The Second Sunday in Advent| December 7, 2014| Rev. Rolf Preus| Romans 15:4-13
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:4-13
There are two basic theological principles that I learned when I was a seminarian and that have been confirmed again and again throughout my life. The first is that every error ever taught in the church has always come about by departing from the plain meaning of the Holy Scriptures. Jesus said to the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, “You err because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mark 12:24) If they had known the Scriptures they would have been preserved from error because the Scriptures are without error. They are inerrant. They contain no errors. They are infallible. They cannot err. The Holy Scriptures are the only standard by which to judge anyone’s teaching. That’s because the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are the word of God. The last recorded words of David include the words, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and is word was on my tongue.” (2 Samuel 23:2) We do not regard the Bible as the word of God because it speaks about God. Many books speak about God. We regard the Bible as the word of God because it is spoken by God. As St. Peter writes,
Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21
The Bible is true. And the Bible is clear. King David says that the Bible is a lamp for his feet and a light for his path. Jesus says that if you continue in his word you will know the truth. St. Peter calls the Bible a light shining in a dark place. The Bible is true and the Bible is clear. Jesus teaches his church to rely on the Scriptures to find eternal life. They mean what they say. The teaching of the Bible is the plain meaning of the biblical text, nothing more and nothing less. The reason there is disagreement on what the Bible teaches is not that the Bible teaching is unclear. It is that people consult other authorities and place these authorities above the Holy Scriptures.
They place their own experience above the Holy Scriptures. Since they have never experienced the miraculous, they reason that when the Bible reports miracles it must be some kind of exaggeration or embellishment.
They place their own reason above the Holy Scriptures. Since it is impossible to figure out how Jesus can be true God and true man and yet only one person, or how the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper can be Christ’s body and blood, or how a sinner can be born again through Holy Baptism, or how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can take away sin, they deny these holy mysteries. Their sinful human reason trumps the clear Scriptures.
They place their own religious leaders and tradition above the Holy Scriptures. If their tradition and their religious leaders teach things the Bible does not teach they follow their erring leaders into error after error as foolish sheep follow foolish sheep into danger and death.
The second basic theological principle I learned at the seminary is that every error ever taught in the church is always an attack on the gospel. To deny the biblical teaching is to attack the Christian’s hope. Why? Because, as St. Paul writes in our text:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Everything written down in the Bible was written for the purpose of calling us to and keeping us in the true Christian faith and through that faith to receive the hope of everlasting life. An attack on biblical teaching is an attack on our Christian faith and hope. The Bible was written to teach us. It was written for our learning. It was written to give us patience and comfort and most of all hope. Everything the Bible says it says for this purpose. The Bible was written to be read. It is not a good luck charm. Its power is the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us patience and to comfort us with the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Since Christ is the content of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible has the power to save us, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Two things go together: the clear truth of the Holy Scriptures and the gospel of the free forgiveness of all our sins through faith in Jesus Christ who has made satisfaction for all our sins. The Bible and the gospel go together. The teaching of the Bible is what gives us the patience, comfort, and hope of the gospel.
In our text Paul talks about how we Christians should receive one another. Specifically, he is talking about the unity that exists among Christians that are Jews and Christians that are Gentiles. The Jews and the Gentiles had been separated for centuries by the religious rituals that God gave to the Jews. He set them apart as his holy people. There was a difference between Jew and Gentile just as there was a difference between clean and unclean, holy and profane. God’s children were circumcised. The uncircumcised were outsiders who were not a part of God’s family. When Christ came into this world he became the substitute, not just for a portion of the human race, but for all. Everyone who fell in Adam’s fall was reconciled to God through the death of his Son. Adam’s disobedience made the world sinful. Christ’s obedience made it righteous. Therefore, in Christ we are at one with one another. There is no Jew or Greek. We are one in Christ.
We worship the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one mouth. Being reconciled to God in Christ we are also reconciled to one another in Christ. What unifies us with God is what unifies us together as one. We are taught the same doctrine. We confess the same faith. We worship the same God. We receive the same grace. We trust in the same forgiveness. We share the same hope. So the apostle writes:
Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
We receive one another as Christ received us. We can receive one another because we are already reconciled to God through Christ. This is the foundation of our hope. We know what comfort is and we know what hope is because we know who Christ is and what he has done for us. The gospel isn’t instructions on how to get God to receive us as his children. The gospel is God receiving us as his children for the sake of Christ’s obedience, suffering, and death. The Bible gives us comfort and hope because the Bible gives us Christ who is our hope.
Our text for today concludes with the words:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Joy, peace, and hope go together. The Holy Spirit gives us Christ. He gives us the treasures Christ purchased by his blood. The chief of these treasures is the forgiveness of all our sins. This removes everything that separates us from God. When you know your sins are forgiven (and you cannot know this unless you believe that Jesus died for your sins and took them away) you know that you are a child of God and you are heaven-bound.
Knowing you are going to heaven is the source of joy. The Bible tells us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory what will be revealed in us. This brings us joy even when we face hardship, disappointment, and pain. We know where we are headed. We know our future and it is a future of perfect joy.
Knowing you are going to heaven is the source of peace. We bicker and fight because we want our way and we think that if we don’t fight for ourselves we will somehow lose out. But when you know that all your battles have been fought and won you are at peace. You are at peace with God and you are at peace with everyone else who is at peace with God.
Knowing you are going to heaven is the source of hope. The Bible uses the word hope, not in reference to something unsure or tentative, but in reference to something definite, secure, sure, and certain. The God of hope gives us hope. He is the source and the foundation for our hope. He has our time and our lives in his hands.
Some reject the biblical teaching that we can and ought to be certain of our salvation because they think that this will lead us to carnal security, that is, that it will lead us to ignore God’s word, ignore our need to repent of our sins, and live lives of disobedience to God. The opposite is the case. It is from God’s word – from the Bible – that we have our hope. That being the case, since our Christian hope brings us joy, peace, and every spiritual blessing, and since this hope comes from the word of God, we will seek it out, treasure it in our hearts, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. From the comfort God gives us in the Bible we will embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life. Amen