35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35-39
Do you know what this is? It is a can of pickled okra from the garden behind church. Canning used to be a way of life. Your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in a time when canning was not just a pastime because you’ve been stuck in quarantine for months but was a necessary part of life to preserve what was grown in the garden during a specific season to provide food throughout the year. In the past, in order to survive, the majority of people had to grow, raise, process, store and cook their own food. Life is much different today with grocery stores and fast food, but even those conveniences have become too much work so that we have food delivered to our door by clicking an app like Grubhub or DoorDash on our phone. If it were not such a rarity today, a can of pickled vegetables could stand for people who are totally self-sufficient conquerors of hunger able to provide for themselves even if their phone stops working or if the local grocery store is closed.
Canned pickled vegetables may not be the symbol of victory, but there is a very recognizable symbol that does stand for victory. A certain check mark brings to mind victory for people all over the world. If you wear this symbol, then you already feel like victory is yours whether at the highest level of competition at the Olympics or lifting weights in a corner of your bedroom while the kids are down for a nap. When this symbol is worn, it seems as though there is nothing that can stop you, whether it’s finishing mile 26 of a marathon facing wind, rain and cold uphill, or making it out of the grocery store like a superhero with your mask on, kids, purse, diaper bag and cart getting heavier every minute. Having a symbol for victory gives you confidence even in the face of overwhelming odds is what the commercials will tell you, but when the commercial ends and the clothes or shoes wear out, it becomes clear that you need something more to get you through life. You need something guaranteed to keep you from being separated from victory over real life problems.
Paul gave a very real list of what works to separate you from victory in our reading from the end of Romans 8. He began with the biggest problem writing, 35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” This is a real question for you and I who know the victory of eternal life through Jesus, and what it would mean if we lost the love of Christ, but Paul went on to address all the other things that distract and pile on us, which only further cause us to fear something will separate us from the love of Christ. Paul wrote, 35 … “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” These are real problems you face. Trouble comes when a lingering illness causes short tempers in a relationship and things are said or done to cause lasting damage. Hardship comes when you feel all alone and isolated as if no one cared or understood you. Persecution comes when you hold a firm stance on God’s Word, and are abandoned for being closeminded, hateful and judgmental. Famine comes when you cannot pay the bills after being out of work. Nakedness becomes a struggle with guilt when your body does not look like it once did or cannot measure up to what is on a screen. Dangers seem to face us on every news channel. And we fear the sword in various forms might soon come after us if we serve God rather than men. These all threaten to separate you from the victory you have in Christ. And, there will always be something like this working to separate you from Christ as Paul wrote in Romans 8 quoting from Psalm 44, “For your sake we face death all day long.” You need total victory because you face threats of all kinds working to separate you from Christ.
There is total victory through Jesus. Even for the problems you would never think to ask God’s help with, there is victory through Jesus, as Jesus’ disciples saw one day while Jesus was healing people in a large crowd in a remote location. In Matthew 14, we hear, 15 “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’” Then, Jesus asked them to feed the crowds, but the disciples say that they only had five loaves of bread and two small fish. Then, Jesus took what they had, looked to heaven, gave thanks for it and gave it back to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. And, about 5,000 men were fed, besides women and children, and there were 12 baskets of leftovers. This miracle amazed the disciples, but it was nothing for Jesus to do this. It was just a small way of confirming what was written in John 1, 3 “Through him all things were made.” Through Jesus, the entire universe was created. Thousands of hungry people in need of one meal was nothing for him to do. He allows for billions of people to eat every day from all the plants and animals he put on this earth. And, for those who do go hungry, even more so, for those who are not able to stay alive for just one more day, Jesus is also the answer for life.
The victory you need is the victory that gives life. You and I do lots of things to survive each day whether eating and drinking, working and paying bills, obeying the government and making good choices for our own unique future, but none of those bring eternal life. You and I face death all day long, every day because of our sin. We cannot save ourselves, on our own we are already defeated when it comes to sin and death. Death finally separates us from life and from God, but we have total victory over sin and death through the love of God. The love of God is not just an emotion, it is action. The love of God was Jesus who lived as one of us. The love of God was putting Jesus’ perfect life on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for our sins, and Jesus’ resurrection to give us eternal life. Through Jesus sin and death no longer control your life or your future. Jesus controls your future because he saved you and he is the one who judges where you will spend eternity. He will bring you to heaven freeing you from whatever threatens to separate you from him now. Thus, Paul wrote with absolute confidence is response to questions about anything that might separate us from the love of God with the answer, 37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Paul used the word ὑπερνικῶμεν, which is translated “more than conquerors.” It is made up of two Greek words, we use today ‘hyper,’ meaning ‘above’ or ‘beyond,’ and ‘Nike,’ meaning ‘victory.’ You are above and beyond victory through Jesus.
When you are faced with what might separate you from the love of God, you are not facing it alone. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to give reassurance to all people and his words remain for you in Isaiah 55, 3 “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” When you face trouble, God is your safe place, Psalm 46. When you face hardship, God is your Helper, Psalm 118. When you face persecution, God has in store for you an eternity of peace and joy, 2 Corinthians 4. When you face famine, God promises that he knows what you need to survive, Matthew 6. When you face nakedness, God will cloth you a new body, immortal and glorious in heaven, 2 Corinthians 5. When you face dangers, God does not sleep and constantly watches over every aspect of your life, Psalm 121. When you face the sword, God is life, John 1. And, when you fear something may separate you from the love of God, take comfort in the words of Psalm 136, 1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”
A canning jar probably does not make you think of a self-sufficient conqueror. There is one symbol though that all over the world makes people think about victory. This check mark is not it because it relies on things that eventually wear out. But, if we turn it, the check becomes a “J” and starts a word that guarantees your victory, 38 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You have total victory through Jesus’ love for you. Amen.