A sermon based on Romans 16:25-27
Sunday, December 21, 2014 – Advent 4B
What's under your tree? Are there lot of presents already there waiting to be unwrapped? What do you think you're going to get? Do you know what all the presents are? They're all wrapped with brightly colored paper and ribbons and bow that not only make them look beautiful, but that also conceal what's inside. It's kind of a mystery isn't it?
But whether you open presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, soon enough you won't have to guess. Soon you will know. Soon it will be revealed.
God did something similar. He had a big gift planned for all of mankind. But it lay hidden for a while, wrapped in the ancient prophecies of the Scriptures. But on Christmas, the mystery was revealed in Jesus. The gift was unwrapped in the big reveal: God was made man to rescue man from sin.
At the end of his doctrinal dissertation which we call the book of Romans, the apostle Paul sounded off with a doxology—or a word of praise to God—for the big reveal, that he who was announced by then angels, written about by evangelists, explained by the apostles in their epistles, was made known to the world—to all nations, to you and me! Our sermon text for this last Sunday in Advent is from Romans 16:25-27…
25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
I. Hidden By Nature
Are you one of those who tries to figure out what's under the Christmas tree? Do you shake it? Do you rattle it? Do you thump it? Do you weigh it in your hand or on a scale? Do you try to figure out the mystery ahead of time?
Ah, but some of you… Some of you try to make the mystery even more mysterious as you try to "guess-proof" those gifts. You put little gifts in big boxes with bricks and rocks so the packaging weighs way more than the gift. You put a note in a tiny little box that reveals the location of a very large gift hidden somewhere else. You try to make sure that even if the gift is picked up and weighed and shaken and thumped, it still remains a mystery until the big reveal when the gift is opened.
Well, what God has planned for you, could not be known ahead of time—it could not be known before he revealed it to you. But it wasn't that God was trying to keep us from finding out. No. He was doing all he could to reveal it to as many as possible. But the problem lay in us.
We—all mankind—are born blind. We were blind in our sin so that we could not see what God had planned. And while a blind man can still figure out the gift under the tree with his other senses, we had no spiritual sense at all. We could not find a solution to the problem of our sin.
The very best plan that any human can come up with when we try our hardest to find a solution to our sin is to try our hardest not to sin. The best plan we can come up with is to earn God's favor by cleaning up our act.
But of course, it can't work. It can't work for two big reasons: First, we can't clean up our act. How many times have you resolved to be different, to be kinder, more loving, more generous? But we don't.
Paul said in Romans 7, "The good that I want to do, I don't do. And the evil that I don't want to do, I find myself doing again and again." If Paul couldn't clean up his act, if he who was instructed by the resurrected Jesus himself (cf. Galatians 1:12), still didn't have it all together, then what makes us think we're any better?
But there's a second problem: Even if we could clean up our act and be better behaved tomorrow and every tomorrow after that, it still wouldn't undo our past. I imagine that Paul often wrestled with guilt over what he had done before his conversion: arresting and killing Christians. But he couldn't deal with the problem on his own. And neither can we. We can't come up with a solution to our problem on our own.
If you don't know what your Christmas presents are, it's no big deal. You'll find out soon enough. But if you don't know God's plan of salvation, well, it's a huge deal. Because we are not perfect as God demands, we deserve hell. Thank God, then, that he has revealed his plan of salvation to you and me by his grace…
II. Revealed By Grace
Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve if that's your tradition) is coming soon. The gifts will be opened. The mystery will be over. There will be no more guessing. All will be revealed.
God's prophecies pointed ahead to the Messiah. But on Christmas Day it was revealed when you and I couldn't know it. It was revealed by Grace. And what was is the answer to the mystery? It is the gospel, that is, the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
God wrapped his gift, not in colorful paper, but in rags—in strips of cloth or swaddling clothes. Jesus is God who became man to take our place. He took our place in life, living a sinless life in our place. And he took our place in death. He was completely unwrapped on Good Friday, literally stripped of his clothes and made to suffer for you. And he was unwrapped in the sense that his mission was now fully revealed. He came to pay for your sins and mine. This is what Paul calls, "my gospel… the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed…"
This truth that Paul could not know on his own was revealed to him by Jesus himself. This truth that we could not know on our own has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit!
By his work through the Word—the proclamation of Jesus Christ—or by his work through the water and the Word, he has revealed to you God's plan of salvation. He has revealed to you how God has saved you from you: from your sin, from the death and hell you deserve, from an eternity separated from him. He has revealed this Gospel truth around the globe "so that all nations might believe…"
So believe, dear friends! Believe in him! Rejoice that the mystery has been revealed to you! Jesus Christ, has taken your sin away! Believe it and don't refuse it!
How foolish it would be to open up the gifts under the tree this week, to have the mystery of what your loved ones got you finally revealed, only to say, "But wait. This gift is too nice. It couldn't possibly be for me," and then to refuse to accept it!
Don't refuse God's great gift to you because it seems too good to be true! He has given you his own Son, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger, unwrapped in naked shame on the cross to pay for your sins, the best gift you could ever ask for, your Savior from sin, your redemption from hell, your light and your life, your everything! He is yours! Receive him in thanks.
And thank him for giving such a wonderful gift, for revealing such a wonderful gift to you, by the way that you obey him. "The mystery hidden for long ages past [is] now revealed and made known… so that all… might believe and obey him."