daily biblical sermons

The gospel must be preached everywhere, for in it the righteousness of God that justifies is revealed 
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, January 25, 2020
Acts 22:3-16, Psalm 116, Mark 16:15-18


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And he [the risen Jesus] said to them [the apostles], ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned’” (Mark 16:15-16).



Today we celebrate the feast of one of the greatest missionaries of all times, St. Paul, the apostle. He literally did what the risen Jesus commanded his apostles to do, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). St. Paul made numerous missionary journeys throughout Asia minor (present-day Turkey), Greece, Rome, and it seems he even reached as far as Spain. Wherever he went he preached to both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ, and the Savior of the world, who would save all who put their faith in him and sincerely and genuinely repent of their sins.



St. Paul preached with such energy, steadfastness, and enthusiasm because he knew that the gospel he preached contained salvation for all who would put their faith in it, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, for this good news (the gospel) that he preached revealed the righteousness of God himself, which is the righteousness whereby God justifies or declares and thereby makes righteous all that put their faith in this good news that he proclaims.



And what is this good news? It is that all human beings are sinners and have not succeeded in honoring and obeying God as they should. Therefore “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). St. Paul preaches that both Jews and Gentiles have failed to follow God’s moral law and therefore are subject to his wrath. No one, in fact, has ever been able to follow God’s moral law well enough to attain salvation thereby. The Jews had God’s written law and the Gentiles had the natural law engraved upon their hearts, for the Gentiles “show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15).



St. Paul’s conclusion is that everyone is therefore condemned before God, “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law [moral and ceremonial law], since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Whether it be the natural law on our heart or God’s written Mosaic law, the law informs us that we are sinners and shows us how far we have fallen from what God expects of us, “since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20b).



Therefore St. Paul proclaims a revolutionary new message that he calls his gospel, namely that now, since the coming of the Messiah, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). This is extremely important good news for everyone, both Jew and Gentile, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And this good news is that now, “they [both Jews and Gentiles] are justified [that is, declared and thereby made righteous] by his [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).



Next comes the verse (Romans 3:25) which many consider to be the most important verse in the entire Bible: For Jesus is the one “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25 NKJV).



What does this mean? It means that all these unjustified people (the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles) who have failed to please God by living in a moral way according to God’s moral law (whether the natural law in men’s hearts or the written law revealed to Moses) are now given by God a new way of being justified, that is, a new way of being declared and thereby made righteous by God, namely not through their good moral works according to God’s law (whether the written law or the natural law in men’s hearts), but rather through faith in Jesus the Messiah, because God has set him forth as a propitiation by his blood.



A propitiation is something that propitiates someone or renders him propitious or favorable. God the Father sent his only Son to be a sacrifice of propitiation to satisfy divine justice on our behalf by suffering our just penalty for our sins for us, thereby atoning for them and making reparation for them before God. All that is required of us for our justification is to put our trusting faith in Christ, accept him as our Savior, and depend on him to make us righteous by paying for us our debt of suffering and death that we owe God in punishment for our sins by suffering it on the cross for us, instead of us suffering it.



Therefore all that put their trusting faith in Christ to make them righteous will have his suffering and death for the sins of the world credited to their personal account by God as paying their debt of suffering and death that they owe God in punishment for their sins. When God therefore sees that our sins have been duly and justly paid for and duly and justly punished in Christ’s flesh (Romans 8:3-4), instead of in our flesh, God declares us righteous (he justifies us), and since his word effects what it states, his declaration that we are righteous makes us righteous, as St. Paul says, “For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s [Christ’s] obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Note that St. Paul says, “Many will be made [katastath?sontai] righteous” (Romans 5:19). The Greek word here for “will be made” [katastath?sontai] means will be constituted or made (Walter Bauer, William F Arndt, F Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Second Edition; the University of Chicago Press, 1957, 1979)).



St. Paul then explains that God put forth his own Son as a propitiation in order “to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25b NKJV). This means that God put forth Christ as a means of propitiation for our sins, because in the Old Testament he didn’t really adequately expiate them through adequate punishment, but rather “in his forbearance he had [simply] passed over [without fully expiating] the sins that were previously [in the Old Testament] committed” (Romans 3:25b NKJV). In other words, the sins of the past that were not fully atoned for and not fully, properly, and justly punished by an all-just God are now fully atoned for and punished in the flesh of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3-4) on the cross.



This therefore demonstrates God’s righteousness, showing that God really was righteous after all in the Old Testament, although it seemed that he wasn’t an all-just God, since he just let people off without justly punishing their sins. So God appeared to be not a righteous God, not a just God in the Old Testament. But now with Christ’s death on the cross, God demonstrates his righteousness, which had been called into question by his forbearance in not properly atoning for Old Testament sins.



But now God’s justice is fully vindicated in Christ’s death on the cross. Christ is no ordinary human being, although he is truly man, for he is also the only divine Son of God. So if God put him forth as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world, his death had far more value in the eyes of God than the death of an ordinary human being. So his suffering and death on the cross is the equivalent in God’s eyes of the suffering and death of the entire human race from Adam to the last person in hell forever for all their sins.



So the due punishment for our sins that we were unable to pay, because it would require our eternal death in hell, God now suffers for us in the person of his Son who dies as a propitiatory sacrifice that fully, duly, and justly pays for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world, as St. John tells us, “And He Himself [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).



So the upshot of all this is that we human beings (whether Jews or Gentiles) who are unable to justify ourselves by our good moral works and moral life in accord with God’s moral law (whether the natural law on our heart or the Mosaic law) have now been given a new way to be justified or to be righteous before God, and this new way is not through good works, which we have failed to do to a sufficient degree to justify ourselves, but through our faith in Jesus Christ who is the one who earns and merits our justification for us by his suffering and death on the cross. So when God sees that our sins have been duly paid for and fully punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4), he declares righteous all that put their faith in Jesus Christ.



And not only this, but God reckons our faith to us as righteousness (Romans 4:5) so that we become righteous not because of the good works that we have done, which we have not done to a sufficient degree, but rather by our faith in the one who has done the good work on the cross that merits our justification before God. Hence our righteousness is a gift from God given to us by means of our faith in Jesus Christ, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Our part in this is to receive this gift of justification by faith. The propitiation and expiation that Jesus makes for us on the cross is to be received by us “through faith” (Romans 3:25 NKJV).



So St. Paul concludes, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28). Put simply, justification is by faith, not by our good works, but rather it is earned for us by the good work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But sanctification, which must immediately follow our justification, requires that we live a life of good works in accord with God’s moral law, which the grace of our justification now both enables and requires us to keep.


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