Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 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.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God. There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me. One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature. I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung. Instead God has provided reality. Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal. That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ. There is not a ladder, only a track. Repeat laps as needed.
Acts 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. ESV
These Third Chapters have each provided a golden thread to be woven into the fabric of daily life. Long before there was a New Testament there was a golden thread woven into garments for ministering in the Holy Place. “They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen—the work of skilled hands.a“ Today’s golden thread is the Good News of repentance: “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?b” You are now that Holy Place! Who could imagine the tarnish of sin could not only be blotted out through contact with Jesus, but that repentance might become the golden thread that turns daily life into your garment of ministry?
a Exodus 39:3 NIV.
b I Cor 6:19 NLT
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ESV
Nicodemus is our mirror for today. He’s aware of Jesus. He’s heard the stories. He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God. But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality. He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility. He’s curious about that. Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story? I can.
Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.” God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Luke 3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. ESV
This is the question of the day: “What then shall we do?”
That question is an admirable testament to the remnant of a holy nature within us that wants answers to guide us. There’s another part of our nature that is frustrated by living in an upside-down world and continually having to ask “what then shall we do?” Luke gives clear answers for practical people. “Doing” is important but God is calling us to seek our true answer “in expectation.” He is going to accomplish His plans by something much bigger than “doing” alone can accomplish. He is going to teach us to “be.” What we do can change the world around us because of this truth: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”
Here is the BEST good news ever for those who choose to live “in expectation.” You are the wheat He has gathered! “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”a What turns the wheat into bread? It is pounded and ground ’til it’s fine, then it’s mixed and it’s shaped to the baker’s design…you’ll be my bread in this world. Love, Jesus and Shirle
a Matthew 26:26
3:13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,[b] 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. NLT
Jesus “started a little society of his own–and a very queer society it was. There were some fishermen; there was a reformed tax-collector; there was a fanatical nationalist. They were not the kind of people whom any ambitious man would particularly want to know. They certainly were not the kind of people who would be any good to a man who was set on a career. No sensible man, they must have been thinking, would pick a crowd of friends like that. They were definitely not the kind of people a prudent man would want to get mixed up with.a“
Edification [the improvement of a person morally or intellectually].
Today’s lesson for you:
[Jesus] “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.”
aWilliam Barclay on Mark 3