“Christ Died for Us”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every year “Dear Abby” promotes what she calls a “National Day of Reconciliation.” On this day she urges her readers to take the first step in reaching out and reconciling themselves with someone from whom they are estranged. She always prints many touching letters about parents and children, brothers and sisters, who for years hadn’t even spoken to each other. Often they admit the root cause of it all was trivial, or even forgotten. But, like the Hatfields and McCoys, the feud had lingered on year after year. Then they followed “Dear Abby’s” advice and took that first step to reach out and reconcile. They always say they wish they had done it years sooner, and don’t know why they didn’t.
As hard as it is for us stubborn humans to take the first step toward reconciling ourselves with one another, for us to take the first step to reconcile ourselves with God is impossible. Paul says in Ephesians, “As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins.” You’ve heard stories about people it was mistakenly thought were dead, but they were discovered to actually be alive when they sat up in the morgue and started talking. Spiritually, we are by nature dead, totally, completely dead, and we could no more take the first step and reach out to God than a truly dead person could sit up and talk. As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “You see, at just the right time, when we were STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.” Our sins separate us from God, and we are powerless to do anything about it.
“When we were STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.” “The ungodly” doesn’t just mean those people out there. “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin”; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; “No one is righteous, not even one,” not even you, not even me. As we confess in our Liturgy, WE are by nature sinful and unclean; WE are the “ungodly sinners” Paul is talking about in our text.
But, the Good News is, God did not wait for you to take the initiative, for you to take the first step for your salvation. Paul says in Colossians, “When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ.” “You see, at just the right time, WHEN WE WERE STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Paul continues, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” Paul is saying that there is no one else who would or could do for you what Jesus Christ did. We might sacrifice our lives for our family, our friends—for someone we think deserves it. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.”
What does that mean, “Christ died for us”? That doctrine is what the Christian faith is really all about: Jesus Christ took your sins upon himself, and gave his life to pay the penalty for you. Jesus described his mission on earth this way: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to GIVE HIS LIFE as a ransom for many.” Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”
“But God DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The word for “love” in that verse is the Greek word “agape.” “Agape” is a very special kind of love, a totally unmerited, undeserved, love. Paul says in Titus, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, NOT because of righteous things we had done, but because of HIS MERCY.” That’s the whole point of today’s Epistle Reading: God didn’t say, “First, you get your act together; you take the first step; you prove to me you are worthy of my divine love and forgiveness. Then we’ll see if I will save you.” No; “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s what “agape” is: UNmerited, UNdeserved love and forgiveness.
John says, literally, “This is how God showed his ‘agape’ to us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world . . . as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . Beloved, if God showed that kind of ‘agape’ to us, we ought also to show ‘agape’ to one another.” That is what living the Christian LIFE is all about: Showing others the same unmerited, undeserved love and forgiveness that God has shown you in Jesus Christ. Not waiting for others to get their act together, to prove to you that they deserve your love and forgiveness. But, like God himself, showing agape, taking the first step to reach out and reconcile.
As Paul says in Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds you all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” And in Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin [and] do not let the sun go down on your anger. . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”
Not just one annual day of reconciliation, but “just as Christ loved us . . . live a LIFE of love”— EVERY day of the year! As Jesus commanded his followers at the Last Supper: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“Show ‘agape’—unmerited, undeserved love—to one another. As I have shown ‘agape’ to you, so you must show ‘agape’ to one another.”
Even better than following “Dear Abby’s” advice to reconcile is to follow Christ’s command and his own ultimate example: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Amen.