Printable PDF: 2-4-2018 Epiphany 5 Sermon
Pastor Mark R Jacobson ~ Epiphany 5 ~ February 4, 2018 ~ Romans 8:28-30
WORDS FOR WOUNDED BELIEVERS
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
If I had my druthers, I’d never say, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” It’s not that I don’t like those words. I love those words. I just don’t like the not-so-special occasions I have said those words. After the birth of a child, I have never told a parent, “In all things God works for the good.” However, after the death of a child I have told parents, “In all things God works for the good.” Romans 8:28 could be selected as a wedding text, but it never is! I have never been asked to preach on, “In all things God works for the good,” for a wedding ceremony. However, I have counseled hurting couples and divorced individuals with the words “In all things God works for the good.” Romans 8:28 is not picked for the new hire. Romans 8:28 is saved for the recently fired. I don’t like the occasions I have read Romans 8:28, and yet on those not-so-special occasions in my life those are the words on which I hang my heart and soul. These words give me help and hope. They hold me together when everything around me seems to be falling apart. On this less-than-super Sunday, on this regular, normal, kind of ho-hum day, I want God to give us a clearer understand of the comfort Romans 8:28 offers wounded believers.
1. God Works for the Good
In order to accomplish that goal I do have to tell you what Romans 8:28 does not mean. “In all things God works for the good,” does not mean all things are good. Your sin is not good. Agree? Your life would be different, in a good way, if you would not sin. The sins of others committed against you are not good. Still agree? Your life would be different, in a good way, if other people would not sin against you. The seemingly random consequences of living in a sin-fallen world like sickness and death are not good either. Your life would be different, in a good way, if you never got sick and if death was not inevitable. Hardships in life are not a by-product of God or his goodness. Hardships in life are a by-product of our sin, the sins of others, and life in a sin-fallen world.
It’s important for us to understand what Romans 8:28 does not mean. When we comfort people with words like, “Everything happens for a reason,” we need to remember not everything happens for a good reason or godly reason. Not everything is part of God’s plan. God planned a world without sin, without your sin. Sin, including your sin, has changed God’s plan. Sometimes, things happen the way they do because what you said or did was stupid or lazy. Stupid and lazy are not a part of God’s plan. Stupid and lazy are a part of our sins. God is not the cause of your sins. God is not the blame for what is bad in your life either. Sickness is not a blessing in disguise. There is no silver lining in death. Sickness and death are not good things, but now let’s talk about what is good. God is good.
We still see some of God’s goodness in his creation. Even in a sin-fallen world the sun still governs the day, and the moon and stars govern the night. Even is a sin-fallen world the human body is mostly functional and the brain is wired to do helpful things. God’s goodness is seen in these physical blessings. God’s goodness is also heard in our spiritual blessings. God has blessed us with his Holy Word. God’s goodness is heard in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven. You have peace with God. This Gospel message is also seen and smelt, felt, and tasted in his Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means God does the good work of creating and sustaining faith, forgives sins and repeatedly assuring us of our place in God’s family and kingdom. And through these same means of grace God empowers us for good and faithful service in his kingdom. God works for the good of believers through these physical and spiritual blessings, but our God is so great he is also able to work for our good “in all things.”
All things would include our sins, the sins of others and the affects of living in a sin-fallen world. God is not the cause of these things. God is not the blame for the bad. God is not waiting for you to sin or looking for bad things to happen to you so that he can carry out some awesome purpose in your life. Yet your amazing God in his wisdom and mercy is able to work with these bad things that he had never wanted and had never planned to have happen and still utilize them in a way that works for your good.
Your sin is still not good, but God can work with your sin so that even your sin serves you. God can utilize your sin in such a way so that you are blessed with a greater degree of humility. I know how you can do stupid things because I have done some stupid things, too. God can work with your sin in such a way that you are blessed with a greater appreciation for the gospel. You may think you have gotten away with something, but God has busted you every time. God would prefer to save your reputation, but the times I have most appreciated the gospel is after I got caught. At that time people have comforted me with the gospel. With a deeper sense of humility and a greater appreciation of grace, God helps us look at our blessings in a new light. Your family or friends, good health or income, a civil government or Christian church are not blessings you are owed or deserve. All these good things are gifts of God’s grace and mercy. Appreciate them. And when these good gifts turn bad, and from time to time they will, God can work with their bad in a way that serves you. We see this truth most clearly in Jesus. God’s grace put Jesus on the cross, but God also worked with the sins of men to have Jesus crucified. We also see this truth with the spread of the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit and the Gospel causes the church to grow, but God worked with the persecution of the church to position believers into places where unbelieving people could hear the gospel. It was not God’s plan for Job to suffer the hardships he suffered, but God worked with those hardships to give us one of the greatest examples of faith. God’s plan for Peter’s mother-in-law was not to be in bed with a fever, but her serving is a great example for what we should do with good health. Even death, the ultimate consequence for sin is no longer the ultimate consequence for sin because God has worked in such a way so that death has become the door through which God brings believers into heaven. In all things God works for the good. That’s hard to believe because we can’t see the good God is working, but God sees the bigger picture.
2. God Sees the Bigger Picture
The next couple verses are not appropriate for children. Some conversations only grown-ups can understand. Those conversations would include: teachings like the Trinity, how God is one God, but still three persons. Mathematicians have yet to figure out how 1+1+1=1; or the teaching of the incarnation, how Jesus is 100% true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, but also 100% true Man, born of the virgin Mary. Biologists don’t get it.
There are a number of teachings children just don’t understand and the teaching of predestination or election is one of them. God predestined you. Your coming to faith was not happenstance. Just as a city will designate certain places to serve as homes and businesses, schools and parks so also God predestined you to serve him as a believer. God saw us before our beginning and God sees our glorification. God already sees you in heaven. He has sized up for the robe of righteousness you will wear all the days of your eternity. He sees the time when he will say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Yes to you, his trophy of grace.
This teaching, called the doctrine of predestination or election, is too much for us. We can’t fully understand this teaching, but we can appreciate it. God sees the bigger picture. He sees it all, and he sees your wounds. He sees your sins, the sins of others committed against you, and the hardships of living in a sin-filled world within his own wounds. And by Jesus’ wounds suffered in life and on the cross you are healed. How can you be so sure? How can you know? I am happy to tell you. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amen.