Monday, July 12, 2021

The Love That Conquers All!

[This message was shared during the funeral service for a disciple of Jesus who was a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Romans 8:31-35, 37-39
Nearly one year ago, Ruth Olson lost her earthly life to cancer. I don’t need to remind any of you of what deeply committed disciples of Jesus both she and Bob have been. 

Ruth’s trust in Jesus was remarkable. She loved Christ. She also loved Christ’s Church. Even as she faced death, Ruth faithfully prayed and cared, as she was able, for her family, the Church, and for others.

There are some who might look at Ruth’s faith in Christ and, particularly in the wake of her passing, see it as delusional. 

But Ruth, like all Christians who confess an informed faith in Jesus, was among the least delusional people of all. 

Disciples of Jesus face facts the world wants to forget. 

The world, for example, may want to forget that all, including Christians, sin (Romans 3:23), but Christians don’t; as Christians, we forthrightly confess that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” 

The world may try to deny that death comes to all of us because we were born into the condition of sin, an inborn alienation from God and the life that only God can give; but Christians confess that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12) 

The world too may want to deny that the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) But for followers of Jesus, facts are facts and denial is the way of everlasting separation from God. 

Death also comes to disciples of Jesus, to people made righteous, right with God, by the gracious gift of faith in Christ that God pours into them through the Gospel given in Word and Sacrament.

Death is a hard reality; it can even cause grief-stricken disciples to tell Jesus, as Martha did near the burial site of her brother Lazarus in our Gospel readings, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) 

But there is a deeper truth than our sin and death. 

There is a greater reality that has the power to veto and reverse the dominion of sin, death, and darkness into which the human race is born. 

That greater reality, that deeper truth is the love of God given to the whole universe through Jesus Christ. 

It is through His love that God makes once-condemned sinners righteous, fit for eternity, and able to face suffering, life, and death with faith, able to live in the certainty that all who trust in Jesus have eternal life with God. As Jesus assures us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Our second Bible lesson for today, Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, chosen by Ruth, comes from the New Testament book of Romans, a letter written to the Christian church in Rome in about 55 AD. 

These verses form the capstone of a section of Romans that deals with the supreme power of God’s love given in Christ. It begins in chapter 5, where Paul says: “...God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” Who gives witness to Jesus and His Gospel and because of this powerful love, our hope in Christ is never disappointed, even in the face of death. (Romans 5:5) 

Throughout the chapters of this section of his letter, Paul celebrates what God gives to those who believe in Jesus: peace with God, life in Christ, freedom from the condemnation of the Law, the capacity to live in the Spirit, that is, to live each day in utter reliance on Christ alone. 

This is the deeper reality--the certainty of God’s grace and love for us--in which God empowers believers in Jesus to live. 

God loves you desperately despite your sin and sets all who believe in Christ free from the power of sin and death.

In our lesson, Paul poses and answers seven questions. 

The first introduces all the others: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” (Romans 8:31) 

What, in other words, are we to say in the face of the reality of Jesus dying to take our punishment for sin and His resurrection to open up an eternal relationship with God to all who repent and believe in Him? What can we say in the face of a love so vast, so never-ending? 

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension are better attested by more witnesses closer to the events to which they give witness than is true of any other ancient figure or event. 

More importantly, two-thousand years of Church History affirm that beginning with people like the once-impulsive, hot-headed Peter and the murderous, religiously fanatical Saul (who became Paul), the crucified, risen, living Jesus, transforms the lives of those who trust in Him and His righteousness rather than themselves or their self-righteousness. Jesus Christ gives those who follow Him peace and hope beyond all human understanding.

Paul goes on to ask two questions in quick succession: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) 

You see, the cross of Jesus isn’t just the death of death for all who trust in Jesus, it’s proof that God intends to give those made righteous through faith the very inheritance that once belonged to Jesus alone, all the life and joy His kingdom can offer. He gives us an honored place in His house! 

When God gave the apostle John a glimpse of eternity beyond death, John heard the four angels surrounding God sing to Jesus about the inheritance He shares with all of His disciples, His saints: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)

Paul then asks, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33) 

God has chosen to give His perfect righteousness to those who turn to Christ. The Law shows us to be guilty, but Jesus acquits us. God’s promise stands for all eternity: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:17)

Next question: “Who then is the one who condemns?” (Romans 8:34) 

Who, Paul asks, has the power to condemn Ruth or any of the saints who face God covered in Jesus’ righteousness? Nobody, Paul says, because “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Even as we draw our last, labored earthly breaths, no one can condemn those covered in Jesus’ righteousness!

Then comes Paul’s sixth and seventh questions. 

You know that, in the Bible, God’s Word, seven is the perfect number, the number of completion and wholeness to God’s activity. 

On the seventh day, God declared the Creation “very good.” 

In the book of Revelation, when Jesus, the Lamb of God, opens the seventh seal, the angels are unleashed to bring the curtain down on the life of this universe so that Jesus can return in glory to give everlasting life in the new heaven and the new earth to His people. 

Paul asks: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35) We might ask, “Shall cancer, or grief, or sorrow, or adversity?” 

No, Paul says, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) 

There you see it again, the love of God. Not our love for God. Not sentimental, Hallmark card love. But God’s tough, resilient, devoted, death-destroying love for us poured into us from the cross and the empty tomb and even today, through the Holy Spirit, from the very throne room of God--this love makes disciples of Jesus “more than conquerors.” 

Our sin and our death have been vanquished by Jesus and believers in Him live in a hope of which we cannot be robbed, the very hope in which Ruth lived her life and faced her death.

This is why Ruth chose these words from Scripture for you today. She didn’t want to point to herself. She wanted to point to the Lord Who, by His charity, His grace justifies all who trust in Him. 

She wanted you to know the deepest truth and the greatest reality of which Paul seems to almost sing at the end of this passage from Romans: “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 8:38-39)

In the days and years ahead, however long or short, may God’s Word fill us with faith in Christ so that we too will live each day in the certainty that nothing...NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen