Do you have a friend who does this (Or maybe it’s a spouse or sibling)? Do you have someone in your life who is honest, sometimes brutally, with you. I don’t know about you, but as much as I sometimes despise that person who is brutally honest, at the same time, I really appreciate the honesty. I mean it’s nice to have someone you can go to and ask something as simple as “What do you think of this outfit?” And to hear them say without hesitation exactly what they think, “You shouldn’t wear it in public.” That’s refreshing, honesty is. It’s helpful in the workplace, “Hey, what did you think of my last sermon.” “Well, you’re no Casmer.” Brutal, but honest, right? And, often, it’s those honest people in your life who keep you from making terrible life decisions. It’s those honest, real, people, who keep you honest.
So, today, Paul would like to be honest with each of us, brutally honest. And with just a few words, four in all, he lets us know who we really are. If you have the words of our lesson before you from Romans 5, you can find those four words with me. The first two show up right away in verse six. There Paul calls us “powerless” and “ungodly.” Jump to verse eight and he tells us we are “sinners.” And then, finally, in verse 10, he says we are “enemies,” enemies of God. Brutal. Honest.
But then, check this out, mixed in all of these harsh realities of who we are, powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies, Paul lays this truth-bomb on us – verse eight – “Christ died for us.” And this doesn’t make sense, and Paul he knows this, “Very rarely,” he writes, “will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” Let’s take a closer look at this thought from Paul. Let’s start with someone who is powerless.
Being powerless means you can’t do anything to help yourself. It’s about one of the worst feelings ever. So, now, ask yourself, could you help someone who was powerless? Maybe you come across a child who’s lost. Would you help that child find his or her way home? Perhaps, you find a person on the ground fallen and unable to get up. Would you help?
I think each of us would say, “yes, of course, I could, and I would help in these situations.” But it isn’t always so easy to help the powerless, is it? For example, could you help someone who can’t swim and is thrashing around in the waters of a lake? Or someone who is pinned in the wreckage of a car that has caught fire? You or I might try to help those powerless people, but now there might be a sacrifice involved, potentially your own life. Now, toss ungodly to the mix, add being an enemy to the pot.
Would you go risk your life, or as Paul says here, “give your life” for someone who is just evil and has been an enemy of yours for as long as you can remember. I mean this is just the worst kind of person – and you know they would never come to your aid if you needed it – would you die for that person? Would you even attempt to step in and save him or her? Probably not. It’s not worth it. That person doesn’t deserve it, probably wouldn’t even appreciate it. And that person, as Paul so honestly tells us, is you, it’s me.
So, if we are that person, that powerless soul that has no hope of saving itself. If we are that ungodly person who so often finds God and his ways offensive and divisive. If we are the enemy, God’s enemy, and, as you and I confessed this very day, we deserve only his wrath and punishment, why would anyone die for me? Why would Christ die for us? That’s really the unasked question here.
But, I think, so often, we ask and wrestle with the exact opposite question, “Why wouldn’t God die for me? We wonder why God would allow anyone to ever go to hell. We are tempted to think, cry out even, that he’s unfair, unjust, and unloving if he would let innocent and good people go to such a horrible place when he could just save them. He could just bring everyone into heaven. But do you see what that question, what thoughts like that ignore? They forget that brutally honest truth of who we are and what we deserve. It is Christ who sees to the depth of you and me, and it is sin that meets his eyes. Look at your own spiritual condition, see it as Jesus does, and be appalled.
But then understand why Paul is then so brutally honest about our spiritual condition because he wants us to really wonder, who would die for me? And to understand, that no one, no one would die for you, or for me. It’s then at this point that Christianity begins to speak its two languages of sin and grace. To hear the one, to understand the total depravity that is us and our sin, allows us to be able, for the first time, to know the other. The paradox, as described by the Swiss author, Paul Tournier, is that those who are most severe with themselves, calling sin by its name, are those who live in the most serene confidence in the mercy of God.
Paul shares that incredible mercy of God with us in verse eight, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this – Don’t rush past those words “his own love” this is not our level of love, but God-level love – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “While we were still sinners” – while we were messing around with and missing the mark of God’s rules and rebelling against him – it was under those conditions that Jesus came. And in our Gospel lesson for today, in the book of Matthew, we see what Jesus did as he came and walked on this earth, we’re told that went to all the towns and villages, and he “healed every disease and sickness.” And that he had compassion on the people, he truly loved them.
Yet, he knew that the healings and the compassion, the pity, could only do so much. They might bring some comfort, some peace, on this earth, but in the end, there was still that disease of sin, and who would take that away, who would die for that? Who would save the enemies of God? You know, so often, we might be tempted to look at the current happenings of our lives and the lives of others and use these things to size up God and his love for this world, his love for us, and we neglect to remember why Jesus even walked this earth in the first place.
He shared our flesh. He felt our pain. He saw this world and its suffering through blurring human tears. He even participated with us in asking that often repeated question, “Why?” Yet, perhaps his why is better than any we’ve ever asked as he said it on a cross while dying, “Why have you, God, forsaken me?” What a “Why?” What a question! Why me God and not them? Sometimes when I’m caught in the guilt of my sin, I wonder the same thing, perhaps you do too. Yet, this is the joy we know as Christians. This is the love of God that he demonstrated for us. Who would die for you…for me? Jesus would. Jesus did.
Why? To reconcile us to God. To restore that broken relationship that was shattered soon after creation. Real sin could not just be brushed aside. It could not be ignored and excused. God set the price to make us his own, and then he paid it. There is a lot you and I might not understand about God and why he allows this bad thing or that good thing to happen in our individual lives, but let us understand this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And this real love and sacrifice gives you the basis for a future hope. You might have your feelings of doubt. You might have your struggles, but, now, in Jesus, you have a foundation, a relationship with God.
And here is Paul’s honest take on this new relationship, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” If, while still a sinner and an enemy, God send Jesus to reconcile you to himself, certainly, you’re not going to have to doubt, or wonder, or worry, that he is not going to one day bring you also home to heaven with him. And know that as you now sit secure in God’s grace and forgiveness you at long last can respond to your God freely, willingly, without guilt, without fear. And that, that is the honest truth.
This is what it means to be reconciled to God. It’s to know that even in my darkest despairs of sin, Jesus died for me. It’s to know even in the worst moments of my life, Jesus died for me. It is to look at a friend, a stranger, a sibling, an enemy and to realize Jesus also died for them. There is a never-ending joy in our being reconciled to God. Sometimes we might need someone to remind us of this truth, and sometimes that reminder might require a brutally honest discussion about our sin and God’s grace, but it’s worth it. After all, sinners living happily ever after because God was willing to die – this is a story worth hearing, and telling, and sharing again and again. Amen.