Its only if there’s justice that we can know that our sin is no more
‘There’s no justice’ its a common refrain from people standing in front of the cameras outside the Royal Courts in the Strand, from victims of some terrible crime, when they feel that the perpetrator has been let off too easily, ’He gets only a few years but ours is a life sentence’, the distraught parents of a murdered young person might say, when interviewed.
Whatever we think about rehabilitation, after a really shocking crime, society expects punishment. There is a sense of collective anger, – wrath if you like, towards the crime and the perpetrator. There is a sense that unless there is punishment and unless the punishment fits the crime, there is no justice.
So we should not be surprised when Paul speaks in Chapter 1 about God’s perfect justice, which arises because of his outrage, his wrath, like the anger of the people towards a terrible crime, but, in God’s case not capricious anger, as ours might be, but his settled opposition to sin, as I explained in January at Valley Worship.
And as Nicky explained in February, what constitutes crime from God’s perspective – sin will eventually be judged against the eternal plumbline and we will all have to give an account of ourselves for everything that we have done and even thought during our lives on earth.
As Paul explained in that shocking section in Chapter 1: 29-3, the punishment for, the consequence of, that crime of sin, that failure to correspond to the plumbline is…… death…eternal death…..total eternal separation from God.
‘But why?’ we might ask. Why does it matter how we live our lives? Why does it matter if we fail to fulfil the requirements of the law which is summarised by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 as: loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbours as ourselves? Why does it matter if we do that or not?
Because we have been created for a purpose by the one true God and because, by sinning, we deny that purpose, we reject the person who placed us here, we outrage God by worshipping other things rather than him and by failing to love others, we incur his wrath because this is not what he made us for and, most importantly, because by sinning we cut ourselves off from the source of our own lives; because, by sinning we cut ourselves off from the source of our own lives.
Its a bit like sitting on the branch of a tree and using a saw to cut between where we are sitting and the tree trunk, we fall to the ground!
We often think about God the Father as our creator, but perhaps we don’t emphasise enough the thought that he created each of us individually. It is from him that we have come into the world, like an arrow, albeit with a rather independent sense of direction! Shot by God, towards a target. To sin is to miss the target towards which we have been sent. It is to cut ourselves off from him!
Of course, when we use the words ‘sin deserves death’, it does sound very harsh to our modern ears, but perhaps a better way of saying it, is that sin separates us from God, alienates us from God, the source of our life and so eternal death, naturally is the result; it is bound to be!
And this applies to us all, because Paul writes verse 25 ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all stand condemned of sin: its actually impossible for us humans to make ourselves right with God by doing good things, because the standard is too high, he is too holy, too different to us
Verse 21; but now Paul says, we can be righteous, we can be ‘right with God’. We can restore that relationship between us and the Father apart from fulfilling the requirements of the law he has given us.
We can become right with God by another means: through faith in Jesus Christ
We do not stand condemned when we face the eternal judge, even though we are sinners, because our connection with the Father our source of life is restored by grace, freely, undeserved, through our trust in Jesus Christ.
This is the GOOD NEWS!
This is the gospel!
This is what Christianity is about!
This is what changed the world!
But how, you might ask, can this possibly work?
How can God’s justice and his understandable wrath at sin be satisfied? How can our dislocated relationship with the source of our existence be restored, by faith….indeed by anything, other than total obedience to the laws he has given us? Wouldn’t that mean that there is no justice? Wouldn’t that compromise God’s perfect justice; compromise his character as a just God?
Isn’t it rather like the judge in the case of the rape and murder saying to the perpetrator ‘you are guilty of murder and rape, but you are free to go…next!”
How would society respond to that?
The judge would be dismissed…
It would be, of course, very merciful of the judge to have released the prisoner if he said ‘sorry’, but the demand of society for justice will not have been fulfilled…..
Would the people on the steps of the Royal Courts, if considering our escape from the consequences of our actions, be right to shout, ’there has been no justice’?
The judge might have been merciful, but it’s not the end of the matter, the anger of the people would be unsatisfied and might well spill out onto the streets.
So how can we be placed ‘at one’ with the Father?
How can the wrath of God be satisfied?
How can there be justice without us all facing destruction?
Or to use the theological language, how can our sin be atoned for?
When I used to work in the City, I used to walk across the Millennium Bridge from Waterloo and had a conversation every day with a homeless guy called George. He was the same age as me; adopted like me; from Scotland like me.
After getting to know each other over several months, he told me that he was…..a murderer…
‘But’ he said ‘I have paid my debt to society’ ‘I have done my time’.
Even the people on the steps of the Royal Courts will probably accept that once a just sentence has been served, that a criminal has been put at one with society, he has atoned.
But if the just penalty for sin is death, how can anyone atone for their sin; if the penalty is eternal death, if it results in their own eternal destruction?
How can that broken relationship with the creator be restored, how can justice be served?
The solution to this conundrum is so dramatic, so extraordinary, so loving….
The solution is that:
God himself pays the penalty, instead of us
God himself pays the penalty, instead of us
He dies instead of us
and that propitiates God’s wrath
it satisfies God’s wrath.
We are not just let off our sins, but our sins are no more
You see, it is not God’s mercy that we are appealing to we are not saying ‘just let us off’, we are appealing to his justice. What is happening is that we are recognising ‘that what we have done is so serious that it deserves death’
The penalty of sin is death, but Jesus, God himself takes that penalty on himself in Jesus Christ, so the sin is completely removed; the crime is gone. Like George the murderer, we have not just been released, our debt has actually been paid.
As pastor Tim Keller says “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope’.
This is so profound, so amazing and so beautiful; God came into the world in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, to die for you and for me, to take the consequence of God’s wrath on our sin, not just to release us from it but to bear our sins on his body, and because God’s wrath is propitiated, we can know that we are truly free, our debt has been paid.
Sometimes people say: ‘this is awful, an innocent taking the penalty of the criminal….’
But this is not some innocent third party being punished – that would be obviously barbaric- but the person whose wrath has been incurred taking the consequences, instead of us the self substitution of God.
On 31st July 1941 a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz. And as a reprisal, the Gestapo selected ten men arbitrarily to die in a starvation underground bunker. One of the men who was selected to die was a man called Francis Gajinisdek. And when Francis Gajinisdek was selected, he cried out: he said, `Ah, my poor wife and my children. They’ll never see me again.’ And at that moment, a man—stepped out, and he said, `Look, I’m a Catholic priest. I don’t have a wife and children.’ He said, `I want to die instead of that man.’ And to everyone’s amazement, his offer was accepted. Maximilian Kolbe was the name of the Catholic priest. He was 47 years old at the time. And he went with the others to the starvation bunker…..he got them all praying and singing hymns; it transformed the atmosphere, apparently, in that bunker. And he was the last to die,
41 years later, on 10th October 1982, In St. Peter’s Square in Rome, in a crowd of 150,000 people— including 26 cardinals, 300 bishops and archbishops— was that man, Francis Gajinisdek. And the Pope described the death of Maximilian Kolbe in these terms. He said, `It was a victory, like that won by our Lord, Jesus Christ.’
Can you imagine how Gajinisdek and his family must have felt about Maximilian Kolbe, the gratefulness, the love, to have been saved from this terrible fate by Kolbe’s great generosity?
When we understand what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, like Maximilian Kolbe did for Gajinisdek at Auschwitz; once we realise how we stand in the same shoes as Francis Gajinisdek, how Jesus has taken the terrible penalty mapped out for us, that our inevitable eternal death has been averted; how God’s wrath at our sin has been propitiated, we are truly forgiven, because the penalty has been paid, how our relationship with our creator has been restored, then there is really only one response that we can make and it is to trust Jesus, trust the one who made this possible, it is to love him.
It is on the coattails of that love; that relationship with him, that trust and faith in him, that our eternal future is secure, because God’s wrath has been propitiated. And, in response, we seek to become his hands and feet in our communities. And through that trust and through that love, the world, step by step will be transformed
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by lthe law and mthe prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath sset forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 3:20–31). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.