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Monday, July 11, 2016

The Gospel (a partial Definition) - Romans 3:25

I preached this sermon July 3rd.  I am sorry to posting it two weeks late.

God has done something about it. 
Now hear this, because this is the Gospel.  We hear about “Gospel” music, and the four “Gospels.”  The word “Gospel” has come to mean something that is the essential truth.  Maybe Steph Curry can preach the “Gospel” of shooting a basketball, or Dave Ramsey can preach the “Gospel” of saving money.  And maybe there is essential truth in the pure mechanics of shooting a basketball or the life style discipline in saving.  But the concept of Gospel is not about sports or finances.
Perhaps you have been in church long enough to know that “Gospel” comes from an ancient Greek word that literally means “good news.”  If this is new to you, let me state it again.  The literal meaning of “Gospel” is “good news.”  The idea of Gospel was taken by the writers of the New Testament and applied in a specific way to Jesus.  In a way that can be true of no other, Jesus, who he is and what he did in walking the earth as God in human skin, fully man, fully God – Jesus is the Gospel. 
God has done something about it.  Remember that it.  Write it in the inside cover of your Bible.  Write it on the back of your hand.  Set it as a reminder in your Gmail updates.  Put it in a little frame on the magnet on your refrigerator.  Put it on a bumper sticker on your car. 
God has done something about it.
My wife will tell you one of my pet peeves is the pronoun without an antecedent.  Oh how I hate that.  It makes my blood boil.  And now here I am guilty of the infraction I despise. 
God has done something about it.  God has done something about what, exactly?  To what does the ‘it’ refer? 
ISIS.  The Traditionalist Worker Party.  Al Qaeda. Westboro Baptist Church.  Hamas.  The KKK.  Al Shabab.  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  Islamic Jihad.  Boko Haram.  The ‘it’ in the sentence God has done something about it refers to terrorism.
Mass shootings – there have been 136 in the United States this year and since the year 1966 almost 1/3 of the mass shootings – gun incidents in which as least 3 people die – have happened in the United States.  A slew of high profile incidents in which unarmed young people die in conflicts with police.  Thousands of death due to people driving while under the influence of alcohol.  The ‘it’ in the sentence God has done something about it refers to violence and death.  God has done something about violence and death because God opposes those things.
Racism.  Homophobia.  Judgment and scorn.  Fear of foreigners.  Rejection of people.  Poverty.  The ‘it’ in the sentence God has done something about it refers to the things that erect walls of division between people.  God knocks down those walls because God is love and God’s intent is that we live in relationships of love.
The hateful words we speak.  The addictive drinking your uncle does because of the way his life has fallen apart.  The fact that because of a stupid argument, your father and your brother haven’t spoken in 10 years.  Your secret lusting accompanied with the indifference you show your wife.  The way you are unable to speak without spewing offensive profanity in every direction.  The contempt you show for people you think beneath you.  My short tempter, judgmental tone, accusatory slant, and confrontational approach.  The ‘it’ in the sentence God has done something about it refers to all the small ways you and I live in brokenness and act in ways that hurt ourselves and one another.  God hates that. 
As much as God hate terrorism, racism, fear of all things foreign, and the spectacular destruction in acts of war, God hates the little things we do that slowly destroy our lives.  And because God hates the destruction of His world and because God is God and God is love, God has done something.
The book of Romans says it this way.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Some in our world giggle at the thought of sin and secretly or not so secretly desire the erotic pleasures and deviant stimuli they believe come from sin.  The sin might be sexual or drink or drug induced, or it might be a sin of power or a sin of self-centeredness.  People laugh and say, “Mmph.  Church?  No thanks.”  “God?  Whatever!”  “Jesus?  Please.”  Those same people are getting high or are glued to porn sites, or they are given to enraged verbal explosions aimed at the people in their lives.  Or they routinely commit the sin of omission, where you know there’s a good you should do, but you refuse because it’s inconvenient.  Or, they withhold the love God commands us to share.  Sin comes in countless forms and the enemy convinces us sin feels good.  But God hates it because sin actually destroys us.  Sometimes all at once, sometimes little by little. 
Sin is the word that sums up has happened to God’s world.  And it is widespread, universal.  “All have sinned,” the Bible says, “and fall short of the glory of God” (3:25).  We hear this familiar passage, but do we grasp it?  Sin damages, cuts us off from God.  The only possibility of joy and true love is slashed by sin, and every person you meet is a serial sinner.  Worst of all, the one you see in the mirror sins without ceasing. 
The extent of the damage is worldwide.  Sin is so deadly Paul writes in Romans 8 “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” (v.22).  Paul lived in a time before anesthesia.  Many birth resulted in the death of the baby or the mother or both.  Induced labor – not an option.  C-sections – not an option.  Epidurals – not an option.  When he thought of childbirth, he thought of something extremely painful and horrifyingly unpredictable.  At the same time, it came with the hope of new life.  When he writes of creation groaning in labor pains, he has in mind the pain sin brings to the entire world, but also the hope that God will bring out of the pain something new and beautiful.  His picture hurts and inspires.
Yes, sin hurts; it hurts the entire world.  But God has done something about it.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Justified.  This word identifies what happens in salvation. God makes us right.  But more than making me suitable for a right relationship with God, or making you right, God makes everything right.  Our church.  The world.  The way the book of Revelation puts it, it is like Heaven and Earth fade and are replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (see Rev. 21). 
Several scholars apply Paul’s sensibility here, especially found in 2nd Corinthians 5:17.  I appreciate our associate pastor Heather helping me understand this line of thinking.  It is not that the earth and Heaven are replaced.  Rather just as 2nd Corinthians says we become new creations, this Earth and the Heaven where Jesus currently resides in his raised body are made new.  Our bodies die, but at resurrection are raised and made new.  All of this is related to Paul’s word in Romans 3:24 where he says we are justified.  Sin has made us completely unfit for relationship with God, but Jesus makes us right.
Also in that same verse Paul writes of redemption.  In first century Rome, the world in which Paul used this imagery, this specifically referred paying what needed to paid to redeem a slave so he was no longer a slave.  His freedom was purchased.  We are slaves to sin and cannot purchase our own freedom. But Jesus has. In his death on the cross, he buys our freedom. 
Over and over, I have read that the Bible doesn’t exactly say how this works.  How is it that by dying as he did, Jesus, accomplishes salvation?  Did he satisfy God’s justice?  Did he defeat evil?  Did he pay a ransom owed to Satan?  Did take our punishment on himself?  Even if we can answer each of these questions, it still doesn’t show how his death on a cross in the first century accomplishes anything for you or me in this century.  The “how” is not answered.  However, repeatedly the New Testament asserts that the death of Jesus on the cross is the vehicle of our salvation.
I have tried to be clear from the start of this series a few weeks ago that I believe the only way we can fully understand the Gospel is by seeing the cross and the resurrection as inseparable events.  The cross alone is tragic and evil.  Only when we realize that it ends with an empty tomb is our account of salvation complete.
For now, our focus is on what happens when Jesus dies the cross and Romans 3:25 gives a key piece of the story.  Leading to this verse, it has been established that sin destroys what God made good.  Sin brings death.  And all of us sin.  In verse 25 we read that God put Jesus Christ forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood.  Worship as it is established in the book of Leviticus is based up confession and repentance and then expressed through the sacrifice of an unblemished animal.  However, that sacrifice had to be repeated because sin was repeated and that sacrifice could not bring atonement for future sins.  The death of Jesus on the cross brings atonement for all sins. 
We can say two things at this point. First, God is satisfied.  Does that mean God demanded blood?  Is God a sadist whose thirst for blood must be satiated?  Or is there a deep divine justice that demands death?  What I can say about that is I don’t see the cross that way.  On the cross, I see the love of God.  We looked at verse 24 which mentions redemption and justification.  Beneath those accomplishments, what drove Jesus to the cross is the love of God.  For God so loved the world, he gave his only son.  Whatever the price of sin is when God sees Jesus on the cross, God it satisfied.  The faith of Jesus is sufficient for us.  God is “well pleased,” as the Gospels say, with Jesus.  Thus, when an individual is in Christ God is well please with that person.
Second, sin is wiped away.  In the matrix of Jesus on the cross and you or me putting our trust in him, repenting of sin, and receiving his grace, we become free.  As we know well, even after people commit to Christ, they still sin.  As individuals and as a church, we are not perfect.  But in Christ, we are made right.  God is satisfied and our sins are removed.  The sacrifice of Jesus brings this atonement. 
That’s the “it” when we say God has done something about it.  I recited sins earlier.  Racism.  Violence and death.  Rebellion.  Hatred of other humans because of their accent or because of their ethnic origins or because of their religion.  Sin is awful. And for us, the most awful sins are the ones we commit, or the hurts inflicted upon us.  The ultimate fulfillment of God’s solution – our salvation – comes at the return of Jesus on Judgment Day when we are raised in resurrection. 
That’s the ultimate fulfillment and it has not yet come.  Not yet.
For now, today, we live toward that future day by living out Kingdom of God values even as we live here.  For us, “here” is the United States.  Our country celebrates our independence tomorrow.  I think the Bible clearly shows that our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not to America.  In the Kingdom, we live as people of peace, mercy and grace, joy, selfless willingness to help others, and with a spirit of gentleness and kindness. 
I know some of my fellow Americans would be quite unhappy to hear me say that as Christ followers our allegiance should be to the Kingdom, not the United States.  To them I pose this question. What kind of America would we have if all the Christians truly lived their salvation?  If the millions in our country who claim to follow Jesus commit to live as people of peace, mercy and grace, joy, selfless willingness to help others, and with a spirit of gentleness and kindness because we know who we are in Christ, what would America look like?
That would be a country worth celebrating.  That would be a society transformed from within by people who live in light what God has done in Jesus.  Sin destroys the world.  On the cross, God has done something about sin.  I pray our lives will show what life can be like based on what God has done.


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