Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 5
Thesis: God had Jesus Christ proclaimed to be the Foundation of Mercy so that people might understand His righteousness.
Introduction: In our studies of Romans, we have been subjected to a meticulous presentation of our sinfulness as human beings. It is a cumulative piling on of evidence that we have absolutely nothing within ourselves to recommend ourselves as virtuous people. This piling on tends to have a grinding impact upon our souls and our spirits that can as easily erupt in bitterness and anger as it can hopelessness and despair. These are the "options of impenitence". But, without a clear-eyed understanding of our total bankruptcy as those "bereft" of the glory of God, it is impossible to really grasp the significance of the Gospel's claim that God has made a way of salvation for us.
But, there is another stumbling block to the understanding of the way of salvation God has made for us. This stumbling block has to do with a faulty theology of God. One of the problems of being put under the gun by someone is our tendency to lash back at them for criticizing us, and in our attempt to lash back we seek to justify our reaction by pointing out their own faults in the form of "How dare he criticize me when his own behavior is so inconsistent?" Man's problems in reacting in this manner are twofold: first, he mistakenly thinks that if he can find a flaw in the critic, he doesn't really have a problem he needs to deal with (criticizing one who has criticized you doesn't negate the reality of the sins for which you have been criticized); and second, he mistakenly takes his attack beyond his critic to his Critic. It is this second issue that Paul is addressing in Romans 3:25-26. Paul knows that men under the gun tend to seek flaws in the one who has put them under the gun so they can excuse themselves for their own failures. And he knows that they do this to God as the primary Critic of their ungodliness. And he knows exactly how both Jew and Gentile have done this with God as their target. Both have developed a flawed theology of the righteousness of God. The Gentiles have dismissed the Jewish God as "unrighteous" because of His favoritism for the Jews in spite of their own personal wickedness (Romans 2:24), and the Jews have dismissed the "righteousness" of God as a real issue because of His favoritism for them in spite of their own serious unrighteousness. For the Gentiles, God is a hypocrite; and, for the Jews, God is a sugar-daddy for the self-righteous. In both cases, His righteousness is under fire by those whose own righteousness is non-existent.
What caused this? Mercy. Because God did not, and does not, immediately hammer those who sin, His "righteousness" becomes suspect. How can God be "righteous" if He allows "unrighteousness" to occur? And, even if He can be "righteous" and let it occur, how can He let it go unpunished and still be "righteous"? The answer remains: God is also Merciful. How can God be merciful if He immediately hammers everyone who commits sin? But how can He be righteous if He does not?
It is to these questions that Paul turns his attention in Romans 3:25-26.
July 5, 2005
- I. Our Text Declares an Activity of God.
- A. Its claim is that God "set forth" Jesus Christ.
- 1. There are a multitude of details involved in this "setting forth" -- all of which focus upon getting Jesus Christ recognized for Who He is.
- a. The fundamental elements are all involved in the incarnation, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
- b. The secondary elements are all involved in the four-fold record of the Gospels which each take a particular set of characteristics and develop them for all readers to ponder.
- 2. But the bottom line in this "setting forth" is the proclamation of Him as the Spirit-demonstrated Son of God (1:4).
- a. Because God has chosen to save those who believe the message when it is preached, it seems apparent that the "setting forth" is by means of the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21).
- b. Because the proclamation focuses upon the death of the Son of God in the place of guilty sinners, it seems apparent that the "setting forth" is focused upon Who He is and Why He Died.
- 1) This issue of Why He Died is the point of Romans 3:24: to "insert" a redemption payment between man's abject failure to achieve righteousness by performance and God's transcending success in providing righteousness by faith.
- 2) This issue of Why He Died is the continuing thesis of 3:25: He died to "set forth" an explanation of the truth about God's righteousness.
- B. Its claim is that the "setting forth" of Jesus Christ was as a Mercy Seat.
- 1. The translators miss a fantastic opportunity here when they opt for "as a propitiation".
- a. The translation is true to the meaning.
- b. The translation ignores the direct link of the word to God's intended illustration: Hebrews 9:5.
- 2. The issue of the Mercy Seat in the Old Testament illustration was...
- a. First, an issue of divine focus of preference.
- 1) The Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle was within the veil -- in the Holy of Holies.
- 2) The Mercy Seat was where Yahweh "sat" in the Holiest of all.
- 3) The Mercy Seat was above the "Law"...in effect, it "kept the lid on the Law".
- 4) The Mercy Seat was made of solid gold...speaking both of sovereignty and value.
- 5) The Mercy Seat was the focus of the attention of the cherubim who were in attendance upon it.
- b. Second, an issue of divine methodology in light of the Law.
- 1) Every violation of the Law was dismissed by the blood of a sacrifice when it was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat.
- 2) The message was as clear as an illustration can make it: violations of righteousness are dismissed when they are "handled" by the death of the sacrifice.
- c. Third, a statement of the reality of a necessity that surfaces when Law is violated: Mercy and Justice must both be addressed legitimately.
- 1) Without the death of the sacrifice, both Mercy and Justice are demeaned... Justice becomes injustice and Mercy becomes sugar-daddyism.
- 2) Only by death do both Mercy and Justice stand in their purity.
- C. Its claim is that the value of the sacrifice is a statement as to the enormity of the clash between Mercy and Justice.
- 1. If the sacrifice is a very insignificant thing, the clash is insignificant.
- 2. If the sacrifice is the Son of God, the clash is beyond human comprehension.
- II. Our Text Declares a Divine Intention.
- A. God's "setting forth" of Jesus Christ was to make manifest the truth about His righteousness.
- B. God's "setting forth" of Jesus Christ was to address the "problem" regarding His righteousness that was created by His apparent "dismissal" of a vast host of sins committed in the past.
- 1. It is historically undebatable that God did not respond according to what Justice demands.
- a. On the one hand, no one ever faced the degree of consequences required by Justice in the view of men in history (men never saw Justice realized).
- b. On the other hand many never faced discernible consequences at all.
- 2. It was this historical failure that created the "problem" in the understanding of men about the true nature of God's righteousness.
- a. The Gentiles ground their teeth in rage against the "unjust favoritism" of Yahweh of the Jews.
- b. The Jews strutted in pride because of their "special election" by Yahweh and His kid-glove treatment of them.
- C. God's "setting forth" of Jesus Christ was a declaration that nothing was dismissed.
- 1. Jesus Christ was the Sacrifice, Sufficient to the reality of the multitude of sins: this was to humble the pride of the Jews.
- 2. Jesus Christ was the Sacrifice, given for all men without distinction: this was to quell the rage of the Gentiles.
- III. Our Text Posits a Limitation.
- A. The "Mercy Seat" is only effective in the context of "faith in His blood".
- 1. This raises the issue of the nature of "faith".
- a. It is a mechanism only to achieve a "purpose".
- b. It's purpose is one: to re-establish cooperative harmony between God and man.
- 2. This makes "faith" a very fundamental shift of "attitude" in both "love" and "method".
- 3. This declares that the Mercy Seat is only effective if the attitude has really been changed...not at the lip level, but in the regions of the heart.
- B. Justice will never be satisfied if there is no change of attitude on the part of the sinner.
- C. Mercy will never be applied if there is no change of attitude on the part of the sinner.