A demand for justice has been present throughout history. One of the earliest preserved writings in mankind’s history is known as Hammurabi’s Code. Dated to 1754 BC, about 300 years before Moses started writing what we know as Genesis-Deuteronomy, this code contained 282 rules regarding how to conduct financial transactions, including fines and punishments for breaking the code.
Many centuries later (around 620 BC) a man named Draco, devised a set of laws and their respective punishment for Athens. Draco was commissioned to write down what had been the oral law in order to bring an aspect of fairness to the justice system. Before it was written, any oral law could be manipulated or changed to suit the aristocracy. Once Draco finished writing this “constitution,” anyone who could read (or knew someone who could) was on more equal ground.
We all have similar issues with justice. Maybe it is/was a parent, a sibling, a boss, etc. Someone makes rules and changes either the rule or the punishment to suit his/her needs. And we don’t know how we should please them. In fact, we don’t know if we can please them. Thus, having a law, and knowing the prescribed punishment can be very helpful.
The same is true with God. Paul has made it very clear in the verse preceding today’s passage (and the preceding section, back to 1.18) that we can do nothing on our own to earn God’s favor. So, the question we must ask, is the same question that Martin Luther asked 500 years ago, “How can I stand before a holy God?”
Romans 3.21-26 answers that question. That is why I mentioned in my Friday video preview that many Bible scholars believe this passage is the greatest paragraph (passage) in the Bible, which would make it the greatest paragraph written in the history of the world. Think about that!
Why is that true? Because these six verses explain how justice is truly possible for anyone, but that everyone must make a choice on how they will receive that justice. The truth about salvation is that…
Salvation isn’t what you do; it is about what God did.
So, how can sinners such as you and I stand before a holy God? Let me share the truth of that previous statement about what God did in three parts. I will break down each of these ideas down further in the daily videos this week and next (due to next Sunday being Hub Sunday).
Jesus Made Righteousness a Possibility for Everyone (Romans 3.21-22)
Verse 21 begins with “But now.” One pastor has called these words two of the most hopeful words in the Bible. I am partial to “But God” from our study of Ephesians (2.4) in the past, and what we will see in a couple of months in Romans 5.8. (The two verses referenced here are not the only places “But God” is referenced in the Bible. It is found 23 times in the NT alone.)
“But now” is a transition in the text and so it can certainly be interpreted as Paul shifting gears. He has spent the last 64 verses showing us that we are all sinful people. “But now,” Paul is about to (finally) provide the solution, and that leads to a greater meaning of the phrase, “But now.”
The previous 64 verses represent the previous history of the world, at least back to the time of Moses when the Law was given. Whatever all of the people of history thought about the Law, one thing was true – it could not save them. It could only point out their deficiencies. “But now” Jesus has come. “But now” Jesus has died. “But now” we can be found righteous before God because of what Jesus did if we put our faith in Him. “But now” is the time to make the decision about the gospel, “for it (the gospel) is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1.16).
And even if the God’s gospel was only recent made fully manifest through Jesus, the idea is nothing new. God foretold this truth through both the Law and the Prophets. That is, the Old Testament is filled with evidence that God would make a way through a coming Messiah – and that way would be opened for everyone – if only they believe. For, as Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one come to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). People may not have known that truth before, “but now” they could fully realize it. So, because of “But now” we have the first part of the answer in how we can stand before a holy God. Jesus made a way because He is the Way.
God Offers Redemption to Everyone (Romans 3.23-24)
We can also stand before a holy God because of redemption. He has redeemed us. What does redemption mean? Well, it means to buy back. But in 1st Century Rome it has a more specific meaning.
At the time, many (maybe even most) of the people in Rome lived in some form of slavery. I have mentioned many times that not all slaves from yesteryear faced the types of conditions most modern people equate with slavery. Of course, some did. But the idea of redemption was really a term that had to do with freeing people who lived as slaves – that is, those who were in some type of bondage. When someone redeemed someone, it was to free that slave from that bondage. We might consider this idea similar to paying a ransom. God paid this fee, this ransom, to free the people who were in bondage. It was, and is, His gift to His Creation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Why was this needed?
Because as the preceding verse tells us, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (v. 23). Adam experienced the glory of God while Eden. But from that point, the sin present in each of us keeps us separated from the glory of God. The Law could not undo that. Our work cannot undo that. Even God could not undo it and remain true to Himself (as we will see in the next part of this post). But He could make a way through the gift of grace. In fact, He has made that way. Remember, “But now” the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. That is, “But now” the gift is available. So, God has done His part through providing a gift through His grace; our part is to receive that gift by faith in Jesus.
God Has Provided a Means of Justice to Anyone (Romans 3.25-26)
Notice the difference in the last word of this point compared to the previous two points. Jesus made righteousness possible to everyone. God offers redemption to everyone. But because not everyone will receive that gift, not “everyone” will be justified. However, anyone can be – through faith in Christ.
Verses 25 and 26 are complex and deserve a deeper dive. I will cover them further in videos next week (after Hub Sunday). For now, let me just say that the argument is ultimately about how ruthless God is.
One particular word in verse 25 is part of the challenge. The Greek word is used in different way and can mean expiation or propitiation. The ideas are similar, but propitiation goes further. Expiation is to remove the sin. That was the purpose of the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Each time an animal was sacrificed for a person that person’s sin was removed from them – temporarily. Propitiation, on the other hand, is to satisfy the wrath of God. This means that not only has the sin been removed, but the justice that God demands has been fulfilled. The idea of propitiation is a better understanding in this context.
What Jesus did was not only to remove the sin from us. Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself so that we would not have to face that wrath. Many Christians (and non-believers as well) struggle with this because it means that God cruelly sacrificed His Son. But that is missing something key. First, Jesus laid down His life willingly (John 10.18) which some will say only applies to humans, but the premise remains. Second, Jesus is God. Thus, God did not just make some sort of child sacrifice…He sacrificed Himself for the good of mankind. That is a huge difference.
Yes, Jesus death was brutal. It had to be. He wasn’t dying for His sin, He was dying for our sins. He took every sin from every person from all time upon Himself. That was the price that had to be paid. God demands justice for all. The people could not live according the level of justice required. So, God has provided the means of justice for anyone, but it must be received. Thus, not everyone will be justified by the blood of Jesus. Those who do not receive the gift of God’s grace must pay for their own sins and will do so eternally separated from God in the place known as hell.
The plan before Jesus arrived may not have been clear to everyone. “But now” God has showed His wisdom to satisfy His need for justice by also being the justifier of all who believe in what He has done.
Thus, the justice God demanded has been satisfied. The question is do we accept it?
Earlier I mentioned Hammurabi and Draco. Some say that Hammurabi’s Code was mostly fair, although some dispute that claim. But Draco, well, the punishment did not always fit the crime – at least not what humans thought should be the standard. The punishment was very real. In fact, the punishment was so severe, it was suggested the laws were written in blood, not ink. Nearly any criminal offense received the death penalty. For instance, stealing even one apple or a cabbage is thought to have resulted in the death penalty (no copies of the code still exist, so what is known is through what others have written). These laws were so harsh they only lasted about 25 years, but the legacy of their harshness remains. Today, when a law is considered too strict, or a punishment too harsh, we refer to these laws as draconian (or draconian measures).
Some will say that God’s standard is draconian in nature. Perhaps that is true because as we will see later this year, the wages of sin is death. “But now” God has made a way. God has given a gift. God has redeemed us from being slaves to sin – if only we place our faith in Christ. Not in ourselves. Not in our works. Not in our money. Not in anything except Christ.
And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is J – JESUS.
God’s standard of judgment is Jesus (Romans 2.16). And Jesus modeled love. So, I do not believe God’s laws are draconian. Or, at least, they do not need to be. Jesus made a way. The answer to Luther’s question: How can I stand before a holy God?
One word – Jesus.
Could Jesus’ death really have satisfied God? Yes. I am satisfied that Jesus satisfied everything that God needed to be satisfied.
LIVE. As I stated above, salvation isn’t what you do; it is about what God did.
If you believe in the truth of what Jesus did; you have been justified. You have been made righteous and cannot not only stand before a holy God, you can live your life in thanksgiving to a holy God. Remember, as Romans 1.17 said, the righteous will live by faith. If your faith is in Jesus, then you are righteous before God. If you are righteous before God, are you living like it? If not, why not? Why not make this moment your “But now” moment. “But now” I will live for Jesus because He died for me.