God's End Game - Part 25
Series: God's End Game
May 12, 2019
We are halfway through our series called God’s End Game. It just occurred to me this week that the blockbusting movie Avengers: End Game borrowed my title since I started this series before the movie name was revealed.
I am way hipper and cooler than I ever thought. While we are at it, let’s praise the Lord that a really good super hero movie has knocked that awful, sappy, mushy movie Titanic out of its worldwide box office record. You’re not the king of the world anymore, Jack.
Well, on to more important things.
Remember that all of history, all that’s recorded in the Bible, is a record of God’s end game plan for setting things to rights, for restoring our relationship with him.
God’s end game plan revolves around Jesus and has three telescoping parts, one flowing from the other.
It begins with the INCARNATION. Which we looked at. Jesus is God with us in the flesh, both 100% God and 100% man.
It climaxes with the CRUCIFIXION. Which we are unpacking now.
It carries on with the RESURRECTION.
In regards to the crucifixion we have focused on…
What did it do?
A good theology book gave us a concise and precise explanation…
Jesus’s death by crucifixion was a divinely ordained historical event by which he lovingly accomplished atonement, purchased Christians’ freedom from sin’s bondage, won their justification before the Father, and triumphed over Satan’s tyranny.
Today let’s unpack how Jesus’ crucifixion won our justification before the Father, which is yet another theological term like atonement and redemption.
Don’t let these theological terms throw you off. Just because some really smart folks encased these ideas in big words doesn’t mean we should shut down when we come across them. Instead, we should work hard to figure out what they mean, because when we do we get a better understanding of who God is, who we are, and what Jesus did.
Justification. To justify means to set right, to put on a right footing. In regards to Christianity and what Jesus did on the cross, it means to be declared in a right relationship or right standing with God. It is closely related to another Bible term, righteousness; they are more or less synonymous.
When we think of righteousness we think of it in terms of moral or legal behavior on our part. In other words, a righteous person is someone who is very moral or good at keeping God’s laws. That’s exactly how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day saw it.
They were convinced a person was justified or made righteous before God by keeping his laws. Jesus addressed this in a text I alluded to last week. One that we’ll look at more in context today.
In Matthew 5 Jesus begins the ever famous Sermon on the Mount, a tightly knit, revolutionary teaching that we are still marveling over to this day…
Matthew 5:17–20 (ESV) — 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Verse 20 would have made mouths drop. The Pharisees were the most righteous folks ever if you define righteousness as outward behavior such as keeping the law down to the little details and then some.
Jesus, who knew their hearts, went on to explain that in God’s eyes righteousness, being justified before him, was more than outward obedience to a moral code, it was the attitude of the heart as well.
Being righteous before God when it comes to dealings with others is more than making sure you never physically injure anyone, it’s not being angry with them. To wish they were dead is the same as murdering them. There goes the old defense, “At least I never murdered anybody.”
Being righteous before God when it comes to your marriage is more than making sure you never touch another woman with your hands, it’s not lusting after her with your eyes.
Read the Sermon the Mount sometime and you’ll see how Jesus makes right standing before God way harder than just keeping a set of rules or codes. God looks at the heart itself. What comes out of the heart is the true measure of a person.
Later on in Matthew’s Gospel, we see the Pharisees getting all bent out of shape because the disciples didn’t wash their hands according to the ritual Law (remember how uptight they were about being ceremonially clean?)…
Matthew 15:10–20 (ESV) — 10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
You can have clean hands and an unclean, defiled heart. This is why Christianity is really the hardest, the most crushing of all the religions.
The God of Christianity isn’t satisfied just with the keeping of rules. He demands right standing before him all the way down to the attitude and intentions of our hearts.
But I’m a good person.
Really? How so?
I’ve never murdered anyone. But have you ever gotten so angry at someone you’ve thought terrible thoughts about them?
I’ve never cheated on my spouse. But have you ever projected yourself mentally into a situation reserved for marriage with someone else?
I’ve never robbed a bank! Great. But have you ever kept something to yourself or for yourself that belonged to someone else? Praise and an apology?
What are we doing when we say we’re a good person? We are making other people’s behavior the standard by which we measure our own.
But what is the standard according to God? Himself.
If the Pharisees couldn’t please God, what makes you or I think we could? We can’t because even if we managed to keep all the Laws of God in principle, somewhere hiding in our hearts would be thoughts, intents, desires contrary to who God is.
Pastor, again with the sin stuff?! I’m just not comfortable with that. I get it that you’re an old preacher an all, but this 2019. Remember?
Haven’t we gotten past that? Hasn’t science and psychology reduced it all down to genetics and chemicals in the brain? Isn’t it uneducated and uncool to frame humanity this way?
DA Carson, in one of his sermons, recounts the testimony of a very smart and highly educated man who wrote his dissertation for a Ph.D. in Ethics on how we must make our own rules for right and wrong; we establish our own moral structures. There’s really no such thing as good or bad. This was before he became a Christian.
Listen to this super smart guy…
“I have already noted in passing that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things he’s given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve him in diverse ways.
The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid.
Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve… That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren’t responsible for what we do. I remember now that I even taught these things to students; now that’s sin.
It was also agony. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself (well, if you are like I was, maybe you can,) to go on believing such nonsense. St. Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is ‘written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.’ …
Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore, I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value.
Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in any sense in his control?
Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God’s image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God’s image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how many he pulls out, there are still more to pull. I was that man.
Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focused… I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from [other people’s] foolish eyes. But I was the fool.”
What does David say?
Psalm 14:1 (NLT) — 1 Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!
I’m hammering down on our sinfulness because getting this is crucial to getting what justification means. In fact, justification (as well as atonement and ransom) stands on the presupposition of the complete and total depravity of us all apart from Christ.
There’s an old saying that rings true: you got to get a fella lost before you can get him saved.
The God of Christianity crushes us with the truth of who we are and who he is. But he also does the unthinkable, something that reveals how Christianity at the same time is also the most encouraging, the most uplifting and radical of all religions.
He condemns us all under sin, rightly declaring our unrighteousness, while at the same time providing the way to be made righteous, justified, by dealing with the problem himself.
He became a man (incarnation), living the life we should have lived, and paid for our sins himself (crucifixion), taking our place.
This is on the mind and heart of Paul as he wrote to the Christians at Rome…
Romans 3:9–26 (ESV) — 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 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. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Verse 26 is important for us today. On the cross, God showed his righteousness so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
God is just because that’s his nature. He deals out justice because that’s just who he is. Sin is injustice. But, God is our justifier through the crucifixion.
This takes us back to Matthew 5.17 where Jesus said…
Matthew 5:17 (ESV) — 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Many people think that under the new covenant in Jesus the old covenant of the law with Moses was done away with. Nope. It still stands, down to the dotting of every “i” and the crossing of every “t.”
God demands perfect righteousness according to his law, and he’s looking for that perfect obedience down to the intentions and attitudes of the heart, which no one can give him.
Jesus came to fulfill, live out, achieve a record of perfect performance in regards to God’s law all the way down to the intentions and attitudes of his heart.
God is just and Jesus (God in the flesh) is our justifier in that his righteousness (right standing with God) is given to us, is put into our accounts, when we come to God - look back at Romans 3:26 - through Jesus by faith…
Romans 3:26 (ESV) — 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Conclusion: What Jesus accomplished on the cross is nothing short of revolutionary.
Before God ever created us he knew we’d rebel against him and bring sin, suffering, and evil into his good world. So before he spoke the sun and stars and moon into existence he had already decided, ordained that one day his son Jesus would hang on a cross to cover our sins and make us clean (atonement), to ransom us from sin’s bondage, and win our justification before God. That is why Paul proclaims in…
Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
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