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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:Comfort in the wonder-working love of God!
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Preached:2012
Added:2013-08-22
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 30:1,2                                                                                      

Reading – Romans 8:18-39

Psalm 40:1,2,3,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 1

Hymn 35:1,2,4

Hymn 1

Hymn 64:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


         Beloved in Christ, I’d like to tell you about a most beautiful road. It’s the kind of road you never forget, because the scenery’s just so spectacular. It’s a road that might even change your life. And here’s the best part: You don’t have to go very far to see it!

I’m speaking of what people have sometimes called “The Romans Road.” The ancient Romans, of course, were famous for their roads. Wide, smooth, stone highways crisscrossed the entire Roman Empire. They were so well-built that cars in Europe still drive on them today. But the Romans Road is something different. The Romans Road is a simple way of explaining the gospel, using Paul’s letter to the church of Rome. It’s a means of showing our need for salvation, how God provides salvation, and the blessed results of that salvation in our lives.     
            Along the Romans Road, the first signpost is Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This tells us we’ve all done things displeasing to God, that there’s not one who stands innocent before him. And right after it is the second signpost (at 6:23), which gives us more bad news: “The wages of sin is death.” Such is the punishment that we’ve earned by our sins: not just temporal, but eternal death!

Nevertheless, the Romans Road is no dead end. The third signpost shows the way; in the second half of 6:23 we read those wondrous words: “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here can be the pathway leading to Paradise! But it will, only if we pass that checkpoint at Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Only by faith in Christ can you enter in by the gates of the kingdom.

And where does all this leave us today? That’s the ongoing journey of thankfulness Paul describes in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you… by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.”

In all this, we see that the Romans Road covers some familiar ground. It’s basically the three-fold division of the Heidelberg Catechism, telling us what we need to know for salvation: to know our sins and misery, God’s way of deliverance, and our duty to thankfulness. It’s familiar scenery, yet beautiful scenery. So let’s look through the window of Scripture, and marvel again at this landscape. We’ll look at this part of the Catechism in the light of Paul’s letter to Romans, beginning with Romans 8 and Lord’s Day 1, under this theme:

   
            Our comfort is in the wonder-working love of God!

1)     it’s a love against all odds

2)     it’s a love that cost him dearly

3)     it’s a love that calls for love

 
1)     God’s love is a love against all odds: You know that when someone really loves you, it’s not so hard to love in return. But things get a lot harder when the tables are turned. It’s a big challenge to love someone who’s treated you badly. It might even be the last thing we feel like doing, after someone’s broken our trust, or hurt our feelings. For us, showing love is so often tied to whether we’re receiving love.

            And yet God’s love is of a radically different character. We can say it this way: His love is a love against all odds. When it could hardly be expected, God loves us. When He could just as well treat us with animosity, God loves us.

            That’s the truth of Lord’s Day 1. It begins with us, and the affairs of our little existence: “What’s your only comfort in life and death?” It begins with us, but the attention quickly shifts to God. For we’ve got nothing in ourselves: we’re comfortless, hopeless, lifeless, loveless. But thanks be to God, salvation is all about what Christ is doing: “He has fully paid…. He preserves me…. He assures me.” God has intervened with his wonder-working love! Even in us, lowly and sinful humans, God is unfolding his love, and on this road He’s making sure that “all things… work together for [our] salvation” (Q&A 1).

            That’s the same thing Paul declares so boldly in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.” Now, if we’ve heard this text once, we’ve heard it a hundred times. We could regard this text in the same way those who live in Niagara Falls regard the Falls: nothing new, nothing exciting, hardly worth a photo.

But let’s take a closer look. For when you carefully read this verse, there’s one question that looms large. We wonder: What is the “all things?” Paul says that the loving God works for our good, in all things. For surely not everything can be used for good by God! Surely not everything evil and rotten and troublesome in this life can be overcome by the LORD and turned to our benefit! Yet that’s precisely what Paul says. “All things”—anything and everything—can be the raw material of redemption, refined and molded for God’s purpose. That’s because “all things” are under the perfect control of our heavenly God.

Think of what we confess in Lord’s Day 10, about God’s providence: “He… upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

            “All things.” We can also be sure that when Paul says this in Romans 8, he’s not thinking mostly of good things, with maybe a side order of the bad. For Paul himself knew well the miseries of life. He wrestled intensely with sin—just read Romans 7. He struggled hard against physical hardship—just look at all the miseries of his ministry. He was no stranger to trial; he knew it’s part and parcel of life on this earth. Just a few verses before, in verse 18, he speaks of “the sufferings of this present time.”

            That sums it up pretty well: “our present sufferings.” For Christians of every age, of every earthly position, of every character, along this road there’s going to be suffering. We can fully expect it, because that’s what this world is like.

Paul explains why in verse 20, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willfully, but because of him who subjected it.” The entrance of sin so long ago has left this entire world in a state of frustration and decay. There’s so much strife we face here on this earth. As Paul says a bit further, “We know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now” (v 22).

            That’s what we see all around us in the world: decaying and groaning. We see uprisings and downturns; we see corruption and violence, lawlessness and depravity. And that’s what we see the church of Christ, too. Sadly, there is failing, there is dividing, there is drifting. It’s what we see in our personal lives, as well: don’t we see constant sinning, gradual weakening, stubborn wandering? Besides that, there are worries simmering in our minds from morning ‘till night. There is a grief or disappointment that can sap each day’s strength. There can be a guilt that chokes our joy, and burdens that we feel we can’t carry. As Paul says, “These are the sufferings of the present time.”

It’s possible that you can’t relate. Maybe your life’s been on easy street so far, and you haven’t struggled with any major road-blocks. But of this we can be sure: the time for suffering and hardship will come. God has promised it to his children, God has said that we wouldn’t be his children if we didn’t suffer. For He disciplines all those whom He loves. And no discipline seems pleasant at the time.

Yet even when it does come, and when it is ongoing, that marvelous truth stands glorious: our God is a faithful God, and He does no wrong. All things—the good, the bad, and the ugly—come to us not by chance, but by his fatherly hand. Though it may look to you like a defeat, a setback, just another heartache; though it might seem entirely pointless to you, God keeps working for our good.

We sometimes tell each other that, when we say: “Everything happens for a reason.” Said too easily, that could sound trite. And sometimes we insist on finding God’s reason for this or that trouble. We want to be able to say, “God sent this hardship into my life to strengthen my faith. This disaster happened, so that others would be drawn to him.” But it’s not always so straightforward and tidy as we’d like. The answers aren’t always ready to be found, and we don’t always understand how all things work together for good. With our limited perspective, God’s ways are often beyond us.

Yet even then, it remains absolutely true. Through whatever might happen in this groaning world, God’s bringing about something wonderful for his children! Here, as with so many promises of God, He calls us simply to trust. To believe it. To surrender ourselves to his care, and to submit ourselves to his wisdom.

After all, “the good” might well be beyond our time here on earth. Think of what Paul said in verse 18: “I consider that the sufferingsof this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” In us—little, sinful, mortal humans on a groaning earth—God plans to reveal his glory! Maybe not yet, but soon. Maybe we have to wait for it, but it is coming.

            For this is the goal He’s set out, from the beginning. We can read it in Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” From eternity, He’s planned it, that we’d take on the likeness of Jesus Christ.

And while we wait, our Father sends blessings each day, to remind us of his steadfast love. God sends us spiritual gifts, to equip us for service. God sends us fellow saints, to help us on the way. God sends us to the tokens of his grace, so that we know we are his. Not condemned, but saved by his Son. No longer slaves to Satan, but being transformed to the likeness of God. Who could’ve predicted this? Who could’ve expected this? It’s a love against all odds, and it’s a love…

 
2)     that cost him dearly: Love is one of those words we sometimes throw around. We’ll quickly say about something, “I love this,” or “I’d love to go there.” Sometimes “love” just means that we want something—until we lose interest and move on to something else. But God’s love is altogether different. God’s love means He values us. We’re his possession, and He treasures us. Not because of our natural worth, but because of what He paid for us. He paid an awful lot: his was a love that cost him dearly.

It’s often been said by Christians that God’s love is unconditional. That sounds nice, that God would love us, no matter what. And thankfully, God’s love doesn’t in any way depend on our merits. Yet this doesn’t mean God’s love for us is unconditional. For in fact, there’s one massive, non-negotiable, condition for his love. Without meeting this condition, there’s no salvation. Without this condition, there’s no Romans Road, and there’s no Lord’s Day 1. The absolutely necessary condition for God’s love is that our sin first be punished, and punished to the fullest extent. God’s perfect justice demanded this price; He could accept nothing less.

And so the payment was handed over. Our sin was punished. Our sin—including that stubborn evil nature, including all our sins of human weakness, including all our acts of outright rebellion, and all the things we didn’t even realize we did wrong, and all the ways we failed to do right—all of this was punished with the death of Christ. God said, “I will love them. I will save them. But first, there must be blood!”

In the words of Q&A 1, “[Jesus Christ] has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.” If you get on the road to salvation, you’ll find it is stained red with blood. Christ’s blood is what saves us from death. His blood is what redeems us from Satan’s deadly grip. His blood is what brings us great and eternal blessing.

That’s what it cost, for God to love us. In Romans 8:32, Paul puts it this way: “[God]… did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” Stop the car, get out, and make sure you gaze long and hard at this amazing scenery! This was no small sacrifice. This was not a love put out there without thinking, or a love withdrawn just as easily. Paul puts it very plainly: God did not spare his own Son. His own Son, He was willing to give up for vile sinners, even for a people who were yet to be born or believe.

You don’t have to be a parent to stand amazed at such love. Jesus was the Father’s only Son. Jesus was his perfect Son. Jesus did nothing wrong, but everything right. Yet the Father was willing, not just to stand aside and let evil men do their thing, but to take an active role in his own Son’s suffering and death.

He humbled his Son through the virgin’s womb. He burdened his Son with the calling to walk among the lowly. Then God sent his Son towards death, even moving one of his disciples to hand him over. God stirred up the angry crowds—his Son’s own tribe and people—against the Christ. The Father even made sure that crucifixion was chosen for Jesus his Son, as the means of a certain death, an accursed death.

And then, during the agony of his Son on Golgotha, the Father laid it on. There He exercised the full power of his wrath. He would not relent, not have mercy, nor take heed to the cries of his Son—not ‘till the suffering was done and the price was paid. He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. How dearly did God’s love cost him!

It was a price so high it could never be counted, a love so great its dimensions could never be grasped. And in this wonder-working love is our comfort. Seeing that price willingly paid, that love generously given, we just know the Father will preserve us, always. For after doing all that, why should God give us up? After doing all that, why should He ever let us fall away? God considers us as worth every effort to save and protect.

When we sin; when we stray; when we’re desperately anxious and heavily burdened; when we go through a time when the Lord God seems far away from us—not because He moved, but because we did!—even then, we know that God won’t abandon us. He paid too much. He loved too much.

            Yes, the immense love of God in Christ means our lives are fully secure. Consider verse 32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” Did you catch the logic there? It goes like this. Beyond any doubt, God has proven his love; He did so at the cross, where the LORD loved us to the greatest extent. Therefore we have his promise that together with Christ, He’ll give “all things.”

That is to say: So much God has given already, what’s a little more? If God already gave you eternal salvation, won’t He also provide you with wisdom? With daily bread? Now that you’re his, won’t He give you anything that you need to serve him? He will. He will, when you ask and seek and knock, in faith. The Father will preserve you in such a way that without his will, not a hair can fall from your head.

           
3)     God’s love is a love that calls for love: When you show kindness to someone you care about, what do you expect in return? Say you’ve given your Mom a nice gift, or you’ve helped out Dad in a special way. What kind of response do you look for? Well, I think anyone would want to be thanked, would desire a little recognition and gratitude.

            God is no different. He has loved us when it was completely unexpected. He has loved us, and it cost him dearly. He has loved us, with an active, giving love. What then, does He want in response? Well, we can never give anything to him that He should have to repay us, Paul says in Romans 11. We can’t even show God that we were worthy of a little of his kindness. And God knows all this. So simply, He wants our thanksgiving. He wants our trust. He wants our love.

            It’s not too much to ask. Later on in Romans, Paul will work out our response to salvation, beginning in chapter 12, “Therefore, in view of his mercy, offer your lives to God!” But already now in chapter 8, Paul anticipates it. Look again at that spectacular verse 28, where the apostle adds a key phrase: “All things work together for good to those who love God.” That’s not a blanket promise, that everything in this life always works out for everyone who does good, sort of like karma. No, this is a promise only for those who love God!

The loving God calls us to live in love for him. And what is this love? Scripture always says that love for God is concrete: it’s shown by keeping his commands. True love will act. If we love God, we’ll show it by the way we go about our day tomorrow, and the day after. We’ll show it by our thinking, and acting, and speaking, in all things, in whatever we do.

That’s also how Q&A 1 wraps up. After everything that’s been done for us—the Saviour buying us, the Father preserving us, the Spirit assuring us—after all that, what’s left for us to do? Those words ring out, “[I must be] heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

If you’ve known the love of God, then He wants you to live like the person you’ve become in his Son Jesus Christ. Be what you are! If we are called holy, we must be holy, and leave all our sins behind. If we’re declared righteous through Christ, we must be righteous, and keep every commandment of God. If we bear God’s Name by baptism, we must honour this Name every day. If we are called Christians, then we must be Christians, and bow before Jesus as our Lord. Be what you are!

All the while, we stand on that unchanging truth: We love God, because God first loved us. Paul slips that in, too: “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). That means that even before time began, God knew He’d love us; God knew He’d save us; God knew we’d love him in return.

But this knowledge doesn’t release us from duty. This fact doesn’t give us a license to put it on cruise control. This knowledge points us in the right direction, where we see this life’s never about our strength, our accomplishments, or our faith. Rather, it’s all about what the Triune God is doing in us and for us and through us!

This gives us much comfort. For despite all our failings, we take great comfort that the Lord is near. There will be much to oppose us. There will be much to drag us down while creation groans. There will be much to drive us away from God. And yet none of it can keep us from his love. Writes Paul: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv 38-39).

“I am persuaded,” says Paul. Convinced! We can’t always see it; we can’t always understand it. But just the same, we can be sure of it, we can count on it, we can believe it: God won’t let anything get in the way of his love for us.

So may we do the same! May we be alive with love for God. May we not let our love for him to grow cold or become stale. May nothing at all hinder our love for him. May our choices not get in the way, nor our bad habits, nor our personal plans, nor whatever’s happened in our past, nor the friends who surround us today. May none of these things keep us from loving God, and from showing this love in the way we live.  

In his love, God has given us an everlasting salvation. And in response to this free gift, God wants our lives today—nothing more, and nothing less. It’s actually very reasonable. It’s to be expected. It’s only fitting: Because we belong fully to Jesus Christ, we must be heartily willing and ready from now on, to live for him! Amen. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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