2nd Sunday in Lent 2/25/2024

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Romans 3:21-26 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him 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– 26 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.

Mark 8:27-38 27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Road to the Cross

In this passage, Jesus has some harsh words for Peter and some very challenging ones for us.  This is the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus predicts his coming suffering and death.  Without realizing it, Peter placed himself in the role of Satan, trying to lure Jesus away from the hard work of the cross just as we discussed last week when we explored Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.  

Jesus has started down the road to the cross.  His journey will end in humiliation, suffering and death.  Yet he invites us to follow him.  Jesus lived with the temptation to take the easy path, to call on the power of God to save him.  Peter, in trying to protect Jesus, was advocating the easy path but Jesus knew he had to complete the journey to the cross; without the cross there would be no resurrection and no salvation.  So today, we are going to use our text from Romans to consider exactly why Jesus took the hard road to the cross and not the easy way out.  What exactly was accomplished at the cross?  

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul spells out for us what was accomplished through the cross; we are justified by God’s grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus by means of atonement by his blood that is effective through faith.  

Whew!  That is one packed statement and we will spend the rest of the sermon talking about what this means.

We are going to discuss three words; justification, redemption, and atonement.  Together they are three words that tell us of God’s love; three words that tell us Jesus is the means by which we gain salvation and reconciliation with God, three words that tell us of the will of God, the desire of God to be reconciled to all people through faith in Jesus.

First we will talk about justificationDr. Erwin W. Lutzer, the former pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago has said, “The doctrine of justification is the foundation that supports all of the other benefits we receive from Christ.”  When we are justified we are declared to be “just” or righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  A simple way to think of justification is “just-as-if-I-never-sinned.”  God credits the righteousness of Christ to us despite our sin. Justification is the act by which we are made righteous, it is the act by which we become eligible to be in right relationship with God.

Paul tells us that we are sinners.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  I think an illustration will help here.  My daughter had a chin up bar in the doorway to her room.  This was quite popular with all my children and they would all compete with each other to do chin-ups.  When Daniel, the youngest was probably about three or four he wanted to do chin-ups like the other children but there was no way he could reach the bar.  He would stand underneath it and try to jump high enough to reach it but he just couldn’t do it.  He fell short of the bar.  The only way he could do chin-ups was if someone in the family would lift him up so he could get his hands around the bar and then raise him up so he could get his chin on the bar.  Daniel didn’t have the strength to do chin-ups; we would use our strength to lift him up to the bar.  Now apply this to our need for righteousness, our need to reach the bar that is relationship with God.  This is what Jesus does for us.  We do not have the strength, the righteousness to reach the bar God has set for us.  When we try to use our good works, we are just like my son, Daniel, jumping for the bar but unable to make it.  Jesus uses his strength, his righteousness to lift us up so we can reach the bar of relationship with God.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us; we are credited with His righteousness.  

As Presbyterians, when we look at righteousness we look through the lens of covenantal theology.  We consider ourselves people of the covenant, when we baptize our children we say they are being welcomed into the covenant between God and humanity.  So we can say that to be righteous is to uphold the covenant and to be unrighteous is to act in such a way that the covenant is broken.  Righteousness occurs within relationship.  So to be made righteous is to be restored to relationship.  When Paul says God is righteous, it means that God is acting to restore or uphold the covenant.  We are made righteous when we are put into a restored relationship with God.  Sin is unrighteous activity, something that breaks our relationship with God.  When Christ makes us righteous the effects of sin are canceled out and we are restored to relationship with God.  The good news of the gospel is that Christ represents God’s decision to uphold the relationship and give humanity a new chance to enter into it.  This is because God has upheld it, not because we deserve it.  Our only way into renewed relationship is through faith.  Righteousness comes to us through faith, our trusting acceptance of God’s lordship in Jesus Christ.

As one author put it, “In Christ’s death we also behold God’s righteousness; indeed it was to show this very quality that the drama of redemption unfolded.” 

This brings us to our second word, redemptionThis literally means “buying back.”  Matthew 20:28 says, “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Romans 3:24 speaks of the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus”  Paul says we are set free from powers that alienate us from God.  “Redemption is a transaction between God, the Son, and the believing community, entailing forgiveness for sin and power to liberate humans from the propensity to sin.”  

Again we need an illustration.  This is not the same as redeeming a coupon at the store.  Yes, redeemed literally means buying back but in the Bible when God redeems his people, he does not buy them.  After all, God is Lord of the Universe, he doesn’t owe anyone anything, he would never have to pay for anything; it is all His.  Our illustration for redemption comes from the Bible, the Exodus story.  God ransoms the Israelite people from Egypt not by paying Pharaoh but by liberating them, setting them free.  In the same sense, when the New Testament talks of ransom and redemption, we need to think of being set free from sin and death. I came across a beautify idea about why we are redeemed.  In The Problem of Pain CS Lewis suggests that each of us was redeemed to glorify God in a unique way, to praise some aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature.  Isn’t that wonderful!  

So, where are we? We are justified through Christ’s righteousness and we are redeemed through the atonement.  Our final word, atonement literally comes from combining the words, “at-one”, it means we are made one, we are restored to relationship with God, we are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Atonement is an act of reconciliation, of making right relationships between those who have been divided.    

We spoke of the covenant when we talked about righteousness.  Jesus himself ties his sacrifice to the covenant in Matthew 26:28  when he says, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  

Now I want to make something very clear. Too many people seem to think that Jesus blood was spilled to appease an angry Father God. This is most definitely NOT the case.

Do you remember your grammar?  In each sentence, there is a subject and an object.  The subject is what does the action.  The object is what is acted upon.  “Sally walked to school.”  Sally is the subject, Sally does the action.  School is the object, it is the result of the action.  “I am preaching a sermon.”  I am the subject.  Sermon is the object.  Now let’s apply this to the atonement.  In the New Testament both God and Jesus are the subject of Jesus’ atoning death and we who are liberated are the object.  Nowhere do we find God the subject and Jesus as the object which would be the case if God was punishing Jesus.  Nor is Jesus the object and God the subject such as Jesus gives up his life to appease God.  The atonement was an act of the triune God through which we were saved from our sin, were brought back into right relationship with God.

When considering the atonement we start by recognizing our need to be saved from sin.  Next we need to be aware that the atonement is all encompassing.  Not only for one group, not only for all humanity but just as creation itself was broken in the fall so the atonement of Christ works to set all of creation free again, to make all things new.  Atonement is far more than being declared not guilty, far more than, similar to Monopoly, a “get out of hell free” card.  It is a call to a new life of service, of giving one’s life for others just as Christ gave his life for us.  The atonement is the ultimate expression of God’s immeasurable love.  His love comes first before anything we might do and it is entirely independent of our response.  Paul asserts the oneness of the purpose and activity of God and God’s Son in the cross.  “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)  God’s love has never been absent.  It is we who left the relationship, not God.  God did not need to be appeased as some would have it, God’s love has always been there; the work of Christ is what brought the world back to God. 

There are many ideas about the atonement.  No one theory is considered correct.  One caution I would make; as we consider what Jesus accomplished through his willing death on the cross we must always be careful to hold the Trinity together and remember that what happened was the will of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God the Father and God the Son acted together at the cross to accomplish their purpose.  What we have at the cross is not an angry Father God taking out his anger on his Son, Jesus.  One of the most terrible tragedies a person can go through is the loss of a child.  When Jesus Christ hung on that cross God “willingly bore the greatest pain imaginable and permitted His Son Jesus to pass through the torment of death on that cross.  Throughout all this horror, I believe God was NEVER without hope.  He knew the end was not hopelessness but atonement, the ultimate peace of eternal reunion between Himself and ALL His children past, present and future.  1 John 3:1 states it beautifully, “Behold, how great is the Father’s love for us, that we should be called children of God.”

So, as we continue our journey in faith through Lent, let us reflect upon that free gift of God, more precious and valuable than anything else in all creation. The justifying, redeeming, atoning act of Jesus as he suffered on the cross. Because of Christ, we are justified, because of Christ, we are redeemed and because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice we have been brought back into right relationship with God.  Thanks be to God.  Let us rise and sing of the depth of God’s love for us.  Amen