Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 7, 2017

Sermon on Romans 8:31-34

GOD GIVES GREAT GIFTS!

  1. He gave us the greatest gift of his love
  2. He gives us all other gifts day by day

Based on Romans 8:31-34

 Introduction

C101-167What’s the “big picture” lesson that we should take home from today’s Gospel account (Matthew 14:13-21), in which Jesus feeds the five thousand? Years ago, I heard another preacher from a very different Christian denomination preach a sermon on the feeding of the five thousand, and his big picture lesson was that the little boy was willing to share his bread-and-fish lunch with others, and so we too ought to be willing to share our blessings with those in need. You can figure out that the preacher who said that didn’t believe that Jesus performed a miracle. And because of that assumption, he came to a very different point.

Of course, just because you believe in miracles doesn’t mean you’ll come to the best possible understanding of this account from Jesus’ life. The “Prosperity Gospel” is alive and well today. This movement looks at God as the One who will make your life divinely blessed and successful. Just say and pray the right words and, voila, you will have found the key to miraculous blessing. If Jesus could provide abundantly for thousands of people through this miracle, why wouldn’t he provide abundantly for you if you just ask?—so the assumption goes. Because of that assumption, such a preacher would come to another very different point about this miracle.

The problem is that these perspectives, which are common in the church at large, don’t present us with the real Jesus and the true God. Jesus was not a heavenly kindergarten teacher instructing his little children how to share their treats and their toys with each other. God is not some divine sugar daddy showering us with wealth and fame and everything else our selfish little hearts desire. So if these perspectives miss the point of Jesus’ miracle, how will we be sure that we capture the right point?

There is a principle that says, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” Sometimes you need one section of the Bible to help shed light on another section of the Bible. That happens every week when we hear three different but related Bible readings in worship. And one of today’s other readings will help us put this miracle of Jesus in its proper perspective. In Romans 8:31-34, St. Paul helps us look at Jesus’ blessings to the crowd of 5,000, at God’s miraculous providence for Elijah in our First Reading (1 Kings 17:1-6), and at God’s blessings to us today, and come to a proper conclusion about God’s blessings. The conclusion is simple, but important: God gives great gifts! He has given us the greatest gift of his love, revealed in his Son Jesus, and he also gives us all other gifts we need day by day. 

I.

“Did you wash your hands?” the mother asks her four-year-old son who has just come out of the bathroom. Her little boy has a habit of not washing his hands, so what she really meant was, “I know you didn’t wash your hands, so go back and clean up!” “Well, did you survive the test?” the father asks his high school daughter who just finished the ACT exam. What the father really meant with his question was, “You must have aced it! Let’s go out and celebrate!” because he can see his daughter’s face beaming with pride, knowing that all her preparation just paid off and she just made entrance into her preferred college that much more likely.

Those are rhetorical questions. The mom and dad in those situations are not seeking information. They ask a question to make the point more forcefully or more memorably. That’s the same kind of device that Paul uses in our reading from Romans. Paul asks several rhetorical questions. He’s not really asking questions; he’s powerfully stating the obvious!

  • “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” In the verses leading up to this section, Paul has reviewed some foundational Christian truths that bring tremendous comfort and confidence to Christians. He has explained how there is no divine condemnation threatening anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, because Jesus’ death has freed us from the fiery everlasting consequences of sin. He has explained how God takes anything and everything that happens in our lives and turns it out to be a blessing in the end, even when it didn’t seem like it at the time. Do you think Christians will have something to say in response to these blessings? Of course they do! Paul’s ongoing series of rhetorical questions helps us to understand our grateful faith-filled response.
  • “If God is for us, who can be against us?” When Paul says that God is for us, he uses an expression that means much more than God is cheering for us or he is generally in favor of us. Paul means that everything God does, he does on our behalf. When God is actively working on your side, can anyone successfully stop him? Satan tried to derail God’s perfect creation, but God undid Satan’s temptation when he sent his Son to die on the cross and rescue us from our sins. Satan tried to tempt Jesus on the path to the cross, but he neither led Jesus into sin nor kept Jesus in the grave after the cross. That’s the God who is working on our side. And with God on our side, Paul can ask another bold rhetorical question.
  • “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” If you were on trial for a crime, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the judge is not only on your side, but regularly hands down “not guilty” verdicts to his people. That’s what God does. His Son, Jesus, paid the penalty for the world’s sin so that all who believe in Christ can walk away from God’s divine courtroom with a constant “not guilty” verdict. No charge, no guilt, no nagging conscience, and no satanic accusation can undo God’s verdict! And if God acquits us, then we can ask this question with confidence:
  • “Who then is the one who condemns?” And Paul answers, “No one. [Because] Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” The original language doesn’t actually include the answer, “No one,” after the question. It’s perfectly fine for our English translation to add the answer for the sake of clarity, but Christians can know with certainty that “There is…no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

All of these rhetorical questions and their implied answers lead up to the truth that God has given us the greatest gift of his love when, as Jesus himself put it, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Here’s how Paul phrased it in our reading: “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” If you want to see how much God loves you, don’t wonder if he’s going to give you a free fish fry with rye bread on the side. Look at how he has given you his Son! Christ died for your sins and paid your punishment fully, on your behalf! Even more important is that Christ was raised by his Father to announce to the world that his payment for sin is fully accepted and our “not guilty” verdict is fully secure! Jesus returned to heaven to his Father’s right hand where he rules and reigns over all and prays and pleads for us in ways that we cannot fully comprehend but that demonstrate the great and constant love that God has for us.

st gift of his love when, as Jesus himself put it, “God so loved the world that he gave

 

Little children don’t always like everything that’s given to them. Grandpa gives them a savings bond for their birthday each year, but they’d rather have the toy truck or the new doll. Mom puts a nutritious meal before her children, but they whine that they want hot dogs and ice cream. Sometimes the greatest gifts and the best blessings are the things they least want.

Could it be the same for God’s children? God gives us his Son! He showers us with undeserved grace and forgiveness! His divine gavel comes down to announce a “not guilty” verdict! And Paul asks, “What shall we say in response to these things?” And there is a part of us that says, “This is God’s greatest gift to me? A person who lived a long time ago? Yeah, that whole rising from the dead thing is pretty cool and I guess I’m glad I’m going to heaven, but is that all there is?” And there is a part of us that wants God to be that doting grandpa who just doles out candy and treats behind mom’s back even if it’s not good for us. Give me success! Give me wealth! Give me fame! Give me what I want—and Jesus isn’t always in that category.

What would happen if God would say, “Okay, fine. You don’t think the gift of my Son is the greatest gift of love I’ve given you. I’ll take him and everything he did back.” Do you think we’d suddenly sing out of a different hymnal? Do you think God is really in your corner if all he does is give you goodies in this life, and then leaves you to your own devices in hell? Are you really free from any and all charges against you when Jesus isn’t there to negate Satan’s accusations against you and your conscience cannot be comforted by the cross of Christ that atoned for your shameful and secret vices? Do you think that a soul heading for hell might find the gift of God’s Son and his gracious forgiveness more valuable than all the toys and trinkets we store up for ourselves, only to see them all eventually go away?

Those rhetorical questions frighten us—and they should! But Paul’s rhetorical questions chase away all fears, doubts, and guilt because his rhetorical questions teach us that God is on our side. God acts on behalf of us! God defends us in his own divine courtroom as he turns out to be both our defense attorney and the judge, and he proclaims “Not guilty!” because of Jesus Christ. Christ died on your behalf to pay for your sins. Christ was raised back to life to preview your future resurrection to eternal life. Christ ascended to heaven to guide all things for you and all his people here on earth. Christ intercedes for you because he knows what you need the most—and we know that he has already given us what we need most!

Brothers and sisters, could we have a greater gift to demonstrate God’s love than his Son? Our worldly wealth runs out, but the riches of Christ’s grace never runs out! The fancy dinner and banquet ends, but heaven’s feast lasts forever. And God’s “not guilty” verdict cannot even be undone by the Supreme Court! All this is from Jesus—God’s greatest gift of love to you.

II.

What do you give the person who has everything? The website Money Crashers answers that question with gift ideas that are really good for anyone—ideas like gift cards, or a unique experience like theater tickets or a rafting expedition, or an engraved, personalized item, or even a charitable donation in their name.

What do you give the person who has everything? In a sense, all Christians really have “everything”—everything we need to know about God’s love now and to rest assured that we will enjoy his love forever. So what does God give the people to whom he has already given his greatest gift of love? Paul gives us the answer through another rhetorical question in verse 32 of our Second Reading. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

It is an absolutely incredible fact that God did not spare his own Son from the suffering, hell, and death that was required as payment to free us from our sin. God did the unthinkable! Just as Judas turned Jesus over to his enemies for trial, just as Pilate turned Jesus over to the soldiers for execution, so God the Father turned his Son over to death on the cross on our behalf. Now if God would do that, if God would literally spare no expense for us (because is there anything of greater value than the life of God himself?), then is there any reason that God would also not give us the good things we need day by day for our lives? Of course not! God didn’t show us his love in Christ to neglect us between now and heaven. He shows us his love in Christ and then showers us beyond our actual needs with blessings that are just as undeserved and unmerited, but just as gracious and loving.

thanksgiving-dinnerThe meal on your table and the oven or stove or grill you made that meal with is a gift of God. The closet that has clothes in it you don’t even wear, and the house that has more stuff than you have time to enjoy are gifts of God. The car that gets you from here to there and the mechanic who knows how to keep it running are gifts of God. The crosses you bear and the hardships you endure that keep you praying to God and turning to his Word are gifts of God. The loved ones who set godly examples of faith and life, and have now gone home to heaven, are gifts of God. The list is inexhaustible, and the list even includes things that at first glance we might not see as gifts from God. And every last one is proof positive of Paul’s point in his rhetorical question: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Conclusion

 It is important that we not misread Bible sections like the miracles we heard in today’s other two readings. Think of it this way: In 1 Kings 17, Elijah was fed by ravens in the outdoors, not a bow-tie clad waiter at a five-star restaurant. In Matthew 14, Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 men with bread and fish, not steak and lobster. These miracles, and the bigger picture that Paul has taught us today, show us that while God is not a divine sugar daddy or a doting grandpa, he still cares about all our needs, even those that seem little and insignificant. And why not? He cared for our greatest need! “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” For all this, we say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). Amen.

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