The Gift of Advent: Joy
Text: Romans 5:1-11
Audio: The Gift of Advent: Joy
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
The third Sunday of Advent has for centuries been known as “Gaudete,” the Latin word for “rejoice.” We even light a different colored candle on the Advent wreath to set this one Sunday apart from the others. “Pink instead of purple for rejoicing.” Why pink? I have no idea. But there you have it.
So we are focusing on rejoicing today, and I invite you to turn with me once again to Romans 5:1-11. The passage is full of rejoicing.
We read this passage last week, but I want to linger on these first 11 verses of chapter 5 in Romans this Advent, because as we saw last week, they lay out these Advent Wreath themes of hope, peace, joy and love as the fruits of justification by faith. Paul says that these are the very gifts and blessings that come to us as a result of trusting in Christ, and being justified by faith in him: Peace with God, the hope of glory, and a deep seated joy that enables us to rejoice no matter what the world does to us, and love.
Let’s read the passage again, and listen for the number of times Paul speaks of rejoicing.
So do you hear how many times Paul mentions rejoicing in this passage? Three times:
In v. 2b, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
In v. 3, “And we also rejoice in our sufferings!”
And in v. 11, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Paul is serious about rejoicing being a direct response to God as a result of receiving His grace and forgiveness in Christ.
Now I mentioned last week that this word translated as rejoice, means to “exult” or even to “boast” in something. But it’s not a proud, competitive kind of boasting. It’s rather a surprised and communal kind of boasting. It’s an “O my gosh, an engagement ring for Christmas! AAHhh!! I love you, of course I’ll marry you!” kind of exultation.
And then you are so thrilled you have to go show everybody the ring and tell your whole family the good news. And you rejoice and they rejoice and everyone is rejoicing. The gift makes the whole family glad.
That’s the kind of response Paul says hits us when we discover the amazing gift of grace that is ours, as a result of what Christ has done for us.
Since we have been justified through faith in Christ…
Since while we were still sinners Christ died for us,
Since our sins have now been atoned for, and the wrath of God has been turned away,
Since we now have peace with God, and the hope of glory we simply rejoice, we exult, we boast about it. We want to shout it out: “God you are so awesome!”
And we share that joy with a whole host of others who have also experienced the blessings of Christ. It is a communal exultation. This is what corporate worship is all about!
Now first, Paul says, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Monica Romig preached to us two weeks ago on this hope of glory, which went with the first Advent Candle. For today let me simply remind you that what we are rejoicing in here is the hope of our glorification.
God created us in His image to display his likeness and to show forth His glory. But because of sin, that ‘image of God’ is tainted in us. We all fall short of his glory. We do not display it very well.
But in Jesus Christ God has overcome that sin, and washed and cleansed and renewed us. And He is now in the process of transforming us more and more into the likeness of Jesus, that we might display His glory to all creation once again. We look forward to that day when this process is complete, when Christ shall come again to reign in glory, and we shall see Him as he is, and we shall be like him.
We rejoice, Paul says, in that hope of glory.
2. But then Paul says an amazing thing in the very next verse.
“And we also rejoice in our sufferings,” he writes.
And we think, “What?! In our sufferings? We’re supposed to exult and boast in our sufferings? What’s he talking about?”
Well, what he’s talking about is the irony that in God’s way of doing things, suffering is actually part of the process of glorification. Suffering is part of the transforming process God uses to lead us to maturity, and to glory.
“Suffering,” Paul says, “produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope doesn’t disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us, and the Holy Spirit is working all these things together for the good of those who are called according to God’s purposes.
The Holy Spirit uses every thing in your life for your good and your growth if you are “in Christ.” And think about Jesus Christ himself as the model of this. When Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What hour is he talking about? The hour of his arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion.
That’s the great irony of the Bible. In the wisdom of God, the cross is glory. The one who loses his life will gain it. The one who gives up on herself, finds herself. Self sacrifice is part of the road to glory. The way up is down.
Now the particular type of suffering Paul is really talking about here is the opposition and persecution of a hostile world. It is not really a tooth ache or even cancer he has in mind. It is the kind of suffering that comes from sharing in the sufferings of Christ. It’s the kind of suffering that is related to actually living for Christ in often hostile world.
So the Bible never encourages people to seek out suffering for sufferings sake and then rejoice in it. God is not a masochist. We are not to whip ourselves, or sit in freezing cold water for an hour a day because somehow suffering is good for us.
No. What Paul is talking about is the inevitable slings and arrows of life that come our way, and particularly when we are seeking to live a life of faith in a faithless world. What we rejoice in, is quite simply that God has promised to use it all for our good. He has promised that none of these slings and arrows will ultimately be successful in destroying us, because He will transform them all into fertilizer for our growth.
The suffering will only end up producing perseverance, and character and hope. That’s why we rejoice. That’s why we exult. That’s what we boast in.
It’s like the Patriots playing the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo last Monday night. They talked about the game as a battle, both against a tough team in their home stadium in front of their very rowdy fans, but also against the forces of nature. It was freezing cold with 25 mile an hour winds coming off Lake Erie, and gusting up to 40 miles an hour.
And it was a bruising game that was won on the ground and not in the air. Smash mouth football won at the line of scrimmage. But after the game, coaches and players alike actually boasted in the hits, the bruises, the injuries, the cold.
They were rejoicing in the sufferings they endured as part of playing in that game, and winning it!
Reading about it in the paper the next morning, I thought,
“That’s kind of like the rejoicing Paul is talking about in Romans 5. A kind of rejoicing that comes from joining with God in a difficult mission of bringing his redemption to the world, but you rejoice in the hardships just knowing that you’re on His team, you’re working together with others for His purposes, and even the hits you take along the way have redemptive purposes God will produce in you. And you know you’re going to win in the end!
That’s what we rejoice in.
3. And finally, in v. 11, Paul says we rejoice IN GOD through Jesus Christ.
And here again, this is a fruit of justification by faith. If we are not “in Christ,” and we have not trusted in his death and resurrection for us, and we have not been forgiven our sins, and filled with His Holy Spirit, then we do not actually rejoice in God.
In fact, for most people in the world, the thought of God actually annoys them. They are embarrassed by people who actually talk about God. They are irritated if anyone actually claims to know God. They are plagued by the thought that God might actually claim to know them. They don’t like the idea that God knows them inside and out; that he has every hair on their head numbered.
That might sound comforting to you, but it wouldn’t be if you were still trying to avoid God, or deny God, or be rid of God. You wouldn’t want a God who “walks with you and talks with you and tells you: you are His own.”
As Paul says here in v. 11, it’s only because of the reconciliation with God that is ours through Jesus Christ, that we are enabled to truly rejoice in God.
It is in Him that we who were once enemies of God have now been made friends.
It’s in Him that we now have peace with God and the hope of glory.
It’s in Him that we discover we can now exult in the love of God, which has been poured out into our hearts.
It is through Jesus Christ that we now actually rejoice in God. We delight in Him; we exult in Him, we boast in Him.
Now one final word here about boasting. You need to know that what Paul says here in v. 11 about rejoicing or boasting in God, is exactly the opposite of what Paul actually writes back in 2:17 f this same letter.
Back in chapter 2, Paul is actually condemning his fellow Jews for “boasting in God.” He says that as Jews they are in the habit of “bragging about their relationship with God” as though they were superior to every other people group on earth! And he condemns them for that kind of attitude.
And in the Greek, the words he used in 2:17 are exactly the same as the words he uses here. But here he says, we are supposed to “boast in God.” What’s the difference?
Well, Paul would say the difference is justification by faith. Christians boast in God not because God has become our private possession, or our exclusive property. That is what Paul was condemning his fellow Jews for. We boast in God because in the process of justification by faith, we have actually admitted that we have no claim on God at all. We have actually acknowledged that we were God’s enemies, and that it is only by His mercy that we are in any kind of relationship with him at all.
Our exultation is a sense of amazement and wonder that through the death of Christ people like us were reconciled to him. So our rejoicing and exultation and boasting is not in our privileges, but in His mercies. Not in our possession of God, but His possession of us.
So rejoice in the Lord always, my friends. Rejoice in the hope of glory. Rejoice even in the bruises of life you take along the way for seeking to live a life of faith, hope, and love. Rejoice in God who has made you, redeemed you, and claimed you as His own.And go out this week to enjoy the gifts of hope, and peace and joy that have been given to you freely in Christ.