Lent 5 / April 6, 2014
Romans 8:11-19 : Jesus Makes Us God’s Children of Life
The late afternoon was rather overcast. The temperature hovered only around the lower 30s. The branches were clattering as the wind blew through the trees. With the humidity, the air was crisp and left me feeling rather unwelcome. I stood there and I read ten sentences in Pierce Park, not far from here. Simply ten sentences. Ten sentences that echo still today. In 1863, probably on a day where the weather seemed to depress and drain the energy of all those living, like this weather is, these words were stated, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Do you remember the history of these words? In 1863, our nation had experienced a battle. The battle wasn’t fought across the world. People weren’t reading google news and inquisitively searching out the headline, “War in the East.” No, this fight was right on our home soil. The battle of Gettysburg was a battle that our country had never really seen before. Gettysburg involved the most casualties of the entire civil war. Nearly 51,000 people had been killed or injured. That’s almost three fourths the population of Appleton wounded or killed. What do you even say in a situation like that? Death is all around. Random bodies are scattered on the ground. What comfort can you give? Abraham Lincoln only had ten sentences. It’s difficult to be optimistic when the process of life only results in death. Death was on the mind of old Abe. It was difficult for him to escape that reality.
Death was definitely on the mind of the apostle Paul. It wasn’t that Paul was morbid or loved to talk about death. However, death was a reality. While some of the the Roman Christians were ethnically Jewish, many of these Roman Christians came from an unbelieving, gentile, and pagan background. Before having the wonderful knowledge of Christ, they would worship false gods. They felt obligated to try and earn favor from these gods by bringing the perfect offering or living the right kind of life. But, the lives of Romans were far from anything moral. Why not celebrate Cupid and Venus the gods of love and sleep with whatever moves?! Why not worship and celebrate Baccus, the god of wine, and drown our sorrows? These Roman Christians would have been tempted to go back to the old way of thinking and the old way of living. Paul gives the Roman Christians here a warning. That way of living is the opposite of living. Rather, it is a death wish.
Paul doesn’t sugar coat the details. It is a death wish when people claim that they can still be Christians and yet continue to live in open sin. We have the same sirens of pleasure calling to our sinful nature, attempting to lure us to a sinful lifestyle that society deems as normal, like sleeping or living together before marriage, or getting trashed with your friends every Friday night. Paul reminds us that God is serious about sin. If we think that we can be Christians, continually and openly do these sins, and think that this will have no affect on our faith, we are lying to ourselves. Paul is honest and straight to the point. Sin leads to death. God will not make them die. No, people will die of themselves because living in sin only has one direction. It doesn’t lead anywhere else.
Talk about a buzzkill, right? No one wants to hear that! Since most people don’t want to hear about things that make them feel uncomfortable like sin or death, people disregard it. They take on a sort of Epicurean thinking when viewing life. “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” People try to run from the reality of a physical and a spiritual death. Yet, the dread of punishment for the sin that they have done always lurks in their heart. The fear lurks in the heart of every person, even the conscience of an atheist who claims there is no God. When calamities or personal tragedies are overwhelming, even for an atheist, isn’t God usually in their mind? Aren’t they just a little worried? Death is imminent and it hangs over our heads.
Death, casualties, destruction, man’s hostility towards fellow man. Abraham Lincoln saw all of that as he walked across grass that had once been blood soaked to give his speech at Gettysburg. What hope could he give? What could he say that would make things all better and hunky-dory? Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” I find it humorous that He didn’t think we would remember these words, but he was honest. As a nation, we couldn’t forget what had happened there, death and destruction. However, Lincoln made the point to say that Gettysburg would be dedicated (in his words) “as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”
In one week, we will be celebrating Palm Sunday. I guess we could say that it is sort of the beginning of the end. Jesus Christ would be beaten, whipped, mocked, ridiculed, abandoned, and ultimately crucified, the most torturous way of dying. On top of it all, he bore the weight of the world as he took on your sins and my sins, the very sins that lead to death, and he took them to his death for us. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we were given life. Through the water of Baptism and the Word, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and creates faith, faith that takes a hold of that gift of salvation and makes it ours.
And the cool thing that puts the cherry on top of the already awesome sundae, we get new names! We are no longer children of death, but we are God’s children of life. Now, certain translations of this section will say “sons” of God and “children.” Some translations may only have “children of God.” Well, Paul actually makes a point to use both, not just “children.” Paul knew what he was writing and the Roman Christians would have been able to pick up on the subtle implications a little more than we could in the 21st century.
The Roman Christians were used to the idea of slavery in their society. In fact, slavery was common in a lot of areas during this time. Paul not only hints at this slavery, but also the slavery that they all had once been a part of, the slavery of sin and death. When Paul uses the word “son,” he refers to adoption into the family, which was different than a slave. As Christians, we now have the heart and mind of an adopted child, not of a slave to sin. Children don’t usually think twice about asking their parents for whatever they want, whenever they want. I’m sure any parent could verify that. This wasn’t a privilege that a slave would have. But as adopted children of God, we can approach God at any time with any thought. So cool!
At times, that adoption certificate doesn’t seem like a real thing. At times, the human spirit is bogged down, weakened by sin, and plagued with doubts because of Satan. Even the strongest Christians may question and express uncertainty. A Christian may feel far from God. So often, our Christian spirit needs support. It needs a sense of security. Paul reassures his readers. Being a child of God does not depend on feeling far or feeling close to God. It has nothing to do with our feelings because it is something completely outside of us. God is the one who plucked us out of death’s dark ways and made us one of his. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith. If you have doubts, go back to God’s Word. Right here, it reassures us!
Paul also works the word “children” in there to slightly differentiate from “sons of God.” In this context, the word “children” refers to the idea of inheritance. We are heirs of eternal life. The chapters before our text, Paul leaves a question sort of unanswered until now. What will happen to our physical body when we die? If Christ was raised from the dead, that involves us too. Our bodies will no longer be bodies of death, but bodies for life. The reality is that God will do with our bodies what he did with the body of Christ. Death and sin, and hopefully some wrinkles, will be swept out of it and our bodies will be made alive by him who raised Christ’s body. It will be like Christ’s glorified body and we will live and serve God forever in heaven. Our inheritance is a sure thing.
People will always tell us that being a Christian really isn’t living or it isn’t really fun. The only way to live is to give into the flesh. Live a little! That reality as Paul says leads straight for eternal death. We have become Christians for the purpose of escaping death! Paul, however, hasn’t forgotten how difficult it is to be a Christian. He laments the fact that he continues to sin daily. There is a living that brings on death. However, there is a dying that makes alive and keeps alive. Our new self in Christ fights against sin. Sin isn’t allowed to run rampant or be in charge. If it did, it would be a denial of that precious gift of faith. It would mean losing the righteousness Christ died for in the first place. The combat is a mortal one. We live our spiritual lives only by destroying and putting to death those sinful deeds and desires. It is a death to avoid death. We can only do so with the help of God and by staying connected to him in his Word. There we will be reminded of our wonderful inheritance.
Christian living isn’t easy in a world of death and slavery to sin. Paul notes that we will suffer. We will go through persecution and through difficulties. But, he says it isn’t even worth comparing! The idea in the word “worth” is that of weight on a scale. Place all the sufferings into one pan of the scales, and the coming glory into the other pan; the pan with the sufferings flies in to the air. The sufferings amount to nothing, no matter how many and how severe they are. When we are in the midst of suffering, we often give it too much consideration, we forget that coming glory, and we lose our balance and our sense of direction. Let us fix our eyes on that glorious day. We can keep our head faced forward, waiting and watching for Christ to come again.
I may go back to read that Gettysburg address again in the park. But, it may be different this time around because, although Abraham Lincoln dedicated that portion of Gettysburg to the remembrance of those who died, those soldiers were still dead. He couldn’t bring husbands back to life and back to their wives and children. Our Savior did that very thing for us as Christians. We are made alive now, and our bodies will be made alive on that last day. We are no longer children of death. Rather through Christ’s death, we were made God’s children of life. Amen.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.