The Third Sunday in Lent February 27, 2005
155, 457, 436, 315(13-15)
Jesus, I will ponder now, on Thy holy passion.
With Thy Spirit me endow, for such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith may the image cherish,
Of Thy suffering, pain, and death that I may not perish.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Once again our nation finds itself in a major conflict on foreign soil. Once again our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines must face life and death dangers while they carry out their missions on behalf of a grateful nation. Our prayers rise continually to our Lord that he would protect and preserve them.
We also pray during this conflict for the Iraqi people. The images we have seen from the front lines are both frightening and full of promise. We see oppressed men and women, most of whom once lacked the basic necessities of life, struggling to adapt to a new way of life. We recognize that these souls have suffered a great deal in the past two decades and our prayers center around the hope that with national freedom these people might also come to know spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ.
This is our great desire because we realize that earthly suffering is as nothing compared to the eternal suffering every single human being must face apart from Jesus Christ.
Our calling is to prepare souls to face their Maker, whenever God decides the time of grace for an individual is at an end. The current conflicts and uncertainty in our world remind us that that end can come at any moment. Unless the Lord returns to judge the world relatively soon, death will come to us all. How can we prepare? How can we remain ready at all times? It is this sort of confidence that we seek this morning, and we seek to find it in the inspired words of our text, found in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Eighth Chapter:
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.
So far the very words of God. These are God’s words, and they are, therefore, altogether true and right in every way. Let us, therefore, meditate on them accordingly. Even so we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
Dear Christians, endings are much, much more important than beginnings. Beginnings are just that—beginnings. Beginnings don’t usually accomplish very much. An army that begins a campaign with stunning victories has made a good beginning. If that same army goes on to lose all the rest of its engagements, the result would be a crushing defeat. We can see this very plainly in the current conflict in Iraq. Our objectives are not achieved until they are achieved. Our soldiers are not safely home until they are safely home. Apply these same simple truths to faith and salvation. How many souls will spend an eternity in Hell after having been given a great beginning at the font in Holy Baptism? How many confirmands in the Lutheran Church make an excellent beginning of their communicant membership in a congregation, only to fall away and fail to make also the good ending?
Today, we begin with a question: Each one of you has made a good beginning in the Christian faith, that is, you have been converted or brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. How will you now go about ensuring also a good ending to this good beginning? To this we add another question that is as enlightening as it is frightening. When in your entire life have you ever been perfectly consistent in anything?
Have you ever dieted faithfully, never cheating? Have you kept up with that exercise program you told yourself you were going to start and never quit? Do you slip up and stop reading your Bible for a time? Do you read it at all? Do you spend your hour, half-hour, even five minutes in prayer each day—or do you forget? Are you always patient with your friends and family like you promised yourself you would be? Is there even one thing in your life that you can point to and say: “This I have always done consistently with perfection?” What then makes us think that we can consistently hold out against the relentless attacks of the Devil, the world, and our own evil desires? What makes us think that we can see this good beginning along until it one day is fulfilled with a good ending?
How unsettling to hear from so many Christian sources that it is up to me to keep myself in the faith. Every possible outcome of this salvation strategy is disastrous. If you, on your own, try to shoulder the burden of keeping yourself in the faith, you will fail. Satan is far too clever and far too powerful for any man—except One. The only other possible result of such a spiritually self-sufficient attitude is that being kept in the faith by God the Holy Spirit we only imagine that we are responsible. In such a case faith is quickly replaced by pride as we take credit for at least a part of our own salvation. The end, again, is disaster. This is foolishness on the order of the ridiculous rooster who believes that his crowing causes the sun to rise each morning.
It is eternal life and death we are talking about and yet how casual we are about it all. These matters are anything but trivial, and yet how many of us consider it unlikely—even impossible—that we will fall from faith and be lost eternally? In Philippians 2:12 we read: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Time after time Paul talks about those who have made shipwreck of their faith. These were Christians who were born during or shortly after Christ Himself walked this earth. These were Christians who had heard the Apostle Paul himself. They had no doubt seen miracles that were quite amazing, heard sermons that converted dozens, hundreds, or even thousands, some had even spoken the words of truth themselves (Such as Hymenaeus and Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20). They had enjoyed so many special advantages and still they threw it all away.
So then we ask ourselves: “What about me? Is there any evil of which I am not capable? As long as I live on this earth I will always have this Old Adam with me. What guarantee do I have that this Old Adam will not win out in the on-going battle with the New Man in me?”
Here is where our text comes into play and how we ought to thank God for it! Our text is God’s answer—God’s solution to our infidelity problem. God assures our troubled Christian hearts and minds of two facts that offer us tremendous comfort and assurance that we are indeed heirs of eternal life. God the Holy Spirit through Paul assures us first that “No one can condemn us,” and, secondly, that “Nothing can now separate us from the love our God has for us in his Son.” Note that our text does not point inward but outward (to Christ) for our comfort. We are to look to ourselves just long enough to see how sinful and naturally unlovable we really are, and then we are to look to Christ and marvel at his love for me—the unlovable sinner—and at his unwavering, unchanging fidelity.
In a human court of law a man cannot be charged with a crime and condemned unless someone accuses him. In our country, all of the most serious crimes are a breaking of the laws of the state. That is why “The State” is most often the accuser. For example, “The People vs. Robert Hansen.” The accuser is the party who has been wronged, or whose laws have been violated. There can be only one accuser in spiritual matters. God’s laws are violated when we sin. God alone, therefore, can be our accuser in spiritual matters.
This is exactly what is behind Paul’s profoundly insightful statement at the beginning of our text: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul is not saying that we have no enemies. We’ve all have a world full of enemies. He is talking about endings, not beginnings. In the end, one thing alone matters for the Child of God: Saving faith in our hearts on Judgment Day. It is with this in mind that Paul asks the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, if God does not condemn us, who else can? God is the only possible accuser. The laws we broke were His laws. We are answerable only to Him. If He does not condemn us, no one else can condemn us; and God has made it clear in His Word that no one with faith in Jesus Christ will ever be condemned for every such human being is perfect and sinless in His eyes.
Paul continues to make this truth even more clear: “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.” There are many areas in God’s Truth where we need to simply accept what God says in faith. There are also many places where we would do well to apply our God-given powers of reasoning. This is one such place. Our text is encouraging each one of us to reason it out. God the Father has justified the entire world, that is, He has declared the whole world “Not guilty!” God the Father will not accuse us on Judgment Day when faith is present in our hearts. In God’s judicial opinion faith in Jesus Christ is an acceptable substitute for a perfect life. Paul goes on to say that it is nonsense to imagine that Jesus will condemn us on Judgment Day. Jesus is the one who died to make the sacrifice which God the Father now accepts as payment in full for all sins. What is more, Jesus now sits at the Father’s side and pleads our case for us. He is our Advocate. Our own Advocate will never seek to condemn us.
Having assured us that there is no one left to condemn us, Paul goes on to give us some desperately needed assurance that He will never withdraw His love for us. Paul begins again with a question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” This is not saying that the love we have for Jesus will be able to weather all assaults. It is the love that Jesus has for us that will never fail. What a proud and arrogant statement it would be if Paul were bragging about how he would always love Jesus, rather than the confidence that Jesus would always love him.
These words offer great comfort to every child of God. They give God’s promise that Jesus continues to love us no matter what He allows to come into our lives. It is because He does love us that He allows even difficult things to happen to us. Note well that our text directs our thoughts always to what God has done or said or promised. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Who, on Judgment Day, will bring any charges against us? Certainly not God the Father, for “it is God who justifies.” God has declared the world “not guilty” because of what His Son, Jesus, has done. Who will condemn us on Judgment Day? Certainly not Jesus Christ for our text tells us that He is even now at the Father’s right hand “and is also interceding for us.” Having done everything to win our salvation, what now could possibly take away the love the Savior has for us? Nothing at all in heaven or on earth!
Here then is where we place our trust, our hope, our confidence. Here we can say confidently, as did the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6: “(We are) confident of this, that He who began a good work in you (in me!) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” So also each one of us can also now say with our text: “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.”
The only One who could accuse us, the only One who could condemn us, is on our side! Let this great truth provide us great comfort in these troubled times. Amen.
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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.