Summary: Why can't God ignore or excuse sin? Sacrifice of atonement (OT background). Righteousness through faith. God is "just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
CROSS PURPOSES 3: Mercy and Justice
Crosses are everywhere: Hanging on chains around people’s necks. Tattooed on people’s bodies. Surrounded by artificial flowers along the side of the road, where an accidental death occurred. Lined up in cemeteries, or on grave markers. Towering over churches, sometimes hiding cell phone towers inside.
People love crosses, for sentimental reasons. Yet not everyone loves what the cross truly symbolizes: the shameful death of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, for the sins of the world.
The Apostle Paul spoke of “the offense of the cross.” What is offensive about the cross? As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died FOR OUR SINS.” The cross is offensive because it reminds us that we are sinners. Our sins caused the Son of God to suffer and die on the cross.
But why was the cross necessary, and what did it accomplish?
***Someone posted online about a man who refused to believe in God, because he couldn’t understand the purpose of the cross. He was asking his friend, “If God is all-powerful and all-forgiving, why must he send his son to die for sins? Couldn’t God just forgive the sins without sending his son down in human form to die? So what—so God dies for a few hours; how does that in any way forgive a sin?”***
The man asked good questions: Why was the cross necessary, and what did the cross accomplish?
The Apostle Paul gives an answer to those questions in Romans 3:21-26. (Preacher: Read text now.)
We have a problem: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is not good for us, and that is not OK with God! He loves us too much to let us fall short of the glory he has for us. What is the solution?
WHAT COULD GOD DO ABOUT SIN?
-COULD GOD SIMPLY FORGIVE ALL SINS?
The man I talked about earlier asked, “If God is all-powerful and all-forgiving…Couldn’t God just forgive the sins…?” That is a variant of a common question: If God is all-powerful, is there anything he can’t do?
(Preacher: originally this was a children’s message before the sermon.) ***There are two kinds of “can’t”: I can’t dunk a basketball—at least, not on a ten foot basket. I lack the height and strength to do that. The other kind of “can’t” is different: If you ask me to beat up your brother, I will say, “I can’t do that.” I might be big enough and strong enough, but my character does not allow me to do that. Also, if I did, there would be unavoidable consequences that would not be good for anybody.***
In a similar way, even though the Bible tells us that God is all-powerful, the way in which he responds to sin has unavoidable consequences.
What if God were “all-forgiving,” as the man assumed God is? (The Bible never says God is all-forgiving!) What if God automatically forgave every sin ever committed?
***A missionary was talking with a young African man about his promiscuous lifestyle. The young man justified his actions, saying that where he came from, the husband has the right to sleep with many women, but an unfaithful wife must be killed. The missionary reminded the young man, who had been raised in a mission school, that the God of the Bible does not have double standards like that. The young man smiled brightly and said, “Ah, God is good. He is bound to forgive us; that’s his job.”**
Should a good God “just forgive” unfair or abusive behavior? Should God issue a blanket pardon, and “just forgive” murder, genocide, child abuse, or human trafficking? What about the victims of sin?
***Miraslav Volf is a Christian theologian, a native of Croatia. Dr. Volf lived through the horrors of the Balkan Wars, after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. In his book, “Exclusion and Embrace,” he says, “My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…[That is] unpopular…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them—We should not retaliate? Why not? I say—The only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”***
Justice is based on the character of God. If God did not uphold justice, the moral structure of life on earth would be up for grabs. We would have no basis for saying dirty politics is wrong, or people with power should not rig Wall Street. We would live by the rules of “Might makes right,” or “It’s not wrong if you don’t get caught.”