Ten people are trapped on the roof of a 20 story high burning building. The only way to safety is to jump across a 25’ chasm onto the roof of the adjacent building. One person jumps 10 feet and falls to his death. Another jumps 12 feet and falls to his death. One jumps 15 feet and falls to his death. One gets a running start and pushes off the edge of the building and jumps 20 feet and falls to his death. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”
It does no good to compare one person to another. One may have jumped twice as far as another. One may have tried a lot harder than another. One may have been much more sincere than another. One may have worked all his life getting ready for this jump while another never gave it a thought until the very last minute. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”
And do you want to know the really crazy thing about all of this? The really crazy thing is that we keep trying to make the jump. We are all incredible optimists when it comes to estimating the human potential to save ourselves. We think that if we just do this or do that, if we try harder, if we are more sincere, we’d be able to make it. If we use this program, if we elect this person, then we’d ALL be able to make it. But “there is no distinction. All fall short…”
There are basically two ways that we try to make the jump. The first way is the way of the way of ‘self-righteousness.’ We’re convinced that there is a God and that He will judge us on the basis of our ‘goodness,’ or at the very least how our goodness compares to others. And so we try as hard as we can to be as good a person as we can be hoping that it will be enough to get us across the chasm safely.
The second way we try to make the jump is by ‘denial’. Not ‘self-denial’ but ‘sin-denial.’ Who says it’s ‘sin’ anyway? What used to be called ‘sin’ has been exposed as nothing more than a plot by the powerful to keep the masses in their place. The times they are a ‘changin, God will have to adjust. There’s no reason to jump at all – the buildings not really on fire.
But “there is no distinction. All fall short…”
St. Paul shuts off every escape route we try to take to save ourselves. “All have sinned and therefore all fall short.” And so in our desperation we cry, “What must I do to be saved?” Which is the first smart thing we’ve said here so far.
This was Luther’s question and Luther asked it like a man on the roof of a burning building. Not like we do, I’m afraid. We’ve pretty well dismissed the whole question of ‘Divine Judgment.’ Our modern minds have done away with the existence of hell which renders God’s judgment pretty harmless. We have lost the “fear of God.”
But for Luther, the fear of facing a HOLY GOD who demands holiness, “You shall be holy as I the Lord your God am holy,” kept him awake at night and in the confessional most of the day.
In Luther’s day, the Church was telling everyone that they needed to “Jump!” And it provided a program to help people jump further. Luther tried it about as hard as anyone can try. But at the end of the day it brought him no assurance or peace. No matter what he did or how hard he tried, he always felt that it was never ENOUGH, he could have done MORE. Luther said, “I was more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created.”
And then Luther heard a voice from the abyss. Not the abyss FROM BELOW but the abyss FROM ABOVE. The voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to him through the Apostle Paul. “But now the righteous of God, has been made known APART FROM THE LAW… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
“But now…” Paul said. And with those two words, the ground that we stand before God begins to quake, and the foundation we have built our life before God on begins to collapse. God is breaking into this world with a new and completely different remedy for the human dilemma. He is taking the universe by the corners and shaking it out like a sheet in the wind. A new wine is bursting the old wine skins.
The voice from above says, “Don’t jump!” “Stop trying to jump!” “I will come to you and I will rescue you.” “I will deliver you.” “I will lift you up as on eagle’s wings.”
When Israel was hemmed in by Pharaoh and all his chariots bearing down on them on the one side, and the Red Sea blocking every way of escape on the other, they cried out ‘what shall we do?’ And God’s servant, Moses, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… You need only stand still.” (Exodus 14:13). “Don’t jump!”
God is doing a NEW THING. “New,” not as in ‘an improved old thing’ or an ‘better way’ for you to save yourself, but “new” as in ‘totally unheard of.’ ‘New’ as in, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
God rescues you “WHILE YOU ARE STILL IN YOUR SINS,” not waiting for you to make the first move or get your act together. God judges you “apart from the law.” “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.”
It’s not about what you must do OR what you have done. It doesn’t depend upon how hard you’ve tried or your circumstances or on what others say about you.
“You are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In the midst of all of our STRIVING and STRESSING to PLEASE GOD, the heavens open and the voice from above declares – “This is my Son WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED. Listen to Him.”
So it turns out there is a distinction after all. All have not sinned. There is One who has not. “There is only one who is good.” And it’s not you. It’s Jesus Christ. It’s not about what you must do or have done. It’s ALL about what He came to do and has done for you.
He is the One who has made the jump. He made the jump from heaven to earth.
He jumped from the safety of heaven to this burning building called earth where we are all perishing.
He WHO HAD NO SINS came to you while YOU WERE STILL IN YOUR SINS and took your sins onto Himself.
He who is the JUDGE was judged BY THE LAW in your place.
And the judgment that was given Him was death. But it was YOUR DEATH He died because it was YOUR SINS He bore. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… For the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Is.53:5-6)
But then, HE DID A NEW THING. He made the jump from death and the grave to life and the right hand of the Father.
Just as, even today, He makes the jump from the glory of the Father in heaven, to this bread and this wine and to your lips and your mouth.
So, “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (vs.28) This is radical and it changes everything. It makes all your good works and good deeds COUNT FOR NOTHING toward your salvation.
Strange as it sounds, lot’s of folks don’t like this. Folks who have put a lot of work and energy into making the jump don’t like this. ‘You mean it all counts for nothing?’ “Then what becomes of our boasting?”
What fools we are. Repent. “Let every mouth be stopped.” For once in your life, just shut up. Just ‘stand still.’ Just ‘listen.’
Stop trying to “put forward” your good works and your good life before God. Because God has already “put forward Christ Jesus, as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”
“Propitiation” is one of those $100 theological words that is worth an explanation. “Propitiation” has to do with justice. ‘DIVINE JUSTICE’ is done for you by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. The price is paid IN FULL, no balance due, no I.O.U.’s, no time in Purgatory. “It is finished” means just what it says.
But justice done doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is restored. If someone hurts you or commits a crime against you, even if justice is been done and even if they pay for their crime, even though you’ve ‘forgiven them,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re friends again. There are still those hard feelings. That ‘wall of separation’ is still there.
But a “propitiatory” sacrifice means that the relationship is completely restored. The wall is completely gone. “It is ‘very good.’ “I call you my friends.” “Bring quickly the best robe… and put a ring on his hand, and shoes no his feet. And bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-23).
So when the Holy Spirit opens our mind and turns our heart so that we do the unheard of and dangerous thing, and GIVE UP ON OURSELVES and trust solely in Jesus Christ, we have ‘peace with God.’ We are “free” from all the worrying and striving and stressing about our salvation. The Son, by His GOD PLEASING SACRIFICE on the cross, “has set you free indeed.”
Not FREE to continue in sin. FREE to love God and FREE to love our neighbor.
As long as you were doing all of our ‘good works’ in order to be saved, we were doing them all ‘for me.’ I’m doing good to you because, in the long run, it’s going to help me. Our good works done to earn favor with God are all done in selfishness. And there is no ‘love’ in ‘selfishness’ no matter how ‘good’ our ‘good works’ might be.
But now that Christ Jesus has set you free from all of that, we are free to actually see our neighbor and do good works solely for his good. And there IS real ‘love’ in that.
So then, what does it mean to live ‘by faith’? For one thing, it means that we stop worrying about our salvation because we’ve already been saved. It means that we put our trust in Christ and Him crucified and not at all in ourselves. But it also means that we have been ‘set free’ to truly love one another as we have been loved by God.
To live ‘by faith,’ means that we live IN THE PRESENT where real life is lived with all of its trials and troubles, all of its sorrows and all of its joys. We LIVE IN THE PRESENT because God has shown us “his righteousness at the PRESENT TIME…”
In the ‘present time,’ when it feels as though the world is on fire and the foundations are crumbling and the future is so uncertain. “Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved, WE STAND.” We don’t jump.
We love. We serve. We encourage and comfort one another. We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because there is no difference, everyone needs it.