Lent and self-denial, the two go hand in hand. Both find their apogee in Christ Jesus. Paul sets up the Gospel in graphic, startling terms of self-denial to the point of self-sacrifice for the sake of another: “One will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” It has been known, in history as well as legend, that someone will lay down their life for another. There is only one thing which will lead a person to do such a thing, and that is love. Paul rightly sees this as the ultimate expression of love. Parents know it well and so do many military members, police, firefighters, and heroes in general. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
Yes, for his friends. But who would lay down his life for his enemies? This is exactly what the Epistle pericope for the Second Sunday of Lent tells us: “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Yes, “Perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is the unique love of God. Where does it come from? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the person who is loved. It simply comes from God Himself. It is integral to His nature, who and what He is: For “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And it was manifested in Jesus, who laid down His life for us, for you. He died for you. Actually, He died in your place to justify you or to make you right with God, and to reconcile you or to make you the friend of God. We were enemies, but because of the self-sacrificing love of Christ, we are made friends, indeed, even the adopted children of our Heavenly Father. It is the Law followed by Gospel. That is good preaching in a nutshell.
We know no one can love unless they are loved. But the one who loved them must also have been loved. Eventually, you must get back to the prime lover, the unloved lover, the one who spontaneously generates love from its own being. That being we know as God because He has revealed Himself this way in real, human history. It tells us a fundamental truth about the Holy Trinity: God is love. Only from the triune God can there be a spontaneous and self-giving love for the unlovable.
It tells us a fundamental truth about the Holy Trinity: God is love. Only from the triune God can there be a spontaneous and self-giving love for the unlovable.
This is how God demonstrates His love: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Or put even more famously, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
How else could God show His love for us? Surely, this is the only meaningful, enduring, and praiseworthy demonstration. He could show His affection as a gift, but what would it show? For anything God would bring into existence for us would not diminish His power one bit. There is no sacrifice God can make in love through gift-giving. But God has given the one costly thing, His Son, His only Son, to give His life for us, and to give us the gift of life. It is the greatest love expressed through the greatest risk, the only and ultimate sacrifice of God for a love that will endure forever.
Two crucial facts depend on this gift. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God,” it says. So, we have been justified. This is a difficult idea for the modern mind to comprehend, partly because we do not easily recognize we need to be justified, or made just, or put plainly, how we are unjust. Here we need to examine our lives. The mirror of the Law does that with exactitude. We need to measure them up, not against the standards of those around us (even the best of those around us) but against the standards of God. And the standard is perfection. Therefore, in our confession we are compelled to admit we have sinned and fallen short, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We may look surprisingly good in the society around us, or we may not, but to be presented to God? There is no wholeness in us. We are unjust unless and until we are made just. In reality, Christ has fulfilled the whole will and Law of God, and gone to death for us, so we have been justified by His blood. This is what the text says, we have been justified by His blood. It is past tense: Deed done, grace alone, imputed righteousness, and justified freely.
But there is another certainty too. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). This follows on: Since we have been justified, we shall be saved. It is future tense, yet to be. The assurance is accomplished, that is clear, but the act is still to be done. We are going to be saved from the wrath of God, His necessary and righteous judgment. If we are justified, and we know that all who believe in Jesus and trust in Him are justified, we will be saved from God’s wrath. The wrath of God is revealed in judgment. It is at that point, in the judgment of God, another steps in our place and delivers us from it, saves us from it, so we shall be saved. Judgment passes over us and on to Him. Hence, Christ is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and, therefore, the judgment of God and we bask in the love of God in Christ Jesus instead.
In fact, it was suggested recently based on this text that if you are asked the question, “Are you saved?” as our Evangelical brothers and sisters do, the correct answer is, “No, I am justified,” or “No, but I will be.” We have been justified and we will be saved, both dimensions are important. We know how we stand before God, justified, or made just by Jesus’ blood. But there is a future reality too. We certainly will be saved in His judgment because we are justified.
Think about the present reality, how it is for those who are justified by Jesus in the sight of God. If God is the prime lover, He is not the final one. Just as His creativity goes on through nature, so His love goes on through His people, His just ones. “We love because He first loved us,” says 1 John. The impetus of God’s love does not stop with the individual recipient, but cascades on. It is the same, unique quality of love, the ability to love the unlovable. This is the third use of the Law. There is the power of the Holy Spirit in those re-created in Christ Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching Romans 5:1-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 5:1-11.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!