July 30, 2017

God is for Us

Passage: Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Service Type:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

In January of 2015 a British news story related how metal detector enthusiasts in Buckinghamshire have uncovered what is thought to be one of biggest hoards of ancient coins ever found in Britain. Paul Coleman from the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club discovered more than 5,000 coins buried inside a lead bucket two feet under a field near Aylesbury. The hoard contains specimens dating back to the 11th Century - the late Anglo Saxon, early Norman period.

In March of 2016 a 2,000-year-old Roman gold coin with the image of Emperor Augustus on it was found by a hiker named Laurie Rimon. Rimon was hiking with friends near an archeological site when she spotted something shiny lying on the ground in the grass. It turns out that it was a coin that was minted by Emperor Trajan as a tribute to emperors that preceded him.

Jesus used the story of an amazing find to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) I wonder if we believers appreciate the gospel for the treasure that it really is. Which is the more amazing find—5000 ancient coins in an English field, a 2000-year-old gold coin near an Israeli archeological site, or the good news that is Jesus Christ?

1. The gospel is a priceless treasure because in it the believer learns that God is for us. “What then are we to say about these things? Asks the Apostle Paul. The “these things” are the things Paul has been writing about. He writes about what God has done for us—God has given Godself in the Son—and what God effects within us—God effects faith by the work of the Holy Spirit. In light of what God does Paul asserts the glorious truth that God is for us in this rhetorical question. “If God is for us, who is against us?” The “if’ of this question has the force of “since.” “Since God is for us, who is against us?”

For me, the concluding portion of what we know as the eighth chapter of Romans is where Paul reaches the apex of his discussion of what it means to be in Christ. It has this wonderful declaration “that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” We note that it does not say all things are good, but that God works in all things that tapestry of the good God has in mind for us. This is not an affirmation that everything has a way of working itself out or that everything has a purpose. The key is God. God is at work for us.

I wonder how the gospel proclamation that God is for us is heard in our culture. The dominance of a practical atheism in the ranks of government, academia, and media gives the message that talk of God is irrelevant. The world is thus flattened. We are all that is left. The result is a vacuum where no one is thought to be for us and so we need to be for ourselves. Though we live in a technological era in which we are always connected we live in increasing isolation. Who can we trust to be for us? I believe that the experience of the good news that God is for us relieves us of the isolating burden of being the only one for oursleves. And as God turns us to Godself in relationship God frees us to be for one another. Relationship with God ends the curse of isolation turning us to be for one another.

Many hope that friendships will end the isolation. But if we expect a friend to be only what God can be for us we put a burden on that friendship it cannot bear. Many enter marriage believing that a spouse will fill up this need somehow being “everything” for them. Others live through their children in the hope that a child’s achievement will fill a need for purpose—the unspoken belief is that this child is for them. The gospel treasure that God is for us frees us to live for others—spouse, children, grandchildren.

I find that great joys are experienced when we are for one another not expecting anything in return. I believe that knowing God is for us frees us for such delights. I have those precious friendships where I can be myself; when I don’t have to panic about making sure I said enough appropriate thank-you(s). To be sure, saying thank you is important, but friends who are for one another don’t have “thank-you” measuring meters. I admit that I am a little nuts about my grandchildren. Not long ago I was sitting in a MacDonald’s with my six-year-old grandson eating ice-cream cones and in a spontaneous gesture of friendship he offered me a lick of his ice-cream cone. There is great joy in those spontaneous moments of being for one another.

I believe that the gospel promotes a wealth of human with human joys that are only known as we embrace our Lord Jesus Christ in faith; relationship with this One who has given himself fully and freely for us.

2. Another priceless aspect of the treasure that is the gospel is the wonder that God gave up the Son for all of us. That God did not withhold his own Son shows us how “all in” God is in being for us. It also points us to the magnitude of God’s love. Paul said the Son was given for all of us. The Apostle John makes a similar point when he writes that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

There’s an allusion here to Abraham of old; Abraham and Isaac; Abraham and Isaac trudging with leaden foot and breaking heart up Mt. Moriah. Abraham’s faith is to be tested by the summons to offer up Isaac, his long-awaited son, his only son, only son, (the text in Genesis drives home to us.) And then, when obedient Abraham raises the knife above Isaac, a ram appears and Abraham’s son is spared.

Does God love you and me less than Abraham loved Isaac? He loves us more. After all, when God’s love for us met our profoundest need God’s long-awaited Son, his only Son, wasn’t spared but rather was given up for us all. Abraham’s love for Isaac was ultimately spared the most terrible heartbreak. God’s love for you and me didn’t spare God heartbreak. Instead God loves you and me at the price of incomprehensible anguish.

Since God did not spare the Son will he not with him give us everything else? Since God did not stop short here are we to think that God has suddenly become stingy? Note the “with him” in this question. With Jesus. God raised Jesus from the dead vindicating the efficacy of his sacrifice for us. So we too will be raised “with him.” What God has done for the Son God purposes to do for us. God’s purpose is that we “be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that Jesus might be the firstborn within a large family.” (Romans 8:29)

What does Paul have in mind as he speaks of Gods giving us “everything else?” The Apostle had been writing in this same chapter 8 of promise in Christ of creation renewed; of the cosmos coming freedom from the bondage to decay. In the same way we too groan inwardly waiting for the redemption of our bodies. I for one look forward to that “everything else” when physical debilitation and deterioration will be no more. When joints will move fluidly and freely.

But the Apostle’s question probes something more profound than wealth and this life’s goods. The “everything else” is in relationship with the Son. “Since God didn’t stop short of giving up his Son, would he ever stop short of giving us what we need to be his people, the apple of his eye?” Do you find your faith tested by circumstance? Look to our Saviour for that which he has for you today; he freely gives you what you need.

Remember that we sometimes think we know what we need and so only count relief from our trouble as God’s help. It is important to expand our vision and look for what God gives. Time and again people have said to me how much they appreciated the prayers of the church as they faced surgery or other challenge. We are strengthen by God through things not always from things.

3. Another gospel truth that renders it great treasure is that Christ Jesus intercedes for us. The Apostle asks, since God justifies who is going to accuse us? Since Jesus is raised and seated at the right hand of God, who is going to condemn us, will Jesus condemn us? No, he intercedes for us. His ongoing intercession is effectual for us. The point is that nothing and no one can negate his forgiveness and find us condemned.

When we hear these words like condemning and bringing a charge with respect to God many in our culture bristle, wonder who is God is say anything about them good or bad? Even though this part of the gospel message is rejected people still feel conflicted within, sense that they were made for better things, or at least still think certain things aren’t fair or that certain actions are to be rejected and outlawed.

N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in Church of England, made an important point about such ideas when he wrote about God’s judgement. He wrote, “The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and postliberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible God's coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. (Biblically speaking), It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands.” Why? In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when justice will prevail all things are set right; when the poor and weak are given their due; this is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.

According to the gospel, we learn of God’s judgement that we are sinners in the course of God’ remedy in the son. God apprises us of our predicament in the course of setting us right with himself. God gives us his diagnosis of the sickness of our heart in the process of providing the cure. The just judgement that is ours was borne by another so that no charge can ever stick against us because of what God has done for us in Christ.

4. All of this adds up to that priceless wonder that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul makes the point that regardless of the nature, scope and virulence of cosmic forces, no one of them, nor all of them together, will ever be able to separate Christ’s people from Christ’s love. Nothing and no one can be against us finally, conclusively, effectively, because nothing and no one is going to overturn the Creator himself.

To be sure there are things in life that make us feel as if separated from God’s love. I can’t speak for you, but my exposure to people’s suffering has found me agreeing with Martin Luther. Luther maintained that if faith is to thrive we have to shut our eyes and open our ears. We must open our ears because the gospel is heard, heard with our ears and heard in our hearts. We must close our eyes, on the other hand, because what we see whenever we look out on world-occurrence; what we see contradicts the gospel. The gospel (heard) assures us that God loves us so very much he couldn’t love us more. World-occurrence (seen) often contradicts the gospel indicating that God doesn’t love us at all.

The ground for Paul’s confidence is twofold; namely, what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and what God is doing in us through the Holy Spirit. I find myself agreeing with Paul, that nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I reach often for this text. I sit beside the bed of a person consumed by the vagaries of Alzheimer’s. I read with Paul “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, (including dementia, I typically add) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can ultimately, finally, separate us from the love of God who is for us.

Take this with you and let it be guiding thought for this week before you as you encounter life—God is for us. Reflect on it, let it digest into your system.

“Again,” said Jesus, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”