September 8, 2002 Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor

Nothing Can Separate Us From The Love Of Christ

Romans 8:35-39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Five times here in Romans 8 the apostle Paul has asked questions to draw out the amazing privileges of belonging to Jesus Christ. Verse 31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Verse 32: "How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Verse 33: "Who shall bring any charge against Godís elect?" Verse 34: "Who is to condemn?" And now today verse 35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

The answers are so plain and so wonderful, Paul lets us supply them and rejoice in them. Verse 31: No one can be successfully against us Ė not even terrorists. Verse 32: God will supply everything we need, even when all seems lost. Verse 33: No one can make a charge stick against us in the court of heaven, no matter who accuses us. Verse 34: No one can condemn us. And today in verse 35: No one and no-thing can separate us from the love of Christ.

And what makes this text so relevant near the anniversary of 9/11 is that Paul spells out the kinds of things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, and they are the sort of things that happened that day: "Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" The reason Paul chose to mention so many terrible things is to make sure we knew he was not saying: Well, there are some things so horrible that they really could separate us from the love of Christ. No. Nothing can separate us from Christís love.

Notice three things from verse 35. 

1. Christ is loving us now.

A wife might say of her deceased husband: Nothing will separate me from his love. She might mean that the memory of his love will be sweet and powerful all her life. But that is not what Paul means here. In verse 34 it says plainly, "Christ Jesus is the one who died Ė more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is because Christ is alive and is still loving us now. He is at the right hand of God and is therefore ruling for us. And he is interceding for us, which means he is seeing to it that his finished work of redemption does in fact save us hour by hour and bring us safe to eternal joy. His love is not a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action by the omnipotent, living Son of God, to bring us to everlasting joy. 

2. This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, and therefore is not a universal love for all, but a particular love for his people Ė those who, according to Romans 8:28, love God and are called according to his purpose.

This is the love of Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her." It is Christís love for the church, his bride. Christ has a love for all, and he has a special, saving, preserving love for his bride. You know you are part of that bride if you trust Christ. Anyone Ė no exceptions Ė anyone who trusts Christ can say, I am part of his bride, his church, his called and chosen ones, the ones who verse 35 says are kept and protected forever no matter what. 

3. This omnipotent, effective, protecting love does not spare us from calamities in this life, but brings us safe to everlasting joy with God.

Paul makes this crystal clear in verse 35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" No. But someone might say, "O but what he means is that God will not let these things happen to his bride."

Two things prove that this is not the case.

One is the reference to death in verse 38 ("Neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus"). Death will happen to us, but it will not separate us. So when Paul says in verse 5 that the "sword" will not separate us from the love of Christ, he means: even if we are killed we are not separated from the love of Christ.

The other is verse 36, where Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to himself and Christians in general, "As it is written, ĎFor your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.í" This means that martyrdom is normal Christianity. It is happening all over the world. Pakistan, Nepal, Sudan, Indonesia, Vietnam . . . an estimated 164,000 Christians will die this year because of their faith (http://www.gem-werc.org). This is what Paul has in mind. And it is what Jesus meant when he said, "Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my nameís sake" (Luke 21:16-17). Our season of peace and tolerance in America is an anomaly and should drive us to greater and greater care for the suffering church (Hebrews 13:3). See http://www.persecution.com.

So the sum of the matter in verse 35 is this: Jesus Christ is mightily loving his people with omnipotent, moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves us for everlasting joy in his presence even through suffering and death.

Now letís let Lisa Beamer bear witness to this sovereign love. Her husband Todd was on flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania. He was the one who said, "Letís Roll!" He left behind Lisa and three small children (one born last January). Here are ten lessons from Lisa mostly in here own words.  

1. Embracing the sovereignty of God brings strength and hope.

Lisa: "God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. He knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband . . . Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Toddís plans to avoid death. . . . I canít see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it . . . I donít like how his plan looks from my perspective right now., but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, ĎItís OK.í" (Modern Reformation, 24-25)

"If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ Ė the one with ultimate love and ultimate power Ė what do we have to be concerned about? Of course, our humanity clouds this truth many times but hanging on to glimpses of it keeps everything in perspective." (Modern Reformation, 31) 

2. Donít presume to know better than God how to run the world. It is pride.

Lisa: "My faith wasnít rooted in governments, religion, tall buildings, or frail people. Instead, my faith and my security were in God. A thought struck me. Who are you to question God and say that you have a better plan than He does? You donít have the same wisdom and knowledge that He has, or the understanding of the big picture." (World, 25)

"We also arenít privy to the perspective he has and shouldnít claim to know better than he does what should happen and what shouldnít. . . . Faith means that, regardless of circumstances, we take him at his word that he loves us and will bring us to a good result if we just trust and obey him. Obviously, the ramifications of this understanding have been tremendous for me since 9/11." (Modern Reformation, 25) 

3. God has a good purpose in all the hard things that happen to his people.

"Godís sovereignty has been made clear to me. When I am tempted to become angry and ask ĎWhat if?í and , ĎWhy us?í God says, ĎI knew on September 10, and I could have stopped it, but I have a plan for greater good than you can ever imagine.í I donít know Godís plan, and honestly, right now I donít like it very much. But I trust that He is true to His promise in Romans 8:28: ĎWe know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.í My only responsibility is to love God. Heíll work out the rest." (Decision, 8). Beneath her signature Lisa writes Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." (Modern Reformation, 30) 

4. Death and suffering press in on us the perspective of eternity.

Lisa: "September 11 has shown me the reality of eternity in a dynamic way these past few months. When Iím overwhelmed with sadness at what Iíve lost in this life, He is quick to give me His eternal perspective. ĎLisa, this life is just a blip on the radar screen compared to your future with Me in heaven,í He says. ĎThe best thing that you can imagine on earth is garbage compared to what awaits you.í" (Decision, 8) 

5. Godís distribution of suffering is not equal, and one hard thing may prepare for another.

When Lisa was 15 her father suffered an aneurysm at work and died the next morning in the hospital. Lisa: "When my father died, faith wasnít so easy anymore. . . . I spent five years asking why, expressing my anger saying itís not fair, before God helped me realize that he is who he is all the time Ė in good circumstances and bad. He is all-powerful and all-loving, but that doesnít mean that as a citizen of this fallen world he protects us from every Ďbadí event." (Modern Reformation, 25)

What a witness to Godís goodness and sovereignty the world would be missing today if God had not prepared Lisa Beamer for this loss by the death of her dad! 

6. Godís love takes care of us right now in our suffering, not just later.

Lisa: "He knows that I am a hurting and in need right now. Every day He provides encouragement and resources just for me. Little things show me that He is with me: a Scripture with just the words I need to hear, a call from a friend when I feel lonely, help with a task that I canít do alone, or a hug and ĎI love youí from one of my children. Godís love is truly sufficient to meet any need that I have." (Decision, 8-9) 

7. Calamity calls for quick practical love like meals and baby sitting.

Lisa: "The picture of the church as the hands and feet of Christ, with each person having a special gift, has been well portrayed to me these last months. In the beginning, it was immediate and practical help I needed Ė meals, child care, managing phone calls, and mail. Now that weíre out of the crisis mode it is rebuilding help I need Ė counseling , encouragement, prayer." (Modern Reformation, 28) 

8. Quiet, confidence in Godís power and goodness through suffering create occasions for witness.

Merilee Melvin said of Lisa, "Her disarming quiet confidence in Godís purposes must be the reason Larry King has had her on this show eleven times." (Modern Reformation, 30) 

9. Trusting in Godís sovereign care in all circumstances frees you from greed and releases love for others.

Money started to flow in to Lisa Beamer. Some letters were simply addressed, Lisa Beamer, New Jersey, and got to her. Lisa: "I didnít feel comfortable keeping this for ourselves when there were many unknown families who should share." So she started the Todd M. Beamer Foundation to assist children who lost a parent in the 9/11 calamity. (Modern Reformation, 30)

Her freedom for others comes out in another way: "My family and I mourned the loss of Todd deeply that day . . . and we still do. But because we have a hope in the Lord, we know beyond a doubt that one day we will see Todd again. I hurt for the people who donít have that same hope, and I pray that they will see something in our family that will encourage them to trust in the Lord." (World, 26)

Lisaís way of encouraging people to trust in the Lord is sometimes so straightforward that Newsweek magazine called it "stern and even a little grim." She wrote in her memoir, "You think you deserve a happy life and get angry when it doesnít always happen like that. In fact you are a sinner and deserve only death. The fact that God has offered you hope of eternal life is amazing! You should be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude." (Newsweek, 42) 

10. Without God the world is hopeless.

With hundreds of others she attended the memorial service in Shanksville, PA at the crash site where her husband died. The Christ-exalting memorial service for Todd had been on Sunday, the day before, and had strengthened her. "On Monday," she said, "as I listened to the well-intentioned speakers, who were doing their best to comfort but with little if any direct reference to the power of God to sustain us. I felt I was sliding helplessly down a high mountain into a deep crevasse. As much as I appreciated the kindness of the wonderful people who tried to encourage us, that afternoon was actually one of the lowest points in my grieving. It wasnít the people, or event, or the place. Instead, it struck me how hopeless the world is when God is factored out of the equation." (World, 26)

So, together with Lisa Beamer and the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ himself, I plead with you, Donít factor God out of your life, or Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns and intercedes for all who trust him, that we might have eternal joy with him in the presence of God.  

The quotes are from:

Copyright 2002 John Piper

Sound of Grace | Desiring God Ministries | Piper's Notes