Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
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.” (Romans 8:28–39, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This passage is so familiar. You may have heard it at your hospital bed. It is so often read for the comfort of those who are suffering. “All things work together for good” nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” it’s a beautiful passage, but right in the middle is something, if you think about it, will take your breath away. Right in the middle is something that you might not like.
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
It’s almost as if Paul has to throw in this comment to keep us off balance. Paul, can’t you just stay positive? Can’t you just give us what we want to hear? I mean look at the text. All things work together for good; firstborn among brothers; who is to condemn; who can separate us; and then boom. “For your sake we are being killed.” We are sheep to be slaughtered. What happened? I thought Jesus was around to solve my problems. I thought Jesus was there to give me what I needed. I thought Jesus was there to make my life happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. That works with the “all things work together for good” but not “sheep to be slaughtered.”
Everything is fine and well when life is easy, and we have all that we want, and what we believe is not in conflict with our society. We are very much like James and John. You may remember the account. James and John come to Jesus and ask him to be on his right and left when he comes into his glory. They want the reward of following Jesus. Jesus asks a telling question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus is referring to his suffering and death. “Can you bear the burden of persecution for following me?” Is what Jesus is asking. We think we can. But we don’t like the idea of losing everything we have, or even anything. John and James thought they could. They answered “yes.” But sitting at Jesus right and left in his kingdom was reserved for the two thieves on the crosses at Jesus right and left. James and John would certainly suffer for the faith, but not yet.
One thing that we seem to forget in our westernized, pseudo-Christianized culture is that persecution is part of being a Christian. Listen to Jesus from John’s Gospel.
“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. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20a, ESV)
The servant is like the master. The servants suffer for the sake of the master. Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah talked about the master.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)
St. Paul puts a lot of background before the text we are considering today. In essence, he says that we are connected to Jesus. He is our Savior through his life death and resurrection. Through faith in what he has done, given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are his children. And as God’s children, we are obligated to live as his children. Living as his children will be at odds with the world. But we are not alone. We have the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. We have the Spirit who prays with us in our groaning. Our whole life is a bearing of the cross of Christ. It was placed on our four head in our heart in Holy Baptism. It is ours to carry to eternity. St. Paul urges us to flee from those things that get in the way of serving Jesus and the forgiveness that he brings through his cross.
Martin Luther called this the Theology of the Cross. The idea being that we are closest to God when we see our need for him most clearly. And at no time in our lives do we see it more clearly than when we are suffering. Enduring the cross doesn’t save us. We are saved and connected to our Savior; therefore, we bear the cross. Saved people seek the Savior’s cross. Jesus puts us on the cross with him as participants. Again, listen to Paul’s take on his suffering.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” (Philippians 3:8–9, ESV)
We can see this also, in The Book of Acts when the disciples were beaten and told not to preach Christ any longer.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)
If you have been following the news in Iraq, you may have heard of something similar. The Arabic letter nun has been used to mark the houses of Christians. The letter is the first in the word Nasara or Nazarene. It is how Muslims refer to Christians. And it is now taken as a sign of honor by the Iraqi Christians. In the town of Mosel, they have indeed lost everything. The ones who did not leave everything behind were killed, some by crucifixion.
Dear Christian friends, do not underestimate the evil that brings this persecution. If you think that we are safe because we live in the United States of America and you have not heard the words of your Savior.
We do not like suffering. We want the Lord to bring us the comfort of the world. We want him to make life easy. We want the joy of life instead of the joy of Christ. But that is not necessarily the kind of comfort that goes with the suffering of Christ, with Christ. We generally seek freedom from pain and want. But God uses these things to craft us into what he wants us to be. It is when we are weak we see our great need and claim ever stronger to the cross for life.
Now we see the great comfort, or shall I say the greater comfort, in the words of St. Paul. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That all things happen for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. That we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. That through the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross there is no condemnation for us. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That includes tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.
Jesus is the answer. He has given us the Holy Spirit to bear up under all these things. He has gone to the cross willingly to bear our suffering. He has taken on our burdens and sorrows. Because he has suffered our punishment, we have a forever relationship with God. We are his children. And nothing in the world can separate us from God’s love.
Jesus is our great example. He suffered and yet he served. He suffered and went to the cross. He is our master, we strive to follow his example and do the same. Our suffering does not save. But even in our suffering, there is opportunity to serve. We are sheep. We are subject to slaughter. We have the privilege of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. We organize our priorities and our lives for the sake of Christ and his church.
We are sons, heirs, when the sacrifice is over we have a forever place with God. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.