St Paul travelled widely, spreading the Gospel message and starting churches. In the process he suffered beatings, he was shipwrecked, stoned, often in danger from robbers and others, hungry, thirsty, sleepless. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) Despite all his suffering, Paul was able to focus on the wonder of the security believers have in the love of God, a love that is always there for them. In Romans 8:31-39 he pours out his thoughts on this wonderful truth and it was this which I concentrated on in my reflection.
The readings for the 3pm SLT service were Romans 8:31-end, Psalm 109:20-26, 29-30, Luke 13:31-end. The reflection follows.
When we read the Bible we get pretty used to thinking of the Pharisees as the bad guys. They seemed to spend their time trying to catch Jesus out, to trip him up with clever questions, to find a way to do away with him. In the passage from Luke it seems they were trying to protect Jesus. That’s quite a different attitude. They warned Jesus to get out of the areas where Herod had jurisdiction – Galilee and Perea. He had had John the Baptist beheaded so I suppose Jesus might well have been the next obvious target. Both were preaching the same message, both could have caused problems with stirring up the population.
Jesus didn’t want to be deflected from his path, regardless of the warnings. He planned to go to Jerusalem and die there, rather than in the areas controlled by Herod. Meanwhile he intended to keep on working at what he was doing. The people still had the need to be healed and taught and Jesus was going to continue for as long as he was free. No one was going to change his plans.
It’s because of Jesus’ being prepared to see his mission through to the end that Paul was able to write his wonderful hymn of security in his letter to the Romans. I’ll return to this later.
It’s possible, I think, to see Paul as quite a stern person, not given to flowery language or excesses, but one who reasoned carefully in order to explain things to his readers. His letters can be densely packed and need reading and re-reading in order to be understood. Paul had a fine mind, trained by Gamaliel, the best teacher around, and this training certainly showed in his letters.
When you read this passage from Romans, it feels as though something was bubbling up inside him and simply had to be expressed. He seems to be bursting with the good news which he simply had to share with his readers.
First we are assured that God is for us. Nothing that Satan can do or those who don’t believe in Christ can do, will be able to ultimately succeed. God is so much on our side that he was prepared to give up his only Son. Having done that, there is nothing else that he is going to withhold from us. He is not waiting for us to be good enough, to earn anything from him. We are saved by God who has chosen us regardless of any merit and has justified us.
Our own consciences may tell us that we are no good, other people may do the same, Satan himself my accuse us of all manner of things, but God has declared that we are righteous. Jesus was prepared to die for us to pay the full price for our sin. He is hardly then going to turn around and condemn us. This should give us great comfort and confidence.
Perhaps had Jesus only died, there might be some question mark over how confident we could be. However, we know that Jesus rose again and that shows that his death was effective in overcoming our sin. Having risen, Jesus is at God’s right hand and from there he intercedes for us. He can do this on the basis of his own blood that was shed on the cross for us. We can be sure that God listens to Jesus.
Paul suffered a lot for his faith and didn’t see the world through rose-tinted spectacles. He knew that believers would suffer in the future as he had already done. He quoted from Psalm 44:22 to show that Christians, like believers in God in the past, would face suffering and possibly death. In fact, the Roman church would soon face terrible persecutions.
No matter what happens, God’s love is constant. We are never lost to his love. Suffering should drive us towards God, not away from him. We can be sure that God’s love is turning bad things to good and making us conquerors of circumstances.
Despite all that had happened to Paul, he is absolutely certain that nothing can separate us from God’s love which is shown to us in Jesus. Paul would not have been able to say this if Jesus hadn’t persisted in his mission to go to Jerusalem and die for us. When he died, he cried out to God ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ At that moment Jesus had become our sin, and that separated him from God. Because that happened to Jesus, because he was prepared to die for us, nothing can now ever separate us from God’s love.
Is there any wonder that Paul was absolutely buzzing with the excitement of this fantastic news? It was far too good to keep to himself. We have the creator of the universe on our side all the time. God’s love for us is so great that we can always feel totally secure in him, regardless of circumstances.
The Psalmist, many years before, had come to the same conclusion as Paul. In Psalm 56:9-11 he says, ‘This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; “I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
This is what Max Lucado has to say on the matter:
God knows you. And he is near you! How far is the shepherd from the sheep (John 10:14)? The branch from the vine (John 15:5)? That’s how far God is from you. He is near. See how these four words look taped to your bathroom mirror: “God is for me” (Ps. 56:9 NKJV).
And his kingdom needs you. The poor need you; the lonely need you; the church needs you…the cause of God needs you. You are part of “the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Eph. 1:11 MSG). The kingdom needs you to discover and deploy your unique skill. Use it to make much out of God. Get the word out. God is with us; we are not alone.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor