The Lord's Day
August 9, 2009
“If God is for Us” (1)
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Amen. Now turn with me to Romans 8 as we continue in our exposition of what we've called The Greatest or Best Chapter in the Bible. And we come this morning to Romans 8 and verses 31 and 32.
Now, I want to ask a question: How can I know if God is for me? How can I know if God is on my side?
You might be tempted to answer that question as many are tempted to answer that question by saying, “I know that God is for me because I'm in a good place right now. I experience these blessings. God has provided for me.” But you see the problem with that answer is the God who gives is also the God who takes away. And with Job we must be able to say this morning, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” So I ask you again, “How can I know that God is for me?”
And the only answer to that question that will stand the test of circumstance and providence and trial and hardship is the gospel. It's what Paul is addressing in these two verses that we have before us this morning.
Now, before we read these two verses together, let's look to God in prayer.
Father, we thank You for the Bible. We thank You that holy men wrote as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit. We are a needy people. We come this morning again as we must always come, as needy sinners. We need Your help. We need Your grace. We need Your forgiveness. We need the Lord Jesus Christ. We need the Gospel. We need justification that we may be in a right standing with You. We need especially just now Your Word and as we read Your Word, we pray for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to illuminate that we might read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Hear us, O Lord. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's holy, inerrant Word:
“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?”
Thus far, God's holy Word.
Now, Paul is reaching his grand conclusion. Now we're coming to the Everest. We’re coming to the mountain top. We’re certainly coming to the peroration of this marvelous and incredible eighth chapter of Romans. And Paul is asking here a question that all of us ask from time to time and some of us, I think, are prone to ask this question on a daily basis: “How can I be sure?”
Not so much, how can I be sure in the objective sense, but how can I be sure that these things are true for me - that what Paul has been writing about here, that “these things” of the question “If God is for me?” - What then shall we say to “these things”? What things? - That we are justified and therefore not condemned. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; that He intercedes on our behalf; that even in our groans that cannot be expressed in words. There is this ministry of the Holy Spirit that fixes our prayers on the way up; that God in His sovereign, omnipotent, overruling providence insures a divine governance of all things so that everything works together for the good of those that love Him. If all of that is true, what shall we say? What shall we then say to “these things”?
And the answer, of course, is that Paul wants us to see that we are secure in our relationship, in our union with Jesus Christ.
Now, Paul is going to ask four questions in this concluding section of Romans 8 — two of which I want us to think about this morning and the other two we’ll consider in the coming weeks. The first question is this: That if God is for us, who or what is against us?
God is for us. God is for me. Actually, I think Paul is citing here one of his favorite psalms - Psalm 56. The ninth verse of which says, “This I know - God is for me.” It's a psalm in which the Psalmist expresses the fact that he's surrounded by his enemies, he's taunted by his accusers and he recalls this incredible thing; that his tears are kept in a bottle by God. God keeps our tears in a bottle. “When I am afraid,” he says, “I will put my trust in You. My enemies will fall back.
What can flesh do to me? This I know - that God is for me.” If God is for me, what are you afraid of? Who can be against you? Cancer? Disease? Alzheimer's? Senility?
You remember Hezekiah's astonishing words to the people in Jerusalem when they were attacked by the Assyrian king? - “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the hordes that are with him because there are more with us than be with them. With us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” Hezekiah is saying God is for us. The choir just sang, “Do not be Afraid” from the ministry of Elijah because God was for him.
Martin Luther, in of April of 1521 was ordered to attend the Diet of Worms. He saw it as an invitation to death. Many of his friends told him not to go, but he insisted on going. He said, “If there be as many devils as there are red tiles on the roofs of the houses in Worms, I will still go.”
And as he entered the city, he was heard to say, Deus erit pro me - meaning “God will be for me.” Now, you may say it's all very well for the Psalmist to say God is for me. It's all very well for Hezekiah to say God is for me. It's all very well for Elijah to say God is for me. It's all very well for Luther in the 16th century to say God is for me.
But you’re asking the question this morning, “How can I know that God is for me - with my troubles and my fears and my concerns and my doubts?” You may be here this morning because you have lapsed, because as you sit in these pews this morning you’re conscience of the fact that you are a sinner, yet again, yet again, and that you have fallen short of God's glory and it weighs you down and the burning question, actually, it's more like a nagging guilt - “How can I know that God is for me?”
Well, this is Paul's way of answering that question. “He that spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Paul is saying three distinctive things in that statement and I want us to ponder them one by one this morning. And it begins from the perspective of the Father. This is what Paul says, “He did not spare His own Son.” Paul, I think, is thinking of his Bible at this point. He's reading his Old Testament Bible in Greek and he picks out a phrase that he finds in the famous story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. You remember the story all too well. Abraham is offering up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. He's climbed the mountain of Moriah. He has lifted up his knife to plunge into the heart of his own son, but God spares him. God permits Abraham to spare his own son, but God did not spare His own Son.
Now, we need to think about that for a second because Jesus asked to be spared. He asked to be spared. We have to go this morning to Gethsemane as the weight and consciousness of what lay before Him now became ever clearer in His incarnate mind. He's hours away from crucifixion and death and He is in an agony of soul. His soul is exceeding heavy, even unto death and He cries, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” That's His prayer. That's His request. “Father, spare Me this.” There is a sense, do you see, in which Jesus must pray that prayer. It would be unthinkable that He did not pray that prayer because He has always known the unclouded vision of His father's smile upon Him - from eternity He has known it. He has known that sweet intimacy of fellowship with His father in heaven, and now He sees the implications of what this mediatorial roll is going to cost Him. His cup will not be a cup that runs over in the sweetness of the Twenty-third Psalm. It will be a cup of God's wrath and God's anger, unmitigated anger, unmitigated wrath, instead of the blessing He has known; it will now be the curse. There is a sense, do you see, in which He must pray that prayer, “Father, spare Me. Father, spare Me.”
But He cannot spare Him. The Father cannot spare Him. He cannot spare Him because a covenant has been made in eternity between the Father and the Son - A covenant of redemption, a covenant to save a people for God's glory and praise and it's almost as though when Jesus prays that prayer, “Father, spare Me,” that the Father says to Him, “But you promised. But I promised. I cannot spare You.” All the integrity of the honor of deity itself hangs on the obedience of the Son here, but it is understandable and it is right that Jesus should say, “Father, spare Me. Spare Me this death. Spare Me this judicial death, this judgment of sinners.” - But the Father cannot spare Him.
Nicholas Wolterstorff is one of the great Christian philosophers of our time. I had the privilege of being in his presence a few months ago. He has written many, many books most of which are unintelligible. (laughter) He has an incredibly sharp mind. He has written a book, an autobiographical book about his son. His son died tragically in a mountain expedition, a climbing expedition in Europe. He was killed. And in his book, he says when people say, “Who is Nicholas Wolterstorff?” I say to them, “I am the man whose son was lost. I am the man who has lost my son.” That's our Father in heaven. He has lost His Son. He did not spare Him. He could not spare Him.
But there's another perspective here. Not only the perspective of the Father, but the perspective of Jesus Himself. Paul says, “He gave Him up for us all.” He was “given up” or as in some of your translations, “He was delivered up.” It's a technical word. It's actually a word that's taken from the gospels. It's taken especially from the gospel of Matthew. Matthew describes the final hours of Jesus’ life. Judas delivered Him up. The priests delivered Him up. The Jews delivered Him up. It occurs; it reoccurs. It's a recurring theme in the passion narratives and Paul, I think, is picking on that here and he's saying about the Son, “This is what happened to Him. This is what occurred.” He was delivered up. He was given over. The crucifixion, do you see, was no accident. It wasn't a conspiratorial coming together of malicious events. It wasn't a circumstance of blind fatalism. It was part of the plan of Almighty God. It says a number of things. It says about the death of Jesus that it was judicial. There is a legal process taking place here as Jesus is being handed over in a legal sense by the priests, by the Jews, so the Father is delivering Him up to a judicial death. He is incurring the just desserts of a legal punishment.
That's what Paul is saying. This holy Lamb of God, this Jesus of Nazareth who did no sin, committed no sin, thought no sin, who was perfect and spotless and harmless and separate from sinners; He was delivered up to a judicial death, to a substitutionary death. Do you notice that little word — “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all”? There's another use of it in the previous verse - “If God be for us.” There’ll be another one before we end. It's a little Greek preposition, huper, but I'm telling you, men and women and boys and girls, the very Gospel itself hangs on that tiny little word. He was given up for us, in our room, in our stead, in our place.
You remember in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement there was this amazing thing where two goats would be brought to the temple - one would be slaughtered. Its throat would be cut, its blood would be spilt, offered in sacrifice of atonement and the other would be taken out into the wilderness-driven away never to be seen again, given its liberty and freedom. One was crucified, one was immolated, one slain, the other set free. He was delivered up for us so that we might be set free, that the curse of God's covenant might come upon Him so that we might hear those words,
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
But He heard,
“The Lord curse You and drive You away and banish You and give You hell.”
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in. You know, when we sing that hymn, there's a sense in which we could also sing, “There is no other good enough to pay the price of sin.” There is no other good enough to lead the Lord Jesus up mount Calvary and give Him away to this judicial death but His Father in heaven.
You remember those words of Octavius Winslow,
“Who killed Jesus? Who killed Him? It wasn't Judas out of greed. It wasn't the Jews out of envy. It was His Father out of love. The Father killed Him. It was the Father who put Him to death.”
Shocking, isn't it, when you
put it that way? He did not spare Him.
I have one son. I would spare him anything, but the Father did not spare His own Son. Do you remember David crying for his son, Absalom, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom.”
It's as though you almost hear the Father saying, “My Son, My Son, Jesus, My Son. If ever I loved you, my Jesus, tis now” as He gave him away, as He delivered Him up to Calvary and immolation and death and crucifixion and the horror of the unmitigated wrath of God so that He would be heard to cry, “My God, My God”, not “My Father, My Father”, as though the consciousness of His native son-ship had been obliterated and all that He is conscious now is a relationship to a God who is angry - a God who is pouring His wrath upon Him -“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as He finds Himself in the place of the wicked damned, a sin offering for us, for us. This is love. This is love. Paul is saying to you, “Think of how much more - how much more could God love than that? Tell me what it is. Extrapolate the contours of that thought for me. How much more could God the Father love me than He give His Son for me?” He gives Him to this death.
You see, there is a logic here, and that's the third thing. There is a gospel logic here that Paul wants us to see. You see, it's a psychological thing. You may have come to church this morning conscious of a moral lapse. You have failed your heavenly Father in some way and you are thinking - and it is the default to think - God doesn't love me now, or He doesn't love me as much now. That thought was first expressed in the Garden of Eden. It is a thought that comes from the pit of hell. What did Satan say to Adam and Eve in the Garden? They had everything.
They had all things. They had paradise and all of its beauty and grandeur except for one fruit of one tree and what did Satan do? He made them focus on the one thing that was out of bounds and he said, he planted that thought, that seed, “God can't possibly love me if He denies me that.”
That's the thought that Satan loves to plant in the hearts of God's people that if you sin, if you lapse, if you fall short, God doesn't love you any more. He doesn't love you as much any more.
And, my dear friends, it is a thought that is absolutely contrary to the gospel. God gave His own Son. What more could He give? What more could He do for you and me?
You remember George Mathison's hymn? You remember George Mathison when he became blind, his fiancй left him. You remember what he wrote? “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” - that's our God, that's our Savior, that's the Gospel.
How can I know that God is for me? - Because He gave His Son for me.
Father, we thank You for the Gospel. Thank You for the sweetness of its notes. Thank You for the song that it puts into our hearts. Thank You for the melody that it makes and we want to sing that melody just now - that You truly are for us because You gave Your Son for us. O, write these things in the very depths of our heart and soul, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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