Christ Died for the Ungodly (Romans 5)
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
Let me ask you a question: Did Jesus Christ die for you? If you said, "Yes," you just admitted that you are ungodly. St. Paul tells us, "Christ died for the ungodly" (v6). But he also tells us that by dying for the ungodly, God makes the ungodly godly. Are you, sitting in the pews, ungodly or godly? You're both. You're ungodly because Christ had to die for the forgiveness of your sins. You're godly because Christ died to forgive your sins.
"Christ died for the ungodly" (v6). The ungodly are exactly what the word implies, people without God. They have gods, but they don't have the true God. For most of them, and maybe for some of you as well, their god was their own person. Social standing in the community. Recreational activities. Anything that takes God's place as life's top priority.
This idolatry of self comes from listening to the lies of our sinful nature. It weakens us so that we tend to think of ourselves more highly than we do of God. By listening to our sinful nature's lies, we place ourselves in opposition to God. Making ourselves enemies with no peace. We find ourselves in open rebellion against the Creator, warring against Him like the Moabites fighting against the Israelites (Numbers 22-25). The Moabites and Israelites fought against each other throughout their respective histories. They continued without peace for as long as anyone can remember. Without peace, there is nothing but suffering.
Without peace with God, we suffer in this life. We suffer because of sin. However, there is no exact one-to-one correlation between individual sins and our suffering. We can't definitively say that someone is suffering because of this particular sin. We can't even definitively say that it was that person's sin that they are suffering for. For examples, we can look at abuse victims. They don't suffer for their own sin. They suffer because of another's sin. What we can truthfully say is that we suffer because of sin.
What we also must remember is that suffering is not always a punishment. Suffering is often a tool that God uses to teach us about ourselves, much like He did with the patriarch Job. Satan took everything away from Job except his life (2:6). Suffering causes us to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Through our suffering, we see our sinfulness. We see what we confess before coming to the Lord's Table: "I, a poor, miserable sinner". We begin to see our wretchedness and even God's mercy that He still allows us to breathe on His earth. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13a). Suffering is something that everyone must go through in this life. There is no escape from this suffering.
We cannot escape because our suffering is a sign that we are prisoners of war in the battle between good and evil. We were captured by Satan in and by our weakness. Our sinful nature, the original sin inherited from Adam, brought us into the prison in which we find ourselves. We are, quite literally, in a prison of our own making. We sit in our prison cell, like St. John the Evangelist on the island of Patmos, until we are liberated. We cannot escape or free ourselves. We are stuck in our cells until someone comes to liberate us.
Our only problem is that we often don't WANT to be liberated. We see it in prison movies. Long-time inmates are more scared of the outside world than the outside world is scared of them. Prison becomes home. Many who are released cannot take life without the bars. So they do whatever is necessary to get thrown back into prison. Prisons become comfortable after a while. No prison gets more comfortable than the prison of sin. We tend to downplay our miserable condition while in this prison. We begin to think it's not so bad. We begin to believe that we're doing just fine.
Since we're doing just fine, we don't seek to be liberated. We think we can work the system and get ourselves out. We look for ways to get out on "good behavior". We look after ourselves self-confidently. We think to ourselves, "I got myself into this mess. I have to get myself out of it." It's classic American bootstrap theology. I can do it all by myself. I don't need anyone else's help. I don't need to be rescued. I just need a bit more time.
Our self-importance and selfishness further becomes apparent when sacrifices are needed to be made. Especially when that sacrifice is your life. People will generally die for causes. Muslim suicide bombers will blow themselves up in order to gain salvation for their souls. Soldiers will die in defense of their country. But dying for someone else in particular? The number of people willing to do that drops drastically. St. Paul tells us, "One will scarcely die for a righteous person" (v7). In our own self-importance and bootstrap theology, we see the "righteous person" as being someone who has already succeeded in delivering themselves from sin's prison. The righteous person doesn't need my help. All they do is hold me down by their righteousness. St. Paul continues, "Perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die" (v7). For a slightly-less-righteous person than ourselves we might consider sacrificing our life, but it still isn't very likely. People are more willing to die for a cause, for something greater than themselves. And another person doesn't usually rate as greater than myself. We're selfish, ungodly people without the hope of peace in this world.
But Christ makes the ungodly godly through His death and resurrection. Through His death, Christ brings living water to a thirsty land. He does this often throughout the salvation history revealed in Holy Scripture. In the Gospel reading, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well that the patriarch Jacob dug to water his flocks near Shechem (John 4:5; Genesis 33:19-20). At this well that brought life and vitality to the patriarch and his family, Jesus offers a Samaritan woman living water. Living water that will make the drinker never thirst again. "A spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:11-14).
God also provided living water to the children of Israel at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). The children of Israel grumbled and complained that they were out of water. They were going to die of thirst because Moses and God couldn't take care of them. How they wished to go back to slavery in Egypt because it was SOOO much better! God provided for them much more than they ever dreamed possible. He told Moses to strike a rock and water gushed forth. A stream that gave renewed life to the children of Israel. As St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, "They drank from the same spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4). Revitalized life for His chosen people. Where there had been grumbling and complaining, there was now rejoicing and celebration because Christ had brought life to those dying in the desert.
To the dead throughout the world, Christ poured out living water from His pierced side on the Cross (John 19:34). Even with His death, He provided living water for the entire world. For every thristy soul that has ever lived and ever will live, Jesus provides living water to overcome their parchedness. Not just rehydrating. Bringing life to those long dead. As Ezekiel prophesied, the water from His side deepens as it flows (47:1-12). His living water goes from His side and flows backwards and forwards through time, covering the death of sin as it goes. Going back through time, it deepens so much that it covers the total depravity of man. Covering man's original sin. Justification comes through Baptism into that living water. Washing away sin's stain with the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
"God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (v8). God makes the ungodly godly by His wondrous love. Our closing hymn sets this wondrous love down and examines it. "What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul" (LSB #543.1). Jesus bore sin's curse for you so that your soul may be able to enjoy Heaven. We can see that "When I was sinking down beneath God's righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul" (LSB #543.2). Jesus thought so highly of your soul--that He created--that He didn't wait for you to come to Him. He came to you. He came so that you might celebrate. "And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on" (LSB #543.4). And this celebration isn't only when times are good. This celebration arises even and especially through suffering.
We especially rejoice through suffering because "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (vv3-4). We make it through the suffering because we have the same spiritual Rock that followed the Israelites through the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4). Making it through the sufferings of this life with our Lord, we come to understand that we can endure anything as long as we are anchored to Him. This new-found endurance produces a character that shows that, although life may get rough and throw unexpected surprises at us, we will not be moved from our anchor. "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and hath shed His own blood for my soul" (LSB #763.2). Christ has shed His blood for you. You no longer need fear what may happen in this life. You know who to trust with your day-to-day cares because He has taken away your eternal cares. So this Christian character produces a great hope that sings, "And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend" (LSB #763.4). We hope for the Last Day to come so that we might leave the troubles of this world behind and join in the everlasting song in Heaven.
Our "hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (v5). God's love has been poured out into your heart because you were washed in the waters of Baptism. Water that has God's Word of promise attached to it. Water that has salvation and everlasting life within it. Water that brings life from death, godliness from ungodliness. We are not shamed by our Christian hope. We are encouraged and ever strengthened by it. Every morning, we can pull our feet out of the covers and put them on the ground because this hope continues to be with us each day. Hope that we wish to share with those around us. That's the beauty of organizations like Gideons International. They seek to provide ways of bringing that hope to people without hope around the world. They seek to give people in any and every circumstance of life the everlasting hope we have in Jesus Christ. Hope that does not put us to shame. Hope that gives us strength to live each day to its fullest.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to give you that hope. He died because you were ungodly. You needed your sins forgiven. He died to make you godly. To forgive your sins and give you everlasting life. Did Jesus Christ die for you? You bet He did! Amen.