Sermon 1683 Romans 3.19-28 November 3, 2019
I may disappoint some of you today. Do you think the great families of wealth in our country, say, the Waltons, do you think they have a special day of the year where they recount what makes them so great? Do they gather around the table for Walton Day to recount the exploits of Sam Walton, who losing his Ben Franklin Five and Dime’s first lease, left for Bentonville? I doubt it. They are Waltons 365 days a year. Part of being nobility in America is you live it. It’s part of your DNA. To do otherwise would be as inauthentic as many Las Vegas St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
We are the blue bloods of the religious scene. We are Lutherans. I will not put on a false show today as though this is the only day we talk about justification by faith. If this were the only day we talked about it, we wouldn’t be Lutheran. It's in our DNA. We live it 365 days a year. Let me show you.
Justified by Faith
For all sinners.
From our just God.
There is a pressing problem all people face: “Am I a good person? How do people see me?” If you push that question to its ultimate end (and all do) it becomes, “Does God think I am a good person? How does he see me?” That’s why we are worried about reputation. That’s why scandals are scandalous—the façade drops away and we get to see what really goes on. That’s why Americans guard their anonymity in the internet age. We want to appear to be good people. But are we?
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sins (19-20).”
This is the blue blood Lutherans message for all. Some cults only have a message for those who fool themselves into thinking they are good enough for God. Journey to some religious site, don’t eat this or that, but that is not what God demands. This waters down God’s demands. Others play the comparison game. They are not as bad as so-and-so. But that’s not what God demands. This waters down God’s demands. Some denominations only have a message for some, that Jesus only died for the believers. That’s not what God says. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and (the same) all are justified freely by his grace (23-24).” Ours is a message for all. You don’t hear that only on Reformation Sunday. It is in our DNA. That’s why we do mission work. It is a message for all. That’s why we have a cross with Jesus on it in the front of our church. He had to die because of our sin, because of everyone’s sin. If we could get to heaven by our own works, why did the most wonderful person on earth have to die? You don’t see this cross only on Reformation Day. We are not pretending. We are Lutheran to the bone. We are not good people in God’s sight. We need help.
We are right there with the rest of mankind. “There is no difference, for all have sinned (22-23).” The noble families in America did not make their fortunes by shunning the unwashed marketplace because it was beneath them. They waded in with something for everyone. We have a leg up on them. We don’t have to wade in, because we are part of them, part of the “every mouth” silenced by God’s law.
But here’s what really sets us apart. We are justified by faith from our just God.
“But now, apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. All have sinned and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (21-24, 28).”
Righteousness is that right standing with God. It is that verdict, “You are a good person.” The Gospel we Lutherans hold so dear tells us this right standing comes from God. Contrary to our expectations, we do not have to make ourselves into good people. God declares us to be good people. It wasn’t something new. It wasn’t God’s Plan B. He always intended it to be that way and had promised this righteousness would come from him ever since the Garden of Eden. He would send a great hero to crush the devil’s power over the human race. Or in another place, the prophet Isaiah promised this Savior would suffer for our sins and take them all away. Apart from Law. That means apart from any sort of human exertion or activity. We can’t earn it, we can’t buy it, we can’t want it hard enough. This righteousness is a free gift from God. It is for all. All are justified. It is received by faith. And since it is apart from works of the Law, this faith is not something we choose or create for ourselves, either. It is the gift of God, not a work of ours.
That is why we baptize babies. God gives faith. A person does not have to be old enough to make a choice for Jesus. They cannot. But the Holy Spirit uses the Word in the waters of Baptism and creates faith, even in the hearts of the smallest. It is a washing of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, not a ceremony where we dedicate a child to God.
A righteousness from God. That’s why the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, something God does for us, not something we do for God. In the bread, in the wine, because of Jesus’ words, he gives us his true body and blood as the surest sign that our sins are forgiven. That’s what’s important. We receive forgiveness of sins from God. We receive that declaration from God. That’s why we receive it often, not just once every three months.
That’s the whole point of our worship. We approach God to receive the forgiveness of sins. With sins forgiven, we are ready to hear what he says to us in the Scripture and sermon, where he gives us a message of peace and comfort through the forgiveness of sins. That’s what saves us. That’s what builds us up. That’s what moves us to love and serve him. All religions worship their deity, but, as Jesus once said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their teachings are but teachings of men (Matthew 15.8-9).” Or take it from Martin Luther. Before he knew the righteousness from God by faith in Jesus Christ he worshipped God faithfully. As a monk he almost worshipped around the clock! But he confessed, “I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners. As if being lost was not enough, God added pain to pain by threatening us with his righteousness and wrath (Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Writings).” What kind of worship can come from a heart like that?
But with the forgiveness of sins, with the righteousness from God, we have a love and a faith that offers worthy worship to the Lord, as our offerings and prayers at the close of service zero in on. Then, blessed by the Triune God, we are ready to go into the world with that message of forgiveness, that message of the righteousness from God. What kind of monster would I be if I only preached that on Reformation Day? It is part of our Lutheran DNA. We live it every day.
Paul mentioned one more thing I also must mention, else I have cheated you on this text. He calls God the one who is “just and the one who justifies (26).” How can a just and holy God simply write off sin? Before Jesus came, God “in his forbearance left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (25).” Before Jesus came into the world, people who believed in the Savior to come went to heaven. They were saved, even though their sins were not, technically, paid for. Certainly slaughtering a goat or a lamb for a sin sacrifice could not take away sins. But when God sent his One and Only Son, when Jesus hung on the cross to pay for the sins of all the world, there was the fitting payment for all the sins of all the world. How could God forgive us our sins? They were already paid for. Jesus paid for them. “We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6). That is justice. All sin is paid for. That is mercy. God took our sins off of us and put them on Jesus. There is no contradiction. The God who punishes every hateful sin freely forgives sinners for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ. Faith receives this forgiveness. If that is only a Reformation Day message, how starved we are!
Justified by Faith
For all sinners.
From our just God.
So if you are disappointed, I am sorry I have permitted you to harbor such misconceptions for so long. What makes Lutherans blue bloods is not that we were the first ones successfully kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church, nor that Luther opened the Bible to the common man, nor that Luther was the first modern man, exalting the individual and conscience over the state, although all those things and more are true. What makes us Lutherans blue bloods is the Gospel which works through everything we teach and do.