HE WHO THROUGH FAITH IS RIGHTEOUS SHALL LIVE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, 2017
Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalm 39, Hebrews 10:4-10, Luke 1:26-38
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
Tag: Christ's saving death
"It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
Today, nine months to the day before next Christmas, we celebrate the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today is a commemoration of the incarnation, the day when the eternal Son of God was conceived as a man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, without human seed.
Why was he conceived? Pope St. Leo the Great tells us today in the Office of Readings: "To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that is incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer." The eternal Son of God had to take on a human nature so that he could offer himself as the only truly effective sin offering ever made, one that really does have the power to expiate sin and propitiate God's righteous wrath against us for our sins, because "it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
Since the Old Testament sacrifices were only symbolic foreshadowings of the only effective sacrifice ever offered, that of Jesus Christ on the cross, they themselves did not have the power to take away our sins and acquit us before God, making us truly righteous. God forgave the sins of the Old Testament, in an anticipatory way, because of the future merits of Christ's truly effective sacrifice on the cross. Since all these Old Testament sacrifices were in themselves ineffective and powerless to take away sins, a truly effective sacrifice was necessary, "for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
That is why Christ was born. What made his sacrifice effective was that he was God incarnate. Therefore his sacrifice of himself for our sins was of infinite value.
Once he had come and offered himself as a sin offering on the cross to atone for our sins, the whole Old Testament system of sacrifices became obsolete. It had served its symbolic purpose and was now ready to pass away, which it did in the year 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans. Since 70 A.D., animal sacrifices have no longer been offered. Christ's one effective sacrifice, which they foreshadowed, has taken their place.
So Christ abolishes Jewish animal sacrifices and establishes his own sacrifice of himself, which is made present for us in the sacrifice of the Mass, our new daily sacrifice of the new covenant. Christ's one and unrepeatable sacrifice of himself is not repeated, but made present for us in the Mass, which we offer daily with him to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the salvation of the world as the sacrifice and cultic worship of the new covenant.
So Hebrews says today, "‘Lo, I have come to do thy will.' He abolishes the first [the Old Testament sacrifices] in order to establish the second [his own sacrifice of himself]. And by that will [God's will that Christ sacrifice himself for our sins] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:9-10).
The offering, only one time, of the body of Jesus Christ on the cross sanctifies us all if we accept him with faith as our Savior and Lord. This sacrifice does this because Jesus took our sins upon himself and underwent the punishment on the cross that was due for them. Thus he atoned for them before God; that is, his death on the cross was counted by the Father as just reparation for our sins to make up for them, to make amends for them, to overcome our alienation from God and to reconcile us with him. Therefore God declares all sinners who put their faith in Christ acquitted and righteous with the very righteousness of Christ himself reckoned to them through their faith, as Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3).
And not only are we declared and made righteous by Christ's sacrifice, through our faith in him, but we are also sanctified. "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14). "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood" (Hebrews 13:12).
And how does this justification and sanctification come about? Is it the result of our good works? No. It is only the result of our faith, not of our good works, for "to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5 NKJV). "So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin'" (Romans 4:6-8).
Our righteousness comes through faith. It is a gift that comes to us through our faith, not something we earn by our good works or by our good life. The work involved that makes us righteous is Christ's work on the cross, namely his work of atoning, by his suffering, for our sins, thus making full reparation for them that satisfies divine justice on our behalf. Christ's part in our justification is to do the work on the cross. Our part in our justification is to put our faith in Christ's work.
"For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law" (Romans 3:20). "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).
We "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Galatians 2:16). "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11 NKJV). "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Galatians 2:21).
"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:4-5). "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:2).
This is the great and marvelous discovery that every Christian of every age has to make for himself. This is where Christianity is different from all natural religions, all of which are based on works-righteousness. Here Christianity is unique. It is based on God's direct, special revelation that righteousness comes to us as a result of the work of a Redeemer, who does the necessary work for us, and its results are applied to us only if we put our faith in him for our salvation.
Then God counts Christ's death on the cross as paying for our sins and reconciling us with the Father. So, as far as God is concerned, the sins of those who put their faith in Christ are blotted out, and they are set free with the freedom of the children of God and are declared and made righteous and holy before God, with Christ's own righteousness reckoned to them (Romans 4:22-25). And not only that, but we are also made holy - sanctified - by Christ's work on the cross through our faith in him. So the basic Christian doctrine of salvation is justification by faith, not works.
But we must also stress that faith includes genuine repentance for our sins and the intention of abandoning them, and that once justified by faith without works, we must immediately enter into a life-long process of progressive sanctification, whereby we live a good life in accord with God's moral law, which our new justified state now enables us to keep.
There is no such thing as a "carnal Christian," who continues to be dominated by grave sin. So-called "carnal Christians" are not really justified and are not saved. They either never were saved or that they have lost their salvation.
This is why we so rejoice at Christmas, at the birth of Christ. It is because he has saved us from our sins and from a life of sin. It is because he has justified us through our faith, because of his reparation-making death on the cross. And today, which is a preparation for next Christmas, we rejoice in the incarnation of our Savior and Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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