Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Remembrance Sermon: Romans 5: 1-11 Peace With God

After years of fighting across Europe, with devastation on an unimaginable scale, the guns fell silent at 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. We gather today on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day to remember all that happened. 9 million had died. But on that day, eventually, peace had been achieved.

For a time it had seemed impossible. The conflict seemed to go on and on, the two sides facing one another in the trench warfare, but now peace was here.

The outbreak of peace was welcome news. The surviving soldiers could return home. The conflict was ended. The war to end all wars had finished. Peace was the result.

In a world of war, with conflict seen on our TV news nearly every day, we long for peace, whether that’s in our province or in our homes; our work or our hearts. The desire for peace is strong. And in our reading today, Paul declares the good news that war is over: ‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1) For those who are justified by faith, the rebellion against God has ended, there is now peace.

You see, our reading comes in the middle of what Paul is saying. He starts off in Romans by declaring that we are all in rebellion against God. We have taken what he gives and have used it against him. We have turned away from God - whether we are religious or not. No matter how respectable we may look today, the fact is that we have declared war on the Creator of the universe.

In return, God has set the penalty for our sins. Each of us are sinners, fully deserving God’s wrath. As Paul writes in chapter 3, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We might aim for it, but it’s like an arrow that doesn’t hit the target. We all fall short.

But the good news is that Jesus Christ has come to turn us around, to announce the message of peace. As we trust in him (put our faith in him and what he has done), we can be justified - that is, it is just-as-if-I’d never sinned. Rather than being in rebellion, we are welcomed in. We have peace with God - no more hostility, when we simply come and bow before him.

Now, when you think of it, that would be great in itself, wouldn’t it? Your sins wiped out. The assurance that they don’t stand against you any more. They’ve been dealt with. But there’s more. You see, God doesn’t just deal with our sins and grudgingly let us just inside heaven, as the least he can do. No, we receive even more: ‘through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.’

There’s two things there - we have obtained access to God’s grace - it’s not that our debt is cancelled and we now sit on the breadline, but rather, our debt is cancelled and we’re given millions into our bank account. God’s grace is credited to us, we are given out of the riches of his grace.

But even more than that, we have the hope of what will happen in the future - the certain and sure sharing in God’s glory. What a turn around! This is the amazing offer of peace with God that is extended to us today. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, as the hymn puts it.

Now all that sounds great, doesn’t it? Of course you would rejoice in being justified, in having peace with God, receiving his grace, and the promise of hope. But then Paul says something that is a little bit strange. ‘And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings...’ Now why does he say this? He shows that God can use all things, even our sufferings, for his glory and our good.

‘knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’

It’s not that Paul was a bit weird and loved feeling miserable. It’s not that he quite enjoyed suffering. But rather, he points to the process that can happen as suffering brings endurance, and character, which leads to hope. It’s all guaranteed, Paul says, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

But how can we really know that God loves us? How can we be sure that it’s love? We see it by his actions. At this time of the year we hear many stories of bravery and courage. Let me tell you about Billy MacFadzean.

Billy was a young man in Belfast when the First World War began. He joined up with the Ulster Volunteers, but never came home. On the morning of the Battle of the Somme he died, and received the Victoria Cross:

‘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 friends. Seeing the danger, he willingly gave his life for them. What an amazing sacrifice. The love that he showed to die for his friends was incredible.

But what Jesus has done is even more incredible. Billy died for his friends, but Jesus died for his enemies. ‘For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.’

As he goes on to say, ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ The message isn’t: clean yourself up and then we’ll see about making things better. No, the message is that when you were at your worst; when you were still fighting against him, Christ died for you.

The Lord Jesus, who had committed no sin dying for sinners. He gave up his life so that we might have eternal life. A demonstration of his great love for us.

It’s the message of peace. An invitation to receive his love, to lay down your weapons, and be welcomed in. And it’s there at the cross, the place of the ultimate sacrifice, where everlasting peace has been guaranteed, if you’ll but come.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Remembrance Sunday, 10th November 2013.

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