4th Sunday after Pentecost – July 2, 2017
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
“Love is as strong as death.” The wise king, Solomon, wrote those words in Song of Songs. As is always the case with what Solomon wrote, there is deep meaning in those words. Death is strong. The death of a loved one can forever change those still living. Death can cause pain and sadness deeper than any other event. The ultimate inevitability of death makes us think that it stalks us. You cannot outrun death. In fact, in a fight between mankind and death, death always seems to win.
But “love is as strong as death.” Love causes emotions that are just as strong, and just as lasting. Yes, death strongly separates soul from body at the end of life; but love powerfully connects individuals. And true love? That shows itself best when death is imminent. In other words, the strength of love and the strength of death can best be seen when love and death collide.
King Solomon once saw that happen. One day, two prostitutes came before him with the saddest of news. They had both given birth to a baby recently, but one of the babies died in the night. The two women came before the king because each both claimed that her baby that was baby that was still alive. One of the women was lying, but which one? How could Solomon possibly find out?
“The king said, ‘Bring me a sword.’ So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: ‘Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.’” What a heartless response! Why would Solomon kill the only living baby? Because he was about to make love and death collide.
“The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, ‘Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!’ But the other said, ‘Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!’” Who do you think was the real mother of this child? After Solomon’s surprising ruling, the responses of the two women speak volumes. The true mother, of course, was the one who would rather see someone else get her child than have her child killed. That may have been the day when Solomon himself learned that “Love is as strong as death.”
But is that always true in our lives? Is our love always as strong as death? Perhaps, like that mother, we would be willing to give a child away if it meant that he would not be killed. Perhaps we would stand in the way of death for the sake of a loved one. Perhaps. But let’s make it personal. Who would you be willing to die for here this morning? You know you are supposed to answer “everyone,” but you also know that you aren’t suppose to lie.
The fact is that you and I probably would be willing to die for our immediate family members, and maybe a few friends – but certainly not anybody and everybody. That is exactly what Paul writes about in our second lesson. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” When you extrapolate the Greek words Paul uses, the verse sounds even worse. Paul literally says, “It is unlikely you will die for an upright person; but you might be willing to die for someone who helps you out.”
That is a pretty indicting statement! By nature we only want to help those who can help us in return. Who would want to die for anyone less? Interestingly, if love is as strong as death, the possibility of death can starkly show us who we love.
If the possibility of death shows us who we love, we have to admit that we often love ourselves the most. We defend ourselves the most. We take care of ourselves the most. We look out for ourselves more than anyone else. That makes us exactly what Paul describes us as: “ungodly…sinners…enemies.”
There really is only one whose love remained as strong as death, and that is our Savior, Jesus. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” There was nothing lovable about us when Jesus came to be our Savior. How could there be? We were still “ungodly…sinners…and God’s enemies.” In Christ we see love and death collide in a most miraculous way. On the cross, Jesus spoke only words of love. On the cross, Jesus only acted in love. On the cross, Jesus died for you…out of love.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This was the greatest show of love the world has ever seen. It is the greatest show of love you have ever seen. Someone died for you. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
This morning, Paul uses a special word to describe what Jesus did for you and me. He calls what Christ did: “reconciliation.” It means that Jesus brought us back to our Father in heaven. It is the word you use to describe two divided people coming back together and mending their rift in love. “Through [Christ] we have now received reconciliation.”
By defeating death, Jesus epitomized love. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Children, love your parents, even to death. Parents, love your children, even to death. Husbands and wives, selflessly love one another with a love that serves, even to death. Love your neighbor to the point of death. Show love to strangers. Love even your enemies!
Christ showed this type of love for you. He will help you show this type of love to one another. After all, in Christ, “love is as strong as death.” In fact, in Christ, love is even stronger. Amen.