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: