How Are We More Than Conquerors? #235

Happy Tuesday to you, friends! It has been an interesting week for us in Salinas. If you had been here outside Sunday night after midnight, you would have seen a pretty remarkable sight. Something I haven’t seen since my family and I moved to Salinas two years ago. It was the first time that I’d seen lightning, and a couple of hours later, heard thunder since we’ve been in California. This storm seemingly came out of nowhere – I don’t recall seeing it in the forecast at all. We are in the dry season here in Central California, and it almost never rains. The storm made front page news all across San Francisco and Northern/central California because it was full of lightning and thunder and was pretty wild – especially for out here. I would estimate that in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, we probably have 25-35 storms PER YEAR that are that intensity or more. Alabama gets the storms, Cali gets the earthquakes. Pray for us, though – the lightning ignited a big fire at 2:30 Monday morning. There was barely any rain with the storm, so the fire blew up to over 2000 acres in less than 18 hours, and it is only 7 miles from our house! (and our kids have asthma)   Seeing the lightning reminded me of a Psalm: 

The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coasts and islands be glad. 2 Clouds and total darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 3 Fire goes before him and burns up his foes on every side. 4 His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord— at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; all the peoples see his glory. 

Psalms 97

Interestingly, I first saw that lightning at midnight, when the storm was 60-70 miles away and the sky was perfectly clear and cloudless- light can travel that far at night because the darker the sky, the further light is visible. What we call ‘heat lightning’ in the south is actually regular old lightning in a storm that is in a galaxy far, far away – up to 100 miles, but we can still see the light of it because lightning is so bright, and the night sky is so dark. I believe we are in a very dark time around the world right now – one of the darkest in U.S. history.

I saw somebody post a meme yesterday that stated they plan on being awake at midnight on New Year’s night – not to watch the new year come in, but to make 100% sure that 2020 Goes OUT.  This year has been rough. No guarantee that 2021 will be better, but I do know this – We are called to be the light of the world – a city on a hill that calls to weary travellers looking for shelter in the middle of a desert. 

Philippians 2 puts it like this:We are to be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, 16 by holding firm to the word of life.

This is a time for us to be shining like stars. Our country is incredibly divided right now on so many issues. The coronavirus is scary, and the future is uncertain. People are desperate for hope, and you are the Body of Christ with the light of the world and a calling to shine like stars as you hold firm to the gospel.

We are not adequate for the task of shining like stars and proclaiming hope to a scared/divided and anxious world, but as Paul asks in Romans 8, “ What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” That is the right question to ask in the face of any trial, tribulation or storm. If we are in Christ, then what does it matter who or what opposes us? Our Bible readings today are 1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47, Psalms 23-24 and Romans 8. Let’s read Romans 8 and soak in the encouragement – especially from the latter part of the chapter.

So- Paul tells us that we ARE more than conquerors, and this is not a fluffy, best life now, kind of statement. Paul is writing the Romans letter in the midst of a period of suffering:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:16

He doesn’t downplay the suffering, but says that once we begin walking in the glory that is coming with the return of Jesus – the suffering will pale in comparison to the goodness that is to come. What does it mean to be more than a conqueror, what is Paul communicating here? The Greek word is interesting and informative: ὑπερνικάω hypernikáō. It is one of those Greek words that is a portmanteau – a combination of two words smashed together (like briefcase, or bookshelf or otterpop, a popsicle that is made out of otter fur. In the case of ὑπερνικάω hypernikáō, the two words mean ‘over/above’ and ‘victory, overcoming or conquering.’ So what Paul is saying is that we have an exceeding victory – more than merely conquering. Does that come from our own power or ability? Of course not – Jesus uses a similar word in John 16

33 I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

John 16:33

So – the above-conquering comes because Jesus conquered the world. So HOW can we be more than conquerors? How do we practically walk in this reality? In asking that question, I note here that Paul doesn’t say we ‘can’ be more than conquerors, or that we should try to be more than conquerors, but that we ARE more than conquerors – that’s important. We aren’t making a new reality – we aren’t earning a new reality – we are learning to walk in an existing reality. One big clue to walking in and realizing this reality is in the very last two verses of the passage:

38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

We are more than conquerors through Christ because there is no power on earth, under the earth or in Heaven that can separate us from the love of God that is displayed in Christ Jesus. We are more than conquerors because of His love and by His love and through the repercussions of His love displayed on the cross, through the resurrection and by His continual intercession for us in the temple of Heaven that is ongoing to this day. I love Spurgeon’s meditation on this passage and the victory it promises:

I LOVE to think of Christ’s army of martyrs, ay, and of all his church, marching over the battle-field, singing as they fight, never ceasing the song, never suffering a note to fall, and at the same time advancing from victory to victory; chanting the sacred hallelujah while they tramp over their foes. I saw one day upon the lake of Orta, in northern Italy, on some holyday of the Church of Rome, a number of boats coming from all quarters of the lake towards the church upon the central islet of the lake, and it was singularly beautiful to hear the splash of the oars and the sound of song as the boats came up in long processions, with all the villagers in them, bearing their banners to the appointed place of meeting. As the oars splashed they kept time to the rowers, and the rowers never missed a stroke because they sang, neither was the song marred because of the splash of the oars, but on they came, singing and rowing; and so has it been with the church of God. That oar of obedience, and that other oar of suffering—the church has learned to ply both of these, and to sing as she rows: “Thanks be unto God, who always maketh us to triumph in every place!” Though we be made to suffer, and be made to fight, yet we are more than conquerors, because we are conquerors even while fighting; we sing even in the heat of the battle, waving high the banner, and dividing the spoil even in the centre of the fray. When the fight is hottest, we are then most happy; and when the strife is sternest, then most blessed; and when the battle grows most arduous, then, “calm ’mid the bewildering cry, confident of victory.”

C. H. Spurgeon, Flashes of Thought (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 407–408.

Those aren’t just words, either – no matter the outcome of this current pandemic battle, or the battle of strife and division that is besetting the Western world over politics and many other things – no matter the outcome of the next battle after that, and the next – there is nothing – no power, trial or trouble that can separate a saved believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and thus there is no power, trial or trouble that can separate faithful-followers of Jesus from the ultimate victory and tearless eternal life that His return will bring!

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