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For Lent, we have been examining the word ‘atonement.’ May I remind you that atonement means at-one-ment and refers to the fact that through our faith in the death of Christ, we are at-one-ment with God. We have already examined the word ‘atonement’ as covenant and reconciliation. Next week, we will look at it as sacrifice. And today, we are going to cover two descriptions of the atonement; redemption now and justification a little later.

Redemption took place in ancient times when one army would conquer another people. And when the battle was over, the victors would sift through the survivors looking for people to take back to their home country as slaves. After getting back home, if they found that they had someone of value to the conquered; say a town official or a wealthy person, they would send word to the conquered people that they had so and so and if they were willing to pay a price, they could buy them back. If the conquered people could come up with the money required, they would redeem or buy back the person in question. The sum of money was known as a ransom. This describes the process of redemption. Why New Testament writers chose this word to describe one aspect of the atonement is clear.

Human beings were taken captive by the evil one. We were made subjects of his domain. If God were going to buy us back or redeem us, He would pay a ransom. In our case, the ransom paid was the death of Jesus. Jesus said, “For I came not to be served, but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20).

He (God the Father) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13-14

The great 20th century evangelist, E. Stanley Jones tells the story of a little boy who made a sailboat in New York City. He put his newly built sailboat in Central Park Lake and the wind carried it out to the middle of Central Park Lake, and he couldn’t get it back. He watched it until it got dark and then had to leave. A couple of weeks later he was walking on West 57th Street and he saw his boat in a window of a pawn shop. Obviously, somebody found it and sold it.

He went in and said to the pawn shop owner, “I want that boat in the window.”
And the man said, “It will cost you $4.00.
And so he said, “Please don’t sell it to anyone else, because I made it and I want to buy it back.
So he went home, broke open his bank, counted out $4 and he returns to the pawn shop and buys the boat from the owner. According to E. Stanley Jones, as the boy left the pawn shop, he said, “Little boat, you are mine for two reasons now. I made you and I bought you back again.” 6

The same can be said of Jesus. He made us and He bought us back again. And He paid for us with His blood.


Jesus knew that His mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture He said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to His lips. When Jesus had tasted it, He said, “It is finished!” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

John 19:28-30



Randy K’Meyer

Before I read from Romans 3, I want to make a rather bold statement. The passage of scripture that we have before us, in my view, is the most important paragraph ever recorded in any language throughout human history!

So many famous Christians who have had a tremendously positive impact on the kingdom of God became Christians as a result of coming to grips with this paragraph.

Martin Luther was a Priest who had been taught the prevailing Catholic doctrine of ‘infused grace;’ whereby God gives all people the grace necessary for them to become righteous through their own obedience. In 1513, Luther was assigned as a professor at the University of Wittenberg and began to teach a class on Paul’s letter to the Romans which changed his life. Later, he wrote, “Then finally God had mercy on me, and I began to understand that the righteousness of God is a gift of God received by faith… This passage from Paul became to me the very gate to Paradise.” 1 Luther’s discovery of the truth of Romans 3 sparked the Protestant Reformation.

150 years later, Romans 3 inspired John Bunyan to publish The Pilgrim’s Progress; a C. S. Lewis Like fictional classic that was eventually translated into over 200 languages and was a best seller for two centuries and led countless thousands to faith in Christ.

John Newton, a slave trading sea captain, who by his own admission lived a life of deep, deep depravity, encountered Romans 3; became a Christian, then an Anglican clergyman, then gifted us with the hymn that tells the story of Romans 3 and his life, Amazing Grace.

John Wesley, another Anglican clergyman, and contemporary of Newton’s, strived for years to earn his own salvation through being a missionary. Then one night on Aldersgate Street in London, his heart was “strangely warmed’ upon hearing another read Romans 3. Afterward, he became the founder of Methodism and one of the principal leaders of the first great awakening which made its way from England to America.

Speaking of American clergymen, Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of our most influential preachers from 1927 to 1960, was so enamored by the paragraph you are about to hear that he drew a heart over it in his Bible and wrote that it is not only the heart of Romans, but of the heart of the New Testament and the Bible itself.

Are you ready to listen to Romans 3:21-28?

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ 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— 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 Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

This paragraph is so vitally important because, as was made clear by Paul, it answers the most important question any human being could ever ask: “How can we be made right with God?”

After his usual greeting and prayer of thanksgiving for the Romans (1:1-15),
he turns to his theme of ‘justification by faith’ in 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

From there Paul begins in 1:18 to drill down on the prerequisite to faith; an acknowledgment of sin. He begins this section of the letter:

But God shows His anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

And in the verses that follow, he lays out a stinging indictment against all humanity that is aptly summarized in verse 23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

According to Paul’s indictment, you and I can be the most upstanding citizens in all of Medina County; yet at the same time, we stand before God guilty as charged. We may have a crime-free record, a perfect standing with the IRS, the good works of Mother Teresa, the conviction of Mohandas Gandhi, and the same passion for God’s Kingdom as the Apostle Paul; nevertheless, we still stand accused before the perfect standards of an infinitely righteous judge.

Since the prerequisite to faith is the acknowledgment of sin, I have to ask you, ‘Have you ever acknowledged that you have trouble with sinning?’

Need some help? Have you ever looked at another person and imagined what it would be like to be with that person? Got ‘cha.

Mark Twain said, “All of us are like the moon; we all have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see.”

But the Bible states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:13).

It’s that dark side that stands in the way of our being right with God.

Now the Jews in Paul’s time, like Martin Luther and John Wesley, were raised to believe that one could be made right with God by obeying the law of Moses.

Leon Morris, in his great book, The Atonement, writes, “In the rabbinic writings, it is everywhere assumed that men are accepted before God on the grounds of their merit.” 2

The rabbis illustrated the concept with a balance scale that one side holds our good deeds and the other our bad. If, in the end, the good deeds outweigh the bad, then nothing to worry about, you are right with God.

But the Bible, especially the New Testament is crystal clear that no one will ever be made right with God based upon their own achievements. As Paul states in Romans 3:20, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”

And then comes the good news in verse 21: “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law.”

Five more times in this passage, Paul uses a word that in this NLT is rendered
‘made right,’ but in more accurate translations is ‘justification.’

Justification is more than forgiveness. Forgiveness lets us off the hook for our misdeeds. Justification completely erases the record of our wrongdoings.

I John 2:1 says, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father.”

Imagine dying and standing before God’s judgment seat. God, the righteous Judge, will begin by reviewing the resume of our lives; everything we have ever done or said, the good, the bad, and the ugly. When He is finished, He will turn toward us and ask, “How do you plead?”

At that point, you and I have a choice. We can lie and plead ‘not guilty.’ Or, we can speak the truth and plead, ‘Guilty as charged Your Honor.’

Then the Judge will ask, “Does anyone here have anything to say before I pronounce judgment?” That’s when our Defense Attorney, our Advocate, the Bible calls Him, will rise. “Judge, it is true that this one is guilty; we all know that. And we know that the penalty for sin is death. It is also true that I paid the penalty for this one’s sin when I died on the cross. And this one made a decision to have faith that I did that for him or her. Therefore, Your Honor, I request an acquittal.”

And the Righteous Judge will pound His gavel and declare, “There is, therefore now, no condemnation for anyone in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). Furthermore I am ordering his or her record to be expunged.”

Some wag came up with the clever idea that when we hear the word justification, we can rightly think of it as “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.

Wow, what a wonderful gift!

You say, “How do I get it on that justification stuff? Verse 22: “We are made right with God (justified) by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

And then three verses later he reiterates, “People are made right with God (justified) when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood” (25).

In the first verse he uses the word ‘faith’ and in the latter ‘believe;’ two closely related words that when fleshed out mean, ‘trust in,’ ‘rely on’ and ‘cling to.’

Leon Morris defines faith like this:

Faith is the recognition that there is nothing in the sinner that can avail to bring him to salvation. Faith is the casting of oneself wholly on God. Faith is the hand that reaches out to God for salvation. Faith is the hand stretched out to receive God’s good gift, stretched out in the assurance that God will not fail to keep His promise.” 3

Imagine an explosion on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic that causes it to sink and survivors of the explosion are running for lifeboats. Now suppose one man doesn’t know about the lifeboat, so he does not get aboard. He doesn’t have knowledge of the lifeboat, so he is not saved. Another man has knowledge of the lifeboat and believes it will save his life, but he is grief-stricken over seeing his wife killed, so he chooses not to get on board and dies with his wife.

He has knowledge but doesn’t act on it, so he is not saved. Others have knowledge of the lifeboat and believe it will save them, and they act on their belief and get into the boat. They have trusted in, relied on, and clung to the lifeboat, and in that way, are saved by, or in today’s terms, justified by their faith.

Once more, I turn to the brilliant theologian Leon Morris:

Justification then, means the according of the status of being in the right. Sin has put us in the wrong with God and justification is the process whereby we are reckoned as right. In one way or another, all religions must face the ultimate question: “How can a man, who is a sinner, ever be made right with a God who is just?” Most religions answer, in some form, ‘By human effort.’ Man committed the sin, so man must do what is required to put things right and undo the effects of his sin. It is the great teaching of the New Testament that we are justified not by what we do, but by what Christ has done. Paul puts it simply when he says, “We are justified by His blood” (Romans 5:9). He links our justification directly with the death of Jesus.” 4

Two chapters after the most significant passage ever written, Paul adds:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8).

So, here’s the question of the ages: Do you have the desire to be made right with God . . . to be just-as-if-I’d never sinned?

Not that we’ll never sin again. We will be plagued with this disease until the day we die. However, on the day we die, if we have been justified by faith, we will not be held accountable for our sins.

That’s what God offers. All we have to do is receive it by faith; by trusting not in your own works, but in the finished work of Christ. As Jesus exhaled His last breath upon this earth, he exclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) or more literally, “It has finally been accomplished.”

To what was Jesus referring? To His own finished work upon the cross. This is what makes it possible for people like you and me to be made right with God; that is, to be justified by faith.

A judge had to sentence a friend of his for breaking the law. If he let his friend off, he would be a good friend but not a good judge. If he sentenced him, he would be a good judge, but not a good friend. So he sentenced his friend to pay a fine of $10,000, stepped around the bench, and paid his friend’s fine.

That’s what God offers you and me. Because He is a just God, He had to sentence us to pay the penalty of death because of our sins. Then He graciously paid the penalty we deserved when He died in our place.

Toward the end of a revival service, the pastor of the church introduced a friend.
This elderly man stood and began, “A father, his son, and the best friend of his son were sailing off the Pacific Coast when a storm blocked any attempt to get back to shore. The waves were so high, that even though the father was an experienced sailor, he could not keep the boat upright, and the three were swept into the ocean.”

He hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with two teens, who were, for the first time since the service began, looking somewhat interested in his story.

The old man continued, “Grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most excruciating decision of his life: to which boy would he throw the other end of the line? He had only seconds to make the decision. The father knew that his son was a believer in Christ, and he also knew that his son’s friend was not.
The agony of the decision could not be matched by the torrent of the waves. And as the father yelled out, “I love you, son,” he threw the line to his son’s friend. By the time he had pulled the friend back to the capsized boat, his son had disappeared beyond the raging swells into the darkness. His body was never recovered.”

By this time, the two teenagers were sitting straighter in the pew, waiting for the next words to come out of the old man’s mouth. “The father,” he continued, “knew that his son was going to step out of the darkness of night and into the light of eternity with Jesus, and he could not bear the thought of his son’s friend stepping into a black eternity without Christ. Therefore, he sacrificed his son.
And the old man concluded, “How great is the love of God that he should do the same for us.”

With that, the man turned and sat back down in his chair as silence filled the room. Within minutes after the service ended, the two teenagers were at the old man’s side. “That was quite a story,” said one of them, “but I really find it hard to believe that a father would really sacrifice his own son just so the other would have a chance to become a Christian. “Well, you’ve got a point there,” said the old man, “It is very hard to believe. But I am standing here today to tell you that story gives me at least a glimpse of what it must have been like for God to give up His Son for me. For you see, I was that son’s best friend.”

Is it any wonder that Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Thanks be to God for His gift too wonderful for words” (9:15).

(Based upon this message, invite people to receive Christ by faith).

Before singing the closing song, Worthy Is the Lamb:

No wonder the writer of Revelation writes:

Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when He took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:6-9).

1 Rev. Paul Doellinger, Luther’s Breakthrough in Romans, October 27, 2017

2 Leon Morris, The Atonement; Its Meaning and Significance, [Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, © 1983]. Page 190.

3 Ibid, pages 197-198.

4 Ibid, page 196.

5 Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three. Christianity Today,
Vol. 30, no. 7.)

6 https://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2019/may/worthy-is-lamb.html