March 1, 2015 Text: Romans 5:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
Exactly six months from today, the whole world will celebrate again one of the greatest days in human history. On Sept. 1 we’ll reach the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Peace. Of course, that peace left millions dead, including over 400,000 Americans, many of whom are buried in Europe or the Pacific in cemeteries marked by rows and rows of white crosses.
Many of these grave markers bore the initials “R.I.P.” for the Latin requiescat in pace, meaning, with the same initials in English, “rest in peace” – words written and spoken on the dead. Is that really peace? Can there be peace when someone lies in the grave – whether death has come violently in war or peacefully in one’s own bed? And what about while we live? Since the world never lives in peace, can we?
“R.I.P. – REST IN PEACE?”
Paul had stated earlier in Ephesians that apart from Jesus, we have no hope and can expect only eternal death. Now here in our text, he continues to describe how desperate we were: “we were still weak” (v. 6). There is never a good time to be weak. Weak in sin, weak in moral fortitude, weak in faith. That does a nice job of describing you and me. Paul goes on to say, “we were still sinners” (v. 8) We know that’s true, don’t we? We still sin. Sometimes it seems as if our lives have wandered into one of those survival shows on television and we are about to be eliminated, or at least have questions about lasting longer than a few more weeks or months. Too many false calculations, too many wrong-headed decisions. Too much time spent looking out for ourselves to the detriment of others.
But it gets worse. We aren’t just weak and sinful; we were enemies of God. Verse 10, “we…were…enemies.” Enemies of God.
Enemies? But God is so nice. He’s the “Big Guy Upstairs,” the doting uncle who gives you daily treats of bread and breath. It’s hard to imagine being a screaming-in-your-face enemy of God. But look at the crowd in front of Pontius Pilate. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” goes the shouting. (Matt. 27:22-23) Yeah, like I said, we’d never do that. Enemies of God?
Yeah, world war. The whole world has been at war with God since the time of Adam and Eve. Enemies. Not buds who occasionally step on each other’s toes. Not allies who occasionally disagree about foreign policy. Enemies. Every one of our sins puts us at war with God. False calculations – enemies! Wrong-headed decisions – enemies! Looking out for ourselves – enemies! Our sin means war. Our indifference isn’t neutrality; it’s opposition. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Mt. 12:30). Enemies of God. No resting in peace for us.
But…but. “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6) Despite our weakness, Jesus became weak in death. To see in Scripture the almighty Lord and Savior sweat blood and stumble down the street with a cross on his torn back and then his weak hands and feet nailed to the cross – what wondrous love. Jesus wrested the keys of death from the devil and now Jesus holds them in his strong, resurrected hand. You are “died for” by Jesus. Weak and ungodly, yes, but washed in the peace-giving blood of Jesus.
And if he couldn’t preach enough good news, Paul continues, “While were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). While you were weak, the death of Jesus became your death in Baptism. You did nothing, have done nothing, to be saved. Jesus takes the weak you and makes you strong and redeemed. Is that not a peaceful message, one that can give you rest even in the worst of times?
And while we were also enemies, Jesus in his great love for you defeated your enemies – devil and sin and death. When “R.I.P.” is said of you at death it will be true. But that peace is also yours right now. Reconciled by Jesus, you now have “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
Wherever we may be buried – in a military cemetery or the plot next to a country church – whatever may mark our grave – polished marble or weathered wood – if our lives have been marked with the cross, we will most surely rest in peace.
Today, Paul celebrates the end of the world war, and we rest in peace because Jesus ended the world war. “R.I.P.” – Rejoice in the peace of Jesus, dear people of God. Fear not, and rest in His peace.