The work of Jesus is the single most important event in human history. Jesus came to this world, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. Have you ever asked the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Perhaps the more important question: what did Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplish?
I. Purchasing People
- Jesus described his purpose to his disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life–a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus declared that the giving of his life would be a ransom. Most of us understand the general concept of a ransom. We usually do not use the word unless we are speaking about kidnapping cases. A kidnapper takes a child and demands a ransom. The ransom is the price that must be paid to release the child. Supposing the ransom is one million dollars, this price does not represent the value of the child. Of course the child is worth far more than one million dollars. The price is not equal to the child. But this is what is necessary to release the child from captivity.
- This is the beginning concept of what Christ was going to do for us by giving us life. His death was going to set us free. What we must be set free from we will ask and answer later in the lesson.
- “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Paul also describes the work of Jesus as a redeeming work. Redemption also depicts a price being paid. While ransom indicates a price being paid to bring about a release, redemption indicates a price being paid to buy something back. Redemption is the act of paying the ransom.
- We also understand this concept in recycling. The IBC root beer bottles that I like to drink say on the bottom “CA redemption value.” The bottle also reads ” Michigan 10 cents.” The state of Michigan is willing to pay 10 cents for my IBC root beer bottle. The ransom is 10 cents. The act of paying me the 10 cents is the redemption.
C. The need to be bought
- Early in the scriptures, with Adam and Eve, we learn the consequences for violating the law and nature of God. With sin, Adam and Eve had to be separated from the presence of the Lord. This is described as death, for God said, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the permanent separation of us from God.
- God’s law is a reflection of God’s character. To sin is to violate the very holiness and nature of God. Spiritual death has spread to all people because all people have sinned (Romans 5:12). None of us have been like the character of God at all times. We have been unreasonably angry. We have treated others poorly. We have said hurtful words. We have not been like God. The word of God explains that we are held in slavery to Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15), are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-23), and are under the fear of eternal separation from God (Hebrews 2:15).
- We read that the Lord set up a system of sacrifices for when the people sinned under the law of Moses. Leviticus 4-7 describes what is involved in making an offering for sin. A person sinned, a young unblemished bull had to be killed and offered. The blood of the bull was brought into the tabernacle of the Lord and the blood was sprinkled on the articles contained therein. The rest of the bull was taken outside the camp and burned up. God wanted people to know that sin required blood.
- However, though God was forgiving the people of their sins (Leviticus 4:26), the scriptures are clear that the blood of animals did not take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). The people under the old covenant understood that their sins had not been truly taken away. The repeated need to offer sacrifices for sin reminded the offerer of their sins. David attested to this understanding of the sacrifices repeatedly in his psalms. David said, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering” (Psalm 53:16). Therefore, the prophets prophesied of the coming Savior who would take away their sins. “My righteous servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah declares that God will establish a new covenant in God said, “I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Messiah would be the Savior of the people from their sins.
- To miss this aspect of the work of the coming Messiah is to miss the purpose of the Old Testament. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the scriptures tell us of two men on the road to Emmaus. They were discussing with each other what had happened to Jesus. They said, “But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Israel was looking for a Redeemer for the true people of Israel understood that their sins were not taken way by animal sacrifices.
- But God cannot simply forgive all people of their sins and remain just. While it seems that such an idea would be wonderful, upon further thought we realize that God would be unjust and violate his nature by doing so. We would not like it if judges let criminals go free without punishment. The O.J. Simpson case is a classic example of people who believe justice was not served. We want and demand justice for violators of the law. We also demand justice from God. God cannot simply forgive every person and take them all to heaven. Would you like to spend eternity with some of the gruesome and hated people of the earth, murderers, rapists, and other evildoers? This proposition is not acceptable.
- While many scriptures address this problem, I believe Romans 3:21-26 gives the fullest explanation in one place of text.21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christa to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. (HCSB)
II. Putting the Pieces Together (Romans 3:21-26)
A. God’s righteousness
- Paul declares that God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the law. The way God was going to save people from their sins and pronounce people innocent has been revealed and it is apart from a system of law-keeping. In fact, the Law of Moses and the prophets attest to the fact that God would save people apart from a system of law-keeping. Notice in verse 21 that there are two laws: the Law of Moses attests that justification will come apart from the law, in other words, a system of law-keeping. This is exactly what Paul said one verse earlier: “For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
- Trying to be justified in the sight of God by acting in accordance with the character of God and not breaking His laws brings about the knowledge of sin. We all recognize that we have not lived in our lives to be like God. Trying to live like God brings us the knowledge that we have missed the mark and have come up short. This is exactly what the Law said: “Cursed is anyone who does not put the words of this law into practice” (Deuteronomy 27:26). Similarly, we have noticed the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah declare the need for a new covenant that will remove our sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Attempting to be saved by keeping the law reveals our failure.
- But God has revealed another way to be declared innocent by God. Verse 22 tells us how: through faith in Jesus Christ to all how believe. This way of righteousness is extended to all people because all people have missed the mark and fall short of God’s glory. Every person has fallen short in living like God. God’s glory is perfect. Being good moral people does not meet the standard of God. Faith has always been necessary. In fact, Paul will spend chapters 4-5 showing that justification has always come through faith and not by the works of the law. Paul will tell the Jews that they clearly missed what God was teaching if they think circumcision or any other work of the law could save them from their sins.
- Salvation is clearly explained in verse 24: “They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” People are justified by the grace of God. Nothing we have done deserves the gift that God has presented to us. God has extended to all people that which we did not deserve: justification. God has pronounced people innocent in his sight. How can God pronounce people innocent when all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?
- We are justified by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Recall that we talked about redemption earlier in this lesson. Redemption was the act of paying a ransom price which brings about freedom. Jesus declared that he would give his life a ransom for all (Mark 10:45). Paul says Jesus did what he said he would do. We are justified because redemption took place through Jesus Christ. Rather than use money of silver or gold, the blood of Jesus was used as the ransom. “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Money could not redeem us. The blood of animals could not redeem us. Performing the works of the law (being good moral people) could not redeem us. Only the blood of Christ could redeem us.
- The details are given in verse 25: “God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” The word “propitiation,” also translated “sacrifice of atonement” in some versions, has been misunderstood. Many teach that Christ was satisfying God’s wrath. Therefore God placed all his wrath on Jesus. But the word is propitiation, not expiation. If we were to read that Jesus was put forward by God as expiation, then we could say that Jesus bore the wrath of God in his death. But the Bible does not ever say this.
- The word “propitiation” literally means “mercy seat.” The reason to use this word is to bring to mind the sacrifice under the old covenant. When the sacrifice of atonement was made by the high priest for the sins of the people, the blood was sprinkled on the lid of the ark of the covenant. The lid was called the mercy seat, though there was no chair on the ark. Rather, this was the location of the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. The mercy seat was the meeting place of God and man.
- Paul says that the seat of mercy is now in Jesus. Paul says that the meeting place between God and man is Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation. Jesus is the place of mercy where we are allowed to come to the presence of God again, formerly cast out because of our sins.
- Vincent in his Word Studies says of the word “propitiation”: “The true meaning of the offering of Christ concentrates, therefore, not upon divine justice, but upon human character; not upon the remission of penalty for a consideration, but upon the deliverance from penalty through moral transformation; not upon satisfying divine justice, but upon bringing estranged man into harmony with God. As Canon Westcott remarks: “The scripture conception of [propitiation] is not that of appeasing one who is angry with a personal feeling against the offender, but of altering the character of that which, from without, occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship” (Commentary on St. John’s Epistles, p. 85).”
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of propitiation, “The propitiation originates with God, not to appease Himself, but to justify Himself in His uniform kindness to men deserving of harshness.” This is exactly what Paul is teaching in this passage, for this very explanation comes in verse 25: “…to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” Paul says that God showed us mercy and restraint by passing over the sins previously committed. This was the problem we asserted earlier in the lesson: the sacrifices of animals could not take away sins, yet we clearly read that God was forgiving the people. How could God overlook their sins?
- The answer is in Jesus Christ. God demonstrates how he could be just in overlooking the sins previously committed. He would be unjust if something was not done. A price was paid to release us from our slavery to Satan, to sin, and to death. The price paid was the blood of Jesus. This true sacrifice for sins would allow God to offer forgiveness. Those under the old covenant had to have faith that God would take care of their sins by sending a Messiah, a Savior, to deliver them. Those that truly trusted in God, as seen through their obedience to God, would be declared righteous by God. Thus Abraham is the example in Romans 4. He trusted in God to the point that he would obey anything God said and God justified him by his faith. Paul quotes the Old Testament in Romans 1:17 to prove the point, “For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.“
- But Jesus’ sacrifice for sins did not only deal with the sins of those whom God had overlooked by showing mercy and grace. His sacrifice deals with our sins as well. Notice verse 26: “He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” Jesus’ blood not only released those under the old covenant from Satan, sin, and death, but also releases us from the same slavery. We have been set free. God is just in being merciful toward us in this action because Jesus’ blood paid the price.
- I hope we see that the ransom price needed to redeem us from our own sins and condemnation was very high. The blood of Jesus would be required to redeem. The price set could not have been any higher. God would send his Son, who would come in the flesh, live among mankind, suffer, and die. We cannot think of anything greater God could pay. “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).
- Couldn’t there have been another way? “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). The sacrifices were trying to teach us that forgiveness cannot come without the shedding of blood. God was willing to pay a tremendous cost to set us free.
- Under the old covenant, faith was demanded by God for God to pronounce the person justified. God’s right to forgive people under the old law was in the knowledge that payment would be made by the blood of his Son. Nothing has changed today. Under the new covenant which was established through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:6-13, 9:15-18, 10:5-10), faith is demanded by God for God to pronounce a person justified. We see this throughout Paul’s words in Romans 3: “God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (3:22), “a propitiation through faith in His blood” (3:24), and “the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
- “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries. If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know the One who has said, Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge His people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Hebrews 10:26-31)
- God has laid out the requirement of faith for Jesus to be our propitiation. As we have seen, Christ gives us access to the Father to bring about reconciliation between us and God. We can either return to our slavery in sin, living for ourselves as we have been or we can keep God’s covenant. We have no access to God if we reject the covenant of his Son. How do we exercise our faith in Jesus’ blood? Paul explained how very simply a little later in his letter to the Romans.
- “If we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (Romans 6:8). We must be joined with Christ in his death. How do we join Christ in his death? “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life” (Romans 6:3-4). We show our faith in the blood of Jesus removing our sins by being immersed in water.
- Peter explains baptism clearly to us. “Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life.” (1 Peter 3:21; God’s Word). If you are ready to request the forgiveness of sins, then you must be immersed in water to make that request. When you make that request, God will respond by taking your sins away.