Part 3: Jesus
In case you’re joining us or have been away for the past couple weeks, we’re now in week 3 of a 5-week series called “What is the Gospel?” And in this series we’re seeking to answer that question and refocus our spiritual eyes on the gospel.
And over the past couple of weeks we’ve talked about the four reasons we’re doing this series:
- We want everybody who spends time with us here at Emmanuel to understand the gospel.
- We want those of us who do understand the gospel to understand it better and better so that it can continue to do it’s work in our life.
- We want to better understand the gospel so that we be discerning when we encounter counterfeit versions of the gospel that are out there today, just like they always have been.
- And we want to know the gospel really well so that we’ll have clarity and confidence in sharing the gospel with other people who need to hear it. And in fact, our goal in this series is to be able to confidently and clearly explain the gospel to someone else in two minutes or less.
Those are the four reasons for this series.
Now as we’ve dug into understanding the message of the gospel itself, we’ve also talked about the very important concept of the four building blocks. The message of the gospel has these four big components that are present- whether we like it or not- every time we talk about the gospel:
- Us and our problem
- God’s solution
- Our response
Those four building blocks are like big empty boxes that need to have the right things put in them every time we explain the gospel.
So week one we explored what Acts chapter 17 has to say about that first building block: God. What do we need to know about God in order to understand the gospel?
And we saw that the Bible teaches us that God is the creator, that He is the king, that He is greater than us, and that He deserves our worship. We owe Him everything, especially all of our honour and thanks.
Last week we saw what Romans 1 has to say about our problem. Our problem is that we haven’t worshipped or served or honoured or thanked our Creator. Even though the truth about God is plain for all of us to see in the things that have been made, we’ve all chosen to worship and serve the things that God has created- especially ourselves- instead of Him.
And because of that, we are on the receiving end of His wrath and judgement. God’s wrath is being revealed now in history as God hands people over to be enslaved to their own destructive desires, and God’s wrath will be revealed fully at the end of our lives and at the end of time when every unrepentant sinner will receive God’s wrath forever in a real place called Hell.
Now in between last week’s passage and today’s passage is a section on Israel where the Apostle addresses the story of Israel and their current state. And what you’ll see there if you go read that is that even though Israel had been highly privileged by God- especially in them being given God’s law- they still end up in the same spot as the Gentile nations who didn’t have the law.
Like chapter 3 verse 9 says, "What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”
And so that’s the section that verses 19 and 20 are saying. Jew and Gentile are in equal need of the mercy and salvation of God. None of us has any hope in ourselves for salvation.
Words of Hope
And that’s where verse 21 in our passage today comes breaking in like a sunbeam in the middle of a thunderstorm.
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—”
“But now!” This “now” is 2,000 years old for us, but we can just imagine Paul trembling with joy as these words were being written down. Now, at long last, God has intervened. He has revealed His righteousness, which in this context is referring to His work that makes us righteous.
And God has done this apart from the law. Even though the law and the prophets bear witness to it, this new way for us to be righteous happens in a different way then us obeying the law perfectly.
I wish we could spend the whole morning just savouring those two words- “But now.” I wish we could all taste the freshness of these words, to know what it’s like to have the goodness of the gospel break in to the bleakness of our hopelessness for the first time.
There’s a sense of “finally, at last, rescue has come” in these words.
And we also shouldn’t miss the wonder here, that this is God Himself revealing His own righteousness and making it available to us. This isn’t something that humans discovered after a long quest. This is something God revealed to us.
Just think about that. God- the one we have sinned against, the one whose wrath we are under- He Himself is the one who has now revealed His saving righteousness. If we didn’t already know this, could we have dreamed about an turn in this story as good as this?
If you know Jesus this morning and you’ve believed the message of the gospel, pray that God would help you recover the wonder of this truth, the wonder of these words. “But now.”
A Fully-Orbed Salvation
Now in our passage today, following verse 21, this righteousness of God and how is saves us is explained and unpacked in rich detail. And we’re not going to turn over every stone here this morning. Some aspects of this passage we’re going to be coming back to next week, where they fit in better.
But this morning we are going to focus in on what this passage tells us about Jesus and how He rescued us from everything we learned about ourselves last week.
We saw last week that all of humanity is guilty before God, enslaved to sin, and under His wrath.
Our passage today shows us that Jesus has saved us from each of these aspects of our lost condition:
- Where we were guilty, Christ has justified us.
- Where we were in slavery, Christ has redeemed us and set us free.
- Where we were under the judgement of God, Christ has atoned for our sin and turned aside God’s wrath.
And so those three points are going to be our outline as we dig into our passage. Let’s start by considering that first point:
Where We Were Guilty, Christ Has Justified Us
We see this in verse 23 and 24. Verse 23 begins by reminding us of our guilt: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
All- Jew and Gentile alike- have sinned and present-tense fall short of the glory of God. Right up to this very moment every single one of us falls short of what God created us for and what God expects of us and what God deserves from us.
But even in this spot of present-tense falling short, verse 24 tells us we are “justified by his grace as a gift.”
Back in Philippians 3 we talked about this word “justify” or “justification,” and how in the original language it comes from the same root word as “righteous.” And so the “justify” means “to declare righteous.” It means to acquit someone of their charges, to pronounce them righteous. It’s a legal, courtroom word, when the judge wraps the gavel and pronounces you not guilty- but more than just not guilty, but actually righteous.
Romans 3:24 tells us that all who believe in Jesus are justified- declared righteous- by God’s grace as a gift. Justification is not something we earn or become worthy of. It’s something that Jesus does for us. Jesus saves us from our guilty and condemned status and gives us the status of righteous, even as we still fall short of His glory.
Where We Were in Slavery, Christ Has Redeemed Us and Set Us Free
So a question we should ask as we think about this is, how does this work? What did Jesus to to justify us? And the answer to that comes in verse 24, where it says that we are justified “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
This word “redemption” in the ancient world had the basic idea of freeing someone by paying a price for them. It was used to in connection with ransoming prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned criminals. Someone is imprisoned or condemned, and someone else comes along and pays a price, and that person goes free.
So this gift of justification- being declared righteous- comes to us through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. This means that Jesus paid a price which set us free, which is the meaning of redemption, and it’s because of that price that we are declared righteous in God’s eyes.
And so I hope you notice that we’re now encountering the second aspect of the work of Christ in this passage. Redemption. Jesus paying a ransom price to set us free.
Apart from Christ, we are all guilty prisoners, marching off to receive the death penalty, and there’s nothing we can do to set ourselves free. But Jesus has set us free from the consequences of our sin by paying our ransom. By redeeming us. And so we are free from the penalty of our sin.
Where We Were Under the Judgement of God, Christ Has Atoned for Our Sin and Turned Aside God’s Wrath
So once again we want to ask questions. What is this price that Jesus paid? Who was this price paid to? And how does this price ransom us and justify us?
And the answer comes in verse 25: “whom”- that is, Jesus- “God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.” We are redeemed and justified because God put forward Jesus as a propitiation.
This word propitiation isn’t one that we use very often, but should. It’s an incredible word that gets at the heart of our salvation. “Propitiation” has the basic meaning of turning aside wrath. It was used in Greek mythology to talk about sacrifices that would appease the wrath of the gods.
This word is also used with even more significance in the Greek Old Testament scriptures that the Jews of Paul and Jesus’ day were very familiar with. See, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which we call the Septuagint, this word for propitiation is used to translate the Hebrew word “mercy seat.”
The mercy seat was the cover over the ark of the covenant that was placed in the most holy place inside the tabernacle and later the temple. And it was the place where the priest would sprinkle the blood of the bull and the goat once a year on the day of atonement.
And it’s so significant that the Greek Old Testament translated “mercy seat” using this word, propitiation. They understood that as the priest brought the blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, God’s wrath against them was turned aside.
Their sin deserved the wrath of God in the form of death, but those animals died instead of them. And so God’s wrath was turned aside from them, because those animals took God’s wrath in their place. That’s what’s going on when we talk about our sin being atoned for, and it’s all there in that one word “propitiation.”
And so this word shows us this third way that Jesus has saved us. On the cross, Jesus bore the judgement of God in our place. He became our substitute and suffered the consequences of our sin instead of us. And in so doing, Jesus propitiated the wrath of God- He turned it aside from us. Calvary was our mercy seat, where Jesus poured out His own blood to atone for our sin once and for all.
If the scariest news in the universe is that our Creator is angry with us, then isn’t this the best news in the world- that through Christ, God’s wrath has been fully and finally turned aside from us? Because now we can know God as our loving Father instead of as our angry judge. We can know His love and presence and comfort and peace because His wrath against us has been taken away.
Like Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or in the words of 1 Peter 1:18, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
That’s why propitiation is such good news. Because it gives us God. And God is the best thing in the universe. Which makes this the best news in the universe.
Putting it All Together
Now in this passage we’ve seen the three ways that Jesus has saved us- justification, redemption, and propitiation. But we’ve also seen that these three ideas are tightly connected. The death of Jesus on the cross, which turned aside God’s wrath, is the price that redeemed us from the penalty of our sin and has caused us to be declared righteous by God- because, all of the sin that condemned us has been paid for in full.
Now I know that this is rich and deep but it can also be hard to understand, especially if you’ve just learned some new words and are thinking about these things for one of the first times. So we can simplify it just a little and boil it down to this: on the cross, Jesus took our place. He became our substitute. And by substituting Himself for us, He saved us from the power and the consequences of our sin.
Last week I read you a statement from John Stott where he said that the essence of sin is us substituting ourselves for God. But there’s a second half of that quote that I didn’t read. The essence of sin is us substituting ourselves for God, but the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for us.
In every act of sin, we try to take God’s place. But in saving us, Jesus came and took our place. And in so doing He saved us from from all the power and penalty of our sin.
For Whom Did Jesus Die?
Now there’s one more stop we need to take this morning, because there’s one more crucial aspect of our salvation that’s mentioned in this passage. And it’s one that we very often skip over or fail to notice.
And we see it in the last half of verse 25, which says that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation “to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
Do you see what this is saying? In His divine forbearance- patience- God had passed over so many sins in the age before Jesus died on the cross.
If you want an example of God passing over sin, think about David and Bathsheba. David stole the wife of one of his 30 mighty men and had him murdered to cover it up. Two sins, both deserving of the death penalty.
But in Psalm 52 we hear David confessing his guilt and sin to the Lord and asking God to forgive him and take that sin away from Him. And God… did. He just forgave Him. He didn’t count that sin against him, just like we heard from Psalm 32 this morning.
And what we so often miss is how this act of forgiveness casts serious doubt about the justice and righteousness of God. How can God just let people get away with sin? How can God just forgive things which He Himself said has deserved the death penalty? How can God just pass over so much sin?
See, when we read the Old Testament scriptures we often take offence at God’s justice. How he punished and judged so many people for their sins.
But if we really understand things from God’s perspective, we should be amazed that God passed over so many sins. That he left so many people unpunished. That He lets so many people get away with so much.
Like we saw last week, sin is an assault on the glory of God. Sin is telling God that He doesn’t deserve our worship and He’s not as great and glorious as He says He is. And when God let’s people get away with sin, it makes God look like He is agreeing with them. It makes God look like He is less than righteous Himself.
It’s against this background that Romans 3:25 tells us that God needed to demonstrate His righteousness, which had been left open to questioning. And so one of the main reasons that Jesus died was to prove God’s righteousness. Because Jesus came and paid for the sins of David and Moses and Noah and Gideon and Abraham and Issac and Jacob and everyone else whose sins had been passed over up until then.
Jesus showed that God is righteous. He won’t sweep sin under the rug. Every sin against God must be paid for in order to uphold God’s honour and glory. And that happened at the cross. Jesus paid for every forgiven sin in full.
And in the exact same way, verse 26 turns to us today and tells us what the death of Jesus means for us today: "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.”
Jesus died to show God’s righteousness today. You see, if Jesus had not died, God’s very character would be called into question every time He forgave someone for their sin. But Christ has died, in a public, bloody, gruesome way. And in so doing He made it very clear that God is righteous. He does’t ignore sin or let us get away with anything. Jesus has paid for every single one of the sins of His people.
We often speak about Jesus dying for us. And that is true. But just as importantly, Jesus died for God. Jesus died to uphold the glory of God’s name. And because of that, God is just to justify us, here and now, today.