11th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what a “deathtrap” is? Now that word can be used in any number of situations, but perhaps the most familiar we are with such a concept is in either movies or books. A “deathtrap” as I understand it, is a literary plot device that puts a good character or hero or actor that you sympathize with into a very dangerous and lethal situation. You know, it’s the scene where the person is walking blindly into a very precarious situation. You as the viewer see all the dangers and threats and schemes that the enemy has put into place to trap the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Such a plot device builds tension and creates anticipation and makes you almost want to yell at the screen, “Don’t do it! Go back! They’re going to get you!” It fills you with fear as you sympathize with the character or anger as you think, “Don’t be so dumb! Can’t you see what’s going to happen??” It’s a device used both in all kinds of literature and movies for both children and adults. A deathtrap.
But have you considered the fact that, in a way, we’re all living in such a “deathtrap”? There’s so much that we can’t see about our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, we don’t know horrible accident is going to happen to us or one of our loved ones, we don’t know what illness or disease or sickness is waiting for us, we don’t know what’s going to happen with nuclear bombs or threats of war, are we like the character in the movie walking around in the midst of danger? But, far worse, is the fact that we can’t see what Satan and all of his demons have planned for us. Every day they are planning and scheming and devising deathtraps not just for our bodies but for our souls! The devil wants nothing less than to rip us away from God, to get us to doubt God, to weaken in our faith, and finally to no longer believe, that’s his goal. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper, said this, “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.”
One of the truths of the Reformation is that God does not lie. All of Scripture is true. Even when- and especially when – God’s Word seems to contradict our reason and logical skills. What we’re looking at is one of the most comforting sections of Scripture. We need to take it in all seriousness, to trust in it with all earnestness.
But at the same time the Bible also clearly states that we can fall from faith. The Bible does not teach the error “once converted always converted.” The Bible doesn’t teach that if we can prove that we were saved at one point in life, then we’re good, we’re safe. Perhaps functionally a lot of people live that way. They may call themselves Christian, they may have grown up in the church, may have gone to Sunday School when they were young, but have “outgrown” church, they have very little to do with God’s Word and are busy with their lives. They think, “I’m good with God. I’m going to heaven.” When in reality they’re going to hell.
Perhaps there’s also a warning here for us. The Bible makes it very clear that we can fall from faith. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who were believers but then fell away. The Bible tells us “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The Bible describes people who believe for a while but “in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13) The Bible talks about some who have “rejected… and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim 1:19). The Bible clearly tells us that we can fall from the faith and be lost eternally. It’s horridly scary to think about the deathtrap we’re in every day or to think about times when we have indeed fell away, when we’ve rejected God’s Word and knowingly and pridefully flung ourselves headlong into sin.
But the Bible also clearly teaches the truths of our verses and many others. The Bible tells us “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus said, “No one can snatch them (his believers) out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). And then words our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, 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.” What are we to make of this?
On the one hand, God clearly says that we can fall from the faith, lose our faith, and die eternally in hell. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states God’s promises that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, no one shall pluck you out of the Savior’s hand, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!
Isn’t this a contradiction? It may be a contradiction to our minds, but it’s exactly what contradictory hearts like ours need to hear. Here’s the truth: The very person who is convinced that he can fall, that he may fall, that he is in great danger of falling away throughout his earthly life, can also be perfectly sure that he will never fall away.
Our hearts have such a contradiction in them. Our hearts are still terribly wicked, even though we’re Christian. There’s a part of us that wants to think, “I’m good, don’t worry, I’m fine, I can do it on my own, I’ll never fall away, I’ll never lose my faith.” So, we need to hear the serious and earnest warnings that God gives us: We can fall!
But our hearts are also timid, scared and weak and we desperately need reassurance. When I’m scared, when I think that I’m going to fall, when I’m afraid I’m not going to make it or afraid I’ll lose my faith and be lost eternally. My extremity is God’s opportunity. When I am weak, then I am strong. For when I know that I can’t stand on my own, that I cannot persevere on my own, that I am helpless on my own, then the Lord comes to me and says no one shall pluck me from His hand, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We face many things, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The word trouble is “pressure” anything that presses down on us, hardship is distress caused by pressures, sicknesses and surgeries, family problems and financial burdens, persecution – either physical or, perhaps more what we’re used to, psychological against you for believing God’s Word, danger and sword – constant threat to our bodies on the small scale- robbery or theft, and on the large scale to wars and nuclear threats. And all these threats are just like believers in the OT faced – deathtraps all day long.
But what is God’s blessed assurance for us? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “More than conquerors” that phrase implies a comparison. You take all the threats, all the dangers, all the deathtraps that our enemies have lodged against us on one side and weigh that against God’s love for us in Christ and we come out more than conquerors. God’s steadfast love for us demonstrated most clearly in sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins and raising him from the dead for our justification proves God’s eternal love for us and assuring us that the outcome for every believer is always and only victory.
And then 10 non-separators are listed as not being able to separate us from God’s love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, and finally, lest we think there was a loophole or lest we think something was missed, “nor anything else in all creation” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What incredible comfort!
We might be the characters walking around with deathtraps designed by our enemies all over, but, look at the words that God, who does not lie, tells you, receive the assurance of God’s forgiving, pardoning, eternal love for you in the Sacrament this morning and be assured: NOTHING will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.