The Christian faith is thoroughly miraculous. The Red Sea parted for Israel, Jesus was born of a virgin, healed diseases, and rose from the dead. Yet, some people get hung up on miracles. In 1804 Thomas Jefferson took a razor to his New Testament and cut out everything he found incompatible with his rationalism. Only about ten percent of the text survived the operation.
Yes, the Bible is filled with the miraculous; yet, people often miss the most outrageous miracle right at the center of the gospel. In Romans 4:5 Paul says that God ‘justifies the ungodly.’ That’s a real problem. Heal diseases? Walk on water? No problem. But when God justifies the ungodly, that upsets the moral order of the universe. Right?
Everybody knows that God punishes bad people and rewards good people. It’s his job. But the gospel disagrees. The gospel says that God justifies the ungodly. What does that mean? It means that God declares guilty people innocent. It means that God treats bad people as if they were good people. That goes beyond the power of miracle. It’s a scandal. So, how can God justify the ungodly?
It’s a good thing he does. Every one of us is ungodly, and we know it. We’ve failed to be the people we ought to be. A deep unease about ourselves is why we live in denial. When we discover self-excusing evasion in our politicians, for example, we demand an honest reckoning. But do we require the same unsparing honesty of ourselves? Isn’t cover-up the self-righteous strategy of every guilty conscience? Isn’t that why we blame others? Finger-pointing is one of our favorite devices for self-justification. And what lies behind that but our own troubled conscience?
There’s a reason why we shift the blame. There’s a reason why our problems are always someone else’s fault. There’s a reason why parents blame their children and husbands blame wives and so forth. The reason we continually pass the buck is that we know we can’t bear our own guilt. We want so desperately for others to bear it for us. So we dump it on them, without even noticing what’s happening in our thoughts.
After years of denial, baseball legend Pete Rose finally admitted to betting on baseball: ‘People have to understand I wish this would have never happened. But I can’t change it, it’s happened. And sitting here in my position, you’re just looking for a second chance.’
Every one of us understands that. We’re all trapped in consequences we didn’t intend but we did set in motion. Every one of us looks at something in the past and agonizes, ‘If only I could relive that moment! If only I could trade in my record for a better one!’ But how can we? It’s too late.
The great miracle and scandal of the Bible is that God justifies ungodly people through the finished work of Christ on the cross. God accepts unacceptable people, God honors shameful people, God treats fools and harlots with royal dignity as Jesus steps into our place at the cross and bears our real moral guilt far away upon himself. That’s how God our judge becomes God our justifier.
In Isaiah 53:3-12 we will learn how Jesus was satisfied, we are justified, and God is glorified. What did Isaiah see 700 years before it happened? What Isaiah saw in the future was not a Messiah who escapes death, but a Messiah who dies – and dies plainly in the place of sinners – and then rises again to make intercession for his redeemed and forgiven and justified people forever.
It is with great anticipation that I look forward to worshiping with you this Lord’s Day. Pray yourself ready, bring a friend, or two, and let’s worship the true and living God. Are you praying for and working for reformation? I am. Will you join me? May the Lord grant another reformation to us and our communities.
In Christ’s Love,