To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Lord Jesus, for the last eight and a half years I have spoken from this pulpit primarily about you from the book of Romans. Not only about you — I have also spoken to you before every message, seeking your help to preach the truth of your word and not my own. Indeed, I have tried to speak as in God’s sight, in your strength, in the way that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:17: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as from God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” So I have tried to unfold the meaning of your word in the book of Romans by speaking from you and through you, praying to you even as I spoke.
Eight Years of Speaking About You
But mainly I have spoken about you. That’s what preaching is. That’s what you meant it to be when you sent your ministers to preach the gospel. Two times in the book of Romans you say that the gospel is the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19) or the gospel of God’s Son (Romans 1:9). You make plain that it’s about you. And so you meant for the preaching of the gospel to be mainly about yourself — “the preaching of Jesus Christ” (Romans 16:25). So I do not regret that these eight and a half years have been about you. That was your design. That was my delight. I pray that you would sanctify those eight years to the people for the glory of your name and the good of your people and the blessing of the world.
Now Speaking to You
But, Lord, it has seemed to me in these recent days that the time has come not merely to speak mainly about you, but to speak mainly to you. I have always been helped St. Augustine’s Confessions. What a great work you did in his life! What a legacy he left to the world because of you! But what is so remarkable about those three hundred pages is that every line is addressed to you and to the Father. He did not just write about what you did in his life. He prayed his entire book to you. Everything he said, he said to you.
Lord, that’s what I would like to do in this final focus on the book of Romans. I would like to speak to you. I would like to praise you and thank you and ask you to make these eight years of messages soul-saving, and faith-building, and missions-mobilizing, and justice-advancing, and a great honor to you. I thank you for the permission to do this. I do not assume that it is a wise or good thing to do. The daughter you gave me did not think it was a good idea. She said, “If you pray for thirty minutes, we’ll have to keep our eyes closed and it will be boring.” And Lord, you know what a sin it is to bore your people with the word of God.
Looking at Your People, Speaking to You
But you showed me something as I sought your permission to do this. You showed me Romans 8:9–10. I asked you, Lord, won’t it be very awkward for me to be talking to you and yet looking at the people? Won’t they feel strange? We don’t usually talk to one person and look at another person. That’s why we usually close our eyes when we pray. But then I read this in your word about my brothers and sisters who sit today under this word: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Lord, what are you saying here in the words, “but if Christ is in you”? Are you not saying, “I am present and dwelling in every believer in this room”?
So, Lord, if I would look toward you as I pray, where shall I look? And you seem to answer, “You may look at my people, because that is where I am. If anyone does not have my Spirit, he does not belong to me. But there are many in this room who belong to me. I dwell in them. I am in heaven on the throne, and I am on the earth in my people.” And so, Lord Jesus, I thank you for this permission to speak to you and look at your people. Indeed, I pray that when I look at them, while talking to you, the wonder that you dwell in them, will become a precious Christmas gift this season. Indeed, may the memory that on Christmas Eve 2006 Pastor John prayed his entire sermon and looked at his people, remind them for years to come that Christ is in them, and therefore, they are his.
The Desire to Praise You
As we come to the end of this book, my overwhelming desire is to praise you — and through you to praise God the Father with the help of God the Holy Spirit — for the glorious Person you have revealed yourself to be in this letter, and, second, to thank you for all that you accomplished for us, and third, to embrace afresh all the benefits obtained for us in that accomplishment, and, finally, to rededicate ourselves to your invincible purpose for this world. Perhaps, O Lord, you would grant, that many who have not prayed to you in a long time might find themselves caught up with me at some point so that my praying becomes our praying.
Praise for the Person that You Are
Who are you, then, Jesus Christ? Who is this babe whose birth we mark tomorrow? Your servant Paul poured out his answer at the beginning of Romans: “God . . . promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures [the gospel] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2–4).
You are the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited King of Israel, the son of David, the One to fulfill all the promises, the One to bring the kingdom of God. And you are the Son of God. Not like we are sons of God, but eternally the Son of God, so that you yourself are very God of very God. Is this not why you inspired Paul to say in Romans 9:3 that you are “the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever”? We worship you, our Lord and our God.
When you were born of the virgin Mary, you did not come into being then. No. The apostle said in Romans 8:3 that God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” You did not originate in flesh. You were sent into flesh. Flesh, just like ours, only without sin. You are the sinless, incarnate, second person of the Godhead, the eternal Son of God, made flesh, to be the Messiah, to be the Son of David, and to be the Savior — “Jesus.” Your own angel told Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
We praise you and we worship you, Jesus the Savior, Christ the Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, Lord — the name used in the Old Testament for God — very God. Amen!
Thankfulness for What You Have Accomplished for Us
And with all of our hearts, now we thank you for what you accomplished for us when you came. No one else could do it. It had to be you, or there would be no salvation from our sin and from your own wrath — the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16). Only you could do it. That’s what your servant meant in Romans 8:3: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin . . . .” Only you, Lord Jesus, only God-made-flesh, could accomplish what had to be done if we were to be saved. No ordinary man would do.
You were a faithful “servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Romans 15:3). You secured every promise God ever made.
You were sinlessly (Romans 8:3) obedient to your Father your whole life and fulfilled all righteousness at every point where we have failed. And that obedience reached its most glorious climax when you became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
O, how you suffered and bore reproach on our behalf. “For [you] did not please [yourself], but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Romans 15:3).
And then you died. And this was the most important moment in the history of the world. Once for all, sins were paid for. Nothing before, and nothing since, has contributed anything to the payment you made for sins when you died. “For while we were still weak, at the right time [you] 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, [you] Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8).
And then you rose from the dead three days later, never to die again. “We know that [you] Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over [you]!” (Romans 6:9). You were “declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by [your] resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
And you did not die without us. But you took us — all of your elect, the ones who trust in you — you took us into death with you, so that the curse of our death might be behind us and not in front of us. “For if we have been united with [you] in a death like [yours], we shall certainly be united with [you] in a resurrection like [yours]” (Romans 6:5).
And when you died, our sin was condemned in your flesh! “By sending his own Son [by sending you!] in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Were clearer words ever spoken, Lord Jesus, concerning the glory of penal substitution — this glorious doctrine that today, to our shame in the church, is so embattled and denied? That God, in your flesh, condemned sin. Not yours. Ours. Ours! You, the substitute sacrifice. You were “wounded for our transgressions; [your were] crushed for our iniquities; upon [you] was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with [your] stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). O Lord, rescue this great truth from the mangling hands of foolish men! And may it be the foundation of all our faith and joy and worship and obedience!
And because you bore God’s condemnation in your flesh for our sins, there is redemption (Romans 3:24). The forgiveness of sins — countless sins — was purchased once for all. Nothing we do can add to your payment. Every debt that we ever had has been paid up in full by your blood, O Lamb of God.
And all your obedience and all your righteousness was consummated when you died so there would be for us a perfect righteousness by which we could stand acceptable to God — justified by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of your imputed righteousness alone, to the glory of God alone (Romans 5:19; 4:25).
And by all this, and as the goal of all this, the greatest good of the gospel was achieved for us: reconciliation with God. Not just forgiveness of sins, not just imputed righteousness, but being at home in the presence of your Father and our God. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). Your death, Lord Jesus, restored us to what we were created for: seeing and enjoying and reflecting God.
And what is all this, but eternal life — to know and enjoy God forever? All because of you: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in [you!] Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
O, how much more could we say about your work for us: your sending work (Romans 1:5), your faith-awakening work (Romans 10:17), your welcoming work (Romans 15:7), your church-building, church-uniting work (Romans 12:5), your signs and wonders and sanctifying work (Romans 15:18–19)!
Embracing Your Gifts Afresh
But we turn now, Lord, from thanking you for your work to embrace afresh — perhaps some of us here for the first time — the benefits you obtained for us by your work. By faith we take them, receive them, embrace them, treasure them, knowing full well that this very gift-receiving faith is a gift (Romans 10:17).
- We embrace the truth that we have died to sin and to the law and now belong to you alone, alive from the dead forever (Romans 6:2–5; 7:4–6).
- We embrace afresh the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 4:6–7).
- We embrace the reality that our condemnation is past (Romans 8:1).
- We exult in the truth that our justifying righteousness is unshakable, because it is performed by you, not by us (Romans 5:17–19; 4:4–9).
- We affirm with joy that you indwell us by your Spirit and are with us forever (Romans 8:10).
- We embrace the truth that you unite us to each other in loving harmony (Romans 15:5; 12:16).
- We hold fast the promise that we are being conformed to your image, and that your death and resurrection guarantees that this will be completed (Romans 8:28–30).
- We receive the gift that you enable us to do significant work for the advance of your kingdom (Romans 15:18).
- We glory in the truth that we are fellow heirs with you of all that God owns and all that God is (Romans 8:17; 4:13).
- And we take heart that nothing can separate us from your invincible love or from the love of God the Father because of your work on our behalf (Romans 8:32–39). And rooted in all of this, we receive afresh the promise of your everlasting joy. In Paul’s words, spoken to us on your behalf, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
Rededication to Your Purpose for the World
And because of all this, O Lord, henceforth we dedicate ourselves again to your invincible purpose for the world. None of us knows if we will see another Christmas Eve. That matters very little. What matters is the glory of your supreme worth, and the glory of your Father. And the upbuilding your church in unshakable faith. And the evangelization of the nations. And the salvation of perishing sinners. And to that end, we rededicate ourselves to your purpose — to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through you and the great salvation that you have accomplished. “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.”