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Christ our Deliverer

July 3rd 2011 by Joel Schultz

In our text from Romans 7 today, Paul speaks of the inward struggle of saint and sinner. As God's children, we all know the good we should do, but so very often we instead sin in thought, word, and deed. Paul crys out, "Who will save me from this body of death?" Read or listen to find out the answer...

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Pentecost 3A (Proper 9) – “Christ, Our Deliverer” – Romans 7:14-25a – July 3, 2011

Sometimes the smallest thing can tell a greater story. Your great grandmother's hope chest. Stone markers telling of Civil War battles. The smallest things can tell much greater stories, extending over time, involving many people.

Consider a well-used silver cup. It was valuable enough to be buried in the homestead of a once prosperous Roman family. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it was left behind as the family fled for safety. This one small cup belonging to one unnamed family told a much larger story. A story of gods and humans. The story of Rome and what it was like to live under the rule of Caesar Augustus.

On one side of the cup is the image of Augustus, surrounded by gods. He is seated, and being handed the world by Venus while Mars, the god of war, brings before him a multitude of conquered nations. On the other side of the cup is the image of Augustus, ruling over people. Here, the image is one of mercy. Augustus is seated, people are coming before him, and he extends one hand out to the people while in the other hand he holds a spear.

This image of the emperor was common throughout Rome at the time when Paul wrote his letter. It helped people understand what it meant to be ruled by Caesar. The emperor held both power and mercy. In power, he would protect his people - so you see him with a spear in his hand - in mercy, he would rule his people - and so you see him reaching out with an open hand. Power and mercy in this one figure, ruling over people, one small actor in the much larger story of Rome and her gods. When Paul wrote Romans, he offered another story of another conqueror who ruled over people in power and mercy. This God and man was Jesus. The small portion of the letter that we have before us today is well-known among Lutherans. It names a struggle, the struggle between sinner and saint. This struggle is real and hidden in the heart of every person. Some people confess this struggle openly, asking others to help them in relationships of accountability; other people hide this struggle, putting on the best face they can. All people, however, suffer this struggle and it is not something, like that cup, that can be left behind. Until the day when our conqueror, Jesus Christ, returns, we will be involved in this struggle of being a sinner and a saint.

Paul’s description is personal, individual. It tells the story of one man and one struggle that never seems to end. Paul knows the good that God desires and Paul himself agrees that God’s desire is good. Yet Paul also discovers that he is “sold under sin” (7:14). Paul uses the language of slavery and of captivity. Paul knows the good that he wants to do, but he is unable to do it. Instead, he finds that what he doesn’t want to do, that he does. A slave to sin, a captive to his flesh, Paul cries out for deliverance.

His story, however, is not the story of only one man. This is the story that touches all people. Paul’s cry is that of Cain, knowing the good that God wants him to do and yet also knowing the evil that is close at hand. Joseph’s brothers, knowing the good care and concern they should show their brother and yet also knowing the evil judgment and sale of Joseph into slavery that eventually overtakes them. David, knowing the good rule of his kingdom and protection of his people that God desired and yet also knowing the evil pleasures of adultery and the murder used to cover it up.

From individuals to families to nations, this captivity continues even during the ministry of Jesus – like Peter, knowing the good that he wanted to do in following Jesus to death and yet knowing the evil that he does in denying his Lord in the courtyard – and it continue in our lives today as we desire to do what God demands and yet so often end up breaking God’s commands. Paul’s one small story, his one small revelation of this personal private experience, is the larger story and experience that we all know so well. This, however, is not the only story that Paul wants to tell. In fact, there is a much greater story, the story of God that Paul wants to highlight for all people. This story of God is a story of faithfulness. Not our faithfulness to God but God’s faithfulness to His people.

As early as the fall in the Garden of Eden, God had begun telling this story of His love. As Adam and Eve stood there, naked and ashamed before God, He began to speak of His love. They overheard it, in a conversation He had with the snake. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Here, was the first glimpse of God’s promise – the greater story of God. He would send One, an offspring of a woman, who would bruise the head of Satan and conquer in the fight.

Adam and Eve lived in hope. The individuals, the families, the nations that followed them lived in hope of this story of God coming true. And the apostle Paul writes this letter to proclaim that it did come true, in Jesus Christ. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul cries out. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In this section of the letter, Paul lets his one small story become part of a much larger story. The story of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is the one who came as our deliverer. We delivered Him up to death as Satan worked through us to bruise His heel and yet He delivered us from death and from the kingdom of Satan as He revealed His power in His resurrection and called us into the kingdom of God – a God who loves us, dies for us, and rises to gives us new life.

“Jesus Christ is Lord” Paul proclaims and, with those words, he invites everyone into God’s greater story. Jesus Christ is the one who rules, the one who is greater than Caesar and Rome’s gods. He Himself is God, He has come as our deliverer, and He is at the heart of God’s greater story of the rescue of His people from slavery and the redemption of all people in the world. (Picture On) An artist once captured this rule of Jesus in a painting. The painting is called, “Christ and the Four Evangelists” and it depicts Jesus as Salvator Mundi, the Savior of the World. In 1516, Fra Bartolommeo was asked to paint this piece for a chapel. In it, Christ is not depicted engraved on either side of a cup, with one side telling the story of the gods and one side telling the story of humans. Rather he stands on top of the chalice, both God and man, ruling over the world. His one arm holds a scepter with the globe at the top. He truly holds all power and rules over all creation. His other hand, however, is raised in blessing. Through His death and resurrection, He has accomplished salvation for all people and now rules over all things in love and offers His blessing to the world.

You can see in this painting how Christ has chosen to rule through His people. The men who surround Him are the 4 evangelists who have written His message that is now still being read to the world. They each hold their books, their gospels. Matthew looks up at Jesus and Mark points his finger toward Jesus while conversing with John. Luke stares out over the people who are gathered and John points his finger downward. There we see two angels holding a disk. In that disk is just one place in the much larger world.

When this picture was placed in the altar of a chapel, an amazing thing would happen. The priest, facing the altar, would lead the worshipping community in communion. When the priest consecrated the bread, he would raise it above his head and there it would appear in that one small window on the world upheld by angels. That body of Christ is the place where God’s people meet Jesus.

Yes, He has ascended into heaven. His left hand holds His scepter. He has all power and He rules over the world. His right hand is raised in blessing over all. Yet this same Jesus is found among His people today. He is present with us, intimate and near, as He comes in His body and His blood to be your deliverer from sin, your Savior. Today. (Picture Off)

Here, in a very tangible way, Jesus brings you once again to the heart of this greater story of God. As we gather for the Lord’s Supper, we are connected to the much larger story of God’s loving rule over his world. This is the story of Jesus, our Deliverer, who comes among us. The one who rules the world has lifted His hand in eternal blessing and we now come and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

Yes, we come with our smaller private stories, the moments when the good that we wanted to do, we did not do and the evil that we didn’t want to do we did. That struggle is there and it is real and we come today confessing our sin. But we also come trusting in our deliverance. Jesus is faithful. He remains faithful to His promises. “Take eat. Take drink. This is my body. This is my blood. Given for you. For the forgiveness of sin.”

Our Lord rules. Jesus is our Deliverer. In His hand is power and blessing and here, this day, we find mercy in His body and blood given and shed for you. At the Lord’s Supper we are joined to this much larger story – the story of God saving the world in Jesus. As we lift the cup of salvation to the Lord, His power, His blessing, His mercy extend to us and He continues to rule until the end of the world. Amen.

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