Meditations in Romans : 9: An Amazing Sacrifice
Rom 5:6-8 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.
In the first five verses of this chapter Paul has been talking about the things that flow from our being justified by God, but to avoid and counter any thought that we might have, that either we deserve these things or can work for them on our own, he makes these statement to maintain a right balance.
That first sentence holds three significant points. First, Christ came “at just the right time”. As this speaks about Christ’s death on the Cross which was an historical event, the words, “just at the right time” must apply to that event. Writer and evangelist Michael Green in his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, states that a number of characteristics of that day made it a perfect time for the spread of the Gospel: the Roman peace spread across much of the world and so enabled the Gospel to spread so well, together with their road system, that almost encouraged travel; the universal Greek language enabling universal communication, and the spread of Judaism throughout the Middle East meant there was a religious based community through which to so often work. All of these things meant that this was possibly the best time in early history for Christ to come into Israel and for the Gospel then to be spread.
At that point in history the state of the Jewish nation was clearly at a spiritual low and dominated by their Roman overlords. They were helpless and religion had become sterile, traditional and powerless. Before we came to Christ we too were powerless. Finally, “Christ died for the ungodly”. The world at large then and today was ungodly. At best humanity seeks for a religion that it can control and which doesn’t put too many demands on it. It doesn’t go for a supreme God who claims to be Lord of all. Yes, these (including us) were the very people Christ came to die for.
Summarising that, we might say God decided when was the perfect time for Christ to come and where was the perfect place for him to come to the earth, and when he came he came to a humanity that was powerless to deal with its plight of sin, and ungodly, living self-centred lives. Nothing in that brings credit to us! There was nothing in that which says we either deserved or earned Christ’s death on the Cross. It was an act of utter grace and mercy.
Almost as an aside it seems, Paul then reflects that it is a rare thing for anyone to die in someone else’s place even though they might be righteous or good. Of course in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities that is exactly what does happen and in that he portrays Christ stepping in to our guilty shoes and delivering us by his death. But no, this is an exceptional thing that we are considering here, a good man, a perfect man stepping and giving his life for those who are powerless and ungodly and, as he goes on, sinners!
This, Paul goes on, is a clear demonstration of God’s love. The Bible is full of references to God’s love, but this surely has to be the ultimate expression of it. It is not only that He gave His own Son, but that He gave His own son to die for sinners! This is what is almost bizarre about all this. If we had been people struggling to be good, struggling to find God, struggling to break free from this self-centred, godless life of sin, then maybe, just maybe, it might have been understandable, that God came to deliver s into what we wanted and what He wanted, but it wasn’t like that.
The truth is that before the Holy Spirit started His work of convicting us of the truth of our lives, we were quite happy to be self-centred and godless and who was to say that what we did was wrong. Everybody else was doing it, weren’t they, so what’s so wrong about it? No, until He started challenging us, we were quite happy with our lifestyle. We didn’t know any better and thought this was all there was. We had tried on odd occasions to change ourselves, but that had turned out to be a self-centred and godless exercise. If we had changed it was minimal and we were still self-centred and godless and still got it wrong in so many ways. Yes, that’s the truth of how we were, even if we preferred not to face that.
And it is for that sort of person that Christ came and died. It was that sort of person that God loved and sought to reach. Our self-centredness would much prefer only to encounter ‘nice’ people, people like us. Our self-centredness reaches out to help other people but only as a means of boosting our own ego. It is only the love of God that looks at the totally self-centred and godless person who is living life all the wrong ways, and reaches out to them for no self-gratifying reason.
Well, you might say, the very definition of love involves reaching out to others with a desire for their good so isn’t love itself intrinsically self-motivating? But if God IS love, why is He? That is the mystery. He could be an ogre, but everything the Bible reveals about Him is that He’s love and everything He thinks, says or does is energised by love. Why? That is the mystery! If it was easy and self-gratifying we’d be doing it ourselves all the time – but we don’t! It is only as we are energised by God (that’s His grace) that we are like this. It is not natural to us but amazingly, it is to Him! Thank God!