Monday, November 05, 2007

"But Now..."

This hasn’t been a great week. My dryer died. We went to Lowe’s Tuesday night to shop for dryers and ran into Larry and Sherry who evidently had the same run of luck with their dryer--come to think of it Larry and Janet--wait, David and Stacey too are having dryer troubles.

It looks like there's going to be a run of bad luck on dryers! I'm having a hard time with the dealership who sold us our van a few years ago—we’re arguing about a refund they agreed to pay us for a warranty. You can guess their position. The fires in California have left nothing but devastation. Atlanta, Georgia is running out of water. Orme, Tennessee, population 145 has already run out of water. They're having to haul it in with tanker trucks. Hillary had a bad night, Tuesday. Bush’s approval ratings have been headed South for a year—the only bright light for him is Congress’ approval is worse; the housing market is plummeting; oil is doing well at $100 a barrel...

Thank you Darryl for such a cheery report—I'm glad I came to church today: you’ve made me feel warm and tingly all over!

Yeah, we need a “but now” moment don’t we? Do you know what I'm talking about? You’re listening to the news cast and it’s one bad piece of news after another and then the news anchor smiles and says, “But now, here’s a word from our sponsor…” or “But now, in other news…” or “But now, here’s a little good news…” That’s what we need!

We’re studying the book of Romans. We’ve looked at background materials and we’ve already gone through the first two chapters. To recap: the world is in a mess. Look at paganism—nothing but selfish and destructive behavior. You moral pagans, don’t be shaking your heads in disgust—you’re not any better! No consistency. Everyone does things they are ashamed of. Then Paul turns to the religious Jews and says: Quit looking so smug!

We broke off in the middle of that section. In Romans 2:28-29 Paul has just pointed out being Jewish is not what counts. Circumcision is not what counts, unless it is a circumcision done in the heart by the Spirit.

Even so, Paul doesn’t want his readers to get the wrong idea. He anticipates the question: Well then, is there any advantage in being a Jew then?

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:

"So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”

The Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God! The problem is they kept it all to themselves. Somehow they were supposed to bless all of creation, all the nations—they were supposed to be light so all would come to recognition of God. We see glimmers of that in the Old Testament. A Syrian general named Naaman is so moved by Elisha he decides he will worship the God of Israel. Even Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and Cyrus, King of Persia acknowledge the God of Israel through the witness of Daniel, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel. But these were the exceptions, not the norm. So even though being Jewish had a lot going for it—it wasn’t enough.

“But wait,” someone objects, “God isn’t fair! After all, we demonstrate how good he is by our badness!” Paul nails the objection—“Wrong! God is not on trial here! You are! He's not a plantiff nor a defendant in the case--you are not on equal standing with God as if you were two adversaries in court. God is the judge and his judgment is just.” The argument that your failure honors God is baseless—what a bogus claim! Such an argument deserves the condemnation it gets.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Paul says. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; no one who seeks God. All have turned away and they have together become worthless.” Paul is speaking directly to the Jews here. “We’ve already pointed out the Gentiles are condemned. But guess what? So are the Jews! You have the law? Do you think that will save you? Possession doesn’t save you! Only perfect obedience will and guess what? You don’t live up to it. He concludes in verses 19 & 20: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world be held accountable to God" (vs. 19). This is court language of the day. When you finished with your argument before the court, you placed your hand over your mouth indicating you had finished with your defense. If it was obvious you were going no where with your argument, an officer of the court would slap you in the mouth to indicate you really don’t have anything to say. "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (Vs. 20). In other words, the law only demonstrates how much we have failed. Have the nations yet to be blessed because of the Jews? Paul asks. No! You used the law to alienate the Nations! Therefore, we are all condemned.

Depressing, isn’t it? Bad news piled on top of bad news. Do you know what we need right now? You want to guess? How about a “but now…”? Well, since you insist—here’s a “but now…” for you! Look at verses 21-26

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 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. 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— 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.

What the law could not accomplish through the Jews, God accomplished through Jesus. While it was apart from the law, the law testified to Jesus—so Jesus’ sacrifice was consistent with the law. And what was it Jesus did?

He took our place and paid the penalty for sin. In this way God demonstrates his justice because in the past he did not demand the ultimate payment for sin from Israel—he allowed people to have the benefit of grace and forgiveness. He also provides forgiveness now. He proclaims people innocent on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. This is the justice of God—a justice now revealed—a justice available for anyone who will trust in God. God sets things right! Now everyone can be saved both Jew and Gentile; no one needs to be excluded from Israel.

So how can anyone boast? No one can brag—no one can claim a corner on God—why? Because God makes relationship with him available to anyone through a trusting response to him. And then Paul brings up the Jewish prayer of faith: the Shema—“Hear O Israel, Yahweh is God, Yahweh is One!” Paul says: If there is just one God; then isn’t he the God of both Jews and Gentiles? So here’s the bottom line: God will make innocent the circumcised and he will make innocent the uncircumcised who trust in him—based on what? Based on faith.

So what is the point for us? Paul’s underlying point throughout this letter is we are in relationship with God not because of our goodness, our social standing, race, or upbringing. We are in relationship not because we’ve figured out how to make God bless us or because God owes it to us. We are in relationship with him because of Jesus’ sacrifice. As a recipient of this gift—there is no place for us to look down our noses at anyone! There is no place for us to claim a corner on the market of God. The Jews had been entrusted with the mission to shine a light to the nations—they kept it to themselves, they used God’s words to alienate others. We cannot do that. We are called to love all those who are outside and all those who are inside—no matter how different they may be from us.

It also means we have an opportunity to experience not just a “but-now-moment” in our lives, rather a “but-now-eternity!” As bad as we are, as messed up as we have become—no matter what our crime or sin, Paul says: But now a justice from God has been revealed---you can be proclaimed innocent because Jesus paid your price. To access that gift, you respond to him in faith—not some mental assent or acknowledgement of some facts—but a complete body, soul, and spirit response: an acceptance of Jesus as Lord over all areas of your life.

It may not have been a great week for you. The world may be filled with bad news and things which make you cry and things which depress you. The bad news doesn’t have to control your life! But now, a justice from God has been revealed!

So may you experience a “but-now-eternity.” May you respond to the power of Jesus’ sacrifice with trust and faith. And may you reach out to embrace both insiders and outsiders shining God’s light into their lives.

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