Sermon preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, June 12, 2022
This morning we are beginning with the answer to the question we will be unpacking today. The answer is this: Behind; Besides; Within. Now let’s look at the question this answer actually answers.
Our text this morning demands that we slide our fingers backward on the pages of our Bible to see what Paul just said. You see, Romans 5 begins with the word, therefore, and you and I are immediately left asking, “Therefore, what exactly?”
Paul is putting together this biblical argument for how people are made right with God through simple faith. He cites the progenitor of the Covenant people, Abram, who though being an extremely old man was married to an extremely old woman, continued to believe with faith God would grant him a son to continue the family name even though the couple was infertile. Abraham’s faith was validated and affirmed by God; because Abraham believed in that which he could not see, he was made right with God. This is what Paul means when he writes, “Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.” That is all righteousness means; it means to be made right with God. So now, listen to our scripture this morning from Romans 5:1-5.
5.1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
This is a beautiful capsulation of the entire Gospel message! Paul is telling the Church that since we believe that through our faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, we have been made right with God. We have been reconciled, rejoined, reconnected, and re-ligamented in our relationship with the One who is, who was, and is yet to come. The broken relationship with the Holy through Adam and Eve has now been repaired and restored by Jesus’ actions; our faith that Jesus did what is both written and talked about him restores us, makes us, Church, right and restored with God as well. But it’s right here that we need to lean forward in our chairs and listen closely.
Paul does not say the result of that faith in Jesus and being made right with God is the key to our personal salvation and provides us access to eternal life per se; Paul places the benefits and repercussions of our faith in God’s grace in a much more present, dare I say, practical, moment. He places it firmly in the “now”, the present moment. He reminds us of our faith in God through Jesus immediately gives us peace-full-ness.
We tend to think of peace as a cessation of aggression or hostilities between people or nations. It is but it’s more than that! The biblical word peace in our instance today is a noun, not a verb. It does not describe the peaceful actions and behaviors conflicting people or nations demonstrate; no, peace is a noun describing the state of the current state of things. Peace describes the position or state from which we look at and view God and our world. Peace as our standpoint and outlook determines the way and direction we go on in loving God, our neighbor, and how we order our very lives.
Think of it this way. Have you ever worked on a complex math problem before? I remember the ones growing up where it says Jane is riding on an eastbound train going to Chicago 399 miles away and passes Bobby on an Eastbound train going 73 miles per hour. By the time Jane gets to Chicago, how far will Bobby’s train have traveled? Ugh. There were times I would read those types of problems and simply want to write, “I don’t care and don’t see how this will help me in my life” while I watched Mary Ann smilingly work out the problem, then put her pencil down, and then look quite smug and content with herself. Mary Ann always solved the problems! She always seemed relaxed and at peace in the moment. She possessed peace.
I never lived in a peace-full state all through school.
This is what Paul is talking about. When we have faith in Jesus and in his salvific work, we are given the gift from God to experience life with a non-anxious attitude and hopeful outlook this very minute. God graces us with the gift of peace. We know the equation has already been figured out and balanced.
Beloved, the gift of life from Jesus is a gift that enables each of us to look at life from a state of confidence as opposed to fear. When we live in God’s peace, we can live non-anxiously, relaxed and confident, knowing that nothing in the created world or in the spiritual realms can separate us from the love and presence of God in Jesus. God has already solved the equation; we do not have to solve the problem which enables us to sit back in our seats quietly and relaxed just like Mary Ann.
“Oh, but preacher, that’s so much easier said than done!” And I as the Preacher will immediately reply, “Amen, brother! Amen, sister!” You see, my friends, this is why the second part of our scripture reading is so important to understand.
The fact is, our life, our very world, has been made right with God Almighty through the grace of Jesus’ loving sacrifice of being born, living life, dying, and rising again. Jesus’ peace gave him the ability to face his accusers and their hostility, to face unjust systems and call them out, and to face and endure the physical and emotional pains of bodily abuse and betrayal by his friends. Because Jesus had faith in God his father, he was able to walk peace-fully into whatever hurricane life pummeled him with.
This is what gives the Apostle Paul the audacity to write in verse three that the Church, Christians, can boast in our sufferings. What a strange little thing for Paul to write. The King James version says, “We glory in our tribulations also.” Think for a moment about what it means to glory in something. It means to be overwhelmed and awed. It means looking with our eyes wide open and our mouths agape reveling in what is happening. So, am I saying we are to rejoice and revel in our sufferings? No. Paul is saying we are to revel that in the midst of, in spite of, all our sufferings, God has already solved the equation. Because we know that God has already solved the equation, we live our current life differently in the midst of our suffering and hardship because as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that God, “Watches me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.”
Paul tells you and me that we can boast in our hope as well as in our sufferings because our sufferings help us build strength and endurance to cope with those struggles. We are reminded that the more we learn to endure, then our very character grows, adapts, and becomes more like Jesus’. As we confidently rely on God in our pains, the more we can endure the hardships, the next thing we know, is that the very way we look at, experience, and interact with all aspects of our life, we will begin looking, living, and interacting to God in a way just like Jesus did from his standpoint of assured peace. Living in peace provides us the springboard of hope that God is in control, that God has already solved the equation, and that the promise is for a difference in the quality and tenor of our life right now, today. Wholeness through the gift of peace from Christ is just as crucial in our redeemed life now as it will be when we are dead.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It’s the day the worldwide Church remembers that we are people who believe God manifests Godself as a loving Father, as a real human being in the man Jesus, and walks and lives with us right this moment because we are filled with Jesus’ very Spirit.
Beloved, what illness ails you? What disappointments haunt you? What broken dreams of yours vex you? Whatever they are, live in the present moment in a confident, relaxed state of peace knowing that you know that you know the God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, walks behind you, walks beside you in Jesus, and lives and makes Jesus’ home in you through the Holy Spirit. Behind, beside, within. So, the next time you look heavenward and shout, “God! Why is this happening to me?!”, quietly pray, “God behind me, beside me, within me.” Paul reminds us this morning, “Hey, y’all got this!”
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 The Book Confessions. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part 1, the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer number 1, 4.0001.