Romans 8:35-39 35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, 39 height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Divide and conquer is a great military strategy. An army will try to cut off a battalion from its supply force. Without ammunition, food, or reinforcements, the army will not be able to hold out long while under constant bombardment.
Divide and conquer is a great attack strategy. Three or four wolves don’t try to take on a herd all at once. They separate one or two from the rest and get their meal that way.
It is a time-tested and proven strategy.
It is a strategy that the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh employ against us as Christians. The devil wants to divide you from the support of your Christian church family. The world tries to separate you from rescuing arms of your God. Your sinful nature pulls you away from the strength that is in the Means of Grace – God’s Word and Sacraments.
The apostle Paul lists seven things that threaten to come between us and Christ’s. There is a progression of degree of difficulty found in this listing. “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
“Affliction.” This is the aches, the pains, the constant annoyances and rubbing raw of our nerves. This affliction is outside of ourselves.
“Anguish.” This anguish is felt inwardly. This is the serious illness, the surgery, the family problems, and financial burdens that cause us mental anguish.
“Persecution.” This is the atheistic worldview attacking our Christian worldview at every turn.
“Famine or hunger.” Persecution often causes Christians to flee from one place, thereby not having food.
“Nakedness or lack of clothing.” This would be another consequence of flight by the Christians facing persecution.
“Danger.” These are physical dangers that are threatened and executed upon Christians by our enemies.
“Sword.” This Greek word refers specifically to the Roman short sword that was effectively wielded by enemies of the gospel. Today, we live under the constant threat of everything from riots in the streets to terrorist bombings to the threat of another World War.
This life has its share of troubles. Some trivial. Some nagging. Some severe. Some seemingly insurmountable. It could be that your world is rocked when you learn that your bank accounts have been cleared out because you’ve been a victim of identity theft. It could be that you’ve been crushed when your child or spouse tells you, “I don’t love you anymore.” It could be when you’ve gone to the doctor and all you hear him say is: “I’m sorry …” It could be that in your workplace or your school or your family, you are mocked for your faith, belittled, and shunned.
The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh want to use these troubles to make us forget about God’s love for us. Or, they use these adversities to make us believe that God doesn’t care about us. Feeling separated from God’s love, we are easy prey.
The unholy trinity picks us off one by one.
St. Paul doesn’t try to convince us that things like trouble, hardship, persecution, or famine won’t happen. Rather, he operates with the assumption that they will happen. He cites Scripture to support his point. He says that our situation is exactly like the one the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 44:22. “As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Jesus told His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The cross is not fun. It is not easy. But, it is what our Lord gives us to bear.
An aged Christian member recently told me the story about how, while her husband was dying in the hospital, she had gone to the hospital’s chapel to pray for him. There she met another woman whose husband was in a similar situation. They were both praying for the Lord to heal their husbands. Then, the other woman looked at our member and said, “Maybe we’re praying for the wrong thing.” Then they each prayed that the Lord would ease their husbands’ suffering and take them to be with Him in heaven. Our member told me, “A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I prayed not for God to heal my husband from the suffering, but to release Him from the suffering.”
At that moment, she did not allow her husband’s affliction or her adversity to beat her down. The opposite was true. She allowed Christ to be victorious over her husband’s illness and death by victoriously taking him home to be with Jesus.
Illness, persecution, adversity, death all seem to be the victor over Christians. However, Paul contends that we have been made the victors over these adversaries. Our victory is in the superlative. “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.”
The Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to use a special word to describe exactly how victorious you are in Christ. This is the only place in the Bible where this word appears. You are “nikao” – where we get the athletic brand “Nike” from. You are not just victorious – you are more than victorious – you are super victorious!
That’s because Jesus was super victorious!
Jesus, our Victor, conquered our sins of worry, fear, and doubt with His perfect life and innocent death. He crushed the ancient serpent’s head under His bruised heel. He overcame death for all when He walked out of the grave on Easter morning.
Jesus has more than defeated the unholy trinity. Against enemies that no one else in history has overcome, Jesus has prevailed. Through faith in Him, Jesus now gives us that victory. Remember your Baptism, for that is the time when Christ first applied this victory to you. Receive the words of Absolution, for this is when Christ removes your sins and replaces them with His forgiveness. Listen to the Bible, for this is when Christ drives away demons, doubts, and despair. Partake of the Lord’s Supper, for this is when Christ gives you a new life in Him.
In all these gifts, you are made more than victorious!
As long as you are connected to Christ, this super victory is yours. Other Bible verses picture this same promise. We confess with the psalmist: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We pray to the Lord: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8). Jesus promises: “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
As long as you are in the shelter of the Christian Church, God has built a fortress around you. As long as you make use of God’s Means of Grace, you are under the safety of His wings. As long as you stay connected to Christ, you are like the lambs in the Good Shepherd’s arms. Nothing can pull you away.
The unholy trinity cannot separate you from the love Jesus. But, be warned. You can separate yourself from Jesus’ love. Because you are so busy with work or your kids’ activities, you can mindlessly walk out of the refuge of Christ’s Church. Because you no longer feel the need to weekly hear God’s Word and receive His Sacrament, you can crawl out from under the safety of God’s wings. Because you have become apathetic to your soul’s needs and what God weekly provides for your soul, you can wander away from the Good Shepherd.
Then you are easy pickings for the devil. He has separated you from the rest of the flock. Then the world will pull you down into its muck and mire. You don’t have your church family to hold onto. Then your sinful nature has the freedom to sin all it wants. You are no longer hearing God’s Law to confront your sin, lead you to repentance or God’s gospel to receive forgiveness and salvation.
But, God’s promise remains. As long as you stay within God’s love, then nothing can separate you from the Lord. “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
Separation from the love of Christ is an impossibility.
How can you be sure that nothing will separate you from God? Because God loved you so much that “he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31). If God did the greater thing of loving us enough to give up His Son for our salvation, won’t He do the lesser thing of taking care of His children who have faith in His Son? That’s Paul’s argument with this question.
Jesus was separated for a time from His Father’s love as He hung on the cross. He endured the punishment for all sins. When you suffer, you are not experiencing God’s punishment. Jesus took that all. And, no matter how horrible your hardships, you are not separated from God’s love. In your place, Jesus was separated from His Father’s love, and now you can rejoice that because of Jesus you never will be separated from God’s love.
A pastor went to visit one of his shut-ins. The lady seemed to take great delight in sharing all the pains she had suffered during her life. In visit after visit, she told the pastor about how, over the years, her husband died, her son died, and she had suffered with chronic illnesses. One day she finished her litany of woes by saying, “Pastor, I can tell you right now, it’s enough to make a lady lose her religion.” After a quick-thinking pause, the pastor replied, “My dear, there is no doubt that you have had many pains and problems, but it seems to me that such things are enough to make you use your religion.”
I cannot begin to grasp the pain you are carrying. But, it isn’t enough to make you lose your religion. Rather, it is enough to make you use your religion. With every pain, go deeper into God’s fortress of His Christian Church. With every adversity, crawl further under the shelter of Christ’s wings. With every temptation, feed even more on the green pastures and quiet waters that your Good Shepherd provides for you in worship.
In your pains and adversities, I can tell you this: in Jesus Christ, there is an answer. There is no pain or problem that His nail-pierced hands cannot remove or help you carry. There is no tomorrow so dark that His loving light cannot penetrate. There is no sin so great which He cannot remove. Nothing ... and that includes your great grief, nothing in all creation can separate people of faith from the love of God which is theirs in Christ Jesus. Amen.