May 22, 2016
Without question, the greatest American evangelist of the 20th century was Billy Graham. And I believe the most familiar book that he authored was the book whose title is the same as my sermon title this morning. Peace with God...and if you notice in our epistle reading this morning, that exact phrase is used, “ justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I want to concentrate on the opportunity we have, by faith, through Jesus to live in peace with God. And if we find peace with God, peace may fill all areas of our lives.
With that very serious introduction, I'm going to lighten the mood a bit. I heard this story from Pastor David Jeremiah on Turning Point on the radio. It doesn't fit real well into the sermon, but let's say it is the story of a husband and wife who were not fighting per se, but who didn't have the most peaceful day. It started with the wife getting ready for work. She had a big presentation to make and got out her very best dress. She called her husband over to zip her up. Well, he got a little goofy and zipped it up then down, just being silly but he broke the zipper. She was not amused. But she got another dress and headed to work.
That afternoon she got home and walking up the driveway saw her husband working on the car. He was laying underneath with his legs sticking out. Well, she was still annoyed with him but not angry. So she decided to get him back in a funny way. She walked over and pulled the zipper on his pants up and down and up and down. Satisfied that he'd gotten her point she walked into the kitchen to discover her husband there with a glass of ice water in his hands. She turned white and said, “you can't be here, you're under the car.” “No, that's our neighbor, he said he'd help fix that loose muffler.” She told what she'd done and they ran out to check on him. But they could get no response. They dragged him from under the car and discovered he was out like a light. When she'd surprised him, he raised his head up and knocked himself out on the frame of the car. A light-hearted story but not much peace in that household for a while.
Now to our epistle reading. Several years ago, our church received a set of books by noted bible expositor Donald Barnhouse given in memory of Aaron and Anna Mae Barrick. I'm using his portion of the book on Romans 5 for my outline this morning. He actually has 20 chapters on the five verses that Shirley read this morning. We will try to get through verse one, just 2 chapters. I won't follow his order, because the first thing I want to do is try to get a fuller understanding of what we mean by peace with God.
Dr. Barnhouse asks what is the thing most sought after in this world by human beings? Money? Fame? Power? Education? Success? He tells us all of these have been tried and have not fulfilled our deepest desire. “what they are really seeking can never be found by man, for it is peace with God. This is the thing most sought after in the world and our text tells us that such peace is a gift of God and (we) cannot obtain peace by our own efforts.”
There is a sense where this peace with God is also based on the absence of conflict. If we accept the fact that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we can accept the fact that our basic nature is often in conflict with God's will for our lives. To paraphrase Paul, I don't do what I know I ought to do and I do do what I know I ought not to do. Which of us hasn't struggled with that? It is conflict in our souls, conflict with the God whom we seek to follow.
Barnhouse asks how is a conflict, a war, brought to an end? He answers his own question that a war is ended in one of two ways, peace is imposed upon the defeated by the winners or the peace is arranged by a negotiated surrender with the losing side. In the case of our conflict with the holy nature of God, peace comes imposed by God. Yes, peace with God comes not in a negotiated treaty but by a God-imposed route to peace. Unless we are willing to submit, to surrender our wills to God, there is no peace. The person who is determined to fight for his or her right to make their own way to eternity will not find this promised peace with God. It was H Richard Niebuhr who wrote in The Kingdom of God in America describing the peace we human beings want, the way to peace that makes sense to us, “A God without wrath (to bring humans) without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” It is so hard to humble ourselves and acknowledge that it is all God. God paid the price on the cross. Why the cross, that's a question for another day.
I don't hear it so much anymore, but the question used to be asked of people close to death, “Have you made your peace with God?” But we who are mere humans don't make peace with the creator God, we come to God and accept peace on God's terms. We cannot insist on our own terms to make peace with God. And this is perhaps the greatest obstacle to receiving the peace that God offers. It is not our nature to submit. It is not our tendency to accept terms that we don't get to negotiate. We see that it is God who made the plan for salvation, it is God who justifies us. That is a term we maybe need to look at, justification. The simplest definition is that when we are justified by faith, God sees us “just as if we never sinned”. I've said it before, God sees the righteousness of Jesus when God looks at us. And Paul sees this as a done deal, from our reading, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.” We are justified, not will be, but we are... and that is a gift of God—Romans 8: 33 tells us, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” The only one who can declare us justified or righteous is the judge before whom we stand. We have sinned, trespassed against God and others....my favorite verse here, Ephesians 2: 4, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” We are declared righteous even as we were dead in our sin, by the judge, by God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Peace with God is possible because Jesus Christ has broken down the dividing walls and has allowed us access (also in that first verse which by the way we won't get any further than that one verse today) by his resurrection and ascension.
Peace with God. It comes when we are able to accept the saving work of Jesus done, not on our terms, but in God's plan and time. We are to recognize that we come from a position of need with the inability to save ourselves. We are here by God's grace to love and to serve God and our neighbor. We are destined for eternal life, not because of our goodness but because of God's mercy. God's peace comes when we understand that God is faithful, trustsworthy. God is merciful. God is gracious. “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” That is our reason to trust, to hope, to rest in God's promises.
I began by talking about Billy Graham. I want to conclude by reading the last three paragraphs from his book. “I know where I've come from, I know why I'm here, I know where I'm going—and I have peace in my heart. (God's) peace floods my heart and overwhelms my soul!
The storm was raging. The sea was beating against the rocks in huge, dashing waves. The lightening was flashing, the thunder was roaring, the wind was blowing; but the little bird was asleep in the crevice of the rock, its head serenely under its wing, sound asleep. That is peace, to be able to sleep in the storm!
In Christ we are relaxed and at peace in the midst of the confusions, bewilderments, and perplexities of this life. The storm rages, but our hearts are at rest. We have found peace—at last.”
Our next hymn brings home this same point. It begins when peace like a river attendeth my soul—we can all find peace in the times of quiet and blessings and successes. But the storms; when sorrows like sea billows roll...then peace can be hard to find. But when we submit and accept the peace the God offers in Christ, we can have that peace. We can say with Horatio Spafford, the author of this hymn, whatever my lot, it is well with my soul. Peace with God means peace doesn't depend on our circumstances but on our relationship; justified by God, sins forgiven, prayers heard... peace granted. Amen.
Hymn 401 When Peace Like a River