Thursday, March 09, 2006

'While we were yet sinners...' A Sermon Preached in Liturgy Class at CITC on 7th March 2006. Romans 5:1-11

In Liturgy Class we each have to prepare and lead a Service of the Word lasting no more than twenty minutes, with no more than five minutes for the sermon. This is the text of my sermon, which came in the middle of the service, which focused entirely on the cross. The hymns were 'Here is love', 'Man of sorrows' and 'When I survey'.

Who is your hero? Have you someone you look up to, or respect? Or perhaps someone in history you wish you had seen. One of my heroes is a Belfast man named Billy McFadzean. You've probably never heard of him, so I'll tell you a bit about him.

William McFadzean was a young man when the First World War began, and like so many of his generation, went off to war, as a member of the Ulster Division. He never came home again, but was awarded the Victoria Cross, posthumously, and his citation will tell us his story:

For most conspicuous bravery near Thiepval Wood, on 1st July 1916. While in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for the distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Pte McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the bombs. The bombs exploded, blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.

Billy gave himself for his comrades. Seeing the danger, he willingly gave his life for them. And that, in a small way, is what Jesus has done for us. He saw the danger we were in, not from bombs, but from our sin, and he willingly gave his life for us.

But what makes Jesus' death for us even more amazing is that he died for us 'while we were still sinners'. You see, as Paul points out earlier in Romans, each one of us is a sinner, a rebel against God. We have, in the words of Isaiah, 'gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.'

The result of our turning away in sin from God was that we were separated from God – think of Adam and Eve who were removed from the Garden after their sin – and that we were destined to die. As Paul tells us earlier in Romans, 'the wages of sin is death'.

Through the death of Jesus on the cross for us, though, our situation is transformed. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. This is what the Old Testament reading is all about – how Jesus has 'borne our griefs and carried our sorrows... he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.'

Jesus has paid for our sins, by dying in our place, so that through faith in Jesus, and his sacrifice for us, we can be justified. That is, it is 'just-as-if-I'd' never sinned. We are also reconciled with God , brought back to God, and welcomed into his family, through what Jesus has achieved for us no the cross. This is indeed wonderful news!

And Jesus did all this for us while we were in rebellion against him. We notice the contrast in verses 7 and 8 between human thought and God's love. Humans may indeed be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to save someone who they deem to be worthy of it, but God gave up his Son to the death of the cross for those who he knew to be utterly vile and rebellious. How great was his love for us!

His love for us has also brought us hope, as we learn from the first five verses. This hope, which looks forward to the fulfilment of all things, to the glory of God, has been given to us through the Holy Spirit, with God's love being poured into our hearts.

So therefore, let us, who trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, praise God today for his love shown to us, in providing the means for us to be reconciled with him, and to have our sins dealt with. And if we have lost sight of Jesus' death for us, or have never known the blessings of his forgiveness and love, then let us come afresh to the cross.

After we affirm our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we will have the opportunity to ask God's forgiveness for the wrong things we have done, and to invite him to take control of our lives. But let's pray together:

Lord God, we thank you that you sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, even while we were yet sinners. Grant that we would all know the joy of sins forgiven, of the hope you bring, and of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

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