September 11, 2011

More Than Conquerors in Christ - Sep 11, 2011

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For the past three Sundays our sermon readings have come from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians.

These Christians were living in the city of Rome, the capital of the world at the time. At that time, Christianity was a new thing to the world, and it was not well received. As a result, Christians experienced persecution.

The religious Jews viewed Christianity as a perversion of the true Jewish religion. And so they fought against Paul and company. They stirred up crowds in cities and had Christians arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed.

Sometimes the persecution of Christians originated from Rome itself. During times of persecution by the state, followers of Christ were given the option of either forsaking their faith and worshipping images of Caesar, or dying the most horrible deaths. Men and women of all ages were stoned, burned, crucified and thrown to wild animals in the arena. One Roman emperor even raised pitch soaked Christians on posts and set them on fire to light his night parties.

When persecution was not so openly physical and deadly, it was still present. Because Christians often met in private for the Lord’s Supper, they were accused of cannibalism or infanticide. Natural disasters were seen by pagans as the wrath of the old gods for letting this new and “false” religion to exist.

With this history in mind, it isn’t surprising that Paul would spend a whole chapter of his letter to the Romans on the subject of suffering. He comforts his fellow Christians by telling them to look to the future, and the promised renewal of all things when Christ returns. All the Christian’s sufferings will come to an end on that day.

Paul points them to the present also, reminding them that the same Holy Spirit who brought them to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is still with them. And the Holy Spirit is constantly adding His own perfect prayers to their imperfect ones.

Paul points them to the past also. Revealing to his fellow Christians that even before God created the world, he had already chosen them to come to faith and to receive forgiveness, eternal life in heavenly glory.

In our reading for today, Paul brings his words of comfort to a crescendo. He says that those who trust in Christ are not just future victors; they are more than conquerors NOW in every persecution, suffering and pain.

Paul presents this culmination of encouragement by describing two scenes: the courtroom of God, and the battlefield of earth. His point is the same in both images: through the love of God in Christ Jesus, WE WIN.

First, we hear Paul’s description of God’s courtroom.

Romans 8:31–34 (ESV)

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 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.

When I take the school kids out for recess, we usually play a game called “steal the pin”. This game requires two teams, so the kids line up and captains pick teams. Now, since our school is kindergarten through eighth grade, each team is bound to have a smattering of ages and abilities.

Sometimes the teams are unevenly weighted. One captain picks all the older kids, or the best ball throwers, or the fastest runners. And when that happens, there’s both rejoicing and grumbling.

Now, imagine what would happen if we had some guest players one recess. Say, the NFL quarterback Michael Vick, or the current fastest man alive, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. The rejoicing and the grumbling would be a little louder than usual when teams were finally picked.

That’s the image Paul presents to his fellow Christians in Rome. But it isn’t just some star athlete on some recess team. Paul says GOD is on our side. And if God is on our side, we CAN’T lose!

Paul charges on in verse 32…
“32 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?” (Romans 8:32 ESV).
Let me tell you a quick story. The other day I was carrying my daughter Carmen down the back stairs of our deck. They’re kinda high stairs, and my heel slipped off one of the steps. Instinctively I threw Carmen into the yard in order to save myself from injury.

Okay, not really.

What I did was clutch her as tightly as possible, allowing my own body to absorb the impact of our fall. What else would a father do?

Now look at God’s record. He took the hit for us. To take our sins away, the Son of God became human, suffered through life while never sinning, died a horrific and excruciating death, including being left alone on the cross to suffer the full weight of hell in our place.

And then there’s God the Father. He stood aside and LET His Son do this for us. Can you imagine the agony of the Father as the Son He had known and cherished from eternity was staked to a cross, mocked, spit on and murdered? And yet because this was the price that HAD to be paid for our sins, He didn’t step in for His Son.

If that’s what the Father is willing to give for us, He’ll give anything He’s got to make sure we reach heaven in the end.

Paul surges forward to more comfort for the suffering Christian in verse 33…
“33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33 ESV).
To this point I’ve been using some non-courtroom images to illustrate Paul’s points. But here Paul delves into the courtroom to show his fellow Christians just how secure our salvation really is.

God is the one who ultimately makes the call in His courtroom. He says guilty or innocent. He’s the judge. As Paul says, it is God who justifies. In the Bible, God says that all who trust in what Jesus did on the cross, are forgiven. No other authority can over-rule His verdict.

Paul even uses that phrase “God’s elect”, to again remind his fellow Christians that we have been chosen by God to be cleansed of our sins through Christ Jesus. He chose us in Christ in eternity, and He pronounces us sinless because of what Christ did in time. The gavel pounds in the eternal courtroom of God, and we are released. None can overturn His decision.

And to add one more detail to this scene of courtroom comfort, Paul mentions someone standing beside the Father. Verse 34...
“34 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.” (Romans 8:34 ESV).
There Jesus stands at the right hand of the Father. Paul says, Remember who this is! Jesus is the one who gave His LIFE on the cross, feeling the punishment for each and every one of our sins, IN OUR PLACE. If there’s ever been a witness capable of testifying to the fact that our sentence has been served, it’s Him!

And not only that, Paul says, Remember that He was raised from the dead by the Father. In this way, God put His stamp of approval on the payment Jesus made in our place. If anyone in this courtroom would dare question whether Jesus’ payment was enough to cover all our sins, the Father Himself would weigh in saying, If Jesus’ sacrifice WASN’T enough, then why would I have raised Him from the dead?

It’s at this point that Paul shifts from the image of a courtroom, to the image of a battlefield. This is the battlefield of earth where Paul and his fellow Christians are suffering now.

With all these previous things in mind, Paul says, Answer this question for me…

Romans 8:35–39 (ESV)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

Paul doesn’t hide from the reality of suffering here. He also doesn’t play it down as if it isn’t so bad. He just puts it in the proper context. The context of Christ’s work of salvation.

All the hard practices, all the injuries, all the sweat and blood that precedes a Super Bowl win are overshadowed by that victory. All the sore muscles, the sick mornings and the painful contractions are overshadowed by the birth of a child.

In the same way, all the sufferings of a Christian in life are overshadowed by the love of Christ which will one day bring that Christian into paradise.

Without Christ, sufferings are a huge source of confusion. A person who doesn’t know the true God looks at suffering and comes to all sorts of false conclusions.

Suffering means a good God doesn’t exist. False. The Bible says suffering exists because Adam and Eve’s sin brought pain and death into the world.

Suffering means God isn’t strong enough to protect me. False. God works in mysterious ways in a world infected with sin. He uses even the evil things that happen to serve His good and perfect plan.

Suffering means God is angry with me over some sin I’ve done. False. Suffering means this is not the world God intended it to be. Suffering here is a warning of what eternity apart from God would be like.

Paul’s outlook on life and suffering is defined by forgiveness through Christ. He sees past all these false conclusions because the Holy Spirit has shown Him the big picture, the ultimate salvation that will be His on the Last Day because of all that Jesus did for Him.

With salvation through Christ as the centerpiece of His worldview, Paul can tell his fellow Christians…
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV).

This is an intriguing statement. More than conquerors? How can that be? How can you be more than the victor?

Think about it like this. In Science, people try to find truth. The scientific method tries to prove something to be true by making a hypothesis, a guess at how something works, and then testing that hypothesis in a systematic way in order to see if it is true or false.

On the way to treating any disease, numerous possible solutions are proposed and tested. Some of these solutions end up being worthless. Others end up helping in some way. But in one sense, no failed hypothesis is ever really a failure because it teaches the scientist SOMETHING. Each failed experiment is a step along the way to a cure. Or a breakthrough in understanding.

The Bible tells us that Jesus died for our sins. Through simple trust in what He did for us, our sins stand forgiven. We have a home in heaven waiting for us. The victory over all the forces of pain and suffering and evil is already ours in Christ.

Viewed in that light, no defeat suffered by the Christian can really be considered a defeat. We can “lose” over and over, but all those losses are really wins because victory is already ours in Christ. Each victory or defeat on the battlefield of earth brings us one step closer to the return of Christ, and to final glory at God’s side.

This is why Paul can say in all our sufferings we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

No no pain inflicted upon us this side of heaven can destroy the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. To put it more simply, if our own sins weren’t able to keep us from God, because God in love took them away through Christ’s cross, what in the world could possibly separate us from God’s love? Certainly not suffering.

The important thing is to keep on putting all our hope for salvation in Him, and in Him alone. All these comforting words from Paul only apply to sinners like us because of what Jesus did for us.

Throughout our study of Romans I’ve been referencing the fact that the apostle Paul wrote this letter. Well, eventually, he didn’t have to write letters to Rome. He was arrested and brought there in chains. This was the second time he was brought to Rome for trial, and this time he wasn’t acquitted. Somewhere around the year 67-68 AD, Paul was convicted of crimes against the state and beheaded.

I would leave you with this final thought. As the blade passed through Paul’s spinal column, and as he passed from this world, HE was the conqueror because he was in CHRIST.

May God enable us also to live through our sufferings as more than conquerors, just like Paul did, and to pass through the finish-line-tape of death to eternal life and victory in Christ Jesus. Our Lord. Amen.

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