Topical Scripture: Romans 8:31-34
For years now, Starbucks has been featuring “The Way I See It” quotes on some of their cups. Since I don’t drink coffee, I see them when people give their used cups to me. Recently a friend gave me this cup with a quote from Joel Stein, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times: “Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”
We all go through days when Mr. Stein’s theology seems appropriate, when God and heaven bear little relevance to life on earth. When God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers or meet our needs or direct our days, when Sunday seems detached from Monday. But it’s not true. As we’ll see today, “God is for us.” Each of us, all of us. I can prove it to you this morning.
Hear the promise
Our text has just declared that God has called us, justified us, and glorified us. Now, “what shall we say in response to this?”
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
“If” in the Greek should be translated “since” or “because.” You never need to wonder if God is for you. Psalm 46 begins: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (v. 1). The Psalmist rejoiced: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). God promises, “I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor” (Ezekiel 36:9).
Psalm 139 says: “How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (vs. 17-18). God thinks of you more often than the number of grains of sand in the world. In case you’re wondering, geologists estimate that the number is a one followed by 24 zeroes.
How do we know that he cares about us like this? “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?” (v. 32).
The cross was the idea of God. Jesus was the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This is true for us all, whatever our past sins might be: he “gave him up for us all.” As a result, we can know that our Father will “graciously give us all things.” If he would watch his Son die for us, what further proof do we need of his love and provision for us? We’ll come back to this fact in a moment.
Here’s the result: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). The world can accuse us of anything it wishes, but the highest court in the universe has already ruled in our favor. We have already been “justified,” our record expunged, our slate cleaned.
What’s more, “Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (v. 34). Jesus’ best friend later promised, “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
So we have the Father who sent his Son to die for us now sitting as the Judge of the court; we have his Son, who chose to die in our place, acting as our defense attorney. The verdict is certain, and victory is ours.
See the proof
It all centers on the cross, the event we will remember this Good Friday, the death Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to die.
Because your Father sent his Son to die in your place, you can know that he is on your side, no matter what. You can know that he is for you, no matter what. It’s all because of the cross.
Unfortunately, the event we remember again this year is so commonplace to us that it loses its power. We all know that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). We know all about the cross. Or at least we think we do.
The New Testament doesn’t tell us much about the way Jesus died. The Gospel writers say it very simply: “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). That’s because their readers were intimately, tragically familiar with what it meant for Jesus to die on a Roman cross. But we’re not. We’ve made the cross into jewelry on our necks and architecture on our steeples. We don’t know much about the singular event of human history. So let me tell you how it happened so long ago.
It was Maundy Thursday, and the soldiers dispatched a “detachment of soldiers” to arrest Jesus (John 18:3). “Detachment” translates speira, a military cohort of 400 to 600 soldiers.
They were accompanied by the same religious officials who would later act as Jesus’ judges, their presence proving their illegal partiality. The high priest was so close that his personal servant’s ear was cut off in the melee, but Jesus healed him. They bound Jesus, violating Jewish law which did not allow authorities to bind the prisoner unless he was attempting to flee the scene.
What followed was one of the most illegal trials in the history of jurisprudence. Jesus was tried at night, while Jewish law required that a trial must be begun in the daytime. He was deposed in private by Annas while the Supreme Court was assembling, though all proceedings were supposed to be conducted in public.
He could not be condemned on the first day of the trial, or on the basis of his own testimony, but both laws were broken when Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy that Maundy Thursday night.
Our Savior was then dragged to Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. Now the authorities illegally changed their charge from blasphemy, which Pilate would never have heard, to treason, which he must consider. Pilate found him innocent of all charges, but the religious authorities threatened to complain to Caesar that the governor had released a known insurrectionist. So Pilate caved to their demands and sentenced Jesus to be flogged and then crucified.
You’ve heard me and others try to describe the tortures of the cross: the nails through the wrists and feet, the thorns lacerating the scalp, the blood loss, exposure, and eventual suffocation which the victim suffered. But I cannot do his death justice. Another preacher, one far more empowered than I, described the cross six centuries before it happened. Here is what he saw:
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.—Isaiah 53
Good Friday was that day when it seemed that God was most absent from our world, when he turned his face on his own Son and his back on his creation. But it wasn’t so. From the blackest day came the brightest hope. At the cross, our Father proved his love for his children, now and forever.
Now, what causes you to wonder if God is on your side? What trouble, trauma, guilt or fear has led you to question his love for you? You do not know all the ways God is redeeming your struggles in the present, making you more like Christ and using you for his glory. You do not know all the ways God is redeeming your pain for eternity, but one day you will. In the meantime, when it is hardest to believe that God is on your side, remember the cross.
A few years ago I was speaking at Huntsville. Afterwards, the pastor and warden of the prison invited me on a tour of the facility. The warden was a good and godly man, a true follower of Jesus who did his work as a ministry unto the Lord. He took us through the cell blocks, the prison yard, the chapel, the cafeteria. Then we came to the execution chamber. As long as I live, I will never forget the experience.
We passed holding cells where the condemned are taken before they die. A telephone sits on a table outside, in case the governor calls to delay or commute the execution. When it doesn’t ring, at midnight the prisoner is taken from the cell down a short hallway through a door into the execution room.
Its cinder block walls are painted green. There is a table in the center, much like what you see in a doctor’s office, except that it has arms which extend on each side. The prisoner is strapped to this table, his arms tied to the extensions. An IV is started in his right arm, its tubes snaking from the table to the wall on his right and through to the room on the other side where the doctor waits to administer the lethal drugs. Then the curtains to his left are drawn back so the families can watch through plate glass window.
At the appointed moment, the drugs are injected into the IVs and into the prisoner. A few moments later, on a bed shaped like a cross, he dies.
When I stood in that room, an image of Ryan or Craig strapped to that execution bed flashed through my mind. Tears filled my eyes and grief pierced my soul. If at the last moment, just as one of my sons was about to die, that godly warden had stepped in and put his son in my son’s place, choosing to watch him die so my son could live, I would never, ever wonder if he was on my side, if he loved me.