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January 19, 2020

Sermon Romans 3:23  . . .“Paul said:  ‘For all have sinned’”

“Paul said:  ‘For all have sinned’”

Romans 3:23

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was early in July of 1741, in Enfield, Connecticut, and a pastor by the name of Jonathan Edwards stepped into the pulpit to preach.

He wasn’t supposed to preach that day.  He was simply filling in for someone else.  His text came from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 32:  “Their foot shall slide in due time.”  His title was:  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Now to be fair, he had already preached that sermon at his home church in Northampton, and nothing unusual happened there.  But something unusual did happen at Enfield.  For just as soon as he began to preach, a hush fell across the crowd.

This is what he said:  “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.  His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.  He is of purer eyes than to bear you in His sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in His eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours...O sinner!  Consider the fearful danger you are in!  It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath that you are held over in the hand of that God whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against all those in hell.  You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of Divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it and burn it asunder.”

Later, one who was there wrote, “There was a great moaning and crying out throughout ye whole House.”  And he said, the shrieking and crying became so loud, Pastor Edwards couldn’t even finish his sermon.

The apostle Paul had something to say about sin.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1197.  Romans chapter 3, starting at verse 21:  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It’s been said that the book of Romans is Paul’s “magnum opus,” his greatest work.  Others have called it, “the cathedral of the Christian faith,” and “the most profound book in existence.”

As one author wrote:  “You will do well to come back again and again to this well and drink deeply.”  

And it’s easy to understand why, for it’s here that we find words like these:  “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” and “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

No wonder Luther wrote:  “This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament and the very gospel...It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with, the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”

So it is here in the words of Romans chapter 3.

Now if I could say, these words are not words we like to hear.  In fact, they’re the hardest words we could ever hear.

Look at verse 10:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  And verse 19:  “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Back in the late 1980s, an American psychiatrist named Karl Menninger wrote a book he called, Whatever Became of Sin?  And in that book he tells of a stern-faced, plainly dressed man who stood on a street corner in the busy Chicago loop.  And as pedestrians hurried on their way to lunch or business, he solemnly lifted his right arm and, pointing to the person nearest to him, intoned loudly the single word, “GUILTY!”  

Menninger said, “The effect of this strange, accusatory pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary, almost eerie.  They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again, then hurriedly continue on their ways.

“The word ‘sin,’” he said, “which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word.  It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word.  It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and life style.  But the word went away.  It has almost disappeared--the word, along with the notion.  Why?  Doesn’t anyone sin anymore?  Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”

Those are good questions.  It seems we don’t talk about sin anymore.  And instead of using words like “sin” and “repentance” and “redemption,” we talk about self-help, self-esteem, and self-love.

Some Christian churches have even been known to say, “Sin isn’t one of our issues,” and “Loving ourselves is the heart of living.”

As one commentator wrote:  “The Christian ethic is collapsing in America!  There is no longer an absolute standard of right and wrong.”

Think, on the other hand, of what the Bible says.  Isaiah wrote:  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sin sweeps us away.”  I John chapter 1:  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  And Paul wrote to the Galatians:  “The acts of the flesh are obvious...I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Man calls it an accident; God calls it an abomination.  Man calls it a blunder; God calls it blindness.  Man calls it an error; God calls it an enmity.  Man calls it a fascination; God calls it a fatality; Man calls it a luxury; God calls it a leprosy.  Man calls it a mistake; God calls it madness.  Man calls it a trifle; God calls it a tragedy.

Imagine for a moment that a friend invites you over after church for a Sunday dinner.  You stop at their house, and knock on their door.  And as they let you in, they invite you into their kitchen to help prepare the meal.

On the counter you see several mounds of chopped onions, green peppers, ham, and sliced mushrooms.  Nearby is a bowl of grated cheese.  Then they reach into the refrigerator for the eggs.

But to their shock, they discover they only have six eggs, and one of them is rotten.  And since there isn’t enough time to go out and pick up some fresh eggs, they say to themselves, “I’ll just mix in the rotten one with the good ones and hope he can’t tell the difference.”

A few minutes later, when your friend serves the omelettes, you start sniffing the air.  “What’s that funny smell?” you ask.

“Don’t worry about it,” they say.  “I just mixed it in one rotten egg with all the rest.”

Would you eat the omelette?  Probably not.  And neither will God accept your life when you mix in your sin with your good works.

Or suppose that American Express offered a $1 million prize to anyone who can swim nonstop to Hawaii.  And on the appointed day, six carefully-screened swimmers line up on the beach at San Diego.  At the crack of a gun, the six contestants plunge into the surf, heading for the sunny beaches of Honolulu.  Before long, all six are out of sight.

Six hours later, the first contestant is forced to quit because of cramps in his side.  Four more hours, and a second swimmer stops because of sheer exhaustion.  The other four plow on ahead.

Twelve hours pass, then fifteen, then eighteen.  At the twenty hour mark, three others finally give up.

Meanwhile, one determined swimmer swims on.  But eventually, he too has to quit, but only after an amazing forty-eight hours in the water.

Will he win the million dollars?  No, he won’t, because he didn’t swim to Hawaii.  The prize wasn’t offered to the one who swam the farthest or the fastest, but only to the one who made it all the way.  Even though all six swimmers swam valiantly, and some did better than others, all of them failed miserably, so no one won the prize.

It’s the same way when it comes to keeping the law of God.  While some might do it better than others, all ultimately fail because no one ever keeps it perfectly.  And since God demands nothing less than perfection, no one can be saved by keeping the law.

Have you ever heard of a man named Edwin Cooper?  Probably not, because no one knew his real name.  Coming from a family of circus clowns, Cooper began to perform for audiences when he was only nine years old.  And after a stint with Barnum and Bailey, he soon became a fixture on 1950s TV as “Bozo the Clown.”

And not only did he entertain both young and old for many years, he had a message for his “buddies and partners” every week--get checked for cancer.  The only problem was, he was so busy working that he never bothered to follow his own advice.  And by the time his cancer was discovered, it was too late.  He died at the age of forty-one from a disease he had warned so many others to watch out for.

Sin is far more deadly than any aggressive and fast-growing cancer.  It kills and destroys everything it touches.  And from the Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden till this very moment, it breaks in, steals, kills, and destroys.

As Paul wrote to the Romans:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But, all thanks be to God, Paul’s words don’t end there, for he goes on to say in verse 24:  “And are justified, ‘just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,’ by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

As he also wrote to the Corinthians:  “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

 

Though Your righteous law condemns us, dear Father, the good news of Your life-saving gospel makes us right again.  Help us to always rest in Your truth and promises, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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