Justice and Mercy
Sin, atonement, justification, mercy, grace, justice
Do you ever wonder why we call Good Friday “good”? Certainly what took place on that day was the greatest miscarriage of justice on the face of the earth. The Son of God was rejected and crucified. The world’s finest man was executed. The Savior was killed by the very ones He came to save.
ood Friday is called good because what happened on the Friday of the week that started with the Triumphal Entry was the greatest act of love, mercy, grace, and yes, even justice, the world has ever known. Justice and mercy were both illustrated and satisfied at the cross of Christ.
This evening I take you to Paul’s explanation of what happened on Good Friday. He doesn’t describe the chronology of the day (he doesn’t tell us about events). He describes for us what was happening supernaturally on that dark afternoon. It was a day that changed our lives.
Let’s read the text. There is so much here that I will read this slowly. Very slowly.
21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
The first thing we are told is that “God has shown us a way to be right with Him without us keeping the righteous requirements of the law . . . The average person may hear this and say, “What? Is this some kind of a shortcut? Is it a bypass for doing good things?” No, this is not an alternate way of salvation. It is the only possible way of salvation. None of us is able to keep the righteous requirements of the Law. The first 2 ½ chapters of Romans argues this fact powerfully. We are sinful people who need someone to rescue us because we cannot save ourselves.
Even people who believe that Jesus came to save us, still seem to think that they will go to Heaven because they are good people; They are better than most folks. After all, they attend church. Perhaps they feel they are smarter than some people because they have embraced Christ.
However, this is like saying I think I am going to pass my math class because I am not flunking as badly as the majority of people! While it may be true that some people have a much lower grade than you do, the fact is that your grade is still nowhere near a passing grade.
In theological terms Luther said we need an “alien righteousness”. In other words, we need to obtain right standing before God from somewhere outside of us.
This is not a new concept. Throughout the Old Testament this idea of an “alien righteousness” was acted out each time there was an animal sacrifice. An animal without blemish was offered as a payment for the sin of the individual who was offering the sacrifice. Throughout the Old Testament there was a promise that someday the sacrificial system would no longer be necessary. That day came when Jesus died in our place.
Jesus Became our Substitute
When Jesus died on the cross He died as the divine “Lamb of God”. He was the Lamb without blemish that was offered by God on our behalf. Jesus was without sin. This made Him uniquely able to give his life for us.
Because the Son is God, His life possesses infinite value. His perfect life as the Son of God was traded as payment for our sin. His life was of sufficient value to pay for the sin of any human being who would be saved. No more animal sacrifices are necessary.
The animal sacrifices and offerings were a way of making “this month’s payment” on the sin debt. It did not wipe out the debt, it just bought more time. The death of Jesus cancelled the debt entirely. Our sin debt is erased. It is marked, “Paid in Full”.
In this one acts God Extended Justice and Mercy
This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (25-26)
When Jesus went to the cross on our behalf two things happened. Two problems were solved. The Lord of all creation wanted to save us. However, because of His nature He also had to punish sin. So at the cross, God shows Himself to be Just (in punishing sin), but also the Justifier (the one who declares believers to be right in His sight).
First, God showed that He was just. Sin cannot simply be swept under the rug. It is an offense that must be addressed. Sin is not some “little deal” that we can just push to the side for something greater. We are rebelling against a Holy Go! He does not compromise with sin. . . at all! He is not a capricious Judge. He is a Just Judge that punishes wrong and acquits the innocent. In other words, Sin MUST be dealt with.
We understand this as parents (I hope). There are some things as parents you can “just let slide”, however, when a child deliberately challenges your authority as a parent, that is a battle you MUST win. Dr. James Dobson used to say, when your child challenges your authority they are asking for a fight . . . and you ought not to disappoint them!
The reason you have to deal with this rebellion is because if you give in on a challenge to your authority, you will soon have no control over your child at all. This will impact your ability to guide and protect your child.
When we sin we rebel against God’s authority. Every time we sin we take a step toward anarchy. This sin HAS to be dealt with. At the cross the justice of God was satisfied. The books were balanced. The audit was complete. Every sin of those who would believe was paid in full. Justice was accomplished.
But in the cross we also see mercy. We see God providing a way for unrighteous people to be made righteous. He does not give us what we deserve . . . He spared us from what we deserve.
- Justice is getting what you deserve (jail for crime; reward for contribution)
- Injustice is being deprived what you deserve (not given money you earned)
- Mercy is being spared what you deserve
We were declared righteous through faith in Christ. R.C., Sproul explains it this way,
“In justification God makes a legal declaration, what we call a forensic declaration. We see in television programs such as CSI and NCIS that there are people who gather what is called forensic evidence, which is used at trials in criminal cases. Forensics has to do with judicial judgment or declaration. (It is irrefutable evidence). The New Testament shows us that in the act of justification God makes a judicial declaration about a person’s status before he makes his judgment. Again, what happens in justification is not a pardon; it is an act whereby God declares a person to be just. Justification is that act by which God judicially declares a person to be righteous in his sight.” R. C. Sproul. “Romans.” P. 153
it is important to understand this. We are not just excused from our sentence for sin, we are declared to be right with God.
Richard Nixon will forever be known as the President who had to resign from office. He was pardoned for his involvement in the Watergate Coverup by President Gerald Ford. Ford pardoned Nixon to spare the country the scars from a trial of a President. The pardon set Nixon free from conviction. However, he was still viewed as guilty. The stain of his crime was still on him.
What happened to Richard Nixon is not what has happened to the followers of Christ. We were not pardoned and remain guilty. The Lord Himself pronounces us innocent, clean and unstained because of Jesus! This is such wonderful news that it is hard for us to grasp it. We know that we don’t deserve this declaration and yet we are made right with God.
There is a sense in which when Christ died on the cross He took our sin upon Himself and He gave us His righteousness (His right standing with God). Now when God looks at us He does not see our sin . . . He sees the perfection of Christ. Astounding to be sure!
How Do We Appropriate this Gift?
Most people know that we receive the gift of God through faith. But we must take our time and understand what we mean by this. It does not mean that we “muster up faith” and then are given salvation. That would make faith just another work that we do to earn salvation. The faith the Bible talks about is taking God at His word. It is believing that the work of Christ on the cross was sufficient as payment for the sin that was committed by us and the sin that is in our nature.
Faith is abandoning all hope of saving ourselves and placing all our hope in the work of Christ. I think of it as “betting your life on Jesus”. Faith holds to the truth that God is in control even when the world seems to fall apart. Faith believes the promise of God of forgiveness even when we don’t feel very forgiven. Faith believes the promise that we will live even though we die, in spite of the fact that we know we do not deserve this blessing.
Every time we come to the communion table we should reaffirm this faith. Every time we see a cross we should remind ourselves that because of what Jesus did there we are free from the penalty of sin and we are delivered from the control of sin. In other words, we don’t have to travel that road any longer.
Every time we look in a mirror and see our imperfections and failures, we need to journey back to the cross and remember that this is where God declared us innocent not because of our goodness, but because of His grace. We remember that we are part of God’s family because of Jesus.
The Result of These Truths
If we understand the message of Good Friday and the message of the gospel certain things should happen.
The first result of all of this should be gratitude. We should live our lives with a constant state of gratitude. Yet, that is not usually what we do. We for some reason feel deprived, cheated, and as if we deserve more than what we currently experience. Those feelings reveal that we have forgotten why we are not consumed by God’s wrath. We have forgotten that every breath is a gift of grace and mercy. We are entitled to NOTHING but the wrath of God. We have been given life abundant and eternal because of the grace of God. Every single breath we breathe is a gift.
Second, we should be humble. The Christian faith, rightly understood should make us humble. We are not here because we are good. We are here because God is gracious. As a result, we should view others the same way. The idea of one person feeling superior to others should not exist in the Kingdom of God. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all broken. We must not “rank” each other.
By the same token, we as a body, should be quick to welcome all people because we have been welcomed. We should be willing to extend second chances because we have been granted them continually. We should believe that people can change because hopefully we are seeing a genuine change in us.
Third, we should be witnesses. The message of the cross (followed by the resurrection) is the best thing that ever happened to us. We should be eager to share this news with others. We do this in many other areas of our lives:
- We dress in the colors of our favorite team.
- We put up signs or share posts and emails that promote our favorite candidate.
- We display all kinds of pictures of our children, car, vacation etc. on Facebook.
- We tell people of our new job or promotion.
- We brag about our children
We have no trouble being witnesses to these things. It makes you wonder why we aren’t as enthusiastic about the things of God. Is it because we don’t get it? Is it because we are afraid of the potential hostility of those who do not want to hear? Or is it because we don’t appreciate just how much we have been given in Christ? Do we value all these other things above what we have been given in Christ???
This is the ONE way of salvation. People who do not turn to Jesus will not be in Heaven. That may be unpopular to say but it is definitely the message of the Bible. We have a greater obligation to tell people the gospel than we do to lobby their support for anything else.
Isn’t it something how we can campaign and get worked up over all kinds of things yet, we seem to find so little motivation to lead people to forgiveness and new life in Christ?
Fourth, we should be worshippers. Worship should not be a chore . . . it should be the natural outgrowth of what God has done for us. We should love to sing his praises. We should relish the opportunity to talk with Him. We should relish the opportunity to learn and grow in our relationship with Christ. It should thrill us to gather with others to adore our Lord and King
If someone saved your life you would be eager to see them every chance you had to do so. If someone impacted you greatly with their music, their writing, or their example you wouldn’t hesitate to spend time with them. You would be eager to do so. You would want to soak up every minute.
Finally, we should enthusiastically pursue the path He has laid out for us. If we understand what Jesus has done for us, there should be no doubt that He loves us. We should entrust ourselves to Him wholeheartedly. Practically, it means we will follow Him by obeying His commands. We will gladly spend time with Him in prayer and Bible Study. We will want to honor Him with our speech, our work ethic, and our values.
If we understand who He is and what He has done for us we will pursue Him with every ounce of strength that we have. We will respond to trials with faith. We will respond to those who hurt us with forgiveness. We will respond to antagonists with grace and kindness. We will embrace the broken and warn the rebellious. We will stand on the truth. He will have our highest priority in time and resources. As a result, we will stand out in the world. Everyone who knows us and sees us will see that we belong to Jesus.
Good Friday is good because it commemorates an act of extreme love that saved us. Today we remember, affirm, and even celebrate the One who paid for our sin with His own life.
Are we sober? Yes, we are. We are sobered by the fact that our sin was so terrible that this sacrifice was necessary. We are saddened that our Savior had to endure such penalty because of us.
At the same time, we rejoice. We celebrate the fact that we are loved, forgiven, and made new. The tragedy of the cross has become our greatest point of blessing to date. So weep, laugh, dance, let yourself feel the deep emotion of the life-changing nature of what has happened here.
The only sinful emotion today is that of indifference. The Lord has reached out in a bold and staggering manner. That fact should not only impact us, it should change the way we live and the way we die.