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Reformation 2020. The Righteousness of God at the Present Time


The Sunday of the Reformation

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Romans 3:19-28

October 25, 2020

The Righteousness of God at the Present Time

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth…And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come…” (Rev. 14:6-7)

The angel’s message is arresting: Fear God, because the hour of His judgment has come.  Yet there are many who are wondering whether now is the time, now are the last days preceding the return of Jesus, and the final judgment.  We are certainly living through tumultuous times.  There are wars and rumors of wars.  Many have gone out in Christ’s name and deceived many.  Christians are delivered up to tribulation and death—if not here, then elsewhere in the world.  But even here: many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12). 

Many wonder if we have arrived at the hour of God’s judgment.  And we have, even if Christ does not return in the next few days or years. 

We have come to the last time.  It is true that the last time involves persecution, tribulation, and the final end of the world.  But it is also a blessed time.  Jesus says in the holy Gospel: For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John [the Baptist], the one who came before Jesus (Matthew 11:13).  But with the coming of John something has changed.  The times have changed.  What did the Prophets and the Law prophesy?  They witnessed to a righteousness of God without law (Rom. 3:21).  But now a righteousness of God without law has been manifested, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all the ones believing (Rom.3:21-22). 

Up until this time, the people of God had lived under the Law.  The ten commandments dictated that they should love God, they should pray and hear His Word, honor and love their parents, love and help their neighbor in his body, love their spouse and be pure, help their neighbor improve his possessions and income, protect his reputation.  And those who were estranged from God also lived under His Law as it was recorded in their consciences.  But no one was made righteous by this Law.  At best, Jew and Gentile alike were made to know their sin and their need for righteousness.  But the Jew had the advantage that the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, also bore witness to the righteousness that God gives to sinners as a free gift.  The Law and Prophets foretold that God’s Son would be born of a woman and would make atonement for our sins by His death, and that all who believe in Him are righteous apart from their works.

But now, St. Paul says, the hour has come where that righteousness to which the Law and Prophets bore witness has arrived.  It has been made manifest in Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is made known to the world in the preaching of the Gospel.

When people think that the angel with the everlasting Gospel is perhaps flying above the earth, announcing that the hour of His judgment has come, they are right.  The time has come when He has revealed His righteousness that He accounts to all who believe in His Son.  And the time has come in which He declares His judgment on all who reject His righteousness and continue to rely on works of Law. 

The time has come to which the Law and the Prophets testify, in which God makes known His righteousness.  But Satan is always at work to conceal this righteousness of God.  That’s why 1500 years after Paul proclaimed it, the Lord made His righteousness apart from works known again through Martin Luther.  And in our time, He is continuing to make it known, even if He is not using any mighty instruments like Luther. 

He is showing His righteousness at the present time, that He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

1.  First, He stops every mouth;

2. Second, He puts forward Jesus as the propitiation and covering for our sin,

3. Third, He declares those who believe in Jesus righteous without works of law.

1. 

For by works of law nothing of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law is knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). 

Adam and Eve in Paradise were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  And when they ate of it, they immediately began to cover up their knowledge of their guilt.  They made garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  When they heard God approaching, they hid from Him.  In this way, they tried to suppress the knowledge of their sin.

We see around us in the world today that people are still doing the same thing.  They suppress the truth about themselves so that they are no longer able to recognize their sin.  People in the church are frequently incensed at how our neighbors are no longer able to recognize the greatest abominations as sin.  It’s no longer sin to murder one’s children in our country.  It’s no longer considered sin in our country for women to exchange natural relations for those which are contrary to nature and for men to give up natural relations with women and to be consumed with passion for one another, as Paul describes in Romans 1 (v. 26-27).   Instead we make provision in the law for people to engage in these sins. 

On the other hand, people in the church frequently become blind to their own sins.  Even though we know better, or we should, we imagine that if our sin remains in our hearts and desires, we are less guilty before God.  We forget that pride and self-trust are the greatest of sins because they are sins against the first commandment.

So God preaches the Law to us and gives us the knowledge of sin.  He shows us that there is no distinction—all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  The Law reveals that we not only have sinned, but we have sin.  We have eaten the poisoned fruit and it now works in us so that our hearts are constantly churning with evil desire and rebellion against God and His Law. 

Even now, with the great evil we see at work around us, God proclaims His Law in order to shut every mouth, so that everyone will become guilty before Him.  He does this because He desires to make known and give His righteousness apart from works of Law.

2.  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.

When you have become guilty before God—that is to say, when you have come to the knowledge of sin and its bitter fruit, that you are guilty and subject to eternal punishment—you want to become free of your guilt before God.  But how can you become free?  Human reason tells us that we become free from our guilt before God by our sorrow and by our works—whether our efforts to pay for our past sins, or our efforts to be better in the future.

But the right preaching of God’s Law shows us that there is no rescue from sin in our works.  God’s Law requires obedience.  It does not say, “Do these the best you can and you will live.”  God’s Law says, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).  The wages for any transgression of God’s commandments is death and damnation.  And the Law reveals that we are unable to stop transgressing, even if doing so could take away our guilt.

Then the question is—if every sin and transgression of God’s Law must be punished, how can God count any sinner righteous? 

That’s the question Paul answers in Romans 3.  All have 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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s justice, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.

When Jesus was put on trial before Pilate, condemned to die, and was crucified and lifted up, and finally gave up His Spirit, God the Father was “putting Him forward.”  He was putting Jesus forward as a propitiation, as a sacrifice that takes away guilt and turns away God’s wrath. 

The Law tells me that God is just.  If God is righteous and just, how come He calls David righteous?  Why is Abraham at His right hand?  These men were sinners.

More importantly for us, if God is righteous and just, how can He not be angry at me still?  Even though I am sorry for my sins, I still sin daily and much.  If He is righteous, doesn’t He have to be angry with me and punish me?

When Jesus is put before our eyes as crucified, as having died on the cross, God is answering our question.  He is showing that He is righteous and does not let sin go unpunished, and He is also showing our justification.  Here is where your righteousness is—in Jesus made sin for you, in Jesus bearing the judgment of God against you.

When God causes Jesus to be preached as crucified for you, He is demonstrating and exhibiting His righteousness by which He justifies you at the present time.  The hour of His judgment has come.  In preaching Jesus’ death He is judging you righteous and showing Himself to be just in doing so, because He has laid all your sin on His Son.  When He caused His supper to be celebrated and the words of Institution to be sung or spoken, He is demonstrating His righteousness, showing the death of His Son by which He made many to be accounted righteous.

3.  But this righteousness that Jesus accomplished for you, this righteousness of God comes through something to you. 

It doesn’t come through the law, through works or deeds.  There is no work that you can do that puts your sins on Jesus and takes them out of God’s sight.

Rather it comes through faithThe righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  You are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ redeemed you and the whole world with His suffering and death.  He accomplished righteousness for you.  But that righteousness comes to us through faith, not through any work.  Not through being sorry.  Not through trying to do better.  Simply through believing what He says in the Gospel—that He has done this for us as a free gift.

Thanks be to God, we live in the last days; we live in the days when God’s righteousness is not in the distant future, waiting to be accomplished.  It is done.  It has come.  And God makes it known to us.  When Satan had buried it, He uncovered it again in the Reformation.  And He continues to reveal this eternal good news to us in the pure preaching of His Word.  God grant that it be preserved among us and to our children.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

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