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The Rev. William E. Flippin, Jr. The Rev. William Flippin, Jr.

The Rev. William E. Flippin, Jr., is senior pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Atlanta, GA


Blessed Assurances

Romans 5:1-5

Trinity Sunday - Year C

June 19, 2011

In the bleak realities of life today, there are found blessed assurances of the Trinity as found in the Father (Mother), Son, and Holy Spirit. From these divine persons there is good news! Amidst humanity's sin, God has provided a solution to our problem. The solution is God's Son, Jesus Christ. Through the sonship of Christ and his redeeming work, the apostle Paul draws out assurances of a new life. The first benefit of our salvation is "Peace with God." In chapter 5:1, Paul writes, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul writes with conviction that we have been "justified by faith." God has declared us righteous.

Justification is a pardon from the death penalty. It's like sitting in the electric chair and having the phone ring five seconds before the switch is to be thrown. The message comes over the phone that you have been pardoned; you are free to walk out of prison. That would be something to celebrate!!! If that happened to you, you wouldn't just yawn and say, "That's nice." Not when you were in the electric chair! We ought to be celebrating the fact that we have been justified because of Christ's death. The word "peace" refers not so much to an inward peace, but a relationship characterized by God's peace toward the sinner. A Divine peace that David felt and allowed him to walk through the valley of the shadow of death yet fearing no evil. Peace (I tell you) will allow you to be like Elijah and stay by the "Brook of Cherith" until God tells you, "It's time to move on." There is nothing like Divine peace and assurance. On this Trinity Sunday, and as Lutherans understand it, the Trinity speaks of that peace which is found in the persons of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Martin Luther speaks of the Trinity in the Large Catechism, which is the basis of understanding this peace as found in "recognizing the father's favor and grace in the Lord Christ, who is the mirror of the Father's heart." This "peace," found in God's right relationship with the Son, describes God's disposition toward us and the assurance we now have in our relationship with Him. Thus, in this context, the word "peace" means "harmony with God." Paul is saying that there are no longer obstacles in our relationship with God.

Paul affirms if God be our creator, the one who is in control of our circumstances, is against us, we have no possibility of experiencing inner peace. Paul then answers the question of how can humanity, who are sinners and stand in God's wrath, become reconciled, changed to the point that God will make peace with them? Paul tells us in chapter 5:1 that this can only come about through "our Lord Jesus Christ" when we place our faith in him alone we are instantaneously "justified by faith." Our union with Christ is captured the day you come to faith in Christ, you entered into spiritual union with Him. What exactly is a spiritual union? Many people drink coffee with cream. When cream is added to coffee, a union occurs. The blackness of the coffee and the whiteness of the cream are now integrated and made one. The coffee becomes brown because of the union. The coffee is not considered black-and-white coffee; it's just a cup of coffee! When you drink it, you now have to drink the black coffee with the white cream because they have become one. If someone were to try to separate the cream from the coffee, there would be chaos in the cup. Once the union of cream with coffee has occurred, no separation is possible. The Bible says that when we came to Jesus Christ for salvation, we entered into an indissolvable union with Him so that what happened to Christ happened to us. Christ died. Christ arose. We arose with Him. Christ ascended. We ascended with Him.

Then Paul describes our second benefit, which is "Perfect Standing before God." Chapter 5:2 gives us a picture of how this "peace with God" was accomplished when it says, "through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith." The word "introduction" can also be translated "approach" or "access." Christ, in other words, has given humanity access to God. Cell phones give us access in most places. AT&T on commercials claim that ninety-seven percent of those residing in the United States have access. I am in that three percent, because I have more dropped calls than one can imagine. But no matter how good access is, all of us have experienced limited access to places, persons, and technology. But in Christ, access is not only obtained, but is a benefit and assurance that comes from being justified. Because we have access, we can "approach" God as one enters the presence of a king. It speaks of the right to enter the inner chambers and speak with the king face to face. "Access" is a privilege given only to the king's family and close friends. Paul is saying that through Jesus Christ we may now enter the very presence of God. This should remind us: it's not that we went to God, but rather Jesus brought us to God and made us right before God by his death. Our "peace with God," then, is not obtained on the basis of what we do by works but on the basis of what Christ did for us. It is on his work, not ours, that we depend for our eternal life. This is why our "peace with God" can never be lost. Christ's work is already done!

Then our third benefit is Persistent hope in God.  In chapter 5:2-b Paul writes, "and we exult in hope of the glory of God," which can be translated boast, glory, or rejoice. He is saying that because we have been justified by Christ we can now boast and glory in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is a truly awesome thing!  Paul writes that we "exult in the hope of the glory of God." But what is the "glory of God?" It is the outshining of God's holiness; it is when God's powerful purity is in some way made visible. Paul is saying that the "hope" of every believer is the future reality that Jesus is bringing many sons and daughters to glory, and "we know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is." Because we have those blessed assurances Peace in God, Perfect Standing before God, and Persistent Hope in God, we can boast on our freedom and salvation.

In Christ we are free to do it better--because we are justified--not based on what we do but by grace. If poverty is a force that cycles us down, causes us to sin in our response to this societal evil, grace is a force that can stop the cycle of sin and give us a fresh start. Justification means freedom--but not freedom from--but freedom for ourselves and community. We are now free for work in God's kingdom; we are free to help our neighbor in need. We are free from the force that cycles us down and free for the task of building the community up. That is the freedom of the Christian--free from all, subject to none--as it relates to the law, but then when freed from the power of the law as we are, free to willingly subject him or herself to service to the neighbor.

On this Trinity Sunday, it's difficult for Christians and non-Christians to understand this concept, but the best way I can explain is from this story: 

A young lady one day was speeding through a small Georgia town. She was traveling 70 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. The police pulled her over and wrote her a ticket that would cost her $100. She didn't have the money to pay it and ended up having to go to court over the ticket. In the courtroom, the judge said, "You were found guilty of going 70 miles an hour in a 55-mile speed zone. You have to pay $100." The young lady said, "I'm guilty, but I can't pay it. I don't have $100." "Well, if you don't pay the ticket, we'll have to lock you up for the weekend." "I can't pay the ticket, but I don't want to go to jail. Can you please just have mercy on me?" The judge matter-of-factly replied, "I can't change the law. The law says that you've got to pay $100, or you have to spend the weekend in jail. Those are the rules, and I can't change the rules." Starting to tear up she spoke in a small voice, "Isn't there something you can do? I can't pay it, but I don't want to get locked up. Have mercy on me." The judge looked down on her, pushed his chair back from the bench, zipped down his robe, and took it off. He went over to the side, picked up his jacket and put it on. He walked down and stood beside the girl, reached in his wallet, and brought out a hundred-dollar bill. He put the $100 bill on the bench, took off his jacket, then went over and picked up his robe. He zipped his robe and got back behind his bench. "Young lady, you've been found guilty of going 70 miles an hour in a 55-mph speed zone. The law is the law. I can't change it; the law says you must pay $100 or spend the weekend in jail. Ah! But I see somebody else has already paid the price."

God saw us speeding down the highway of sin. He zipped down the independent use of His deity and put on the jacket of humanity. He came down, died on the cross, and paid the price that you and I could not pay. He picked up the tab, rose from the dead, zipped up his glorified body, and ascended up to heaven.

The good news of the gospel is that a bill we could not pay has already been paid. It has been paid by God in the person of Jesus Christ. Isn't that good news?  Our individual and collective experiences of going back to the cross on this Trinity Sunday, we will see truly what the Trinity is about...the One who spoke in parables, enjoyed the company of sinners and did not shrink from human pain or weakness is one with the Creator who sent Him to proclaim the coming of the dominion of justice and one with the Sanctifier that provides comfort, solace, and energy to the disciples after ascending to heaven. Rejoice and be glad on these blessed assurances!!!! that the Creating God over us, Redeeming God with us, is the same God, sustaining God, in us.

Let us pray. Eternal God, we thank you for the sustaining work of creation, the redeeming grace of your blood that is magnified on this Trinity Sunday. Allow us in that same spirit of cooperation love our community, be available for those who are in need, those who are oppressed, those who are seeking justice. Eternal God, we thank you for the example that you sent us in Jesus Christ, by his precious blood that renewed us, reconciled us and redeemed us. Gracious God, we thank you and give you all praise. In Jesus' name. Amen.

 


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