“More than a Conqueror” (Romans 8:37)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I visited Rosetta for the last time a week ago yesterday. She was sitting upright in her wheelchair. She was cheerful and talkative. Soon after I left, she lay down in her bed and never got up again. She quickly faded until she died late Saturday afternoon.
A couple of weeks earlier I had visited her. At that time, it had already been determined that her time with us was limited. Of course, that’s true for all of us. None of us knows when we will take our last breath. The doctors make their best guess. Only God knows for sure. This is all the more reason why it is important for each of us to pause and consider our relationship to God. This all the more reason why it is important to be ready at all times for our own death. And so, at times like these, we gather together to listen to God’s Word and consider what it has to say to us about death … and about the life that is promised to those who trust in Christ Jesus as Savior.
Rosetta had been ready for a long time. In fact, she had already picked out Bible verses and Psalms and hymns she wanted at her funeral. They were written on the inside cover of her Bible. She showed them to me on one of our previous visits, and I made sure to take note of them. We’re using all of them today. I might also note that the white paraments we’re using today – the fabric draping our chancel furniture – were lovingly made by Rosetta a number of years ago.
The Scripture verse I want to use for our time together here is one that Rosetta chose … Romans 8:37. There, the apostle Paul writes, “[I]n all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
“In all these things?” he says. What “things”? To learn that, we need to back up a few verses. There, Paul talks about tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword. Those are all things that first century Christians were facing. Christians in various parts of the world face these things today.
And most certainly we all have trouble and distress in this world that is broken by sin. Ever since our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, we have all inherited a sinful condition from them. Because the world is sinfully broken, each of us also faces the aging process and disease and death which sometimes even catch an 89 year old woman and her family off guard.
In the end, death always seems to win. No matter how much we try to gain the upper hand, death always seems to win the battle.
But death never has the last word. Jesus has the last word on death. And his last word was more of an exclamation point ... in the shaped of a stone rolled away from the entrance to an empty tomb. Jesus won the victory for us over death when he rose again on Easter morning.
Earlier in Romans 8, St. Paul writes, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us, 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.”
God the Father sent his Son to become a Man in order to die and bear the punishment for the sins of the world. He didn’t spare his Son, but gave him up for us all. Those who are baptized into Christ and trust in his saving death are God’s elect, his chosen ones. No longer do your sins condemn you. Through the shed blood of Jesus, you are justified. You are declared not guilty. Christ Jesus paid the price for your sins at the cross with his own suffering and death. And St. Paul says that through Christ, he “graciously gives us all things.” What things? In contrast to those things we heard about earlier – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword – the “all things” we have in Christ are peace with God, confidence in his loving care, daily provision for our body and soul, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, the promise of being with him in heaven when we die, and the promise of resurrection on the Last Day, even as Jesus himself rose from the dead on Easter morning. These are the very things that Rosetta was given by baptism and by faith in her Savior Jesus. And what more can we need? All the material wealth of this life is worth nothing compared to the riches of eternal life in Christ.
Rosetta lived a full life. Over the years, she raised a family. Taught school. Served in various capacities at church. Taught Vacation Bible School on a First Nations reserve in remote Saskatchewan. Travelled all over the world, hitting almost every continent.
Over the years, she also fought some health battles, including this most recent one. In the end, she decided not to fight. She was ready to place herself into the arms of her Savior in his time and according to his will. But even in death, she is “more than a conqueror” through the One who loved her enough to suffer and die for her sins and to rise again on the Third Day. And she will rise again, too, according to God’s promises in Holy Scripture.
Listen to how St. Paul describes that great day of resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:53-57).
“[I]n 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” (Rom. 8:37-39).
Rosetta is with her Lord right now. Nothing was able to separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus. She is more than a conqueror because of the victory that Jesus won for her.
Those of us who are still here have to deal with our grief and sadness. Maybe you’re a bit numb. Maybe you’re tired. Dealing with the death of a loved one is emotionally and spiritually draining. But this promise is for you today, too. Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Trust in him today. Receive the peace and comfort that he offers to you through his death and resurrection … and know what it means to be “more than a conqueror.”