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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
Christ's Spirit and Eternal Bonding

Romans 8: 31-39

The riddle of this sermon is “8 slash 8 slash 8.”

Today continues our summer series of sermons on the book of Romans. Today is the eleventh sermon in this series.

From previous sermons during this summer, we have learned that the book of Romans is the greatest book or letter of the Apostle Paul. As the gospel of John is reputed to be the greatest of our four gospels, so the book of Romans is reputed to be the greatest of our fourteen epistles. John: the greatest of the gospels. Romans: the greatest of the epistles.

Romans is the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote. Paul was getting ready to travel as a missionary to Spain, and on the way to Spain, he was going to stop and visit the church in Rome which was the capitol of the Roman Empire. The book of Romans is an introduction of his theological ideas to the Christians living in Rome. You would have expected that Paul would have introduced himself to the Romans, but the focus of the book is not on Paul’s person but on Paul’s core theology. 

When Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, he was a mature, older and wise human being and Christian. Paul was about fifty-five to sixty years old. Paul was also a seasoned and veteran Christian. That is, this letter was not written immediately after his conversion on the road to Damascus where he sensed that he was struck by lightning. This letter was written almost thirty years after that conversion experience. In Romans, we find a mature Paul, a seasoned Paul, a veteran of the gospel. Romans is his last letter. Romans is his summa theologia, the summation of his theology.

As we have said before, Romans is about ideas, not history. There is no history about Jesus in his letters. There are no parables of Jesus, narratives about Jesus, no passion stories about Good Friday, no resurrection stories about Easter Sunday. Similarly, there is no history about Paul’s own life in his letters. There are no stories about his beatings, his stonings, his conversion, his missionary trips, his time in prison. There is none of this. No history about Jesus. No history about himself. But just ideas. Ideas about Christ. Ideas about God. Ideas about Christ and ideas about God add up to the Gospel.

In Romans 8, we have stopped for five sermons. There was a single sermon on each of the previous chapters, but when we get to chapter eight, we slow down, the lectionary slows down, and we slowly walk through Romans chapter eight with five sermons. Many Christians, including myself, think that Romans 8 may be the finest chapter in the New Testament. Previous to chapter eight, there have been only two references to the Spirit of Christ, but in chapter eight, there are twenty-one references to the Spirit. It is as if the floodgates below the highest dam in the world have been opened, and the power of the water and the power of the Spirit of Christ comes flowing through.

We have heard about the Spirit of Christ igniting and making our spirits alive. About the Spirit of Christ putting to death our sinful dispositions and natures, those defects of character and pieces of our personality which are not very nice nor attractive. About the Spirit of Christ persuading us that we are children of God living in our Father’s family and house. About the Spirit of Christ filling us with hope.

Today, we come to the fifth and last sermon on chapter eight and on the Spirit of Christ. The title of this sermon could be “8-8-8.” That is, there are eight rhetorical questions that Paul asks of us in these eight verses at the end of chapter eight. At the end of chapter eight, there are eight crucial questions in eight verses.

For many people, these eight verses are a highpoint, if not THE highpoint, of the book of Romans. There are sixteen chapters in the book of Romans, and there in the middle, at the midpoint, just before halftime, there is a grand glorious summation of all that he has been trying to say.

Using athletic images, it would be like the Sonics basketball team going into a fervor and scoring a flurry of points, ten, fifteen, twenty points, just before halftime.  It would be like the Seahawks football team scoring a flurry of points, ten, thirteen, twenty points, just before halftime. It would be like the Mariners baseball team, at the top of the fifth inning, scoring a flurry of runs, five, seven, ten runs, just before halftime.

Changing metaphors, it would be like the Seattle Symphony having an enormous crescendo just before intermission. Like the Choir of the West from Pacific Lutheran University singing their most robust anthem just before intermission. Like the Seattle Repertory Theatre having an incredibly emotional scene from HAMLET just before the intermission.

So it is with these last eight Bible verses from Romans 8; it is an incredibly high moment in Paul’s letter. Many theologians say that these eight verses are the finest eight verses in the Bible. I am sympathetic to their analyses.

Let us do a Bible study of these eight verses from Romans 8. Please pick up your bulletin insert to closely examine these verses. I would like to make a few introductory comments about the process of the Bible study. First, this Bible study today will be based on three translations: the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version. Secondly, I am reading six Biblical commentaries and none of these six commentaries from theologians were unusually helpful for today’s sermon. Thirdly, I remind you that the numbers of the Bible verses were added in 1551 CE by Robert Stephanus, a Frenchman printer, who added them to help with both the accuracy of printing and the study of the Bible. The downside of the use of Bible verses is that they are not always accurate in dividing sentences and thoughts. When the Church translated the Bible from its original Greek into English, there was usually a committee of one hundred scholars who pooled their knowledge, and a consensus was reached. Whereas with the numbering of the verses, only one person made the decisions. The accuracy of the numbers are not as reliable as the translation itself. Another downside is that a reader is tempted to focus on one single verse at a time rather than the whole passage. The fourth introductory comment is this: please imagine going into the archeological find of King Tututkamen’s treasures, there on the banks of the Nile, there in the Valley of the Kings. You go into this room that was hidden by history for three thousand years, and there is breathtaking beauty in the quality of the purist silver, the finest gold, and the most valued jewels of King Tut’s legacy. You go into this tomb and you snoop around to see the finest jewels. So also, we go into the last eight verses of Romans 8 to snoop around for a while, examining the purist silver, the finest gold, the most exquisite jewels found in the whole Bible. 

To the Bible study. There are eight question marks in these verses. These are all rhetorical questions: that is, they ask questions but the answers are obvious, so obvious that the questions draw you into a conclusion.  There are eight consecutive  questions and those questions build on each other, drawing you into a conclusion.

Verse 31. “What then shall we say in response to this?” Circle the question mark; it is the first of eight questions asked by the Apostle Paul. “This” refers to the previous ideas of emphasizing God’s choice of us, that we are chosen by God, that we are selected by God to be his chosen people, elected by God, that God chose us be his children before the world began.  We are elected, selected, chosen, predestined by God before the world began.  Election and predestination will be the focus of our next two sermons.

Verse 31. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This is the basis question: if God in on our side, if God is for us, what else matters?

Verse 32. “He, God, who did not spare his Son.” When God gave his Son Jesus up for crucifixion on our behalf, God gave us his very best for us. What God loved the most. God’s most valuable possession. If God gives up his most valuable possession for us, this reveals that God will be enormously generous to us in other matters as well.

“But (graciously) gave him up for us ALL.” Emphasize the word, ALL. God gave his Son for all people of all time of all history of all tribes and nations and religions on earth.  The word, graciously, is not found in this sentence but is implied: that is, God freely and graciously gave his son to die for us.

“Will he not also, along with him (Christ), graciously give us all things? Follow the logic, the reasoning, the progression of thought. If God did not spare his Son but gave him up for us on the cross, it makes sense that God would also give us all things that are essential for live and living. God, who gave up his most valuable possession, will also give us everything that we need for life.

Verse 33. “Who will bring any charge against God’s chosen, his elect?” The word, charge, is a legal term from the Roman law court. The word, charge, means accusations, complaints, legal shortcomings. Today, I experience several accusers that bring charges against me.  My conscience. My sense of right and wrong will bring accusations against myself. My church  upbringing in Jackson, Minnesota, my conscience, my religion, my ethics, my sense of right and wrong, the Ten Commandments, the moral law of the universe: these will all condemn me. These will all bring charges, accusations, condemnations against me. But not God. Not Christ. What? Not God?

Verse 33, 34. “It is God who justifies us, forgives us, reconciles us. Who then is it who condemns?” Not God.

Verse 34. “Is it then Christ who condemns? (If it is not God, perhaps its is Christ who condemns us.) Christ who died, yes, who was raised to life and is seated at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. It is Christ who condemns?” Of course not. Again, it is a rhetorical question: we know the answer. The answer is implied in the question. The answer is No. God does not condemn. Jesus does not condemn. Instead of condemning, Jesus intercedes for us in prayer.

Verse 35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Circle the phrase, love of Christ. The love of Christ and the love of God are used interchangeable here in this passage. 

Then Paul lists seven types of trauma that we think would normally separate us from the love of God. Trouble. We all have troubles with our bodies, our minds, our families, our jobs, our marriages. If you don’t have any troubles today, wait until tomorrow and you will have them.  Then hardships: life is hard, very hard for all people sometime during their earthly life. Some people’s lives are nothing but hardships. When troubles compound with more troubles, life becomes a hardship. Then persecutions. The earliest Christians were persecuted first by Jews and then by Romans; for two thousand years, Christians have been persecuted at various times for their beliefs, including today.  Famine: half of the population of the earth does not have enough food. Famine has always been part of our human condition. Nakedness is associated with famine. Nakedness refers to lack of clothing. Lack of clothing is another sign of poverty and lack of resources. Danger. We know that there are all kinds of dangers in this world of ours. Dangers are increased when there is lack of food and clothing, and a person has few resources for protection. Sword. This refers to war. History has always been filled with wars; human beings are warring animals.  Can these tragedies separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question: of course not. The word, no, resounds through all  history and culture.

I read this passage at every funeral that I conduct and I always add the list of woes and miseries. I make a new list of miseries that are part of our contemporary human condition. Can cancer separate us from the love of God? Liver cancer? Breast cancer? Prostate cancer? Bone cancer? Lung cancer? Can these separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question. You know the answer. Of course not. The word, “no,” echoes through history.  Can the bombings of the Twin Towers separate us from God, suicide bombings, human beings wired as bombs? Can these separate us from the love of God? The answer is obvious. No. NO. NO. The answer rings through the corridors of history. Can leukemia? Heart attacks? Car accidents? Starvation? Wars? AIDS? Depression? Suicide? Can any of these evil things separate us from the love of God? Of course not, we all answer to ourselves.

Verse 36. Adds an insertion. As is written in the Old Testament, Psalm 44:22, “For your sake, we face death all day long.” That is the way it is with life: we face death and dying as a daily part of our existence. We are nothing but like sheep being led to the slaughter.

Verse 37. No. NO. NO!!! The word echoes through the corridors of the centuries and through the cultures of the human race. Can trouble, hardship, persecutions, dangers, war, and  lack of food and clothing, can these separate us from the love of Christ.  NOOOOOOOO. The answer echoes through the centuries; the answer echoes through the cultures; through the histories of the human race. NO. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

“In all of these terrible situations, we are more than conquers.” Focus on the phrase, more than conquers. More than champions, more than victors, more than prizewinners. In all these nasty situations in life, we are more than conquers through him. Him refers both to God and Christ. Who loved us. I like to think of ourselves as more than conquers. In Romans 8, when the power of the Spirit of Christ is unleashed like waters released through the floodgates of the highest dam in the world, there is power of our lives to be victorious, strong, successful, even in the face of starvation, hunger, poverty, hardship, dangers, and war.

I quickly think of the sermon illustration about “Ollie the Oyster.”  Ollie was merrily swimming along in Puget Sound one sunny summer day, and a piece of sand stuck in his side and caused unbearable pain. That piece of sand hurt as much as anything in his whole life. Ollie the Oyster started to swear at his misfortune and he swore so much that blue smoke bubbled up from Puget Sound. When he was all done swearing, the piece of sand and pain were still there. And so he cried like he had never cried before, flooding tears dropped from his eyes. He cried so much that Puget Sound rose one quarter of an inch, but when he finished his crying, his pain was still there. Ollie the Oyster then pretended and pretended and pretended as intensely as he could that the pain had gone away, and when he was tired of pretending and could not pretend any longer, the pain came back with a vengeance and he was in more pain that he ever had been. Slowly, it dawned on him that Ollie was an oyster and he had this God-given gift to secret a special solution, like an oil but finer. This slippery substance flowed around the entire piece of sand, so that the sharpness of the sand was not painfully pricking his side. The pain was slowly going away. And over time, that oily substance became harder and harder and harder and it became a pearl. All a pearl is a piece of sand in an oyster, with a membrane formed around it. … I have discovered that people are the same way. That is, God has given us this special quality, and we have problems that are enormously painful, but God’s Spirit wraps around our painful problems, and over time, they often become pearls. In fact, I know many Christians who have bracelets and necklaces made out of such pearls. Painful problems transformed into pearls.

In Romans 5, Paul said that “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

More than conquerors. More than champions, more than prizewinners.

Verse 38. “For I am convinced.” Paul knows for sure and is convinced neither life nor death. Paul uses a series of parallels and neither/nors. Neither life nor death. Neither angels nor demons. Neither the present not the future. Neither height nor depth. That nothing in this whole wide world can separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many theologians say that these verses are the key to gospel, the summary of the gospel, the summa theologia. My personal note in the margin of my study Bible from eleven years ago says, “the key to the whole Bible. September 17, 1991.” Then ten years later, “still true.”

A few days ago, while having breakfast with our two grandchildren, Ben and Kate, ages seven and four, I asked them what they could do to stop their parents from loving them. Could they burp at the table? Whine at the top of their voice? Squabble like cats and dogs? Have gross manners? Not eat their food? What could these two children do that was so bad that their parents would stop loving them? The two grand kids could not come up with an answer. O yes, the grandchildren can be discipline, punished, and sent to their room. But even when they were being punished, it was because their parents loved them. During the children’s sermon today, I asked the kids what they could do to stop their mothers and fathers from loving them, and not  one child could think of anything. 

8 dash 8 dash 8. In the last eight verses of chapter eight, there are eight rhetorical questions. Many theologians say that this is the high water mark of the New Testament, the best there is in the Bible. Many people say that these eight verses contain the purest statement of the gospel, the sum total of the Christian faith.

One time, after Martin Luther preached the gospel, he thought to himself, “The Sunday service is done. It is time for me to go home, kick up my feet, relax, drink a glass of Wittenberg beer, and let the gospel go to work on the souls who heard the gospel. Amen.

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