Trash-Talking the Strong Man: An Act of Love

Brad, who edits our Sunday sermons, will be at Crosstimbers this week. Since Pastor Todd thought about a redo, or remodel as Ryan Overholt reminded him, for Sunday’s message.

Instead, Pastor Todd offers his notes. Yes, he does use notes. In fact, he often writes out his sermon, even if he does not read it from week to week.

Here is Sunday’s message that is part of our Summer Series, When In Rome. The Text is Romans 8:31-39, though you will find references to 8:1-30.

 

31 What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
34 Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.[a]
37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
39 height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:31-39)

Long before the Hawthorne Gorillas faced off with the Madison Magpies. Much further back than the rivalry between the Knights and the Bears. Even before there were Sooners and Cowboys, trash-talking has a long history. Maybe someone might argue trash-talking began when the Serpent whispered in Eve’s ear, “Did God really say?” If not there, then it surely could be when God promised the Serpent his head would be crushed. Think about it. The one time, the one place, Paul refers to Satan in his letter to the Christians in Rome is in 16:20 where he repeats the promise that, “God will crush Satan under you feet.”

We often struggle under the weight of words. We look for common expressions to help us point to the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Few people don’t know what it means to trash-talk these days. Why just bring up politics and it will become clearer than what takes place in a recruiting battle between Bedlam schools. Maybe you prefer LSU or Michigan. Consider how politics generates more trash-talking than Durant and the Golden State Warriors among Thunder fans.

What makes trash-talking such a helpful metaphor to describe God’s victory over Sin and Death in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus?  We mock athletes that promise victory but fail to deliver. In Jesus Christ, God fulfills his promise to defeat Sin and Death. Now there is grounds for talking trash. Our enemies, our chief rivalries, defeated in a way that magnifies the power of love. Rather than exert the force associated with a military battle, the death of Jesus brought the defeat of death in the Resurrection.

Indications that God would make good on his word showed up as Jesus invaded the world and charted a mission of rescuing those captive to forces beyond their control. For instance, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story of Jesus delivering human beings from all sorts of captivity, even those enslaved to demons. The religious establishment calls him to account. Jesus’ responded that someone must first bind the strong man if he intends to plunder the house.

Clearly Jesus aims to call out the strong man and any of his associates. In a statement clearly talking-trash, Jesus tells the religious establishment that he himself is binding the strong man and releasing captives.

Paul refers to Sin and Death as powers, anti-God powers. They hold the world, all of it, under their power. When he refers to Satan in chapter 16, it is as if he is helping people understand how it is that Satan holds power – through Sin and Death. Paul has already described how Jesus defeats Sin and Death in the Cross and Resurrection. It is this reality that leads him to assure his readers no enemy, not even Satan, will win.

If we want to take as our bookends, verses 1-2 and 31-39, Paul talks trash. Should the forces of Sin and Death think they have the upper hand to condemn, Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The activity of the Spirit of God sets us free from the law of sin and death. In other words, “Sin and Death are losers to Jesus who is Victor.”

As if to back that up, Paul will put it together that those who have been enslaved are now free. And should there be any doubt, because we still face the threats of our gasping enemies, Paul will declare that nothing, no thing, will separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.

When we stand on that same trash-talking confidence, we are announcing the Good News that God did what we could not do. To this point we have tried to follow Paul’s long argument that the declaration that there is a new Lord in town brings about the obedience of faith among the nations. No longer will nations give themselves to other lords, namely those represented by Sin and Death whose power makes what is holy, true and good its minion.

Even more. If we take Paul seriously, and we should, the anti-God powers of Sin and Death have been talking trash and running roughshod over all creation. The work of God in Jesus Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ, sets the whole of creation free from the powers that even keep humans beings as captives. The reference to new creation does not exclusively apply to human beings. For Paul, as Jesus assumes the right hand of the Father, he is at work by the Spirit putting all enemies under our feet – chiefly, Sin, Death, and the Grave.

Driving the point home for we human beings, the emphasis upon God’s rectification in Jesus Christ is to recall a slave does not free himself or herself. When the Redeemer comes, the slave is faced with the choice to live as free or remain a slave. There is something that draws us to the one who frees us. Paul points out that the One who frees us is the One who gives life. Why would we now free not give ourselves to the One who gives life?

It is the one-time-slave that finds in his or her rescuer someone worth giving themselves to in freedom. Think about it. If after a prolonged captivity you are faced with the decision who to follow, why wouldn’t you choose the one who freed you?

That is Paul’s long argument. If he may demonstrate that while we were ungodly, Christ died for us, why would those for whom Jesus died not give themselves to Jesus for their ongoing freedom? Paul tells the Galatian Christians, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free. But, don’t use your freedom as license to do whatever you want.” The one freed needs to learn how to live in freedom by following the One who brought freedom. Our freedom is best reflected in our lives given for others. That would be the ongoing illustration of the invading love of God in the world by the Spirit who makes us to know our freedom is not for us but for others.

And, know this, we are never more free when we are given to love our neighbors. It is not a new legalism. Instead it is at this point in life that we are no longer slaves to our own desires through which the law under the power of Sin slays us and leads to death.

Consider it an ongoing trash-talking Good News. God in Christ by the Spirit makes us alive to freedom, a freedom we never dreamed of as slaves.

When we come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are, with our bodies, trash-talking Sin and Death. Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes is a reminder that victory was won through love not the love of power, but the power of love. Together we trash-talk Sin and Death as no longer having dominion over us. We long for the Spirit to set our minds on those things that free us, namely God’s love in Jesus Christ.

And so we exclaim with Paul,

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? 

Can affliction

Or persecution

Or famine

Or nakedness

Or danger or sword?

For I am persuaded that neither death

Nor life

Nor angels

Nor rulers

Nor things present

Nor things to come

Nor powers

Nor height

Nor depth

Nor any other created things

Will have power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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