Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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. (Romans 8:31-39, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
If God is for us, who can be against us? Well, that doesn't even sound quite true, does it? I could make a list as long as my arm of those who are against us. I could make a list as long as my arm of those public figures who claim Christianity and how they are publically rejected and ridiculed by the culture. I could make a list as long as my arm of the issues floating around that are decidedly leaning very heavily against what we believe, teach, and confess. It seems things in the coming years could get very difficult for a church like ours.
When St. Paul wrote these words he understood exactly what he was talking about. He knew tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. Just listened to his list:
... imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23a–28, ESV)
And notice, that these things he suffered directly because of his life as a preacher of the Gospel.
We are not yet talking about this kind of persecution of the churches in our country. But you can feel the culture against us. It is in the open, but it is not unexpected. Jesus himself tells us that the world will hate us.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18–19, ESV)
The world hates the message we have to bring. Just as Jesus says, it will hate those who bring the message because it hates the one who sends the message. And again St. Paul draws the battle lines clearly. We believe our issues are with the people of the world. They are not. They are lost and aligned with evil forces that are set against God.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
But even with all these forces arrayed against us, God being for us is an even greater treasure. The hymn writer Martin Franzmann said, "God for us" is a "three – word summary of redemptive history." God is indeed "for us" in human history in Jesus Christ. The creator of the universe is the one who we are aligned with. There is no greater ally. And no greater enemy. Imagine if the opposite was true. If God was against us, who could be for us?
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–12, ESV)
What makes the difference? The difference is the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, for 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?
All of this aligned against us is nothing compared to all of God, in Jesus Christ, aligned for us. One who is the creator of the universe and yet willing to sacrifice himself on the cross, and defeating death through his own resurrection, cannot be defeated by any other means. None of these things, none of this persecution, none of this trouble, is able to separate us from the love of God that is shown in Jesus Christ.
Jesus' life, death, and resurrection conquers all of these things for us. He is the one who won for us and who gives to us the victory over death (1 Cor 15:57). The ultimate power that all our enemies hold over us his death. The sting has been taken out of our death. The sting of death is the threat of punishment in hell. Jesus Christ his removed our promised punishment.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)
And Jesus promises you and me a resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25, ESV)
and he also said:
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26–31, ESV)
Notice that St. Paul doesn't say "I think" but
...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.
"I am sure" St. Paul says. But in the face of persecution, you want to know if you can be sure. It's a new year. What will come is still unknown. Will the world be a more troubled place for Christians? Will the world be a more troubled place for you because you are a Christian? I don't know. But, this I do know, you can be sure as Paul was sure. He put his trust, his faith, in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. But don't take my word for it. Take God's word for it.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, ESV)
This is the one on whom you can depend. This is the one who promises that even in the face of persecution you can be sure that you will not be separated from him. As the hymn writer said, "God for us." There are no more important words that you can hear from Scripture. There are no more important words you can remember under persecution. There are no more important words than you can say as you look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did this all for me. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.