SERMON FOR AUGUST 9, 1998 FROM ROMANS 3:24-25

 

          These past few weeks we have been taking a closer look at the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is, we have been examining the key theological truths regarding the work of Christ in the gospel as Paul communicates those truths in Romans 3:24.  Let’s look at the text once again beginning with verse 23.  “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [v.24] and are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Two weeks ago, we looked at what Paul means by “justified” or justification.  We saw that justification answers the question, “How can God declare us to be righteous when we are in fact unrighteous?”  By “unrighteousness” we mean that we are not like God, morally and ethically.  That is the standard of righteousness to which God holds all people, nothing less.  Last week, we examined “grace” and redemption.” 

          We saw that grace, in part answers the question, “Why would God save us and transfer the righteousness of his Son to our accounts?”  The answer, in part is grace.  We saw that the word “grace” comes from a word which literally means “to bend or to stoop.”  Grace is an expression of God’s love for us.  It is his love which stoops to our sinfulness and lifts us up to join Him in HIS righteousness provided by his Son’s life and death.  God’s gracious love is part of the reason WHY God sent his Son to save us.  We also considered the work of “redemption” Christ has done for us.  What does Paul mean when he says that we are “justified ...through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus?”  We saw that in redemption, God answers the question, “What did it cost God to give us the righteousness of God?” 

          The whole idea of redemption implies the idea of bondage.  To redeem someone is to release them from bondage by means of a ransom payment.  We saw that humanity apart from the gospel is in terrible bondage.  Sin binds us three ways.  We were bound by the guilt of sin, the defilement of sin and the control of sin.  We were guilty before God and could do nothing to escape that guilt.  Like death row inmates bound to the electric chair, the guilt of sin holds fast lost people until the final penalty for sin is delivered.  The defiling aspect of sin holds people in bondage by polluting and rotting their souls through the corruptive power of sin.  Finally, the power of sin to control people and hold them in bondage to do that which they cannot stop.  They serve sin as their master and sin is a cruel task master--telling them to do this, then that, all of which leads them further down the road to destruction.

          But Christ our Redeemer came as the ransom payment for our sin.  He came and broke the power of sin by his blood.  He took on himself the guilt of sin which was due to us, paying our penalty and liberating us from its condemning power.  He took on the defiling, putrid filth of sin and his blood can make the foulest clean.  Finally, he took on himself the controlling power of sin and evicted the cruel master of sin from our lives and in its place He Himself sits enthroned in our hearts.  His redeeming work enables us to throw off the cruel, oppressive bondage of sin in exchange for the easy yoke of the gentle Master.  Finally, we noted that a redeemed person will be different than a non redeemed person because the believer has been redeemed, set free NOT to do their own will, but to do the will of their new Master.  We are people purchased FOR GOD, zealous to do good deeds.

          This week, we move to another supporting pillar of the gospel as we turn to verses 25-26 in Romans three.  Paul writes, “God presented Him [Christ] 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--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.”  This pillar of the gospel is found in the phrase translated in the NIV as “sacrifice of atonement.”  Christ was presented by God the Father as a “sacrifice of atonement.”  The word is also translated “propitiation.” What is propitiation and what does it mean that the Father presented his Son as a propitiation?  Propitiation is simply the “appeasement of an angry person.”  If a person is angry and you do something to appease that anger, you have propitiated them.  Your child comes home with her new dress torn and tattered as a result of an attack by a bully at school.  You call the parent of the child and you are angry.  The parent apologizes profusely and brings you a brand new dress just like the one which was ruined.  The result is that your anger is appeased.  He has propitiated you with his apology and new clothes.

          What this pillar of the gospel tells us is that Christ was presented as the appeasement for the Father’s anger or wrath.  Propitiation answers the question:  “What does a holy God require to reconcile Himself to sinful people who have earned His holy wrath?”  The idea of propitiation presupposes that God is angry at sinners.  I spent an entire sermon in chapter one giving a biblical defense of the idea that our God is a God of wrath and anger against sinners.  I don’t want to totally re-state that case here, but we need to briefly support the idea that our God is an angry God where sin is concerned.  If we don’t get this, the idea of propitiation will be gutted of its significance.  We see proof of God’s anger throughout the Bible.  It is said there are over 20 different words used to express God’s wrath in the Old Testament and these words occur over 580 times.  Jesus spoke more frequently and more graphically about God’s eternal wrath than anyone else in Scripture.  This is not some sort of obscure, hidden teaching of Scripture.  It is prominent within the pages of the Bible.

          Now, when we discuss God’s anger we must be careful not to misunderstand.  People get confused on the topic of God’s anger because they assume God’s anger is just like human anger, only more intense.  God’s anger IS more intense, but it is not like MANY expressions of human anger.  Many expressions of human anger could be classified as “blowing up” or “losing it.”  The anger boils down in our souls like a seething cauldron and finally, when we can contain it no longer, it spews out like a volcano and erupts onto anyone who happens to be nearby.  That is a common expression of human anger--this capricious, unpredictable and uncontrolled emotional venting.  That is NOT God’s anger.  God’s anger, though incredibly intense in totally controlled.  He sets a time in the future when his anger will be issued and it is expressed at that time if the sinning person/people do not repent.  It is white hot, but totally controlled.  It is consuming, but utterly measured.  When we think of God’s anger, we must not super impose human anger onto Him and assume He expresses His anger the same we most people do.  He does not.

        Texts which testify of His anger include Ezekiel 7:8,  God is speaking to a rebellious Israel and says, “I am about to pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you; I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices.”    In Isaiah 63:3 God says to Edom, which here symbolizes a world which hates God, “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me.  I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing.”  This is a picture of  judgment which is fully realized and seen more clearly as the judgment of Christ in Revelation 19.  There we see that it is Jesus who is dressed in a robe dipped in the blood of his enemies.  He is the one who will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God almighty.”   Tragically, this God of wrath is not believed by many, even in church today.

          If the reality of the wrath of God is lost on many in the church of North America today, it was not lost to America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards.  Listen to this excerpt from an Edwards sermon on God’s anger.  He writes, “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”  That is a graphic picture of God’s anger at sinners and it is also a biblically sound picture of God’s anger.  The bow of His wrath, bent back to the point of straining by His justice with the arrow of his judgment pointed at sinners’ hearts.  Only his good pleasure keeps the arrow on the string and not released to fatally pierce its deserving target.

          That’s God’s anger at the sinner.  Paul tells us that in the gospel, the Father presented His Son as the propitiation for his anger.  Christ and his sacrifice on the cross appeased the anger of God.  We see this brought out in Hebrews 2.  In 14a we read of Christ, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity...[v.17] For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement [literally] that he might make propitiation for the sins of the people.”  A holy God is angry at the sin of people. His anger burns at sinners.  Christ came and took on humanity so that he could be the legitimate HUMAN target for the arrow of God’s wrath and therefore appease God’s anger at humanity.  God wasn’t angry with His Son, but His Son incarnated-- became a human being, and agreed to represent sinful humanity on the cross, taking the curse upon himself.  When he did that, God was free to legitimately spend his wrath, unleash his fury on the substitute He had provided.  He let Jesus have His anger full bore. 

          To use Edwards’ picture, The bow of God’s wrath which had been aimed at you and me--bent back, strained by the holy justice of God was released from the string and found its target instead in His Son on Calvary.  Jesus received the arrow.  He was pierced, his blood was shed--he suffered the wrath of God’s holy hatred for sin.  The Father’s holy anger was appeased, satisfied, glutted by the blood of his Son.  Jesus responded to this outpouring of His Father’s wrath by saying, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”  He was quoting Scripture.  Christ knew the reason for this broken fellowship.  The reason was because, when “he who knew no sin became sin for us,” He became the appointed target for the holy wrath of God, His Father.

          God’s wrath will not be poured out on those He has redeemed because HIS wrath which we have all earned was appeased on Calvary. This is propitiation.  This is another reason why Jesus went to the cross for us.  As Paul concludes in verse 26, he gives us yet another reason why Jesus went to the cross.  He did it because he loved us.  He did it to appease the Father’s anger and closely related to this he did this, [v25b] “...to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--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.”  In many ways, this issue is the most basic problem the cross solves-the issue of the vindication of God’s righteousness.  Let’s look at that.

          God says throughout the Old Testament that He is righteous and as part of that righteousness, all sin against Him will be fully and adequately punished.  Ezekiel 18:4 says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”  Because God is righteous, He MUST punish all sins and he must punish them to the full extent they deserve.  The punishment MUST fit the crime if God is righteous.  The problem with that formulation is that God is not ONLY righteous.  He IS righteous and he is FULLY, PERFECTLY righteous, but He is also merciful.  And mercy forbears--it postpones the penalty of justice in the hope that, as Paul says later on in Romans, “his kindness [will lead] men to repentance.”  God is righteous and must punish sin, but He is also merciful and in his mercy He postpones his judgment on sin.  Isaiah 28:21 tells us this when he says that God’s wrath, his anger is his “strange work,” his “alien task.”  God is so patient to wait for people to repent because he is a merciful God.

          The most famous example of this is probably the example of David.  He sins this terrible series of sins surrounding his adultery with Bathsheba.  When Nathan confronts him about it, David confesses it.  Now, David’s sins, according to the law were punishable by execution.  So why didn’t Nathan lead a procession to take David out and stone Him?  We know it wasn’t because he was king because God is totally impartial.  Yet in 2 Samuel 12:13 God says to David through Nathan, “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die.”  Although David would have to pay the consequences as a result of his sin, there was no penalty attached to it.  God simply passes over adultery, murder and deceit.  David reflects on this incredible mercy of God in Psalm 32:2 when he says autobiographically, “How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  David had all sorts of iniquity but God, IN HIS MERCY chose not to impute it to Him.  God was merciful to David. 

          This divine mercy is at the heart of Psalm 103:10 which says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities.”   God put the sacrificial system in place to atone for sin and to show the people the horrible, bloody cost of sinning against a holy God.  But do we think for one moment that every Jew made sacrifice for every sin committed?  Of course not.  Did he do that because he was not righteous?  NO!  He did it because He is merciful.

          The potential problem for God in all this is that in his mercy, He could appear to some to NOT be a righteous God who punishes all sin adequately.  Huh!  God says he is righteous, that every sin will be fully punished, but all I see is patience and mercy--God isn’t who he says he is.” What Romans 3:25-26 reveal to us about this perceived tension between God’s mercy and his righteousness is astonishing and it is this.  The reason God was able, in His mercy to repeatedly--again and again simply pass over sins without compromising his righteousness is because, from eternity past, within the sacred confines of the Holy Trinity, He had devised a plan for him to be forbearing and merciful to the sinner without compromising His integrity as a righteous God who punishes all sin.  Scholar C.E.B. Cranfield explains this plan. He says, “His [God’s] intention ha[d] all along been to deal with [the sins he had passed over] once and for all, decisively and finally and altogether adequately, through the Cross.” 

          Think about that.  God is able to express mercy time and time again to sinners who, like David, deserve death without compromising his righteousness because as those sins were committed, he knew His wrath for those sins would be spent on His Son.  Because He is merciful, he refused to display his anger because he was saving up his anger for those sins to be vented toward His Son.  What this means is that when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to His Father, he knows that the Father has this vast, ocean of wrath stored up for the huge warehouse of sins he had previously passed over.  God’s anger at the sin of David and all the other Old Testament saints...was waiting for Jesus--stored up and ready to be placed upon Him.  Those past sins, not to mention the sins of those at the time of Jesus, not to mention the sins of those who would come after,--the holy wrath of God for all those sins was waiting for Jesus.  When Christ was on the cross, all the stored up wrath and anger which God had, in his mercy postponed, slammed against His Son in a torrential flood of divine fury.  The damn which had been straining to hold back the torrent of stored up, holy wrath was broken down and unleashed on Christ and Jesus drank it to the dregs.

          Christ died for sinners, but Christ also died to vindicate the righteousness of His name.  No one will ever be able to charge God that he has failed to righteously avenge the sins committed against Him.  His righteousness, his holiness shines unchallenged, utterly vindicated for all eternity because of what, in his holy wrath, He did to His Son on the cross.  John Piper rightly says in this context, “Before the cross can be for our sake, it must be for God’s sake.”  God is righteous.  His wrath is vented toward all sin.  His wrath is poured out against evil.  We know this because Jesus was the recipient of that anger.  It was NOT dismissed altogether, it was simply held in escrow until His Son would take it upon Himself.

          These past three messages we have seen just a small part of the glory of the gospel as Paul reveals it in 3:21-26.  God has justified us, given us the very righteousness of Christ and enabled us to stand uncondemned in His presence--more than that, welcomed as God’s dear children.  Christ has redeemed us from the guilt, defilement and control of sin’s bondage.  And God has provided a propitiation in His Son who took His holy wrath so we could live NOT as hated enemies, but as beloved friends of the most High God.  My hope is that we are all more able to appreciate the truth of the phrase “the good news of the gospel.”  If we, by God’s grace do that, I can tell you this:  We will be sharing the good news of the gospel because what you are excited about, what you appreciate you share with others. 

          Everyone outside the gospel is still in unrighteousness and stand condemned before God.  They are still bound by the guilt, filth and power of sin and they are still legitimate targets for God’s holy wrath.  That is without question the worst place in the world to be!  What are we doing about this?  Do we, who understand the gospel and the plight of the unsaved--do we, who ONLY by God’s grace have been rescued from that terrible plight--do we sit back and hoard the message of the Gospel, refusing to share it with others--arrogantly treating like it was our private property?  May God give us the grace and boldness to share the good news to people who are in desperate need of hearing it.

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