The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
July 12-13, 2008
Text: Romans 8:12-17
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the three novel story, Lord of the Rings, there are a group of nine companions who set out on a quest to destroy the ring of power. They have many adventures and face death many time. Two of the company, Gandolf and Aragorn actually pass through death. Only Boramire, who becomes consumed by lust for the ring of power, ends up dying. In the end, when Aragorn become king, his seven remaining companions are given great rewards and honor. They shared their king’s suffering. They share in his reward.
In Lord of the Rings, several characters become partial images of Christ. Aragorn represents Christ taking his place on the throne of heaven. Many have remarked at the Christ like appearance of actor Viggo Mortenson in the part of Aragorn. That was deliberate. Nor was this just film maker Peter Jackson’s vision of the character. This was how the author J. R. R. Tolkien wanted us to see the character. The allusions to Christ were quite deliberate.
Our text deals with this idea of suffering with Christ and what that means for our lives. First we must dispose of a great many false notions of what suffering with Christ means. One false notion that is common among Christians is that there is virtue in suffering, in itself. This is an outright lie. Suffering, for suffering’s sake, has no virtue at all. The value of suffering is found in the why a person is suffering. Let us say that a man is a drunkard and one day, driving home from the bar, rams his car into a tree. He is left with terribly painful injuries. God might use his suffering to bring him to repentance. But his suffering has no virtue because he is suffering on account of his own self destructive behavior. On the other hand, a soldier who suffered through the terrible winter at Valley Forge, fighting for American independence, is deserving of honor for his suffering. The honor is derived from that fact he suffered for a great cause.
Next we must deal with a confusion. There is a difference between suffering with Christ and suffering for the sake of Christ. Those who suffer for the sake of Christ are those who are persecuted and abused because they confess Christ. Certainly, the Book of Revelation makes it clear that they are given a place of great honor before the throne of Christ. But our text is speaking of something else. It is speaking of us suffering with Christ. That is that we share in Christ’s sufferings and death. On the surface it would seem that St. Paul is speaking of an impossibility. We are living two thousand years after Christ. His suffering is long past. How can we go back and join Him on the Via Delarosa? How could we go back and carry His cross, and share in His beating and even in His death?
Such questions reflect our own lack of understanding of what God has done for us in Christ. So often we say Jesus died for our sins and leave at that. We never get into the mechanics of how this is done and how this is applied to me. St. Paul here is getting into those mechanics. St. Paul assumes that anyone who is reading Romans 8:17 would have also read Romans 6. That’s a dangerous assumption these days. There is a value to actually picking up the book and just reading it as a continuous narrative. For if we know Romans 6, than we know exactly what it means to suffer with Christ. There we read: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8) So it is in Baptism that we suffer with Christ. Baptism unites us to Christ’s suffering and death. In Baptism, Christ’s suffering, becomes our suffering. In Baptism we become Christ’s companions on His great quest to defeat sin and death.
Now we’ve been working this text in reverse. We established the condition that Paul mentions at the end of our text, but which he really presupposes. If, in Baptism, we have shared Christ’s suffering, then we become the heirs of His kingdom. We become our heavenly Father’s adopted sons. In this context we must say sons, because in this context, to be a son is an heir. What is revolutionary about what Paul is saying is that it is universal. Everyone, regardless of where they are male or female, in Baptism becomes a son and an heir of God the Father.
What is this business about the Spirit testifying that we are sons of God? Here again we look to Baptism. Baptism is the work of the Holy Spirit, in which the Spirit is placing God’s seal upon us. Our Baptism in our adoption. So we can, just as Luther frequently did, dismiss temptations and trials with the words; Ah, but I am Baptized! In these words we are saying that we are a son of God and no outside force can change that.
That brings us to the beginning of our text. Here Paul is speaking of what it means to live out our Baptism. If we are Baptized and thus adopted as heirs of God’s kingdom, then it follows that we would become something different than what we were. If someone has given you a great gift, say ten million dollars, you would want to do good and pleasing things for them. There is a movie from some years back. I don’t remember the title. An actress is dying from kidney failure. This is in the earliest days of kidney transplants. They can’t find a donor. Then a drifter played by Wally Cox offers to donate a kidney. He had taken such pleasure from seeing this woman’s movies that he wanted nothing but her good. That is how the Christian is to be toward God. We who were sinners, enemies of God, are adopted as His sons and heirs. It naturally follows that we should want to do that which is pleasing to God. We should desire nothing but God’s glory.
In Baptism we are adopted as sons and heirs of God’s kingdom. We will enjoy this place as sons of God for all eternity. If we understand this fully, it naturally follows that we would seek to do God’s will in our lives. For we are deserving of nothing but death and hell. Yet, Christ has bound us to Him and presented us to His Father as His brothers, fellows sons of God the Father. For this, there are no thanks that we can give that is adequate. This is free grace indeed. It changes who we are. It takes us from being sons and heirs of hell, to being sons and heirs of God. If we are changed, then it also changes how we think and act. Let us then live as people who understand the great adoption as sons of God that has taken place.