This morning is the third week in our Lenten Journey toward the Cross of Calvary. During Lent, Pastor Drew will be preaching a 7-part sermon series which will focus on some of things Christ specifically accomplished through his suffering and crucifixion, collectively referred to as the passion of Christ. The series is entitled “Why Did Jesus Die?” and is inspired by John Piper’s book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The main point of the whole series is that the suffering an death of Jesus Christ was a purposefully event; many of the reasons for the passion of Christ are for our benefit. The hope is that you will come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death on the cross. Today’s theme is salvation. The main point is that Jesus died to rescue us from final judgment.
- #1: March 6: “Faith Not Our Own But Ours to Live By“
- #2: March 13: “The Cross: The Means of Freedom“
- #4: March 27: “The Cross: The Means of Reconciliation With God“
- #5: April 3: “The Cross: The Ground of Our Boasting“
- #6: April 10 (Palm Sunday): “The Cross: The Crowning Glory of Jesus Christ“
- #7: April 17 (Easter): “Victory!“
Scripture: Romans 8:32, 37-39; Psalm 63
Is it right or fitting that good people should suffer? We know that good people suffer, but is it right that they do?
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, a part of us believes this should not be so. Deep, deep down, we struggle with the notion that leading a virtuous life doesn’t somehow earn us more blessings and fewer adversities. And on the flip side, that leading a dishonorable and unscrupulous life doesn’t always result in fewer blessings and more misfortune. Isn’t this the rationale behind the saying, “What goes around comes around”? Haven’t we all surveyed the disastrous fallout of a bad person’s actions and thought to ourselves, “They had that coming”? And how many of us have secretly shaken an angry fist at God and exclaimed, “How could you let this happen to me after I’ve done for you? Is this how you repay me for my faithfulness, for trying to live my life according to your ways?”? I know I have.
The truth is, God is impartial when it comes to deciding who he blesses and who he doesn’t. We know this because Jesus himself said this is how it is. In his own words, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45).
This was Job’s big learning from his own sufferings. He absolutely couldn’t understand why God was allowing him to suffer given the fact that he was such a good person. The opening verse of the book of Job describes him as honest, full of complete integrity, who feared God and avoided evil. Other Bible versions describe him as blameless and upright. The fact that God allowed his children to be murdered, his entire source of revenue to be destroyed, and his personal health to be brought to the point of being in sheer agony confused Job. And so, throughout the book he accuses God of being unfair toward him. By the end, however, he learns that even though he never got a good answer for why he suffered so much, he realized that his righteous life had little to no bearing on whether or not he would be blessed by God.
Like Job (following his final conversation with God), we have to resist the impulse to tie God’s blessings to our own actions, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Because the truth is, everything we consider to be God’s blessings are the direct result of the work of Jesus, specifically, his suffering and death. Herein lies your take-home for today: Jesus suffered and died to obtain for us all things that are good for us, things we would call blessings.
In Romans 8:31, Paul poses the question, “If God is for us, who is against us?” Another way of asking this is, If God, who’s the ultimate judge of us, has declared us to be ‘not guilty’ and has set us free, who can thereafter bring charges against us? The answer is no one! The Chief Justice of the Heavenly Supreme Court has spoken and declared us to be not guilty, which means that we can’t be found guilty, or condemned, by a “lower court,” so to speak.
In the very next verse, Paul gives his support for this argument. The logic of this support comes in the form of a statement of fact followed by a question intended to validate the entire point. Here’s the statement of fact (and I’m slightly paraphrasing for the purpose of clarity): God the Father didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Here’s the follow-up question: Given that fact, won’t he also freely give us all things along with giving us the Son?” (Rom. 8:32). If we change the entire argument into a single statement that it implies, then his meaning becomes clearer:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will therefore surely, in addition to giving us his Son, graciously give us all things.”
Here’s Paul’s logic: If God did the hardest thing of all—namely, give up his own Son to suffering and death—then it’s certain that he’ll do the comparatively easy thing—namely, give us all things which come with being given Jesus. God gave his Son for us all. And in giving us his Son he will give us all things.
The question is, what does “give us all things” mean? Well, one thing we can all agree on is that “all things” doesn’t imply an easy life of comfort. Nor safety from enemies, natural disasters, or life’s various curve balls. We’ve already acknowledged that these things happen to everyone, including the most faithful among us. Paul himself was subject to hardships as he often mentioned in his letters. Just a few verses after the one we’ve been looking at, he informs his readers that the very lives of he and his companions-in-ministry are constantly being threatened on account of their ministry—what we could consider good and righteous work for the Kingdom. With this in mind, he’s quick to remind us that the hardships we experience are not signs of God’s judgment against our sinful behaviors. Again, he seeks to make his point with a question for which there is only one possible answer. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” (v. 35). The answer, of course, is no. Not because these things don’t happen to Christians, but because “in all these [painful] things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (v. 37).
In this last statement, Paul’s word choice is very important. In the Greek, he intentionally begins with the preposition, “in.” (Note: a couple of Bible versions use the word “despite,” but I believe that misses Paul’s point.) In all these hardships, meaning through these hardships, on account of these hardships. Being in the middle of and going through the hardships of life fundamentally accomplishes something very important in our lives, something that can’t be accomplished apart from them. Paul says, IN all these painful experiences, we learn to become victorious in life. Life’s trials provide the necessary opportunities to live into our faith and trust in God when it would be easier to give up or walk away from God. And the victory is ours not because of our own strength or wisdom, but ours through Christ—through his love which he poured into us on the cross. So, life’s hardships are not to be viewed simply as unfortunate aspects of the journey which are just a part of life (the meaning when “despite these hardships” is used) but rather, realities of living in this world which God utilizes to draw us closer to him and thus strengthen our faith.
So, back to the question, what comprises “all things” if it doesn’t include the likes of easy living and safety?
Well, I believe it means that God will give us all things that are good for us. All things that we really need in order to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (v. 29). That one of God’s goals for us—for us to become like Jesus. And moving us in that direction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Walking in the Spirit day after day after day, persevering through hardship and temptations, all of this we do because the Holy Spirit empowers us. And as we maintain this daily journey in the Spirit, we take on more and more qualities of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We become like Jesus on account of all the good things God gives us which makes it even possible in the first place.
Philippians 4:19 makes the same promise. “God will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” This promise is clarified in what Paul says preceding this statement: “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength” (v. 12-13). But just so we’re clear, through Christ we can do all things, but “all things” includes hungering and needing. As John Piper points out, God will meet every real need, including the ability to rejoice in suffering when many felt needs do not get met. God will meet every real need, including the need for grace to hunger when the felt need for food is not met (emphasis added).
Life is a blessing. An enjoyable life is a wonderful blessing. But God’s Word reminds us that there’s something even greater than life, even one full of wonderful blessings. In fact, it’s what makes those wonderful blessings possible in the first place. Earlier this morning you actually verbalized this truth in our unison prayer. You said, “Our lips praise you because your faithful love is better than life itself.” God’s tremendous, faithful love, poured into us through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, is the greatest gift of all without exception. And the truth is that God’s love, given to us through Jesus’ blood, is what makes life such a blessing, even with its inevitable trials and hardships. God’s faithful love is better than life itself, and he satisfies us more than the most filling of meals.
Friends, the suffering and death of Christ guarantee that God will give us all things that we need to do his will and to give him glory and to attain everlasting joy. Let’s pray.