Editor’s note: It’s hard to believe, but the Easter season is right around the corner—Ash Wednesday is March 1. Just like in the past, CTA is offering seven FREE sermon outlines to help you prepare your worshipers for Resurrection Day. This year, the theme is A Love That Never Dies, based on Jeremiah 31:3. You’ll find the second sermon below and be sure to download the entire packet of sermons in CTA’s Resource & Idea Center.
A Love That Never Dies. Ever so briefly yet dramatically, these words describe our Lord’s love for us, and they serve as our overarching theme in these weeks leading up to Easter. God’s love for us is a love that never dies, and that’s a good thing! For “sin knows no strangers.” Sin is pervasive, powerful, and persuasive. In both its global and most intimate forms, sin seeks to draw us away from the mercy seat of Almighty God. Listen for those truths in today’s text:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though 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. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6–11 ESV)
Paul’s message to the church at Rome and to us is confrontational and uncompromising. He uses language we cannot ignore. The apostle reminds everyone in his original audience that they were once “enemies of God.” That shoe also fits everyone here today. It’s a serious charge, one I would like to refute, if I could. But I can’t. And you can’t, either. That’s the way it is with all of us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible says (Romans 3:23 ESV).
Enemy! The very word is foreign to my vocabulary, except in vague, esoteric terms. In my mind it conjures up the notion of huge and horrid hatred and hostility for others, a hatred deep enough to cause someone to maim and kill. It brings to mind resentment and revenge, the kind of rage that results in vein-popping name-calling. I think of open warfare, of violence and death.
It boggles my mind that some persons have such extreme hatred of those from other cultures and nations that they resort to acts as grotesque as suicide bombings. It’s hard to fathom the hatred some people have toward others based simply on their culture, religion, or the color of their skin. None of this is civil or even civilized. And I have a hard time imagining myself as an “enemy” in terms like this.
But Paul pushes the envelope even farther. He calls us enemies of God! Never in my wildest imagination would I call God an enemy, no matter what ill may befall me or mine. Oh, no: God is my friend, and I am God’s friend! At least, that is, from my own perspective.
But I wonder. I wonder how God interprets our sometimes casual approach to reading and meditating on his Holy Word. I wonder what God thinks when we speak harshly to one another or use his name to curse. What do you suppose goes on in God’s mind when we continue to break one commandment after another or when we give of ourselves and our resources grudgingly, if at all? Surely you don’t suppose that God has ever said to himself, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?!”
Paul’s message to the church at Rome and to us is confrontational and uncompromising, using language that neither they nor we can avoid, that neither they nor we can ignore. Once again: to be called an “enemy of God” is a serious charge, one I would like to refute if I could. But I can’t. And you can’t, either. That’s the way it is with all of us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible says (Romans 3:23 ESV).
In these divinely inspired words, Scripture helps us see ourselves from God’s perspective, to measure our lives against his standard of holiness. We who are content with just being “comparatively good” understand from these words that we are not good enough. Comparing our lives with the lives of others—others who don’t appear to be quite as righteous and religious as we ourselves? Such comparison is irrelevant.
The true standard of comparison is our Lord himself! His holiness is the standard he set when he created humanity in the first place. That comparison makes all conventional goodness seem tawdry. That comparison demonstrates beyond all doubt that our “goodness” before God is worthless. We see our very best efforts as what the prophet declared them to be—“filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 KJV). That’s the way we were and would remain, were it not for the cross:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6, 8, 10 ESV)
This is God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s never-ending love at its finest. For the person who says, “I’m not all that bad,” grace is not very meaningful. But for those of us who have been brought to our knees in recognition of our guilt, those of us who know how hopeless and powerless and desperately unable we are to affect a reconciliation with Almighty God apart from Jesus Christ, these words are music to our ears: Christ died for the ungodly!
Reconciliation is one of the sweetest words in all of Scripture, which, perhaps, is why Paul uses it so often in his writings. Lovers, friends, spouses, parents, and children who have become estranged, who for whatever reason have come to see each other as enemies, turn their backs on each other and go their separate ways. But when they are reconciled, they embrace. They begin to walk hand in hand, arm in arm, along the same path of life.
When we are reconciled with God, much the same thing happens. Always, reconciliation is God’s idea. He has taken the initiative. He has put into motion the decisive action needed to bring reconciliation about. In the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, he has reached out to us, embraced us in grace, and taken us by the hand that we may walk in sync with him. Today, right now, he says to us:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
This faithful love means that our ungodliness has been buried just as surely as the body of Jesus was buried following his death on Calvary. We who were by our sinful natures once spiritually enemies of God are now, really and truly, God’s friends. All this happens on God’s initiative and on his terms, not our own. Those terms are his mercy and “a love that never dies.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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