Summary: The Christians in Rome were apprehensive as to the future so Paul diagnoses the Problem and finds the Solution in Christ which gives us assurance in entering the New Year.
NEW YEAR ASSURANCE IN PAUL’S TRIUMPH SONG
"What will this year bring?" I expect that all of us in our private thoughts, or even spoken, have wondered what’s in store for us. I can’t tell you what will happen, but I suspect that 2008 will be much like 2007. The Earth has been circling the sun a long time. In principle, little changes - winter and summer, springtime and autumn come around with amazing regularity! That’s true of the big picture. And yet we do wonder what 2008 will bring. It’s easy to be pessimistic. There’s the uncertainly of the international scene with terrorism and, locally, our economy – and then we have our own personal and private fears as to the future.
I was at a business seminar and one of the participants told a story to illustrate a point about imaginary problems. A man was out hunting bears. He spotted one in a forest and took a shot but just managed to hit its nose, much to its fury! The bear gave chase and the hunter ran to a tree to climb out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for him to grab, so he had to run around the tree followed by the bear. Just picture the scene - round and round they went this large tree. The man could feel the bear’s breath on his neck. He tried to escape by running even faster, but to his consternation he found he had a bear in front of him as well as behind! Imagination can play tricks on us, causing unnecessary fears - but they can be real as well.
The past is history, but the future is still in the unknown. There’s a saying that "life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards." The past teaches us that life can be most unpredictable. It’s rather like the weather - one day it can be glorious sunshine but the next is the opposite. Clouds can gather as a depression develops, with storm-force winds creating havoc to the well-ordered gardens of our lives. Life can be like that. The forces ranged against us seem to surround and overwhelm, and we are downcast if not despairing.
Paul the apostle knew the experience well. He gave the Christians at Rome the benefit of his being in the forefront of the spiritual battle. The last 12 verses of Romans 8 (28-39) have been summed up as "the Christian’s Triumph Song". Yes, there is triumph but Paul isn’t a triumphalist. He’s a realist. He knows all too well that where there’s a potential for triumph there’s trouble and trial as well. So we must ask:
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
It’s because we live in a fallen world. This isn’t how it was designed to be and Paul looks forward to the day when it will be freed from "its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8:21). Paul is quite definite that we’re still in the waiting period. Citizens of countries that had been overrun by enemy forces lived in hope that a liberating army would free them but there was to be a lot of hardship before that longed-for day came. There’s a saying: to be forewarned is to be forearmed. So what are the enemies that we might well encounter in the unknown future? There’s the consciousness of our: