August 30, 2009 The Lord's Day Morning
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me to Romans 8 for the last time in this series, this summer series, as we've been working our way through what I've called The Best Chapter in the Bible. Before I read this precious text beginning at verse 5 of Romans 8, we need God's blessing. Let's pray.
Lord, we thank You for the Word of God — a Word that is able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Come, Holy Spirit, and shine a light on this Word and minister to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's Word beginning at verse 35:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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.”
May God add His blessing.
Somewhere, high above us this morning in the sky, is the space shuttle Discovery. It launched eventually I think on Friday, and on board is astronaut Patrick Forrester, who I am led to believe is a believer and somebody with a heart for missions. On board in the cargo, is the battery box from a Piper AP-14 airplane which was piloted by Nate Saint, who along with Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were murdered, were martyred in 1956. I tell you that piece of information to remind you of something Jim Elliot once said and has now become famous. That “he is no fool, he is no fool to give what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose — what he cannot lose.”1 That's Romans 8 — what he cannot lose.
There's a context here. It's a context of the first century to be sure. It's a context of suffering and tribulation - tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword. He sights from the Forty-fourth Psalm: “We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Paul is thinking of Christians who would pay the ultimate price. They’d be taken to the amphitheatre and dressed in animal skins and torn to pieces by lions and tigers and gladiators in the amphitheatre.
Ligon and I have just come back from Grand Rapids for yet another celebration of the quincentenary [500th anniversary] of Calvin's birth, and I can't help but think this morning of those letters that Calvin wrote to five young men, graduates of the academy in Geneva, in their early twenties, who had gone home to visit family and friends and were arrested, imprisoned in Leone, France, facing certain death - and those moving letters, preparing those young men to meet their Maker with dignity and with assurance for the sake of the Gospel. In October of last year, in Somalia, a young man named Mahmud Muhammad, who had converted from Islam to Christianity, some Islamic fundamentalists came into the village where he worked, told the villagers there would be a celebration that afternoon, and Mahmud Muhammad was brought out and with a sword, his head was severed from his body.
In September of last year, in Odessa, in India, ten thousand Christians fled from what they thought was certain death to government shelters and forests in order to hide. I think, I think this morning to that extraordinary man, Polycarp2, the Bishop of Smyrna. He was eighty-six years old and they tried to get him to deny the Lord Jesus. And as he was being sent to the flames he said those extraordinary words that “he had served the Savior for eighty-six years and the Savior had never let him down. How could he blaspheme his Savior?”
Now, you’re not facing that perhaps this morning, but you are facing tribulations and distresses and persecutions and famine and nakedness and danger and sword of one kind or another. Some of you this morning are like leaves in an autumn breeze. The slightest breeze, the slightest puff of wind, and you quake in fear. Some of you this morning are facing enormous trials and difficulties and they might be from within and they might be from without, and they cause you this morning to come to this place of worship, longing to hear one word of solace and comfort from your Savior. Well, do I have a word for you.
There is a context here, to be sure. This is not going to be a promise, you see, that if you come to Jesus there will be no trouble. This is not a promise that if you come to Jesus, then all your troubles and distresses and fears will disappear — no, that's not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying something in the midst of your fears and in the midst of your trials and in the midst of your difficulties. Yes, in what Isaiah 50 called, “those who walk in darkness and have no light,” to you there is a word.
And that word this morning is all about Jesus. This isn't going to be, you see, a word that says look for the comfort that lies within the inner resources of your own native strength and ability. That's a sure recipe for doom and disaster. This is a word that is going to force us again to look to Jesus, and to look to Christ, and to look to the cross.
There's a question that arises: Who can separate us from the love of Christ? There are Christians this morning, somewhere in the world I'm sure of it, who are being tortured, water boarded or its equivalent, given mind-altering drugs, deprived of food and water and sleep, in order to get them to renounce the Lord Jesus — and some of them will.
I think of Thomas Cranmer3 — that extraordinary figure of the English Reformation — who, in a moment of understandable weakness, facing certain execution — the flames of a pyre — signed with his right hand the document renouncing the doctrines of the Reformation. It caused great distress to Christians all over Europe when he did it and he was, he was unbearably ashamed of what he had done. They killed him, nevertheless; they took him to the fires under the reign of Queen Mary. And do you remember what he did? And he did it with deliberation — he thrust his right hand, the hand that had signed that document, he thrust it first into the flames, holding it there. “This wretched right hand!” he was heard to say.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? There's a point of grammar here. There's either subjective or objective genitive. Let me explain. Is Paul asking, “Who can separate me from my love of Christ?” — that's a subjective genitive. I've been reading some commentaries this week, one in particular, that waxed eloquently from some ivory tower on the whys and wherefores of the complexities of Greek grammar with astonishing, breathtaking indifference to the consequence of what was being said.
My dear friends, if Paul is saying and asking the question, “Who can separate me from my love for Jesus?” the answer is, almost anything. Almost anything. If that's what Paul is asking, there is no comfort here. There is no assurance here, because some of us, perhaps most of us, facing the distresses and persecutions and fires of which Paul is speaking, would fall. That's where some of us are this morning. We've come to church and we know we have fallen. We’re all too conscious that we are but miserable sinners. Who can separate me from my love for Jesus? Just threaten me with pain. Just threaten me with torture. There's no guarantee. Oh, I pray to God that I would stand. I pray to God that I would be like Polycarp, but I have no guarantee of that, nor does Scripture guarantee that. That's not what Paul is asking.
Paul is saying, “Who can separate me from Jesus’ love for me? Who can separate me from His love for me?” Now that's a different question because His love for me is unending and unquenchable and irrevocable.
You’ll notice in verse 37: “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Not through Him who “loves” us - it's a different tense — through Him who “loved” us. It's pointing back to the cross - “He who spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all.” Who can separate me from that love, that love that laid down His life for us, that love that went to the cross for us, that love that endured the unmitigated wrath of a holy God in our room and stead, that love that paid the ultimate sacrifice for us? Who can separate me from that love? Oh love that will not let me go. Oh love that will not let me go. What wondrous love is this, O my soul? I've found a friend — we're going to sing it — I've found a friend, O such a friend. He loved me ere I knew Him.
Listen my friends, and I do know what I'm talking about here — some of you were raised in homes where your fathers never said to you, “I love you.” It's bent you all out of shape. To this day, to this day it bends you out of shape. You’re always looking for approval. Somebody only has to pass you by and not say anything and you’re all out of shape. Have you done something wrong? And you will not rest until you have gone and asked a thousand questions. What is it I have done? Tell me! You are so insecure.
Sometimes that's the way we view our God, isn't it? The slightest thing — God doesn't love me anymore. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not.
He loved you before the foundation of the world, before you were born. No, it's more than that. He loved you when you were at your worst. He loved you then, when you were in the miry pit, when you were dead in trespasses and sins, at your very worst, at your most unpresentable. He loved you then.
Listen my friends, there's a persuasion here. There's an affirmation here. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” We are super conquerors. We are hyper-conquerors, Paul is saying. He is reaching his climax. He is reaching the peroration of the eighth chapter of Romans. He's pulling it all together now. He has begun with “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” and “not death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor powers, nor anything in all of creation, can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Let's take a few of those, shall we? Not death. That's where one or two of you might be this morning. You fear a death sentence hanging over you. Listen my friends, listen, listen. Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? It is swallowed up the cross of Jesus. “Let not your hearts be troubled. He believe in God, believe also in Me,” Jesus says. “In My Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would not have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.
What about heights and powers? And more than likely Paul is referring to supernatural powers and may even be referring to demonic powers and to the Devil himself. Can the Devil remove you, Christian? Can he remove you from the love of Christ? Can he come before Jesus somewhere in the universe and present such an argument that Jesus will say, “Alright, I give this one to you.” No — listen, listen. He has spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them, triumphing over them in the cross. When Jesus rose from the dead, when that tomb was empty, the very foundations of Hell reverberated in fear. A sentence of doom was written. He cannot have you. He cannot take you because you belong to Jesus.
You remember Elisha's servant in Dothan? Early in the morning, he looks up to the hills, and what does he see? He sees the Assyrian forces. He sees the glistening sun, the morning sun, on the spears and shields of the Assyrian forces. “We’re surrounded, alas my master! What shall we do?” And Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes, that he may see chariots of fire, because there are more with us than be with them.”
My friends, I want to say this morning at least a couple of things. Only the Gospel, only the Gospel can give you that assurance, only the Gospel. Not the gospel that says, “Look within yourself.” You fearful saints, fresh courage take — but you don't get that courage from looking within yourselves. Whatever you do, don't run to Moses, because you’ll get no comfort there. Don't run to Sinai, because you’ll get no comfort there. Don't run to self-effort. Don't run to good works, because you’ll get no comfort there. Run to Jesus - Jesus dying in the place of sinners, Jesus dead and risen from the grave, Jesus sitting at the right hand of God interceding on your behalf — run there. Only the Gospel can give you that assurance.
You see, there are branches of the church that suggest that assurance comes through a treadmill of sacramental obedience. There's no assurance there. There's no assurance there. There's always one more confession; one more act of penitence. There's always one more ritual, one more observance to do — there's no assurance there. There's only assurance in the solid rock of the Lord Jesus Christ, dying in my place instead. “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” There's only assurance in the Gospel. Do you believe that Gospel this morning? With all of your heart, it's the most blessed, treasured thing in all the world to you? ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear. It calms his sorrows and heals his wounds and drives away his fear.”
But I want to say to you also, only the Gospel, this Gospel, this Gospel of Paul, this Gospel of Romans 8, this Gospel of the Bible — it's only this Gospel that can rid you of that nagging conscience that seeks all the time to want to try and get your heavenly Father to love you because it's been a bad week, because you have failed, because you have fallen, and now you think that God doesn't love you anymore. My dear friends, you remember the argument of Paul? “He that spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, along with Him, freely give us all things?” If He's given to you His Son, what is there He won't give you?
Ah, my friends, it's the Gospel that affirms you. This is not the gospel of self-esteem. This is the Gospel of the esteem that God gives us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are reckoned to be, what? The children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. I'm a child of the King. That's what I am! Brother, sister — that's what you are. I'm a child of the King. You know, when you know that, who cares what anyone else thinks? I'm a child of the King. You want assurance? You want affirmation? Run to Jesus! Embrace Him, enfold Him in your arms, and say with Paul, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
On July the twenty-seventh in 1631, Robert Bruce4 - he was a disciple of John Knox and Andrew Melville — he was having breakfast with his daughter. He was eating a boiled egg and he loved his boiled egg so much so that he asked his daughter if she would boil him another one, and as she was getting up to do that, he said to her, “Wait, my Master calls.” His health suddenly began to fail and he lost his eye sight. He asked his daughter to bring the Bible and to open it to the eighth chapter of Romans and to find that place in the eighth chapter of Romans where Paul says, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all of creation, can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” And he said to her, “Put my finger on that text. Put my finger on that text.” And then he said, “I breakfasted with you this morning, but I shall sup with my Savior tonight.” Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all.
1. Jim Elliot
Original quotation from Matthew Henry's biography of his father, English nonconformist clergyman Philip Henry (1631-1696) as "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose", cited in The life of the Rev. Philip Henry, A.M., Matthew Henry, J. B. Williams, pub. W. Ball, 1839 p. 35 (Google Books)
2. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.
Three days before he was apprehended, as he was praying at night, he fell asleep, and saw in a dream the pillow take fire under his head, and presently consumed. Waking thereupon, he forthwith related the vision to those about him, and prophesied that he should be burnt alive for Christ's sake. The pursuers having arrived late in the day found him gone to bed in the top room of the house.
Hearing that they were come, he came down, and spoke to them with a cheerful and pleasant countenance: so that they were wonder-struck, who, having never known the man before, now beheld his venerable age and the gravity and composure of his manner, and wondered why they should be so earnest for the apprehension of so old a man. He immediately ordered a table be laid for them, and exhorted them to eat heartily, and begged them to allow him one hour to pray without molestation; which being granted, he rose and began to pray, and was so full of the grace of God, that they who were present and heard his prayers were astonished, and many now felt sorry that so venerable and godly a man should be put to death.
When he was brought to the tribunal, there was a great tumult as soon as it was generally understood that Polycarp was apprehended. The proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp. When he assented, the former counseled him to deny Christ, saying, ‘Consider thyself, and have pity on thy own great age;’ and many other such-like speeches which they are wont to make.
The proconsul then urged him, saying, ‘Swear and I will release thee; — reproach Christ.’
Polycarp answered, ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?’
3. Thomas Cranmer.
Archbishop of Canterbury.
“I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something, at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified, and you edified....
And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than nay other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand since my degradation: wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished: for if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.” ……
Coming to the stake with a cheerful countenance and willing mind, he put off his garments with haste, and stood upright in his shirt…. And the bishop answered, (showing his hand), “This was the hand that wrote it, and therefore shall it suffer first punishment.”
Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, “This hand hath offended.” As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.
4. Robert Bruce. http://www.newble.co.uk/hall/history.html
For some time previous to his death, which happened in August 1631, he was, through age and infirmity, mostly confined to his chamber. On the morning before he was removed, his sickness consisting chiefly in the weakness of age, he came to breakfast ; and having, as usual, eaten an egg, lie said to his daughters, " I think I am yet hungry, ye may bring me another egg." But instantly thereafter, falling into deep meditation, and after having mused a little, he eaid, " Hold, daughter, my Master calls me !" Upon these words, his sight failed him ; and calling for hie family Bible, but finding he could not see, he said, " Cast up to me the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, and set my finger on these words, / am persuaded that neither death nor life, &Ўc. shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. " Now," said he, " is my finger upon them ?" and being told it was, he said, " Now God be with you my children ; I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night." And so, like Abraham of old, he gave up the ghost in 'a good old age, and was gathered to his people. —
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