“If God is For Us”
April 21, 2019
Jesus rose triumphant over sin and death for us.
I. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)
II. He was raised for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
III. If God is For Us . . . (Romans 8:31-39)
Most of you, I think, know the story of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the central book in the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. It starts with four children, the Pevensies, being sent out of the London blitz to live with an old professor in a big house. While they are there, first Lucy, and then Edmund and then all four pass through the wardrobe into the winter-bound country of Narnia. But Edmund on his first visit meets the white witch, the evil ruler of Narnia, and he betrays the others to her, and become her prisoner. Aslan rescues him, but the witch meets with Aslan and reminds him that by the deep magic every traitor belongs to her. So Aslan makes a deal. He offers his life in Edmund’s place, and he is executed on the stone table. The witch believes she has won and will destroy the Pevensies and all that’s good in Narnia.
But the deeper magic from before the dawn of time says “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” Aslan is raised from death to glorious life. He defeats death, and sin, and ultimately, the Witch.
A couple of years ago I put images from Narnia together with a song by Andrew Peterson called “High Noon,” which is about the victory of Jesus over sin, death and Satan. I think the two stories work well together. Let me play the first part. “High noon in the valley of the shadow, when the deep of the valley was bright. When the mouth of the tomb shouted, "Glory, the groom is alive." So long, you wages of sin. Go on, don't you come back again. I've been raised and redeemed; you've lost all your sting to the victor of the battle at high noon in the valley, in the valley of the shadow. And the demons, they danced in the darkness, when that last ragged breath left his lungs. And they reveled and howled at the war that they thought they had won. But then, in the dark of the grave, the stone rolled away, in the still of the dawn on the greatest of days. High noon in the valley of the shadow, when the shadows were shot through with light. Jesus took in that breath, and shattered all death with his life. Be gone, you wages of sin. Go on, don't you come back again. I've been raised and redeemed. You've lost all your sting to the victor of the battle.
Jesus rose triumphant over sin and death for us. Last Sunday we saw that our Holy Week messages all relate, more or less, to the word “for,” and to the simple phrase “for us.” We looked at Romans 5, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” “huper humon.” His death was a substitution, on our behalf, paying our price, taking our punishment.
We saw in that Palm Sunday message that Jesus came to Jerusalem to die, for the nation and for the scattered children of God. We saw at the Seder on Friday that his body was broken “for us,” that his blood was shed “for us,” and we saw at the sunrise service that his death and resurrection are the promise of eternal life for us when we cry out to him for mercy, help and rescue.
Now we really want to celebrate that victory and explore what it means that Jesus died and rose for us. There are several “huper” verses that touch on the resurrection, and I want to look at a few of them them in a moment, but before we do I want to read one more verse just about the atonement, because I didn’t do it last week and I don’t want to skip it. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 in the ESV says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you hear the substitution there? He became sin so that we could become righteous. The exchange is clear.
But did you hear the “for us?” No, you didn’t. Well, you may have. It’s right at the start of the verse in the ESV and says “for our sake,” one of the clearest ways of translating “huper humon.” Nonetheless I like the NIV version better because it’s well translated while eliminating the confusion of pronouns. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is so clear, so awesome, so true. Jesus became sin. He became, through no sin of his own, what we were by nature, objects of wrath. He was sin-full on the cross. Full of my sin. He bore the wrath that should have been directed toward me. As I said last week, there are some who eliminate or downplay the substitutionary nature of the atonement, the fact that God’s just punishment of sin had to be atoned for. But verses like these are clear. In fact, Romans 3:25, 1 John 4:10 and others use a Greek word that is often translated propitiation, but is more clearly understood by the phrase “a sacrifice that makes atonement.” This is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
But his sacrifice is not the end of the story. The resurrection is the capstone, the climax of his work for us. 1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” The word suffered is “Pascha,” one of the ancient names for Easter week. We get our word ‘passion’ from it, as in “The Passion of the Christ.” He suffered the punishment for sins he had not committed, for our sins. He, the righteous one, suffered for us, the unrighteous ones. This is a reference to the suffering servant passage. Isaiah 53:11 says “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
This is what Jesus did through his death and resurrection. He was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Some translations say “made alive by the Spirit,” but the word “in” is the same in both parts of the verse and it almost certainly means “in the sphere of.” As Edwin Blum says in his 1 Peter commentary “’Flesh’ and ‘spirit’ do not refer to two ‘parts’ of Christ, that is, his body and his soul; nor does the ‘spirit’ refer to the Holy Spirit or Christ's human spirit. Rather, ‘flesh’ refers to Christ in his human sphere of life and ‘spirit’ refers to Christ in his resurrected sphere of life.” This is what Paul teaches in 1st Corinthians 15: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Jesus Christ was raised, Peter says, “to bring us to God.” He suffered for our sins and he was raised to life that we might be raised to life. As Ephesians 2 says “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [he] made us alive together with Christ, 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” He rose to bring us to God.
This “for” changes everything. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Let me read that again with “huper” where it occurs. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died ‘huper’ all, therefore all have died; 15and he died ‘huper’ all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who ‘huper’ them died and was raised.” It was not only his death that was on our behalf, but his resurrection. In the death of Christ the payment was made. In the resurrection the payment was accepted. In the death of Christ forgiveness was procured. In the resurrection of Christ forgiveness was displayed. In the death of Christ death was satisfied. In the resurrection of Christ death was defeated. In the death of Christ our separation from God was bridged. In the resurrection God is with us forever. In the death of Christ God acted against our sin. In the resurrection of Christ God is for us.
Let’s celebrate that in our main text. Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He 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? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who 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.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.
In Romans 8 Paul has just finished telling his readers that they can, begin now to live a resurrected live in the Holy Spirit. “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Furthermore, in Christ we are now children of God, with the freedom to cry out “Abba, Father,” to the “Abba, Father,” of Jesus. We are heirs with him of life, but all of creation and we ourselves groan and long for this process to be complete. We wait with longing for the redemption of our bodies, when we are fully conformed to the image of his son. Yet we have substantial victory through his resurrection now. God is working all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. He has destined us for glory. Therefore, Paul says, verse 31, if God is for us, who can be against us? God is “huper humon.” God is on our side, he has made these promises, and what person or thing is going to stand against God’s purpose for us, on our behalf? It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “no one” and “nothing” will stand against.
Then Paul says “do you want proof?” If God did not spare his own son, but gave him up “for us all,” how will he not also with him graciously, freely, by grace, give us all things? He gave his Son “huper humon.” Is he now going to withhold any of the blessings his Son earned for us through death and resurrection? No. Paul is partly referring back to the “all things” of verse 29. “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. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” All these things are accomplished through the suffering and resurrection of Jesus. Peter begin his first letter with this truth “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
But if Christ died for us, and rose for us, and if God is for us, then who is going to now accuse us, charge us, condemn us of sin? Verse 33: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn?”
Romans 4:25 says that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. It is God who justifies, who declares us and makes us righteous. Who is left to condemn us? Guilt? No. Shame? No. Satan? No. They may accuse us, will us to believe the lie. But if, as in Job, Satan was to appear before God, he would find that Jesus Christ, the one who died—more than that, who was raised—is at the right hand of God, interceding for us, “huper humon.” Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, pointing to you, believer, and saying “don’t see his sin, her sin. Don’t believe the accuser. See instead my righteousness imputed to him, imputed to her.” God has rescued you freely and fully, as a gift, by grace, and no charge by the enemy, in your heart or through the lips of those around you can stain his righteousness given by the substitution of his Son.
Verse 35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” We have said, here at Trinity for several years now that the Bible tells God’s Big Story, that Jesus is the hero of the story, that every chapter points to him, that his rescue, this sacrifice and resurrection we celebrate today is the great climax of the story, and that God’s purpose is to call people back to himself, that we would be his people and that he would be our God and dwell with us. If ‘God with us’ is the goal of God’s Big Story then we would expect ‘God with us’ to be the highest blessing of the resurrection. And it is. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ who died for us, more than that, who was raised?
Who or what can take this promised resurrection blessing from us? Verse 35 “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Don’t miss the implication of this question: these things will happen. Tribulation is a word often associated with persecution for the faith, but Paul uses that word later. This word can also be translated “affliction, burden, trouble.” We may not be persecuted like those in China or the Islamic world. But we do have affliction, whether through sickness, or death, or financial crisis, or especially broken and difficult relationships. Can these separate us from the love of the resurrected Christ? No. The second word, distress, is a compound of two Greek words that mean ‘narrowness’ of ‘room.’ In other words being in a hard place, between a rock and a hard place. How many times have you answered or thought “it’s hard,” when honestly telling someone how things are going. My wife, absent today, is in a hard place in New Jersey. Can this separate her from the love and the presence of the resurrected Christ? No.
Paul goes on. Not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not danger, not sword. I think you could show from the New Testament that Paul had experienced all these. He’s speaking from personal experience. “None of this can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ made effective in me by his death and resurrection.” So many others have testified to this through the centuries.
I think of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, there in the flea-ridden Nazi death camp, but keenly aware of the loving presence of Christ. Paul expects that his readers will experience persecution. Verse 36 As it is written, in Psalm 44 “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” This doesn’t actually use the word ‘huper,’ but the concept is that just as Christ came and died and rose for our sake, now for his sake, for his name’s sake we endure persecution. But can that persecution separate us from Immanuel’s love? No. One of Todd’s favorite quotes is of Polycarp, the second century Christian called to recant his faith. He replies “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?” He is for us. How can we not live for him?
Verse 37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Paul’s word for “conquerors” is fun. It’s the regular word with the prefix “huper” just tacked on, which is something Paul often does to emphasize the enormity of our rescue. As a stand alone word “huper” means “on behalf of,” but as a prefix it means hyper or super. For example in 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul spoke of believers' eternal glory that "super-super-outweighs" all their troubles. In that verse he uses the Greek word hyperbole, which already means “extraordinary” or “beyond all measure,” but he uses it twice, “extraordinary beyond extraordinary.” Our future glory will be so great it will exceed greatness. He uses ‘huper,’ as a prefix to nouns, verbs, and adjectives. He says that grace “super-abounded,” that the love of Christ “super-exceeds” knowledge, and that he himself “super-overflows” with joy.
So here his assertion is that through the love of the risen Christ we are “super-conquerors” over everything that might seek to separate us from Christ. Verse 38 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.” This is the fruit of his passion and his resurrection. Through his passion everything that could separate from God was dealt with and defeated. And through his resurrection his presence becomes a present and eternal reality. He is not dead, but alive, for us, with us, forever.
Neither death nor life can separate us from his love. He is with us in life, pouring out his love into our every circumstance. He says “come to me all you who are burdened and weighed down and I will give you rest.” And he is with us in death so that Paul can say “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” To be absent from the body is to be present with the Risen Lord.
Neither angels or rulers can come between you, believer, and your living Lord. These are spiritual forces. “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.” But none of these forces is anything more than Kleenex in a hurricane, than foam on the ocean, compared to the super-surpassing power of “God with us.”
Neither things present nor things to come can separate us from that love. We need not fall into the trap of worry, anxiety, or fear, for nothing that is happening and nothing that will happen can threaten our security in the one who died for us and rose again. Height and depth cannot threaten us. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You are held. You are held in loving arms. You are held in living arms, the of the risen Savior, the arms of one who so loved you that he laid down his life for you and who so loves you that he took it up again and sent his Spirit to be with you. He so loves you that he is coming back to take you to himself forever.
This is what we celebrate on Easter. His sacrifice was for us, for our sins. His resurrection was for us, for our justification, for our reconciliation. His love is for us, endlessly, inseparably for us. If you think you can wrap your mind around this, you haven’t begun to truly grapple with it.
The Andrew Peterson song, the imagery of Narnia show this resurrection victory. When Aslan rose, everything bad began to be undone. He had already conquered the witch’s winter. By his death he had paid the price of Edmund’s sin. But now death began to run backwards wholesale. It started with his resurrection, then his breath, and all those the white witch had turned to stone were returned to life. He led them in a war against the witch and he himself threw her down. And then the Pevensies, Edmund and Susan and Peter the High King and Lucy the Valiant were made kings and queens in Narnia.
High noon in the valley of the shadow. When the shadows were shot through with light. Jesus took in that breath, and shattered all death with his life. Be gone, you wages of sin. Go on, don't you come back again. I've been raised and redeemed. You've lost all your sting to the victor of the battle. High noon in the valley of the shadow. Let the people rejoice. Let the heavens resound. Let the name of Jesus, who sought us and freed us forever ring out. All praise to the fighter of the night, who rides on the light, whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky. High noon in the valley of the shadow. When the shadows were shot through with light. When the mouth of the tomb shouted, "Glory, the Groom is alive."
Be gone, you wages of sin. Go on, don't you come back again. I've been raised and redeemed. All praise to the king. The victor of the battle. High noon in the valley, in the valley of the shadow.
The Nicene Creed, affirmed by the church for 16 centuries, celebrates these same truths, that he died and rose for us. The English translation found in the book of Common Prayer, is a good one. I’ll ask you to stand as I read this.
I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made; Who for us, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, And was made man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. And his kingdom shall have no end.