The Right to an Attorney

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 2
February 25, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: At first, it sounds great -- almost bragging. "If God is for us, who is against us?" But then, doubts set in. We have experienced life. No one, not even God, has promised us a rose garden. Many things can go wrong, and what's more, we often bring these calamities on ourselves. We feel as though God is not for us, and we stand accused in the highest court of the universe. It's not looking good. And then we learn that we have the right to an attorney.

Romans 8 is one of the most theologically rich chapters in the Bible. And, what's more, it concludes with the most hopeful and glorious assertions in the whole of scripture: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors ... neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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."

Yet, our reading of verses 31 to 34 begins with a very dark and disturbing question: "If God is for us, who is against us?"

It's a troubling question, because it would be a mistake to answer, "No one, because God is on my side!"

Maybe. But it would be a mistake to think that a cloak of invincibility shields the child of God from the temptations that run rampant in the media-crazed world we call the 21st century.

It would be a mistake to think of yourself as a Spartan standing in the gap, holding off a horde of Persians as did the 300 against 300,000 in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

It would be a mistake to think of yourself as a Hannibal crossing the Alps with 30 elephants, eluding your enemies and arriving safely in Italy.

It would be a mistake to think of yourself as a James Bond, Ethan Hunt of the IMF or Wonder Woman crusading for truth and justice, ridding the world of evildoers, and confident of your success because God is on your side.

Truth is, God may be for us, but as for those who might be against us -- the possibilities are endless. And a close reading of the Bible reminds us that nowhere in scripture are we promised a rose garden. After all, we started in a garden; got evicted from the garden and we haven't made it back since. Living beyond this garden has been no picnic. Even Paul admits in verse 36, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."

So, what is the apostle Paul getting at when he writes, "If God is for us, who is against us?" Let's consider the options.

Against the odds

The apostle might want to remind us of the odds, and they're not always favorable.

Fascinating stories of people who have faced insurmountable odds and beaten them occasionally pop up on social media. Like, for example, Aron Ralston. In 2003, Ralston decided to hike and climb in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. But he slipped and literally got caught between a rock and a hard place. Chances of rescue were slim. He broke the bones in the arm that was caught and cut through the flesh to free himself.

He was later rescued and became a motivational speaker. The movie 127 Hours starring James Franco was based on his experience. No doubt, you can think of other such "against all odds" tales that almost defy credulity.

We love survivors. Of what the victims have survived is immaterial. People have survived falls that would kill most. Plane crashes like the "Miracle on the Hudson" with Captain "Sully" Sullenberger at the controls. Perhaps you yourself have beaten the odds, surviving deadly diseases and impossible odds in the aftermath of an automobile accident. In sports, teams like the "Miracle on Ice" USA Olympic hockey crew have cast aside their underdog ranking and played David to the Goliaths before them.

So when Paul mentions powers and principalities that might be "against us," he gently reminds us that we live in a fallen world, and a natural world where unnatural events occur. The celebrated "Apostle to the Gentiles" was himself thrown overboard during a violent storm on the sea. On other occasions. he was flogged and left for dead. Like Jesus, he was often reviled and ridiculed.

His life was no picnic; and sometimes, ours isn't either. "Who can be against us?" Right. Where do we start?

In the dock

But when Paul asks this question, he might also be alluding to a courtroom scene. Notice the word "charge" in verse 33: "Who will bring any charge against God's elect?"

In the next verse, we find the word "condemn." "Who is to condemn?" Paul asks. Court is in session and evidently, we are in the dock -- a defendant standing accused and condemned.

But the good news is that God "is for us." God has a preferential option for the humble and needy. God is in control of this courtroom drama. Many people grow up in an atmosphere of guilt and shame, believing that God looks something like Michealangelo's fierce, gray-haired, gray-bearded old man with bushy eyebrows in the Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel. Some of us may be afraid of God -- like God might strike us dead if we have an impure thought or have said something unkind, or because we haven't been to Confession in like forever.

But then we read that "God is for us!" That's unreal. Even better, although we have nothing with which to afford defense counsel, an attorney has been provided for us. He's better than the fictional Perry Mason who reportedly only lost one case. Better than the team of lawyers who defended Johnny Depp, Kyle Rittenhouse, Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, Bill Cosby, et al. Much better, which is a good thing, because many theologians would argue that the defendant described in Romans chapters 5-8 is infinitely harder to defend.

The defendants are weak, ungodly sinners and enemies.1 We are hardcore hellions, repeatedly defying the will of Almighty God. Oh yes, there's a part of us, the apostle explains, that wants to do the right thing and, on the other hand, doesn't want to do the wrong thing. But our attempts to walk the straight and narrow inevitably go wonky, whop-sided and whopper-jawed.2 We're evidently incorrigible defendants; we are repeat offenders. "Wretched person that I am," complains Paul, the erstwhile persecutor of Christians. "Who will rescue me from this body of death?"3

Fortunately, we have a right to an attorney. Better still, our attorney is a court-appointed barrister, and he offers his services free of charge. His name? Jesus Christ, Advocate.4 If there is evidence against us, God in the person of Jesus Christ is "for us." Jesus stands with us. "Who will deliver me?" Paul asks. He continues, answering his own question, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."5

Now, consider the reasons why the odds are stacked in our favor!

There are several reasons why having Jesus as our attorney is a good thing.

Think about it: He is the Judge's Son! The devil rises to make an objection. "Overruled!" Our "advocate with the Father"6 is in tight with the Judge. You might say they are so much alike as to be one with each other. For defendants like us, this is a very hopeful sign.

The Judge refuses to recuse himself. He favors his son, and therefore is inclined to render a favorable verdict.

The Judge accepts that what the attorney has done on behalf of his clients is more than enough to satisfy all claims. The apostle Paul argues that in ways that perhaps we do not fully understand, Christ's death and resurrection paved the way for us to enjoy forgiveness, free from all condemnation. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," Paul writes in the opening sentence of this chapter. Because of Jesus Christ's arduous work on our behalf as our attorney, we have a do-over, a second chance, a new life and new opportunities. Only a fool would turn down such a plea deal.

Who cares?

Paul, the great apologist of the New Testament, might also be suggesting that it doesn't matter who is against us! Who cares? Large or small, our enemies are not stronger than God. No one has the power to thwart God's purposes.

This is a politically charged assertion, writing as Paul is to a beleaguered religious community in the imperial capital -- one in which the most important deity, among a pantheon of deities, is the emperor. But not even he, with all his political and military might, can overturn the will of God. As the Boston barrister and ardent abolitionist Wendell Phillips said as the American Civil War loomed, "One on God's side is a majority."

No power can keep God from showering blessing upon blessing on us. Here, Paul argues from the greater to the smaller: "He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else?" Paul says in verse 32. If God has given us something great -- his only Son -- why should he not also give us lesser things, or "everything"?

Final thought

Perhaps, Paul's meaning can be summed up by paraphrasing or trying to improve upon what he wrote.

What the apostle actually wrote is: "If God is for us, who is against us?" The answer to that question, as we've seen, is complicated and involves numerous possibilities.

What he really meant to ask was, "If God is for us, who can prevail against us?"

The answer to his question, unlike the one he actually posed, is not complicated and does not offer a host of possible scenarios.

The answer is simple. "No one." Or, as he goes on to write: "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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."

End of story. Beloved, comfort one another with these words.