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“Christ Died for Us”
Romans 5:6-8


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday in Lent—March 8, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The news these days is all about bailouts by the government, of companies and individuals who have debts they are not able to pay off.  Today’s Epistle Reading is also a bailout story, God’s bailout of you and me, and our spiritual debt we could never repay.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Paul says in Ephesians, “As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins.”  You’ve heard stories about people it was mistakenly thought were dead, but they were discovered to actually be alive when they sat up in the morgue and started talking.  Spiritually, we are by nature dead, totally, completely dead, and we could no more take the first step and reach out to God, to bail ourselves out of our sinful predicament, than an actual dead person could sit up and talk.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Our sins separate us from God, and we are powerless to do anything about it.

“When we were STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.”  “The ungodly” doesn’t just mean those people out there.  “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin”; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; “No one is righteous, not even one,”  not even you, not even me.  As we confess in our Liturgy, WE are by nature sinful and unclean; WE are the “ungodly sinners” Paul is talking about in our text.

But the Good News is, God did not wait for you to take the initiative, for you to take the first step for your salvation, for you to bail yourself out.  Paul says in Colossians, “When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ.”  “You see, at just the right time, WHEN WE WERE STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.”

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” A controversial part of the government’s bailout programs is who deserves a bailout and how is that determined?  Spiritually, on account of our sins, we all deserve what you could call the final foreclosure of death and damnation.  Spiritually, none of us deserves a bailout from our sins. 

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.”  We might sacrifice our lives for our family, our friends—for someone we think deserves it.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.” 

What does that mean, “Christ died for us”?  That doctrine is what the Christian faith is really all about: Jesus Christ took your sins upon himself and gave his life to pay the penalty for you.  Jesus described his mission on earth this way: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to GIVE HIS LIFE as a ransom for many.”  Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” 

“But God DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God arranged world history so that the New Testament would be written in Greek.  Greek is the language of philosophy and in many ways uniquely suited to the theological considerations of the New Testament. Greek has four separate words for the different aspects of our word “love.” 

The bumper stickers which say “I ‘Heart’ Something” would use the word stergo, which is a fondness.  Eros is amorous love between and man and woman.  Phileo is brotherly love and friendship.

“But God DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The word for “love” in that verse is the Greek word agape.  Agape is a very special kind of love, a totally unmerited, undeserved, love.  Paul says in Titus, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, NOT because of righteous things we had done, but because of HIS MERCY.” 

That’s the point of today’s Epistle Reading: God didn’t say, “First, you get your act together; you take the first step; you prove to me you are worthy of my divine love and forgiveness.  Then we’ll see if I will save you.”  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  That’s what “agape” is: UNmerited, UNdeserved love and forgiveness.

John says, literally, “This is how God showed his ‘agape’ to us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world . . . as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . .  Beloved, if God showed that kind of ‘agape’ to us, we ought also to show ‘agape’ to one another.” 

That is what living the Christian LIFE is all about: Showing others the same unmerited, undeserved love and forgiveness that God has shown you in Jesus Christ.  Jesus put it this way at the Last Supper: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  “Show ‘agape’—unmerited, undeserved love—to one another.  As I have shown ‘agape’ to you, so you must show ‘agape’ to one another.” 

The news these days is all about bailouts, and today’s Epistle Reading is also a bailout story, God’s spiritual bailout of you and me.  The government’s bailout plan will be tens of thousands of pages in the Congressional Record, but you can sum up God’s spiritual bailout plan in one word: grace.  “For it is by grace you have been saved,” Paul says in Ephesians.

Grace is getting something you don’t deserve.  God wipes your sins off the books, not because you deserve it, but as an act of his grace, because the spiritual the debt of your sins has been paid in full, for you, by his own Son. 

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Amen.

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