This is the seventeenth week of our study of Romans. We have followed Paul as he has made his way through the sea of humanity and gathered everyone before the bench of the Judge of all creation. Paul has shown how Gentile and Jew, the immoral and moral, the pagan and the religious–all people are guilty of turning away from God. Paul has shown us that we, each and every one of us, are completely and utterly incapable of living the kind of life that is acceptable to God. This is true because God is holy, absolutely holy, and we are not. Paul has made this clear to us from our study of Romans 1:18-3:20.
As we come to our study this morning a radical change will take place right before our eyes. Paul says, “But now…” Let’s find out what he is talking about by reading our Scripture found in Romans 3:21-26.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 NIV)
Paul has shown that even our most ardent efforts to achieve the acceptance and approval of God based upon our own human efforts, our obedience to the Law, has miserably failed due to our sin. We are tainted with sin through and through. If you will remember what we learned last week about the doctrine of total depravity–We may not be as bad as we could be, but we are far, far from being as good as God has called us to be. Every aspect of our being has been affected by sin.
If you and I really understand this biblical truth then what are we to do? What hope is there for us to ever be made right with God? Well, if it is up to us to figure out this problem then we are sunk, we are hopeless, but praise be to God, this does not have to be the end of the story.
Paul says, “But now…” That little phrase is an important phrase in God’s Word. “But now” marks a stark contrast to what has just been said by Paul in the last 2 chapters of Romans. Paul says, “Your efforts have left you in a fix. Your efforts have gotten you nowhere. But now God has stepped onto the scene to alter your hopeless situation and give you hope.” Let me show you some different places that I have found where the same combination of words have been used in Scripture to show us what God has done. A little later, in Romans 6:20-22, Paul writes,
20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:20-22 NIV)
We were slaves to sin, but now, those who have trusted in Jesus have become slaves to righteousness! Who set us free from sin? Our best efforts? Hardly! God has set us free. In Galatians 4:8-9, Paul writes,
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God– or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9 NIV)
Once again, we were slaves, but now that we know God, or rather are known by God, we don’t have to continue as slaves any longer. Why would we turn back to those false gods which would destroy us? In Ephesians 2:12-13, Paul writes,
12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13 NIV)
Once we were far, far away from God, separated from Christ, but now we have been brought near through the blood of Christ. What an incredible change of our reality! In Colossians 1:21-22 we read,
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:21-22 NIV)
Once we were alienated from God, but now He has reconciled us, He has made us right with Himself. Are you seeing a pattern here? Who has done all of this? Who has restored us to a right relationship with God? Who has reconciled us to God? What have we done to accomplish this? What “good” work was it that caused God to stand up and take notice? I hope you can see as clearly as I can that there is absolutely nothing that we have done, but it is God who has done this on our behalf.
There is one final illustration that I want to show you. In the 9th chapter of John there was a blind man who had been born blind. The religious leaders of Jesus day were more concerned about whose sin caused the man’s blindness than they were that the man had gone through life not being able to see the beauty of God’s creation. When Jesus stepped into the man’s life He healed him, He restored his ability to see. That led the religious leaders to another discussion. Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath and you can’t do “work” on the Sabbath. Surely Jesus was a sinner for healing the man on the Sabbath, the religious leaders concluded. Isn’t it amazing how ridiculous religious folks can be? Finally, the religious leaders cornered the man who was once blind and they said, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.” The man replied,
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25 NIV)
What an incredible summation of the human condition. We were once blind, groping about in the dark, thinking we had 20/20 vision, thinking that we had it all figured out, thinking that we knew more than God Himself, but then Jesus stepped into our lives and He opened our eyes–now we can see, we can really see! This is the truth that Paul is setting forth for us in our study for today. Take a look at verse 21 with me.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (Romans 3:21 NIV)
Paul says that a “righteousness” from God has been made known. If you will remember from our past studies, the Greek word for righteousness literally means, “right relationship.” The word is used some 92 times in the Greek New Testament. Let me show you just a couple of other places where the word appears. The two Scriptures that I want to show you, which include this Greek word, are found in Romans 6:18-20 and Romans 10:1-3.
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. (Romans 6:18-20 NIV)
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:1-3 NIV)
This is such an essential truth for you and me to understand. There are countless millions of people today who, if asked, “Are you right with God?” or “If you died today would you go to heaven?” would answer those questions, “Well, I hope so.” If you asked them, “What are you basing your hope on?” They would answer, “Well, I try to live a good life.” There may be some of you here this morning who would answer those questions exactly the same way. My dear friend, let Scripture inform you, correct your thinking, and change your hope so that you will know that a right relationship with God is not based on your good works or your good life, if that were even possible. Paul says, “A righteousness from God has been made known.” Paul says that the Law and the prophets testify to this fact. That’s an interesting phrase.
Throughout the Old Testament we read about those who God called His chosen people–the Jews. Scripture testifies that they were not able to obediently follow the Law of God. Even the greatest of God’s people, Abraham, the Father of our faith, and King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” failed miserably. Abraham lied and David committed adultery and murder. Their relationship with God was not based on their good works, but on the merciful love of God.
There is another element to the testimony of Scripture concerning this righteousness from God. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s prophets pointing the people to the future, to a day when God would bring about His Redeemer, His Deliverer, who would deliver His people from more than just their earthly enemies, but from sin itself. Jesus was well aware of this aspect of Scripture. That is why He told the Jews,
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)
All of Scripture, the Old Testament, is pointing towards the One who would come one day. In that day God would restore His people to Himself. That day has come my friend. Isaiah never saw this promised Deliver, but he knew He was coming and He spoke as though He were already present in his day. Listen to this prophecy of Isaiah and tell me who he is referring to in Isaiah 56:3-6.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6 NIV)
There is only one person among the billions who have ever lived who can fill these shoes and his name is Jesus. A righteousness from God has been made known and He has made it known through His Son Jesus. Our restoration to God has been achieved because of God’s mercy and grace, not because of our efforts–this is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion of the world. John MacArthur writes,
Scripture makes clear that there is indeed a way to God, but that it is not based on anything men themselves can do to achieve or merit it. Man can be made right with God, but not on his own terms or in his own power. In that basic regard Christianity is distinct from every other religion. As far as the way of salvation is concerned, there are therefore only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know–the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion, by whatever names they may go under. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8. Moody Press: Chicago, IL. 1991)
Christianity is distinct, it is different, from every other religion of the world because they teach that we must do “right” to please God while Jesus teaches that we must be “put right,” placed in a “right relationship” by God before we can ever do right, and even our doing right is by His grace. Let me show you what I am talking about. Turn to Romans 3:22-24 with me. Let’s read together.
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24 NIV)
Most every English Bible translation has the same phrase for verse 24, “and are justified freely by his grace.” The word that is translated, “justified” is the Greek word, “????????????” (dikaioumenoi.) It sounds something like the Greek word we took a look at in verse 21, “??????????” (dikaiosune.) The reason is because they are from the same root word. The difference is that the word in verse 21 is a noun whereas the word used in verse 24 is a verb. Not only is it a verb, an action word, but is also a passive participle. Now, what does that mean? That’s a good question. It means that we are being acted upon. Let me read the same verse from The Message.
24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:24 The Message)
Does that make it more clear for you? God not only makes known this righteousness that is from Jesus, but He is acting upon our lives to make us righteous. Wow! What an awesome God we serve!
Let me show you another awesome truth. In verse 24 in the NIV, Paul says that we are being made righteous through “the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The word, “redemption,” is a translation of the Greek word, “????????????” (apolutroseos) and it means, “a releasing effected by payment of ransom, redemption, or deliverance.” In the ancient world people were a commodity in the marketplace. Slavery was rampant and if someone were going to gain their freedom then someone else would have to redeem them, buy their freedom. Throughout God’s Word we read about the theme of slavery and redemption. The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and God redeemed them, He delivered them. Paul says that we are slaves, not necessarily to a human master, but to sin. There is no way out on our own, but Jesus said,
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
Paul reminds the followers of Jesus that we don’t belong to ourselves any longer, but that we have been bought with a price. Read along with me from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)
You’ll have to excuse me for being so persistent, but I’ve just got to keep pointing this out to you. If you are a follower of Jesus, how have you gained your freedom from sin’s chokehold? How were the shackles of sin loosed from your wrists? Did you write a check? Come on? Did God recognize you as “somebody” among a sea of nobodies? Hardly. We were bought with a price. All of us were slaves to sin until God acted on our behalf through His Son Jesus.
Before we run out of time this morning let’s take a look at our last section of Scripture for this morning. Turn with me to Romans 3:25-26.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 NIV)
Paul says that God presented Jesus as a “sacrifice of atonement.” I’ve got to tell you that I could spend a whole month of Sundays taking you through the intricate detail and powerful connection to the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant that is found in this phrase. We don’t have that much time so hold onto your seat and strap yourself in–we’re going on a ride at supersonic pace for the next few minutes.
The Greek word that is used for this phrase is “??????????” (hilasterion). The word means, “placating or expiating.” That is why the word is translated in the KJV as “propitiation.” James Montgomery Boice writes,
‘Propitiation’ is drawn from the world of ancient religion. It signifies what the worshiper does when he or she presents a sacrifice to a deity. It is an ‘atoning sacrifice,’ an act by which the wrath of the offended deity is appeased or turned aside. Because this ancient world of sacrifices is so far from our experience, the idea of propitiation is hard to understand. We can understand how the idea of propitiation might be appropriate in an ancient, pagan society, where God was not known and was thought to be vacillating, capricious, and often angry. But certainly this is not the God of Christianity. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 1. pg. 371.)
Well, God is not capricious. He is not vacillating, like the gods of the pagans. They would try to bribe their gods with various offerings so that they would not be destroyed. This type of offering has nothing to do with the sacrificial system of the Temple. We have read, in Romans 1, that God’s wrath is being revealed against all ungodliness. He would not be a holy and righteous God if He simply winked at sin. God’s wrath is just, but God has dealt with our sin in a way that is totally unlike the way that pagan people dealt with their god’s anger.
The Greek word that I shared with you earlier is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Septuagint the word is often used to translate the Hebrew word, “?????????” (kapporeth,” this is the word that is used in the Old Testament to identify the mercy-seat, or place of atonement. Let me give you a little background.
When Moses and the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, on Mt. Sinai, for His people to follow. God also instructed Moses to make a portable worship center out of animal skins. The worship center consisted of an outer chamber called the Holy Place and an inner chamber called the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place, the Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments, would be placed.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold-covered wooden box about three feet long that contained, not only the Ten Commandments that Moses had received on Mt. Sinai, but also the rod of Aaron, and a jar of manna. The box that held the Ten Commandments had a cover called the Mercy Seat. At each end of the Mercy Seat there were two cherubim, angel like creatures, with their wings stretched up and over the Mercy Seat until they touched in the middle. You can read about this in Exodus 25:16-22.
16 Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. 17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold– two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. (Exodus 25:16-22 NIV)
There were sacrifices that were made for the sins of Israel on a daily and monthly basis, not in the Most Holy Place, but in the outer chamber. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest, after offering a sacrifice for his own sins, would enter into the Holy of Holies with the blood of a second animal that was slain. It was the sin of the people that separated them from God and yet God provided a way for the people’s sins to be forgiven. (Leviticus 17:11)
The Most Holy Place was the place where the greatest ethical command, the Ten Commandments, met the boundless mercy of God, on the Mercy Seat. The only problem was that nobody was allowed into the Most Holy Place except the High Priest. The people trusted that the sacrifice had been made, but they weren’t allowed into the Most Holy Place to actually see what took place.
When we come to our Scripture for today, Paul tells us that God put Jesus on display before the entire world as the Mercy Seat of God–the place where the sins of humanity met with the boundless grace of God. Not only is Jesus the place where the sin of God’s people meets the boundless love of God, but it is Jesus’ blood that has been offered on behalf of sinners like you and me.
Long ago God commanded Abraham to take his own son, Isaac, and go to Mount Moriah. He was to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God. After waiting until he was 100 years old, Abraham finally held his promised son in his arms. Now, God was calling Abraham to be obedient and take his son to Mt. Moriah and offer him back to God. Can you imagine the painful journey that it must have been for Abraham?
While Abraham and his son were walking up Mt. Moriah, Abraham loaded the wood on Isaac’s back while he carried the knife and fire that would be used in making the sacrifice. While they were on their way Isaac spoke to his dad,
7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:7-8 NIV)
Abraham had no idea how profound his words would one day prove to be. When they got to the top of Mt. Moriah Abraham prepared the altar and just as he was raising the knife to sacrifice his own son, God stopped him. God showed Abraham that there was a ram in the thicket that He had provided in the place of Abraham’s son.
Many years later, on that same mountain, God would provide a Lamb, a spotless Lamb without spot or defect. A sinless Lamb, the one in whom John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This would be the Lamb offered in the place of those who are guilty, those like you and me. God has provided the Lamb and He has demonstrated His righteousness and mercy for all the world to see. Won’t you lay down your life, turn from your sin, and cry out to the Lamb of God who has given His life for you?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 30, 2013