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TEXT: Romans 8:28-30
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes #22: Consequences
Rosemary Jackson is a thirty-five year old woman whose life is not what she hoped it would be. Born into an intelligent and ambitious family, she never fulfilled her parents' hopes or achieved the things her five brothers and sisters did. They were 'winners'; she was a 'loser'-and they all knew it.
Finding little comfort or love at home, she looked for them elsewhere: drinking and drugs to numb her pain, and a long line of men who pretended to love her. By early middle-age, Rosemary was divorced three times, arrested twice, did four stints in rehab, had an abortion, walked away from a baby girl, and contracted the AIDS virus.
For some years, her parents and siblings pitied her and did everything they could do to help her. But she was beyond their help, and after spending tens of thousands of dollars, and too many hours to count, they gave up on her. Her parents disowned her; her brothers and sisters won't speak to her; she's got no job skills, and the men who used to look at her with desire now feel nothing but disgust. Rosemary is a drunk, a drug-addict, and an ugly, dried-up skank.
This is the life Rosemary Jackson had lived, and it seemed, would keep on living till she died in jail or the gutter. But then something happened. Ordered to a 12-step program, her sponsor broke one of its cardinal rules:
When told to 'turn her life over to a Higher Power as you understand Him', the man told her the one and only Higher Power is Jesus Christ, God's Only Son, who was-
Conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He rose from the dead,
Ascended to God's Right Hand,
From which He will return to
Judge the living and the dead.
He went on to say that this Jesus loves her, and that by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He can free her from her guilty conscience and shameful life. And not only 'can' do it, but wants to, and will do it the moment she repents of her sins and puts her faith in Him.
This was a Revelation to Rosemary. She had gone to church as a girl, but she had never heard the Gospel; it was all about health and wealth and happiness, all of which had eluded her her whole life. But now she's offered something better than a big house or a flashy car or a handsome man to sweep her off her feet. For the first time in her life, she's doing business with God, and the Lord saves her that very night. Rosemary Jackson has passed from-
Death to life,
And has become-
A new creature in Christ.
But for all this, her life situation is pretty much the same. The baby she aborted has not come back to life; the daughter she walked away from belongs to somebody else; her family has not come back to her and her three ex-husbands have moved on to healthier lives without her. Her job skills are no better than before, and the AIDS virus remains as incurable as ever.
Has the Gospel changed Rosemary's life? It has certainly changed her after-life, because when she dies she will go to the Lord, and when the dead are raised immortal and incorruptible, she will be among them.
But what about her life in the here and now? With the forgiveness of sin and the Gift of the Spirit, she'll be a better person from now on. Rosemary did a lot of destructive things in thirty-five years, and some of the consequences are going to be with her for the rest of her life.
For her, it seems the Gospel has changed some things, but not everything.
Some of you may have lived lives a lot like Rosemary's. Others haven't sunk as deeply in sin as she, but let's face it: everybody's got to live with things! We're all suffering the consequences of our stupidity and rebellion.
How different our lives would be if only we had.
Not married that man.stayed in school.put down the bottle.not had a affair.made better friends.gone into another line of work.not made that foolish investment. Some of these were snap decisions, but the results are not snap; they're long term, lifelong, even multigenerational. Your great-grandchildren are going to live poorer lives because of something you did when you were a teenager.
We all have to live with consequences.
WHAT THE GOSPEL DOESN'T DO
Does the Gospel change them? Yes, it does, but before we get to what it does for us, let's remember what it doesn't do.
The Gospel does not cancel all the results of sin in this life. God will forgive the unfaithful wife, but her husband may not. The Lord welcomes the lifelong drinker, but He doesn't promise to heal his liver.
The Gospel does not lighten or ameliorate all the results of sin in this life. Losing your family is hard, and being in Christ doesn't make it easy. AIDS patients who believe in Christ hurt every bit as much as the ones who don't. Samson's sins were pardoned, but his eyesight was not restored; the Lord put away David's sin, but he still paid for them fourfold.
In a word: The Gospel always gets you off the hook with God, but not always with man or the world. This is why, when given the choice between seven years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies, or three days of God's direct judgment, David chose-
Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.
You all know what I mean: Confessing your sins to the Lord brings forgiveness and relief; confessing them to your boss gets you out of work!
WHAT THE GOSPEL DOES
With this said, it seems the Gospel is what the skeptics often say it is, 'pie in the sky' and nothing in the real world. Are they right?
Well, for a man who believes in heaven and hell, 'pie in the sky' sounds pretty good, and if the critics what it is to face God in Judgment, they wouldn't be so flippant.
This, however, is not what the Bible says! It does not limit the blessings of the Gospel to life after death. Paul, in fact, spells it out for us in I Timothy 4:8-9-
Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.
So, if the Gospel does not take away all the results of sin in this life, what does it do for us? How does it help us live with the loss and the hurt we have brought down on ourselves?
In the first place, it says, God loves people who have messed up their lives, and not only when they were sorry after the fact, but when they were at their worst. If guilt and despair are your special temptations, meditate on Romans 5:6,8-
For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.
But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Dependent on drugs and booze and meaningless sex, Rosemary Jackson was in the bondage of sin and without the power to break free. She had tried to many times, but she had failed so often that she gave up all effort. But even then-when she was at her worst-God loved her and sent His Son to the cross to redeem her from her miserable life.
She may never regain the love of her family, her husbands or the little girl she walked away from, but she will never lose the love of God in Christ. That doesn't dry every tear in the present, but it brings a comfort and a joy no parents or brothers or sisters or husbands or children can supply!
When the disciples were offering Him lunch, Jesus said-
I have food to eat of which you do not know.
So does the Christian suffering the results of his own sin. Yes, we're lonely and unwell and without the success we thought we would have, but we feed on God's love, and that's enough.
In the second place, the Gospel turns the punishment of sin into fatherly discipline. God does not punish a man twice for the same sin. But on the cross, God punished our Savior in our place. This means 'the results of our sin' are not punishments at all; they're chastisements, meted out by God in love and designed to do us good.
The writer of Hebrews is wonderfully realistic about the Christian life. He knows God's discipline hurts-
Now, no chastening seems to be joyful in the present, but grievous.
But he also knows it's what we need and God's way of fitting us for His service in this world, and His Presence in the world to come-
Nevertheless, afterwards, it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness in those who are exercised by it.
Whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son He receives.
In the third place, the Gospel limits the results of sin to this life and when the boundary is crossed, there's nothing but joy-
Revelation reads like a fairy tale, but it's not: it is truer than today's newspaper. Yes, Christians will suffer in this life, and some of the pain will be of their own making. But this is not the only life; there's another life to come and it's going to last a whole lot longer than the longest life this side of the sun. In that life, both sin and the misery it creates will have no place to stand-
Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them, and be their God.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, not crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'. And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true'.
The world of guilt and suffering will be replaced by an innocent world of eternal happiness. This is what the Gospel promises, but, of course, it's not only the Gospel that offers it. Other religions promise pretty much the same thing. Are they the same promises seen from two different angles? No, they're not. Their promises are empty words, because they've got no proof that the world they promise exists outside their own heads. But we have the proof; we know the world is really there and that it's just what the Bible says it is. What's the proof?
The Empty Tomb. Though our Lord Jesus Christ was a sinless Man, He bore the sins of the world, and all their consequences. He was-
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Not any more! He passed through suffering and death and came out on the other side! On that Day, and ever since, He has been-
Anointed with the oil of gladness
Above all His fellows.
This is the ultimate way the Gospel changes the results of sin in this life, by pointing us to Jesus, and enabling us to follow Him through this life into the Life to come.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ; but Jesus is the forerunner of.you and me. He has entered the Presence behind the Veil, for us.
He's the first man to escape death for life. But He won't be the last.
The Gospel changes everything. Including the consequences of sin then.and now. God give us the grace to believe it, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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