Romans 1 - 8
Do you ever get tired of bad news? I’m afraid to open the paper or turn on the morning news anymore. What new disaster has taken place somewhere to someone? And it’s not that I don’t care, I care a lot and my heart goes out to the people whose lives have been devastated by terrorist attacks and mass shootings, by earthquakes and hurricanes and floods and tornadoes and by political unrest – to the point where you just become numb to it all. I don’t want to hear any more bad news. But I’m afraid that’s the world we live in. It’s a world full of bad news.
You’ve heard of good news – bad news jokes. There’s always the old standard of the doctor who calls his patient to tell him he has good news and bad news. The good news is you have 24 hours to live, the bad news is I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.
Then there are Rose and Barb. These two 90-year-old women had been friends all of their lives. When it was clear that Rose was dying, Barb visited her every day. One day Barb said, "Rose, we’ve both loved playing softball all our lives. Please do me one favor: when you get to Heaven, somehow you must let me know if there's women's softball there." Rose looked up at Barb from her deathbed and said, "Barb, you've been my best friend for many years. If it's at all possible, I'll do this favor for you." Shortly after that, Rose passed on.
At midnight a few nights later, Barb was awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to her, "Barb, Barb." "Who is it?" asked Barb, sitting up suddenly. "Who is it?" "Barb, it's me, Rose." "You're not Rose. Rose just died." "I'm telling you, it's me, Rose," insisted the voice. "Rose! Where are you?" "In Heaven," replied Rose. "I have some really good news and a little bad news." "Tell me the good news first," said Barb. "The good news," Rose said, "is that there's Softball in Heaven. Better yet all of our old buddies who died before us are here, too. Better than that, we're all young again. Better still, it's always springtime, and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play softball all we want, and we never get tired." "That's fantastic," said Barb. "It's beyond my wildest dreams! So what's the bad news?" "You're pitching Tuesday."
Even in the Bible there is good news and bad news – but it’s no joke. It is in fact, that reversal of fortune, that incredible, unexpected turn of events that is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It begins in Genesis 3 as the serpent deceives Eve with the seducing words, “You can be like God…” and Eve eats the forbidden fruit and throws mankind into an out-of-control spiral into sin and disobedience and Adam and Eve are banished from the garden as God weeps for his precious creation. Generation upon generation follows, each one more rebellious than the last, until God hits the reset button by wiping the earth clean with a flood, that left Noah and his family to begin replenishing the earth again. But quickly, the spiral downward continues with humanity mired in sin.
In Romans 3, Paul reflects on the bad news by quoting from the Psalms: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” A few verses later he says in vs. 23, “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s not just bad news, that’s terrible news, devastating news. That is the realization, not just that you will die, but that you deserve to spend all of eternity in hell.
Paul brings that bad news up close and personal when he gets to chapter 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15-19,24).
I’m glad Paul wrote that. Not that I’m glad that he struggled with sin, but that he had the same feelings I have when I struggle with sin. In fact, I’m glad the Bible doesn’t just whitewash the heroes. I appreciate all of Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness, but I’m glad the Bible tells us he told lies and was cowardly at times. I’m glad the Bible tells us, not only about David’s faith and bravery and that he was a man after God’s own heart, but that it tells us about his failings, his lusts, his grudges. I’m glad Jonah’s story is in the Bible. I’m glad the Bible tells us that Peter denied Jesus, that Thomas doubted Jesus, that Paul and Barnabas had a falling out, that Paul struggled with sin, and that Elijah was a man just like us.
In fact, if you’re tempted to think you’re just a little better than the rest of us, listen to what John writes: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 Jn 1:8,10). We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking.
It’s at this point that you and I should be wringing our hands and worrying about our eternal destiny. We aren’t getting out of this one on a technicality. You remember Romans 1:29ff : They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
We’re all in there somewhere. You may have dodged the bullet on wickedness, murder and God-haters, but I’m guessing he got all of us on envy, gossip, arrogance and boasting. He says that if you are in there, “those who do such things deserve death.”
That’s bad news. It’s your bad news. It’s my bad news.
And we need to know that sin is bad news, we need to understand that God takes sin seriously and that he isn’t kidding about hell. Hell is very real, and the terribleness of it is beyond our language to describe. And without the bad news, you can’t appreciate the good news. Because if the bad news is beyond the scope of our language, the good news is even more so.
Only when you realize what you have been rescued from, can you truly appreciate how you were rescued. And we talk about it so often that we begin to take it for granted. But don’t ever take the mercy and salvation of God for granted. It is the most amazing and wonderful gift you could ever receive.
And just as the bad news is in scripture, so is the good news.
In Romans 3, where Paul wrote that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, he immediately follows that by writing, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24)
It was there in Romans 5:6-10 : You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
In Romans 7, he agonized over his wretchedness and asked who will rescue me from this body of death? His answer is, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
And it was there in Romans 8:1-2, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
Pour it on – quench my thirst for good news. Let me know that in the midst of all the bad news, God has some good news. And he does. And this good news isn’t going to go away with tomorrow’s headlines. It won’t be diminished because some new disaster dominates the evening news tonight.
That’s the good news that Paul writes about at the end of Romans 8: “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 as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor 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.” (Rom 8:35-39)
Paul is telling me that God is never going to give up on me. That as many times as I mess up, God has that much grace to cover it – and more! There is nothing in all this world that can drive a wedge in between me and God. He wants a relationship with me, we wants me at his table, he wants me to know that he loves me forever.
I think some people run around looking for ways to be disappointed by God. Something bad happens and they shout, “See! I told you God is mean and hates us!” They experience some hurt and they cower in a corner and push God away and say, “How could you do this to me?”
That’s not the God I know – that’s not the God I read about in the Bible. That God is the one who goes searching for the lost sheep, who goes running to welcome his lost son home, who rejoices when one sinner is saved, who sent his only Son to go to the cross and take our punishment that we deserved so that we could live. He’s the one of whom Paul wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:38) That’s the God I know. Jesus is the one who healed the lepers and gave the blind their sight, and forgave the woman caught in adultery. Jesus knew what good news was about – he invented it.
You want to see good news? Watch in Luke 7 as Jesus stops a funeral procession and raises a young man from death and gives him back to his grieving mother. Look on in John 11 as Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” and two sisters watch as their dead brother comes out of the tomb alive. Wake up on Easter morning and listen to the angels who are sitting on top of the stone at the cemetery where Jesus was buried three days earlier say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.”
That’s good news. And because that’s good news, the worst thing that could happen isn’t the worst thing that could happen anymore. The Hebrews writer reflects on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb. 2:14-15)
What is it that you fear most in life? Jesus says you don’t have to be afraid of it anymore. There is nothing in this world that he hasn’t overcome. You will never be alone, never be abandoned. There is nothing that you could do that would make God love you any less than he does.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some bad things that happen to you. The headlines don’t turn to sunshine and roses just because you’re a Christian. But when those bad things come your way you have one who holds you close through it all. His promises will sustain you, his Spirit will comfort you, his love will surround you.
Posted on Sun, November 26, 2017
by John Roberts