On Sunday 22 May I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch.
It was Trinity Sunday and I chose the “epistle reading” for that Sunday as given in the Revised Common Lectionary. The reading does show the Trinity, one God in three persons, in action in a believer’s life.
Romans 5: 1- 8
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Christianity is certainly a paradox. It just doesn’t make sense to many people. Paul in 1 Corinthians describes Jesus’ crucifixion as foolishness to the gentiles.
Why should an awesome Holy God send his son Jesus to die in such an awful manner to pay the price for our sins?
Some people I know, just cannot understand that, if God is who he says he is, why didn’t he destroy us or condemn us all to hell if we are such wicked evil people?
Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, over the years have struggled with the concept of God’s love and mercy. That great hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote:
“And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shoulds’t die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
Firstly who were the Christians in Rome?
Well, let’s look at what St Paul says about this in his letter to the early church in Rome.
They were a mix of Roman citizens and slaves some of whom worked in Caesar’s household.
It can’t have been easy being a Christian in Roman society with its worship of false gods, its love of violence and its lack of morality. At times the Roman Emperor was regarded as an embodiment of one of the gods. So to be a Christian and hence deny that the Emperor was a god was treason and could end in your death.
For slaves it was even worse. They had no rights at all. They could be assaulted and even killed by their owners. Their bodies were not their own. Both female and male slaves could be raped by their owners and there was nothing they could do about it.
In Rome the Emperor Nero when he began persecuting Christians was rumoured to have had captured Christians dipped in oil and set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.
And yet, here is a church, a beacon of God’s light in the heart of a dark empire.
We see the same today in the underground churches in China and North Korea as well as in many muslim countries where you have the death penalty because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Just look at what has happened to Christians in Syria and Iraq in recent years. There was a report recently in the media of a 12 year old girl being burnt alive by muslim terrorists for holding to her faith.
The Holy Spirit has clearly been at work in these Roman Christians most of whom will have come out of a pagan background where you had to appease the many gods with offerings and sacrifices. You could never be sure if you were ok. or if the gods were still angry with you.
But putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ means that you are justified and so at peace with God. Many folk cannot understand that the simple act of faith of asking Jesus Christ to enter your life and of repenting of your sins puts you right with God. There must be more to it? It can’t be that simple and yet, it is.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost and one of the readings was Peter’s sermon to the crowd in Jerusalem. This is what we read in Acts 2: 37 – 39 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Previously Peter had said in Acts 2:21 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
So we are put right with God through faith. We are no longer God’s enemies but his precious adopted sons and daughters. Through that faith we can enter God’s presence.
Throughout the New Testament we are told to not be surprised if we are persecuted or have to suffer for our faith. After all, now we are part of the Kingdom of God and friends with God we now have to struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil. We have effectively changed sides in the long hard fight between good and evil.
But Paul tells us in Romans 5: 3 &4 “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” As we travel on our Christian life the sufferings we endure strengthen and encourage us.
Just as when we were at school we started off with simple maths problems. Once we mastered them we moved on to harder problems and develop more problem solving skills. We are, as we progress, more able to persevere with the problems that are set for us.
Put it another way, you may recall from school science lessons, graphite and diamonds are both made of carbon. Graphite is grey soft and relatively worthless. Whereas diamonds are virtually indestructible, beautiful and precious. Diamonds are produced by subjecting graphite to immense heat and pressure.
Many of you ladies have an engagement ring. How would you felt if your intended had given you a ring with a large lump of carbon on it where the gem stone should have been? I am sure you would prefer the diamond to the lump of carbon.
Well, God is in the business of transforming our lives to become beautiful and precious and he does this by allowing us to suffer troubles and suffering.
In Malachi 3:3 God is compared to a refiner of silver. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” In biblical times silver ore was heated in a crucible and the impurities are either burnt off or skimmed off. The refiner knew when the silver was pure when he could see his reflection in the metal.
So God is at work transforming us so that we become more and more like Jesus.
Paul tells us that God has poured his love in to our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is truly the work of the Triune God. Our faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death puts us right with God who gives us his Holy Spirit to live in us and begin the work of transforming our lives to become more like Jesus.
Paul is very firm to make sure we know that it not of our doing, but is all of God. Romans 5:6 – 8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We can’t save ourselves and put ourselves right with God on our own.
We were all ungodly. We needed a saviour.
And the astonishing thing is that God loves us so much he sent Jesus to die for us to save us and put us right with God.
Jesus has done what we couldn’t do. He has put us right with God.
Whilst we were still God’s enemies Christ died for us. He didn’t wait until we came to faith. Because of God’s great love for us, Christ died for each and every human to give them all a chance of salvation.
We don’t have to understand it. We just have to believe it and Jesus will do the rest.