This Is Good?
5th Sunday after the Epiphany
This Is Good?
Text: Romans 8:28-30
It was a busy day, but a normal day. Just as she was about to sit down at the dinner table with the kids, the doorbell rang. This was unexpected. Annoyed and distracted she went to the door and opened it. A police officer was standing there. “Are you Sarah Jackson?” he asked. Sarah’s heart began to race as she said, “I am.” The officer barely started with, “I’m sorry, ma’am,” and tears already welled up in her eyes. This couldn’t be good. “I’m sorry to tell you, ma’am. There’s been a terrible accident. It’s your husband.”
Days later Sarah sat in the front row of a church, clutching her children, dabbing the last few tears she had left, and dressed in all black. There were so many things she might wonder about. What would she do now? Where would they go? How would she provide for the kids? But right then all she could really wonder was how she could possibly be at a funeral—for her own husband.
Not many knew what to say to Sarah Jackson. But many tried to say something—and it all usually sounded the same: “Sarah, I’m so sorry. But everything happens for a reason. Somehow this will work out for good.” Finally Sarah looked at one friend and said, “Good? This is Good?”
I bet you’ve been there, haven’t you? Those times your eyes have poured out more water than Niagara Falls. Those times when your heart hurts like you just ran a marathon, but you hadn’t even moved an inch. Those times when you are in such disbelief and distress that you are literally and physically unable to say one word.
You stared at your TV at the smoke and ashes of September 11th. Some of you stared at it in person there in New York. You heard what the doctor told you, but that couldn’t be the right news. Maybe he meant someone else. That funeral you attended where you and the family simply stared at each other the whole time as if you were living in some nightmarish dream.
As a Christian, you know the mantra. It’s based on the Bible verse here in Romans 8. It’s probably been said to you and you’ve probably said it yourself. “Everything happens for a reason. Somehow God will work this for your good.” You’ve heard it. You’ve said it. But inside you’re really thinking: “Good? This is Good?”
That’s when we start to doubt God. That’s when we become angry with God. “Good? This is Good? I thought you were supposed to be a loving God, a gracious and merciful God. How could you do this? How could you let this happen? How could this be good, God?”
So we push God away, little by little. What good is prayer? What good is church? What good is faith if nothing good ever comes out of it? With enough pushing we might eventually end up like the man who was so angry still about his wife dying from cancer 10 years earlier (and angry about losing his livelihood in the big depression a few years back) that he told me, “I don’t really need God anymore. God can take care of the weather. I’ll take care of the rest.”
This makes Satan laugh with evil joy. He loves to see us squirm in faith and squawk against God. He loves to see us doubt and despair. He wants us frustrated and angry with God. He loves this because whether we realize it or not, when we push God away we are pulling Satan near.
My heart falls for this all the time. But it’s a ruse. It’s a trick. On the one hand, the Bible passage is clear, isn’t it? Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, how have been called according to his purpose.” The words are very clear. But the problem is whether I’m understanding those words according to my faith or according to my sinful nature. Because I know how my sinful nature wants me to read those words. Something bad happens and then Satan’s trick comes. He appeals to my sinful heart and I start asking those questions like, “Good? This is Good? How can this be God’s purpose?”
But what do you mean by those questions? Think about it. What’s the ruse, the trick that Satan wants us to believe? When we wonder, “How can this be good?” what do we really want?
Isn’t it clear? I want my loved ones to live forever. I don’t want anyone to die. And I don’t want to get cancer, let alone to ever be seriously sick. I don’t want anything to happen to my kids. I don’t want to lose my job or have money be tight. I want to live comfortably and have lots of money and have lots of fun.
When I don’t get those things that I want here in this world, that’s when Satan brings this big lie: If it’s not what you want or like, then it can’t be for your good. That is an awful lie of the devil. And yet my sinful heart buys that lie all the time.
Have you ever seen a handmade rug? I’m not talking about a cheap-o manufactured one. A real handmade rug. On the top side it looks finished and complete and beautiful, but on the bottom side you can see all kinds of threads and strands sticking out and seemingly misplaced.
Just imagine for a moment that you had a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids experience. You are under that rug. As you look up, the rug looks ugly to you. There are threads and strands sticking out all over the place. You can’t make any sense of the design because you are so small. So from your perspective, you think the rug is pointless, worthless, and no good at all.
If only you knew! If only you were bigger. If only you were on the other side and could look down at the whole rug from side to side, start to finish. Then you would finally understand. All of those little threads and strands actually fit together to make a beautiful, gorgeous, perfectly woven together rug. You see, it’s not that anything was changed about the rug. It’s just that you had a different perspective and understanding when you could see the whole thing and the finished product.
Isn’t that how our lives work? We are so small and infinitesimal compared to God. We have these problems and pains that come up in life and they look like huge obstacles. We can’t make and sense of them at all. From our little, worldly perspective we think these things are pointless and worthless and downright awful. So we ask, “Good? This is Good?”
Meanwhile, our great and almighty God is on the other side of the rug. He is eternal and timeless. He looks at the past, present, and future all at the same time. He knows that one isolated, individual strand of our life might be painful and yucky. But he also knows that he is weaving together every fiber of our lives to make one beautiful, gorgeous, perfectly woven together rug. He knows how our lives fit together. He knows how to weave everything, good and bad, together. He knows how to work it all for good. And he knows how good the end product will be.
That is really the meaning of these verses in Romans 8. That is what Paul is trying to tell us. So look again at that well-known verse of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, how have been called according to his purpose.”
Please look carefully at that verse. We usually get hung up on the word “good” as the most important word. But we only think of “good” from our perspective of good. Look carefully though. It says God works in all things for the good of his people. It says that we are called according to his purpose.
Do all things happen for a reason? Yes. Does God work all things for our good? Yes. We can and should tell that to ourselves and to other people. But understand this: It is God who is working (not us) according to his purposes for good (not ours).
So what exactly is God’s purpose for our lives? Keep reading into verse 29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The word predestine means literally to set a fence around, like you are setting apart and marking as special something in advance.
That verse tells us about God’s purpose and plan for our lives. God knew us in advance. God set a fence around us and set us apart to be his people. For what purpose? “To be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” God’s grand plan and purpose for our lives is to be just like Jesus Christ.
And what is Jesus like? Jesus is holy, perfect, and righteous. He obeys the will of his Father. He dwells with his Father. He lives and rules and reigns in all eternity in the glory of heaven. This is not what we are like right now. But this is God’s plan and purpose for you—to be conformed, to be changed and morphed, to the likeness of his Son.
And here’s the amazing thing: It’s God’s Son Jesus Christ who made that plan possible for you. For all the times you have pushed God away and doubted God, for all the times you’ve been angry with God because you haven’t understood God, for all the sins you’ve ever committed—Jesus died to pay for all of them. He offered his sinless life for your sinful life to bring you forgiveness. And then, after all that suffering and death he rose to life to guarantee and prove that you will do the same thing.
That’s why Paul says that Jesus is, “the firstborn among many brothers.” Jesus is the first and only to conquer death and rise back to life. Because he did that, now every other believer will conquer death and rise to life, too.
So look at the rug from God’s perspective once again. God has a beautiful finished product in mind. His plan and purpose for your life is this: He knew you and chose you long ago to be conformed to the likeness of his Son and to be just like him. You will suffer and have pains along the way like Jesus. You will even die like Jesus. But the finish to God’s amazing plan and purpose is that you will rise, just like Jesus, so that you will be perfect and righteous forever in the glory of heaven, just like Jesus.
How will God make all this happen? Now look at the last verse: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” This is the rough outline of how God works in the life of every believer, one step at a time.
First, God predestined you. Again, that means that in his unfathomable love God knew you in advance and put a fence around you as belonging to him long before you were even born.
Then God called you. He called you to faith. He used parents and friends and pastors and teachers to preach the Gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ, to you. Through his Word and through Baptism God called you out of sinful darkness to believe and trust in him.
Then God justified you. Jesus Christ died to pay for the sins of the whole world. But when you came to faith in Christ, God personally and individually justified you. He declared you to be not guilty and innocent of all sin. That means you get to go to heaven.
That’s the last step, the only step left. God will one day soon glorify you. That’s when the rug is complete and finished. God will raise you to live with him in heaven in the glorious likeness of his Son Jesus for all eternity. That step hasn’t happened yet. But God sees the past, present, and future all at once. So as far as he is concerned, that’s as good as done.
We only have one perspective in life. We can only see under the rug. We can look back at the past, but we can’t see the future. So when we see the bad and awful events of our lives we wonder, “Good? This is Good?” But those bad things are only little strands in the big picture, the beautiful plan that God is weaving together. When we think about that big picture, when we understand what the beautiful, gorgeous, perfectly finished rug of our lives will look like, suddenly the “ugly” and “bad” strands on the bottom side of the rug that we see aren’t so bad after all.
There are many things that don’t seem good at all at the time. But God promises us that in his love and wisdom that he will always—always—work it out for our good. Everything, good or bad, is a part of his plan and purpose for our lives. And that plan is more than just good, it’s great! God has known you. God has called you. God has justified you. And in the end, God is going to glorify you forever and ever in heaven. Every single moment of your life God has been using to accomplish that one plan for you.
Remember, Sarah Jackson? Well as it turned out, her husband had several specially reserved funds for his family should anything happen. Sarah and her children ended up receiving several million dollars after her husband’s death. Not only were they provided for, but the children were able to have all schooling paid for all the way through college.
But even better, more happened in the bigger picture. Sarah was so thankful for the church family that comforted her and prayed for her in those tough times, and she was even more thankful for the peace that Jesus gave her broken heart. So knowing that she didn’t need all that money, Sarah ended up giving a large gift to the church so that they could expand and tell more people about the peace that only Jesus gives.
And her children? They all truly had the faith of a child. As much as they missed daddy, they were thankful that he was with Jesus. They wanted other people to be with their daddy and with Jesus. So each child grew up to become either a pastor or a teacher.
Oh, and that terribly sad funeral? Four families attended that funeral that had never been to church. They showed up only to give support to the Jackson family. But that day God’s Word touched their hearts. They saw what they were missing in life and they heard about the hope of eternal life. All four families ended up coming to faith and joined the church not long after the funeral.
Fast forward several decades later. God finished weaving the rug, and it was so beautiful. You see, there was a big reunion. Sarah, and all her children, and those four families, and many more were glorified by God as they joined Sarah’s husband in the glories of heaven.
Now rewind again to that doorstep and the officer breaking the bad news to Sarah. Good? This is Good? Absolutely. It was all part of God’s perfect plan and purpose to bring many more to the glory of heaven.
God has that same plan for you. He will always work things toward that good finish. And it will be so beautiful and good when he is done.
Posted on February 8, 2015, in Church, Sermons and tagged All Things for Good, Church, God's Plans, God's Purposes, Good, Meaning, Plan, Purpose, Reason, Romans, Romans 8, Romans 8:28, Sadness, Sermons, Trouble. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.