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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The justified find all their confidence in Christ alone
Text:Romans 8:34 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 41

Psalm 68:1,2

Hymn 35

Hymn 1

Hymn 42

Scripture readings:  Isaiah 50:4-11, Romans 8:31-39

Text:  Romans 8:34

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Imagine that you grew up with someone who later became famous.  He lived just down the street from you.  Perhaps you played with him when you were a child.  You went to college together.  You kept in touch for a little while, and then he made it big.  Now that he’s a big star, he doesn’t have anything to do with those unimportant people back in his hometown.  He won’t even be friends with you on Facebook.  He spends his time with other famous people doing the things famous people do – going to glitzy parties, holidays in the South Pacific, and so on.  He wouldn’t dream of being friends with someone like you anymore.  If I knew someone like that, I wouldn’t have a very high regard for them.  I’d be thinking, “You get all high and mighty and then you forget your roots.  Nice.” 

You could be tempted to think something similar when it comes to Jesus.  Today we’re commemorating his ascension into heaven.  One of the crucial things you need to understand about that event was that it was part of his exaltation.  Not merely a part of his exaltation, but the highest moment in his exaltation so far.  When Christ went up into heaven, he was lifted up in majesty and glory.  He now lives in unimaginable splendour and royal greatness.  No human being is as much glorified as Jesus is right now.  He once lived among us as one of us.  But not anymore.  Now he is at God’s right hand, far above us.  You might be tempted to think that this position leaves us behind, like the famous star who’s forgotten his hometown roots.  Christ’s ascension, his exaltation, isn’t comforting then. Rather it might leave us wondering whether he really loves us after all.        

This is where Romans 8:34 comes to offer us comfort.  This text gives assurance to believers on the basis of Christ’s work.  As we look to the ascended Christ in faith and trust in him, we can be encouraged.  We can be confident, knowing that the same Saviour who did so much for us in the past has not forgotten us in the present.  His heart still bulges with affection for all who are his and that love also leads him to act on their behalf.    

On this Ascension Day I preach to you God’s Word from Romans 8:34.  We’ll hear about how the justified find all their confidence in Christ alone.  That’s our theme.  We’ll consider what Christ has done:

  1. In the past
  2. In the present

We’re in the book of Romans tonight.  Let’s first situate ourselves in this book.  Romans basically has a three part structure.  You could call those three parts:  Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.  Or you could say:  Sin, Salvation, Service.  Slightly less memorable would be:  our sin and misery, how we are delivered from our sin and misery, and how we are to be thankful for such deliverance.  That may sound familiar.  If it does, it’s because the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism follows the structure of Romans.  Now here in chapter 8, we’re in the section of Romans that’s speaking mainly about God’s grace, about our salvation, about deliverance. 

One of the most important elements of our deliverance is the doctrine of justification.  Let me remind you of what that doctrine says.  Justification is God’s declaration as a judge that we are right with him.  The basis of that declaration is what Jesus Christ has done for us in his life and death.  We take hold of that work of Jesus through faith, through resting and trusting that he has done everything for us.  As we look to him in faith, Christ is our Mediator or defense lawyer in the divine courtroom.  He pleads our case.  God the Judge accepts what Christ did on our behalf.  On that basis, he declares us righteous.  The Judge then welcomes us into his family.  We are adopted as his children.  This is the good news of our justification and it’s a huge encouragement for every Christian.  Every morning we can wake up and we can be confident that we are still justified.  In God’s sight, we are viewed as his Son – as perfectly righteous.

That gospel truth is emphasized right at the end of verse 33.  The Holy Spirit says, “It is God who justifies.”  In other words, it is God who declares sinners to be righteous.  God is the Judge who has the power and authority to make that binding declaration.

So if the powerful and authoritative God issues his verdict, who is going to overturn it?  That’s the question at the beginning of verse 34, “Who is to condemn?”  Paul seems to be using the words of Isaiah 50:8-9.  There we find a prophecy about the Servant of God.  When God vindicates him and declares him righteous, who will overturn the verdict?  Paul says, if you are a Christian, if you are in the righteous Christ, who is going to reverse God’s declaration that you are righteous?  Notice the exact form of the question.  It’s not “what,” but “who.”  “Who is to condemn?”  That reminds us that there are those who would if they could.  Particularly, we think of Satan.  Satan would love to reverse God’s judgment.  God says, “You are righteous.”  Satan would love to be able to say, “Ha!  No, you’re not.  You’re condemned.  You’re coming with me.”  If he can’t actually say that, he would love for us at least to be able to wonder whether he can.  He would love to have us doubting God’s verdict.  That in itself would be a victory for him.   

But see how the Holy Spirit defies Satan in verse 34:  “Who is to condemn?”  God wants to squash those doubts.  He wants to put it firmly in our minds that there’s no one who can defeat what he has declared about us if we’re in Christ by faith.  And it’s not just Satan, it’s also ourselves.  You might be tempted to still consider yourself guilty and condemned before God.  You look to Christ in faith, you say you’re a Christian, but you’re doubting whether God sees you as righteous.  You still feel guilty and condemned.  Your conscience condemns you.  But look, “Who is to condemn?”  Who?  You?  Are you greater than the Judge?  Do you have greater authority and power to make a judgment than he does?  No, of course not.  If we have Christ as our Saviour, no one can condemn us, not Satan, not our consciences – absolutely no one.  Loved ones, you can be confident of that.

You can have that confidence because of the ground for it in what follows in verse 34.  It’s first of all in what Christ has done in the past.  Paul writes that “Christ Jesus is the one who died...”  That stands for all his suffering and death in our place.  It’s short-hand for the cross and what it represents.  Here we’re taken back to Christ’s humiliation for sinners.  One of the lowest points of his humiliation stands for all of it.  There are two things packed in here:  one is the story of what happened, and the second is what it means. 

What happened was that through his life, but especially at the end, Jesus suffered.  People misunderstood him, mocked him, and refused to believe in him.  He was betrayed by one of his disciples and the rest of them abandoned him.  He was left alone without a defender.  The Jewish religious leaders falsely accused him of blasphemy.  They had him brought to Pilate before whom he was eventually condemned to die, even though Pilate could find nothing wrong with him.  He was mercilessly flogged and scourged.  Isaiah 50 spoke of that in verse 6.  He had his back struck, his beard pulled out, his face spit upon.  Then he went to the cross.  His body was nailed to the Roman tree and there he suffered alone in body and soul.  God caused a supernatural darkness to fall on the land for three hours.  That was the worst time for Jesus.  After that was over, then he died.  His suffering was horrific and his death awful. 

But what did it mean?  It wasn’t a pointless suffering and death.  There was purpose in it.  The purpose was to pay the debt that we owe to God for our sins.  This is the news that Christians love to hear.  When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he was taking our hell.  He received the divine wrath that we deserved.  He was our substitute, taking our place.  He paid the penalty that needed to be paid so that God would declare us right.  As part of that, you need to remember that Christ didn’t suffer and die for a nameless mass of humanity.  He didn’t die for mankind in general. When Christ Jesus died, he died for those who were given to him by the Father, he died for the elect.  He died for particular individuals.  If Christ is your Saviour and you place all your trust in him, you can be confident that when he was on the cross, your name was on his heart.  He was suffering and dying in love for you.  He knew your name, he knew who you would be, and he chose to die in your place.  For you, brother, for you, sister.  I always find that to be one of the most comforting parts of Christ’s suffering and death.  To know that he had me in mind when he did it.  Wow.  That’s love.  He loved me, personally, to death.  When I think about that, I want to love him more.  When you think about that, don’t you want to love him more?

Now what if Christ had only died?  What impact would it have had on our justification if he had stayed dead?  Paul already wrote about that earlier in Romans.  In Romans 4:25, he said that Christ was raised for our justification.  Christ’s resurrection reappears here in Romans 8:34 also as part of our justification.  He writes, “…more than that, who was raised.”  The “more than that” is important here.  His resurrection is crucially important.  That’s because the resurrection tells us that God was satisfied with the payment Christ made for us.  Notice how it says, “who was raised.”  Here the emphasis is on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead.  He did that because his justice had been answered.  The payment was completed.  By raising Jesus from the dead, God was publically announcing that everything was done that had to be done to secure our justification.  Jesus had done it all and now he was vindicated.  Through a heart that started beating again, God showed that Christ was righteous and holy.  Because those eyelids popped open on Easter Sunday morning, you can be confident that the defense Christ made for you has been accepted by the Judge.

So there’s gospel confidence in the resurrection.  That confidence grows stronger when we ponder what Christ did next.  Forty days after the resurrection, he ascended into heaven.  Before the eyes of his disciples, he was lifted up and physically taken into God’s heavenly presence.  Romans 8:34 doesn’t refer to this event itself, but it does speak about the result of that event.  It speaks about his now being at the right hand of God.  He could only be at the right hand of God if he had ascended into heaven.  So these two things are compressed together here. 

Jesus’ being at the right hand of God could be misunderstood.  Someone could be thinking that God has a literal and physical left hand and right hand.  But no, God is a spiritual being.  He does not have a physical body.  So when Jesus is said to have sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19), we’re not talking about a physical act.  Rather we have to see that the Bible speaks of the right hand as a position of honour and power.  If you are at God’s right hand, you are the most honoured by God.  You are in a position of authority.  You are in a place where you have God’s ear.  The right hand is a position of privilege.  It’s the best place that a human being could possibly be. 

That’s exactly where a human being actually is.  I’ve found that there are so many Christians who don’t grasp this part of the ascension.  Many Christians seem to think that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he turned into a ghost.  Or they think that when Jesus rose from the dead, he wasn’t really a human being anymore.  When he went up into heaven, if he had a physical human body, he must have left it behind.  They don’t and can’t conceive of Jesus being in heaven with true humanity.  Yet this is exactly what Scripture teaches us.  Jesus has never stopped being a true human being.  When he rose from the dead, he rose as a man with a real literal human body.  Yes, it was glorified, but there’s no reason to think that it stopped having a heart, or lungs, or a brain, or blood, or all the other parts we all have.  When he ascended into heaven, he was lifted up as a human being.  Yes, his divine nature as well, but also his human nature is in heaven.  This is important to understand because of what comes at the end of verse 34. 

The Holy Spirit says that Christ “indeed is interceding for us.”  This is what he does for the justified right now.  Right now, our Saviour is in heaven pleading on our behalf.  When we pray, he adds his prayer to ours to give it more weight before the Father.  When we suffer and are tempted, he looks upon us in love and compassion.  He has empathy for his broken and struggling brothers and sisters. 

Now you must not forget about his humanity in all this.  How he relates to us and how he relates to God is directly connected to the fact that he’s still a human being.  He’s still one of us.  When he lived and walked on this earth, we read in the Scriptures of how he loved people.  Think of that passage in Mark 10 where Jesus encountered the rich young ruler.  Do you remember what the Bible said about Jesus after he heard the young man brag about his obedience?  Mark 10:21, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”  You can see his love for sinners in how he dealt with the Samaritan woman in John 4.  You can hear him weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19.  Or you can hear him weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus in John 11.  Our Saviour was a human being and had human emotions and affections.  Now remember what I said earlier.  He has not stopped being a human being.  So even now in heaven at God’s right hand, he still has those human emotions and affections.  He has them for you.  It gets better.  This blows my mind, in fact.  Christ is filled with the Holy Spirit and glorified in his humanity.  As a result, his human heart is able to love and empathize infinitely more than anyone else in the universe.  As the Belgic Confession says in article 26, “There is no creature in heaven or on earth who loves us more than Jesus Christ.” 

Loved ones, this is our Mediator.  He has ascended into heaven, but he hasn’t forgotten us or abandoned us.  Quite to the contrary!  He’s there for our benefit.  He looks on us with affectionate mercy.  He hears our prayers and backs them up.  He supports our cause before God.  We have a merciful High Priest who made the sacrifice for us, but still now holds us up in his love.

That supports the truth of our justification all the more.  Look, you have a Saviour who did what had to be done to pay your debt to God’s justice.  You can be confident that the full payment has been made for your justification.  Look, you have a Saviour whom God raised from the dead.  You can be confident that the full payment the Saviour made for you was accepted.  Then look, you have a Saviour who has ascended into heaven for your benefit.  You can be confident that you have a Mediator in the place of privilege, the place where he will be heard on your behalf.  You can be confident that you have a Mediator in heaven who still has your human nature and who therefore empathizes and loves you like none other can.  You can be confident that after justification, you’re not going to be forgotten or ignored by God. 

You know, I mentioned earlier how adoption follows justification.  I’ve sometimes said that, being justified, we go from the court room to the family room.  We’re part of God’s family.  But you know how there are dysfunctional families where adopted children get ignored.  They get treated differently than the natural children.  Christ’s ascension and his continuing intercession for us is the confidence we have that this will never happen to us with God.  He loves his Son, he will always listen to his Son, also as he lovingly pleads for us.  On the basis of Christ’s intercession, we can then be assured of God’s love.  The ascension and what follows gives us the confidence that our place with God as his justified children will always be secure.  We should not ever doubt it.  If we do, look again to Jesus. 

And we need to look to Christ alone.  What is said here in Romans 8:34 is said of no one else in the Bible.  There is no one else who suffered and died in our place.  There is no else who was raised by God for our justification.  No else has ascended into heaven to be our Mediator.  There is only one human being at the right hand of God and that’s Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only human being who is interceding for us – our only Mediator and High Priest.  He holds this position exclusively, and therefore it’s only in him that we rest and trust. 

Loved ones, every year we commemorate the ascension of Christ.  In a way, it’s odd that this event in salvation history is so neglected by so many people.  People love Christmas – there’s a baby involved and all kinds of sentimentality around the holidays.  People love Easter to a certain extent too, maybe not Good Friday, but certainly Easter Sunday.  Then there’s the Ascension.  Nobody has an Ascension Day dinner.  It’s not a public holiday.  Many people just go about their business as normal.  Yet this is almost the pinnacle of the exaltation of our beloved Saviour.  This is the almost the highest point of his glory.  Those who love the Saviour should want to worship him as they remember this great day in his life.  There’s only one more step left in his exaltation and that’ll be his return.  When he returns, the angel said that it will be just like his ascension.  He’ll return publically and physically.  The real human being Jesus will return with the clouds of heaven.  Just as he now intercedes for his people, he’s going to be coming back for us too.  As we wait for that great day, let’s continue to keep our eyes fixed on him, finding all our confidence in Christ alone.  AMEN.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for that awesome gospel message of our justification.  We worship you because you have declared us right with yourself on account of what Christ has done in our place.  We thank you for the encouragement of your Word that there’s no one that can undo this.  No one can condemn us – not Satan, not another person, and not ourselves.  If you have said we are righteous, then we are righteous!  That encourages us, Father.  We thank you that we have Christ as the one who made this all happen. 

Our Saviour Jesus, we thank you for going to the cross and taking our hell.  You bore the wrath we deserve and we love you for it.  You were raised from the dead to guarantee our justification and we worship you for that.  Lord, you ascended into heaven for us too.  You took our human nature into the heavenly throne room and brought it to the place of privilege.  We exalt you, Lord Jesus.  We praise your Name for your love, your affections, your compassion for us.  Thank you for all the intercessions you make on our behalf.  Thank you for assuring us and giving us confidence in our justification and in our adoption.  O Lord, help us with your Holy Spirit to love you more for all of this. 

Lord God, thank you for the opportunity we’ve had this evening to hear your Word and to worship you.  Please go with us as we round off this week.  Please continue to bless our daily activities in your service.  We ask you to keep us from sin and evil and to help us to honour and acknowledge you in everything.  We pray in Christ’s name, AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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