"Overcoming This World's Obstacles"#84-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 23, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Overcoming This World's Obstacles)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Romans Romans 7:21-25a (NIV)
Our text, Romans chapter 7. "I find this law at work," says St. Paul. "Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me, for in my inner being, I delight in God's Law, but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Christ has risen. He has risen, indeed. Hallelujah!
You know what an idiom is, don't you? It's a picturesque way of making a point. For example, "Actions speak louder than words" or "A penny for your thoughts" or "You're barking up the wrong tree." Idioms can be grammatically unusual like "Long time, no see." Or their meanings cannot be taken literally like when we say, "It's raining cats and dogs," but idioms grab our attention as they try to make their point.
Here's one that was always a favorite back in younger days, playing sports: "No pain, no gain." But what's that supposed to mean? I don't like that phrase much anymore. Well, it was supposed to mean that hard work and even suffering at times is necessary in order to make progress or to grow. Did your mother ever make you take piano lessons? Now mine did, and I didn't always like it. Well, truth be told, I really am glad that she made me do that back in the day.
Yes, some of you, like me, probably didn't enjoy all the practice it took through the years, but later you discovered that all of that practice-it now allows you to entertain others or to accompany a choir or lead a congregation in worship. No pain, no gain. Today I want to use that idiom as a reminder of how the Lord inspires you and me through the power of the Holy Spirit to live our lives in this world to serve others for an eternal purpose.
St. Paul, writing to Christians in the first-century Roman world, encouraged people to press on in the midst of great challenges. He said it this way in Romans 8: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." In this New Testament book, Paul is laying down a solid foundation for the expansion of the Christian church across the inhabited world. Now, the Gospel of Jesus at its beginning with Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, outside of Jerusalem, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, really Jesus Himself, had had its way with Paul.
He turned Paul's life around. Remember Paul? We first learned of him as Saul in the New Testament book of Acts. He was a great persecutor of Christians until Jesus miraculously intervened in his life. Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks on the Damascus Road. Jesus called out, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?" That's right. The resurrected, ascended, and coming-again-to-judge-the-living-and-the-dead Lord Jesus Christ stopped Saul right in his tracks. It changed Saul's life forever. Jesus changed this hardened man.
It wasn't just that Paul experienced the awesome presence of Jesus on that day. He would immerse himself in the Scriptures, studying how this Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises. He, Jesus, was the one promised by God in the book of Genesis, who had come to save the world from sin and death. Paul made it his life's mission to help as many people as he could to learn the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this long letter to these Christians in Rome in order to give them a rock-solid foundation of Christian teaching that would provide the kind of footing and traction the church would need to reach the rest of the world.
However, that mission would not come without a price. No pain, no gain. In fact, you know that this is true even in your own life. Even the act of loving someone has a price to pay. Someone has to make the first move when things are good and, even more importantly, when there are challenges. Someone has to be willing to serve, to care, to be vulnerable, to make a relationship work. Even the power of love is a no-pain, no-gain kind of thing. Sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ, that's a no-pain, no-gain thing, too.
Christ literally had to endure the pain of the cross to bring the love of God to you and all those who believe in Jesus Christ. You and I, if we seek to share God's love, there's a price to be paid for that, too. People often make you pay even when you're trying to share God's love with them. Wow! Well, that was true in Paul's day, but we see it also today.
Earlier this year I shared with you that in 2016, 90,000 Christians lost their lives due to persecution. Sharing the love of God comes at a great cost. Still there's a tremendous upside to all of that pain. Christians, we're on a mission. Paul says in Romans 8, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." As Romans 8 reveals, it's not just malicious men and women who try to get in our way. Sometimes, it's just life itself.
It's just life in a troubled and broken world. Like Paul says, "Creation, too, waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. Creation was subjected to futility. Not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption." Think about that. What does that mean? Well, you feel that corruption in your body when you're subjected to sickness and disease. You feel it when a summer storm comes roaring across the landscape in a deadly tornado or a destructive hurricane or a terrific drought that wipes out the crops. That's all part of creation subjected to futility.
You probably hear it cast differently by other people. They might try to soften those blows by referring to bad weather as "Mother Nature getting upset," but if you really want to get at the truth of the matter, you have to go back to your Bible in Genesis chapter three when mankind fell into sin. The Lord teaches us that all of creation ended up becoming broken. Everything is set on its edge as it were. The good and healthy balance of life became upset, unhinged. The earth became unbalanced like a toy top that starts to wobble as it loses its energy.
Again, this is what St. Paul is telling us when he talks about creation longing for the revealing of the sons of God, even in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption. Paul goes on to say, "For we know the whole creation has been groaning together like in the pains of childbirth until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves. We, who have the first fruits of the spirit, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies."
I'm kind of a news junkie. I'm sure many of you are, too. Then there are people who refuse to turn on the news. Why? Well, one reason is that they can't stomach all the bad news. Well, I can appreciate that. I really can. You have to admit, there are a lot of bad things happening in our world every day. If you allow yourselves to get involved in a news report, it's likely you'll groan. You'll grimace. Maybe you'll even begin to feel sick. I like to keep up with current events, but sometimes it really is just too much to bear.
That's what makes Paul's words here so vivid. He says, "We know the whole creation has been groaning together, like in the pains of childbirth." God's creation subjected to the brokenness that has come because of humanity's fall into sin, it literally groans. It aches for something better, something far better.
Those of you who are women, who've suffered through the pains of childbirth, you can attest to Paul's description of creation, can't you-groaning together in the pains of childbirth? Only you women can know that suffering. But the idiom, "No pain, no gain," applies here, too. For every mother and father who enjoy the gift of a new daughter or son appreciates the richness of that pain because of the gain which far outweighs the curse of that suffering. Well, the whole creation has been groaning that way.
Then Paul says, "Until now ..." Now here's the big thing for Paul. Here is the ultimate point of the message. The message of the Gospel reveals that for all of the brokenness of this world, for all of the obstacles that get in the way, there is something better in store for us. Our God who puts limits on the destructive power of the fallen creation and intervenes when storms throw tantrums, He has something far better in store for us. Here it is. Paul says, "And not only the creation, but we ourselves. We have the first roots of the Spirit. We groan inwardly as we eagerly await for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." That's it-the redemption of our bodies and souls eternally in Jesus Christ.
The book of Romans follows closely after the four Gospels of the New Testament where we learn how Jesus Christ, God's Son, was given to take on human flesh and to live in our world of brokenness. Jesus felt, for real, the trouble, the hardship, that all of us feel. Jesus knows how you and I groan in the wake of all the things that are upsetting us. He knows what it's like to lose a close friend. He healed men and women suffering from leprosy and other dread diseases.
During Holy Week, Jesus became the focus of a broken justice system in which religious officials and political officers could be easily bribed to invoke injustice on those who were innocent. All the stuff that makes for bad news, Jesus knows it firsthand. However, because Jesus endured all of that brokenness, you and I are given to know that He came to redeem us from all of that. Jesus gives us good news when there's bad news. Jesus gives us good news, something much better to gain, to gain a better and long-lasting perspective and faith through all the pain.
In fact, Christ's pain means great gain for you and me. St. Paul goes on, "For in this hope, this hope in Christ, we were saved." Paul believed that we were born into this world, and not just to be the next progression or generation of humanity. We were born to be God's next generation of adopted sons and daughters of a living hope. Through the death and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ, we have a tremendous mission for promulgating the joy of heaven. The joy of heaven doesn't start after we succumb to an earthly death. It starts right now in your life, and in mine, by faith.
The joy of heaven-where there are no more tears, where there is no more pain, no more suffering, no more disease, no more multi-car pile ups, and no more death-it all starts right now for you and me. When I was a young pastor, I called on an old veteran pastor who was seeing his last days here on earth, and I asked him in view of the Gospel, "Why does aging and death still have to come?" You see, at this young age, I was already tired of dealing with the tragedies in hospitals, the tragedies of dying and death. I asked him, "Why does it have to come to this?"
He said, "Greg, it's God's way of getting us to heaven." Let me just say that again, "Greg, it's God's way of getting us to heaven." That sounded too simple, but you know, over time now, I've begun to realize the simplicity and the power of that statement. It's true. When you have the joy of knowing that God has not abandoned you in this life and has paradise in store for you, it makes it all worthwhile. No pain, no gain.
Paul here helps us to really appreciate the power of faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews, some people think Paul wrote that too, he says it this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith is a gift that God gives us in Jesus-that you and I have a Savior who knows our pain, but helps us to live for something greater. That's the joy of sharing life with Jesus now. That's the joy of being on His special mission with Him for others, helping others to see His overcoming power by sharing this joy.
How does it happen? It happens by the power of God's Holy Spirit, sealed through Jesus' death and resurrection and then alive in your lives-no matter what is going on around you. St. Paul says, "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we don't even know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Life lived in this world will always be a struggle. There will always be pain, challenge, suffering, sickness, and dealing with the loss of loved ones and coworkers. That's the pain, but here's the gain.
In fact, let me ask it this way. Are you not sure how you're going to deal with all this junk, all this stuff that seems to get in the way? Remember the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Not even sure how to pray sometimes? Remember this promise: "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Now, that's a God who gets it. Even the Spirit groans with us, for us, and takes all things to the throne of God's grace.
Many of you have heard the story of Jim Elliot. He was a missionary who took the Gospel to the Aucan Indians in the jungles of eastern Ecuador. They had never heard of Jesus. Jim Elliot gave his life, proclaiming the Gospel to them so that they would know Jesus as their Savior, too. Elliot wrote this. He said, "He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Loosely translated: "No pain, no gain." His manner of life has become a strong encouragement for me as I consider how to live life through the junk of this world with an eternal perspective, and I pray that that is a blessing for you as well.
Let me close with this blessing for you. I pray that our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Spirit He gives, will strengthen you to live with a longing for the hope that is to come, that is, to live for the gain, even through the pain, because through faith in Christ Jesus, you already reign. Amen.
Action in Ministry for July 23, 2017
Guest: Dr. Paul Maier
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Pastor Seltz, in your message today, you helped us look past the pain of the moment and think instead about the gain that lasts forever.
Pastor Seltz: That's right, Mark. Just as the apostle Paul endured great suffering for the furthering of the Gospel, so also many others have continued to count the cost and accomplish great gain for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Mark Eischer: One such individual was Martin Luther. His story is told in a video resource titled, A Man Named Martin. One of the contributors featured in that study is author and historian Dr. Paul Maier, and he joins us now by phone.
Pastor Seltz: Dr. Maier, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Maier: Delighted to be aboard.
Pastor Seltz: This theme of "no pain, no gain," was no doubt a part of Martin Luther's life. He's known as one of the greatest reformers of all times, but I guess the question that our listeners might have is "Why did Luther do this and what was the risk for him?"
Dr. Maier: He was a person who would love computers today because everything he did was an emphasis with bold, underline, and italics, at the same time. He wanted to be absolutely sure of his salvation. For that reason, he became a monk. If he was going to become a monk, he was going to be the best available. As a monk, he would fast not for an hour or two but maybe for a day or two. He'd be on his knees in prayer. He would try to wind his way into God's favor. He had these anguishing moments in which he would see that "I can't be as righteous as God wants me to be," soul searching of all kinds in the process of becoming a monk.
Pastor Seltz: Then, when he discovers the Gospel and he realizes that it really does set him free to live as God had made possible for him, and then he paid any price to make sure other people knew about that, right?
Dr. Maier: Indeed. It went public after the posting of his 95 Theses and after that, of course, he became a very public figure in Europe, and indeed much opposition dwelled from the medieval church, from the Holy Roman Empire, which was the overreaching state at the time, and from anybody who didn't like Luther. The result was it was one man against the world, for quite a while.
Mark Eischer: Did he expect a different result when he posted those debating points on the door?
Dr. Maier: It was a case of posting these for serious debate among scholars, regarding the sale of indulgences. These were documents on paper that released a person from the penalties of purgatory in the amount of years, months, and days. Luther couldn't stand that. It's not biblically grounded. He saw where the church was erring in other areas as well, and this was the tip of the iceberg. So he thought this was meant only for scholarly debate. It was in Latin, not German. Then, of course, when they were translated into German by an enterprising printer, in two months all of Europe was talking about Luther's challenge with the church.
Pastor Seltz: All that Martin Luther went through, it was critical to the spreading of the Gospel, but I guess the other side of it is, what are some of the transforming results? Society was transformed from some of Luther's efforts, too. What changed?
Dr. Maier: Everything changed in the sense of how a person lives his life. It was a pretty meager existence in the Middle Ages, and a pretty dangerous existence because the church has a monopoly on your life, on anything you did. It was a case of liberation from the church at the time, and from the states close link with the church at the time, too, which was another great problem for Luther and for the state. The Reformation would be the signaling of the bell freedom, you might say, for the human being.
Mark: Yeah. Liberation in society, then education for the individual, and all the freedoms that we seem to enjoy today, there's a lot of it that has roots in the Reformation.
Dr. Maier: I've often said the Statue of Liberty ought to be outside of Wittenberg rather than New York Harbor.
Pastor Seltz: What could we learn from Luther's willingness to endure that risk, the persecution, the loneliness, that you spoke about? What does it mean for us?
Dr. Maier: At the time, poor Luther must've thought, "I'm the only one who's enduring all this," but then when he realized the importance of the freedom of the Gospel, then he realized he was liberating-through him God was liberating-hundreds, thousands of people at the time, millions today, in our country and elsewhere.
Mark Eischer: We've been discussing a video resourced titled A Man Named Martin, and there's much more to the story of Martin Luther. In just a moment, I'll tell you how you can access this content.
Pastor Seltz: Dr. Paul Maier, thanks for sharing this message about Martin Luther and his story of pain and great gain for the Gospel of Jesus. It's a reminder that God has great purpose for all of us. Indeed, He does work all things together for good to those who love Him. Dr. Maier, again, what a privilege to have you here with us today. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Maier: Blessings Greg, and you, too, Mark.
Pastor Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ, for others.
Mark Eischer: To view or download this resource for free, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action in Ministry or call 1-855-JOHN-316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our e-mail address is info@LHM.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 23, 2017
Topic: Overcoming This World's Obstacles
Mark Eischer: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz explores another important Bible text. I'm Mark Eischer. Hebrews 12, verse 2 says, "We look to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Pastor Seltz, what does this verse mean for us?
Pastor Seltz: Well, Mark, before we get to that, just remember Hebrews 12 follows Hebrews 11 and that's important not to forget.
Mark: Well, sure. Twelve follows eleven, but why is that so important?
Pastor Seltz: Because understanding Hebrews 11, it helps us to read and understand Hebrews 12.
Mark: Hebrews 11 seems to be all about faith.
Pastor Seltz: Exactly. Some people call Hebrews 11 the "faith" chapter. It begins with a description of faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see. The rest of the chapter explains that all the saints in the Old Testament live by faith in what God had promised.
Mark: If Hebrews 11 is all about faith, does that mean Hebrews 12 is also about faith?
Pastor Seltz: It is to a point. Hebrews 12 begins by alluding back to the faith of those who have gone before and the faith of those who believe now, but a fundamental shift occurs in verse 2. That's the verse we're talking about today. Here, we're told to fix our eyes not on those who have faith but on the One in whom they have faith, so let's fix our eyes on Jesus. The point is not just having faith, but focusing on the One in whom we should put all of our trust.
Mark: There's a lot of talk about faith nowadays. Here, we're told to fix our eyes and our faith on Jesus. What does that mean?
Pastor Seltz: The answer to that is that Jesus is the only true and worthy object of our faith. It's not faith in ourselves or in our favorite sports team. It's not faith in government or our country. It's not even faith in faith, or the power of positive thinking. Now, those things may or may not be good at a certain point, or helpful, but they're not worthy of our ultimate faith. Jesus is the only One and the only thing, the only Person, who deserves our faith.
Mark: That's a pretty strong statement. Don't we also put our faith in those other things?
Pastor Seltz: Well, we may use the language of faith to say that we depend on those things or hope those things will help us, but the true object of faith, ultimately, is Jesus. He's God in the flesh. He's the only One who can promise and deliver eternal life. He's the only One who can conquer our enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Only Jesus is worthy of, and deserves, our faith.
Mark: What does it mean that He is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith?
Pastor Seltz: Now this is one of those places where the English translation really doesn't reflect the original Greek. It actually makes more sense in the Greek, too. The words here are really, "He's the beginning and the goal, or the end of our faith." Think about it. Jesus, the beginning of our faith, He's the goal, He's the end point of our faith. Basically, what the Hebrew's writer is saying, "He's everything. He's the content. He's the object. He's our hope. He's our promise. He's our life. He is everything."
Mark: That brings a lot more meaning to it, but is He not also the Founder and Perfecter?
Pastor Seltz: He is. He's the Founder of our faith. He's fully God. He's always been, will always be, so faith begins in Him. He is also the Perfecter. He's the only One who has ever had perfect faith. He fully trusted in God during His earthly life, but again, there's so much more than just founding and perfecting. This verse really says that Jesus is all of that, and more.
Mark: Now we haven't even gotten to the second part of the verse yet.
Pastor Seltz: Yeah, that's right. This gets to the heart of why true faith is faith in Christ. The writer of Hebrews says, "He endured the cross, scorned and shamed, and is seated at the right hand of God." That's the reason we fix our eyes on Jesus. He suffered death on the cross, rose again on the third day, as only He could. He ascended into heaven where He reigns as King, and He will return one day as judge of the living and the dead. He is the King of kings. He's the Lord of lords.
Mark: In Him alone, do we find forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Like you said, he's everything.
Pastor Seltz: Yeah. That's why we fix our eyes on Him. That's why we trust in Him alone.
Mark: Thank you Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"In Holy Conversation" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"My Faith Looks Up to Thee" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)