Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost,

Series on Romans:
You Can Have Peace


Scripture reading: Ephesians 3:14-21.

Sermon text: Romans 5:1-11.

Great Britain claims a history dating back over 1,500 years, but of all the wars fought by England, the British Empire, or Britain itself, the British refer to World War I as the “Great War.” Last week, Britain buried its last World War 1 veteran of the trench warfare that ravaged Europe for over 4 years. The war claimed over 1.1 million British subjects, nearly 1.4 million French citizens, and over 2 million German subjects.

The funeral of Harry Patch demonstrated the passion of his later years. In 2004, at age 106, Patch met a German veteran of the war and began a friendship with the 107 year-old man. At his funeral, Patch was escorted by representatives of British, French, Belgian and German military units.

In his time, St. Paul knew about tensions between ethnic groups. In the first century A.D., the Jews seethed at Roman occupation of their native land. Jewish groups in A.D. 57 had already begun preparing for what they saw as an inevitable war between the Jewish nation and the Roman Empire. Within 2 decades, Jerusalem would lay in ruins, with the Temple itself nothing but a burned-out hulk.

However, St. Paul also knew about the tensions between humans and God. Nothing we could do could restore our relationship with God. Fortunately, at the end of chapter 4, St. Paul had stated that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Now, in chapter 5, St. Paul continued his glorious news for humanity: We have peace with God, and Jesus Christ Himself had achieved it. People of God, we rest in peace with our Creator and Lord!

St. Paul opened his thoughts in our chapter 5 by reminding the Romans of 2 major truths.

First, “we have been justified by faith.” As we learned last week in chapter 4, “justified” means that we have received the status to stand before God, our judge. We must never forget we do not deserve this status; God grants it to us when we confess Jesus as Lord, believing in His resurrection.

Secondly, All who come to Jesus “by faith” have a great advantage: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As St. Paul had already pointed out earlier in the letter, all humanity found ourselves in rebellion against God as a result of the choice of the Garden. (More on that next week.) Our justification restored our standing before God. Now, we have peace with God.

When we read “peace” in St. Paul’s writings, we must remember that he was a Jew, steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, St. Paul used the Greek word for “peace” to stand for the Hebrew word “shalom.” “Shalom” does not mean cessation of hostilities; instead, it means “wellness” and “wholeness.” “Shalom” refers to a sense of wholeness that one experiences because of a relationship with God, our Creator. This peace remains with us in spite of our circumstances.

The peace we experience with God helps us “rejoice in our sufferings.” Most people in our society actively seek to avoid suffering. Other religions seek to explain how to avoid suffering. Christians, on the other hand, can rejoice in suffering because we know our suffering does not reflect our relationship with God. Instead, we rejoice because we know “that suffering produces endurance.” Christians find that God uses suffering in our lives to our good (a concept St. Paul will address in more detail in chapter 8).

“Endurance” reflects the ability to stand fast in spite of trials. In St. Paul’s use of the term, “endurance” refers to an eschatological reality as much as perseverance in this life. Christians can stand firm in trials because we know that God has prepared a glorious eternity for us that makes the suffering of this life seem as nothing.

“Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I’d love to tell you that it’s possible to see someone’s true character in the good times. However, we know that we see someone’s true character when life turns against them; when the disease threatens to consume us, when the account’s drained and the bills are pouring in, when we’re abandoned by those we trusted to stand by us. In those times, we see someone’s true belief in God and the Church.

Christians find that sufferings help us demonstrate “hope” to the world. Remember that, in the Greek, “hope” doesn’t imply wishing for good things; it instead implies a certainty that God will work on our behalf, that He will turn things to our good. This helps us realize that God will not “put us to shame;” when He says He will work for His people, He will do it. He works for His people because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Do you realize the benefit of this gift? When we confess Jesus as Lord, believing in His resurrection, He “pours” His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. When God pours love into a person, He doesn’t merely trickle His love into that person; He pours until it overflows (Psalm 23:5).

Did God accomplish our justification and pour His love into us because we deserve it? Of course not! “While we were still weak” — when we were unable to do anything for ourselves to attain our justification — “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Some people wonder whether God really controls history. Many Jews of St. Paul’s time wondered whether God would ever free their nation from the oppressive rule of the Roman occupiers. They read the Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s restoration at the hands of an “anointed one” (the Greek word is “Messiah”) and wondered if God would ever fulfill those prophecies. They failed to recognize that God had sent the Messiah, and not in a random time in Israel’s history. The word St. Paul used for “time” refers to the word “kairos,” which refers to a divinely appointed moment in history. God sent Jesus precisely at the most opportune time for humanity’s salvation.

Would Jesus die for us? Why would He do so? “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person.” We often see stories of sacrifice, of people giving their lives to save others’. People can understand if someone sacrifices his life for a “good person,” but how many would sacrifice their lives for a murderer or child abuser? In His appointed time, however, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for us in spite of our sin; in spite of our unworthiness, Jesus died anyway.

Jesus’ death served as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. “We have now been justified by his blood;” the blood of Jesus on the cross atoned for the sins of the world in a way the blood of animals could never achieve (cf. Romans 3).  “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Jesus’ atonement for our sins saves us from the “wrath of God” that will result from our sins. Jesus’ death alone could protect us from God’s righteous wrath. This reminds me of the words of Augustus Toplady’s hymn “Rock of Ages:”

“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone:
In my hand no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”

What does Jesus’ atonement for our sins accomplish? “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Jesus’ death “reconciles” us to God. The term “reconcile” in the Greek refers to the restoration of a married couple following the split of their marriage. In St. Paul’s thought, coming from Jewish writings, the word reminds us that God’s wrath has transformed into God’s grace. We deserved death; we received justification. We deserved wrath as punishment for our sins; we received grace, undeserved merit.

We once stood as enemies of God, hostile against Him, starting across a “no-man’s land” that made those of World War I trench warfare resemble a cake walk. Now, the cross of Christ has bridged the eternal “no-man’s land” between us and God, reconciling us with our Creator. Christ has redeemed us from our inevitable eternal death, meaning we can now “also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

What does this mean for us today?

First, Christians should remember our own hostility toward God and our need for salvation. As we remember what it took for us to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in His resurrection, we should have patience with those in our lives who are still on this journey.

We must also make certain our lives reflect our justification, our right standing before God. It seems at times as if Christians suffer far more than most people, but many people in the Church today (especially in the U.S.) tend to forget that God uses suffering to mold us and shape us into the believers He needs to accomplish His purposes in history. We can rejoice in suffering because we know that God stands with us — both through His work in history and through our fellowship in the Church, the Body of Christ — and never forsakes us in our suffering.

Lest we forget, we must also remember that we do not deserve this grace; God provides it to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. We must never fall into the sin of trying to work for our salvation, of showing someone that we deserve salvation. None of us deserve what Jesus has accomplished for us: Peace with our Creator, God the Father.

St. Paul uses the word “rejoice” 3 times in this passage. When we know we have peace — “shalom” — wholeness with God through Jesus’ reconciliation on our behalf, we can rejoice in all stages of life, regardless of what life throws at us. Christian, rejoice in all circumstances so the world can see the results of peace with our Lord and Redeemer.