Romans 15:4-13
Midweek Advent 2

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning. . .”  The Apostle Paul is referring there to the Old Testament Scriptures.  They were written for our instruction in this New Testament age.  So what are we to learn from them?  To begin with, we can learn what not to do.  We can learn from what happened to the children of Israel, who grew impatient waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, and turned instead to the immediate gratification and pleasures of the worship of the golden calf.  As a result 3000 men were killed, and a plague came upon the people.  We can learn from what happened to Israel when they were afraid to enter the promised land because of the strength of its inhabitants.  They walked by sight and didn’t trust in the Lord or His words.  Only Joshua and Caleb believed that the Lord would be with them to give them victory.  The Lord had done great wonders for them in bringing them out Egypt, but because of Israel’s fearful unbelief, they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  None of those who were 20 or older would enter the promised land, except for Joshua and Caleb.  The carcasses of the rest would be scattered in the wilderness.  We can learn from what happened to individuals, too–like greedy Gehazi, the servant of Elisha.  When the prophet refused to receive any money or gifts for healing Naaman of his leprosy, Gehazi went after Naaman to get silver and clothing for himself.  As a result, Gehazi himself was struck with leprosy.  “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning.”

    However, Paul goes on to say, “that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  So the Apostle is not primarily directing us to learn moral lessons about how not to behave.  He’s especially encouraging us to learn from the faithful in the Old Testament and to follow their example.  He wants to encourage us to hope in Lord, to persevere and endure in clinging to God’s words, and to set our hearts on their fulfillment. Consider, for instance, childless Abraham, who trusted in the promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that through his seed all nations on the earth would be blessed.  Abraham believed God, even though the fulfillment of the promise was afar off, and it was counted to him as righteousness.  Or consider faithful Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers because of envy.  He did not turn away from the Lord but continued to look to him for help and mercy.  He would not engage in adultery with Potiphar’s wife, but remained faithful to the Lord.  And after many years, he was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh and finally restored to his father and his family.  Consider righteous Job, who suffered for reasons he could not understand, and who was vindicated and restored in the end.  Or consider Gideon, who trusted that, even though he had inferior strength compared to the enemy, if the Lord was with him he would have the victory; and he did.  

    Let these true narratives, these words of the Scriptures comfort you and encourage you and work perseverance in you–especially if you are growing weary, if you are facing multiple uphill battles, if it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel, if it appears that there’s no relief in sight.  Learn from the Scriptures that the Lord is true to His Word, that He does not forsake those who trust in Him and call on His name for help.  It’s hard to be patient; it’s hard to wait.  But consider what these Old Testament Scriptures say, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart.”  “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you.”  “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

    Note the key word that Paul repeats in Romans 15: “. . .That we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  Hope is the great gift that God gives to you in Advent–that there is a future for you, that there is something marvelous for you to look forward to with the Lord.  He is returning.  The Day is coming.  “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”  

    It’s nearly impossible to live without hope.  So much of the troubles and upheaval we see in our culture can be traced to a growing hopelessness and uncertainty and foreboding about what the future holds.  Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself, or with people in your life who have sort of given up and feel like they’re just existing.  More than once I’ve had a shut-in mention to me that they wonder why they’re still around and alive, what their purpose is.  I always respond that if they’re still alive, God most certainly has a purpose for them, not the least of which is that they have been given time and opportunity to pray, to intercede on behalf of the church and individuals they know that are in need.  And God is always at work through our afflictions to accomplish His good and gracious will, both for ourselves and for others.  We may not always be able to see what His will is, but we can always trust in its goodness.  “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”  

    Baptized believers always live in this hope, in the confidence that our redemption is coming, that our deliverance is near.  Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, we look with confidence to the future.  There is always hope.  And if we can be motivated by and get excited about a coming birthday or Christmas gathering or wedding or vacation trip, if those things can give us something to look forward to, how much more can we find strength by looking forward to the return of our Savior, to the new creation, and the life of the world to come with Him!  This is not fairy tale stuff.  It’s more real and substantive even than this fallen and hollowed out life we are experiencing right now.

    “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning.”  Let us then learn to hope in God confidently.  As it is written, “O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.”  We have a sure hope as Christians because those things that were written before in the Old Testament all point us to Christ and His sure salvation.  Jesus is our faithful Joseph, who was handed over by His Jewish brothers because of envy, who was laid low and mistreated, but who was raised up in the end to the right hand of the Father as Lord of all.  Jesus is our faithful Joshua who leads us across the Jordan, through death, to new life in the promised land of the new creation.  He is our righteous Job, who suffers faithfully for us in the flesh in order that He might vindicate us together with Himself and exalt us to His side.  He is our faithful Gideon who, though appearing to be weak, overcame the hordes of darkness by the light of His resurrection and who will return in power with the sound of trumpets.

    This is your sure hope.  And it’s a hope that we share together as we receive one another–whatever our background or ethnicity or economic status–young or old, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile.  We are given with one mind and one mouth to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His great goodness to us.  

    Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠