S-1418 2SIL/3A 3/09/2014 Hymns: (O) #149; (S) #381; (C) #245
Texts: Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:1-8; 13-17; John 3:1-17
Theme: “It All Depends on God” Romans 4:1-3
Question: “On whom do you depend?” Armour, SD
Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the Epistle lesson “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:1-3).
INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.
Children of the Covenant, people of God, there are many sayings in the English language that have become so common to the human experience that we just “know” them and what they mean. In fact, let’s have a little fun with this to illustrate my point. I will start one of these wise sayings and I will let you finish the familiar thought. Ready? “The early bird…‘catches the worm!’ “Practice… ‘makes perfect!’” “Where there is a will…‘there is a way!’” “God helps those…‘who help themselves!’” “If you want something done right…‘you have to do it yourself!’”
You may or may not use these familiar thoughts in your everyday life, but you still know them. You know them because this is the way that most people think and live. In the right setting, some of these ideas are indeed very wise. But when we allow these thoughts to enter into our theological thinking and our lives of faith, the problem begins. There are times when we allow this human wisdom to invade our life with the Lord. We feel that we can make ourselves righteous and holy before the Lord. When we think like this we have simply allowed the devil to dupe us into thinking that our salvation depends on us and what we do.
However, Scripture is clear! These thoughts of our own righteousness before God are just plain wrong! As a matter of fact, it doesn’t depend on us at all. It ALL depends on God and His kindness to us sinners. As Paul reminds us in the text this morning, No one can take credit for his or her salvation, not even father Abraham! We can’t count on our efforts because of the standard of the Law. The Law demand perfection. And that is where we fail. We fail because none of us ALWAYS seeks the will of God. None of us ALWAYS looks after the needs of our neighbor. None of us ALWAYS honor, love and serve God above all else. That is why in the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must not only be born, but also be “born from above.” Apart from God there is no righteousness, holiness, or purity on our part. Because of this impurity it is impossible for us to earn salvation. Salvation is a free Gift and depends on God ALONE. PAUSE.
This truth is found all around us. We hear it, we see it, and we experience it daily. I don’t have to remind you of the evil the human race carries out daily. Besides the clear evidence of Scripture that paints the heart of man as evil, unholy as Paul teaches saying: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Human history clearly testifies to the depravity of man. History can be seen as nothing more than a catalog of the wickedness of man. This is also not just a matter of the past. Look at the news today and you will see that wickedness is alive and well!
Since human wickedness is so pervasive and it is so ingrained in our human nature, it becomes even more clear that if man is to receive righteousness, it must come from outside the human experience. Scripture attests that the only source of righteousness is God Himself. Indeed it all depends on God. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit states emphatically, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (v. 3)
While man’s attempt to work at righteousness brings failure, frustration, and further disillusionment, the righteousness of God brings eternal rewards and blessed future. Most obvious and most longed for is the reward of eternal life. This again, demonstrates the fact that we believers count our righteousness as a gift of God is a reward in itself because it shows our dependence is ALWAYS on God, and not on ourselves. No one is able to stand in the presence of the holy God and say, “I have done it! I have earned God’s righteousness. I have saved myself!” You can try to think like this. But know this, if you do so, God will answer, “Depart from Me you wicked man, I never knew you!” (Mt. 7:23). PAUSE.
Paul teaches us the blessed truth that we are justified by grace apart from the work of the Law. Without our loving and gracious God, we would have no blessing, no future and no hope. Without our dependence on God we fail miserably. With these brief words, we are taught that faith and work can’t coexist as the source of man’s salvation. It is like oil and water, they just don’t mix. The message of God to Abraham and to all of His heirs has always been a message of grace and faith.
The only hope for ourselves and for our world is that by faith in Jesus Christ and the righteousness that such faith holds to, man who is by nature evil, wicked, dead is counted as holy, righteous and justified before God. Therefore we say it again; it ALL depends on God and not on us.
This hope of our bright future is evident during our Lenten journey. Because now during these days of traveling to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the cross and the empty tomb, we have a clearer picture of God’s great love to humanity in sending His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer.
St. John in the Gospel reading for today states: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (3:16-17). It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Christ’s teaching is clear SALVATION depends on Him going to the cross, dying in our place and rising on the 3rd day. PAUSE.
So if it all depends on God, where do we fit in? If it isn’t about our work, what is left for us. Paul gives us the clear answer: That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all His offspring, not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham. Our salvation is rooted not in our work of believing. It is rooted in the One in whom we believe. Faith trust that God is not only able and willing, but has already accomplished what He promises. That is why faith is not about us but about the One who goes to the Cross, lays in the tomb and bursts forth in glory. Faith isn’t about me. Faith is about JESUS!
Wisdom like this just doesn’t sit well with a wicked and dying world. When we as Christians cling to our hope in Christ outside of ourselves, the world looks at us in just as confused a manner as Nicodemeus looked at Jesus in the middle of the night visit so long ago.
We have this hope of salvation from God because we have been born into it. The waters of Holy Baptism flood over us and we are born anew. We are born into a family where faith is the fountain from whence good works flow. The righteousness that we put on display when we confess our sins, receive forgiveness, feast on Christ in the Holy Supper, sing our praises, raise our prayers, give our gifts to the Lord and selflessly serve our neighbor is really nothing more than us using the gift of faith that God has given us in baptism. It is in our baptismal identity that we have a sure and certain confidence for our salvation and our Christian life because in baptism it doesn’t depend on us. It is the free gift from a God who loves us with an un-ending love! In those waters Christ marks you with His cross. In that act the Father confesses: “You, My child, belong to Me. You bear My seal of approval and are counted righteous. YOU ARE MINE!”
So those wise statements that we talked about at the beginning of the sermon have no place in the life of faith. They have no place because they point us away from the font and the cross. They point us to ourselves and our own efforts. What we find in our own efforts is failure, sin and death. And if Abraham couldn’t do it, Paul couldn’t do it, and Nicodemus couldn’t do it? How on earth can we foolishly think that we can?
But we don’t have to. Just as Abraham, Paul and Nicodemus came to faith on account of Christ and so have we. Jesus has come. Jesus has lived. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. And He has done it all for you. It does not depend on you. It all depends on God! AMEN!
Now the peace…
SOLI DEO GLORIA