In the Christian life, suffering and glory are inextricably bound up together, because our great forerunner, our great pioneer, our Savior, Jesus Christ, came to glory through suffering. As a result, that is the pattern for all of us. Servants, you are not above your master.
Somebody, some years ago, put it this way. The truth is a cube, not a square. Now what he meant by that when he said it was you can see the whole square from one vantage point, but you can’t see a cube from one vantage point. You have to move around it. So for example, if you were looking at a house and you want to see the true dimensions of the house, you can’t see it from one angle. You have to go around it. You have to see it from several angles.
That doesn’t mean truth is relative. Oh, we’re not saying that. We’re not saying truth is relative at all. We’re not saying that truth is all a matter of opinion. By my moving around the house, if three or four people move around the house to look at it, it doesn’t mean one person is going to see a ranch house, one person is going to see a split-level, and one person is going to see a two-story Colonial.
What we’re saying is unless you see all the sides you’re not going to see what the house really looks like. You have to go around it.
There is no way to understand how the world was so changed by the Christian message if it was just a philosophy. It was a proclamation that something happened.
That’s the reason why Paul is able to actually taunt at death. Why? Because he says in the beginning of Romans 1:4, ‘God declared him to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection.’ Paul didn’t understand he was the Son of God till he saw him raised, and he began to realize what Jesus has done. There is hope why? Because this is the Son of God. Death could not hold him down.
It says in Acts 2, when the first sermon was preached by Peter, ‘He rose from the dead because death could not hold him.’ It was impossible for death to hold him. Think about the power of death for a minute. Think about it. Nothing can stop death. No human being can stop death. The power of decay. The second law of thermodynamics. Even mountains can’t stop death. The mountains eventually get worn down to pebbles. Even the sun and the stars can’t stop death. Even they burn out and go to decay. Think of the power of death.
Yet someone came who overmatched death. Jesus Christ was swallowed by death and exploded in its bowels. Jesus Christ did not just defy death. He did not just deny death. He destroyed death. That’s the reason why Paul can say later on in this chapter, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ At the top of the service we said only Christians have this unbelievable ability to handle worry and handle anxiety. Why? Because they can look at the most powerful obstacle to happiness in the universe, death itself, and actually taunt it.
It is helpful to see that there are four kinds of people in the world:
Law-obeying, law-relying. These people are under the law, and are usually very smug, self-righteous and superior. Externally, they are very sure they are right with God, but deep down, they have a lot of insecurity, since no one can truly be assured that they are living up to the standard. This makes them touchy, sensitive to criticism and devastated when their prayers aren’t answered. This includes members of other religions, but here I am thinking mainly of people who go to church. These people have much in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Law-disobeying, law-relying. These people have a religious conscience of strong works-righteousness, but they are not living consistently with it. As a result of this, they are more humble and more tolerant of others than the “Pharisees” above, but they are also much more guilt-ridden, subject to mood swings and sometimes very afraid of religious topics. Some of these people may go to church, but they stay on the periphery because of their low spiritual self-esteem.
Law-disobeying, not law-relying. These are the people who have thrown off the concept of the law of God. They are intellectually secular or relativistic, or have a very vague spirituality. They largely choose their own moral standards and then insist that they are meeting them. But Paul, in Romans 1:18-20, says that at a sub-conscious level, they know there is a God who they should be obeying. Such people are usually happier and more tolerant than either of the above groups. But usually there is a strong, liberal self-righteousness. They are earning their own salvation by feeling superior to others. It is just that this is usually a less obvious kind of self-righteousness.
Law-obeying, not law-relying. These are Christians who understand the gospel and are living out of the freedom of it. They obey the law of God out of grateful joy that comes from the knowledge of their sonship, and out of freedom from the fear and selfishness that false idols had generated. They are more tolerant than number 3, more sympathetic than number 1, and more confident than number 2. But most Christians struggle to live out number 4, and tend to see the world as a #1, #2, or even #3 person. But to the degree that they do, they are impoverished spiritually.
There is no hope unless God himself has punched a hole in the ceiling of the universe and our great Captain Jesus Christ, who has opened a cleft in the pitiless walls of the universe, bids us come to see him. He has entered in. He was born. He died for our sins. Now he’s raised again. He has risen from the dead. If all that’s true, then you can be saved, then there’s hope for the future, then your sins can be forgiven, then you can have a relationship with God, then the Spirit of God can come into your life and change you.
Christian friends, do you believe in the risen Christ? Is he your Savior? In that case, you can face death but you can face anything. Can you face worry? Can you face troubles? You already sang about it in the first hymn: ‘Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.’ If you believe the risen Christ is now in control of history, even the bad things that happen to you are crosses that are going to raise you. ‘Come on, crosses!’ says a Christian. ‘The lower you lay me, the higher you’ll raise me.’ ‘Come on, crosses!’ you say. ‘Jesus the risen Lord is in charge of everything.’
In the Christian view, the ultimate evidence for the existence of God is Jesus Christ. If there is a God, we characters in his play have to hope that he put some information about himself in the play. But Christians believe he did more than give us information. He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history, when Jesus was born in a manger and rose from the dead.
If you get the story wrong, your response will be wrong. And if you get the story of the world wrong – if, for example you see life here as mainly about self-actualization and self-fulfillment rather than the love of God – you will get your life responses wrong, including the way you go about your work.
But the biblical gospel – Paul’s gospel – is clear that salvation, from first to last, is God’s doing. It is His calling; His plan; His action; His work. And so it is He who deserves all the glory, for all time.
Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.