Romans 8:35-39 (NIV) 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.
“Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! And I would eat them in a boat. And I would eat them with a goat… And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! So I will eat them in a box. And I will eat them with a fox. And I will eat them in a house. And I will eat them with a mouse. And I will eat them here and there. Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE!”
Hey! That’s not Scripture. At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m reading the book Green Eggs and Ham. In the book, Sam I Am pursues the unnamed main character all over the place trying to convince him to eat green eggs and ham. There is no place the main character can go to escape Sam, whether it’s in a box or hanging out with a fox, or in a train, or in the rain. Eventually the character tries green eggs and ham and realizes he likes it quite a lot. He then wants to eat green eggs and ham everywhere and anywhere. Ready for the big connection? The Christians in Rome are like the main character of Green Eggs and Ham. Many of them did not believe and wanted nothing to do with Jesus and his love, but now that they had experienced it from themselves, they didn’t want to lose it. Green Eggs and Ham is a work of fiction. The Romans were wondering if Christ’s love was fiction or fact. They were wondering if anything was strong enough to separate them from the love of God they had grown to cherish.
Unfortunately for those Christians in Rome, persecution was a fact. Trials and tribulations were part of everyday life in the times of a Roman empire that didn’t always view the Christian faith in the kindest possible way. Not to mention, some Jews were traveling around, preaching that the news about Jesus was false or not enough to be saved. And others, thought Christianity was just plain stupid. All in all, it was not the best environment for believers to be in. Our text tells us they would have to deal with trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword separate them from the love of God? These words in the original Greek show that oppression, affliction, distress, anguish, being hemmed in with no way out, starvation, destitution, danger, war, and even death were included in the conversation. Would they be able to separate them from the love of God?
The Apostle Paul begins to answer their question with a quotation from Psalm 44:22. He basically told them persecution for believers has existed even since the time David, over a thousand years earlier. Paul told the Christians in Rome, you will experience persecution in your life too. It will happen. Not much has changed today. About 2000 years after Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, we face persecution in our own lives.
I’d like to share a story with you. When I was in college I applied for a summer job at Family Video. Now I don’t know if the application process is as hard as it was in all Family Video stores or not, but I went through a process far more arduous than I expected. I went through a phone interview. After passing that I drove 5 hours from college to Steven’s Point for a face to face interview with a worker. As soon as I passed that they gave me a test that resembled the ACT and was timed for an hour. I passed the test with flying colors and returned to college awaiting what came next. I drove back for another interview with the manager and he was very excited. He even wanted to know if I was willing to be a manager right off the bat. Only one more obstacle was left. I had to meet with the regional manager. Another drive down and an interview later I thought I was in good shape. At least, until the regional manager took me into a supply closet where she proceeded to inform me she wasn’t going to offer me the job because I was a Christian. Then she lied about the reasoning to the other managers, and I was not hired.
The point is, persecution happens today too. It may not be as terrible since we are blessed to live in the U.S. but it is there. It is a fact of life. But more importantly, how do we react to it? We shudder at the thought of sharing the gospel with even our friends and family for fear of lash back. Maybe this is something you aren’t particularly good at, and you pass up a perfect opportunity to share the life-saving message of Jesus, the most important message of all time, because you thought maybe someone else would do it. Maybe you even make excuses. We let persecution hold us back. We let sin hold us back and give the devil a foothold into someone else’s life as well as our own.
The apostle Paul had some good news for the churches back then and for us today. In the midst of all the persecution, you are more than conquerors through him who loved you. It always points back to Jesus. God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (32). No one can condemn you because of Christ (34). Jesus died, more than that, was raised to life so that you could be free from you sin (34). And now he sits at the right hand of the Father to intercede for you in your behalf. In other words, we don’t need to worry about persecution, because it holds no power over us in the end. Our lives are like a book with the final chapter already filled with a heavenly ending. No amount of persecution that fills the chapters ahead can take that away from you. Take heart because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. None of these can overcome us because of what Jesus did.
Which leads us back to the question of can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Well, the short answer is no. But Paul’s answer is so much better. In his longer answer we begin to see the beauty of it all. He uses several pairs of opposites which cover the broad spectrum of everything in between. And none of these things are able to separate us from the love of God and the blessings that come with it. The first pair is “death” and “life.” It encompasses all we currently know of human existence. The second pair is “angels” and “demons.” It contains every spiritual cosmic power, whether benevolent or malevolent. The third pair is “present” and “future.” It is all-inclusive in regard to time. Here Paul throws in the word “powers” just so you know they can’t separate you from the love of God either. And the final pair is “height” and “depth.” This is spatial and embraces the entire universe, both physical and otherwise. And just in case you can think of something that doesn’t fit into those broad and sweeping categories, Paul adds that anything else in all of creation, will not be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (39).
Well, except one thing. The only thing that can separate us from God’s love is ourselves. God protects us as needed but his grace allows us to reject and walk away from him. And in our world today, it sad to say, many, if not most, take this option. And we’d probably be lying if we said some days we aren’t tempted to as well. The Christian life is hard and sometimes we get fed up with it. There are laws God wants us to follow, but we don’t want to. Sometimes we don’t understand what he has placed before us in his eternal Word. Sometimes doubts creep into our minds or our feelings don’t match what God says, even though what he says is always right and always what is best for us. We’re sinners and so we are tempted to walk away from God’s love.
But God doesn’t abandon you there either. Look at where you are. Right now you are in a place of safety to learn and grow in your faith. God has given you this church to help nourish your faith and surround you with fellow believers. Look at the people around you. They are here to help and encourage you. They go through many of the same struggles you do and understand the hardships. Look at the cross behind me. Jesus promised that wherever two or three gather together in his name, he would be with them (Matthew 18:20). He floods you with his love, cleansing you of your sins and strengthening the faith inside of you. He is with you through every trouble, every pain, every joy, and success. Your hope is secure.
Brothers and sisters. You have nothing to fear. Even though persecution will happen to you, it cannot take away the love of Christ. Nothing can. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 (38-39).” So whether you are on a boat or with a goat, or in the rain or on a train, in a car, in a tree, in a box with a fox or wherever you happen to be, remember you are inseparable from the love of Christ. Amen.