Text: Romans 5:1-11
Epistle Lesson for the Third Sunday of Lent, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A group of academics and historians have compiled this startling information: Since 3600 B.C., the world has known only 292 years of peace! During this period there have been 14,351 wars large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. The value of the property destroyed is equal to a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Since 650 B.C., there have also been 1,656 arms races, only 16 of which have not ended in war. The remainder ended in the economic collapse of the countries involved. War and conflict are things we humans seem to be pretty good at as a species. And our desire to fight one another doesn’t limit itself to war. We will fight about anything. We fight about religion. We fight about politics. We fight over the colour of the carpet. We even fight with our loved ones. This is perhaps best illustrated by a cartoon I once saw. A man was sitting and a computer typing furiously. Next to him, a clock reads: 3:00 AM. His wife comes in the room and asks why her husband hasn’t come to bed yet. He responds, “I can’t honey, someone on the internet is wrong!”
In some wars, there comes a time when one side realizes that they’ve lost. Sometimes, one side of the war looks at their situation and knows that they even if they fight their hardest and throw everything they have into the battle, they are still going to lose. They are outmanned, out gunned, out maneuvered. If they don’t sue for peace, then they can expect nothing but destruction, chaos, and death.
Our Need For Reconciliation
The same is true of us. This penchant for fighting one another stems from another war we’ve been fighting. Humanity has been fighting this war since the beginning. The devastation from this war is unparalleled. Every human being is eventually claimed as a casualty in this war. What war am I talking about? It is our war against God. And if we don’t sue for peace, we will face the consequences of rebelling against an Almighty God. So, we must recognize our need to be reconciled to God. We need to know the reasons why we are at war with God and why we desperately need peace. St. Paul helps us here in his letter to the Romans. He describes our condition and our hostility towards God in stark terms. He says we’re weak, we’re sinners, we’re ungodly, and we’re enemies.
Paul says we’re weak. Humanity is spiritually sickly and debilitated. This is like the case of a doctor who wants to heal his patient but finds that the patient denies that he is sick. Instead the patient calls the doctor an idiot and mentally deranged for trying to cure a healthy man. And because of the man’s resistance the doctor cannot use his skills and administer the medicine. For he could do so only if the sick man would admit his illness and permit him to cure him. We are spiritually diseased, even though we may think we are healthy.
Paul says secondly that we are sinners. Sin is a violation of God’s Law. It’s a crime against God. The Law tells us to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Instead, Humanity hates and despises God. We care for nobody but ourselves. We think that God is restrictive and trying to limit our freedom, when he’s really looking out for our best interests. Humanity worships money, entertainment, and sex as our gods instead of the Living God. We do not fear love and trust in God above all things. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. We sin in what we do. We sin in not doing what we should. And we’re repeat offenders. We’ve got a rap sheet in heaven bigger than we can imagine. And it really doesn’t seem to bother us that much. In fact, we kind of like it.
Paul thirdly calls us ungodly. That means that humanity is disrespectful of God and the things of God. We don’t care about Church. Fallen humanity despises preaching and God’s Word. We do not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. This shows in our conduct. We’re tempted to not really view the Divine Service as anything special. It’s all just a bunch of words and something that we’ll do if we feel like it. Humanity sees no reason why God, or Christianity, or showing respect to God’s gifts is necessary. It’s the “who cares, whatever, I don’t care” attitude. So not only are we sinners, not only are we spiritually sick, we really don’t want to have anything to do with this God character or anything that is his. Fallen humanity does not but call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
All of this makes humanity God’s enemies. This isn’t what God made us. This is what we have made ourselves into. We hate God and everything he stands for, so we rage in rebellion against him. We supress the truth, and fight against it every step of the way. And there’s a consequence for this: Wrath. It’s the wrath of God. Our crimes and rebellion against God deserve punishment. God has been supremely offended by our actions, because it was our intent to offend him! We have angered him. So, God promises that justice will be served. God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. All who rebel against God’s rule will be brought to justice. That’s not good news by the way. We should fear His wrath and not do anything against Him.
God’s Act of Reconciliation
So, given our outright hostility to God, it’s remarkable that God has taken the initiative. We tend to think that the offending party should take the first step towards peace. But God, the offended party, is the one who takes the initiative. We didn’t even want peace. We were not even looking to be reconciled, and God took the initiative. In the middle of all our rage against Him, God did something incredible. God became a man. He took on flesh and was born of a Virgin. He did this so that he could be nailed to a tree for you. God has become man and died on your behalf. For you.
Paul helps us think about how crazy this is. One does not lay down their life for just anyone at all. It is a very rare thing for someone to take a bullet for an average law-abiding citizen. Maybe, someone might take a bullet for a good person. But, what’s certainly true is that no one dies for their enemy. No one dies for someone who could care less about them. No one dies for a hardened criminal. Imagine some nasty character, maybe Hitler, or Charles Manson, or Ted Bundy. If you were plopped back in time with one of those guys, would you take a bullet for them? Everything in us screams, “NO!” While we may not be as bad as those guys, we’re still abhorrent in God’s eyes. And that’s what Christ has done for us: died for his enemies!
By shedding his blood for us and dying on the Cross Christ has reconciled us to God. We have peace with God through Christ. Our sins have created a debt which we owe to God. Christ’s sinless life and bitter suffering and death have paid our deficit. And now, Christ has become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is how God has proved His love for us. “For God loved the world in this way: he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him, might not perish, but have eternal life.” You did nothing to earn this love. The very opposite in fact, you are deserving of wrath and punishment. Instead, Christ has paid for and made restitution for all your sins. Christ has gained and acquired for you—without any of your own merit—forgiveness of sins, righteousness that counts in God’s eyes, along with eternal life.
The Hope That Reconciliation Brings
By Christ’s death for us we are reconciled to God. We have peace. Peace and reconciliation here are not feelings we have. “I have a peaceful easy feeling.” It isn’t that kind of peace. “But I don’t feel like I’m at peace with God.” No, this is not about your feelings. It’s an objective reality. The war is over. God is no longer angry at us. The hostilities have ceased. This involves a few things. It involves what we call justification. We are justified by faith. That means we’re acquitted. God the judge has pronounced us “Not Guilty” because Jesus has paid the fine. Your crimes have been forgiven. But it’s more than just a verdict of “not-guilty”. It’s more than just “getting off scot free”. We’re actually reconciled to God. If a judge were to declare a criminal not guilty, that doesn’t mean that the judge and the acquitted man become best buds. But in our case, God adopts us as his own Children. We’ve been reconciled. God has given us his Holy Spirit in baptism and now we actually do start to love God and one another. God’s commandments become our delight. Our peace with God leads us to be at peace with one another.
While we have been reconciled to God through his Son’s bloody death on our behalf, some continue to reject God’s love. This world for the most part still wars and rages against God. Because we have been adopted into God’s family and are now reconciled to him, the Devil and the world are going to war and rage against us too. You’re either at war with the God or at war with the Devil. There is no neutral ground. In this world we will have trials, persecutions, maybe even death. But, because Christ has died for us, and has risen again, we know that on that last day when justice is served to all, we will be saved from God’s wrath. Remember what Jesus said: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” That’s also the message of the book of Revelation. Christ has seen to it that we can be confident of our future. We now have hope! He has conquered the world and has promised the same victory to those who suffer for him in this world. Because he lives, we too shall live. Because he has forgiven us and given us his Holy Spirit, we can trust that God will be with us and sustain us through whatever comes our way, be it suffering, sickness, mockery, or death. Because Christ has paid our fine, justice has been served, and we get to spend eternal life with God.
And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.