Hope in a COVID-19 World

Hope in a COVID-19 World

Romans 15:1-13

Sin vandalizes peace.  This is what we are seeing in our nation and in our world.  I read a quote from Voddie Baucham that gets to the heart of the real issue we are experiencing in our country, Baucham said the following: “We are not seeing terrible things in our culture because we vote the wrong way, we are seeing terrible things in our culture because men love darkness rather than light.”  Think about that quote for a minute.  In one of the best treatments on sin, besides the Bible, is Cornelius Plantinga’s book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.”  About halfway through his book, Plantinga wrote the following about the world we live in:

The biggest biblical idea about sin, expressed in a riot of images and terms, is that sin is an anomaly, an intruder, a notorious gate-crasher.  Sin does not belong in God’s world, but somehow it has gotten in.  In fact, sin has dug in, and like a tick, burrows deeper when we try to remove it.  The stubborn and persistent feature of human sin can make it look as if it has a life of its own, as if it were an independent power or even a kind of person…. 

The reason is that sin is a parasite, an uninvited guest that keeps tapping its host for sustenance.  Nothing about sin is its own; all its power, persistence, and plausibility are stolen goods.  Sin is not really an entity but a spoiler of entities, not an organism but a leech on organisms.  Sin does not build shalom; it vandalizes it.  In a metaphysical perspective, evil offers no true alternative to good…. Good is original, independent, and constructive; evil is derivative, dependent, and destructive.  To be successful, evil needs what it hijacks from goodness”[1]

I told you some time ago that the reason I have redundantly included COVID-19 in every sermon title in this sermon series on Romans is because COVID-19 reminds me, in a metaphorical sense, of the kind of world we live in.  It feels like a tick that burrows deeper and deeper every time you try to remove it.  Sin is more than a tick; it is a parasite whose only hope of survival is to tap into what is good to rob it of life and to replace it with something perverted and dead.  We are seeing this happen before our very eyes because things are not the way they are supposed to be because men love the darkness rather than light. 

I am going to tell you something that you already know: What we are seeing today is the same thing every generation has witnessed since Cain murdered his brother Abel; the only difference is the dress.  Don’t you think that the Christians in Rome were experiencing the same type of anxiety, fear, and sadness that comes when you live in a world that is vandalized by seven bullets in a black man’s back and the ashes left in the wake of those who, while claiming that black lives matter, overwhelm and tear down communities with violence.  Everything in us screams: “OUR WORLD IS NOT THE WAY IT SHOULD BE!”

The Apostle Paul answers three questions in Romans 15:1-13 for why we of all people can live and respond to our world with hope.  The three questions Paul answers in light of who we are as Christians are the following: 1. How are we to live differently?  2. Why should we live differently? 3. What assurance do we have for living differently?  I want to explore each of those questions with you this morning.

How are We to Live Differently?

Last week when we looked at Romans 14, I said that when we are humble we are freer to love one another.  The apostle Paul picks up on what he said earlier, but this time lumps himself in with the strong: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”  I said last week that the “weak” were not necessarily Christians who were new to their faith but those whose conscience was bothered by certain things that the “strong” were not bothered by.  The weak are Christians whose consciences are bothered by things that are not forbidden in Scripture.  The role of the strong who know this is not to judge the weaker Christian but to build them up.  The same Greek word that is used here for “bear” is used in Galatians 6:2; notice how the word “burden” is used in light of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Before Jesus was betrayed and handed over to Pontus Pilate to be crucified, he prayed for his disciples then and for every generation of Christians who would come after them: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:11, 20-21).  The way that we can be one, is by each of us looking for ways to build each other up instead of tear one another down.  Our goal as brothers and sisters in Christ is to seek the good of one another in the same way Jesus did for us. 

If you want a model for how you should treat your neighbor and how you should love others, look to Jesus.  Read through the Gospel accounts and observe the way he treated his disciples, how he interacted with the sick, healed the lepers by touching them, notice his tears of sorrow and compassion just before he raised the dead, and his plea to the Father to forgive those who beat the nails into his body and mocked him while they watched him die.  The Holy Scriptures tell us that this same mindset Jesus had, we are also to have:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)

What the world needs to see more of is a love in action that is shaped by godly humility.  This is how we are to live in a world where things are not as they should be.  This is what Paul meant by what he wrote in verse 3, “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”

Why Should We Live Differently?

Paul gives us three reasons why we are obligated to live differently in our upside down world.  All three reasons center on the promises of God to reverse the curse of sin that begins with the salvation of our own souls.  In verse 3, we are told that we must live differently because Jesus died in our place for our sins.  The second reason we are given is found in verse 4, which reminds us that the testimony of human history is that although mankind is sinful and we are faithless, God is faithful and is moving and working all things out for the good of his people.  The third reason why we must live differently is given in verses 7-8, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness…”  All three reasons Paul gives us to live differently rest on Jesus as our redeemer who paid for our salvation.

Think about what it cost for your sins to be forgiven.  Jesus, the holy one, took on flesh by being born of a virgin and not once did he ever sin.  Jesus Christ, the highly exalted one before whom every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, became like us for the purpose of dying for us (see Philippians 2:1-11).  It was for you and it was for me that Jesus, as the prophet Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before his birth: “…was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).   

Jesus did not shrink back at the prospect of interacting with sinners like you and me.  Think about the people Jesus touched while on earth.  Tax collectors were hated in Jesus’ day because they served the tyranny of the Roman Empire, women who were sexually immoral were considered irreversibly dirty, and those who were far from God were left that way because they were considered beyond redemption – all because those who pretended to be holy (the religious elite) thought them to be so. Yet it was the tax collectors, prostitutes, and those far from God Jesus pursued (see Mark 2:15-17).  In his book, Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund makes the following observation about the way we can misunderstand Jesus:

We project onto Jesus our skewed instincts about how the world works.  Human nature dictates that the wealthier a person, the more they tend to look down on the poor.  The more beautiful a person, the more they are put off by the ugly.  And without realizing what we are doing, we quietly assume that one so high and exalted has corresponding difficulty drawing near to the despicable and unclean.  Sure, Jesus comes close to us, we agree—but he holds his nose.[2] 

We tend to impose on Jesus how we treat the things that disgust us.  There are two things that smell the same to me: dead animals and dirty diapers.  I was a church custodian for three years; I could stomach just about anything I had to clean from week to week.  However, the most difficult thing for me to clean and what I dreaded doing every week was emptying out the dirty diapers from the church nursery.  Before emptying the diaper pale, the mask would go on my face, and the gloves would go on my hands.  Jesus does not treat us like dirty diapers, in fact, Ortlund points out that Jesus does not treat us like that at all; he writes: “…this high and holy Christ does not cringe at reaching out and touching dirty sinners and numbed sufferers.  Such embrace is precisely what he loves to do.  He cannot bear to hold back.”[3] 

So, why should we live differently?  Because, “Christ welcomed you…” even when you were repugnant with your own sin. 

What Assurance do We Have for Living Differently?

What assurance do we have for living differently?  For starters: it is the God of endurance, encouragement, and hope who pursued you and redeemed you through his Son.  As we have already learned from Romans, it was before the beginning of time that God had set his affection on you, chose you, and moved time and space to make your salvation sure.  The resounding theme of Romans and the rest of Scripture is that God is for you and not against you. 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:28-32, ESV)

Not only is God for you, but also he has promised that he will make all things new by redeeming all of cursed creation when his Son returns.  Jesus is coming back!  The apostle Paul reminds us of what was promised long ago: “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope” (v. 11; see Isa. 11:10).  Jesus is coming back to destroy the parasite and to dislodge the curse of sin.  This is the assurance we have to not only live differently, but to abound in hope as we wait for the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

When the King comes to take back what belongs to him, not only will the kings and rulers of this earth weep when they see him, but he will bring what they promised and could not deliver… Jesus will come and make peace a reality for the first time since Adam and Eve walked in the Garden.  When Jesus comes back, every instrument used to burn, destroy, and kill will be redeemed and transformed into instruments of life!  I leave you with this promise from Isaiah 2:4 concerning the kind of peace Jesus will bring:  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

[1] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1995), p. 88-9.

[2] Dane Ortlund.  Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2020), pp. 23-4.

[3] Dane Ortlund.  Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2020), p. 24.