The First Sunday in Lent February 29, 2004
144, 372, 528(1-6), 528(14-15)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the name of Jesus, the One who never fell to temptation and aids us in our time of need, dear fellow redeemed:
That little word “if” can often have big implications. The child asks his parents, “Can I watch TV?” The response may be, “Sure, if your room is clean.” The teenager may ask, “Can I get a car this summer?” The response from the father may be, “Sure, if you have good grades, work like crazy, pay for the insurance, and use it to run errands for me.”
We’ve seen this in the national headlines as well. In 1991, we promised to cease our attack on Iraq, if Saddam Hussein would comply with the conditions set before him. Today we see the ramifications of that “if” not being met.
At first, in such cases, the outcome is in doubt, and dependent upon whether or not the “if” is fulfilled. But once the condition is fulfilled, the rest follows.
Today the question is posed before us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Once the first half of that question is proven, we realize that it doesn’t matter who is against us. In the verses previous to our text it is proven that God is for us. You can go back and read of how all things work out for our good as believers, how God has chosen believers even from eternity to be His very own, and how God demonstrates that He is “for us” by the death of His Son.
We will use the truth that God is for us as a message of comfort in looking ahead to the final judgment, and for our day to day existence here on this earth. Since God is For You, It Doesn’t Matter Who is Against You. I. The “not guilty” verdict stands despite Satan’s accusations II. In life’s fiery trials nothing separates you from God’s love
We are convinced that God is for us because from eternity to eternity there is evidence of His love. In the eternity before the foundation of the world, God chose us in an election of grace. In time He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light and made us His own special people. In the eternity after this world’s destruction, we will live in His glorious presence.
As we again hear the story of Jesus’ suffering and death during Lent, we recall God’s grace in willingly giving up His only Son. He delivered Him up for us all. We will hear again how Judas handed Jesus over in a horrible act of betrayal. Yet we realize that God Himself also handed His Son over—not in betrayal, but in selfless love. God gave His Son into death so that His enemies (you, I, and all sinners) might become His children. The greatest gift has been given. Without being coerced, without being forced, God freely sent His Son into death and the pangs of Hell in order to save those who would otherwise be damned. When we say, “If God is for us…” that “if” is more of a “since.” We are convinced from the Scriptures that God is indeed “for us!”
This is a tremendous comfort as we turn our thoughts toward eternity. At certain times in life, and perhaps even more so as we face death, doubts can creep in. We may look back over the course of our lives, maybe even just in the course of a week, and see our guilt. We look at ourselves in the light of God’s commands and find failure after failure. We find that sometimes mistakenly and at times even blatantly we have disregarded what God had to say, and went our own way.
As it is written in Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way,” and now here comes the beautiful words which we cling to for all of eternity, “and the Lord has laid on Him (Christ) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). In that act of atonement, God has declared you not guilty. He has granted you forgiveness for every sin that you have committed.
The Devil would have none of this. He is literally the Slanderer—the Accuser. Think of him as the prosecuting attorney. For your eternal condemnation he would bring charges against God’s elect. Looking at our lives the list of charges would be virtually endless. The Lord Himself knows even more, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
The glorious truth is, however, that no one can bring a charge against God’s elect. It is God who justifies. God has declared you not guilty in Christ, and that is a verdict that will not change come Judgment Day. In God’s holy court the verdict has already been rendered. In one of our baptismal hymns we sing:
Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And against your tyranny, God,
My Lord, unites with me!
[Supplement 2000, #751]
Since it is God who justifies, there is no case against you.
On the other side of the coin, the question is asked, “Who is he who condemns?” The answer is Christ Himself. He has the authority to judge the living and the dead on the last day. Yet He is our biggest ally!
This brings to mind a mobster going to court fully confident that his verdict will be “not guilty” because he’s bribed the jury or the judge on the case. We did not and we cannot bribe God, but the point is that we can have even more confidence entering Judgment Day because the only One with the power to condemn us is “even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” [v.34] Jesus is defending us. He is not going to condemn believers on the Last Day because by His death and resurrection He took guilt away. That act made God for us, not against us. This will be confirmed before the entire world when God makes His declaration of “not guilty” before all on the Last Day.
Even when we have this assurance for all of eternity, there are still doubts that assail us in this life. There will be forces that will attempt to separate us from God and His love. There are enemies all around us which are constantly working to draw us away from our Savior.
We read in our second reading how the Devil tempted Jesus. A servant is not greater than his master, and you and I will be subjected to those temptations as well. The unbelieving world hated Jesus. We should not be surprised when that same treatment is shown to His followers. Our own sinful flesh is constantly at work to pull us away from Him as well. We read, “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” [v.36]
Do not expect a life of ease as a disciple of Christ. Jesus told those who would follow Him to take up their cross. That tells us there will be suffering as we walk in our Savior’s footsteps. The Lord said of Paul, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Contrary to what “health-and-wealth preachers” proclaim, you will not be without problems in this life as a believer.
Paul provides a list of some things that may come into this life and could challenge our faith: “Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword” [v.35] Because of our sinful flesh and weakness of faith any one of those things or a combination of them could lead us to blame God and give up on Him.
This is where we need the blessed reminder that follows, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” [v.37] Literally, we are super-victorious because of Christ. Throughout Scripture we see the victory of Jesus and its meaning for us, including meaning for this life. This is true despite the forces lined up against us—the Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
As the world seems to grow smaller, allies are more and more important. However, it seems that the quality of allies is more important than the quantity. Do you recall the jostling of positions as the war with Iraq was becoming inevitable a year ago? If Iraq would have had North Korea or China as an ally that would have made a far greater difference than if its allies were lesser countries. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq they basically only needed one ally in the first Gulf War—the United States.
Now, looking at the spiritual battle that wages on, we have the right ally. We are more than conquerors, but only through Him who loved us. With Christ on our side, it doesn’t matter who is lined up against us. The Devil? Jesus destroyed His power when He died to take away sin. Principalities and powers (the governments of this world)? Not a problem. As we read through Bible History we see how time and time again God put nations into power, and just as easily took it away from them, according to His divine plans. Any created thing? Not a problem for the Creator. Death itself? Here again, Jesus is victorious because He rose triumphant from the grave.
The bottom line is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. We have the right ally. God is for us. It doesn’t matter who or what is against us.
In this life and in eternity we are riding on the victory of Jesus. As we read through the account of Jesus’ suffering and death in our mid-week services and see our suffering Savior, let us never forget that He was never at the point of being defeated. We can make it through each day and we can make it through even death without being separated from Jesus because He is still for us!
All that I was, my sin, my guilt,
My death was all mine own;
All that I am I owe to Thee,
My gracious God alone. Amen!
(TLH 378, 1)
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