The Love of God in Christ Jesus
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I must admit up front: I don’t know much about Steve. The first time that I saw him was in the hospital room last week. I never had the chance to get to know the man who was your son, your brother, your friend. I never got to know the man who enjoyed hunting, fishing, spending time with his dogs, or hanging out at the lake. I don’t know much about Steve as a person, except what I’ve been told: “Steve was the type of friend who would give you the shirt off his back.”
While I’m sorry that I never had that opportunity, in some ways I consider it an advantage as I speak to you today. I consider it an advantage, because although it’s helpful to be able to personalize the message, a funeral sermon (as all sermons) should be focused on Christ and not the Christian. It should tell us what Jesus has done to seek and to save lost sinners like Steve and you and me. And so that is what I am going to do today.
The most important day of Steve’s life happened here at St. John’s on November 2, 1969. That is the day Steve was baptized in the triune name of God. That is the day that Steve was given the new birth of water and the Spirit. That is the day Steve was adopted as a son of God, made an heir of His kingdom. That is the day Steve was joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. That is the day Steve was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all his sin.
Steve publicly confessed this faith here in the rite of confirmation on April 15, 1984. In the presence of God and this congregation, Steve acknowledged the gifts God gave to him in Baptism. As many of you have also done, Steve promised to continue to hear the Word of God and to receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. He promised, by the grace of God, to live according to the God’s Word, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, even to death.
Like each of us, Steve was not perfectly faithful to his promises. But then neither was his church, his brothers and sisters in Christ who welcomed him into the fold, and promised to support Steve with their prayers, ongoing instruction and nurture in the faith. Neither, was I, his pastor, who failed to seek out and find Steve until recently. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Fortunately, our salvation does not depend on our keeping of promises, but rather rests in the mercy and promises of God. The promises that I would especially like to focus on this afternoon are from Romans 8:28-39, a passage that I shared with Steve and his mom in the hospital:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
“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 gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God promises us everything and nothing: nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Not tribulation. Not distress. Not persecution. Not famine. Not nakedness. Not danger. Not sword. Nothing. Not even death. Especially not death. God also promises everything: everything works for good for God’s children. Everything: the good and the bad. Everything works for good for those who love God. And nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Believing this is easier said than done in the face of real tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. Do we actually believe that as the baptized children of God our sufferings will one day be vindicated? Do we actually trust God’s promise that the hardships of our lives won’t simply be erased but will all turn out for good? Do we actually believe that there is purpose and meaning in what we suffer now? Do you believe this?
Well, it is true; and this is why: “For those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
In eternity, the Father looks at His only-begotten Son and sees in His Son perfected and glorified humanity. In time, through His Son, God makes man in His image, to reflect the Son into the world. Adam wrecks it. He listens to another word, an alien word that draws him away from God to sin, to rebellion, to death, and headed to a hell that was never intended for him. Adam ceases to reflect the image of the Son into the creation, but instead reflects himself, his own mortal, frail, and fallen nature, and he passes that corruption on to his children. Such sin and sinfulness provokes God’s holy wrath and deserves God’s righteous judgment.
Sin’s corruption is so deep we are powerless to save ourselves. But the Father has a plan. He sends His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. In love, He gives His only-begotten Son in the flesh to die, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.
Christ is the new and second Adam, undoing what the first Adam did, rescuing fallen humanity and restoring a creation that groans as it awaits the consummation of God’s promises, as He embodies in His own flesh all of sinful humanity and all of creation, embracing it all in His once for all death, and raising it all up incorruptible in His resurrection. Everything is done in Christ!
In Christ, you were foreknown by the Father. Apart from Christ, God does not know you or anyone. In Christ, God knows you as one of His own. In Christ, you were predestined. Even before you were conceived, even before creation, you were predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. You were called in Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, having heard the good news of Jesus and having the good news work its way with you. You were justified in Christ, declared innocent before God’s judgment throne. Not with your own innocence. You have none. But with an innocence from outside of yourself. You are justified. A judgment has been spoken over your head by the blood of the cross where the Son of God took away your sin. God declares you innocent, and if God says it, that settles it. Right now, as we speak, you stand before the all holy Judge, who is a consuming fire. You stand before Him spotless and blameless, clothed with the perfect life and death of Jesus. That’s what it means to be justified.
But wait, there’s more to this promise. Those whom He justified, He also glorified. Notice: that’s past tense. It’s spoken and done. You are glorified, even now as you sit here and listen to me. You are glorified in the glorified flesh of Jesus Christ. He embodied you in His death. He embodied you in His resurrection. And even now, He embodies you in His ascended glory. Your life is hidden in Christ, you are glorified in Christ. In yourself, it is anything but glorious. You suffer, you sin, and sadly, you die. But in Christ, you are glorified and pure and holy. God has done everything for you. It is finished! That takes everything eternal out of your hands and gives it back to the loving, powerful hands of God.
So then, who or what on earth or in heaven can possibly mess you up? If God is for you, (and He is, in His Son), who can be against you? If God gave you His one and only Son, (and He has) how will He not give you everything? If you are declared innocent in Christ’s blood, (and you are) who can bring charges against you? If God is the one who justifies you (and He is) who is left to condemn you? The devil? No, he’s been defeated. The world? What can the world say before the face of God? Yourself? Only if you claim to be greater than God. You see, when you say, “I can’t forgive myself,” you’re overruling God. Repent. God has forgiven you. Completely! 100%. See yourself as God sees you in Christ, not as you see yourself, or as the devil and the world try to present you.
Who can condemn you? No one! Jesus was condemned on the cross in your place. And the same Jesus appears before the Father interceding for you. He never lets the Father forget those wounds by which He won for us salvation and life. And He never lets us forget either, for whenever we eat the bread that is His Body and drink the cup that is His Blood, we proclaim His death until He comes.
What can separate us from God’s love in Christ? Throw the works at us—tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. Add anything you want. A bad childhood, a broken marriage, sickness, mental illness, anything. Death, devil, angels, powers, the past, the present, the future. High things, low things, nothing. In all these things, we are more than conquerors.
Now, I know, it doesn’t always look that way—especially on a day like today. On this side of the grave, that victory looks to all the world like defeat. Life looks like death. The Christian life appears crucified not risen. The victorious life of the Christian looks nothing like victory in this world. It is filled with tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The sheep under the Good Shepherd Jesus look like sheep being led to the slaughter. The sons and daughters of God often look like orphans, at times even runaways.
But we walk by faith, not by sight. We trust God’s Word, His promises. Christ has conquered. And in Him you conquer too. Baptized into Christ, God has put you into the safest place there is—into the death and life of His Son. And from that vantage point you can be sure that neither death nor life—nothing in all creation—will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.