Walking The Roman Road – Lenten Season 2019
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV).
The Sacred Moment
“I think I just found my favorite verse in the Bible.”
“Which one?” I asked. John was sitting on the couch with his new NIV Study Bible open on his lap. He was reading the Book of Romans while he followed my blog.
“Romans 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He looked up at me.
“Yeah, that’s a good one. Romans is full of great verses like that.” I looked at him thoughtfully. “Why do you like that verse so much?”
John looked down at the Bible again but not before I saw a glistening in the corner of his eyes. This meant something to him.
“Well, I don’t know really.” He paused. “It just kinda reminds me of the whole mess we are in as humans because we don’t love each other enough. I know it’s true. And then, here comes this guy claiming to be God and, yes, maybe his resurrection sort of proves it but I think this proves it too.”
“What do you mean?
“Well, just look at what Paul is saying here,” John said. “Look at how different Jesus is from the rest of us. He doesn’t just love us, he loves us to death. He died for us. Most people wouldn’t do that for their best friend, much less for a good guy, or a righteous guy, as Paul says here. No, it’s even worse. Jesus is so crazy that he was even willing to die for his enemies, people who were still not interested in what he had to say, people who still didn’t want to follow him. His enemies for Pete’s sake. If that doesn’t prove that he is either crazy or divine, I don’t know what does.”
I laughed out loud. “I couldn’t agree more,” I said. But I knew that I had to dig deeper so I asked him again. “But why do YOU like this verse so much? What does it have to do with you?”
John looked at me briefly then back again to the Bible. “I know that I could never do that, not for anybody much less for my enemy.”
“Not even for Sofi?”
He looked at me startled. “Well, yes, for Sofi I would do anything but I love her to pieces.”
“What about your mother-in-law? What was her name? Margarita?”
The sour look on John’s face was precious.
“Definitely not for Margarita, nor her husband,” he said a bit too strongly. “Not that they are bad people, but still…..” He looked a little guilty.
“Hey, I get it,” I said. “And I agree. We aren’t really up to the task of loving people that much. That’s the difference between Jesus and us I suppose.”
“Last night, Sofi and I watched the Passion of the Christ. You know, the one that was done by Mel Gibson.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it.”
“It’s pretty graphic.”
“Apparently it’s pretty true to reality. The Romans were a bloody lot and they always wanted to make a show of how they punished criminals to prevent anybody else from rebelling against the might of Rome.”
John was silent, just thinking about it.
“Just saying that you would die for someone and actually going through with it are two different things,” I said.
“Yeah, and it was no picnic for Jesus either,” John said. “Crucifixtion is pretty gruesome.”
“That wasn’t even the worst of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember in Gethsemane when Jesus was very upset about facing the cross?”
“Well, it wasn’t just the pain and torture which was bad enough. It was even more about his relationship with God.”
“You mean that he was cursed by God on the cross as our substitute?”
“Exactly. But what that means is that he experienced the full wrath of God for all the sins of the world while on that cross and then spent three days in hell.”
John made a look that showed that he got the picture.
“Definitely no picnic,” I said. “He became sin and so he received all of the wrath of God against sin and paid the price of being rejected by God.”
“But I thought that God raised him from the dead,” John said.
“Yes, after three days.” I paused. “I guess it was because of how valuable Jesus was, being God Himself, that made only three days enough time to experience the wrath and rejection of God on all of the sins of the world.”
“I would think that was more than enough.”
“But the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead is significant,” I said. “Jesus didn’t raise himself from the dead.”
“God was saying that He accepted Jesus as the sacrifice for sins and that three days was enough to get the job done and now, by raising him from the dead He was saying that Jesus is now restored to his rightful place at God’s side, as His Son and as the new King over all the earth.”
“That’s interesting. What does it mean?”
“Well, the Bible tells us that God gave the earth and all of it’s inhabitants to Jesus as a reward for his sacrifice and put him in charge of the earth and the great rescue plan to bring people into a new relationship with God.”
“But what I don’t understand is what the resurrection has to do with us?” John looked perplexed. “We are supposed to get resurrected as well, right?”
“Right. When we die, we will also be raised to life again and get new bodies just like Jesus did.”
“Just like Jesus did?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool stuff,” I said. “Apparently he could walk through walls, disappear and appear somewhere else at will and yet interact with other people, like his disciples, just like an ordinary person. Not a ghost.”
“Cool. Do you think we will be able to fly?”
I laughed. “I have no idea. When Jesus went up to heaven, he was carried upwards in a cloud but I don’t think that had anything to do with his new resurrected body.”
John was smiling. “It would be super cool, though.”
“Yes, it would,” I agreed. “But there is something else about the resurrection that we get to experience now, before we die.”
“Really? Like what?”
“The Bible tells us that the reason Jesus was raised from the dead is because he had the power of the Holy Spirit within him. It was that power that raised him up and we can experience that power to a degree as well.”
“Sort of like your story about Charlie Benton, your neighbor.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You said that if you become a Christian than you get the Holy Spirit and if you have the Holy Spirit, you can’t go to Hell.”
“And if you did go to Hell,” I added. “It wouldn’t be hell.”
“It would turn into heaven,” John finished, smiling. “I liked that story. Got me to thinking.”
“Thinking about what?”
“Whether or not I’m a Christian.”
My heart skipped a beat. Everything around me seemed to slow down and I knew that I was entering into a sacred moment. It was time.
“Would you like to become a Christian?”
“It’s your decision, John. But you need to know that God has worked hard to get you to this point so that you understand what it’s all about and you can make a serious decison.”
“That’s the problem. It’s serious. I’m not sure that I’m ready for it.”
I stopped. Waiting. I knew the Holy Spirit would give me the words to say.
“Have you asked Sofi to marry you yet?” I asked him.
He looked up at me surprised. “Yes, I have.”
“And she accepted?”
“How did you know it was time? Shouldn’t you wait until your both older or you have more money, or something. It’s pretty serious business getting married, you know.”
John smiled. “I see your point. It’s the same thing with God you’re saying. When it feels right, go for it.” John was silent again. “I guess I’m not sure that I’m ready for the responsibility of it all.”
“Is it the responsibility,” I asked. “Or is it that you know God will ask you to do things differently in your life?”
“What do you mean?”
I looked at him for a long moment, wondering if my boldness was really just foolishness. I threw up a quick prayer and then plunged into the deep waters.
“Look, John. I know you and Sofi are living together. Probably sleeping together and the wedding isn’t for another three or four months, right?”
John just hung his head.
“What do you think God would say about that?” I asked.
“He would tell me to stop.” John didn’t hesitate.
“Do you want to stop?”
John took a deep breath. “No, I don’t.” He let his breath out slowly.
“I appreciate your honesty.” Then I shut up.
After a long moment, John finally spoke. “Saying it out loud makes me realize how lame it is. After everything he did for me, I should be able to handle this for a couple of months. It would probably even be good for our relationship to practice some restraint until after the wedding.”
I didn’t say anything.
“But it won’t be just that. There will be more.” John started getting bothered. “He will ask me to do things or not do things that I want to do. And I’m not sure I want to listen to him.”
“Even if you know it’s for your own good?”
John was silent.
“Are you planning to have a baby at some point?” I asked quietly.
John looked up with a smile. “Definitely. As soon as possible.”
“I would advise against it.”
“Babies can change everything,” I said. “They are demanding little creatures, always crying and wanting their diapers changed or eating you out of house and home. And then, just when you get them potty trained, they start to run around the house and into the street and you will spend your life chasing after them and trying to keep them from killing themselves and then they go to school…”
“Ok, ok,” John said, laughing. “I get your point. All the best stuff in life is free but costs us everything. I know that’s one of your sayings.”
“It’s true,” I said. “But it is a bit more complicated than that. The point is that this is the nature of love. When we are single, we make our own decisions and do our own things. But when we get married or have children, when we have relationships, those relationships limit our freedom to do whatever we want.”
“Yeah, one of my friends calls his wife the “old ball and chain.”
“Do you feel that way about Sofi?”
“Not at all.”
“What about having a baby?” I said. “Would that be a problem? You won’t sleep much at night, especially in the early years. You will have to help out around the house because Sofi will be busy with the baby. You won’t get a lot of nights out with your beer buddies.”
“I don’t mind. Really. I’m fine with that. I’m ready for it.”
“Then why aren’t you fine with it when it comes to God?”
John was quiet for a long while. “I don’t know,” he finally said.
“Can I suggest an answer?” I ventured.
John just nodded.
“You love Sofi and you love the idea of having a child,” I said. “But you don’t love God much yet.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. I am grateful. I believe that it is all true and I would like to become a Christian. But I just don’t want to give up my freedom.”
“I get it,” I said. “I felt the same way at first.”
“I think everybody does. We aren’t very good at loving God. Remember, that is the basic problem. We don’t love Him and we don’t trust Him to run our lives. We generally want to keep Him at arm’s length. We want the benefits but we don’t really want to let Him be the God of our lives.”
“I don’t think that’s the kind of relationship God wants.”
“You’re right about that,” I said. “But here’s the thing. Sometimes you have to do things in your life that scare you but you know is the right thing. You have to trust that it will all work out in the end.”
“Is that what you did?”
“Yup. I just went for it because it felt right. No, it was right. I couldn’t ignore it. God was calling my name and I had to respond. I had to trust that he would help me through the rough spots and that it would all work out in the end.”
“And did it?”
“You bet it did,” I said with conviction. “I can honestly tell you that it was a struggle at times but that is true of my relationship with my wife and kids too. In fact, life is a struggle. But I would never go back. I wouldn’t know what to do without God in my life.”
“Do you love Him now?”
“I am learning to love Him more,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Life is a struggle but He is there to help me through it. Sometimes I don’t want to do things His way, but I try to do it anyway. And I find that He is always faithful to teach me and help me through the rough spots.”
John was silent.
“The question isn’t whether or not you love God,” I said. “It’s too early for that.”
“Then what is the question?”
“The question is whether or not you will obey Him.”
John sighed. “Whether I want to or not?”
“Whether you want to or not,” I confirmed. “That is often more an indication of love than feelings are.”
“It’s like marrying someone you aren’t in love with,” John said.
I thought about it for a moment. “Yeah,” I said. “Sort of. But there are a lot of arranged marriages that worked out well and the people actually fell in love afterwards.”
“Still seems strange.”
“It is. But sometimes in life you need to do the right thing and let the feelings come afterward.”
I tried again.
“Actually, I wouldn’t compare it to an arranged marriage so much as to having a baby.”
“Yeah, you might like the idea of having a baby with Sofi but you don’t really love the baby yet. It isn’t even here yet. That comes later. You have a baby because it is the natural result of your love for Sofi.”
“That makes sense.”
“Well, the natural result, or the natural thing about being human is to have a relationship with God, your Creator and Father. Jesus said to think of it like a lost child coming home, a safe place where he belongs.”
“Ok. I can see that.”
“It may seem strange at first but you have to believe that it is a necessary relationship, a natural consequence of being human. Without it, life doesn’t make sense. The love comes later.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“Definitely,” I said. “I wouldn’t give up my relationship with God for anything. Besides, I know that when I get to heaven, all of those feelings will be put right and my love for God will blossom and grow. Until then, I walk by faith.”
“It’s a question of trust?”
“Exactly,” I said. “Remember that the basic problem with us is that we don’t trust God with our lives. That has to change. The feelings will come but God is asking you today whether or not you will trust Him with your life.”
Silence. I prayed silently. Then the moment came.
“I’m ready,” John said. He looked up at me. “What do I do next?”
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I’m ready too. I want a new relationship with you. I want to become like you and learn to love you and others the way you do. I can’t wait to walk with you and learn from you and make changes in my life. It scares me to death but I know it is the right thing to do. Help me to put you first and always be honest in my relationship with you. In your name I pray. Amen.