Sermon and Prayer
Today, as the churches all over the country are once again unable to meet in person, we in the Bailieborough group celebrate our second harvest Sunday. Welcome! Thank you for joining me, wherever you are.
Harvest, I think, is very naturally linked with hope. Harvest is what we hope for. Harvest is a celebration of receiving those things that we hoped for. And so I wanted to preach about hope today, because hope is needed.
So, I’ve chosen one of the great “hope passages” of the Bible: Romans, chapter 5, verses 1 to 11. Here Paul writes to the church in Rome about hope. Hope amid struggles. Hope that can’t be shaken. Hope that is the fruit of the justification that we have in Christ.
Harvest time is a time when people see the results of their labour – the fruit. They enjoy something at harvest because of work that was done months beforehand. They sowed, and now they reap. What Paul shows us here is some of the fruit that we get to enjoy, because of justification that we have in Christ through faith.
The fruits of our justification are peace, grace, and hope. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access to grace through Jesus. And we have hope. Hope in the glory of God. That’s the reality for a Christian.
Because of what Jesus has done, we are justified, declared righteous before God. Those words can sound a bit technical or legal and so maybe it’s hard to see the beauty of them. They conjure up images of a courtroom perhaps. Not the warmest of settings. But reflect on this blessing or fruit of justification: you have peace with God. God hasn’t just let us off the hook, he’s made peace between us and Himself. You are on good terms with the Creator of all things. God is your friend.
Sometimes we might think that we must make things up to God. We think we must punish ourselves or keep our distance because of something we’ve done. No! Jesus has made the way and done all the work needed for us to have peace with God. What you must do is believe. Believe that good news.
We don’t stand in condemnation; we stand in grace. That’s what Paul says in verse 2: “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”. That’s the second fruit we see here. That’s your standing, your position before God. Our position is one of blessing, and not an occasional blessing either. We’re not visiting grace every so often. We’re not passing through grace. We are standing in grace. We’re set there. This isn’t a temporary blessing.
Now the third fruit: Hope. We have peace with God. We stand in grace. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God (v. 3). Even if you don’t feel it right now, you have a sure hope of future glory, a solid guarantee that does not depend on subjective feelings, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Christian hope isn’t like an everyday hope. You hope that the weather will be nice enough for a walk later, but you’re not certain. You hope that you’ll get to your destination on time, but traffic might be bad, so you’re not certain. That’s everyday hope. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s different from the hope Paul is describing here. Paul says that this hope we have is hope in the glory of God. God’s glory will be displayed. We can catch glimpses of it in God’s creation. Our clearest sign of the glory to come is in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. The amazing thing about this glory is that God involves us in it. God is glorified in us as he works in and through us and when his glory is fully revealed we will share in that glory. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Our hope has a certainty that everyday hope lacks. This hope doesn’t depend on the changeable weather or on the traffic on the road, not on the economy or ups and downs of our fight against COVID. Our hope is in God Himself being glorified and us sharing in that glory. We’re always progressing towards that glory, even as we endure suffering.
Suffering too has its fruit:
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3–4, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Paul speaks to the suffering Christians, telling them that in light of our future hope in the glory of God it is possible to rejoice even in the midst of suffering, because ultimately that suffering goes to produce greater hope and the hope that the Christian has does not put us to shame (v. 5) – it’s not a silly hope, a vain wishing that things will all turn out right in the end.
Paul shows the security of this hope in two ways. In the second half of verse 5 Paul gives the first reason for our hope: the experience of the love of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Do you know what he’s talking about there? Have you ever caught a glimpse of the sheer massiveness of God’s love? God works in our hearts, to soften them and open them up to the reality of His love through the work of His Holy Spirit. That’s a subjective proof, based on an internal experience – something within us changes when we trust in Jesus. If you don’t know what that feels like, then ask God to show you.
Maybe you do remember a time when you felt that, but things are really bad at the moment, and it seems so distant now that it’s hard to recall and you wonder did it ever really happen. Paul doesn’t just leave us with subjectivity. Feelings come and go but truth does not depend on our feelings. Paul follows this subjective personal experience with the objective fact of the cross in verses 6 to 10.
While we were still God’s enemies, while we had done nothing to deserve it, Christ died for us to reconcile us to God. That is how much God loves us – though we had no righteousness to boast of, God sent His perfect Son to redeem us by His death and make us righteous through faith in Him.
I’m not a farmer. My dad’s not a farmer, he’s a retired mechanic. So, I don’t have a lot of experience with harvesting. But I know that harvest and hope are linked. To sow something and care for it and wait for harvest is an act of hope. You hope you’ve done a good job. You hope that the pests and the frost will won’t get at it. You hope that the weather will mean a good harvest.
The justification that is available through faith in Jesus Christ leads to a harvest of peace, grace, and hope. What utterly secures this harvest of hope is the fact that it’s not relying on me. It’s not about me being a good farmer or gardener, it’s not about my work. This is God’s harvest.
Christ died for the ungodly – us – while we were still sinners (vv. 6-8). That’s the work and it’s already been done. That work that leads to the fruit of peace with God, standing in grace before Him and rejoicing in the hope of His glory, it’s been done. You don’t have to strive to do this. You don’t have to make yourself good enough. You don’t have to toil and sweat for this harvest. The work has been done by God already.
How can we have this peace and grace and hope? Faith. Believe in Jesus. Believe that when Paul writes about Jesus dying for the ungodly, he’s writing about you. I am a sinner saved by Jesus Christ. He paid the price for all my sins on the cross. Because of Jesus I have peace with God. I stand in grace. I boast in the hope of the glory of God. I hope you know that hope too. It’s a hope that rests not on the changeable things of this world, but on God Himself.
Songs to Sing