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Ten Words To Win The World

Romans 8:28-39

Begin to read at the verse numbered 31. The verses which follow verse 31 comprise a magnificent passage of Scripture, one that rings with triumph and calls us to faith. Please hear the words of Almighty God. “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who, indeed, intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake, we are being killed all the day long. We are regarded as sheep being slaughtered.’ No. In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory. Let us pray.

Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

One of the great heroes of the early Christian church was a man named Cyprian. Cyprian was not converted until middle age. He promptly proceeded to begin to live so powerfully and so faithfully that, ultimately, he was elected the Bishop of Carthage in North Africa. He was arrested by the Romans. He was threatened with death unless he renounced his faith in Jesus Christ. Cyprian stood firm, and he went with a hymn on his lips to the arms of his Savior. Quite a man.

On the day before he was put to death, he wrote some words which have been etched in the history of the Christian church. Listen. Cyprian wrote, “If I could climb to a high mountain and look out across the world, you know what I would see, brigands on the highways and pirates on the seas and men being murdered in amphitheaters to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty, misery and despair under every roof. It is a bad world, sometimes an incredibly bad world. But in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised, and they are persecuted, but they are not defeated, and they will win the world. These people are called Christians, and I am one of them.” And then, to his death.

Be very clear at this point, Cyprian was not the product of some soft, easy, comfortable life. He knew when he wrote those words that on the next day, he would die for his faith. He knew life as it really is, all of its hardships and all of its tragedies. He knew the sledgehammer blows of honest, human experience. He knew life at its very hardest. Yet, even in the midst of it, Cyprian was filled with an indomitable courage. Why? Simply because he had Christ, that and nothing other than that. And I would suggest to you today that that was true because Cyprian took to heart the words written in the magnificent eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, a passage in which Paul asks a profound question and then proceeds to answer that question by asking another question and then sums the whole matter up with a glorious affirmation which echoes through the centuries.

Come along with me, and let’s take a closer look. Ah, but wait, first. You know how so many of the things that we buy these days have stamped on the label somewhere, “Warning, this product may be hazardous to your health”? I want to put a stamp over this sermon. I want to put a stamp over this passage of Scripture. It says, “Warning, this passage may change your life.” Let’s go.

First, this. Paul asked a question. “What shall we say to this?”

In other words, Paul was saying, what shall we say to life, life with all of its sledgehammer blows. What shall we say to things like distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword? What shall we say to life’s hardships and tragedies? Will we speak the words that Cyprian spoke? “I have found the people who have learned the secret. They will win the world. They are Christians, and I am one of them.” Is that what we will say? Or is it not more likely that in the face of life’s hardships, we shall say, “I don’t think I’m up to it”?

Jim McNaul shared with me a funny story about a preacher who was in a congregation. He’d been there for a time, and the honeymoon was over, and then, all of a sudden, the problems began to arise. And they got bigger and bigger, and he was more and more frustrated, more and more inadequate to meet the challenges that were there. And finally, in desperation, he picked up the phone, and he called the former pastor of that church. And he said, “What can I do?” And the former pastor said to him, “I knew you would call. Look down in the right-hand desk drawer at the back. There’s an envelope there marked number one. Pick up that envelope, read it, and do what it says.” He picked up the envelope and opened it up, and inside, it said, “Blame the former administration for all your problems.” That’s what he did the next Sunday. Right from the pulpit, he began to unload on the former administration. And things were better for a little while. And then things began to go downhill once more. Once again, in desperation, he picked up the phone and called the former pastor, and he said, “What do I do now? I can’t cope with it.” And he said, “I knew you’d call. Look down in the left-hand drawer of your desk. There’s an envelope there marked number two. Open it up. Read it. Do what it says.” He opened up the envelope, and it said inside, “Blame the denomination for all your troubles.” That’s what he did the next Sunday in the pulpit, began to unload on the denomination. And things were better for a while. The people kind of responded. But then, the problems again. Once more, inadequate to meet the demands, in real desperation now, he called. He said, “Please, you’ve got to help me. What do I do?” And he said, “I knew you’d call. Look in the center drawer of your desk, way at the back. There’s an envelope in there. It’s marked number three. Open it up, read it, and do what it says.” He opened up the envelope, and it said, “Prepare three envelopes.”

That’s what really works on us, isn’t it? That we aren’t adequate within ourselves to meet the problems that exist, the tragedies and the hardships that come to us in the course of our living. That’s what eats away at us. Let’s be honest. You know how it is. We don’t fear the surgeon’s knife. We fear how we shall respond to the surgeon’s knife. We don’t fear the classroom examination. We fear whether we shall be equal to the challenge of the examination. We don’t fear the word witness. We fear that we shall not have the right words to speak when they need to be spoken. It’s that sense of inadequacy, that sense of being unable to cope with the hardships and the difficulties of life when they come. That’s what really works on us.

Take Jerry for example. Jerry came home from Vietnam minus a leg. Infection set in, and together with infection, a deep case of fear set in. The doctors were able to do something about the infection. They couldn’t do anything about the fear. And Jerry laid in a bed in the veterans’ hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, week after week after week simply staring at the ceiling. Couldn’t cope. The doctors tried everything they knew. Nothing worked. Finally, they got the idea that maybe it would be a good idea to send Jerry home. Maybe in the circumstances and around the people that he loved, maybe he would begin to snap out of the doldrums, the despair he was in. That didn’t work either. In time, he was brought back to the hospital. They tried many things, all to no avail. And one day, Jerry’s primary doctor lost his temper. He walked into Jerry’s room, and he said, “Look, son. Many people have come back from Vietnam with far worse wounds than yours. And your wound is serious, yes, but it’s not going to keep you from living. Now, here’s an artificial leg. Thousands of people have learned how to use them, and you can learn, too. Now, get up out of that bed, and get going.” Jerry didn’t move. He simply stared at the ceiling.

Paul’s question, “What shall we say to these things? What shall we say to the hardships that come in life?” Jerry’s answer, “Life is nothing other than a lost battle.” But that wasn’t Paul’s answer, thank God. No, Paul answered that question by asking another question.

Paul wrote, “He who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also freely give us all things through Him?” That’s Paul’s answer.

You know, I have to say to you that on my study leave, when I was laying the groundwork for this sermon, I had to read that verse over and over and over again before I ever began to get to the center of it, before it ever began to dawn on me that when Paul wrote those words, he was referring to another incident that had happened 2,000 years before, an incident recorded in the Book of Genesis, an incident involving Abraham and Isaac and God. Do you remember the story? You remember, don’t you? Yes. God came to Abraham, and He said, “Abraham, take your son, Isaac, to Mount Moriah, and there, you are to sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” Think about that for a moment. Think about God saying, “Sacrifice your son.” Remember? Isaac, Isaac was the child of Abraham’s old age. He was the joy, the light of Abraham’s life. He was God’s special gift to Abraham. And now, God was turning Indian giver. He wanted the gift back. Think of the pain, the agony, the pleadings that must have been wrenched out of Abraham’s soul at that moment. God stood firm. “I want the boy.” And Abraham, in what must have been terrible pain, yet always obedient to the Lord, took Isaac to Mount Moriah. And there, the Bible tells us that he loaded wood onto Isaac’s back, the wood that would be used to build a fire. And it was at that moment that Isaac turned to his father and said, “Father, we don’t have a lamb for the sacrifice.” Think how those words must have slashed through Abraham’s heart. All he could do in response was to mumble something about, “God will provide,” and then, in order to mask his own tears, he quickly turned and walked on up the hill. And when he got to the top of the hill, he proceeded to build a huge altar of stone. I think it’s worth remembering that he built that altar of stone in the very same place where later on, David would meet an angel, in the very same place where later on, Solomon would build a glorious temple, in the very same place where later on, the city of Jerusalem would rise, in the very same place where later on, God would offer His own Son.

And then the Bible says that Abraham took Isaac in his arms and told him what he was about to do. Think about doing that with your child. And then, Abraham tied Isaac’s hands with rope. Think of tying your own child’s hands. And then, Abraham lifted Isaac up and placed him upon that altar. I tell you, I’ve stood with a father at the graveside and held him tight while he shook with sobs because he knew that there was nothing that he could ever say or do that would bring his child back from the grave. I’ve stood with a father who has watched his own child die. And yet, think what it must have been for Abraham to there, on the altar, take his son’s head and push it back slightly so that the neck was exposed and then to take the dagger in his hand and lift it high until the blade glinted in the red, Syrian sun, ready to plunge it home.

Only then, only at that moment did there come a voice. Not, I’m convinced, a still, small voice. No, I’m convinced a voice that rolled like thunder. “Stop. Abraham, stop. I now know that you love me enough to offer me your son.” All of that, all of that picture is behind these words that Paul wrote, “He who spared not His own Son.” You see, Paul’s saying that what Abraham did is remarkable indeed, but let’s remember that there came a day when God climbed the slopes of Mount Moriah with His own Son.

His Son, too, carried wood upon His back, only this time, it was in the shape of a cross. His Son, too, had hands bound, only this time, not with ropes but with nails. His Son, too, was spread upon an altar, only this time, not an altar of stone but one of rough, crude boards. This time, too, there was an instrument of death drawn and glinting in the sun. Only this time, there was no thundering voice crying, “Stop.” Only this time, there was no stay of execution. This time, the blade plunged home, and the Son died.

We may marvel at the love and the loyalty of Abraham, but before the love and the loyalty of God, we can only fall on our knees. For God, too, had a Son, but His Son died. That’s Paul’s answer to all of the hardships and the tragedies of life. “He who spared not His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things through Him? The God who died for us is ready to come and live within us.” That’s Paul’s answer. And oh, that leads him then to a glorious affirmation. “Nothing. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

You know, one of the things that troubles me as Christians is the fact that we say it so casually, so matter-of-factly. “God is love.” The words just tumble out. “God is love.” You know, in the study Bible that I use at my desk, those words appear for the first time in the Bible on page 1,485. Before those words were ever written, there had been all of the magnificence of creation. There had been the call of God to Abraham. There had been the bondage in Egypt and the exodus and the possession of the promised land. there had been the rise and the fall of the judges and the kings and the empires. There had been the repeated sins of the chosen people of Israel and the voices of the prophets crying in the wilderness and the years of wandering in exile. There had been the birth in a stable of a peasant child in a little place called Bethlehem. There had been the agony of Calvary when great black clouds literally covered the face of God so that the world could not see Him weeping. There had been the triumphant power of the resurrection when the power of God Himself had burst its way out of a sealed tomb, and there had been the awesome rise of the church of Jesus Christ, inflamed by the Spirit moving up and moving out until it encircled the globe. All of that, yes, all of it before the words, “God is love.”

What I’m trying to say to you is simply this, that those words, “God is love,” that’s not the beginning of some soft, easy, comfortable philosophy of life. No. Those words are the foundation’s stone of a faith which has been forged out of blood, sweat, and tears, God’s blood, God’s sweat, God’s tears. And because that’s true, we can stand, you and I. We can stand because God stands with us. He has offered us His Son, and now He offers us His life. And that means that “neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

And you know, the amazing thing is Paul summarizes it all in a single sentence, just ten words. Just ten words, but ten words so filled with power, they can change and win the world. ten words so filled with power, they can lay hold of your life right now and transform it to the glory of God. Ten words, that’s all. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Ten words, say it with me. Come on. Don’t just sit there quietly, now. This is too important. For here is where it all comes to roost. This is the full focus of the Gospel. Ten words, say them with me. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Yes. Do you remember Jerry? The day after the doctor lost his temper, he walked into the room, and he said to Jerry, he said, “Look, I’ve given up. I’ve had it. You’re going to have to leave. There’s nothing more we can do for you. Maybe the best thing for you to do is to talk with God about this thing.” And he turned around, and he walked out of the room. Four hours later, he was astonished to see Jerry come stumbling and falling down the hospital corridor, trying to walk on that artificial leg. He went on from that point to learn how to use that leg perfectly. The day came when he was to be dismissed from the hospital. The doctor asked him what had caused the change in his attitude. He said, “You know, you said to me that I ought to talk to God about this thing, and I did. And suddenly, I began to realize that the God who died for me would never lie to me. And I found some words in the eighth chapter of Romans. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?'”

Today, Jerry’s married. He’s a father. He’s a successful businessman. People are amazed. People are always amazed when they see the power of God at work in a human life. Ten words, yes. Light them in your heart and in your mind so they’ll never leave. If God is for us, who, who in this Earth, who can be against us? What I’m trying to say to you is very simply this, that if you put Jesus Christ at the center of your life, then you can’t lose.

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, if You are for us who can be against us? Nothing and no one. We are Yours. And because we are Yours, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. We claim Him as our own, and we offer ourselves to Him, never again to be separated from Him or from His love.

 

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