170820 Romans 8:35-39

Last Updated on Monday, 21 August 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 8:35-39
Theme: We Are Super-Victorious

Maybe the movie industry is all out of ideas. Maybe the well of new story lines has run dry. Maybe producers have decided that people are more likely to go to movies about someone or something they already know. Or perhaps executives have figured out that making a comic book into a movie is a formula for box office success.

In my memory it started with Superman, then Superman II, then Superman III and IV. Yet another Spiderman movie came out this summer, and I have to confess that I have lost track of how many Batman movies have been made. And did you know that "Wonder Woman" brought in over $100 million in its opening weekend back in June?

All of the films that have been made, all of the hype that has been created, all of the dollars that have been spent, make one thing perfectly clear. We love our superheroes. We love the way they leap tall buildings in a single bound. We love the way they get themselves out of the most dangerous situations. We love the way they overcome the most difficult challenges. We love them because they are able to do things that regular people can't do.

We don't always save the day. We don't always get the girl. We live in a world where good does not always triumph over evil. Instead of black and white, our world often resembles a hazy shade of gray.

Life is not a movie. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life isn't fair. And Paul knew that. He knew that Rome was not an easy place for Christians to live. He understood that this sinful world is not an easy place for any Christian to live.

But that didn't stop Paul. That didn't keep words of confidence and conviction from flowing from his pen. That didn't stop him from praising his God and Savior. That didn't stop him from encouraging others to do the same.

We may not possess any supernatural abilities. We may not have superhuman strength. Let's face it. We are not superheroes, but according to Paul we are something even better. Through Jesus...

WE ARE SUPER-VICTORIOUS

I. We face powerful enemies
II. We have a more powerful ally

Our text begins with a question: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ" (35)? But this question doesn't stand by itself. It is actually the last in a series of hypothetical questions that Paul asks beginning in verse 31...

Question #1: "What shall we say in response to this" (31)? What more needs to be said after God's promise to his elect in Romans 8:28? This is Paul's unspoken answer: "NOTHING."

Question #2: "If God is for us, who can be against us" (31)? Since we are on God's side, or even better, since God is on our side, who poses a threat to our eternal future? If you read between the lines you can hear Paul say: "NO ONE."

Question #3: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things" (32)? God sacrificed his one and only Son to take away our sins. If God spared no expense to meet our greatest need, don't you think he will also take care of every lesser need in our lives? Paul's line of reasoning allows for only one answer: "OF COURSE HE WILL."

Question #4: "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns" (33,34). Since God has called us to be his own from eternity, since God has washed away our sins with the blood of his Son, who has any right to condemn us? We've heard this answer before: "NO ONE."

And that brings us back to our text: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ" (35a)? Paul could have answered with a clear and emphatic, "NO ONE," but he didn't. Instead he modified the question, making the hypothetical a bit more personal: "Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword" (35b)? Paul lists seven dangers that threaten to separate believers from the God who loves them. And as we work our way through the list, we will be able to see an ascending order of intensity.

"Trouble" literally means "pressure." And sometimes we can feel it. We feel the pressure when we don't do what everyone else is doing, when we don't talk like everyone else is talking, when our Christian convictions make us unpopular.

Trouble leads to "hardship." Sometimes it is hard to be a Christian. Sometimes it feels like we are being punished when we do the right thing. Even when we are with people we call our friends, even in our own families, sometimes we feel like we are all alone.

If people sometimes ignore us or avoid us because of our faith, "persecution" (literally "pursuit") goes one step farther. Does this sound familiar? "How can you believe in creation when all the evidence points to evolution?" "How can you believe in a loving God when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?" "What gives you the right to impose your morality on me?" These are just some of the ways the Christian faith, and our faith, comes under attack.

So far we can identify with the Roman Christians. We can understand what Paul is saying. We have all experienced trouble and hardship and persecution to some degree. But what about the rest of Paul's list? What about "famine or nakedness or danger or sword?"

Have you ever missed a meal because of what you believe? Has your faith in Jesus ever put you in a life-threatening situation? Has anyone ever pointed a gun to your head and demanded: "Deny Jesus or die!"

When we look at it that way, we don't really have anything to complain about. But we still do. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion. We can worship wherever and whenever we please. And still we find reasons to complain. We complain if the church is a couple degrees too warm. We complain if the service runs a couple minutes too long.

We can get so wrapped up in our personal preferences and pet peeves that we forget about the Christians in other parts of the world who are facing real dangers because of their faith. Places where people are forced to meet in secret. Places where people are not allowed to wear Christian jewelry. Places where it is against the law to speak the name of Jesus in public.

It doesn't matter if it's the first century or the twenty-first century. Persecution is not just a possibility for Christians. It is a reality. That was Paul's point when he quoted Psalm 44: "As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered'" (36).

There were times in Israel's history when the Lord punished his people for their wickedness. When the people grumbled in the wilderness, God sent poisonous snakes into their camp (Numbers 21). When the northern kingdom traded in the true God for idols, the Lord allowed the Assyrian armies to carry them into captivity (2 Kings 17).

But the context of this psalm reveals that God's people had committed no grievous sin. They were being persecuted in spite of their faithfulness. They felt like they were being beaten down and beaten up because of their faithfulness. They were powerless. They were helpless. They felt like sacrificial lambs.

So why did Paul quote this verse? He wanted the Roman Christians to know, and he wants us to know that persecution is a reality for believers. God isn't necessarily punishing us. He is preparing us. He wants us to be aware that powerful enemies are lined up against us, and they have only one goal in mind: to separate us from Christ's love.

For the Romans it was a pagan society. For us it is a secular society. For the Romans it was an emperor named Nero who according to some historical accounts tied Christians to posts and then lit them on fire. For us the persecution is more subtle, but it is no less real. And the mastermind behind all of it is the devil, the father of lies, the roaring lion who is always looking for someone to devour.

We can't stand up against these enemies. We can't defeat these powerful enemies. But we still win. We are victorious. No, we are super-victorious because we have a most powerful ally.

In Greek there is a standard word that means "to be victorious/to overcome." It is related to the name for the Greek goddess of victory, who coincidentally was the inspiration for the popular shoe brand we know as Nike.

In the Upper Room, Jesus assured his disciples: "Take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). In his first epistle John declared: "Everyone born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). And Paul himself exclaims in 1 Corinthians: "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:57).

Paul could have used the same word here, but he didn't. Instead he chose a word that is found nowhere else in his letters and nowhere else in the entire New Testament. "In all these things we are more than conquerors" (literally, "super-victorious), through him who loved us" (37).
In spite of our present problems we are victorious. Because of Jesus we are super-victorious.

And as Paul comes to the end of this grand and glorious chapter, you can almost feel the excitement coming out of his pen: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (38-39).

Instead of talking about every item in this extensive list, instead of trying to describe every detail, let's take a step back and look at the big picture. What's the point? What does Paul want us to know? What comfort do these words give? There is no creature, no dimension, no person, no power, no problem, absolutely nothing in all of creation that can pry us out of the arms of the God who loves us.

God's love for us is more than a feeling. God's love for us is not just some fuzzy emotion. God's love is real. God's love is concrete. God's love took shape. God's love took shape in a virgin's womb. God's love took shape through thirty-three years of sinless living. God's love took shape in a bruised and bloody body. God's love took shape in the extended arms and bowed head of his Son. God's love is personified in Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus died in our place, we are victorious. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we are victorious. Because Jesus ascended to prepare our places in heaven, we are victorious. Because Jesus is on our side, we are victorious.

Superman had his red cape. Spiderman spun his web. Wonder Woman wielded her magic lasso. So what do we have? What is our trademark? Where does our power come from? I know what Paul would say. The cross. What was once considered a symbol of shame and ridicule is now the sign of our greatest triumph. On the cross Jesus defeated sin and death and Satan. And because he did, we are not just victorious. We are super-victorious. Amen.

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