11th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, It’s a constitutional right every United States citizen has: “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The news story read, “Getting away with Murder.” In 2004 Isaac Turnbaugh was acquitted of the charge of murdering a coworker. However, 7 years later he admitted to committing the crime. But the law says there is nothing the courts can do about it. Why? Because you cannot be tried for the same crime twice. In other words, the law wants the prosecutor to give his best shot at it first and in a way is more interested in finality of the case than the ultimate truth. It’s called double jeopardy. So, when you’re acquitted of a crime, you’re really acquitted. In some cases we might argue that’s not fair, that’s not right, but that’s the law. And for the most part, the law does serve justice. If you are acquitted of a crime, in the eyes of the law you stand innocent. When we think of the word “justify” in Scripture we need to think of such a courtroom setting.
The book of Romans sets up such a court room scene. God is the Ultimate Judge and is seated in the Judge’s seat. You and I and all humanity are lined up one after another as defendants. And then there’s the prosecutor who’s ready, has piles of evidence to bring forward. Romans chapter 1 through halfway through chapter 3 is all the evidence. He starts with Gentiles in general and points out flagrant sins of gross idolatry and then homosexuality and then we move on to a depraved mind, they are filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways of doing evil, disobeying their parents, they call evil good and good evil, then he moves on to the Jews (who had the Bible) they have the Bible, but do they follow it perfectly? Do they keep God’s law in every point? What’s the answer? No. “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” Every person is sinful.
You want evidence? “No one is righteous, not even one, no one understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; no one who does good, not even one.” No one does what is right, no one does what is good, no one understands. When God looks at you and me lost in our sins this is the word that He comes up with: worthless. Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “I’m a pretty good person, I try to do what is right, I do a lot of good things, God ought to let me into heaven when I die.” Evaluate that idea compared with what God says here. No one does good, ALL have turned away. This includes everyone, this includes the pope, Mother Theresa, you, me, every single person born of a sinful father and a sinful mother. Worthless.
And the prosecutor says, “Want more evidence?” Here you go: “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” You open your mouth and out comes the smell of death, rotting and decaying flesh! Words of disrespect, cursing, and filthy which no Listerine or soap is going to wash out. Our tongues continually use lies to deceive, trick, cheat, and mislead. The words that you and I use hurt and cut and cause worse pain than a rattlesnake bite. The evidence is quite clear: God says, “I know what you say about God and other people, the cutting and biting, rarely do you use words to build up and encourage, rather you use your words to cut down, say bad things about other people, gossip, complain, deride, etc.
And the prosecutor says, “Want more evidence?” Here you go: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Instead of kindness and care and concern, all you do spill blood, hurt and harm, leaving destruction in your wake. It’s the attitude of “I’m more important than you, my needs matter more than yours, move it or lose it.” You see it in marriages, you see it in children, maybe I won’t hit someone, but I sure know how to make life miserable for others. And why? No fear of God. When your worldview is corrupt, everything else is corrupt. You just don’t care about what God’s holy will for your life is. You just live as if there is no God watching every move, every thought, every word and He has a burning hot anger against sin, each and every sin. All sin, every sin has to be punished and you and I deserve that punishment.
That’s the evidence, that’s the situation. It’s absolutely bleak. “So that every mouth may be silence and the whole world held accountable to God.” What’s the first thing we want to do if someone says to us, “You’re a lousy, good-for-nothing, worthless sinner”? You want to open your mouth and defend yourself. But the law sticks a sock in your mouth. I have no case, no defense, no loophole, no plea deal. Everyone in the world stands guilty before God’s judgment throne.
But then, what happens? The evidence has all been brought forward. And it’s time for God, the Judge, to read the sentence. There we stand awaiting the clear verdict of guilty and we know the sentence: eternal death in the fires of hell. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Wait a minute! What just happened?? God has declared you and me…NOT guilty, innocent! That’s what justification means. It’s a verdict of acquittal before God’s judgment seat. It’s a declaratory act from God. It’s a change of our status before God’s judgment seat. If God justifies, we can’t be accused any more. It is not a change inside of us, it is a change in how we are viewed from the outside. But wait! How is that possible? God is absolutely just, He can’t simply sweep our sins under the rug and forget about them, our sins have to be punished! That’s true! God doesn’t leave one sin unpunished. God does punish the sins of every single person. But He did so in one place, on the cross, there on the cross every sinner died, every sin of every single person was paid in full, Jesus – the God-man – died for sins of the entire human race.
Because Jesus did that, God has declared everyone innocent of their sins. This is called “universal” or “objective” justification. The sins of all people are forgiven. In fact, a person’s sins are forgiven whether he believes it or not. “All have sinned…all are justified freely by his grace.” How do you know you are justified? Because Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead, all sins have been forgiven therefore you are acquitted, forgiven.
Well, what’s so significant about this? Everyone in the world is trying to find peace, trying to calm a guilty conscience that knows that it has offended a perfect and holy God. The devil comes up with all kinds of tricks in order appease the conscience but none work eternally. Atheism that denies God’s existence will not evade God’s wrath, materialism that tries to find peace in the things of this life won’t evade God’s wrath, Pharisaism which thinks that human effort or living a good life can appease God’s wrath won’t evade it. There is only one answer and it’s justification. And that peace isn’t even found in the fact that I have faith, that I believe. Some people think that God is willing to forgive but only after someone is sorry and believes it. People say, “Have faith, then God will forgive you.” Those are nice words, but they’re in the wrong order. God has already forgiven everyone when His Son died on the cross. But that message of forgiveness comes to us through words. When someone hears that God has justified him, declared him not guilty because of Christ, one of two things will happen. Either the message will work faith in that person’s heart to believe it or that person will reject it by unbelief and miss out on all the blessing that the message promises. If you don’t believe the message, you won’t receive its peace, comfort, or hope. But that doesn’t make the message true or untrue. There will be many people who although their sins were forgiven by Jesus, end up going to hell. But that’s not God’s fault. God has forgiven the sins of the world. If someone goes to hell, the fault is all his for rejecting God’s verdict of acquittal.
If forgiveness were dependent on faith in the sense that God does not forgive until we believe, we would always have to be sure that we are believers before we would be sure that we are forgiven. We may not see how dangerous that is until one of those moments of temptation and doubt comes to us and we’re not really sure we are believers. In such a time we will have no place to go unless we can say, ‘God has told me that in Christ he has forgiven the sins of the world. My faith or my unbelief will neither make God’s word true or untrue. He does not lie. He justifies the ungodly. Even if I am the most ungodly, the most wicked man on earth, I know that he has justified and forgiven me. To that promise I will cling, even if my heart tells me that I am without faith, without love, without hope. I know that God is greater than my heart and knows all things. God who does not lie says, “All have sinned…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” I know without a doubt that includes me!
It is this doctrine of Justification that is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It’s the doctrine on which your faith stands or falls. It’s the doctrine that gives you a sure foundation for faith. It’s the doctrine that gives you the only source of peace in this sinful world. In Christ, God has declared you innocent, He has acquitted you from all your sins. And just think, if God’s done that for you, how important are you in His eyes? If God is willing to send His own Son to pay the price to declare you innocent, will He not then keep His promise to be with you always? To guide all things of your life according to His plan? To victoriously take you to heaven one day? Absolutely!
You know, if you’ve ever watched a court scene where a defendant is receiving the verdict, many times the defendant is nervous, scared, anxious. Then the verdict is read: Not guilty. Then you can just see the relief and joy that comes over such a person. Just think, you’ve been acquitted from not just a sentence of life in prison or the death sentence, but a sentence that would have led you to eternal death in hell! Instead, you’ve been given eternal life in heaven! Talk about relief, joy, peace! Talk about a thankful heart and respect for God’s holy will! Rejoice! Justification means you are acquitted by God! And with God there is no double jeopardy, when He acquits you, you are acquitted. Amen.
“By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved him from our sins which had been imputed to him, and therefore he also absolved us in him that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the cause and the proof and the completion of our justification” (Johann Gerhard)