Never before had I received such shocking news in the midst of the services on a Sunday morning. Bible class was finished, and I was about to get ready for the 10:30 a.m. service when I learned that Janet had died. I was completely taken aback – absolutely shocked. After all, I had just talked with her on the phone on Tuesday as I checked to see how she was doing. She hadn’t been at church for a couple of Sundays, and as we talked I learned about the problems she had been having. Janet sounded upbeat and positive about how she was feeling. She expressed the expectation that she would be back at church soon. What I heard left me with the impression that we would see her back at church in a Sunday or two.
And of course, church is where you expected to see Janet. She regularly attended the Divine Service and expressed her deep appreciation for receiving the Means of Grace. After the Covid lockdown was lifted so that we could at least have services with ten people, there Janet was to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. She may have been in her early seventies with some health problems, but a virus wasn’t going to keep her from coming to receive Jesus’ true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. I remember her expressing to me how good it was to be able to come to church again and receive the Lord’s gift.
Janet was a member of the Wednesday morning ladies’ Bible study – that group where laughter is always part of being together and studying God’s Word. The only exception – the only time she would miss was when she was baby sitting grandchildren and great grandchildren who were the joy of her life.
And Janet was always here to help with VBS. She was part of the kitchen crew that each morning prepared the snacks for the kids. Just as she loved the children of her own family, she loved the children of this congregation and enjoyed watching them grow up.
Janet was a sweet, kind and dear woman. She was soft spoken – I always found her voice to be very soothing. But make no mistake, she had very strongly held beliefs. She knew what she believed and why she believed it. This was true of her approach to life and her political views. It was also true about her confession of the Christian faith. Janet was a member of Good Shepherd because she believed and confessed the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She did, despite the fact that it made her different from everyone else in her family. Janet was indeed a woman of great faith.
And now – suddenly, unexpectedly, - she is gone. We have lost this person we loved at Good Shepherd. And so I want to take up the first words of our text and ask, “What then shall we say to these things?” In the verses leading up to our text, Paul has been addressing the reality of suffering in life. He has said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He has written, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” And then he has added, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
When then shall we say to these things? Well Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Is there suffering and hardship? Yes. Do we face death and the loss of a dear sister in Christ? Yes. But in the face of this, Paul points out that God is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us?
The apostle then reminds us about the reason we have this confidence as he says: “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? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 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.”
Paul asks, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” “Who will condemn?” The fact of the matter is that God should be bringing a charge. God should be condemning. Earlier in this letter the apostle has already said “that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” He has written, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Janet was a lovely woman. But like the rest of us, she was a sinner. We know this with absolute certainty, because she has died. I have said this at the death of every member of this congregation, and I will continue to say it because Paul says in Romans chapter six, “For the wages of sin is death.” Janet didn’t die because of a cardiac event. She died because she was a sinner. She was conceived and born as a fallen sinner. She lived a life in which she sinned in thought, word, and deed. Janet knew this. She confessed her sin at the beginning of every Divine Service. She joined in talking with us at the Wednesday morning Bible class about the sin we all know is present in our lives.
It is true that sin has brought death. But God is not going to bring a charge against Janet. God is not going to condemn her. Instead, God is for her. God is on her side. As the apostle says in our text, “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?”
God the Father sent his Son into the world in the incarnation to die on the cross. He came to die for our sins – as Paul says in chapter four, he “was delivered over because of our transgressions.” Yes all have sinned. Yes, Janet sinned. But Paul told the Romans that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Janet and all believers in Christ have been redeemed – we have been freed from the condemnation. This is true because Jesus bore the judgment of our sins. As Paul says in our text, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.” No one will bring a charge against Janet, because God has justified her. Through his Spirit, God worked faith in Jesus Christ. And on account of Christ, God had already declared Janet “not guilty.” That is his verdict now. That is the verdict he will speak on the Last Day. And so we know that Janet is with God. After all, because of Jesus Christ she already had peace with God. Paul says in this letter, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
No one is going to condemn Janet or you – because the Judge of Last Day is the One who already died and rose for us. Paul says in our text: “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.”
Jesus Christ did not just die. On the third day God raised him from the dead. Paul began this letter by referring to Jesus Christ as God’s Son, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In his resurrection Jesus has defeated death. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, Janet will too. Earlier in this chapter, Paul referred the role the Spirit had in raising Jesus. He said, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit who raised Jesus was in Janet. We know this because she was baptized. She had received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. She had received what just before our text Paul calls the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” and because she had, we know that she will experience the redemption of her body on the Last Day.
Because these things are true Paul ends our text with a rousing note of assurance about Janet – and about each one of us. He writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, 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.”
Janet has died, but that has not separated her from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Instead, she is with the Lord. And through the work of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus will raise her from the dead when he return in glory on the Last Day.