Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning is the Epistle Reading from Romans 5:1-11. And in this reading we learn that God gives us peace through our Lord Jesus Christ, which sounds really nice, especially in our current world, doesn’t it? I mean it just seems like one thing after another that throws our lives into chaos…If it’s not a global pandemic or a highly contentious presidential election, then it’s vaccine headaches or legislations passing through Congress.
And when you add those things to our already stressful lives—family drama, kids schedules, never mind work obligations, or anything else—when you add all of that together, I’m not quite sure what you get, but whatever it is, it’s the exact opposite of peace.
2. Yet it’s into this exact kind of world—a world filled with stress, chaos, and hostility—that the Apostle Paul speaks these words: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2). Because we have been justified by faith, because we have been declared righteous by God for the sake of Christ, we have peace with God. We have it; but do all of us realize it? Do we really get the full effect of it in our hearts and our lives—even in times of suffering and difficulty? Do we really experience the peace of God in our lives? I think I know the answer to that question…we really don’t. We come to church and we hear words like “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and keep you in both body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.” Or the words of the Benediction, which ends: “The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ—we receive that peace every week, but does it change anything? Do we walk out the door a renewed and changed person, or do we just go back to our life as it was before as if nothing changed? Does the peace of God that we receive actually change us? I’m going to leave you to answer those questions for yourself, but I will say this…when we do let the peace of God penetrate our hearts, everything changes.
3. And this is precisely the point that Paul makes in verses 3-5: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5). Because we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice always…even in our sufferings. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the Early Church Fathers, Saint Basil the Great, remarked: “Tribulations are, for those well prepared, like certain foods and exercises for athletes which lead the contestant on to the hereditary glory.” In other words, trials and suffering are for our good. Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that trials and suffering actually are good. They’re not. But God still uses trials and suffering. To use St. Basil’s analogy—a steady diet of beans, brown rice, and kale which no one in their right mind would ever choose to eat, produces benefits in the long run for an athlete. In a similar way, God uses uncomfortable situations in our lives to produce endurance, and then character, and then hope because we know that in the end glory with Christ is ours. And so, we can rejoice even in sufferings because we have peace.
4. Okay, I’ve spent enough time talking about how we have peace with God, but I haven’t taken any time to talk about what that means. So, let’s take a cue from Paul and back up to talk about life apart from Christ, which will allow us to appreciate what it means to have peace with God. Paul continues in our reading, starting in verse 6: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8). In these verses, Paul draws a sharp contrast between us humans and Jesus. We are inherently ungodly. We don’t even get a pass to be called “a good person.” We are inherently sinful. Don’t kid yourself. I hear people say all of the time, “Oh, so-and-so is such a good person.” No they’re not! That’s horrible theology! They’re not a good person…and neither are you! You are an ungodly sinner who is by nature completely opposed to God’s will and ways. Think about it, you’re selfish, you’re short sighted, you’re dishonest, you’re untrustworthy… I could go on and I could make each of those points more explicitly, but I’m going to trust that you can be honest enough with yourself to track with me without me needing to be painfully specific. You are a sinner. You are by nature an enemy of God. And that means you deserve eternal death. But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. There’s no rational explanation as to why…he just did. Love isn’t rational. Love defies explanation. Love is the only explanation as to why Jesus did what he did. Even though we are by nature sinful enemies of God, Jesus died in our place.
5. Paul concludes our reading for today by talking about the implications of all of this: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:9-11). In other words, Jesus has already done the hard part. He has reconciled us with God. That means that Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father. He’s done the hard part. And since the hard part is already done, we can be certain that our eternal salvation from the chaotic, stress-filled, hostility of this world is assured. It’s a done deal. And it’s a reality that we already live in. Already now we have peace in our relationship with God. Already now he is working through the mess of our lives to produce endurance and character and hope in us. Already now he is shaping us more and more into the image of his Son Jesus. And so, we can have confidence that peace is more than a warm fuzzy feeling inside our hearts. Peace is an objective reality in which you and I live because of what Jesus has done for us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.