Bach Cantata Vespers – Romans 8

Preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, CA 28 February 2016

Rom. 8:1   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Rom. 8:9   You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

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If ever there was a single Scripture that encapsulated the Christian faith it’s this one: There is therefore now no condenation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That verse sits between Romans 7 and Romans 8. It straddles the paradox of the baptized believer being both in Adam and in Christ, flesh born of flesh and spirit born of Spirit, between being a slave to the law of Sin and being a servant of the Spirit. In other words, “being simul,” simultaneously righteous and sinful.

It’s a question of identity. With whom do you identify? From whom do you draw your identity? With your first birth of Adam, that flesh in which the apostle Paul says, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good thing?” The adamic flesh which St. Paul calls a “body of death” which “cannot please God” no matter how hard you try? Or do you identify by faith with your second birth of water and Spirit, your rebirth and reneweal in Christ, what the apostle Paul calls “the spirit” which walks according to the Spirit of God?

In this life, we are caught between death and life, flesh and spirit, wrath and mercy, Law and Gospel. Our bodies are dead and dying because of Sin. The disease is incurable. Medical science can apply only a bandaid, but it cannot reach to the depths of our death. And yet we are alive in Christ. LIke Schroedinger’s famous cat – we are both dead and alive at the same time. Dead in Adam, alive in Christ. In Baptism, God has signed our death certificate and our birth certificate. All that remains for us is to die and rise. The paperwork has already been filed, and when God does the filing, it’s a done deal.

This leaves us in a paradoxical tension between spirit and flesh, righteousness and sin, death and life. We want to do good, but evil lies close at hand. The good we want to do, we don’t do. The evil we don’t want, that’s what we do. Our best intentions are mix of altruism and self-interest. Our most noble acts are filled with ignoble thoughts. As Luther put it, “God must forgive our good works lest they damn us.”

What’s a justified sinner to do? That’s where tonight’s cantata comes in. It delivers the best of good news. That verse. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The world may condemn you, the law may condemn you, your conscience may condemn you, but God does not condemn you in Christ.

The reason? He condemned Sin in Christ. Sin inheres in flesh. The Son became flesh put Sin to death in our flesh. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting humanity’s sins against them. God dropped dead to Sin accounting in Christ. Literally. Christ was made our Sin. He didn’t simply bear our sins, He became our Sin in a sweet swap that exchanged our Sin for His righteousness. Such a deal no religion of this world ever offered. Life for death. Righteousness for sin.

This is the outrageous, scandalously prodigal love of the father who welcomes the wayward son with open arms. Who runs out to greet the son who told him to drop dead. The father gives the ring and robe of sonship and puts on the fatted calf and throws a party for a deadbeat son who squanders his inheritence and reeks of pigs, who refuses any bargain to exchange sonship for servanthood. There are no deals with God.

This the seeking, searching, saving love of our elder Brother, Jesus, the One who left His Father’s home and went out to the pigpen of this broken world to find Adam, his long lost little brother. He did what the elder brother in the parable did not do. He went and searched for his little brother. Christ went all the way to Adam’s death to rescue Adam and us.

As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.

He still seeks and finds and restores and rejoices. In baptismal water He buries the wayward children of Adam in Himself, in His death and life, declaring us dead to Sin and alive to God in Him. He is the safe place in which to hide. When God passed by Moses on the mountain, Moses had to be tucked in a cave, a crack in the rock. Christ is that rock, cracked open by the cross, a hiding place for sinners, a sanctuary, a safe house from the wrath of the Law. The Law has no say for those tucked safeky away in Christ.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I now decry thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease.
World, thou shalt not harm me
Nor thy threats alarm me
While I sin gof peace.
God’s great pow’r guards every hour;
Earth and all its depths adore Him.
Silent bow before Him.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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