Passion Week (Part 6)

Remember though that we can’t remove the stain of sin ourselves.  We are as helpless as the white shirt with marinara sauce all over it.  So how does this happen?  It happens by faith in Jesus, and what he did nearly 2,000 years ago.

I love how the prophet Isaiah put it over 700 years before Jesus walked on earth.  Isaiah prophesied about humanity’s sinfulness and God’s response through Jesus.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” (Isa 53.6, ESV).  God made a path for us to walk, and not only did we stray off the path a bit, but we turned away from the path, doing our own thing.  But what we see is that the LORD laid on Jesus the iniquity, a big word for sin, of all of us.  In other words, God judged and punished Jesus, who had never done wrong, but was always in the right, rather than punishing us who receive him by faith.

What God did was transfer our sins over to Jesus, leaving us with a clean record.  In other words, our record of unrighteousness (wrong-doing, wickedness) is expunged if we will put our faith into what Jesus has done.  This is what we call being justified.

When we try and justify ourselves, we try to make excuses for the wrongs we’ve done.  “It’s not my fault; If such and such hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been forced to do it.”  “Don’t try and justify yourself.”  When we try and justify ourselves, we try to make excuses, but we can’t justify ourselves.  But when God justifies us, He doesn’t make excuses for us, but instead, he takes away the wrongs we’ve done and gives them over to Jesus.  He removes the stain from us, so that when he makes his verdict of whether we are in the right or in the wrong, he will declare we are in the right!  That is the righteousness that is apart from the law; that is a righteousness of faith.

And are justified (declared in the right) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 3.24, ESV).  The declaration of being in the right is a gift that doesn’t require anything on our part.  We don’t have to do anything to get it.  It’s a gift.  It is a gift that is paid for, redeemed, by Jesus.  But it is a costly gift.  Jesus died to bring us that gift.

I remember watching the movie, Saving Private Ryan.  It is a story of four brothers who join the American forces in World War II.  Three are killed within days of each other, but Private Ryan is presumably alive, and there is a squad whose mission it is to bring him home safely.  The captain, playing by Tom Hanks, is killed at the end, saving the life of Private Ryan.  As he is dying, he whispered into Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.”  The movie flashed back to the present day where Private Ryan is now an old man, standing at the grave of the captain, and he falls to one knee in tears, asking his wife if he’s been a good man.

There are two thoughts that come to mind in those scenes.  One is that God never tells us to “earn this.”  I want that to be made abundantly clear.  We cannot earn a gift, otherwise it becomes a payment and not a gift.  Paul wrote repeatedly that this is a gift not a payment, not a wage.  But what we saw in that movie was Ryan’s understanding of the price for his life: the captain’s life so that he may live.

Jesus’ death brought us life.  The Son of God, who lived forever in the right, dead so that we, who live in the wrong, could live in the right.  The greatest gift that has ever been given, the life of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior, for us.

God, the one who will judge whether we are in the right or in the wrong, will judge with justice.  He will give us exactly as we deserve: no more and no less.  For those who trust that Jesus took our sin upon himself, and therefore are declared not guilty, will receive no punishment or judgment but rather eternal life.  For those who believe, Jesus assuaged God’s anger. He satisfied God’s wrath.  There is not an ounce of anger left in God towards those who put their trust in Jesus.  It’s what we call propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s wrath.  It is Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins,” (Rom 3.25, ESV).  Jesus died to assuage God’s anger for those who will put their faith in Him.  Remember the term the righteousness of God from faith.  Those who receive Jesus are revealed God’s righteousness.  This power to forgive and declare righteous was and is powerful enough to reach back all the way to creation.  For those who believed in God’s coming Messiah, they would be declared not guilty, having their sins removed.  To we who believe in the Messiah who came, we too are declared not guilty, having our sins removed.

We were in mind, along with the people Paul was writing to when he wrote, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” (Rom 3.26, ESV).

God always judges in the right.  He is just.  We often will hear of someone not facing charges for his or her crimes, for gets charged but is found not guilty, or is found guilty but the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  Some drunk driver kills a family of four and has community service.  There is something in us that says, that’s not just, that’s not right.  We can never accuse God of doing something like that.  God is always just, never giving out a punishment too harsh or not harsh enough.  He is just in His judgments.

But He is also the justifier.  He is the only one who can transfer our sins supernaturally away from us and onto Jesus.  So He is just, and the One who declares us in the right.  Since the penalty for sin is death, then Jesus had to die.  It’s the only way for God to be just.  He has to punish the sin that was done, and since the punishment is death, then the one who owns the sin (Jesus, because it was transferred to Him) must face the punishment, which He gladly volunteered to do.

This is what we mean when we say: Jesus died for our sins.  There are two ways to being in the right with God: The first is by obeying 100% of God’s law, 100% of the time.  That way is an impossibility.  It is hypothetical, but impossible.  Thus the only other way to be in the right with God is through faith in Jesus Christ.  But the only reason that there is this way through Jesus, is because Jesus lived the righteousness of obedience.  Had he not lived in 100% obedience of 100% of God’s law there would be no reason to put our faith in Him.  Jesus lived the life of obedience to the law and died the death that we deserve.  But there is more.  This is after all, Resurrection Sunday.  You see, there is no reason to place faith in a dead religious leader.  Paul said that if Jesus did not rise from the dead we are to be the most pitied people on earth.  But Jesus rose from the dead, and is deserving of our love, devotion, and full-faith.

At the beginning I asked you to suppose that there was a Creator, and that Creator made us with a purpose.  That purpose is, at least in part, to be in the right with Him.  He made laws to show us how to do that.  But being that we cannot keep those laws, God also revealed His righteousness apart from the law.  It is a righteousness that comes by way of faith in Jesus.  He gave the most precious and costly gift to have ever been given.  He did all the work.  He paid the price in full.  We simply must receive Jesus, putting our full faith and confidence in Him.

How awful it must be to the ears of God to hear people say that all ways are equal or that there are many ways, as if to thumb their noses at what Jesus did, as if it were no big deal.  As if the price paid were not high enough.  As if the precious blood of Jesus were nothing more than cheap wine to be poured down the drain.  As if living a “pretty good life” amounts to receiving all the sins upon Himself and dying a death that we deserve.

In the Old Testament, the Jews would make sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs in hopes of assuaging God’s wrath for another year.  But that lamb could transfer no righteousness to the one making the sacrifice.  In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed metaphorically speaking, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He takes our sin upon Himself, and in returns transfers His righteousness to us.  “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor 5.21, ESV).

There is no other way to be right with God.  As Peter once said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4.12, ESV).


Passion Week (Part 5)

There is the righteousness that I we saw that comes by obedience to the law.  It’s how God is going to judge us.  It’s not how we judge ourselves.  So thinking that we haven’t done anything wrong may make us feel better, but it has no legal bearing.  God will look at our entire life and judge us according to His law.

That being said, there is another righteousness, that we can be judged on.  Paul brought it up: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,” (Rom 3.21a, ESV).  There is this other way of being judged in the right.  It isn’t about doing this and not doing that.  It is not a matter of obedience to the Ten Commandments or any other moral law.  “although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it,” (Rom 3.21b, ESV).  So while this new way of being declared righteous, in the right, is not actually utilizing the law as its guide, it is alluded to in the Old Testament.  In other words, Paul isn’t just making this stuff up.  It was talked about and written about long before Paul ever got on the scene.

So what is this new-fangled, old-fangled way of getting right with God?  “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” (Rom 3.22a, ESV).  No longer is it a righteousness of obedience to the law, but rather it is a righteousness of faith.

What Paul said about it being in the Law and Prophets, in essence the Old Testament, can be seen in Habakkuk 2.4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV).  Here Habakkuk is telling us of two types of people.  There are those who think they’ve got this thing figured out and can do it on their own.  They don’t need God; they don’t need His laws; they don’t need anything that has to do with him.  These people are puffed up; they’re arrogant; they’re prideful.  There is another group of people.  These people are those who live by faith.  These people are called right.  They are in the right with God.  They are not in the right with God because they are obeying God’s laws.  They are in the right with God because they have faith.

This is the very verse that Paul keeps repeating in Romans and elsewhere.  He said in Romans 1.16-17,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV).

Notice that faith is mentioned multiple times in these two verses.  “Everyone who believes.”  “From faith for faith.”  “The righteous shall live by faith.”

So there are two ways to see God’s righteousness: the Law which includes the Ten Commandments, and the gospel.  Everyone that can read or hear can go back to the law and see what being in the right looks like to God.  It is never putting anything ahead of God.  It is never trying to put God into something we can manage.  It is never blaspheming God.  It is always honoring the Sabbath.  It is always honoring our parents.  It is never getting angry with someone or murdering them.  It is never lusting after someone or committing adultery.  It is never taking anything that doesn’t belong to us.  It is never telling a lie. It is never wanting what we do not have, or wishing others didn’t have something because we don’t have it.  That’s easy enough.

However, the second way, the gospel way, reveals God’s righteousness from faith.  Without faith the gospel makes no sense.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross (the gospel) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1.18, ESV).  Until you believe, you cannot even begin to see God’s righteousness in the gospel.

But let me say this: The righteousness of the law is an impossible righteousness.  We’ve already seen that.  We can’t always do what we are always commanded to do, nor can we never do what the law commands we never do.  We break the law constantly.  So we must have the righteousness that the gospel reveals, the righteousness that is apart from the law: the righteousness of faith.  We all must have it to be “in the right” with God.  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3.22b-23, ESV).

There is no one who hasn’t sinned, in a real and tangible way.  Every single one of us has sinned.  Like Seneca once said, “All vices are in all men, though all vices do not stand out prominently in all men.”  We may like to point out that we aren’t as bad as someone else, but we only do that because we are not comparing ourselves fairly.  We aren’t comparing vice to vice, but rather a vice that stands out prominently in them, versus one that doesn’t stick out in us.  So we may see a co-worker who has an affair and say we are better than they are, but in reality, we are lusting after a woman or a man.  The vice is present in us, but just not as glaring.  We are all in the same sinful boat.  We are all in need of a righteousness apart from the law.

To be continued…

Passion Week (Part 4)

Righteousness is a word that might sound complicated, but in reality it’s not.  It simply means to be “in the right.”  But when we see in in biblical terms, we have to make sure that we understand what it means to be “in the right.”

So if we just for argument’s sake say that there is a Creator who made this world, including its plants and animals and human beings, with land and water, atmosphere and solar system, stars, moons, and planets within the entire galaxy and universe, then it would be logical that he made each item with a purpose.  He set up laws that this universe abides by such as the law of gravity: what goes up, must come down.  There are many others, but that’s the easiest one for us to recognize.  At the same time there are moral laws for those beings that contain a moral code embedded deep within them, specifically: humans.  The easiest of these to look at would be the Ten Commandments.

Now, let’s take the natural law first and let’s say we were playing a little pepper.  We take the baseball and throw it up so we can hit a soft grounder to first base.  But when we throw it up it never comes back down.  There it hung, right in front of our eyes, never falling.  We’d just stare at it in bewilderment trying to figure out how the law of gravity just got broken.  Meanwhile, our son, who’s waiting for the grounder shouts out, “What’s wrong!?”  The ball is what’s wrong.  It has broken the law of gravity.  As long as the ball goes up and comes down, it’s in the right.  We could say that it’s a righteous ball.  But the moment the ball stays in the air and will not come down, it is in the wrong.  It’s unrighteous.  It’s a wicked ball.

Let’s go back to the moral law.  God has given us, for argument’s sake, ten moral laws to abide by.  Do not have any other gods before Him, don’t make any idol, do not take his name in vain, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, honor our parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and don’t covet.  As long as we are obedient to those laws, we are in the right. We could be considered righteous.  But the moment we break one of those laws we are in the wrong.  We are unrighteous, or a synonym would be that we are wicked.

So the moment that we cheat off of someone’s test in school we have stolen answers.  The moment that we lust after a woman or man, we have committed adultery according to Jesus.  The moment we get angry with someone we commit murder in the heart, according to Jesus.  The moment we find someone or something that we love more than God we commit idolatry.  The moment that we say, OMG, we have taken God’s name in vain.  So there is no denying that in some way we have all broken a moral law, and thus in some way we have all been shown to be unrighteous.

God has said, this is the right way to live.  This is the right way to go about your life, and He gave us his laws.  When we do not go in the way He has commanded, we prove that we are unrighteous.

Once we are unrighteous, there’s no going back, at least not on our own.  Imagine eating spaghetti in a white shirt.  You drop a meatball on the shirt and stain it.  Later on you take the shirt off and throw it in the dirty laundry.  A couple of days later, you’re sorting your clothes to wash them, and you see your white shirt.  It still has the stain on it!!  How can this be!?  The shirt has no ability on its own to remove the stain.  An outside agent, you with a bottle of bleach, must remove the stain for the shirt.

So it is with us.  We are stained, forever stained in the wrong, unrighteousness, wickedness.  We have no way of removing that stain on our own.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try to obey the rest of the laws.  It doesn’t matter how much we try to make it up to God.  We are forever stained.  Our record of unrighteousness follows us everywhere we go, just like a prison record.  It cannot be expunged on our own.

But what if there was someone on the outside, who came and took the stain away?  Who could expunge our record of unrighteousness? There is, and that’s why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.  As we look at Romans 3.21-26 these next few days, we will see exactly how it all has come about.

To be continued…

Passion Week (Part 3)

So God has set his moral law.  We are to do this and not do that.  We are to stay within the parameters of that law, according to God’s interpretation, but “We all went astray like sheep,” (Isa 53.6a, HCSB).  At first maybe it wasn’t so bad (in our eyes), but soon, we went from straying to outright turning.  “we all have turned to our own way,” (Isa 53.6b, HCSB).  Thus we are clearly held to be unrighteous or wicked according to the standards that God will use.  Thus His punishment, His wrath will be given.  But how?

And the LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all, (Isa 53.6c, HCSB).  This straying, this turning, is no small deal.  It is iniquity, which is a big word for sin.  In fact, it really means wickedness.  The LORD has punished Him for the wickedness of us all.  This straying and turning is not a small deal it is a cosmically wicked deal that cannot go unpunished.

And of course, the Him in this picture, is none other than Jesus.  We stray.  We turn.  But the punishment for our wickedness is on Jesus.  Do you get it?  Do you get it?

Those of us who have turned away to our own sexual ethic rather than God’s sexual ethic, who commit premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexual sex, who view pornography, and the like, that must be punished, but it is Jesus who received it.

Those of us who have turned away to our own idols who worship the political stars, the sports stars, the entertainment stars, who have the posters and the autographs that we treasure, that idolatry must be punished, but it is Jesus who received it.

Those of us who have turned away to discontentment, and steal time and resources, energy and answers, money and power must have our thievery punished, but it is Jesus who received it.

Those of us who turned to getting drunk or popping pills or snorting or shooting heroin or whatever the drug of choice might be to get us high or low, must have our drunkenness punished, but it is Jesus who received it.

Those of us who are angry and bitter and bully people and demean people or swindle people out of their money or possessions or abilities must have those things punished, but it is Jesus who received it.

We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the LORD has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53.6, HCSB)

How would that punishment come about?  In the form of a cross, but it started before that.  Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  He was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning, taken to Annas who passed judgment, then to Caiaphas and partial Council who passed judgment, then to the full Council, who took him to Pilate, who refused to pass judgment, but passed him on to Herod, who refused to pass judgment.  Then back to Pilate he went, who then found no guilt, but scourged him with a leather whip containing imbedded pieces of metal, bone, glass, etc.  He was whipped 39 times, at which time he no longer looked human.  He was beaten with a reed and had a crown of long briars smashed on his head.  When Pilate said those famous words, “Behold, the man.”  He wasn’t saying, “here he is,” but rather, “this person who is bloodied from head to toe, bruised, battered, beaten, swollen to the point he is unrecognizable is the man I sent out to be flogged.”  But that punishment was not good enough for the Sanhedrin, but neither was it good enough to the Father.  You see, “the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely,” (Isa 53.10a, HCSB).  So Pilate gave the order to crucify Him.  He had to walk the distance to be killed outside the holy city.  At which time his joints were pulled out of socket.  Long sturdy nails were hammered through the wrists and Achilles tendon, surely severing the tendon and bursting many veins.  There he hung, on the cross, suffocating to death.

There he hung.  “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Cor 5.21, HCSB).  There’s that word again: righteous.  God is able to declare us righteous, right according to God’s interpretation of God’s law, because Jesus took upon Himself our iniquity, and was subsequently punished for it.  Our unrighteousness exchanged for righteousness.  Our verdict of guilty exchanged for a verdict of not guilty.

When people are imprisoned they speak of paying their debt to society.  But we have debt to God, and while society comes and goes, people live and die, God never ceases to be and never dies.  He is always and forever, and our debt could never be paid against such an eternal being, unless that debt can be exchanged for freedom.  Which is exactly what Paul wrote happened when Jesus was on the cross: “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross,” (Col 2.14, HCSB)

There He hung with your sin, with my sin, paying our debt for our wickedness.  We are declared not guilty.  But there He hung.  The Good Shepherd who died for His straying sheep.  Receive him and all is forgiven.  All our turnings toward our own sexual ethic, our own idols, our own thievery, our own drunkenness, our own anger and verbal abuse and swindling can be forgiven, and we can be seen as being in the right.

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom?  Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.  And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified (declared in the right) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6.9-11, HCSB).