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God is Just. Reformation 2014


Reformation Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 3:19-28

October 26, 2014

“God is just”

Iesu Iuva

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

God is just. People fight against this fact in every generation because it is unthinkable [for us as fallen people]. If God is really perfectly just, if He really insists on absolute goodness in people, who can stand before Him?

 

That makes it unthinkable for people and they reject it. If God is perfectly just and condemns all unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds, there is no way out for us.

 

So through the ages people have invented escape routes from God’s justice. They have tried to redefine God’s justice so that it isn’t so unbending, so that an imperfect person could still be righteous before God.  The Jews in Paul’s day told themselves that they were righteous in God’s sight because they knew His commandments and kept them outwardly.  In the time of the Reformation, four hundred ninety seven years ago, some preachers came out and told people that if they bought an indulgence from the Pope they were guaranteed heaven.

 

If the church is going to be reformed and be what God wants her to be, the continuing task of the church is to shut those escape routes. Every time someone tries to open up a new one the church’s preaching has to show that these escape routes are really traps from the devil. God is just. Because He is just, there are no escape routes.  You are either righteous, in which case you will receive God’s praise, glory, and eternal life.  Otherwise you are a sinner and an enemy of God.

 

He is just. That means He doesn’t tell us lies to make us feel better.  If you stole something, God doesn’t say, “That’s ok.  You were just a kid, and after all it was just something small.  And now you’re sorry.”  If you stole, you’re a thief in God’s eyes.  If you’ve lied, you’re a liar.  If you’ve slandered you’re a slanderer.  If you’ve fornicated, you’re a fornicator.

Such things are hard for us to hear and hard for us to bear. But it’s the truth.  God is a God of truth and a God of justice.  If God pretended our sin wasn’t really sin, He would be a liar.  He would be unjust.  Being sorry, being good in other areas, buying an indulgence—none of these things can take away sin, can they?  If I tell my son to clean his room and he doesn’t, but instead comes home and says, “Look, I did my homework and got straight A’s”—is that going to change the fact that he is in trouble for not cleaning his room?

 

The Reformation began because people were preaching false assurances of salvation. Martin Luther’s preaching and writing began to show these assurances to be false.  He shut the doors that the church had left open for people to try to escape from God’s justice.  In this he was only doing what God has already done in the Holy Scriptures.  Paul says: whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God. That can be translated: so that every mouth may be shut up and the whole world become guilty before God.  That’s what the preaching of the law does.  It makes us no longer have excuses or anything to say back to God’s judgment.  It just shows us our guilt.  Yes, it increases our guilt.  Because when the law is preached and our escape routes are closed we are left face to face with God’s wrath, which causes despair and anger.  More sins.  When our escape routes are closed, our mouths are closed.  WE can no longer speak anything to justify ourselves.  We have nothing we can say to get us out from under God’s anger against sinners.

 

So Paul goes on: Therefore no flesh will be justified in God’s sight through works of the law, for through the law is the knowledge of sin.

 

The law of God makes us know our sin. Today we live in a time when most church people barely remember that there was something in the church called “the Reformation.”  Of those who do remember many think the Reformation no longer has much relevance for the church today.  Outside of the church not many people have much interest in what seemed to be such an important teaching in Luther’s day.  Why do you think that is?  I propose to you that the Gospel that the reformation was about doesn’t interest too many people because most people inside and outside the church have forgotten that God is just. If we don’t remember or believe that God is just, the whole Gospel is lost.  Because we don’t need it if we still have our own escape routes.  If I can buy an indulgence, I don’t need the good news that Paul preaches and that Luther began to preach again in the 1500s.  If my sin is not exposed to me, then I won’t be all that impressed with the forgiveness of sins.  Instead, the preacher on television who tells me that the Bible shows me how to have a happy, positive life will be more attractive.  There are many such preachers today.  They are the indulgence salesmen of our time.

 

But the law of God declares that we are unrighteous and faced with a righteous God who cannot and will not overlook sin. So if we take to heart that God is just and doesn’t and cannot lie and pretend we are not sinners, how can we be anything but damned?

 

That is the question to which the Reformation made known God’s answer. How can sinners be just before a just and holy God?  Paul says: but now the righteousness of God apart from the law has been manifested. God has made known His righteousness by which He shows that He is righteous while forgiving sinners.

 

What is that righteousness? “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And Paul goes on to explain: There is no distinction, for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. What does this mean?  It means that since no one was righteous in God’s sight, He chose to have favor and mercy toward everyone and to count them righteous without any works on their part, without any good deeds.  Since all had sinned, God decided to declare everyone righteous.  But how could God do this without being unjust and a liar?  Answer: through the redemption in Christ Jesus.

 

The just God put forward His Son, says Paul, as a mercy seat through faith in His blood. He did this to show His righteousness because in the past He had overlooked all the sin in the world and not punished sinners in His fury.

 

In the Old Testament, there was a cover on the ark of the covenant called “the mercy seat.” It was in the most holy place, in the temple behind the curtain.  No one could go into the most holy place because there, above the mercy seat, God was present in a cloud, and anyone who went into His holy presence would die.  There was only one exception.  The High Priest would come into God’s presence once a year with the blood of an animal.  The priest would sprinkle that blood on the mercy seat, and God would accept that animal’s life as an atonement or redemption for the sins of the people of Israel, so that they would not have to be destroyed by God for their sins.  It was symbolic, because the blood of an animal was not really enough.  An animal’s death was not enough to make up for a human being who deserved to die because of his sin.  But God accepted the animal sacrifice until the true sacrifice came, and when the blood was sprinkled on the mercy  seat He counted it as a covering for all the people’s transgressions of the covenant (that is, the Law, which was underneath the mercy seat within the ark.)

 

Paul says that God put forward His Son as the true mercy seat. There God receives the one who believes in Jesus and covers his sins.  God is “just and the justifier” of the one who has faith in Jesus.  He is just because He did not just overlook sin and pretend like it wasn’t there.  He punished it to the full extent of His just wrath.  He poured out His just indignation and fury.  But He poured it out on Jesus instead of on us.  Jesus is the true sacrifice and the true mercy seat.  When He was nailed to the cross, blood streamed over His whole body from the stripes on His back, the thorns on His head, the nails in His hands and feet, the spear in His side.  He is the sacrifice who died but also the true mercy seat and ark of the covenant.  Within Him, inside the shrine of His heart, He kept the law of God pure and undefiled.  On His body the blood of the sacrifice was poured.  And everyone who draws near to this mercy seat by faith in His blood is justified and received by God, who is just and does not receive sinners.

 

The just and holy God satisfied His justice. He punished sin in Jesus.  And now those who by faith approach God through this mercy seat He receives and justifies.  He counts their sins as having been blotted out by the blood of Jesus’ His dear Son’s sacrifice.

 

So when God forgives your sins through Jesus, He is not being unjust or lying. That’s what it would be if He said your sins were not so bad; after all, you’re sorry and are trying harder now.  If He said that He would be a God who permits sin.  But now God has fully poured out His punishment on all sns.  He punished the sins of the long years of the past before Jesus came and all the sins to the end of the world.

 

All this He did purely out of grace, which means out of favor and kindness, without us bringing anything to the table that turned God’s heart toward us. All that was in us was unrighteousness and that which provoked Him.  But He justified us by sending His Son into our flesh to die for us.  And that alone has turned His heart toward us.

 

So we stand truly righteous before God’s face through faith in Jesus. If we were standing before Him in ourselves with our works, we would be objects of His wrath; liars, slanderers, fornicators, thieves, murderers, and every other kind of transgressor.

 

But we stand before Him having drawn near the mercy seat—that is, with faith that God’s punishment against us has been given out to Jesus. Jesus, God’s Son, was condemned to death.  By faith in Him we stand before our just and holy God believing that He has blotted out our sins and covered them with Jesus’ blood.  Covered us with His own righteousness, the righteousness of His Son’s suffering and death for us on the cross.

 

That is the only way Christ’s death is received. Not by our own works according to the law.  Not by trying hard to have a stronger faith.  Not by loving our neighbor.  The redemption that is in Christ Jesus is received by faith alone, as a pure gift, without any works or doing.  Faith is not doing something.  It is passive receiving of what Christ has done.

 

How can I know that my sins are covered, that God declares me just and righteous, that the blood that covered Jesus’ body covers my sins? How can I know I have true faith?

 

Because God says—this is for you, poor sinners. He says it in the Gospel, when He holds up His Son crucified for us before us.  He says it in the sacrament of the Altar: “This is my blood, shed for you.  Take, drink.”  Faith simply takes God at His word.  “It is for me.  God says so.”

 

God is just. He doesn’t let us have escape routes from His justice. There is no way out of His just judgment by works of the law or by works created by men.  But He justifies sinners through the death of His Son.  Everyone who believes that they are justified and received into grace through Christ’s blood receives what they believe.  His justification of sinners is not a fiction.  It’s not like when you create a fantasy image of yourself that deep down you know is not true.  His justification of sinners, of you, is the truth.  When He calls you righteous, it is the truth.  He laid all your punishment on Jesus.  Now it is gone.

 

It si this truth that we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. This si the truth that was restored to the church during the reformation.  Even though the world and many churches no longer consider it important, it remains important because it is  God’s own truth.  This is how the just God justifies the ungodly.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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