Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 (ESV)
Abraham Justified by Faith
4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
The Promise Realized Through Faith
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 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, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Depending on what kind of a discovery is made, it is either typically followed up with some sort of over the top excitement or it can crush a person. On one long trip back to Nebraska for something, we had one of these discovery moments. Heath I believe was only three at the time. In typical kid fashion, we had just driven through a town and Jessica and I had asked the good parental question … does anyone have to use the bathroom? The response from the back seat was no. It never fails. Ten minutes down the road, “Daddy, I have to go potty.” “Heath, we just asked you if you had to go and you said no. You are going to have to hold a little while.” “But Daddy, I really have to go!” “Heath, there is nowhere to stop for the next 15 miles. You are going to have to hold it.” “I can’t hold it.” I look over at Jessica upon this new discovery and in slight frustration I ask her, “Is he wearing a pull-up?” She shakes her head no and gives me that look like what are you going to do. Fortunately, we were on a two lane highway, so I turned off onto a back country road, went about a quarter of a mile and stopped. I got Heath out of his car seat, stood him on the ground and pulled down his pants so he could go. The first thing he does is stick his arm out, point, and say … “Daddy, what’s that?” I looked up and said … “It’s a cornfield son, now go potty.” He went and then for the next hour it seemed like, he was telling us what kind of field we were passing. He was udderly amazed at his new found discovery.
Excitement about discovering things isn’t just for kids though either. I’ve discovered a renewed love for these things which are now called dad jokes. I get super excited when I discover a new one to try out. Like at SuperStart a week ago I heard one in the boys bathroom which I shared with our group at both SuperStart and Believe. I asked the group after they came out of the bathroom … do you feel rested? To which they said no. I said, “Well you should, you just came out of the rest room.” How about this one. “Is this felt?” “No.” “It is now.” “Did you hear about the Pastor who walked into a bar? He said ouch.” Okay … last one and the wife in this is not my own … “My wife tried to unlatch our child’s car seat with one hand and said, ‘How do one armed mothers do it?’ Without missing a beat, I replied, ‘Single handedly.’”
Despite what you think about my new found discovery, not every discovery turns out well. Take David in our Old Testament lesson for example. The prophet Nathan sneakily confronts David by telling him a story of two men. One rich, one poor. The poor man had a little ewe lamb which grew up with the family and was considered a member of the family. The rich man being selfish, takes what is not his, kills the poor man’s lamb and feeds it to his guest. David thinks this is just a story about a rich man and poor man within his kingdom and becomes irate. What David soon discovers though is that the rich man who the prophet Nathan is talking about is himself. Instead of being thankful for what God has blessed David with, David steals another man’s wife, covers it up by making it look like her husband died in battle so that David could rightly marry her. Then when she gives birth, everyone thinks it is a honeymoon baby and that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
This discovery Nathan makes to David leaves David absolutely devastated. David realizes that what he has done was wrong and more than likely drops to his knees as he confesses that he has sinned. He begs before God in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me O God, according to your steadfast love” (Psalm 51:1). “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (vs 3-4). “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presences, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (vs. 10-12).
David’s journey is a dark journey. A journey which started with self-conceit and pride and ended in the pit of despair and anxiety. But even in the valley of deep darkness, in the valley of the shadow of death of his son, David is able to go on. He is able to go on because he has been forgiven of his sin and because he knows that the LORD is with him, that his rod and his staff comfort him (Psalm 23).
The comfort and peace which David discovers though doesn’t always happen. Take Nicodemus from our gospel lesson.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the shadows of darkness. He knows that Jesus is a teacher from God because of the signs he is doing, but when Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again,” Nicodemus is left in the dark. Nicodemus can’t wrap his mind around the fact that man is saved by believing in the one and only Son of God, by believing in Jesus. You see, Nicodemus grew up under and operated in the system of needing to live according to the law of Moses and the tradition of the elders in order to be saved. Nicodemus’ journey has been one filled with unsatisfying results and when Jesus gives him the answer to his questions … Nicodemus remains lost. Nicodemus journeyed to Jesus to discover something but was left in the darkness in which he came.
Whether you realize it or not, but back on Ash Wednesday we all started a new journey together. The season of Lent is of itself a journey. A journey which has some serious implications to it. It’s a time of reflection. It’s a time to reflect on the sinfulness which consumes you and me. We reflect upon this sinfulness as we focus our attention on the insufferable pain which Jesus suffered as he was wrongfully tried and crucified on a splintery blood soaked cross. We reflect upon our sinfulness because it is your and my sin which put Jesus on the journey from heaven to earth, from a manger to a mountain, from a mountain to a cross, and from a cross to a tomb.
Your sin, my sin … the discovery and recognition of our sins should cause us to be like David when he discovered his sin. We should all be filled with regret and remorse for what we have done and what we continue to do for they are the exact opposite of what our holy God has asked us to do. When asked to look outward to others, we look inward. When asked to help build up a neighbor, we cut them down. Whether we are high on self-righteousness or have sunk into the pit of despair, the discovery of our sins should lead us all to be like David. We muster up the courage, come before God to ask, no to beg for His forgiveness.
Lent can easily be a depressing time. It starts out great on the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus is shining in all of his divine glory, but as we go through the darkness of Ash Wednesday, the betrayal of Jesus on Maundy Thursday, the agonizing beating and immeasurable suffering Jesus goes through on his way to and while on the cross, and the extinguishing of the light of the world in the death of Jesus … Lent only gets darker and darker. Recognizing our sin and how it put through Jesus through all that suffering could easily leave us in despair.
But notice I said it “could easily leave us in despair.” You see, the penitential time of Lent is made to help us realize two things. One, you and I are sinful. Sinful to the core. We sin in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. Because of this sin, we need the forgiveness of God if we ever want to stand in his awesome presence.
The other thing Lent helps us realize is an awesome discovery. An awesome discovery which should overwhelm us with joy. Even though our sins killed Jesus … he didn’t let that keep him down. Jesus rose from death to overcome our sin, to overcome Satan, and to overcome death. You and I, we will die because of our sinfulness, but because you believe in the one and only Son, because you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will one day awaken, arise from your grave and discover the awesome eternal beauty of the new creation.
Of all the things to discover, being in the presence of Almighty God in that new creation forever is the best thing of all. Even better than the discovery of awesome dad jokes. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.