Monday, December 31, 2018
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. NIV
I need your advice about something. I have an old pair of boots that need fixing. The sole of this boot flaps away from the top of the boot? It makes it hard to walk in these things. If I could reattach the sole, these boots would be useful again. But what’s the best way to do that? Should I use some duct tape? Or would it be better to glue them back together? Or should I have a shoemaker sew them together with needle and thread? What’s going to form the tightest and longest lasting bond? No matter what I do, I'm thinking that these soles would eventually become detached again. Anything that I can tie, fasten, glue, or nail can be undone. There’s just no such thing as a permanent bond is there?
Actually, there is, today Paul teaches us about a bond that will not break. This bond is God’s love for sinners like us. Unfortunately, Satan wants us to view this bond like a leash on a dog that prevents us from being free and having as much fun as we can. What we’ll learn, however, is that God’s forever-love gives us confidence to meet every challenge in life. Listen again to the middle part of our Epistle lesson. Paul wrote. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Forever loved by God. That’s Paul’s claim. But did you notice what he did NOT say? He did not say that because we are forever loved by God that we will never have to endure hardship. God’s always-love is not always plain. Paul even quoted an Old Testament believer who complained about this and said that because of the troubles he faced, he felt like a sheep that was being dragged off to the slaughterhouse and there was nothing he could do about it (Psalm 44:22). You might not feel like a sheep bound for the butchers, but perhaps you have felt like a guinea pig as your doctor prescribes this treatment and then that treatment trying to determine a cure for hip pain or any other pains without any lasting success. Or maybe you can relate to Wile E. Coyote whose best-laid plans always end in disaster.
But whether we experience trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or the sword, as Paul puts it, our loving God will never forsake us. Paul was convinced of this because God’s love is centered in the person of Jesus.
We can always look at it this way: Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross make it look like He’s ready to hug the world. And it’s true isn’t it? With His death on the cross Jesus embraced us sinners with God’s forgiveness. Now what Paul is saying in our text is nothing can come between you and that hug from Jesus. Financial hardship can’t pry Jesus loose from you. A cancer diagnoses can’t sever the bond either. Not even death ends the relationship. That’s because this Jesus who died, also came back to life and lives forever. Therefore, if we’re firmly held in His embrace, and we are, then even though we will die one day we will also come back to life. God’s love in Jesus surrounds and protects us in death the way a submarine surrounds and protects the sailors inside that vessel. When a submarine disappears under the waves, onlookers don’t panic. They know that sub will surface again and everyone inside it will be OK. That’s also true of Christians and death. The inside of a coffin is nothing to be feared just as the inside of a submarine is not.
And so, it’s no wonder Paul said that because of God’s love we are not just survivors, we are more than conquerors! Or as King David once put it: “Your love [O God] is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Ponder that statement for a moment. God’s love is better than life. David confessed those words when he was either on the run from his son Absalom or from King Saul. David knew that at any moment his life could end. What good would a fancy palace or a fat bank account be at that point anymore? David knew perhaps better than anyone else that life has its ups and downs. So, what’s better than life is God’s love, for it’s constant and can get one through all the ups and downs and even see us through death.
While nothing can separate us from God’s love there are plenty of things that can distract us from it and lead us to despise that love. When I spend more time reading all the correspondence I get or novels, than I do studying my Bible for example, I will begin to think that my life would be better if only I had a better car or nicer patio furniture. When I fail to turn off my phone at devotion time, I’ll be tempted to check the latest text as if my friend’s inane comments are somehow more important than the eternal God’s message. And when I continue to let my thoughts center on my aches and pains and on my loneliness and don’t counter with an infusion of God’s promises, I may become convinced that life isn’t worth living.
You see Satan will continue to do his best to get us to think that God’s love isn’t all that great. He wants us to believe that we would be fine without it. But that’s like telling a beginning climber that he’d enjoy his rock-climbing experience better if he would just step out of his safety harness and try to shimmy up the rock face on his own! But God’s Word and the sacraments, these expressions of God’s love, are not things that get in the way of life, they are treasures that help us through life!
Look again at those outstretched hands of Jesus on the cross. Earlier I said that it looks like Jesus is ready to embrace the world in a big hug. But there’s another way to view those outstretched arms. It’s similar to the stance a police officer will take to hold back a surging mob. And that’s exactly what Jesus was doing at the cross. He was holding back the surge of God’s anger over our sins of despising His love and thinking that life would be better without His love. Don’t let your sins eat away at you. Don’t let guilt for past sins consume you. It consumed Jesus at the cross but burst its belly because it took on more than it could chew when it tried to devour the sinless Son of God. So, don’t let any guilt over past sins come back and haunt you.
And yet life isn’t easy, even with God’s promise of forever-love. But listen to what Paul is saying to you this evening. You don’t have to go to heaven to be with Jesus. Jesus is already with you. You are surrounded by His love and nothing and no one can take you away from His embrace.
No, God’s always-love is not always evident, but it is always present. Hold on to that promise as you would hold on to a life-preserver. And don’t keep your struggles to yourself. Share them with a believer you trust. Let them encourage you and show you God’s love in tangible ways. That love will help you endure whatever challenges you face, for with Jesus and God’s forever-love you are not just a survivor, you are more than a conqueror. Amen.