December 24, 2023


Passage: Romans 8:28-39

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded 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 sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 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.
— Romans 8:28-39, ESV

Love is the theme of many a song.  We hear it in the Burt Bacharach classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”  It topped the pop charts when I was in high school with the Bee Gee’s “How Deep Is Your Love?”  It struck country gold and my own heart with Emmylou Harris’ remake of the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”  And who can ever forget Homer & Jethro, who sang the greatest love song ever written, “I’ve Got Tears in My Ears from Lying on My Back Crying Over You.”

Love is the last theme of our four Sundays of Advent.  It is the last candle lit before the Christ candle is crowned. Love is the theme of the first coming of Christ, of course, as the Bible’s most familiar verse, John 3:16, attests.  And, love is the theme of the second coming of Christ, whether it be through a Christian’s death, or whether we are the generation of Christians who are alive when Christ visibly returns to earth.

Finding Love in the First Coming of Christ

Another country song warns us about “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”  The crescendo of the classic eighth chapter of Romans is the right place to look for love.  In verse 28 we first see “those who love God,” then discover all of the ways and means “we love [God] because He first loved us” (ref. 1 John 4:19).

In verse 29 God “foreknew” and “predestined” us before we knew or decided anything about Him.  This means God chose to have a saving relationship with us “before the foundation of the world” (ref. Ephesians 1:4) and then sovereignly put us on a path to join “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ref. Acts 20:28).

In verse 30 God “called” us with the quickening and saving power of His word and the Holy Spirit, so that we could “call on him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (ref. Romans 10:12-13).  With such salvation we are “justified,” meaning our sins are forgiven and we are declared right with God.  Furthermore, we receive a guarantee we will be “glorified,” perfected and protected in Heaven forever, when we experience the second coming of Christ.

Why did God come to you the first time to save you?  Because He loves you!  We understand God’s love only in part now, having believed the gospel, learned from the word, and experienced many sweet seasons of His love.  But when Jesus Christ comes again, either through the veil of  death, or in the great rapture of the church, we will finally apprehend and understand God’s love in full.

Finding Love with Christ Along the Way

The love we will experience at the second coming of Christ will be such sweet relief.  This is because intense suffering bought us this love in the first place.  They do not call it the “Via Delarosa” for nothing.  Suffering marks our love for the Lord along the way, too.  “Love Hurts,” to quote from Emmylou again.

Verses 31-32 reveal the depths of suffering God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit endured to lovingly save us from our sins and secure for us eternal life.  The Father “did not spare his own Son.”  The Son bled and died on the cross.  The Holy Spirit groaned.

Perhaps the most poignant characters in Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War are Denton “Mogie” Crocker, Jr., his mother, and the whole family.  Mogie was an uber-patriotic 17-year-old who enlisted in the Army and asked to be sent to the front lines.  He was less than a month from going home when he was killed.  The interviews with the family, especially Mrs. Crocker, are heart-wrenching.  They all loved.  They all sacrificed.  They all suffered.  Just like our triune God did to show His saving love for us.  The great Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “I can summarize my theology in four words, Christ died for me!”

Verses 33-36 show saved people sacrificing and suffering because of our love for God.  We endure “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” while some are “being killed … as sheep to be slaughtered.”  We must admit we don’t know much about this in our present context.  Read church history.  Read biographies of great saints like Lottie Moon, who literally starved to death for the sake of the gospel in China.  Consider also what the church will face in the future, according to God’s prophetic word.

Suffering saved us, and suffering is part and parcel of a saved life.  Why would God do such a thing to save us?  He loves us!  Why would we endure such suffering to make His name great?  We love Him!  Love is the theme of salvation and the reason for suffering.  But one day, all suffering for the saved body of Christ will end.  Cue Buddy Holly, “That’ll be the day,” when Jesus Christ comes again!

Finding Love in the Second Coming of Christ

In keeping with our love song motif, I submit to you one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time.  It is by the late and legendary John Coltrane as a response to finding God’s love for him.   The album is entitled, “A Love Supreme.”

God loved us supremely before we knew Him, which is why He saved us.  We loved Him when we got saved, which is why we serve Him.  But when will love be supreme for us, when will we fully realize His love for us, when will we be able to show Him our full love for Him?  Love will reign supreme, finally, at the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Verses 37-39 speak of a time of love supreme.  It is a time in the future.  I believe it is the second coming of Christ, one by one through the veil of death, or all together at the great second advent.

It will make us “more than conquerers.”  We conquer sin and lostness on earth, we will be more in Heaven.  That will be the day when no person and no power “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Like other phrases we have looked at this season, the three words “will be able” in our English translation is one word in the Greek, “dunāsetai.”  It is a future middle indicative form of the word “dunamis,” which means power, ability, dynamite.  Therefore, in the future, there is going to be something dynamic combining Christ and Christians, which will endure forever and ever.

Why is Jesus coming back again?  Because He loves us!  Because we love Him!  It will be an explosion of love that will never end.  It will be perfect love, with the perfect God, as a perfected people, in a perfect new world without end.

So let us think as perfectly as possible about the second advent this Advent season.  Let us combine the hope we have in God, the peace we have found in Christ, the joy that comes from the fulness of the Holy Spirit.  Then when the Lord comes again, we will celebrate His love, in the words of the old Randy Travis song, “Forever and ever, amen!”

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