Date: December 8, 2019
Festival: 2nd Sunday in Advent
Text: Romans 15:4-13
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Exegetical Statement: In this section of the epistle, St. Paul urges the Roman (Gentile) Christians to live in harmony with their Jewish-Christian brethren, especially to bear one another’s weaknesses (following the context of vv. 1-3). God Himself produces endurance and encouragement through the provision of the Scriptures for the purpose of giving hope, with the aim to grant harmony amongst the brethren, Gentile and Jewish alike, to the glory of God. The Scriptures are amply filled with this hope God would give to the Gentiles according to His mercy.
Focus Statement: God gives us hope by choosing what is weak in the world to display His mighty, saving power.
Function Statement: That my hears will have strength and hope through the Scriptures in spite of their weaknesses.
Grace, mercy, and hope to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hope. What is hope? Worldly hope is rather discomforting; it’s a flip of the coin. We can say, “I hope the Cardinals win,” but it’s merely a flip of the coin. Despite predictions according to lists of stats and athletic dogma, we can never know for certain if the Cardinals will win their next game. We also say, “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow.” Or if you’re the type who loves to drive in the muck and grime of oily snow, you might say, “I hope it snows tomorrow,” but you can never know for certain, despite weather predictions. It’s a flip of the coin.
The Scriptures speak on Christian hope quite differently. The hope Christians have does not depend on a coin flip. We could describe Christian hope as knowing, or certainty. Hebrews 11:1 describes it this way, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Scriptures describe Christian hope as an assurance and conviction. Christian faith and hope is the conviction of things not yet seen. You are convicted, in Peter’s words, “Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory [which we just did a few moments ago], obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” [1 Peter 1:8-9]. You have this salvation of your souls right now, but you have not yet seen it in full. Nevertheless, you are convicted of its coming as surely as the sun shall rise tomorrow.
And where do we receive this hope? In his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul writes of this hope that is produced through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, which comes from God Himself, hence the words in the beginning, “Grace, mercy, and hope—or peace—to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
From the Scriptures
Now, let’s return to Hebrews 11—that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. This is an ancient hope, something God’s covenant people in the Old Testament possessed. David writes as much in his poem, Psalm 16:10-11, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let Your Holy One see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Here, David hopes in Christ the Holy One and looks toward the resurrection, the path of life.
David, in spite of his weakness, was a faithful man, yet his faithfulness does not characterise the faithfulness of all Israel. In the few Sunday school classes I attended as a child, Israel was portrayed as a mighty and powerful nation, so I grew up with this image in my head. Yet as I read the Scriptures when I got older, I learnt the truth. Israel was not mighty and powerful. Israel was full of people who were immoral, disobedient, unfaithful, and weak.
After God did His miraculous work of bringing the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and splitting the Red Sea, saving them from Pharaoh’s army, before they even received the Ten Commandments they had already fallen into idolatry by worshipping a golden calf.
When God told them not to spare anyone in their holy wars against evil nations lest they turn from Him and begin worshiping other gods, they spared the wicked anyway and ended up falling away from God and worshiping false idols.
In the time of the Judges we read of a repetitive cycle of Israel repenting, God delivering them, living in a time of peace, falling away and worshiping false gods, then repeating this cycle over and over again.
Their idolatry got so bad that God exiled them to Babylon for 70 years. Then they returned to their homeland according to God’s promise and lived in a time of peace with God. But then they began living in idolatry again by the time Jesus comes, which is evident in their works righteousness and poor treatment of the marginalised in society.
So, you see, the Old Testament does not tell the history of a powerful nation; it tells the history of an immoral and disobedient people. In fact, God Himself tells Israel He did not choose them for their supposed might and strength. They were a small people in a small corner of the world nobody cared about.
He tells them in Deuteronomy 7, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that Yahweh set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery” [vv. 7-8]. In other words, God chose them because they were weak and few, and He chose them to display His almighty power.
Our Encouragement & Hope
The weakness of Israel presented in the Scriptures, oddly enough, is precisely where we find our encouragement and hope. You and I are also immoral, disobedient, unfaithful, and weak.
Have you ever lied? You should all be saying to yourselves, “Yes.” If you’re saying “no” to yourself, well then, you’re lying! If you’ve lied, you’re immoral. Or have you ever hurt somebody, whether intentionally or unintentionally? You are immoral.
Have you ever disobeyed God? This goes beyond lying. I’m sure you can think of something. Then you are disobedient.
Have you been unfaithful to God? If you’ve disobeyed God, then you’ve been unfaithful.
Are you weak? You get sick, you get old, you die, you make mistakes, and you fail God, so you must be weak. The sin of Adam and Eve—the sin of Israel—continues in all of us.
Yet what do we know from the Scriptures? God chooses what is weak to display His almighty power. God receives the weak to make them strong.
We know from the Scriptures that God displayed His power in weak women. Sarah, Hannah, and Elisabeth had barren wombs all their lives. Yet God displayed His power in them by giving Sarah Isaac, Hannah Samuel, and Elisabeth John the Baptist.
God also displayed His power in weak men. David orchestrated the death of Uriah and slept with his wife, Bathsheba. Yet God displayed His power in him by bringing him to repentance and forgiving his grave sins. Gideon, who was called to be a judge of Israel in the Book of Judges, declared he was too weak to deliver Israel from the oppression of Midian especially since he comes from the weakest tribe of Israel, Manasseh. Yet God displayed His power in him by giving him the strength and ability to lead the people of Israel toward victory against Midian.
Jesus Christ was faithful and obedient to the point of death, appearing in total weakness upon the cross with His torn flesh bleeding upon the earth. Yet God displayed His power in Christ’s death through which He crushed the head of the serpent, the Devil. And God displayed His power in Christ’s resurrection through which He destroyed the pangs of death, the very gates of Hell unable to bind Christ the Son of God [Acts 2:24].
As Paul writes to the Corinthians on this event of the cross, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” [1 Corinthians 1:27]. Human reason says it is foolish that God should die to save us; yet in His wisdom God used His power to do so. In Christ’s supposed weakness, He puts our supposed strength to shame.
Remember David’s psalm as he looked to Christ. David had not yet seen this Christ who would be crucified for him, yet he was absolutely certain and convicted He would come to save him from his sins and give him life. And Jesus—the root of Jesse—did come. He advented. He advented in a manger. He advented in His ministry in Galilee. He advented upon the cross. He advented from the tomb.
Immoral, disobedient, unfaithful, and weak as you are, Christ receives you and saves you. In this small corner of the world called Union, Missouri, God has received you and saved you. Like David who looked toward the First Advent of Christ, so we look toward His Second Advent with the conviction and certain hope that He shall come again.
The encouragement of the Scriptures that gives us hope is the fact that the accomplishment of the plan of God to save the world—to save you—did not depend on Israel being a great nation. It did not depend on men and women being good and decent, moral and obedient. Neither did it depend on a coin flip. It depended only on the power and promise of God, which He displayed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for your sake. God does not call you to be great; He calls you to hope and trust in Him, which the Scriptures proclaim in Christ. By His mercy, He calls all of you who are immoral, disobedient, unfaithful, and weak to Himself to display His power in you.
As Paul writes to the Galatians [4:4], at the appointed time Christ came in His birth and crucifixion to save us. In the same way also, at the appointed time Christ shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end for you and me. And as Christ said to Paul, so He says to you, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9].
May this hope of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Mighty Saviour. Amen.