The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity August 22, 2004
234, 528 (1-5), 528 (6-7,13-15), 36
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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 the Lord our God from whom nothing can separate us, dear fellow-redeemed:
At age 14 it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was packing my suitcase and some boxes and leaving home to attend high school at Immanuel in Eau Claire. It was exciting because it seemed as if I was growing up and on a new adventure. But I enjoyed living at home and to leave it behind for a new kind of school and to live in a dorm with a host of other adjustments just wasn’t the easiest thing. It was my decision to go to Immanuel for school, but that did not keep the homesickness from settling in the pit of my stomach. At first the change was difficult, but I never regretted it because of the Christian education I received.
Some younger children experience “separation anxiety” when they are left with someone other than mom or dad, and almost all of us experience a twinge of “I wish I was somewhere else” if we are in a place that removes us from our “comfort zone.”
The most grievous separation anxiety we face on this earth is the sorrow that comes when we are separated from a loved one by death. Jesus Himself faced this separation sorrow and wept at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus.
Separation is inevitable on this earth. The anxiety and the sorrow that come with separation are, likewise, a natural part of human emotion. The more we treasure someone or something, the greater the effect will be should separation occur.
We treasure our Lord very highly. But what if we were separated from Him? What then? Could we survive such separation anxiety? We do not need to worry about such fears, but rather have the confidence that “THERE IS NO SEPARATION ANXIETY WITH CHRIST!”
Paul asks the question “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer Paul expects and goes on to give is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” [v.35]
There is earthly trouble aplenty—there always has been (since sin entered the world) and always will be (until Judgment Day). There is pressure of all sorts and from many sources. There is distress and sorrow. There is persecution. We all have needs such as food and not everybody is full. There are needs like clothing and not everyone has a closet full of the best clothes and the latest style. There is danger in the world—accidents and wicked people who want to harm others. The daily pressures—the stress, the frustrations—cannot separate you from the love of Christ.
Persecution is a natural result of following Christ. Paul quoted Psalm 44 and wrote, “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” [v.35] If you experience persecution because of your faith that cannot separate you from the Lord. Listen to some of what Paul endured: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Not even all of this could separate Paul from the love of Christ, and neither can persecution and trials that we endure separate us from His love.
In our country we can seldom speak of true and genuine needs that cannot be fulfilled, but we do at times have them. Even in the midst of our prosperity and luxuries there can be need, but need and destitution on this earth cannot separate you from the love of our Savior.
Should we happen to walk down a dark alley and be mugged by a robber, should we fall prey to a stalker, should we have an accident on the highway, should terrorists attack our land—whatever the danger, whatever the “sword” may be, none of this can separate you from the love of God which we have in Christ Jesus.
Paul continues, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” [v.37] Being the victor is pretty exciting all by itself. In a contest or game, it is hard to imagine something that would be bigger or better than winning. Yet, Paul says we are more than winners. We are hyper-conquerors, over-achieving conquerors, much more than the average victor. We have a glorious victory!
How can something be beyond victory and more than conquering? We are “more than conquerors” because of the magnitude of the victory. Consider the difference between winning the first game in a baseball season and winning the final game of the World Series, or the first game in a football season and the final victory on Super Bowl Sunday. That difference from the victory in the ordinary game to the victory of the championship game is the difference between victory and hyper-victory—more than victory.
We have victory over a foe like none other. We have victory over the power of Satan and death. To be victorious over all the powers of Hell is hyper-victory—being more than conquerors. To have totally defeated sin, death, and the Devil. to no more being under their influence, to be full victors and heirs of eternal life is more than just a small win. It is complete victory with eternal implications.
Christ has made us more than conquerors. It took more than a simple sacrifice for Him to win our victory. He gave His own blood! The life and the blood of the Son of God won our victory for us. The price paid for our redemption makes it more than just an ordinary victory. The total defeat of the enemy and the vast quantity of reward that comes from the war makes it more than a simple victory. We have the rich spiritual blessings we receive through Christ as the spoils of this war.
Through Christ we have peace with God, a conscience that is purged because the sins are totally removed, the confidence of knowing that our amazing Lord is control, guiding us day by day, blessing us by His wisdom and according to His love. These are all things we have because of Christ. These are all gifts with which the Holy Spirit has enlightened us. These are the things that make us more than victors. We are more than conquerors through Christ. We have the victory and in Christ we will remain victorious all the way to and through eternity.
For this reason Paul continues, “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.” [vv.38-39]
Paul begins his list with life and death. Of all the things we might imagine separating us from our Savior, the first would likely be death because on this earth we know of no greater separation. It was the separation of death that troubled the Corinthians, so by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote what we now know as 1 Corinthians chapter 15. In this chapter, God assures weak hearts that Christ is risen from the dead. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!
The Thessalonian Christians were, likewise, troubled by the separation of death. They wondered and worried if perhaps those who had died before Jesus returned would somehow be at a disadvantage compared to those who would still be living. Paul assured the Thessalonians that the separation would not affect their eternal outcome at all because those who die in the Lord (no matter when it is) as well as those who are alive in the Lord when He returns will be taken to the full and eternal glory of heaven (cf: 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff).
But death is separation. There is spiritual death. This is the type of death Adam and Eve experienced in the moment they first sinned. It is the separation of the soul from God because sin stands in the way. It was the separation of soul from God that made Adam and Eve suddenly recognize their nakedness and be ashamed. It was the separation of soul from God that made them fearful of God when before they had enjoyed His presence. The separation caused by sin has been removed by Christ. Jesus has reconciled us to God, bringing us back together by removing our sin (cf: 2 Corinthians 5:18ff). Sin no longer separates us from God.
There is temporal death—the kind of death we witness on the earth when someone dies and we see him no more. Death is sorrowful, but can it separate a child of God from his Lord? No! Never! Death on this earth is a gateway to eternal life for those who die in Christ. Temporal death cannot separate us from our Savior!!
Eternal death, the separation of soul and body from God forever in Hell, has no power over those who die in the Lord. The sins that would condemn us to this eternal damnation have been removed by our Savior. So on the final day, God will see us as holy and pure, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and He will welcome us home. Death of every sort has been conquered by Christ and cannot separate us from our Lord!
Paul declares that neither angels nor principalities nor powers can separate us from the love of Christ. Think of the demon possession that was taking place while Jesus was on the earth and the power which those demons had over people’s lives and bodies. Consider what Scripture says about the dark and powerful forces of our spiritual enemies—the Devil and his evil angels. God describes the Devil as a roaring lion looking for whom he can devour (cf: 1 Peter 5:8). There is nothing in Scripture that would allow us to ever consider the Devil and his crew as anything other than very dangerous enemies against whom we need to continually stand guard, watch, and pray. As fearful as these enemies are and as warned as we need to be, they cannot separate us from the love of Christ because in Christ we are more than conquerors over them.
Are those spiritual forces real and out to get us? Yes, they are. May we take them casually? No, we may not. Do we need to stand guard against them? Yes, every day, every minute of our lives! But with Christ and His Word, can they separate us from the love of God? Never! These powers, principalities, and forces are less than Christ our Savior. “He raised Christ….far above all principality, and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21).
Neither things present nor things to come can separate us from the love of God. We might feel like we have the confidence now and are secure, but be less certain about what lies ahead. What if there is something tomorrow, or next week, or somewhere in my future life that just might have the potential to separate me from my Savior? Don’t worry, it is not going to happen. Yes, there may be unknown things lying in our futures, but none of them can separate us from our great and glorious God.
There are people who spend a lifetime trying to determine the future, trying to prepare for every incidental thing that might come their way in life. No matter what they do, no matter how much preparation they make, there will always be something for which they were not ready. But this will not happen in our spiritual lives when we put our faith and our trust in Christ. Nothing in the future can separate us.
People thought the Titanic was unsinkable. They didn’t take into account the events that occurred. Our salvation in Christ holds no such surprises. It is fully unsinkable! Nothing in the past, nothing in the present, nothing in the future can change what Christ has done for us and separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul concludes by saying “…nor any other created thing.” God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. There is nothing on this earth or in the heavens that He did not create and there is nothing that He created which can separate us from Him.
“But.,” you say, “what about being separated by sin? We know of people both in Scripture and in our day who pursue sin and are living without repentance and without Christ. Some have once believed but then fall from faith. These are separated from Christ, aren’t they?” Yes, because they have separated themselves from Christ and His love. John writes in Revelation, “The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (eternal death)” (Revelation 21:8).
For such, the love and work of Christ has remained constant. The forgiveness of sins Jesus gives has remained constant. By their own choice these have removed themselves from Christ. Yet, forgiveness and restoration remains for all who return to their Savior in repentance while in their time of grace on the earth.
A sinner may neglect or reject Christ and thereby separate himself from his Savior, but for those who abide in Christ and with His Word there can be no separation. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31).
Who is like the Lord? There is not one. He is your Lord! He is your God who loves you, cares for you, and will glorify you. Who or what can separate you from this wonderful Lord? No one and no thing.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.