Thanksgiving Eve

Preached: November 24, 2010

Now Thank We All Our God
Romans 5:1-5

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Romans 5.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice based on the hope of God's glory. Not only that, but also we rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering works perseverance; perseverance, tested character; and tested character, hope. And this hope does not bring shame, for God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

During a forty-year ministry, I would guess that many pastors do seventy or more burials. But this wasn't over the full span of his ministry. In fact, it wasn't even a full year. In one day, Pastor Rinkart did burial rites for up to seventy people and did the same the next day and the next.

The year was 1637. He was the only pastor left in Eilenburg, Germany. This was the height of the Thirty-Years War that had start in 1618. By 1637 one army after another had pillaged the fields of Germany for nearly twenty years. Refugees fled to walled cities such as Eilenburg. Famine and plague ran rampant. In 1637 Pastor Rinkart buried nearly 4,500 people including many of his coworkers and his own dear wife.

Yet during this war that would bring such devastation, this same Pastor, Martin Rinkart, in the year 1630 wrote the words: “Nun danket alle Gott Mit Herzen, Mund und Händen.” What an example of the Apostle's words, “[W]e also rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3 NIV).

Now granted, the worst of the war came after he wrote those words, and I don't now how often he would have sung them during that dreadful year of 1637. And yet his faithful service throughout that year and onward certainly confesses a faith that was able to rejoice in suffering. How can we imitate that faith as we put into practice the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5?

So often our faith is myopic, nearsighted. We see the trouble in front of us. We feel the suffering we're going through. We taste the agonies of this life and smell the stench of defeat. How can there be any joy or thanksgiving? But the Holy Spirit, through these words given the Apostle Paul, opens our eyes to see into the distance, so that we too can sing, “Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices.”

A. His verdict overrules our guilt

Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1, 2 NIV).

“Justified.” What a word for faith to hold on to no matter how bad this life becomes. “Justified.” It takes us into God's court of justice. The judge knows your guilt. He sees your sin, even sins you've hidden in a deep, dark corner of your heart, or sins you don't even realize. No human effort or work, or argument could ever convince him otherwise. Just read Romans 1:18-3:20. No one will be justified in his sight by doing the works of the law, for we have all broken the law.

But the word here isn't, “Convicted.” It isn't, “Condemned.” That's what you'd expect for lawbreakers like you and me. But what does Paul write? “Justified.” “[W]e have been justified” (Romans 5:1 NIV). How can that be? “[T]hrough our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:2 NIV). That's how, dear friends. “He was delivered over to death for our sins, and raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25 NIV). That's the verse right before the text.

“Justified.” How that changes our perspective! Instead of focusing on your present troubles, look back into the distance almost two thousand years. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see that on the center cross hung not just a man but our God, the eternal Son of the Father. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see that he dies not because of any wrong he had done, for he was innocent. He dies on account of our sin and all the sins of the world. He dies in our place, as your Substitute. He freely credits you with his perfectly right record in God's court room. And he suffers the full punishment and penalty that our crimes justly deserve: Forsaken by God.

So through our Lord Jesus Christ alone we have that blessed verdict: Justified. Acquitted. Forgiven. Only that verdict removes the enmity, hostility, and warfare that existed between us and God because of our sin. Now there is peace instead of warfare. Now there is open access to the Father instead of the separation caused by our sin. Through faith in this verdict, we now stand in his grace with the rich treasures of his love lavished on us, undeserving creatures.

See how this changes our tears into joy? If the sufferings and hardships of life make you wonder whether God loves you, if your conscience accuses you as unforgivable, if your life seems to be lacking, or if your prayers seem unanswered, listen anew to that verdict that rings out from the empty tomb of our crucified and risen Savior. Believe it, dear friend. Believe the verdict.

“Justified.” How great the love that brought you that verdict! “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul.” Don't let sufferings make you question God's love. Look to cross and see how deep and broad and wide and high his love for you is. Believe it.

“Justified.” Don't let your conscience condemn you. Yes, its accusation that your are a sinner, is correct and true. But in Christ God overrules the verdict of your conscience. You're justified and forgiven through faith in Christ. Be at peace with God. And then you will also be at peace with yourself.

“Justified.” By faith you stand in his grace that generously gives us all that we need, so that we truly lack nothing that's necessary. And whatever need or care you do have, his throne room is open for you to call on him in every trouble. His doors are no longer locked because of our sin. For you've been justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ. His verdict overrules your guilt. Pastor Rinkart believed that nothing that happened in this world no matter how great the suffering could change that verdict. That is your faith as well, dear Christian. Now thank we all our God!

B. His training for us in troubles strengthens our hope

But there's more that the Holy Spirit does for us. He opens our eyes to see beyond the present troubles into the future. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2 NIV).

As the Thirty-Years War lingered on, that might have been the only real hope left for Pastor Rinkart. Even a peace treaty would not bring back his wife or coworkers or the thousands of others that disease and famine had claimed. But even in the darkest days no matter how hopeless this life became, in Jesus he had hope, a hope that would no disappoint or prove false, and so do you.

Maybe much of our sadness and despairing come because we place too much hope in our health and wealth, in our family and friends. When those things are well, even an unbeliever has little trouble rejoicing and giving thanks. But our hope in Christ becomes buried under them.

That's why we rejoice in suffering. For that lets our hope in Christ shine through all the more. Listen again to what Paul writes, “[W]e also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3, 4 NIV). The Holy Spirit helps us see the future results of the present suffering.

Suffering knocks away those other pillars we might build our hope on: our skill, our money, our determination, technology, health care, the government, the economy, and so on. Only Christ is left. And he is the solid rock, the firm foundation. So we persevere. We patiently bear up underneath the suffering because we're standing on Christ. And he will not crumble or give way.

And just as fire drives out impurities from the iron and tempers it to be even stronger, so also as we patiently persevere under suffering our character is tested and strengthened. Then even though Satan's attacks grow ever fiercer and the warfare of this world bears down on us, nonetheless we stand firm on Christ alone who has trained our character. This prepares us for the spiritual battles we face more thoroughly than any basic training can prepare a soldier for the military.

And this character, tested in the crucible of suffering and trained to persevere, does not give up on the hope prepared for us by our Savior. As we trust this good that our Lord works through suffering, we rejoice and give thanks. Yes even in suffering we can sing, “Now thank we all our God.”

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV). This hope of the glory of God is not built on wishful thinking or an optimistic spirit, but on God's love in Christ. Through his word and through Baptism and through the Lord's Supper, he gives you the Holy Spirit. That's what sustained Pastor Rinkart. And that is what sustains you: The Holy Spirit working through God's Word and Sacraments to pour out God's love into your heart. His training for us in troubles strengthens this hope. So even in suffering we can sing: “Now thank we all our God.”

On December 10, 1648 the Peace of Westphalia finally brought and end to the Thirty-Years War. History records that this hymn with the same melody we still use today was sung in celebration. How much more so when our earthly warfare is ended and we stand in the eternal peace of heaven before the glorious throne of our God and the Lamb! But we can sing it with same joy even today in the midst of earthly suffering. For the hope of the glory of God will not disappoint. For you have been justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ. His verdict overrules your guilt. His training for you in troubles strengthens your hope. So we sing today and every day: “Now thank we all our God.”

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313