Text: Romans 8:1-11
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Listen to the Sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How safe do you feel living under the care of God? We can see how much we trust God when we’re afflicted by suffering outside our control. Look at your reactions during a crisis. There’s a saying, “A crisis does not make a man; it shows what a man is made of.” The true test of a person’s faith is how they handle challenges. How you responded shows a lot about your confidence in God’s grace. You might respond to a crisis with self-reliance and self-confidence. Or, you might feel the pains of panic and despair. You might be confused about why God would allow such a crisis to happen to you. Either way, your response during a 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 whole life to Christ, our Lord?” (Litany, LSB p. 251).
We have no condemnation because of the sacrifice of Christ
The Apostle Paul starts our epistle lesson with what should be a startling statement. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rm 8:1). 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 “Guilty!” Evil is not limited to dictators and mass murderers; instead, evil lurks within the recesses of our minds and finds a highway of delight in the veins of our 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 you are not basically good but evil down to your core.
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 the judge, and you are culpable to God for your wicked behaviour.
So that’s the utterly 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? “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rm 8:3-4). The offences we commit place us in debt to the people we wrong and put us in debt to God. Our obligation 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 of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the flesh he received from the Virgin Mary, He assumed humanity’s debt, particularly your debt.
You, a condemned sinner, are promised that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The condemnation of sin has already occurred in him. God’s own Son died a criminal’s death. At that moment, God condemned sin. Jesus became a sin offering for us through his bloody death upon the cross. That means since He assumed our debt, He also 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. 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 how much he can be trusted by offering us acquittal through Christ.
We have resurrection hope because of the indwelling of the Spirit
Second, Paul tells us that God can be trusted because we have the hope of the resurrection. In verse 11, he writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rm 8:11). Many have had the terrible experience of watching their loved one’s health decline. We are reminded daily of the inevitability of our own death. We must 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 in Christ are no longer condemned but acquitted for Jesus sake, they still die. Sickness, cancer, death and decay still 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 in-dwelt by God’s Spirit are assured that what God did for Jesus 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. Because of that, God guarantees you that what happened to Jesus will also happen to you.
Jesus 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 dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). If sickness, cancer, or old age threaten to claim you, Jesus is offering you a cure. You were created with a body by God. Regardless of how mangled, deformed, emaciated, or disease-ridden your body may be, God will raise it up and transform it to become strong, healthy, and beautiful. He is the cure for death because he is the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is what Jesus did for Lazarus. It is what God did for Jesus and 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 provides us with 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 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.
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 sins with the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. He promises to 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 preaching the gospel. He then gives us the beginnings of the life we have always intended to live. The same Spirit which raised Jesus will work powerfully on the other side of death to give us new bodily life. That is why, ultimately, you can entrust yourself to God. That is why you can trust God in the midst of or amid financial ruin or cancer, or whatever else may come your way. 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 even in dark times.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.