Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Unprecedented,” that’s the word we are continuing to hear on the news and media these days. With covid-19 now running through our communities we keep hearing that these are unprecedented times with unprecedented measures being put in place. Physical distancing, self isolation, and quarantine are the norm and we have no idea for how long. As this pandemic continues on, the government and health officials continue to put measures into effect with the specific purpose of keeping us safe. So, how safe do you feel? Have these measures calmed all your fears? If you’re anything like me, they’ve maybe taken the edge off. But, as we are forced to venture out to grocery stores and pharmacies, we come back home, disinfect, and hope and pray we haven’t caught it. What are we afraid of? Have you thought about that? What is it exactly that we are afraid of? We’re afraid of suffering. We’re afraid of dying. We’re afraid of our friends and family suffering and dying.
But, how safe do you feel living under the care of God? God in his grace has put measures into effect with the specific purpose of your salvation. How sure are you of the future which God has promised? Is it safe to entrust ourselves entirely to the God of grace? We can see just how much we trust God when we’re afflicted by suffering which is outside our control. Look at your reaction to this covid-19 crisis. How you responded to these experiences shows a lot about your confidence in God’s grace. You may have responded to this crisis with self-reliance and self-confidence. You may have trusted in your own ability to keep yourself safe or maybe your strong immune system. You may trust in your own judgement and think that the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Or, you may have felt the pains of despair. You may be confused as why God would allow such a thing. Either way, your response to this crisis shows just how much you trust in the grace of God. The point at issue here is the trustworthiness of God. The question before us is why should we entrust “ourselves, one another, and our hole life to Christ, our Lord?” (Litany, LSB p. 251).
We have no condemnation, because of the sacrifice of Christ
The Apostle Paul starts out our epistle lesson with what should be a startling statement. No condemnation! This assurance can only carry its full force if you have considered the seriousness of your own evil and the reality of God’s judgment. God is the just judge, and you are evil. You deserve to hear the sentence of “Guilty!” Evil is not something that is limited to dictators and mass murderers; rather, evil lurks within the recesses of our minds and finds a highway of delight in the veins of our own bodies. Look into the deep recesses of your heart, where you lock away your most insidious desires and thoughts, look deep and it will prove that at your core you are not basically good, but basically evil. What’s more, the response of a justice-loving God to all our injustice is his righteous anger and his holy justice. If God is going to set this evil-ridden world straight, he must get rid of us because we’re part of the problem. And worse yet, we have an unquenchable appetite to gratify our evil desires. We hate God. We don’t want him to tell us how to live our lives, but rebel against His demands. We cannot please God because we are trapped in slavery to our own lusts. We live in a universe where justice will be served. God is judge and you are culpable to God for your wicked behaviour.
So that’s the completely startling thing about this passage. There is no condemnation. The guilty verdict will never be heard by those who are in Christ. We have been set free. Released. Instead of a guilty verdict, we are acquitted. Why? What happened? The offences we commit not only place us in debt to the people we wrong; they also put us in debt to God. Our debt to God increases with each wrong we do. But, what we could not do ourselves, God has done for us when he sent his own Son. In the human flesh Jesus Christ the Son of God, the flesh he received from the Virgin Mary, He assumed humanity’s debt, and particularly your debt.
You, a condemned sinner are promised that there is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are ‘in Christ’, because the condemnation of sin has already taken place in him. God’s own Son died a criminal’s death. At that moment, God condemned sin. By his bloody death upon the cross, Jesus became a sin offering for us. That means, since He assumed our debt, He is also the one who discharged that debt for us. He made restitution for us. He paid your fine and made reparation to God on your behalf. In the humanity of Christ, the demands of God’s justice are met, and Jesus offers his entirely perfect life to God on your behalf.
This removal of condemnation was not something that you did. It was done for you in Christ Jesus, and made available to those who trust God. Think of the joy there will be for hundreds of thousands of people when a cure for covid-19 is discovered. But, what use is beating covid-19 if at the end we are simply condemned for our own wickedness? Far worse than covid-19 is sin! A doctor may cure you out of a sense of duty, but we can and should entrust ourselves to God because he has proven that he actually loves us. He doesn’t want to doom us to condemnation. In fact, our interests are near and dear to his heart. God can be trusted because Jesus Christ our Lord has delivered us from the dreaded verdict of “guilty.” God has shown just how much he can be trusted by offering us acquittal through Christ.
We have resurrection hope, because of the indwelling of the Spirit
But covid-19 reminds us of the misery of living a body that is mortal. The terrible experiences of many who are forced to see their loved one’s health decline in the face of this illness, reminds us all of the inevitability of our own death. It is vital that we grasp that this is all the result of our human sin. Our evil has consequences, and the death sentence we all face is one of them. The consequences are not only limited to us, but we are, even now, living in a world under God’s just curse. And, despite the fact that those who are in Christ are no longer condemned but acquitted for Jesus sake, yet they still die. Covid-19, cancer, death and decay still seem to have the upper hand.
But, along with the promise of no condemnation, God has given those in Christ the promise of resurrection, the promise that we shall eventually be raised from the dead, ‘saved’, from the corruption and decay of death itself. Through the Word, Christians have received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that dwells in Christians is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Those who are in-dwelt by God’s Spirit are assured that what God did for Jesus he will do for them also. Jesus is our representative. That isn’t limited to what he did on the cross. It also means that if he is raised, and we trust in him, we are raised with him. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he didn’t just raise one guy. No, he raised the Messiah, our own representative, and because of that, God guarantees to you that what happened to Jesus will happen to you as well.
The government and health agencies are attempting to keep us safe, to prevent us from contracting covid-19. But, try as they might, they cannot stave off death forever. Jesus however can be trusted to deliver a permanent cure to death. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). If covid-19, cancer, or old age threaten to claim you, Jesus is offering you a cure. Trust him. Entrust yourself to him. He is the cure because he is the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is what Jesus did for Lazarus. It is what God did for Jesus, and it is what he will do for anyone who entrusts themselves to him.
Even though our physical bodies remain subject to death, God has shown that he is trustworthy by giving us a guarantee of the resurrection. The Spirit gives us a taste of that resurrection life right here and now, and this life consists of a new relationship with God in Christ and a life marked by peace. That means the resurrection isn’t just a hope for a day long in the future. The Spirit of life breathes a taste of that new life into your still mortal body. The Holy Spirit dwells in you and sets you free so that you can begin to do what God wants you to do. The Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments, enables you to live the kind of life for which you were originally created. It’s the kind of life that never seeks to hurt or harm our neighbour in his body but help and support him in every need and danger of life and body. (Small Catechism). That’s why we follow the directions about covid-19: because we love our neighbours. That’s why we consider ways we can love your neighbours in their time of need, because of the new life given us in Christ.
It certainly is unprecedented! Through no doing of our own, God in His mercy rescues us from the junk heap and makes us His own. He washes away the debt of our sin with the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, and He promises that will rescue us from this body of death and give us life overflowing in abundance. The Spirit works in the hearts of his baptised people, to create faith through the preaching of the gospel. He then gives us the beginnings of the kind of life we were always intended to live. The same Spirit which raised Jesus will work powerfully the other side of death to give us new bodily life. That is why, ultimately, you can entrust yourself to God. That is why in the midst of this great and deadly plague, or in the midst of financial ruin or cancer or whatever else may come your way that you can trust God. You’re safe in his hands. You can entrust yourself, your loved ones, and your entire life to the care of God’s grace because he has promised you. He has given you his Word. He has proven his trustworthiness by reminding you of his love for you, and giving you resurrection hope in these dark times.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.