Lent 1b

Preached: February 22, 2015

Christ’s Love Hugs Us Close
Romans 8:31-39

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Romans 8

Son, but gave him up for us all. How will he not also graciously give us all things along with him?

Who will accuse God’s elect? God’s the one who justifies.

Who’s the one who condemns? Christ, who died, more than that who was raised—he’s also at God’s right had. He’s even interceding for us.

Who will separate us from Christ’s love: trouble or pressure or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? It’s just as it’s written: “Because of you, we are killed all day long. We are counted as butchered sheep.” To the contrary, in all these things we more than conquer through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither life nor death nor angels nor rulers nor present things nor future things nor dangers nor height nor depth nor any other creation can separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Mommy, I need a hug.” How comforting a hug can be! It dries tears and soothes pains. And hugs are not just for little children. How many hugs aren’t exchanged at the death of a loved one? Hugs say, “I’m here for you. I want to share your grief. Nothing is separating us.”

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35 NIV11). These verses from Romans 8 embrace us, like a hug that holds us close to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ’s love hugs us close. That’s the theme today. Christ’s love hugs us close. Believe it, dear friends. Believe it despite the condemning accusations. Believe it despite the overwhelming burdens. Christ’s love hugs you close.

A. Believe it despite the condemning accusations

Picture God’s courtroom. Don’t just think of Judgment Day. Every day we stand before God, the Judge of all. You and I are accountable to him for every moment, every thought, every feeling, every want, every word and action.

Satan accuses us. That’s what his name means. He’s the adversary accusing us in God’s courtroom. “You’ve broken God’s law,” he says. “I know you have. I was right there urging you on as you gave into your sinful desires. How could God love you any more, you law-breaker!”

The world accuses us. “You Christians claim you know right from wrong. You judge us for following our own ways. But you don’t always do what you say. You talk big about love but how often do you actually show love? You hypocrites!”

Our own conscience accuses us. “Look at my worries and doubts. Don’t I trust God’s promises? Sin’s short term pleasures sin feels so enticing, but the guilt afterwards is so heavy! Why can’t I do the good I want to do without selfishness and pride polluting my best efforts? How could I ever stand before the holy God?”

As powerful as Satan, the world, and our own consciences are, God is greater. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NIV11). But isn’t that the core of Satan’s accusation, that God is really not for us but rather he’s actually against us because of our sin? Isn’t this what terrorizes our conscience: standing before the holy God who will damn us to hell for our sins? “If God is for us ...” “If only that would be true!” our hearts lament.

But before that despair conquers you, dear friends, listen to what God has done, “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 8:32 NIV11). If God were against you, would he have opened his arms to send his Son, his own dearly-beloved, only-begotten Son? If God were against you, would he have given up his most precious Treasure, the One dearest to his heart, not sparing him even the harshest punishments of hell that our sins have earned? If God were against you, would the Son have spared no cost or suffering to carry the burden of your sins in your place. If God were against you, would the Son have opened his arms for the soldiers to pound the nails into his hands? Would the Father have forsaken him instead of you and me? In Christ, God has opened his arms wide to embrace you in his love. Christ’s love hugs you close.

Believe this despite the condemning accusations. Stand in God’s courtroom each day embraced by his love. Yes, Satan, the world, and your conscience still sling their accusation at you. But who hands down the verdict? Who’s the Judge? It’s the God who loves you so much that he did not spare his own Son. He justifies you, that is, he acquits you, declaring you not guilty. “Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33 NIV11).

But is this justice? Our guilt is beyond dispute. We rightly deserve death and hell. Mustn’t justice condemn us? Wouldn’t Satan, the world, and our conscience be right to overrule God’s verdict and condemn us as the sinners we are? How can God justify guilty sinners like you and me and remain the holy and just God who does no wrong?

The answer in one word is “Christ.” But the Apostle expands on that truth, the truth that embraces us and holds us tight. Believe this truth despite the condemning accusations. The text declares, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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” (Romans 8:34 NIV11).

How can God justify guilty sinners? Because Christ Jesus, the Innocent One, died in our place. He suffered our death, which our sins rightly earned. Our crimes have been paid for. Justice is satisfied. How can we be sure this is the truth? Because Christ Jesus, who died, was raised to life. God raised him from the dead as the proof and guarantee that he has accepted Jesus’ death as full payment for all sins.

In fact, Jesus is at God’s right hand. And what is he doing there? He is interceding for us. As our defense attorney he stands between God and us. He continuously holds before the Father his body that bore our sins and his blood that he poured out for our forgiveness. His once-and-for-all sacrifice for you stands before God forever. What love!

When a husband and wife have had a argument, a hug afterwards often says, “I forgive you.” How much more Christ’s love that hugs you and me! Through his Word and through his Supper he throws his arms around you and embraces you with his love. He hugs you and says, “Don’t listen to those accusations any more. I died for you. Here is my body and blood. I rose because you have been acquitted. Believe how much my Father loves you. Believe how much I, the Son, love you.”

B. Believe despite overwhelming burdens

“But Jesus,” a part of us says. “But Jesus, how come so many things go wrong in my life? How come the more closely I follow you, the tougher life gets? How come your love doesn’t make my life better? My burdens overwhelm me! So often I don’t feel like a conqueror but rather like I’ve been conquered, like a butchered sheep, a lamb led to the slaughter. Has your love let go and stopped hugging me?” How can we keep on believing despite the overwhelming burdens we feel?

So often we fall into the temptation of listening only to half of what God promises. We hear phrases from the Bible like, “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37 NIV11), “not ... tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV84), or “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV84). We imagine that somehow God will make power well up from inside of us so that we can conquer and overcome, bearing up by the strength of our own resolve and determination. In fact, many use the word faith to mean “confidence in my own resolve.” That turns what God has said on its head.

You see, these promises are not about our power or resolve, but his power—his power that shows its completeness only when we are weakest. In fact, our power gets in the way of God’s power. And our power will fail. I think of Teddy Roosevelt, the former present. He had such resolve and determination! Nothing seemed able to stop him whether that was as when he led the charge of his Rough Riders in the battle for San Juan Hill or later on a presidential campaign when he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin and then gave a 90-minute speech before seeking medical attention. He was an unstoppable bull moose. But after an expedition to the Amazon where he contracted malaria, he came home an old man and died a few years later at only sixty. Human power, determination, zeal, or resolve cannot make us more than conquerors. And all too often these verses are used to prop up that human determination and resolve. What an abuse of God’s love!

Rather, dear Christians, the overwhelming burdens will come. In fact, it is the troubles, hardships, and dangers of life, the persecution and suffering that comes from following Jesus, even if that brings famine, nakedness, or death by the sword—it’s those that lead us to hold on to our God all the more. For you see, as Christ’s love hugs us, how are we going to respond? Are we going to squirm away like a squirrelly grandchild, saying, “I don’t really need your hug; I can make it on my own; I have the resolve”? Or are we going to embrace him all the more tightly?

So even in the worst, the most overwhelming, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Notice how the text does not say that we will conquer all things so that life gets better. Rather it says, that in all these things, which means that these overwhelming burdens will come. We will be in the midst of them. But even in their midst, surrounded and pressed down on every side, even then—especially then—we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Think of death itself. On the outside it appears that God’s love has failed. The Christian, God’s child, dies just like the unbeliever dies. Our bodies decay just like theirs. But you know and believe that Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has redeem us to be his very own people—he leads his believers through death. As a shepherd leads his sheep, so he leads us even through the valley of the shadow of death. He leads us into into the victory of heaven, the victory he has won for us. He does not let go. So if we are more than conquerors even in death, how much more so in all the other burdens of life! No fallen angel or earthly ruler, no present trouble or future danger, not the highest calamity or the deepest setback can separate us from God’s love that’s in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rather, we learn all the more to hold on to him alone, for Christ’s love hugs you closer and closer to him.

So despite the overwhelming burdens in life, cling to your God. Believe his promise. Hold on to him and say with the Apostle Paul, “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 NIV11). Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313