being justified. The first is peace with God. We can remember the national celebrations at the end of wars. Peace means that the fighting is over, the killing has stopped and the soldiers have put down their guns. It means that little children can now play in the streets without fear and mothers don’t have to stay up late at night worrying whether they will ever see their sons again. But more than that, peace means the restoration of a broken relationship. It’s more than just the end of fighting and bickering. It’s what happens when two people who haven’t been speaking once again become friends.
But peace “with God” comes because of our accepting the work of Christ on the cross for our salvation. It means that God is no longer angry with us. The war is over! Heaven is satisfied. We are no longer enemies of God, but through Christ, we have become his friends. Sometimes people talk about “making peace with God.” The Bible never uses that expression because it is utterly impossible to “make peace with God.” Humans can’t do that. You can’t “make peace” with the Almighty. It must start with God. Louis Talbot tells about a dying Christian who was visited by a friend who asked him, “Have you made your peace with God?” “No, I haven’t.” “What? Oh, you must make peace with God.” “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” “But you must. Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to die without making peace with God?” To which the Christian replied, “How can I make peace with God? My Lord made peace with me 2000 years ago when he died on the cross, and I accepted it. I have had peace ever since.” Another benefit of being justified is access to God. With all the access to information can we understand this concept of limited access in modern terms? “Access” has become a key phrase in our technological age. At the door of the garage, I try to remember the “access” code. At the computer, we turn the noun into a verb: “I need to access that file.” When I am at home trying to retrieve messages from my workplace e-mail account and my finger or my memory slips as I try to type in my password, the screen goes blank except for the sad judgment: “Access denied.”
Paul’s astonishing claim is that there is only one password we need to remember: Jesus Christ and that in Jesus Christ everyone has access to grace. And suddenly the entire picture is reversed. It is not that we are striving to reach God, it is that God is striving to reach us – grace. Suppose that tomorrow morning I fly to Washington and present myself at the White House and ask to see the President. When the guards ask who I am, suppose I say, “Just tell the President that Bob Getty is here to see him.” What will happen? Back will come the message, “I’m sorry. We don’t know who you are. You can’t see the President today.” And they won’t let me in. Why? Because I’m not a friend or a family member. I have no access. But suppose the President’s young son needs to ask him a question. He just walks in and says, “Dad, I want to ask a question.” And the president says, “Sure son what do you want?” No one thinks a thing about it. He has access to the inner chambers of the White House. Paul continues to say that with justification we have the hope of glory. The word “hope” in this verse can be misleading because in common parlance the word hope means something like “maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t”—as, “I hope the Cowboys win the Super Bowl.” But the biblical concept of hope is much different. It means “a confident expectation that something will happen because God has said it will happen.” This benefit of justification, then, is the confident expectation of the “hope of glory.” J.B. Phillips translates this as the “happy certainty” of the glory of God. In short, the “hope of glory” is the confident expectation that one day God will fulfill all his promises to us. Paul was absolutely convinced that, because of what Jesus had done for him, he would be able to experience the power of God’s glory eternally. Do we have that same joyous conviction of the power of God’s glory in our lives? Too often Christians either do not have hope in Paul’s sense of the word or, if they do, they don’t talk about it. If the Church is to grow, perhaps if the Church is even to survive, we need desperately, to experience the hope of the glory of God and then tell others about it!
This passage in Romans goes so far to say that we gain joy in suffering as a benefit of being justified. Does Jesus make a difference when the going is tough? Listen to Paul’s answer: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” What? Paul, have you lost your mind? Rejoice in sufferings? That’s absurd. No one rejoices in their problems. But that’s exactly what Paul says. Two little words make this a reality – we know! “For we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.” The most important words are “we know.”
There are so many things we don’t know. We don’t know why the tornado touched down in this town but not in that one. So many things we don’t know—in fact there is far more we don’t know. But this we do know—”All things work together for good.” The sufferings of life work together for good because they promote our spiritual growth. Suffering, Paul says, produces perseverance and perseverance eventually produces “proven character.” How? First you endure the hard times without complaining. Later you develop godly perspective as you realize that God has a purpose even in the darkest moments of life. This is the experience of the inexperienced sailor going through his first storm at sea. The storm terrifies him because he doesn’t know if the ship will survive. As the days pass and the storms come and go, the sailor gains confidence that no matter how bad the wind and waves, the strength of the ship is greater than the worst of the waves. He has faith in his ship because the sea has failed to sink it. Suffering lies along the path to spiritual maturity. All the saints of God have discovered this truth.
Ask Abraham and he will point to Mount Moriah.
Ask Jacob and he will point to the stone pillow.
Ask Joseph and he will point to a prison in Egypt.
Ask Moses and he will point to the backside of the desert.
Ask Daniel and he will point to a lion’s den.
Ask Peter and he will point to his denials.
Ask John and he will point to Patmos.
The final benefit of justification is God’s love poured out in our hearts, although we are unable to change our basic nature – while we were still weak. The Living Bible renders the phrase this way:
“When we were utterly helpless with no way of escape.” Paul is saying that as we stand before God, we are completely powerless to change our basic nature. Christ died for the ungodly. We could describe the ungodly as one that lives as if God did not exist. Precisely because we cannot change our basic nature, we live our lives as if God did not exist. We invent our own morality; we live to please ourselves; we go our own way; we do that which is right in our own eyes. In short, we set ourselves up as God and then worship ourselves. We then experience the futility of life without Jesus. That’s what it means to be a sinner. You try and you fail. You try and you fail. You try and you fail. You do your best but your best isn’t good enough. You set high standards for your life, but somehow you always fall short.
Then Paul gives us the great God’s incredible solution to man’s impossible problem – at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. His solution to our problem is so unusual that it goes far beyond human reason. The wonder is not that Christ should die for us – though that would be wonderful enough. The wonder is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, still ungodly, still powerless and still enemies of God! He didn’t die for his friends. He died for his enemies. He died for those who crucified him. He died for those who hated him. He died for those who rejected him. He died for those who cheered as the nails were driven in his hands.
Did you hear that? You and I have been made right with God, through Christ. Think of that. We don’t have to wonder whether we’ll be found acceptable when we stand before the throne of grace. We don’t have to keep trying to earn our salvation. Because of what Christ has done, those of us who so often get it wrong have been made right! Wow! Glory to God! Amen.