Focal Passage: Romans 3:21-31
There is an old joke that centers around an arrow and a
target. It goes something like this. A man wandered through a town and saw a
series of arrows perfectly centered in their targets, “bulls-eyes” every time.
He thought that someone must have Robin Hood-like skill. So he inquired about
it and found that the shooter of the arrows was a young boy. He asked the kid
how he did it. He said, “It’s easy, sir. All you have to do is shoot the arrow
into the fence, then paint your target around it.” Sadly, that is what we often
do. We shoot the arrow, then we justify our target with something that sounds
good to us or makes us feel good. Sin is literally “missing the mark.” Sin is
doing things our way rather than God’s way. We are all guilty (3:23).
In this passage, we see that God’s righteousness is revealed
in two parts: it is revealed through the law telling us that we can’t measure
up and through Jesus Christ who voluntarily gave His life for us, what verse 24
calls “redemption.” Bottom line: we can’t earn our way into heaven. In Jewish
theology there was this concept of righteousness being weighed on a scale.
One’s eternal destiny was predicated upon doing more good deeds than bad. It
seemed logical; doing good works helps everyone, does it not? In Paul’s
personal life, he had struggled mightily with this doctrine of “good works.” He
eventually realized that although he could have boasted forever about his
goodness and his commitment to the perfect execution of law, he would have
always fallen short. He would have always “missed the mark” by his own efforts.
His conclusion was that he couldn’t do enough to deserve God’s stamp of
approval — Jesus Christ was the only Just One and the only way he could find
and receive God’s righteousness.
As such, Jesus Christ gave Himself as the “sacrifice of
atonement” (some translations use the word “propitiation” or “expiation” — v.
25a). This concept deserves explanation. We have all sinned. We have caused God
to grieve because of our sin. Our sin deserves punishment, and God’s anger or
wrath against sin (and us) is justified. But how can God’s righteous anger be
appeased except through punishing us? Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of death
(atonement) served as the means of “propitiation,” of appeasing God’s just
anger against our sin. And because of Jesus’ propitiation for our sins, those
very same sins were necessarily “expiated,” or covered over, deemed “ and
void” by God the Father.
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