Venit, Vidit, Vicit (Message for July 27th 2014)

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, where you had to go back and just watch it again?     You had to watch it again because there was so much depth there, there was so much just awesome stuff packed into the plot, the scenes, the details, that you just had to go back and catch what you missed.   You had to go back to look for connections that you missed.   I do this from time to time, but the Internet has shown that some people take this to fanatical degrees.   People have spent tons of time analyzing obsessively and piecing together the details.   You can find hundreds of pages worth of text that reconstruct the timeline that ties all of the Marvel movies together from the Incredible Hulk to the Avengers and up through Guardians of the Galaxy, which has not been released yet!   You can find an elaborate theory that shows how all of the Pixar movies (like Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc, Up) are all connected to each other in one overarching story.   There are also elaborate theories that link Disney movies like Frozen, Little Mermaid, and Tangled together.    Sometimes there are things that are so good, deep, or rich that we just have to go back to them and mine the depths for all that it has to offer.   That is how I feel about this morning’s scripture.   There is so much truth, so much deep, life changing power, packed into this small little section of scripture.  Like the multilayered novel that has new details that get noticed each time you crack it open, this scripture seems to always be speaking in new ways too me.   Given how deep and fruitful this scripture is, I think it is worth hearing again. 

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a]have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstbornamong many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any chargeagainst those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

            There is so much we could focus on today, there is so much good stuff here.  However, as I kept reading over this scripture, I found myself drawn time and time again to verse 37 “No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”   It may be that this verse stuck out because a week ago when I was at camp, the band that led worship was named More than Conquerors, but I think there is more to it than that.   I think that this verse and surrounding scripture can teach us a lot about Christ and our relationship to him. 

            I think the military nature of the word conqueror really stuck out to me in this verse.   There is certainly militant imagery in the bible, but it is rare.   We think of Jesus more as the prince of peace and less of a conqueror.    I do not think it is a mistake that this imagery of a conqueror is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.   The citizens of the capitol city of the Roman Empire knew a thing or two about conquering.  Rome’s entire legacy was built on the fact that they were conquerors.  Rome prided itself on the fact that one city, had built the largest Empire the world had ever known.   Rome had the largest standing army the world had ever known, and they knew how to use it.  Within months of this letter being read for the first time to the church in Rome, the Roman army was deployed in force to fight a war in what is modern day Iraq and  Iran.   The people who this letter was first written to, knew what a conqueror looked like.   Between 10 and 13 years before the letter was written Rome celebrated a Triumph when the Emperor Claudius returned from conquering Britannia.   The triumph was a massive parade, banquet, and city wide party.  Triumphs were rare and very ornate.  The entire city would stop what it was doing to honor the conquering general as they entered into the city victorious.   For several of the Romans who formed the early church that this letter was written to, this triumph would have been the only one they had ever seen.  It would have left a huge impression about the grandeur and awesomeness of a Roman conqueror, and now Paul is telling the people that they are more than that, that they are more than conquerors.   

            It is worth pointing out though, that Paul has a qualifier for that statement.   We are not more than conquerors because of our own virtue.   We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.    We are merely greater than conquerors by association.    Perhaps the most famous Roman Conqueror, even at the time this letter was written was Julius Caesar, upon returning from his conquest of Gaul he is infamously known as saying: Veni, Vidi, Vici.   I came, I saw, I conquered.   Now Paul did not write it this ways, but perhaps in regard to Jesus it could be said:  Venit, Vidit, Vicit.   He came, He Saw, He conquered.  

            This leads to the question, what exactly did Jesus conqueror?    We know that Jesus conquered death.  This has always been, and always will be the primary gospel.  It has been this way from the beginning.  In the Pentecost sermon, Peter declared in Acts 2:24, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”   We also know that Jesus conquered sin, the temptations, the desire to do evil is something that had no power over him.  Hebrews 4:15 describes Jesus and states he “has been tempted in everyway just as we are-yet he did not sin.”   We know that because of these two things, that Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, and because the grave could not keep him ,we are reunited with God for all time.    This is the gospel of the Christianity, this is the good news that we gather every Sunday to celebrate.   Like Paul, we have to marvel and the majestic wonder of this good news, because Jesus conquering death and sin prove God’s love for us, as verse 31 of this mornings scripture states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own son, but gave Him up for us all- how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?”

            In ancient Rome when a general was celebrated with a triumph, part of the processional that entered the city were defeated warriors, generals, and even kings.  The enemies that were once viewed as a threat to the Roman Empire were paraded in defeat to show the citizens of Rome exactly what had been conquered.   This morning’s scripture lists it’s own procession of enemies that Jesus defeated.   Verse 37 again says “In all these things we are more than conquerors.   If we look back at verse 35 we see what exactly these things are.  Verse 35 states “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  Now I think, we can update this scripture a bit to our modern context.   Many of us do not have to worry about things like famine or nakedness in our day to day lives.   We are also blessed to live in a place where we do not have to face true persecution or danger to our lives because of our faith.   However, the idea is that because of Christ great love for us nothing can separate us from that.    No amount of pain, no amount of trials, no amount of mistakes, no amount of evil can take from us the blessed assurance we have that our sins are forgiven, that we are reunited with God, and that God loves us with an unending depth.   If we were to update verse 35 and 37 today perhaps it might say something like this:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or hateful words or not knowing how the bills will be paid or crippling addictions or cancer or abusive relationships?  No in all of these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.”    All of those things that wear us down, that leave us defeated, that shred our hearts, and keep us awake at night are powerless when compared to the unending love of God made known through Jesus the Christ.   The band Jesus Culture tried to capture and explain this love in their song One Thing Remains.  The band sings “Higher than the mountains that I face, stronger than the power of grave, constant through the trials and the change; One thing remains:   Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.”   No matter how dark the night seems, no matter how lost in the valley we feel, no matter how bleak the dead end feels, we can always count on the love of God to be there.   As Paul wrote nothing (NOTHING) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

            A good example of how claiming and clinging to the love of God can make us more than conquerors despite all that life throws at us, is the story of Horatio Spafford.   Horatio saw a lot of success in his life as a high end Chicago lawyer.  However, he was beset with a string of personal tragedies.   His only son contracted Scarlet Fever and died from it.  While he was still grieving the loss of his child, the great Chicago fire struck.   A good portion of Spafford’s wealth was tied up in real estate investments, and much of that wealth literally went up in flames.   These traumas were having a negative impact on his family, so he and his wife decided that they would take an “extended holiday” to England.  Spafford, his wife and four daughters were in New York to board a boat, but a couple of days before departure Spafford found out that all of his financial affairs were not in order.   He told his family to go ahead while he finished all of his business up.   While his family was at sea, there was a terrible storm and the boat sunk.   His wife was rescued and made it safely to England, she sent back a telegraph that read “Only I remain.”  Spafford’s four daughters had all drowned at sea.   Bereft he boarded a boat to join his wife.  While at sea the captain made it a point to come and quietly tell Spafford that they were sailing over the area where his children had died.   Being a religious man, Spafford sat down and wrote these words “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.  It is well, It is well with my soul.”  

            Losing five children in just over a year’s time is a pain far too great for most of us to conceive of.   Despite the fact that his heart was broken, Spafford did not lose to despair and hopelessness.   Even in the midst of the worse pain a parent can imagine, he was still more than a conqueror.  Spafford gives his reason for this in verse 3 “My sin, o, the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my Soul!”    In the face of unimaginable pain, Horatio Spafford was still able to say it is well with my soul because he knew that Jesus came, Jesus saw, and Jesus conquered.    

            This morning, how is it with your soul?   In facing the hardships of your life do you feel beat down or can you stand as more than a conquer?   May you not let your hardships, your pain, or your disease defeat you.   May you know in the very depths of your soul that God is greater than whatever you are going through.   May you know that and feel ever more intensely the great love that God has for you.     May that love provide in your life the source of unending hope and steadfast peace.   No matter what life throws at you, may you claim the eternal truth of this morning’s scripture in your mind, heart and soul:   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, either angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”