Saturday, March 11, 2006

Second Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2006

Second Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We have been "justified" by faith.  That's what St. Paul tells us.  Justified.  We see that word all over Paul's letters.  And it is no wonder, this word is at the very heart of our faith.  He we are not Justified by Christ, we are still in our sin, St. Paul tells us.  But, I wonder if sometimes we see it and just kind of pass it over, because it's a word that we think we should know what it means.  Do we really understand what it means?  And do we really know that we have been justified?
First let's make sure we understand what the word "justified" means.  There's a simple way of thinking about it that I find pretty easy to remember.  To be justified is to be made "just-as-if-I'd never sinned."  That's talking about what Jesus Christ has done for us.  It's His life, death and resurrection that has made us, just-as-if-I'd never sinned… justified.  That is sin set aside.  Sin removed.  Sin taken care of.  My sin taken care of.  Your sin taken care of.  
Whenever we talk about being justified it's important that we remember that we are indeed sinful people.  We are born that way.  We need to be justified.  No one who's been a parent can really believe that children are born without any sin.  The smallest child will bear this out.  Of course they need the attention they demand, but they are the most self-centered people on the planet.  As they grow older we tend to overlook the selfishness, or think that it's cute.  Go to any playground anywhere and you'll see the bald truth that children have to be taught not to hurt one another.  I know the folks who you see on TV don't agree.  But in spite of what they say, children do not have to be taught to hate, they have to be taught not to hate.  I have a teenager in the house (actually he's getting ready to go off to college).  I think the teenage years are the time when all of us struggle the most trying to balance selfishness and living in community.  That struggle between what we really want and what is best for us and the people around us is what makes those years so difficult.  Even when we get older some of us never get over the fact that we are supposed to share our toys.  We are sinful people.  Earlier in Romans Paul says it this way:
10as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13"Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known." 18"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18, ESV)
The lying tongue, the bitterness, the anger, the pushing God out of our lives, we all have to admit that there we are, right there in the middle of the pack.  We'd like all those "theirs" in there; "their tongues, their feet, their paths, their eyes, to be "theirs" that is someone else's.  But we know that we lie, even if it's just those little white one that pop up in conversation to make us look better to our friends.  And who hasn't been bitter about the nice things in life that other people seem to get so much easier than we do?  And talk about no peace, even in our Christians families, yelling and anger are regular features of our lives.  But worst of all, we could walk around all day and simply ignore the fact that we are sinful people.  We get into our everyday and everyday, and simply think that God will just ignore our sin because we do.  But God won’t ignore sin.  In fact, sin deserves punishment because it is an affront to God’s purity.  God is perfect and holy, we are not.  In order to be tolerated in God’s presence we have to be perfectly perfect, “without spot or blemish,” without any sin of any kind.  To stand before God in sin is to stand before the judge who will condemn.  "None is righteous, no not one" points out our need to be justified; our need to be made "just-as-if-I'd never sinned."
When we realize that the law Paul wrote is talking directly to us, then that's when those first few words "Since we have been justified…" come to us as pure Gospel, that's when it's not just Good News, it's Great News.   "Since" Paul says.  The word “since” means "in view of the fact that…."  It's true.  It's a fact.  It's yours and it's mine.  "Since we have been justified…"  Even though we are sinners we have been made "Just-as-if-I'd never sinned."  That selfishness that controls us from the time we are conceived through our adolescence and right into our adulthood, and even old age, is made as if we had never done it.  God has seen to that by sending Jesus.  From His adulthood all the way back to His conception He wasn't a sinful person; He was never selfish, He never spoke lies; He wasn't ever bitter about His place in life; and He always kept God in His mind and always thought of other people’s needs.  That law that Paul preaches to us "no one does good, not even one."  applies to everyone except Jesus.  Jesus never sinned.  
And yet, there is a way that all of it does apply to Jesus.  He does something about our sin, because we can’t do anything about it ourselves.  We are helpless to change.  We are born with sin and in order to get rid of it, it has to be killed.  Paul talked about that too in another letter he wrote.  21For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)  And in the verse right before our text he says, 25[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses... (Romans 4:25, ESV)  All that sin, that deserves God’s punishment, was put on Jesus.  He became the target of God’s anger.  Jesus, God’s only and perfect Son, was killed because of it.  He became sin…  our sin… your sin… my sin…  Jesus, the world’s only perfect person is also Jesus the greatest sinner who ever lived, not for sin of His own but your sin and mine.  You know the sins that we wish weren’t ours.  The ones that we wish were only “theirs” Their lying tongues that are really ours.  Their bitterness that is really ours.  The lustful thoughts that we love to have, but then regret when they are over.  That sin that we wish was someone else’s really does become someone else’s in Jesus.  In Jesus our sins are put to death.  In Jesus they are sent to the grave.  In Jesus they are under the punishment and anger of God.  Jesus dies on the cross and takes the punishment for our sin.  And He gives to us the righteousness of God.  When Jesus takes our sin, and when he becomes sin for us, he gives us his perfect life, we become his righteousness.  All that living right, all that doing good, all that not sinning is given to us in exchange for our sin.  Jesus becomes sin, we become justified.  We become “just-as-if-I’d never sinned.”  
So that’s what it means to be justified.  And in a few weeks we are going to have a great object lesson, right here in spades!  And actually, it’s more than an object lesson, God is going to do a great and wonderful thing.  Three times in a row right here at this font I’ll say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  When I say it I won’t be for myself, I will be speaking for God.  I’ll be doing exactly what He has commanded us to do.  And those little children, born in sin, become God’s very own children.  All the promises of God are now true for them.  God is going to justify them through the cross of Jesus Christ.  They’ll be “just-as-if-I’d never sinned.”  Now remember Paul’s word, that little word “since?”  It means “in light of the fact.”  All that is going to happen for those three little boys and all of what will happen is in fact founded on Jesus.  It’s because of what Jesus has done.  You’ll see it.  You’ll be witnesses of it.  This is the primary reason why the church should baptize publicly, during worship.  There is no better picture than being made “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned” and not lifting a finger to make it happen.  Jesus comes and takes our sin and gives us his perfect life.  Jesus lives perfectly.  Jesus dies.  Jesus rises again.  When ever we see God working in baptism it is one of the clearest ways that we see that we have nothing at all to do with our justification.  It is given to us through the work of God accomplished by Jesus Christ.  And given to individuals given to you and me through water and God’s spoken Word and promises.  
Do you know that it’s true for you?  You do if you’re pointing to Jesus.  You do if you are remembering that in your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God made you “just-as-if-I’d never sinned.”  Because in that baptism Jesus took your sin to death on the cross and in your Baptism he gives you his perfect life.  You’ve been justified.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds Christ Jesus. Amen.


John Nelson said...

Most engaging for me here is the idea that children have to be taught not to hate and to be taught how to be loving. You point out that many people will take exception to this, and it's hard for me to wrap my mind around as well. I tend to see children as opportunities to imprint; they take up the behaviors they see. So the parents, especially, have an opportunity to control, to some degree, whether their children will be loving or hateful. Do they get loving at home? They will tend toward that behavior, although that will be mitigated some by their own makeup and the other input they get, much of it hateful.

So I agree that they do need to be taught to love, and they can be taught to hate.

wattswhat said...

John; Thanks for your comment.
The question is (I think) what would children be if they were left to themselves? and would it be the same in every case? This is a very old discussion. A 20th century treatment is of course "Lord of the Flies." And also Locke's Tabula Rasa modified by Freud... Erasmus and Luther argued over "Free Will." Luther wrote "The Bondage of the Will" in essence saying that human beings have no choice but to sin. We are bound (that is in slavery) to it. (
here's an online version here's another translation which I haven't read but it is a text version) This bondage to sin is due to Original Sin (aka Inherited Sin). Another point to consider is that there are children who have all the advantage, great parents, great opportunities, and still do bad stuff. In fact, we all do "bad" stuff all the time... even if we control our outward acts, we still have the wrong motives inside our heads. And that's what God is interested in. I based my statement in the sermon on the teaching of Original Sin. A few verses to consider. Psalm 51:5 Romans 5:12
Pastor Watt.