WEDNESDAY AFTER FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Here Paul summarizes what he said in previous chapters. He had a dispute with all those who consider themselves righteous. There isn't a righteous person on earth. There is not one man who can endure in the face of God. No one has loved God above all else and his neighbor as himself. Even if mankind hadn't committed all the sins mentioned in the psalm Paul quotes, the whole world is in debt to God. "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20). Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. If we take that seriously, every mouth would be closed and no one would dare say they don't need forgiveness and redemption.
Then God speaks. Now there's room for the Gospel. In the Gospel something new is revealed: the righteousness that comes from God through Jesus Christ. God commissioned Him to be a means of reconciliation. There is redemption through Him. He bears all the evil in us. He carries the burden of our sins. He suffered the consequences of our desertion. He died on the cross, alone and abandoned. We all must suffer when confronted by God. Because of our sin, selfishness, and hostility toward God, He has suffered. That's how God showed His righteousness. He cannot be associated with evil. He will not be compromised by it. When He is confronted with it, it must be consumed. However, the consuming fire of His zeal wasn't aimed at us, but at the Son. God Himself took the responsibility for our wickedness. In this way He shows us that He is both righteous and wants us to be righteous, through faith in Jesus Christ. He makes no distinctions. We're all sinners. We all crucified Jesus. He died for us all. And all of us can receive complete forgiveness when we come to Him and believe in Him.
Lord and Savior, we come to You filled with shame and sorrow over the fact that You had to die to save us. We also come to You filled with gratitude and happiness over the fact that You wanted to do it for our sake. We stand before You with a debt we can never repay. Then You liberate us from that debt and allow us to stand side by side with You, liberated and joyous, as if we never broke one of God's Commandments, and as if there wasn't an ounce of selfishness or wickedness left in us. We thank You for having called us and allowed us to take part of Your Gospel and Your righteousness that we may be counted as Your own, Your called and holy ones. Praise be to You for Your love, Your cross, Your death, and Your kingdom! Amen.
TUESDAY AFTER FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
What is the Gospel?
Paul answers this question in his Letter to the Romans. He writes to the church in Rome sometime around AD 57, probably when he was in Corinth. As he is unknown to the recipients, he presents himself and the Gospel God has commanded him to preach everywhere among all Gentiles, even in Rome.
He says the Gospel is "the power of God for salvation." It's about God's Son, but it is more than just a doctrine. The Gospel is a force; God's intervention on earth, which leads to something we all need but cannot otherwise attain—righteousness from God. It was clear to the Jews, and to all religious people, that righteousness is something we must attain ourselves. Our conscience tells us that God knows what's right and that it's dangerous to go against God. The conclusion we form is obvious: To have the correct kind of relationship with God, we have to live the right kind of life because God loves all good people.
This is essentially correct. Paul emphasizes on several occasions that God rewards everyone according to his or her actions. Each person who does good will receive glory, honor, and peace. The only problem is that there is no good person, no one who has done everything God rightfully demands of us. All mankind is in debt to God. We all may know there is a God, simply because He's everywhere in creation. If people had nurtured that, and their conscience, as Paul talks about in the next chapter, they would've known God. However, they thought they were wise and didn't bother to thank and praise God. Their thoughts of God are a travesty. They really only believe in themselves.
It's in this world and among these people that God intervenes with His Gospel. The Gospel makes it possible for us to achieve the right kind of relationship with God, despite everything else. The Gospel is God's power for salvation. In the Gospel, the righteousness we cannot achieve is manifested as a gift from heaven. You can only achieve righteousness in one way: through faith in Jesus Christ. The whole secret of redemption is behind those words.
We thank You Lord, for Your Gospel. We thank You for acquainting us with it as children. We ask for help in understanding it and receiving it as a vibrant force and redeeming power that makes everything new. We pray for those who don't know Your Gospel and for those who misunderstand it. You once sent Your apostles to establish obedience in Your faith among all nations. Send even now Your faithful servants, men who have understood Your Gospel and feel its power and can preach it with the necessary authority and power, so we all understand that this is Your Word and not human reflection. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
There was a man who had two sons.
We easily forget that the parable of the lost son is actually a parable of two sons; two different people, both of whom are created and loved by God. One was lost but returned. The other one stayed home yet was still lost.
The parable explains how one can become lost. The usual way is to demand your share so you can do with it as you please—be it your body, youth, health, money, or passion. Satisfying those desires will give you pleasure—for a while. Strangely enough, it's probably better the sooner it's over and you discover just how poor and miserable you really are. Maybe then you'll remember the Father you so thoughtlessly abandoned. In truth, the reason you remember Him is because you've always been in His thoughts. He has not forgotten you.
That's how the way home begins. You're regretful. You put yourself to shame. You've disgraced Him and caused Him great sorrow. Then you arrive, only to see that He's been waiting for you! You're greeted with joy. There's a feast and rejoicing in God's house. You can exchange your rags for the finest clothes. That's how Christ's righteousness is depicted, the righteousness He obtained that's enough for us to cover all our sins and allow them to disappear forever.
Then we have the other son. He was also lost, but in another way. He had always been at home, always behaved himself, and performed his duties well. Yet he had one fault that surfaced when his brother returned home: he had never loved his father or his brother. He was watching out for himself, waiting for the inheritance that was coming to him and what he could get his hands on now, which he felt wasn't much. This is the picture of the moralist who obeys God in an effort to stay out of trouble and is very conscious of the fact that he should be considered a man of higher rank in God's eyes. This is also a way of being lost, although it's a much more dangerous way and much harder to remedy.
Both sons were equally loved. They both made their father sad. However, one of them also made him happy. That's the way it is with us. We're all sinners. We've all made God sad. However, we can give Him and His angels the greatest of joy by repenting, confessing our sins, and asking for forgiveness. Then we will be welcomed into boundless happiness.
This is what the letter to the Romans is about, which we will begin with tomorrow.
Dear Father in heaven, You want to be our Father and love us, despite all the sorrow we cause You. We pray that You forgive us for loving Your gifts more than You and for so often receiving Your blessings without thanking You. We want to show our love for You. We thank You for giving us the chance to show that love by confessing that we are sorry that our love is so frail and that we haven't served You as we should. It's us You desire and not our gifts. May we always seek You and love You more than Your gifts. Amen.
FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
This man receives sinners and eats with them.
The fact that Jesus was keeping company with sinners was shocking! Every pious person knows that God is holy and righteous and loves everyone who follows His will. That is the reason the Jews were very particular about the company they kept. However, publicans and sinners of all kinds came to this Jesus. We can just imagine how that would look today with all kinds of dubious characters collected in one spot, all the people who are a problem to society, swindlers, tax evaders, junkies, alcoholics . . . what would people think if all of these characters started filling up the pews and showing up for Communion? Would it be so strange if people began to grumble and say: He receives sinners and eats with them? That can't be right!
However, that was exactly the point. God doesn't accept and like all the wrong things that happen on earth, but He has mercy on us all—as we all do wrong—and allows us to come to Him and escape from all the wrong in the world for awhile. That's why God calls sinners and not the righteous. God loves sinners, not because they sin, but because they are His children gone astray, in trouble, and threatened with irreparable misfortune if they can't find their way home. Just because the danger is so great, the joy will be that much greater in heaven when one of the lost finds the way back. God's angels know what it's like to abandon God and end up on the other side. They are a part of the tension in the events taking place on earth, so there is exultation and rejoicing when Jesus prevails and one of the lost ones returns.
However, the self-righteous, those who think they don't need improvement, don't make anyone happy, at least not anyone in heaven. Publicans and sinners understand that they can't be completely perfect all the time if what God says is true. One who really believes he's righteous also believes that God can't find any fault in him. He believes he will be accepted into heaven because he is who he is. This is what makes the self-righteous so hopeless.
Lord, is it possible that I could create happiness in heaven? I certainly know how much sorrow I have caused You with all my ungratefulness, unwillingness, tardiness, and cowardice. You have said, Lord Jesus, that You would be ashamed in the presence of heaven's angels if someone would deny You and not profess Your name in the presence of men. I have done just that so many times, in deed and through silence! Could there be joy in Your presence because I regret my actions and am ashamed, yet dare come to You because I have no one else to go to? I'm coming, Lord Jesus. I dare come to You because You call sinners and receive them. Praise be to You, Friend of publicans and sinners! Amen.