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Romans 5:1-8 + Lent 3 + Rev.

Charles Lehmann

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.


Today Paul says to us, “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.”
This passage has never made sense to me. Why wouldn’t
someone die for a righteous person. They’re righteous, right?
Then it finally hit me. In the Bible a righteous person is a justified
person. It is the kind of person I talked about on Wednesday. It is
the one that Paul talks about in the previous chapter. It is the one
whose lawless deeds are forgiven, whose sins are covered. It is
the one against whom the Lord does not count their sin.
It could be the most evil, wretched person you can
imagine. In fact, it’s the sort of person that Paul, in our text for
today, calls weak and ungodly. If someone who was clearly a
murderer was acquitted because their lawyer convinced the jury to
return a verdict of not guilty, would you die for them? Would you
give your life to save a rapist? Would you take a bullet for a drug
dealer?
Most of us probably wouldn’t. Most of us would probably
think that a murderer, rapist, or drug dealer who got killed was just
getting what they deserve. We wouldn’t die for them. But there
are people that are willing to give their lives for others. There are
at least a few of them in this room. The willingness to sacrifice
your life for your brother is at the heart of being a soldier.
Here’s one example. On March 24, 1945, Private George
J. Peters of the 17th Airborne Division dropped into a combat area
near Fluren, Germany. He and his company were immediately
pinned down by a German machine-gunner supported by riflemen.
Private Peters charged the enemy position, and, though he
was mortally wounded by enemy fire, he crawled close enough to
destroy the machine gun position and force the riflemen to flee for
cover. The lives of his fellow soldiers were saved.
What Private Peters did was heroic. It’s proper that he
received the medal of honor for it. But if you think about it, as
good as Private Peters’ actions were, there are ways in which they
were not that extraordinary. He was saving men who had fought
at his side for a long time. They had the bond of brotherhood.
They had risked their lives for one another as a matter of course.
Private Peters had learned courage. His act was certainly noble. It
was certainly heroic. But was it unusual? Not so much. Is it hard
for us to understand why he did it? Not really.
On January 13th, 1982 Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into
the 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac in Washington D.C. One
surviving passenger, Arland Williams Jr. continually refused to
take the rescue line and instead gave it to other drowning
passengers. When all who could be rescued had been, the rescuers
tried to pass the line to him. But he had sunk to the bottom of the
river with the plane. Autopsies revealed that only he had died of
drowning. He drowned because he kept passing the rescue line to
others. Saving the lives of strangers was more important to him
than saving his own life.
This is a bit more unusual. He didn't know the people he
died to save. Arland Williams is a hero in ways that a Medal of
Honor winner is not.
But what if someone died for His enemies? What if He
knew the person in all of their sin and ugliness. What if He could
see their very thoughts. What if He could see into your mind,
your heart, and your soul. What if He could see not just your sins
of action, but of thought.
There is nothing noble about our sin. In our standing
before God we are just as bad as a murderer, a rapist, or a drug
dealer. But it’s not as if God ignores that. He doesn’t say to us,
“Oh, come on… it’s really not that bad. You have good reasons
for your sin. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” Not at all.
He acknowledges just how bad we are. John says, “If we say we
have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Our
God would be just as deceived as we sometimes are if He ignored
our sin. But He doesn’t ignore our sin. He doesn’t leave us to our
own devices.
Though we are God’s enemies, though it is our evil that
nails Jesus to the cross, God does an outrageous thing. He loves
us. He sends His Son. Out of his belly come water and blood.
And He saves even the adulterous Samaritan woman. He saves
even Paul, the murderer of Christians. He even saves me.
Private Peters died for his comrades. Arland Williams died
for strangers. But Jesus did something greater than either of these.
Jesus died for us. He died for those whose sins sent Him to the
cross.
On the day of the Preparation of the Passover, the Eternal
Father permitted Pontius Pilate to convict His Son, Jesus Christ, of
a crime He had not committed. He allowed Him to be tortured,
mocked, spat upon, and beaten with sticks. He allowed nails to be
driven through His hands and feet.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their
faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath
borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him
stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for
our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the
chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we
are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned
every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the
iniquity of us all. It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put
him to grief.
It’s really no wonder that Paul makes this point. Paul
persecuted the Lord’s church. When Jesus first appeared to him
He said, “Saul, Saul… why do you persecute me.” And so Paul
writes of his Savior. He writes of Jesus who dies for the wicked.
He writes of Jesus who saves the ungodly. He writes of Jesus who
comes to save sinners of whom he, Paul, is the worst. Paul needs
a Savior who dies for the ungodly, the wicked, the very worst of
sinners. That’s the only sort of Savior who has anything to offer
Paul.
“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.”
In the sort of Savior that Paul preaches there is great joy.
Though you are troubled by your sin, though you know from
God’s Word what you deserve by your own lawless deeds, you
know from that same Word of God that you are just the sort of
person that Jesus came to save.
It’s not shape up or ship out. You don’t have to rehabilitate
yourself. You don’t have to stop being who you are in order for
Jesus to come and save you. Paul talks about a Savior who comes
to you while you are still a sinner. If we could take care of our
own problems and wipe away our own sins, we wouldn’t need
Jesus. We’d need a therapist. We’d need someone to give us a
jump start. We’d just need a little help getting ourselves pointed
in the right direction. But we don’t need a self-esteem coach.
We are dead and helpless, and we like it that way. We
rejoice in our misery. Left to our own devices we would stay
there forever.
The dead don’t raise themselves. If the helpless could help
themselves they wouldn’t be helpless. That’s why our great joy is
that we do have a Savior. Our sins cannot keep Jesus away. He
comes and forgives us. He washes us in the waters of Holy
Baptism. He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. He
holds us. He speaks tenderly in our ear. He gives us words of
comfort and life. Our hate disintegrates in the ocean of His love.
He removes our sin as far from us as the east is from the West.
It is a joy that the sort of Savior we have is really the only
sort of Savior worth having. No one else can love you with
perfect love. No one else can forgive you with perfect
forgiveness. No one else can give you life that cannot end, cannot
fade, and cannot tarnish. No one else can wipe away your tears,
hold you in His arms, and take all of your pain into Himself.
Jesus didn’t die for you because you were his comrade-in-
arms. He didn’t love you because you were a stranger on whom
He had compassion. Jesus died for you knowing exactly who you
are and how deep your sin was. He loved you even though there
was no good reason for Him to love you.
And He still loves you. He still cares for you. He still
daily and richly forgives you all your sins. He waits in eager
anticipation for that day that He will give you in all its fullness a
life that can never end.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

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