Sermon Notes – 9 July 2017

Sold under Sin – Romans 7:14

   At burials we read from 1 Corinthians 15: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 56-57)  These words echo the teaching Paul provides in our Epistle for today (Romans 7:24-25).  “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  These two passages (and their immediate context) reinforce the power of the Law of God to indict and condemn, and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to forgive and to assure that there will be resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

   Many of the pagan religions believed in an afterlife for the soul.  The body was viewed primarily as a prison for the soul.  Death, for the well behaved pagan, would be the soul’s liberation from the corpse.  That is NOT what Paul is teaching.  Paul teaches that Jesus redeems our soul and body from eternal condemnation and death.  Through the Law God condemns the whole person.  Through the Gospel God redeems the whole person. 

   Not that the pagans couldn’t give a few good stories to help us understand the consequences of sin, stories about being in a wretched state.  There is, for example, the myth of Sisyphus.  He was a clever, wicked king.  He thought he could outsmart the gods to his own advantage.  He was found out, however, caught in his mischief and sentenced to an eternity in Hades rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it constantly roll back down to the bottom of the hill.  An eternity engaged in a futile task.

   We know that the Apostle Paul had, prior to his conversion, been a Pharisee.  As a Pharisee he would have believed in an achievable self-righteousness.  We know how wrong it is to believe that you can justify yourself by the Law.  It is impossible.  It is not Paul the Pharisee, however, who writes, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  It is Paul the Apostle who writes those words, who lives under the absolute indictment of the Law of God.  And it is Paul the Apostle who proclaims, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  It is Jesus Christ who buys us back from enslavement to sin and death and the devil.  It is Jesus Christ who liberates us from the futile effort to escape our wretchedness by our own work (rolling the stone up the hill again and again and again without end).  It is Jesus Christ who bids us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

   In John 8, Jesus said to some of the people who had believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  In answering Jesus they demonstrated that they did not understand their situation as fallen human beings.  They say, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 

   Jesus then indicts them through the truth of the Law: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  They may not feel the wretchedness of their condition, but they truly are of the flesh and “sold under sin.”  They are, as we are, slaves to sin.  Jesus, however, tells them of liberation through His Gospel: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)  [Reformation 500 fact—Luther’s recognition of liberation through Christ]

   In the tale of Snow White the Evil Queen consults her magic mirror, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”  Like all evil people (like all people deluded by sin) she expects to hear only one answer, “You are the fairest.  You’re the best!  You are number one.”  There are times when we are deluded.  Look at yourself, however, through the mirror of the Law of God and you will see the true wretchedness.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  You will need to know, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 

   Look to Him who invites you, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden…”  Look to Jesus whose death and resurrection truly, absolutely has redeemed you, “a lost and condemned person, purchased and won [you] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!



February 28, 2016 - Sermon Notes


1 Corinthians 10:13


   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

© 2017 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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