God’s secrets have the power to make you strong and stable
A sermon preached on Romans 16:25-27 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on December 20, 2020.
There are secrets that can make you excited, like secrets about Christmas presents. Secrets that can leave you feeling burdened and weighed down. But among all the secrets of the world, there is one very special kind of secret that is in a category all its own. A kind of secret that actually has the power to make you strong and stable. This is the kind of secret I mean to share with you today.
One minute backstory–The Greek word translated “mystery” in our text–“now to him who is able to strengthen you…according to the revelation of the mystery that was veiled in silence for long ages past…” can also be translated “secret.” (cf I Cor. 2:6-10) Since it is in the nature of a secret that it wants to be shared, I will use that word, because that’s what I intend to do in this sermon–share this secret with you. Three secrets in total. Secrets that, according to our text, have the power to make a believer strong and stable (because the Greek word in our text translated “strengthen” also contains the idea of being “stable”).
Secret #1–All groups are merit based. Church is the only group that is grace-based. Thus it attracts misfits, the needy, and just plain odd people.
Not, of course, you and me, we’re not misfits or odd, but you know…, in general. All groups are merit based. You get on the basketball team by being a better basketball player. You move up in the corporate world by getting better results. On social media you get more likes if you are better looking and post content more consistently. Sadly, every other religion in the world says that this is also how it works with God—only people who are good enough will get into heaven, and God loves you most when you are doing a good job of being good. But that’s not true. It might be true of Santa, but it’s not true of the Triune God. He operates on grace.
That secret “…was veiled in silence for long ages past…” and reveals that actually God is closest to the lowest because God operates on grace, not merit. And grace cannot be earned or deserved because it is, by definition, undeserved love. This secret was veiled in silence until God began to speak of it, as he did through the prophets, as our text says, “…but now has been revealed through the prophetic Scriptures,” which when Paul wrote this would have been a reference to the Old Testament.
God revealed this secret, for example, in 1000 BC in Psalm 138:6, “Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.” The secret the Bible reveals is that God is a God of grace, of undeserved love. One of the counterintuitive realities of God operating on grace is that God loves us more when we sin, that God has a soft spot for people who really mess up. He even sometimes puts them into leadership positions in his church, like he did with King David the adulterer and Jeremiah the whiner and Peter the denier. Because what God loves best is when sinners grasp that God loves them most when they have sinned the most, a secret God revealed also in about 57 AD in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace (God’s undeserved love for you) increased all the more.”
That’s counterintuitive, isn’t it. That’s why God had to reveal it in his Word—that he operates on grace, not merit. It’s a secret that means to make you stronger and more stable, especially when you have messed up.
Secret #2— An ever-deepening grasp of your own sinful depravity is necessary for your faith to mature.
For your body to mature requires hormones. For your personality to mature requires experience. But for your faith to mature requires an ever-deepening grasp of your own sinful depravity.
One of the dirty little secrets about us that God reveals is that we not only do sinful things, but we are sinful. By nature sinful. And that’s a deep form of sinfulness. It’s not part of our essence, but it is part of our nature. And you know what that means? It means everything you think, feel, say, do always has at least some sin clinging to it, like muddy manure clings to a farmer’s boots.
To mature as a Christian requires an ever-deepening grasp of your own depravity. But here’s the counterintuitive problem with that. The more mature your faith, the more consistently you live a decent and godly life. But, the more consistently you live a decent and godly life, the more likely you are to become self-righteous…and not even realize it. That’s the frightening thing. Luther put it this way in his Heidelberg Disputation, “(When Christians do good works) arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of God’s condemnation is feared in every good work you do.”
So, when you are consistently getting to work on time, doing a good job of controlling your anger, having your daily devotions, showing patience even to foolish people, treating others nicely, “arrogance cannot be avoided…unless the judgment of God’s condemnation is feared in every good work you do.” So that as we get better at doing good works on the outside, it is necessary that we also begin to grasp more clearly on the inside how sinfully rotten to the core we are, to the core of our motives, to the core of our reactions to life, to the core of our blind spots, our fantasies, our own lying self-talk.
To mature as a Christian requires an ever-deepening grasp of your own sinful depravity, a secret we would never know except that God reveals it in his Word. But—and here’s the point!– it’s a secret that makes the secret of God’s grace in Christ all the more beautiful and clear and comforting and energizing. And in that way makes you stronger and more stable, as it says—
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you …according to the revelation of the secret that was veiled in silence for long ages past, but now has been revealed through the prophetic Scriptures (of the OT) and made known to all the Gentiles” (in the preaching and writing of the NT).
Secret #3–All your life an unattainable ecstasy is hovering just beyond the grasp of your senses. One day you will wake up either to have finally entered that ecstasy or to realize with panic that you have lost it forever. (a paraphrase of a C.S. Lewis quote)
Time Magazine ran an article in April, 2014 entitled, “Beyond Death: The Science of the Afterlife.” It’s an interesting article. But, in following up from that article, scientific research into the afterlife has yielded no solid conclusions yet.
And they never will. Because the afterlife, and especially how to be certain you will end up in the good part of the afterlife, is one of the secrets that God himself must reveal. “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the secret that was veiled in silence for long ages past…”
God shared this secret with you in a very personal way at your baptism. The secret of how to get into heaven. The secret called “God’s grace in Christ.” Here’s how he did it–at your baptism he made you a promise which you had not earned or deserved. He promised that he would take you to heaven not because you earned it but because Christ earned it for you by his death and resurrection. And he was giving to you freely, as a gift. That’s grace, God’s grace in Christ. And since then he has repeated that promise to you through the gospel in sermons and devotions and Communion and Bible study. And by faith you hold on to that promise, the promise of that one day because of God’s grace to you in Christ, you will wake up to have finally entered the ecstasy called heaven.
The danger is that we end up losing our faith along the way. That we become self-righteous, or that we start to neglect the Word and Sacraments, or that we become so comfortable with certain sins that we stop struggling to do what is right and end up committing those sins deliberately which is like arsenic to faith. And a dead faith is no faith at all. And as secret #3, says, “All your life an unattainable ecstasy is hovering just beyond the grasp of your senses. One day you will wake up either to have finally entered that ecstasy or to realize with panic that you have lost it forever.”
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the secret that was veiled in silence for long ages past, but now has been revealed …”
It is in the nature of a secret that it wants to be shared. Aren’t you glad the secret of God’s grace in Christ has been shared with you? Especially at a time like this? And now that this secret has made you stronger and more stable, perhaps you can ask God to let your path cross with someone that you can share this secret with. Amen.