Shabbat Shalom. When Rabbi Loren first asked me to continue our series in Romans this week, I have to admit I was a little nervous, which I think is spiritually healthy. As Rabbi Loren mentioned in his first sermon several weeks ago, Rabbi Paul’s letter to the Romans, is arguably the most important letter ever written. It is one of the most complex and theologically rich letters we have in the New Covenant writings. Through the Lord’s inspiration it is Rabbi Paul’s Magnum Opus – his greatest work and as such it requires great care to understand, as the Apostle Peter himself wrote in 2 Peter 3:16.
This morning, Lord willing, we will be picking up right where Rabbi Glenn finished last week and covering Romans 3:19-31, feel free to turn there in your Bibles now.
Now I’ll be getting us into the text properly in a few minutes but verses 19 and 20 serve as a great place to recap where we have been in this great letter.
Much of the first part of Romans is best understood with the analogy of a trial. Rabbi Paul intentionally uses phrases in this letter to bring to mind a grand trial where our Creator stands as both the Judge and Defendant – the one who has been wronged. All of humanity, both Jewish and Gentile, stands charged of breaking God’s perfect law, with the just sentence of death and eternal punishment in front of us. So in Romans 1 the Lord explains why the Gentile world is guilty, Romans 2 explains why we as Jews are guilty, and Romans 3 up until our passage explains why every clever argument or objection we have falls short.
Romans 1 shows how the entire Gentile world stands convicted of disregarding God’s existence and standards in exchange for incredible sin and foolishness. We read how all of creation speaks to a great Creator. That His eternal power and divine nature are declared all around us in the Earth and the heavens (1:20). So no matter our background or upbringing these truths are made clear to us. Rabbi Paul goes on to describe all the different ways we dishonor Adonai through our actions and words. The list is quite long and covers everything from sinful sexual acts to gossip and murder, with everything in-between. Though humanity knew of God and what basic moral behaviors they should have, they exchanged His truths for lies and stand condemned to death. As Paul bluntly states in Romans 1:32: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
In Romans 2 Rabbi Paul turns his attention to the Jewish members of his audience who would have been nodding along to his scathing rebuke of the Nations. Rabbi Paul cautions them to understand that they are in the same dire position as the Nations when it comes to the Lord’s righteous wrath. He explains how God’s perfect Law shows how imperfect we are and deserving of God’s punishment. We may be convinced in our own minds that we are “good” or that we are righteous men and women, but God’s Law has shown the real truth of our lives, that each of us has fallen woefully short of the standard we all know we are to meet. The Lord systematically dismantles the incorrect belief that we as Jews are spiritually fine under the Mosaic Covenant and that we are superior to the nations that surround us. Instead, the truth is exposed of our hypocrisy in keeping Adonai’s covenant and that we deserve the same punishment as the Nations. To be a Jew as Rabbi Paul eloquently preaches at the end of Romans 2, is not about how we are on the outside in front of others for their praise but about how we are inside and our relationship with Adonai.
Last week Rabbi Glenn covered the first part of Romans 3 and explained how every objection we might bring up to defend ourselves from the reality of our sinful nature just does not cut it.
What Rabbi Paul has been doing in this letter is to wake us up to the reality of our spiritual condition. Whether we are Jewish or Gentile each of us needs to understand that we are broken fallen human beings. Reason by reason the Lord has been dismantling all the clever arguments and rationalizations we give to justify our actions or to convince ourselves that everything is fine. If the messages these last few weeks have been spiritually uncomfortable, if they have touched your heart, then God’s Word is doing its job.
So with all this in mind Rabbi Paul states the conclusion of our spiritual brokenness and sinful nature in verses 19 and 20.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
At this point if this “trial” was literally happening before us, we have now reached the point where there are no words left to say in our defense and our mouths have literally been shut. We are answerable to God for our sinful actions.
Therefore, there is no way for us to be justified, to be declared righteous and acquitted of the charges against us by any actions that we ourselves can do. For those of us who are Jewish, our special relationship with God, through which we entered into a Covenant relationship with Him and were given the Law, does not give us a get out of jail free card. The Law illuminates all the sin in our lives and shows us the deep darkness that surrounds. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves, no matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how many good deeds we perform, no matter who our parents are, each of us stands convicted of violating God’s Law and deserving of the punishment that comes from sinning against a perfectly Holy Creator.
Now if everything I have said sounds pretty sad and depressing, then you understand the seriousness of what Rabbi Paul has been saying. And if you have understood what he has been saying it should hopefully lead you to a very important question: “What must I do to get out of this horrible situation?”
If you want to know the answer to that question, then all you have to do is keep reading in verses 21 and 22.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Messiah Yeshua to all who believe.
For Paul’s audience, especially his Jewish audience, everything known about Adonai was found in the Tanakh or the Old Testament. But now, something new had occurred. Separate from the Tanakh, from the Law and Prophets, God’s righteousness had been revealed in a new and powerful way. We have read that the Law cannot save us from our sins, and that we cannot save ourselves, but now the Lord in His mercy has stepped in to do what previously could not be done.
Through faith in Messiah Yeshua, faith in what He has done, which we will read about very shortly, the case against us is dismissed and we can stand before the Lord. The word “faith” needs to be understood not as some sorta-kinda faith. Also this is not faith in some general or abstract sense. This is a specific faith, a specific acceptance and understanding of Messiah Yeshua’s life, death, and resurrection. None of which should be unexpected because as Rabbi Paul says, all of the Tanakh has been leading up to this moment in time.
The last part of verse 22 is best understood when read with the next two verses.
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Messiah Yeshua.
There is a very important reason why I chose to read the second half of verse 22 with what comes next. Many people take this verse out of context to argue that Rabbi Paul is somehow saying that Jews and Gentiles no longer have any unique identities. However, with proper context we can clearly see that the “lack of distinction” in this verse is that we all stand guilty of sin. We all have “missed the mark”, the literal translation for sin in this verse. We may have aimed to live rightly but all of our efforts have not been enough. But just as we all have sinned, we all have been given a way to be set free from its grasp on our lives and the punishment it has brought.
Our way to be justified, to stand before God blameless and with the charges of our sins dismissed, has been made possible through Messiah Yeshua, the sinless son of God. What Adonai has accomplished is about what He did and not about us. This salvation depends on faith, not what we have done. God gives us our salvation for free by His grace, His favor which does not depend on who we are, and we have no part in making it happen. This is incredibly radical and is part of what makes faith in Yeshua different from all the other religions of the world. We cannot and do not do anything to save ourselves, but God in His mercy has done it all for us. But what has been done? What exactly is this salvation we are talking about? Rabbi Paul explains it to us in two of the most theologically important verses in God’s Word.
25 God presented Messiah as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Yeshua.
There is definitely a lot to unpack here so let’s take it one part at a time. Messiah is described as a sacrifice of atonement. The Lord declared in Leviticus 17:11 that without the shedding of blood there can be no atonement, and without atonement we come under our perfectly Just Creator’s holy anger. So the Mosaic Covenant was centered around the sacrifice of innocent animals to atone for our sins. The center for worship and sacrifice was first the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Every day the priests would offer up the sacrifices required by God and we were required to bring the blameless and spotless animals as well. But these sacrifices were required day after day, year after year, and there were no sacrifices for any sins committed on purpose. So it can be understood that the blood of bulls and goats were not sufficient to truly atone for our sins and allow us to stand before our perfectly Holy Creator.
Though we were still condemned for our sins He delayed the punishment that we deserved so that His righteousness could be demonstrated through the atonement of Messiah Yeshua. Thus All sin – past, present, and future is forgiven and atoned for.
Rabbi Paul describes Adonai as the one who is just as well as the one who justifies. What he is saying here is what we discussed earlier, that He who judges us is also the one that has saved us. In Messiah Yeshua the Lord’s Justice and Mercy meet together. Justice demands that sin be punished but instead of each of us receiving what we are due, Yeshua took on Himself all our sins on the Cross and suffered death in our place. Or as Rabbi Paul states in 2 Corinthians 3:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So when we genuinely have faith in Messiah Yeshua there is a complete and total forgiveness of sin and we are declared righteous. What this means is that when we stand before Adonai in His heavenly court, it will not be our sins He sees, but the righteousness of His Son. So this is the essential message of the Gospel, that through faith in Messiah Yeshua and the acceptance of the gift of Salvation that is provided through the atonement of His life we are no longer condemned to eternal punishment for the sins we have committed in His sight. The case against us is completely dismissed!
If we understand these truths it leads to some powerful applications for our lives after we accept Messiah Yeshua. Some of which are given to us in the rest of this passage.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
Our first application is that because we have not done anything to save ourselves there is no room for foolish pride in Messiah’s Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles. Instead, properly understanding our standing before Adonai leads us to a place of genuine humility. You know humility is a word we use a lot in this sort of setting but I think it can be easily misunderstood. Real humility is the opposite of boasting and pride which serves to put ourselves on a pedestal. We live in a society filled with boasting and pride where there is no shortage of places and ways to feel good about ourselves. But if we are honest we will admit that they are hollow and empty things that serve to only mask our spiritual condition. So real humility is understanding we cannot save ourselves, and the condition we find ourselves in and coming to God on His terms through Messiah Yeshua and not our own. It is also not about convincing ourselves we are worthless either. Every human being has real genuine worth that Yeshua was willing to die for us so that we could experience atonement for our sins. There are many mysteries about this life that I feel we will only find answers to in eternity with Adonai, but I believe when it comes to the depth of His Love for each of us that is something we will never fully understand.
Rabbi Paul also reminds us that our justification, our right standing before the Lord is not on the basis of the Law given to Moses and our Jewish people. It is not by our works we are saved, because we have broken our covenant with Adonai. Instead we are justified by faith in the one who perfectly kept it all when we could not.
It is also important to understand that Messiah’s atonement is available for all people, not just the Jewish people and that our faith in Him does not mean God’s Law is worthless or annulled.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
There is only one God, one Messiah, and one faith that unites us all. In Messiah Yesua there is a tremendous unity between all peoples, a small piece of which you can see in this very place. We are united together, Jew and Gentile as one community by faith in the Jewish Messiah. There are no second class citizens in Messiah’s kingdom. Whether you are Jewish or Gentile Believer you are equally loved and have equal standing before Adonai. There is no need for “something else”, no second type of conversion, or additional burden to somehow make God love you more than He already does. There is nothing we can add to our salvation and so we can have genuine peace in knowing that the work has already been done for us. There is also no place for division or divisiveness in Messiah’s Community but all too often we do see it occur. We need to remind ourselves that no matter our outward physical differences we are united together forever as one community.
Rabbi Paul concludes this chapter with the statement that our faith in Messiah Yeshua upholds the Law of God. I think this is an excellent point to end on so that we can understand that the Law is not evil or bad or passed its prime as