Summary: This message is part of my expository series through the book of Romans.
October 12, 2008
It had been a long day for the clerk at the cosmetic counter. Having been on her feet all day, she was looking forward to going home. Just before the doors closed, a man came running up to her frantically and said, “Tomorrow’s my wife’s birthday and I don’t have anything for her. What do you recommend?” The clerk brought out a nice bottle of perfume worth about $100. He gasped and said, “That’s way too expensive!” So she held up a bottle that cost $50. He said, “That’s still too expensive. What do you have that’s less expensive?” She searched some more and found something for $25. The husband replied, “That’s still too expensive! What else do you have?” She then brought out the cheapest thing she had at the counter, a tiny $10 bottle of perfume. He was now exasperated and said, “You don’t understand. I want you to show me something cheap!” She quickly reached under the counter, pulled out a mirror, told him to look into it and said, “Try this!” (Brian Bill)
The mirror has a way of telling us the truth about ourselves, doesn’t it? Sometimes, it’s truth we don’t want to see or know. Today, one more time before we get to the good news of the gospel, Paul holds up the mirror to mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, for the purpose of every person seeing the stark truth about himself/herself.
A contemporary theological issue in Judaism, at the time of Paul’s writing, was the theme of the righteousness of God. What did it mean to say that God was “righteous”? Jews understood God’s righteousness in terms of His faithfulness to them, faithfulness to the covenant He’d made with them to bless them, to be their God as they were His people. We sing a chorus from Psalm 36:
“Your love, o Lord, reaches to the Heavens; Your faithfulness stretches to the sky. Your righteousness is like a mighty mountain; Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide”. God, the Jews would say, demonstrated His righteousness through His faithfulness to them, that He was just and loving in doing that. And so the Jews assumed that God would always be on their side, but then came a series of blows that fell upon Israel, being besieged and carried into exile by foreign powers, eventually annexed by the Romans as part of their Empire. So…what was God doing? Why would He allow these things to happen if He were a faithful/righteous God? Sometimes, we ask similar questions, don’t we? Most of the theological issues of Paul’s day boiled down to this question: what do we mean when we say that God is “righteous”? One popular viewpoint was that God’s righteousness involved the chastening of Israel, for their own cleansing and discipline, but that in the end, He’d hold them immune from final judgment.
But another viewpoint was that God’s righteousness is to be found in His faithfulness, not so much to Israel or to any group of human beings, but to Himself, to the glory of His name. Yes, God would uphold the promises He’d made to Israel—but note Deuteronomy 28:1-6:
28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
And Deuteronomy 28:15-19:
15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
God will be faithful to His promises (“let God be true, and every man a liar”), but God promises severe cursing to those Jews who do not obey Him. Being entrusted with God’s Word does not make Israel immune to God’s judgment, because that very Word promises judgment on sin!