Everything Revolves Around His Righteousness
Passage: Romans 1:16–17
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Everything Revolves Around His Righteousness
As I’ve said before, Christianity can be reduced to three statements. 1. There is a Creator God. 2. Absolutely everything in the universe revolves around His absolute righteousness and goodness. 3. This life is not the main event in life.
Scripture — especially the New Testament — is full of statements and evidence that physical death is not the end of us. First, it teaches that our souls will not cease to exist. Second, from the perspective of this earth, it teaches that every human who has ever lived will be resurrected from the dead when earth history has reached its end.
As was said to the prophet Daniel in a vision, Daniel 12:2-3, “2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Those verses straddle points 3 and 2 above.
In our time, however, the philosophy/religion of Materialism has deceived many into thinking that there is no Creator God, no spiritual realm and nothing beyond the physical atoms of this universe. The Materialists of today are similar to the Sadducees of Jesus’ time.
Materialism has managed to deceive so many because it has wrapped science around itself as if science and Materialism are one. But, they are not. Science actually proceeded out of a thoroughly Christian worldview. But Materialists don’t want you to know that.
These days, materialistic science is being forced to grudgingly concede that life after death exists. This is coming from its own success in the field of medicine, where thousands upon thousands, the world over, have been resuscitated from sudden death by medical means. Tens of thousands, the world over, have reported experiences beyond death in the short time that their bodies had no pulse and they were without brain waves.
My favorite is the report of a teenage boy, born blind, whose soul drifted outside the hospital where attempts were being made to resuscitate him. It was winter. He saw — saw, mind you — snow on the ground and railroad tracks outside the hospital. He saw a train pass by — things he had never seen in his life. It was later determined that a train had passed by the hospital precisely during the time this young man was in between death and life.
So, though this boy’s physical eyes were blind, his soul could see. And it’s things like this that are forcing medical literature to concede that not only is there life beyond physical death, but that we are spiritual creatures living in physical bodies — things that Christianity has preached for centuries.
Evidence like this is not necessary to believe what is written in Scripture concerning eternal life. But it makes the task of preaching eternal life into an unbelieving culture easier. For, it robs Materialism of its power to deceive.
We have a definitive statement on the resurrection revealed through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, “20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Here we see that beyond anything we can see, hear or experience, there is a cosmic battle going on. In the past, much of the battle was made visible. For, Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death was public, and occurred with extraordinary circumstances like the darkening of the sun. His resurrection and His resurrection appearances were not public. Only select witnesses saw Jesus alive. However, His empty tomb was public. Even Jesus’ enemies had testimony from the guards they had sent to guard the tomb. The guards reported that mighty supernatural events had occurred at the tomb and that the tomb was empty. Certainly, we have testimony from the approximately 600 select eye-witnesses that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead in an incredible, immortal, but physical, human body.
Therefore, Jesus won most of the cosmic battle here on earth while in mortal flesh. But as we saw in the passage from 1 Corinthians there are aspects of the battle that still have to be publicly won. Most of those aspects will be publicly revealed when time ends and Jesus returns victorious in glory.
However, some aspects of the battle are going on right now in the unseen dimensions that encircle us. And some are going on in the visible realm as the Church preaches Law and Gospel to the world. Indeed, don’t you recognize that when you hear stuff like this there’s a struggle going on in your heart and mind? There are unseen rebellious powers all around, trying to claim us and snatch us from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, Lord Holy Spirit is bringing powerful faith in what we’re hearing, so that we might believe and be saved for eternal life with Yahweh. Scripture directly tells us that salvation is Yahweh’s heart desire for all of us.
All humans will have eternal life. The question is, what kind of eternal life? From Jesus’ parables that we’ve seen in recent weeks as well as from the entire Old and New Testaments, it’s clear that either a human will have eternal life with Yahweh, or entirely without Yahweh. And this is where we get to point two — that everything revolves around His righteousness.
That Yahweh is righteous — completely and entirely righteous — is proclaimed throughout Scripture. For instance, we read in Psalm 11:7, “For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” And I note here that this brings us to the first point. There is a Creator God. The righteous will see His face.
Here’s a second sampling from the New Testament concerning Yahweh’s righteousness. 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” This means that the only way to dwell with Yahweh throughout eternity is in the same kind of righteousness that He has. Since there is no darkness in Yahweh, there can be no darkness in the humans who will dwell with Him. Only the righteous will see His face.
But the ancient cry of Job comes into play at this point. Job 9:2, “. . . But how can a mortal be righteous before God?” There’s also what the ancient priest, Ezra, prayed after a time of repentance for the sins of Israel. He prayed in Ezra 9:15, “‘O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.’” Indeed, what mortal, guilty of sin, can dwell with the source of all righteousness?
Most likely, this is a question that doesn’t particularly bother most of the people around us. For, in this culture we live as if we’ll never die. Indeed, in defiance of death and evil our culture is now putting up the most horrid Halloween decorations I’ve ever seen. What are we doing celebrating evil and rebellion? The answer is simple. This is what we humans have done in thought, word and deed ever since Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. As King David confessed in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” But, this is what our culture no longer recognizes. And it no longer recognizes the disastrous eternal consequences.
We’re born hating this basic truth about life: We have a Creator God to whom we are all ultimately responsible. As it says in Psalm 100:3, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Instead, we much prefer the lie that we are our own gods. This is because Original Sin permits us all to define good and evil for ourselves and to act as little gods.
Despite such rebellion, the question of how a mortal can be righteous before their Creator God will occur to some people. Being in this place today, hopefully that’s a question you’re asking. So I have good news for you. The question has been answered.
Being a person of his time, Martin Luther was deeply troubled by the question. Traveling on foot across the open German countryside one day, he was engulfed in a terrifying thunderstorm. Fearing for his life he vowed to the Lord, “I will become a monk.” So, it was in his years in the monastery that he was most deeply troubled by this question. For, despite all his religious activity, he knew in his inmost soul that he was still tortured by sinful thoughts and desires. Despite all his attempts to kill and suppress the sinful self, there it was with him in the night hours, even as he answered the monastery’s 3am call to prayer. Indeed, how could he ever be righteous before God?
In order to keep his mind off such torment, Luther’s superior in the monastery set him to work earning a doctorate in theology. In the early 1500’s, the printing press had just been invented. The printed books that we know were still rare. Therefore, only doctors of theology got a look at the hand-written texts of Scripture in the original languages.
By the grace of God, in our time we can easily get our hands on printed and translated texts of the Bible. Such texts can even be had on our phones. So, I can easily show you the text that Luther pondered until he finally understood it. It’s Romans 1:16-17, “16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” That, by the way is a quotation from the Old Testament prophet, Habakuk, chapter 2, verse 4.
So, if faith is what makes a person righteous before the living God, what does that faith believe? It believes in the righteousness that God Himself has revealed for all humanity. And that righteousness is Jesus, pure and simple. For, it was of the God/man, Jesus, that John wrote, “In him there is no darkness at all.”
When we examine, the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Messiah Jesus, we find that it was all prophesied in Moses and the Prophets. Centuries before God the Son became incarnate in human flesh and walked this earth, the work He was to do was established in Scripture by God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Therefore, from the historical record written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we can see that Jesus was tempted to depart from what had been prophesied about Him. Incarnate in our mortal flesh, God the Son was subjected multiple times to all the tempting power of the rebellious angel known as Satan. Most severely, Jesus was tempted by the taunts of those who jeered at Him on the cross. We read in Mark 15:31-32, “31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can't save himself! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’”
Jesus had the power to come down from the cross. But He obeyed the Word of the Lord, suffering for our sake.
By the way, did you notice what the leaders did? Instead of looking to Scripture in order to compare Jesus to Scripture’s criteria for Messiah, they established their own criteria. They said they would not believe unless Jesus came down from the cross by the power of God. Nowhere in Scripture does it prophesy such a thing for Messiah. Consequently, when the tomb guards stumbled in with news of what had happened at Jesus' tomb, the leaders’ hardened hearts refused to accept the criteria that had been laid out in Moses and the Prophets — that on the third day Messiah would rise from the dead. And that’s how it remains to this day.
However, the good news of the Gospel is that despite all the temptation hurled at Him, Jesus completely accomplished the work prophesied of Him in Moses and the Prophets. By doing so, Jesus succeeded where the original Adam had failed. Jesus regained Yahweh’s original righteousness for us by resisting temptation, even to a humiliating and undeserved death on a cross.
And fulfilling Scripture’s pattern meant that Jesus became the ultimate offering for human sin that atoned for sin and satisfied Yahweh’s wrath against all our sin. Jesus, the Son of God, became sin for us. As it is prophesied in Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And again in Isaiah 53:12, “. . . he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” And it’s because Jesus fulfilled such prophecy that Paul then wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
That’s the answer to Job’s question. That’s what Luther pondered in Romans 1:16 and 17. How can a mortal person be righteous before God? It can only happen through the union with God’s righteous human Son that is produced by faith in the Son of God. The God/man, Jesus, is the righteousness revealed by God to the eyes faith. And faith exceedingly rejoices in what it sees. For Jesus, and nothing else, is the gate to an eternal life of righteousness with righteous Yahweh.
This same faith also rejoices in what it sees here. For Lord Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is the power of God by which our sinful nature is overcome.
The other day I was speaking to a pastor who lives in Baltimore. He told me what I also found in the news that evening. Baltimore has the highest car insurance rates in the nation because of all the auto theft going on there. He also told me that people no longer stop at stop signs and traffic lights out of fear of being car-jacked right out in the open. This is the mark of a society that has lost all fear of God — a doomed society.
Would you agree with me that it’s much easier to live in a society that fears God and His righteousness? Would you agree that it’s much easier to live with people who by faith have seen the righteousness of God in the person of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and desire to live in His righteousness? Well, then, what are we waiting for? By faith in the Son of God let us be those easy people to live with. Come, Lord Jesus. Come Holy Spirit.
Today is Reformation Sunday. It honors the day — October 31st, 1517 — that Martin Luther challenged the scholars of his time to a debate on the role that faith in the righteousness of Jesus plays in the life of a Christian. The debate was necessary because the simplicity of faith in the work of Messiah Jesus had been lost at that point in church history. The Church had become encumbered with centuries of well-meaning tradition and practice that had left this all-important doctrine buried. For, no amount of monastic asceticism or good works can make us righteous before Yahweh. No amount of tradition and rituals can do it either.
The Gospel plainly states that only faith in the righteousness of Messiah Jesus can make us righteous before Yahweh through the forgiveness of our sins. For this very purpose Yahweh sent Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice for sin. Therefore, the righteousness of Messiah is available to every sinner with only one condition — that we be willing to admit and confess that because of our real rebellion against God we are otherwise headed to an extremely evil eternity entirely without righteousness and entirely without Yahweh. As Peter preached in Acts 2:38, “. . . ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Now, we also need to understand that the Gospel doesn’t leave us hanging out in space — just Jesus and me. No. Faith in Jesus connects us to Yahweh. And Yahweh connects us to each other. And Yahweh connects us to those who have gone before us and and those who will come after us. And together we’re all connected to life in His Word. That’s what the Church is all about.
Together, we rejoice in what Jesus tells us in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, [that is free from sin] you will be free indeed.” Together, we take a stand on what the Apostle Paul declared in Romans 3:22-25, “22. . .There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified [made righteous] freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Together, in troublesome times we take heart in the words of our Lord: Luke 12:32, “‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.’”
Indeed, there is a Creator God. Everything really does revolve around His righteousness. And in truth, this short life is not the main event in life. However, what happens here establishes our destiny in the main event. Therefore, come, Holy Spirit, and enable us to believe anew every day in the glorious Gospel of justification by grace through faith. Amen.
All Bible quotes are from the NIV.