Extreme Problems

Ninth in a “Life’s Problems” series
Delivered September 5, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: This is our final comfort when we face an extreme problem: We are more than conquerors in Christ. When God protects us from evil, and when God delivers us and heals us, we are conquerors because God is obviously at work. But when the problem doesn’t go away, when evil does it worse, we are still more than conquerors, because this is resurrection faith; Jesus walked though the worst and came out on the other side. No matter what happens, God’s love wins.

Sermon Text:
Romans 8:28-39

I want to tell you about a friend of mine named Harry. It’s really his name. He is an American that has served for a number of years in Japan as a missionary. When I first met Harry he was a professor at a Japanese university, great Japanese language ability, but more than that a great heart for God. The reason why Harry was involved with student ministry and teaching was because he loved God and he loved students and he wants to share his faith with these people and just have a contagious faith. Harry is also the kind of person you want to have at parties, because Harry is a funny guy. He’s the sort of person that always livens up a skit if you do it. He always has jokes to tell. He is sort of like Jerry Seinfeld looking like an Amish farmer, because he has this beard. Well, about four years ago, Harry loves hiking and about four years ago he was taking a hike in this area of Japan where there are some cliffs that have a thousand foot drop from the edge of the trail, 1,000 feet just about straight down. Harry was walking on this trail with a Japanese friend when Harry slipped and actually fell off the trail where that 1,000-foot drop was. He was caught by a bush 20 feet down. He’s caught by the bush and hanging upside down, out of reach of the person whose on the trail, but the person on the trail has a cell phone and calls for help. An amazing coming together of a situation. There’s a cliff, he falls, he’s caught, he has a companion and the companion has a cell phone.

Up until now we have been talking about life’s problems, but up until now I haven’t been talking about the big problems. The problems where we feel like we are victims. For example, something like the Columbine Massacre or 9/11 or the things that we have been seeing going on this week in Russia in that school. We haven’t dealt with issues like that. We haven’t dealt with those illnesses that just don’t go away, where those accidents that happen. Now, we’ve got to deal with these issues on some level because we believe that God loves us and is in control of things. And so we struggle with what it means to believe in God when we see these sorts of things happening. Now we like it when we get a certain kind of story. For example, we like the stories where it is obvious that God has protected his people from something evil. So in the Bible in the Book of Acts, in Acts 9 there is a story about Paul, where Paul is speaking in this city called Damascus and the people there get upset with Paul and some people plot to kill him, but Paul hears about it in time and his friends let him out of the city, not through the gate because that would have been too dangerous, they actually let him down the side of the wall in a basket. We like a story like that because Paul has been protected by God from something bad that would happen.

So a number of years ago there was a story going around about a woman who had a sense as she prayed that she shouldn’t fly on a flight that day and it turns out that that flight crashed and she was spared and everybody liked hearing about that, how God spared somebody. Well not all stories are like that, but we also like the stories where even though we enter danger, some how in the middle of it God protects us and lead us out. He delivers us from the danger. So we are hit by danger, we are hit by evil, but we come out of it. This is the situation where the accident happens, but amazingly no one is seriously injured; or the illness comes and the person is healed. We like those stories.

Acts 12 has an example of this. It’s not our main text for today, but I am going to go to it for a moment. In Acts 12 in the New International Bible, this section is called by the editors “Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison.” Okay, here’s a situation where unlike Paul, Paul was totally protected, but in Peter’s case Peter is arrested. He’s put into jail, but then in Verse 5 of the 12th chapter people pray for Peter, and then an angel comes and releases him miraculously in the middle of the night. Now on top of it all in Verse 8 the angel reminds Peter not to forget his sandals. Okay? So Peter gets out and he doesn’t even lose his sandals. We like stories like that. Stories where something bad happens, but because God is powerful we pray and we see things happen.

Now one of my favorite stories has to do with a woman that I know in Baton Rouge. An older woman in the congregation there whose heart problems were so significant that she was put on the transplant list and as she was going for one of her final interviews, she asked for prayer from the church. We prayed for her, she went in for the final interview and they took her off the list entirely because she was healed. She didn’t even ask expecting miraculous healing; it just happened. I like that story. It’s true and God has done something amazing in it. But what about those times when we aren’t protected from what we fear? What about those times when the evil comes, but we are not delivered from it? I want to go back to Acts 12 just for a moment. This chapter that is called “Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison” begins with another part of the story where something else happens and it happens in the first two verses. Herod begins a persecution against the church and there in Chapter 12 it says in the second verse where Herod had James the brother of John put to death with the sword. Here are three people that were close to Jesus, especially close to Jesus; James, John and Peter. And here in this same chapter of the Book of Acts, James dies and Peter is not only delivered, but he doesn’t even lose his pair of sandals. Why? Why the difference? Is something wrong in James life? Was there something special in the prayer on behalf of Peter? What’s going on here? Because people experience vastly different things in life. And so we need to know how to think about that as Christians. To do that, I would like us to go to the Book of Romans and take a look at some verses there. I am going to begin on the 18th verse in that chapter. Romans 8, verse 18. I said earlier that it was going to be verse 28, but as I studied this I realized we needed to start ten verses earlier in verse 18. I think it is around page 800 in the pew Bibles. Romans 8, verse 18.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectations for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans, that words cannot express and he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with Gods will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who could be against us? He who did not spare his own sons on, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered a sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you for this word that we have, and we pray now that you will open the Word to us, open our eyes, open our hearts so that we might hear with faith and respond in faith. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is a long passage and there is so much in there. All I am going to cover is a few things and they roughly cluster around three ideas; being grounded in reality, being grounded in hope and being grounded in relationship with God. Let’s first take a look at this issue of being grounded in reality. Christians aren’t supposed to be naive. We are supposed to look at reality square in the face and know that it is not always good. This section begins in Verse 18 with Paul saying, I consider that our present sufferings. When Paul looks at our present situation, the word suffering comes right out to the front. There are other key words in there that talk about the present state of things. It talks about us waiting for something that we expect, but don’t fully have yet. It talks about being subjected. It talks about being frustrated. It talks of us being surrounded by decay. In Verse 22 there is another important word that comes out. It comes out three times in Verse 22. It starts talking about creation groaning, waiting for the day that they will be released, that creation will be released from bondage together with us, because of what God is doing in us and through us and around us. It talks about us groaning, because we are still waiting patiently for something that we don’t yet fully have. Creation groans, we groan, and then later in the passage in Verse 26 it talks about the Holy Spirit groaning, because things are not the way they should be. We suffer. We suffer because there are some things that we still have to wait for and there is evil that surrounds us and hits our lives. We are frustrated. There is destruction and decay in this world and creation groans and we groan and even God groans. That’s the present situation. But, we are called to a future that is vastly different than that. And so even though we are grounded in reality, we have to be grounded in hope as well. The future will be different.

In Verse 18 the same verse that talks about that we have present sufferings, it says that “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Now, I don’t know the magnitude of what that glory will be, but there are some things in this passage that talk about the scope of what’s going on. First of all, creation itself will be set free. It’s right now subjected to frustration and bondage and destruction and a day will come that it will be set free of that and then we will be set free. It talks about us coming to full rights and privileges of what it means to be adopted children of God. We have a taste of that now, but then it will be all of our experience. And it talks about the fact that somehow our bodies themselves are going to be changed and remade to be ready for a new creation and this new creation that God is doing is not this silly picture that we see of wings and clouds and harps that you see in a Red Bull commercial, it’s not that. It’s a creation that’s more beautiful than the one we are a part of because all of the things that binded are gone. It’s a released creation, a creation that’s fully what it was created to be. And we have created then in to a community that won’t have any of the things that bind it now. It will be deeper than ever because there won’t be selfishness and hate and all the things that cloud and color our relationships now, those things will be gone and on top of it all the relationship that we merely taste right now with God will be expressed in its fullness because then we shall see face to face. That is the hope held out for us in the gospel.

In the meantime we have to live in the present and we’ve got to be grounded in this hope, but there is something else that’s essential to be grounded in, in order to survive the current circumstances that we find ourselves in and that’s to be grounded in our relationship with God. Paul says in this passage that we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. We not only have victory, we have more than victory. We are more than conquerors. Now he can’t mean that by being in this relationship with God problems just bounce off of us. We know Paul doesn’t think that way because just later in this same section Verse 35 he talks about trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. He knows these are problems. He is seeing James cut down by the sword. He’s faced troubles himself. So again, Paul is being very realistic here, but even so, even though he knows we go through these trials, he says that we are more than conquerors. Now why does he say that? I think there are two reasons at least that we can see and I will focus on two.

The first comes up in Verse 28 where it says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” So the first thing that makes us more than conquerors is that even though bad things happen, God is at work in them bringing good. Now that does not mean that before they get to us they turn into good. It says in all things, that means in bad things God is working for good. In good things God is working for good, because God is always working for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose; not to the whole world, but to those who love him. So God is at work doing this. Now what’s that look like? It looks all kinds of different ways, but I can think of one situation in Baton Rouge where somebody’s house burned down. Now nobody in the community around there would say, you know it was really better that your house burned down than had it not burned down. That’s an insane thing to say. But, when their house did burn down the community of Christians in several churches gathered around this family and provided furniture, provided clothes, provided legal help. They were surrounded by love and so here in the midst of something terrible, God was working out something good. So there in the midst of a trial they received grace and they were blessed despite the difficulty. But sometimes it’s harder to see the blessing than that. You can see that somehow, but there are some times somethings that come that to be honest we just really can’t see the blessing.

But that’s not the only point that Paul makes here. We are more than conquerors because God is working good in the situation, but we are more than conquerors for another reason and this reason is much more important. We are more than conquerors in the face of trials because nothing in those trials can ever separate us from the love of God that he has extended us in Jesus Christ.

I told you a little bit about my friend Harry. I want to go back to that story for just a moment. Harry slipped off that cliff and was caught by the bush and hung upside down. He hung there upside down for an hour while they waited for help. During that time he talked to this friend he had and was telling him about his life, about his family and about his faith in God. And then, the bush broke and my friend Harry fell to his death. Harry died. But was Harry defeated? What this tells us is no. Harry was more than a conqueror because nothing can separate us from the love of God. Hanging upside down for an hour on the cliff did not separate Harry from the love of God. When the bush broke and he fell to his death, that did not separate Harry from the love of God. Right now Harry is absolutely and eternally safe in the loving embrace of God because nothing, not even death, can stand in the way of the love of God. This is our final comfort when we face an extreme problem. We are conquerors when God protects us from evil because God is at work in this world and in work in us and when we pray, he protects and we conquer because of that. And then when we get into bad situations and God through his sovereign power delivers us and heals us and pulls us out of this weakness, we are conquerors then because God is at work. But when the problem doesn’t go away, when evil does it worse, we are still more than conquerors, because this is resurrection faith; this is what happened to Jesus. Jesus did not get protected from the worse that the world could offer. Jesus had to walk right in to it and it did its worst, but Jesus came out the other side because of the effective, powerful love of God. And that is our hope. No matter what happens, God’s love wins.

Now sometimes it’s not easy to live in hope like this. Sometimes its hard to think and live and feel like someone whose more than victorious, but when you have to begin with at least the fact that its true and then we have to work to live this out on three levels. On the first level, we need to pray for protection because we are more than conquerors. God is at work to give victory and we can pray for this protection, so let’s do it and expect it. We need to also when we get into trouble to pray for God’s deliverance. We can do that. We have a Father in heaven who will answer our prayer, but when those times come and God does not deliver theway we expect, we are still more than conquerors. The core of who we are, the core of who we will be is secure and at that time what our faith does is hold on to God because God first is holding on to us and that is the victory that’s there. Nothing is going to break His grip on us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And because of that we are secure, because in life and in death there is nothing that matters more.

Now later in this service, after the service is over, we are going to have some people standing up here to pray with you. If you have a problem and you are on one of those levels and you want to be protected or you want to be delivered or maybe the deliverance isn’t happening and you just need somebody to pray with you, for God to hold on through this experience, we will have people up here to pray with you, because sometimes we need the support we can get from one another, but if you have never experienced this, to be enveloped in the love of God, if you have never known what it means to know at the bottom of your heart that God loves you and holds you secure in his love, if you haven’t taken that first step of following Jesus, they can pray that prayer with you as well. So, whether you are starting the journey with Jesus or whether you are somewhere deep into it and you just need help, we will have some people after the service up here to pray with you.

But, part of our service today too, is to celebrate at this table. And at this table we remember the fact that Jesus had to go through the trial, through the suffering to come out the other end and He did it for us. So as we go in to this part of worship, let’s just spend a few moments silently to prepare our hearts to receive the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. I am going to pray for a moment and then let’s just have a few moments of silence.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we are in all different places of life, facing all different kinds of struggles, we come to you as we are, we can’t remake ourselves to make ourselves more appealing or more ready, we come as we are to this table and we pray now that you will help us prepare our hearts for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.