Dr. Paul Brand
Raised in rural India, trained as a medical student in London during the German Blitz (1940)…treated war injuries while in medical school.
He went on to work with leprosy patients in India for many years…he discovered that much of the destructive power of leprosy was in the killing of the nerves that transmitted pain.
They destroyed part of their own bodies, inadvertently, by their inability to feel pain.
He once saw a man run to him smiling, painlessly on a leg that had been destroyed and in fact had a leg bone jutting out so that soil and sticks were being forced directly into the bone…he had to amputate the leg.
He was fascinated with the role of pain and the role of the brain as the body’s command post.
He was brilliant, he was humble…he saw God in our design and our need for God in our limitations.
He wrote that a gram of brain tissue may contain as many as 400 billion synaptic junctions…the total quantity in the brain rivals the number of stars in the universe.
The brain processes five trillion chemical processes a second to make sense out of the world around us.
All pain, all pleasure, everything that we experience as humans comes from outside the brain’s secluded, dark command post…it makes sense out of the world without directly experiencing the world.
It is fairly easy to trick…an amputee can feel pain in a leg that is not there.
People can smell what is not there or not smell what is there…if the smell is not what is expected by the brain.
I can go blind…though there is no injury to any physical process…just because my brain says “I don’t want to see anymore”…then my brain can turn sight back on.
After a cataract surgery, Claude Monet (monay), famous impressionist painter was surprised to find so much blueness in the world…he retouched his most recent works so they would conform to his new vision.
Before his surgery his paintings had a reddish tone…characteristic of the vision of cataract victims…after the surgery they had brighter blues.
He saw out there, what he was seeing in here…and produced paintings to match.
We too see out there what we see in here…and we produce life choices to match.
The question is…are we seeing what is there?
So important in order that we produce life choices (like Monet’s paintings) that match what is real, and valuable.
Bertrand Russell was once asked by a dentist “where does it hurt?”
His response was “In my brain, of course.”
If you have ever been told that what is troubling you (back ache, fear, whatever) is all in your head…the proper response is of course it is
We all see out there, what we see in here…and make choices to match…how do we ensure that our choices (our lives) match what is real?
We need God, our creator to speak to us…or we are hopeless in ever understanding our purpose, or the solution to our great needs.
He has made himself known…and we can understand him if we will.
At the center of God’s revelation of himself…is Jesus…a singularity in human history.
The unique one…out all the billions that have been and are now
God the son, dwelt among us showed us and told us what we could never discover…all the questions that matter most in the final analysis.
Then he died to liberate us.
All this preliminary discussion is to suppress the noise that most of us brought in here
The noise of human hubris…the brilliant, powerful, confident of our generation…whose bold claims and flippant lifestyles attempt to give lie to the truth claims of the gospel.
This noise out there can make our discussion today of the gospel seem less real…thought it is what is real.
I begin like this because the gospel judges the lifestyle and thinking of humanity, not the other way around…the noise that is out there is just that…noise.
The gospel is the symphony of God.
I knew a brilliant author named Calvin Miller…he wrote a trilogy entitled “The Song, The Singer, and The Finale.”
It was a poetic, creative re-telling of the gospel.
The gospel is the song…that counters the world’s noise.
1 Cor. 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
Today we are in Romans 3:21-26
Many NT scholars say this paragraph is the beating heart of Romans
Some of these concepts can be difficult to grapple with…its true for much principles in the Bible.
Three things can be said before we read:
- These concepts refer to the reality of God, human existence and human destiny.
-It would be surprising (in fact suspicious) if they did not require effort to get a handle on.
- To enjoy the reality of the these challenging concepts…we need not have full intellectual grasp of them…they can be summarized in the super church song “Jesus loves me.”
-If a child or an adult submits at the heart level to the reality revealed in that song…they have all they need to experience life eternal in Christ.
- Then why not just sing “Jesus loves me” and go home?
-A child can look into the sky and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little star” and in childlike wonder, believe the lights in the night sky are pretty.
-But when we take the time to study and think about deep space, and the beauty and largeness and power of stars and galaxies…our wonder and awe is magnified.
Eph. 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
The manifold wisdom means the multi-faceted…like turning a diamond in the light to see all the various aspects of his beauty.
So we embrace “Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so”…like the children that we are.
And we pursue fuller knowledge of the gospel…not in order to be more theologically “smart” but in order to more fully worship.
Orthodoxy (sound doctrine) should always lead to doxology…fuller worship.
3:21 BUT NOW A righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God 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— 26he 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.
But now is the signal that we are crossing the border from problem to solution
Casey and I drove through Joplin just weeks after a massive tornado ripped a mile wide scar through the city.
We drove slowly, with the windows down on the summer night, through dark, quiet streets…a few shredded sticks of what used to be trees jutted up from the earth, foundations were all that was left where homes used to be…it looked like a war zone…it smelled like one.
Then we emerged from the path of the storm and turned onto a street beyond the destructive path…suddenly the city was alive…lights, sounds, people walking on a summer night, coming and going from restaurants, stores, movies…life and light were everywhere.
We had been driving through destruction…but now…we were in the life zone.
That’s the scene we see here…Paul is describing a war zone…humanity ravaged by sin as it rips a path through history…until we get to but now.
But now…two important words…they signify the turning point in history.
But now…a righteousness of God has been made known.
This righteousness of God is known apart from the law (we cannot earn it by obeying the law) yet the law and prophets (all of the OT) pointed forward to it.
There is discontinuity between the law and earning salvation (it was never possible).
There is continuity between the law and God’s plan to provide for our salvation(this has always been his plan…the OT pointed forward to Christ)
This verse ties together the Old and New Testament and provides the simple framework for understanding the role of the Law and the gospel.
The law could never save, but it always revealed our need for salvation and it pointed to the Savior.
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,
- 22: God acts in Christ to put people in right relationship with himself…but the act cannot be fully accomplished without human response…he does not force himself on us.
Then as a quick reminder Paul gives V 23 as a summary of 1:18-3:20…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the universal need is once again pointed out.
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Here Paul describes how God justifies people: “freely by his grace”
Freely indicates a principle inherent in the character of God…namely that he is sovereign over all.
He is the only completely independent, non-contingent being.
He is the uncreated, creator…he needs nothing, depends on nothing or no none for his choices or existence or his happiness.
So when he extends grace…his unmerited favor…it is always “freely” given…he cannot be manipulated, coerced, it cannot demanded or earned.
The human approach to religion allows us to do or know certain things and then god or the gods are required to respond…it could be certain rituals or words, or it could be certain activities…doing good works.
But the true God is sovereign and is the only completely free being…we are contingent…we require many things in order to exist, first among them…God…our existence is contingent on his existence.
God is free of any contingencies…he is the uncreated, creator…so his grace…cannot be earned, or demanded…it can only be freely given by him.
Side note (sort of): freely given
In atheist Richard Dawkin’s book “God Delusion” one of his main arguments is that, if God created everything, we would have to ask who created God.
Of course Dawkins believes he was created by the universe, so we could ask him who created his creator?
But he misunderstands completely…Genesis 1:1 says “in the beginning…God”
The God who exists is uncreated…something exists therefore something has always existed.
For the atheist the ultimate reality(what has always been) is the universe, for the Christian ultimate reality is God.
The scientific evidence suggests (along with the Bible) a beginning to space and time.
William Lane Craig (A Christian apologist) was in a public debate with Dr. Peter Atkins (Atheist philosopher).
Craig challenged Atkins statement about the supposed beginning of the universe…
Atkins said…”Now we go back in time beyond the moment of creation to when there was no time, and to where there was no space.”
Stop there…he is saying is that before there was anything…understand what this means.
What would there “be” before “anything”…there would be nothing…not empty space…but nothing, nothing.
Aristotle said nothing is what rocks dream about…absolute nothing.
Existence of any kind does not exist.
At this time before time, he imagines a swirling dust of mathematical points which recombine again and again and again and finally come by trial and error to form our space time universe.
But Ravi Zacharias…who was attending the debate asked him afterwards “You admit that the universe exploded out of nothing, but swirling mathematical points are not nothing. How do you justify this?”
He had no answer.
I recently quoted Stephen Hawking who wrote, confusingly, “Because laws such as gravity exist the universe will create itself out of nothing.”
Laws describe real things, but they themselves are not tangible things and even then how do they exist before anything exists?
To say that something had to be there before anything was there in order to create itself…is really to say nothing at all.
You need to know that a growing body of scientists (non-christian) are growing suspicious of the idea of an undesigned universe and human life.
The truth is…something has always been here, since something is here.
What is here has order, design, purpose, and personality
What has always been here is personal…God and not an impersonal universe has always been.
He is uncreated…he does not rely on anyone or anything…he needs nothing, lacks nothing.
Now let’s go all the way back to “justified freely by his grace”
This was not a wild goose chase…God is the only completely free being…
God does not need us but he does desire to have relationship with us.
We cannot demand or coerce his grace…he is eternal, independent, self-sufficient.
Before he made us…he was not lonely (because he is Triune, Father, Son, Spirit)…he is not lacking in any way.
What he gives us…he gives freely.
So attempts to earn his salvation…do not take in to account that he is God, the eternal maker of heaven and earth.
His grace is freely given…and it can never be earned or deserved.
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus
The word used for redemption was used in the slave market when a slave (or someone else) would pay a price to secure his or her freedom.
It is a “price paid for release”
The same word was used to describe the release of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
In Christ God paid the price to secure release from the ultimate slavery…slavery to sin.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood
Atonement is a word that we don’t normally use.
If we do it usually means that we are attempting to atone for, or pay for something we have done…but we cannot atone for our sins…God had to provide for our atonement.
Some translations use an even less common English word to translate the Greek word…they use “propitiation”
To “propitiate” means to placate, or remove someone’s wrath.
“I propitiated my wife’s wrath regarding forgetting her birthday by taking her out to dinner.”
The Greeks used the word to refer to their various activities to avert the anger of their fickle gods…god’s whom you could make angry in any number of inadvertent ways.
These childish, passive aggressive deities often needed to be “propitiated”…you had to do something to calm them down, to divert their wrath.
But the wrath of God referred to here is not an uncontrolled, petty emotion…but the settled and necessary reaction of a holy God to sin…and he cannot, not respond to sin…anymore than light cannot, not dispel dark.
In addition to this word meaning to “turn his wrath away” there is a word picture that helps us understand the fuller meaning.
The word translated “propitiation” or “atonement” is used to name the Old Testament “Mercy Seat”.
This was the cover on the ark of the covenant where the sacrificial blood was poured for the sins of the people.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold overlaid wooden box that contained the Stone tablets of the ten commandments and a couple of other important evidences of God’s relationship with Israel.
It traveled with them as they traversed the wilderness and was a physical sign of God’s continued presence with them.
Once a year on the Day of Atonement the Priest (Aaron) would sprinkle the “mercy seat” (atonement cover) of the ark with the blood of a sacrifice to cleanse the people from all their sins.
This is still the holiest day of the year in Judaism…Yom Kippur…day of atonement.
Many Jews who do not practice their faith still attend the Synagogue on Yom Kippur.
Similar to those who would say they are Christians and attend church only on Easter.
So…On the cross, Paul is saying, God has presented Christ as the new covenant “mercy seat”…the place where God takes care of the problem of sin.
In the last part of verse 25 and then in verse 26 Paul turns to a final point…the purpose for all this.
25b-26: 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.
God has presented Christ as our sacrifice of atonement to “demonstrate his justice”…with reference to both sins in the past and the present time.
Paul’s point is not that God did not punish past sins…if you read the OT you know that is clearly not the case.
But what Paul is saying is that in his kindness God did not immediately and fully punish them but provided people with an opportunity to repent.
We have here the solution to the “problem” of God’s saving and judging righteousness and how they relate to each other.
God’s saving righteousness is full of love. (he cannot, not love)
God judging righteousness is fully holy (he cannot, not deal with sin)
How can God mercifully save people without compromising his character?
God is both perfect in mercy and justice.
In the death of Jesus the saving and judging righteousness of God meet.
God’s justice is satisfied in that the death of his Son pays fully for human sin.
He can also extend mercy by virtue of Jesus’ death to those who put their faith in Jesus.
So…God is just in justifying the one who has faith in Jesus.
In Jesus on the cross…the wrath of God and the love of God are satisfied.
God, the only completely free…uncreated, uneeding being…has done what only he can do.
William Cowper was an English poet and hymn writer.
He was one of the most popular poets of his time (died in 1800)…he was said to have changed the direction of 18th century poetry.
Not impressed (18th century poet)…think of a modern day hit song writer and how well known and celebrated they are…now you have a fair comparison.
In 1759 when Cowper was 28 years old, he had a total mental breakdown and tried three different ways to commit suicide.
He became convinced that he was damned beyond hope.
In December, 1763, he was committed to an Insane asylum, where the 58-year-old Dr. Nathaniel Cotton tended the patients.
Dr.Cotton was an evangelical believer and lover of God and the gospel.
He ministered to Cowper and held out hope to him repeatedly in spite of Cowper’s insistence that he was damned and beyond hope.
Six months into his stay, Cowper found a Bible lying on a bench in the garden.
First he looked at John 11 and saw “so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable men, in our Savior’s conduct” that he felt a ray of hope.
Then he turned to Romans 3:25…the verse we looked at today…this was a turning point in his life.
“Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel.”
In June, 1765, Cowper left the asylum and lived and ministered 35 more years still doing battle with depression but experiencing great fruit in his life for the gospel.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
The gospel is not the path to a trouble free life…it is the path to a “God-filled life”
His existence and joy are not contingent on us…our existence and joy are completely contingent on him.
Application: What are we to do with this?
“Truth reveals reality, and reality can be described as what we humans run into when we are wrong, a collusion in which we always lose.” (Dallas Willard)
Being mistaken about life, the things of God, the world around us is a deadly serious matter…we must see clearly what is out there.
Once we do see…we must practice, train…to keep seeing what is true so that we will align ourselves with what is real
The gospel is the song of truth…all opposing truth claims are noise.
I do not always do this…but this week…I reflected on the gospel more intentionally in my day to day life.
I thought of the gospel as I overhead a woman complain (in not too subtly disguised pain and anger) to another about her bitter divorce…then I thought of it as I worked out at the Y and saw the old and bent, young and brash walk by…as I read the news, as I drove down Kellogg.
I saw what I saw through the lens of the gospel…the world is fallen, but now…
How is this practical, actionable?
Nothing is more so…what shapes our heart’s affections and captures our mind’s attention…sets our life direction…marriage, work, habits, goals, words, fears, courage
Col. 3:1 Since, then, (But now) you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
V.1: Hearts…affections, values
- 2: Minds…what you allow yourself to ruminate on(shape you on the inside)
V.3, 4: Gospel…The content of what is to shape our hearts and minds…then our lives.
What will you do with the “song” of the gospel…”But now”…how will your hear it and move to its music in the midst of all the noise that surrounds you?
In the White House, and at the Oscars, in your office, your car, at the store, and in your classroom
At the birth of a baby and end of a life, in your private thoughts and public actions…the gospel is the truth of God.
But Now…two very important words that must shape how we move through life.