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Duration:16 mins 58 secs

This morning we continue with our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

Today we turn to a doctrine that grows out of much of what we have discussed so far: predestination. In our first reading we already heard one of the classic scripture texts associated with predestination, Ephesians 1:3-12 and God’s eternal plan to gather up all things in Christ. We now turn to Romans 8:28-30, another classic text on this doctrine, recognizing that it comes in the midst of a discussion of adoption and the Holy Spirit. Let us hear this word of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

One of last year’s breakout television hits was a show called This is Us. The show tells us about the Pearson family with intertwining stories from several decades of the family’s life. In the pilot episode a young married couple, Jack and Rebecca, are expecting triplets. Rebecca goes into labor and gives birth to two healthy babies, Kevin and Kate, but unfortunately the third tragically dies.
Standing by the nursery, Jack sees an African American child, born on the same day as his children, but left on the doorstep of a fire station. Jack and Rebecca adopt this baby, whom they name Randall, so they bring home three babies from the hospital after all. The stories of this family, past, present, and in between, are moving illustrations of the power of love, the struggles we all face, and the bonds which are far deeper than blood.

A couple weeks ago, at the beginning of this year’s season, Randall, Kevin, and Kate are now 37 years old. Randall is married to his wife Beth. They have two girls of their own. But Randall has decided that they should adopt a child. Beth is not sure. In fact, she is most certainly against it. After a fight with Beth about this, Randall goes to see his mother. In the course of their conversation he asks his mom about how she and Jack made the decision to adopt him. And Rebecca responds in part,

I said no. But your father was so sure. I was tired and I was grieving and he just kept pushing me. He was so determined that you were meant to be. Meant to be ours. … He pushed a stranger on me, and the stranger became my child and that child became my life. He became you."

My friends, that is predestination. That is election. There was a baby … alone, every circumstance stacked against him, nothing to commend him to the world. And someone chose him. “He was so determined that you were meant to be. Meant to be ours. … He pushed a stranger on me, and the stranger became my child and that child became my life. He became you.”

Yes, that is predestination. God was so determined that you were meant to be that God chose you. There is no doubt that the witness of scripture is that, time and time again, God chooses. God chooses to call creation into being. God chooses Noah. God chooses Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God chooses Moses and God chooses David. God chooses prophets; God chooses kings; God chooses a people. And finally, God chooses you and me in Jesus Christ. We cannot understand predestination, election, God choosing anyone or anything apart from Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in our text for today: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”

Yes, the scriptures really leave no doubt. Time and time again, God chooses, God elects, God decides. A variety of words are used to talk about God’s choosing us in Jesus Christ but here in Romans Paul uses the word, “proorizo.” The word comes from two Greek words – pro which means “before” and horizo which is usually translated as to “establish boundaries.” Horizo is also the root for our English word “horizon.” So proorizo is to see before the boundaries are determined; to decide where everything is going to go before it is set in its place, to know what is beyond the horizon.

As hard as it might be for us to admit, you and I are just human beings. And what has been revealed to us, what we can see, is that God is for us in Jesus Christ. However, we want to know more, we want to see beyond the horizon; we want to know the mind of God. We want to know if God chooses everyone or not. And if God does not choose everyone, why in the world would God do that. We let run wild our human logic and reason, our quest to know the mind of God, our desire “to be like God” as the serpent said in the Garden of Eden. However even John Calvin, who was more than willing to follow the logic and declare that God has elected before there was even time that some would be saved and others excluded, even Calvin finally says, “God wants us to consider nothing except His pure goodness in our election, it is a perverse desire to want to consider something more.”

So let us keep our minds on the pure goodness of God. As Paul writes in our text for today, “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In the next three chapters of this letter Paul is going to struggle to understand why his own people, the people of Israel, do not believe in Jesus. And yet throughout that argument there is no doubt that God will keep his promise to his chosen people. God choose them and God keeps his promise. That is our assurance too. For nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul has no doubt about that. He is convinced of it. And yet, he also knows that just as the disciples did when Jesus called them to come and follow him, we too must respond to the one who first chooses us. Pastor Earl Johnson puts it this way:

Despite the fact that Christians have to respond to the gospel in order to become followers of Christ (what Mark 1:15 calls repentance) they know there is something mysterious and inevitable about their decision, that they are not so much making a choice as they are being chosen (John 15:16).

Paul prays, in ways that are mysterious to him, Israel will realize that they are not so much making a choice for Jesus as they are being chosen. They will recognize that their salvation comes not through their works but by grace through faith. They will recognize this because they know the goodness of the Lord so they can put their entire trust in Him.

That is why the doctrine of predestination is ultimately of comfort to us. It should not lead to anxiety about whether we are included or not in God’s chosen people. No, we know the God who chooses is the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him might not perish. God is for us, God chooses to be with us, and God keeps his promises.

This is the good news of the gospel and it transforms the way in which we both see ourselves and engage in the world. Pastor Stephen Plunkett writes:

No longer is my personal plight the exclusive vantage point from which I view my life and the world around me. My starting point is no longer my cultural identity or my genetic make-up or my racial-ethnic heritage or my political persuasion or my sexuality or my socioeconomic status or my flawed history. … [All these shape my life] but none of them is the beginning and end of my person. Through the electing grace of God Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of my person. … Make no mistake, the electing grace of God announces that, first and foremost, we have to do with the Lord who says, You are mine!

That is predestination. That is election. God chooses us and declares in Jesus Christ, “You are mine!”

At the end of this season’s first episode of This is Us, Randall has come home to apologize to Beth. She hears his apology and then says she wants to show him something. She takes him to an inner-city playground. Sitting there together watching teenagers obviously about to get into trouble, Beth tells Randall,

I've been coming here almost every day, trying to figure out how I can give you what you want. Trying to wrap my head around it. And I know you have this notion in your mind, this notion of a perfect little newborn that we could shape and mold from scratch like Play-Doh, but Randall, if we're really gonna do this, I think this is the way. Your parents did something wonderful for you. And because of that, you had a wonderful life.

[Pointing to the teenagers, she continues] But things could have been very different for you. That could have been you. If you really want to do this, if you really want to risk our perfectly imperfect life for something, let's go all the way. Let's take in an older kid who no one else in the whole world is gonna help.

My friends, that is predestination. That is what God chooses to do for you and for me. God takes us in, a couple of kids no one else in the whole world is going to help. And we certainly are not going to help ourselves. Yes, long before time was time, God choose you and God choose me and said, “You are mine.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

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