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03.01.15 Hope During Suffering Romans 4:13-25 Sermon Summary

by on March 2, 2015

God has made a promise, and we have been given a choice. And how we choose, makes all the difference in whether or not we will experience salvation in this life.


Summary Points

  • Why we assume the presence of suffering means the presence of sin
  • Ways we try to answer the question of suffering
  • The answer according to Paul
  • How Lent can give us hope during suffering

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” . . . “What have I done to deserve this?” It’s a human impulse to attribute suffering to some sin. Job’s friends spent 34 chapters trying to convince him of this. And there’s some biblical logic to it.

In Romans 1-3 Paul states that everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, has the law, whether on tablets or on conscience. And in Romans 4 he writes, “Where there is no law, neither is there violation”—in other words, we all know we break the law. He also says, “The law brings wrath”—meaning we all know we’re deserving of judgment. The final step is that we equate suffering with judgment.

We have various responses the idea that our suffering is the result of some sin. One natural response is to begin searching for the sin. After we do this for a while we figure it’s a lost cause, which leads to we’re a lost cause, which leads to religion and God being lost causes also. A third response is that we try to avoid further suffering by doing better living up to the law next time.

We’re trying to answer our experience of suffering. We’re trying to justify our existence. And if not by naming sin and repentance—which is John the Baptist’s answer—then by adherence to the law—which is the Pharisees’ answer. And if by neither of those, then by our personal achievement or comparison with others—which is really just John and the Pharisees in secular clothing.

Paul offers a different answer. He wrote Romans in part to reunite Jews and Gentiles in the church. So he draws on shared experiences—like the judgment of the law. And he uses an analogy applicable to Jews and Gentiles—the paternity of Abraham, who was promised to become, “The father of many nations”—note, it is plural.

All this sets up Paul’s main point, which is that before Abraham had the law, he had faith. Abram and Sarai were already old when the promise came—too old to have children, and too barren. As a childless couple, they suffered, and they must have despaired over their existence. They had no hope of justification.

Then God’s promise came—progeny too numerous to count. And always with a promise comes a choice—believe it, or not. “Abraham believed, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” Paul quotes.

What did Abraham believe? He believed that God would be faithful to his promise, despite age, barrenness, decades of disappointment, social stigma, and hearing how “impossible” it was. He believed that all their suffering did not ultimately jeopardize their existence. He believed that only God, not anything he and Sarah could or couldn’t do, justified his life. He believed in “the presence of the God who gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Indeed they would have a child.

It’s hard to believe God’s promises, especially in the midst of suffering. We still want to blame it on sin. We still want to overcome it ourselves. This maintains our sense of control. Just ask Peter.

Jesus has predicted his own suffering and promised his justification by rising on the third day. Peter couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was the immensity of the suffering, or overconfidence in his own abilities, but Peter didn’t share the faith of Abraham. Some of us find it hard to believe for the same reasons.

But suffering and our various responses to it doesn’t have to lead us to sin or distance us from God. Lent is a time to acknowledge our suffering. This is why we “give something up.” It’s a way of reminding ourselves of Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

Lent is also a time to recognize that much of our suffering results because we are trying to justify ourselves. We suffer by trying to live up to the law. We suffer by proving our worth another way. But we can’t justify ourselves. We’ll always fall short of the attempt to make our existence meaningful. This is why, “Jesus was handed over to death for our trespasses.” Our attempts to justify ourselves have to be denied, must take up the cross, and instead follow Jesus.

Lent is also at time to remember God’s answer to suffering, to remember that Jesus’ suffering was followed by resurrection. A time to remember that, “Christ was raised for our justification.” Our lives are justified in Christ. The next chapter in Romans begins, “We have peace with God, and hope in our suffering.”

Lent invites us to share the faith of Abraham, and also the faith of Jesus, that our lives matter, are righteous, are justified, because of what God says about us in Christ—that we are God’s beloved and that with us God is well-pleased—and not because of anything else. The God of Abraham, the God of Jesus, is with us also.

God of Abraham and Sarah, you promised life beyond measure to them despite every appearance that it could be true. It took another 25 years after that initial promise for their child to be born. It seems so long to us sometimes, for us to see the fulfillment of your promises. We are often like Peter, for whom even three days was too long to wait. We pray this morning, that you will strengthen us in our hope and faith, as you did for Abraham, especially during Lent as we try to follow Jesus more closely, remembering his suffering death for our trespasses, and as we anticipate celebrating his resurrection for our justification. Grant us a share in the faith of Abraham and Sarah, that we may experience the abundance of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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