The Love of God
Rev. Alex Sloter Romans 5:1-11 God’s Love Lent 2B (2/28/2021) A Blood Red Sky Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. What do you see when you picture God? Some people, when they look to heaven, see nothing at all, just empty sky. They don’t believe that God exists. Other people see a bearded old man, someone who may know what’s going on down here, but doesn’t care enough to intervene. He set the world in motion, and now he just lets it spin. Some see a father; some see a mother. Some see a fool; others see a genie. But some people, when they look to heaven, see this (The Last Day of Pompeii).1 This painting is entitled The Last Day of Pompeii. As you may know, Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was buried by the fury of a volcano. When people looked to heaven on the last day of Pompeii, they saw a blood red sky hurling down fire like an angry God. When you look to heaven, do you see this? Probably not, but that is what Paul sees when he looks to heaven in the first chapter of Romans. He writes, “For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” When Paul looks to heaven, he sees the wrath of God being revealed against human sin. He sees a blood red sky hiding the face of an angry God. 1 See the first painting at the end of the sermon. Paul sees this because of what God sees when he looks down on earth. God sees sin. He sees ungodliness. He sees wickedness. He sees his human creatures plunging his good creation into madness, and he responds with anger and the threat of judgment. God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against sin. Now, this is can be a hard reality to deal with, but to fully appreciate what Paul tells us in Romans 5 about the gift of salvation, we must first come to grips with the fact that God is angry because of sin and that he will someday punish sin. Many people think that God would be evil if he really was angry, if he really did punish sin. The truth, he would be evil if he didn’t. I was once told a story about someone who had suffered abuse. I assumed the abuser had been put away, but in the course of the conversation, it was revealed that he was still at large. I asked if they had reported him, and they said yes. More than once. Multiple people had reported this predator. But because he had always lived in the same small town, he had a good ol’ boy relationship with the people who mattered. So the local officials were unwilling to do anything about him. They turned a deaf ear to the complaints of his victims and a blind eye to his sin and acted as though nothing were wrong. Should this ever happen? No, we all know it is wrong. Just think of the fury you would feel as a father or a mother if you were in this situation. We would demand justice. But if that is how we would respond to sin, how should God respond? Should God act like a useless official? Should he turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to sin? Should he allow the guilty to go unpunished? Should he allow the wronged to suffer without any hope of justice? No! That would be horrible, unthinkable. If God acted like that, then evil would win, just like it has apparently won in this situation. But that is not the true God. The true God sees sin and is angered by it. The true God will someday call this person to account for what he’s done and pass the appropriate sentence on this sinner for his sins. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against him. But, if God should judge sin, then shouldn’t he judge every sin? Is it fair for some sinners to be prosecuted by God’s judgement while others are excused? No, that would be favoritism. If God is just, then he must punish all sin, passing an appropriate sentence on each sinner for the sin that person committed. And that is what God intends to do. Paul writes in Romans 2 that on the day of judgement, God will “repay each person according to what they have done.” And none will be excused for “God does not show favoritism.” When Paul looks to heaven, he sees a blood red sky, pregnant with the wrath of God. When we look to heaven with the apostle, should we see anything different? For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Our good works cannot help us. Our lame excuses cannot excuse us. All have sinned. All stand under this blood red sky. God’s Love However, even though God is angry because of sin. He hates nothing that he has made. He hates no one that he has formed. And he has formed us all. His Father’s heart is angry because of how we have betrayed him and abused his good creation, including one another. But it is also deeply grieved that his wrath should fall on us, his own image and handiwork, the people he formed and knew while they were still in their mother’s womb. People whose lives he saw and days he planned before even one of those days came to be. God longs to smile on us with favor and love. He longs to erase the Last Day in Pompeii so that when we look heavenward, we see something different. But what he could he do? He couldn’t leave sin unpunished. As we saw earlier, that would be evil. But he wants all to be saved. So God looked for a substitute. Someone who could take our place and accept the punishment our sins deserved so that God could give us something else. But the substitute needed to be perfect. It needed to be sinless so that it could bear the sins of others instead of its own. But when God looked down on the earth, he saw no one without sin. All deserved wrath. But then he looked in heaven, and he saw his Son, and he sent him to live under the blood red sky with us. He sent him to bear the sins of the world. And Jesus did. He lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death we should have died. God’s wrath is now ended for everyone who is in Christ because their sins have been punished. Their debt has been paid. By the wounds of Christ, they have been healed. God is still just. All sin has been punished. But for everyone who has faith in Christ, God is also the justifier, declaring them righteous for the sake of his Son. When they look to heaven, when we look to heaven, we see something different. Paul writes in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person, one would dare even to die, but God shows his own love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still undeserving, while we still stood beneath a blood red sky of our own making, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When the Christian looks to heaven, this is what she sees (The Trinity).2 She sees Love. And this love transforms her entire existence. It transforms our entire existence. Outside of Christ, God is your enemy. You live and die under a blood red sky. But in Christ, God is your friend. He is your Father. The blood of Christ has given you peace with God in place of hostility. 2 See the second painting at the end of the sermon. Where there was once the threat of judgment, there is now the full-bodied flourishing that true peace brings. Peace with God is like peace in a home. When homes are filled with peace, every member flourishes. It’s not as though true peace is a lack of tension, everyone simply able to more or less tolerate everyone else. No, there is happiness, there is joy. There is light shining from every window. There is laughter at the table and stillness at night. It is always spring in a peaceful home, even when it is winter in the world. That is the gift of peace. And that is what our relationship with God is like because of Christ. When we look to heaven, we see love and we know peace. We also know grace. Grace refers to God’s favor. When God delights in a person, that person has God’s grace. When God blesses a person, that person is the object of God’s grace. Grace is God’s favor. And we all stand in grace because of Christ. For us, the world is overflowing with God’s gifts because we have already received the greatest gift, Jesus Christ. I was discussing this passage with the Thursday morning Bible study this week. Somehow, we got on the topic of thankfulness. Each person mentioned how they couldn’t help but thank God for the sunset, for the weather, for protection, for good things of every kind. But when you think about it, this reaction is unusual. It is weird. It is unique to Christians. When you stand under a blood red sky, there is very little to be thankful for. You will still encounter God’s gifts because he has mercy on the just and the unjust alike. But you will not be able to say thank you to God for what you receive because you don’t know God. He is still your enemy. In all likelihood, a person will thank himself, his hard work, or his ingenuity, or his winning personality for earning him a good thing. Which is to say, God’s gifts are just as likely to lead him into idolatry of self as they are to thankfulness. But because of Christ, our relationship to God has changed, and we are able to recognize God’s gifts for what they truly are, blessings, gifts of his grace, and we are able to live a life of deep thanksgiving because when we look to heaven, we see love. Finally, Paul writes that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. That hope of God’s glory is the hope of eternal life in God’s presence. In Christ, we have a future. On the last day, when God judges every sin, we too will stand before God’s judgement seat. But Christ has already paid for our sins. There is no evil left for God to judge. So we will receive the sentence of life. That is the hope of God’s glory. And this hope sustains us no matter what trials or distresses we may encounter in this life. Though the whole world would seem to collapse around us, still we could say, “I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. I have a future in Christ.” Nothing can move us from this faith because when we look to heaven, we see love. For many of us, this is old news, but it is delightful news nevertheless. If that is you, rejoice. You have peace. You stand in God’s grace. You can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But maybe you’re here today, and you haven’t made up your mind about Jesus. Or maybe you have, but you aren’t willing to follow him and to trust him with your life. Well, even if you don’t know what to think about God, I can tell you what he thinks about you. He loves you. When you look to heaven, you may see a blood red sky today, but in Christ, all you will see is God’s love. Christ died for you too. Trust him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.