Summary: God's always-love is not always evident, but it is always present.
I need your advice about something. I have an old pair of boots like this that need fixing. Do you see how the sole of this boot flaps away from the top of the boot? It makes it hard to walk in these things. If I could reattach the sole, these boots would be useful again. But what’s the best way to do that? Should I use some sticky duct tape? Or would it be better to glue them back together? Or should I have a shoemaker sew them together with needle and thread? What’s going to form the tightest and longest lasting bond? No matter what we do, these soles would eventually become detached again. Anything that you can tie, fasten, glue, or nail can be undone. There just is no such thing as a permanent bond is there?
Actually there is. Today the Apostle Paul teaches us about a bond that will not break. This bond is God’s love for sinners like us. Unfortunately Satan wants us to view this bond like a leash on a dog that prevents us from being free and having as much fun as we can. What we’ll learn, however, is that God’s forever-love gives us confidence to meet every challenge in life. Listen again to our sermon text. Paul wrote. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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” (Romans 8:35-39).
Forever loved by God. That’s Paul’s claim. But did you notice what he did NOT say? He did not say that because we are forever loved by God that we will never have to endure hardship. God’s always-love is not always evident. Paul even quoted an Old Testament believer who complained about this and said that because of the troubles he faced, he felt like a sheep that was being dragged off to the slaughterhouse and there was nothing he could do about it (Psalm 44:22). You might not feel like a sheep bound for the butchers, but perhaps you have felt like a guinea pig as your doctor prescribes this treatment and then that treatment trying to determine a cure for constant headaches and other pains without any lasting success. Or maybe you can relate to Wile E. Coyote on that Roadrunner cartoon whose best-laid plans always end in disaster.
But whether we experience trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or the sword, as Paul puts it, our loving God will never forsake us. Paul was convinced of this because God’s love is centered in the person of Jesus. It’s often been observed that Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross make it look like he’s ready to hug the world. And it’s true isn’t it? With his death on the cross Jesus embraced us sinners with God’s forgiveness. Now what Paul is saying in our text is nothing can come between you and that hug from Jesus. Financial hardship can’t pry Jesus loose from you. A cancer diagnoses can’t sever the bond either. Not even death ends the relationship. That’s because this Jesus who died also came back to life and lives forever. Therefore if we are firmly held in his embrace, and we are, then even though we will die one day we will also come back to life. God’s love in Jesus surrounds and protects us in death the way a submarine surrounds and protects the sailors inside that vessel. When a submarine disappears under the waves, onlookers don’t panic. They know that sub will surface again and everyone inside it will be OK. That’s also true of Christians and death. The inside of a coffin is nothing to be feared just as the inside of a submarine is not.
And so it’s no wonder Paul said that because of God’s love we are not just survivors, we are more than conquerors! Or as King David once put it: “your love [O God] is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Ponder that statement for a moment. God’s love is better than life. David confessed those words when he was either on the run from his son Absalom or from King Saul. David knew that at any moment his life could end. What good would a fancy palace or a fat bank account be at that point anymore? David knew perhaps better than anyone else that life has its ups and downs. So what’s better than life is God’s love, for it is constant and can get one through all the ups and downs and even see us through death.