In The Slaughterhouse
When I played high school football, we played one team from the Columbus area. They were faster than us, bigger than us, stronger than us. They outclassed us in every regard. At one point I remember saying, “We’re getting ‘slaughtered’.” We have all felt that way at one time or another, right? “We’re done for.” “It’s all over.” “No hope.”
For the last 3 months we’ve talked about the reality of our victorious life in Christ. And today we are again reminded of the absolute truth…
#1. ___NOTHING___ will separate us from the love of God.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35a & 39b
What an amazing and affirming set of verses. Paul begins and ends today’s passage with this affirmation. Nothing! Nada! … comes between you and God’s love. Last week was Easter and we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. We celebrated our own future resurrection. We celebrated that Jesus is sitting on His throne in Heaven right next to His Heavenly Father and He is interceding for us. We have affirmed for the past 3 months that in every instance the Holy Spirit is right there with us!
#2 ___ABSOLUTELY_NOTHING___ separates us from God’s love.
“Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Romans 8:35b
Now the Apostle Paul puts on his preacher hat and begins the exhaustive list of every wall, every difficulty, every division that could be supposed to separate us from God’s love. In his rhetoric meter he is telling us that there is nothing - absolutely nothing - that could ever separate us from God’s love. Are you in some kind of trouble? God loves you anyway. Are you suffering hardship? God loves you anyway. Are you being persecuted? God loves you anyway. Can you not find food to eat? God loves you anyway. Do you not have clothes to wear? God loves you anyway. Are you in danger? God loves you anyway. Are you about to be executed? God loves you anyway! God’s love is not affected in any way by what you are going through! Do not ever mistake your current circumstance - no matter how challenging - as a referendum on God’s love for you.
Often we think of extreme opposites as an indication of good or bad for us and as an indication of God’s love for us one way or another. But God’s Word tells us that no extreme - in any and every direction - matters one little bit. God’s love is a constant in the midst of it all.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth…” Romans 8:38-39a
What is the extreme you are facing? Death? If only you were more alive? Would that be better? What about that demon tempting you? Would it be better to have an angel by your side? What if that demon was also an angel? You think tomorrow is going to be so much better than today? You just can’t wait until… you graduate? You retire? You get married? You have children? You think your present weakness is your problem and if only you could be stronger? Like if you could just be more powerful? Remember when you were a kid and your parents had all the power? Yeah right. Anyone here a parent and feeling like things have changed so much? Remember when you were the employee and if only you could be the boss? Now you’re the boss… and how’s that working out for you? Remember when you were the lowest of the low, no one ever noticed you? Nothing you did every mattered? Now you are on top of the world and you’re very much aware that no matter what step you take, the next step is down? None of it matters in the least as far as God’s love is concerned! Absolutely nothing separates us from God’s love. And just to emphasize that point, Paul puts in an “everything else” clause:
“… 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 8:39b
So this now brings us to the heart of this passage in verses 36 and 37. I must admit to you that this presents to us a conundrum. On the one hand, this entire chapter has led us to a victorious conclusion. God is with us! He never ever leaves us. He never forsakes us. God has provided the sin solution for us in His Son, Jesus. And if God would do this for us, what would He ever fail to do for us? We are conquerors! Woohoo! Yay! Let’s celebrate!
But then right in the middle of all this, Paul refers us to Psalm 44 - not a victory party at all, it would seem. What gives?
#3 - We don’t always ___FEEL___ the closeness of God.
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36 / Psalm 44:22
Does that seem like the best Bible reference you could find for “We are more than conquerors”? Sheep to be slaughtered? There’s no escape. There’s no right, there’s no left, there’s no back, there’s just step by step to certain death and destruction. Is that what Paul really wanted to say?
Hang in here with me, because I know this super positive sermon has just taken a tragic downturn. But it’s a turn that is necessary and a teaching that is so important to true faith (and not just the kind of faith that comes from a positive, winning, victorious kind of life.)
The truth is that we don’t always FEEL like God is with us all the time. We don’t always FEEL like we are winners. We don’t always FEEL like things are going our way. Because you know what… sometimes they don’t. Every single disciple of Jesus died a martyr’s death. Bad things happen to really good people. Life is not always fair. Life does not always deal equally good hands to everyone. What do I do then?
Psalm 44 provides us a roadmap of responses:
Response #1 - I ___REMEMBER___. “Our ancestors have told us what You did in their days.” (1) I remember even my own past experiences when I know God was there and provided for me. I remember my family, my country, my church and all their experiences of God’s faithfulness.
Response #2 - I ___ACKNOWLEDGE___. “You are my King and my God...” (4) I acknowledge that You are God and I am not. I don’t know what You know. I can’t see what You see. I release being in control.
Response #3 - I ___TRUST___. “I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory.” (6) I trust in You God even when I don’t understand. I trust in Your solutions more than my own.
Response #4 - I ___WORSHIP___. “In God we make our boast / we will praise Your name forever.” (8) I worship You God even in the midst of my trials. Your Name is worthy to be praised.
Now all of these are things you have heard before. Remember, don’t forget. Put God first, don’t worry. Trust God, not yourself. Worship no matter what. All of these are good things to do. You do them. Keep doing them. Here’s the thing - they don’t always change your circumstances. And sometimes they won’t even make you feel closer to God or even the Presence of God. What then?
Response #5 - I ___AM HONEST WITH GOD___. “But now You have rejected and humbled us…” (9-16) The Psalmist is not afraid to be brutally honest with God. He accuses God of abandoning them. Does this sound like the kind of prayer you would pray? Do you think you’ll find this one in any “Book of prayers?” Actually, yes! It’s in the Psalms. It’s God’s way of saying it’s ok to be honest with Him. It’s ok to feel like you are disappointed with God. He is a Big God! He can take it. INSIGHT: God would rather have you complain to Him rather than just not speak to Him. Don’t shut God out. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your feelings. Ultimately this will lead you to #6…
Response #6 - I ___EXAMINE___. “All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten You; we had not been false to Your covenant.” (17) At some point you just have to stop and ask yourself, “Have I done something wrong? Have I messed up somewhere? Is my spiritual dryness the result of my error”? Ultimately the Psalmist believed he hadn’t failed God, but he did have to stop and examine himself.
Response #7 - I ___ASK___. “Would not God have discovered it, since He knows the secrets of the heart?” (21) When I’m done examining myself, I submit myself to God’s examination. “God You know me better than I know myself. Show me if there is something wrong on my part. Reveal my sin if there is sin. (And this is important…) If there is sin, I will confess it and I will turn from it! I am committed to You LORD! No matter what! (Which is why I use the word, LORD.)
Response #8 - I ___ACCEPT___. “Yet for Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (22) This brings us to where we are in our Romans 8 passage. This acceptance is the end result of everything that has gone before and is the ultimate worship experience of putting God first in our lives. It is far from easy. This acknowledges the truth of suffering and the reality of struggle and sickness. If whatever I am going through, Lord, can bring You glory, then bring it on. I am here for YOUR sake. This is the same as Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will but Yours be done.”
You may argue that Jesus’ death was part of the plan and that His death led to His resurrection and that it was God’s plan all along. Who is to say that this is not exactly the same thing you are going through? Do you know the end? Do you know what lies on the other side of this struggle? Do you know that God can not use this for His good, for His glory, for His purpose? No. None of us can. Which is why, in the end, we must accept what comes our way and still remain faithful.
#4 - In the end we are ___MORE THAN___ conquerors.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.” Romans 8:37
We often have focused on the wrong word - “conquerors”. We love that word, so much so that we have named a famous and prosperous company after it - Nike. So many of our worship songs are based on this, right? “Victory in Jesus!” “See A Victory!” “Champion.” But actually the word in the original language is not just nike. The word is hyper-nike. We overwhelmingly conquer. We more than overcome. We super-conquer. We are more than conquerors. The emphasis for us this morning is in the “more than” part.
It means we win even when it doesn’t feel like we are winning. We are victorious even when it looks like we are losing. We are living even though we are dying. The victory, the overcoming, the conquering is not up to us, not dependent upon us in the least. It’s all up to God! He can be counted upon to win that victory whether we can see it, feel it, perceive it or know it. That’s what it means to be hyper-Nike!
And it’s why we end our study of Romans 8 on such a positive note. And on such a realistic note. Sometimes the feeling of victory is just so rich, so refreshing, so real - we can taste it and we can know it. So we sing about it, we lift up that victory in a glorious chorus at the top of our lungs, because we experience the victory granted by God Himself.
But sometimes - and for most of humanity this is more true than not - the experience of victory is fleeting, more a passing note than a whole note, what some musically inclined folks would even call a “grace-note”. That is what it is - a gift of God given though not deserved. Not even known for sure sometimes, but surely and wondrously guaranteed to all who believe, who trust, who have the smallest grain of faith that God is good for what He says He will do. What about you this morning? I don’t ask if you are a conqueror, because on any given day we may not even rouse ourselves from bed. But are you “more than” a conqueror?