Billy Graham, the American evangelist, was once on a mission in Australia. And he did a radio phone-in. And among other things, he was asked, ‘Dr Graham, how sure are you that you’ll go to heaven?’ And he replied, ‘Absolutely sure.’ At which the phone-in was flooded with complaints about his ‘breath-taking arrogance’, as one caller put it.
And it would have been arrogant if he’d believed God was going to accept him because he’d been good enough – like that caller obviously thought. But Billy Graham didn’t believe that at all. He believed God would accept him solely because of what happened on Good Friday.
And that’s what we’re remembering today. And that’s what our Romans 5 reading was about. It was about how we can be as sure as Billy Graham where we stand with God because of what happened on Good Friday.
So before we look at this part of God’s word, let’s pray that he’d speak to us through it:
Father, as we remember Good Friday, help us to hear your voice and see your love in the death of your Son Jesus on the cross. In his name we pray. Amen.
So in Romans 5, the apostle Paul is talking about the ‘hope’ of heaven. And when we say ‘hope’, we mean an uncertain future – like, ‘I hope lockdown will end soon.’ But when the Bible says ‘hope’, it means a certain future we can be sure of. So Paul is on Billy Graham’s side. He’s saying we can be sure that God accepts us now, and will have us in heaven. In fact he says, Romans 5.5:
"and hope does not put us to shame"
In other words, no-one trusting in Jesus will die and meet God only to hear him say ‘Actually, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t accept you after all.’ No-one trusting in Jesus will be ‘put to shame’ like that. And Romans 5 is out to assure us of that.
And first up it says:
1. Realise What the Cross Shows about God’s Love
So Romans 5.5 says:
"and hope will not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
So Paul’s saying that if we have come to see God’s love for us, it’s because he’s worked in our hearts to help us see it. Because it’s not obvious, is it? I mean, look around the world anytime – let alone at coronavirus time – and it’s not obvious that God does love us. And if instead of looking around we look honestly at ourselves, it’s equally not obvious that God should love us. Not after the way we’ve ignored him and treated one another.
And so Paul says to us here: ‘The place to look if you want to see God’s love for you is the cross. And if you have come to see his love for you there, it’s because he worked in your heart to help you see that Jesus’ death was for you.’
So come back with me in your mind’s eye to that first Good Friday, to that place outside Jerusalem, to Jesus dying on that cross. And this is what God wants you to see was really happening there. Romans 5.6:
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So the biggest thing that’s saying is that Jesus died for us – for you and me. It wasn’t a mistake or a tragedy. It was the whole reason why he – God’s Son – had become human and come into the world at all. Like he said just before Good Friday,
"[I have]… come… to give my life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10.45)
In other words, to pay for you to be forgiven back into relationship with me and my Father. So maybe you’ve never thought before that Jesus’ death was anything to do with you. But in fact it was everything to do with you. And just like some coronavirus patients can now say, ‘I’m well again because a doctor or nurse died for me – died caring for me’… so, someone trusting in Jesus can say, ‘I’m now forgiven and accepted by God because Jesus died for me.’
But then Paul says, ‘Think of the kind of person someone might die for.’ Verse 7:
"For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die"
So Paul had in mind a kind of scale – where a righteous person was here and a good person was higher up here. And he’s saying we’re more likely to love people we think are good enough, deserving enough, worthy enough. Verse 8:
"but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
In other words, God the Father showed his love by giving his Son to die for us, and God the Son, showed his love by willingly doing so. And the point is: God loved us like that at our very worst, at the bottom of the scale – "while we were still sinners".
Now you might be saying to yourself, ‘But I wasn’t even around on Good Friday to be loved at my worst. I didn’t even exist.’ Well, true. But because God knows the future, it means that before creation, let alone before Good Friday, he knew all about you, and about everything you have done wrong up until now, and about everything you will do wrong for the rest of your life. And that includes the worst about you, which maybe only you and God know. And yet he still gave his Son to come for you, and his Son still came and died for you.
So what the cross shows us about God’s love is that he loved us at our worst, so, if we come to him, he’ll never stop loving us. Because you can’t be worse than your worst.
I once helped a friend take an old banger to a car auction. It was a mark 1 Vauxhall Astra estate, and almost everything that could be wrong with it was. And we were given this piece of paper to fill in and stick to the windscreen – with a box saying ‘All known faults’. And there were so many, we had to get another sheet. And to our astonishment, it was sold even before the public bidding. And we wanted to meet this guy who so obviously needed his head examined. And it turned out he was a Vauxhall Astra estate enthusiast – he had five already. ‘I love these cars,’ he said. And looking at his obviously longsuffering wife, you could see it wasn’t exactly a shared passion. But it dawned on me that he not only knew how much the ‘All known faults’ would cost to put right; he could also anticipate everything that was still to go wrong. And he was prepared to pay the price.
And that’s a picture of what God did on Good Friday. Because at the cross, God anticipated all our faults – our sin. And he paid the price of forgiving it all so he could commit himself to us forever. So that’s the first way Romans 5 assures us. It says: God loved us at our worst, so if we come to him he’ll never stop loving us. Because we can’t fail him in any way that’ll either take him by surprise, or make him change his mind about us. He saw it all coming, and paid for its forgiveness on Good Friday. So his love is the only love in which we can totally secure.
The other way Romans 5 assures us is by saying:
2. Realise How the Cross has Changed Your Future
Listen to verse 9 – which says to people trusting in Jesus:
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God."
Which sounds heavy at first. But let’s unpack it bit by bit.
So it says: if we’re trusting in Jesus, we have now been justified by his blood [in other words, by his death on the cross]. And ‘justified’ means put in the position where we’ll never face the judgement we deserve for our sin, because it’s already fallen on Jesus in our place.
One Christmas, my Mum and Dad gave my brother and I a four-volume encyclopedia. And we were into that game where you balance something over a door and then lure your unsuspecting victim (i.e, brother) through the door – so that it falls on him. And soon after Christmas, I managed to get Niall with all four volumes at once. He got me back with a bucket of water – which he thought was smart until he realised that water on the carpet is wetter than encyclopedia, and takes more explaining to parents going about their inquiries. But the thing about that game is that once someone’s been through the door, and the book (or whatever) has fallen on them, it’s then completely safe for anyone else to follow. Because the book is down. And it can’t fall twice.
Well the Bible says: death is the ‘door’ into God’s presence. And over it, there’s a judgement waiting for each of us because of our sin – which will fall if we arrive there unforgiven and unreconciled to God. And the judgement is that if in this life we’ve said, ‘No’ to God – ‘I don’t want you to be God in my life’, then God will have to say, ‘No’ to us – ‘I can’t have you in my kingdom of heaven.’ Because you can’t be part of a kingdom if you won’t accept the King and his ways.
But that’s not how God wants it to end. Which is why, in his love, he gave his Son to become the only man who’d ever live a perfect life, who’d never deserve judgement for sin of his own, and who could therefore take our judgement in our place – so we could be forgiven but justice still be done.
And that’s what happened on Good Friday. Jesus went through the door of death on the cross,
and all the volumes of judgement we deserve fell on him. And that’s why verse 9 says, of people trusting in Jesus:
"we have now been justified by his blood"
We’ve been put in the position where we’ll never face the judgement we deserve, because it’s already fallen on Jesus in our place. And it can’t fall twice. So when we follow through the door of death, we’ll be completely safe, with nothing to fear.
So now listen to all of verse 9:
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood [since our judgement has already fallen on Jesus] much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God
[in other words, we’ll be completely safe on the day of judgement]."
And in case we didn’t get that, Paul says it again a different way. Verse 10:
"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."
So now he’s saying that, before we come to Jesus, we and God are enemies. Because we’re against him in not wanting him to be God in our lives. And he’s against us in judgement. But verse 10 says "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son". In other words, on the cross, Jesus had everything held against him that should be held against us. And the moment we trust in that, we’re reconciled to God. We go from being enemies to being family.
So now listen to all of verse 10:
"… if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."
In other words: if by dying for you Jesus brought you into God’s family, now he’s risen and alive, do you really think he might give up on you sometime because you didn’t behave as well as you should? No way!
It’s like my children – they sometimes disappoint me and make me angry. But, God help me, I never stop loving them. And they never stop being my children. And if you’re trusting in Jesus, that’s another way to realise how the cross has changed your future. It’s made you a child of God. So while how well you please him will have its ups and downs, he’ll never stop loving you, and you’ll never stop being his child.
So as we go back in our mind’s eye to that first Good Friday, to that place outside Jerusalem, to Jesus dying on that cross that’s what God wants us to see. He wants us to see a love that loved us at our worst, a judgement that fell so it might never fall on us and an invitation to come to Jesus, be forgiven and accepted, and start life over again with God where he should have been all along.
Father, those of us who have come to see and trust your love at the cross want to thank you again for the amazing acceptance and security you give us. And we pray that your Spirit would work in us to make us feel more and more sure of your love. And for those who have yet to respond to the cross, we pray that you would open their eyes to see what you’ve done for them, and give them faith to come to Jesus and receive it. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.