God's Righteousness

Text: Romans 3:19-28
Date: Reformation Day (Observed) + 10/27/13

Blessed is the King, the King who comes in the name of the Lord. No, not Martin Luther King, Jr. And not even Martin Luther. But the King “after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110), Jesus, “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6-10), “by translation of his name, king of righteousness” (Heb 7:2). Jesus is the King. Jesus is God’s Righteousness. Jesus is your righteousness.

Melchizedek. This king of Salem (the old name of Jerusalem) and priest of the Most High God met Abraham and blessed him (Gen 14). The Book of Hebrews states of this mysterious king/priest Melchizedek, “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb 7:2). He was not the Son of God Himself nor an angel but only a mysterious type of the Savior to come. Like Melchizedek, therefore, the Son of God has neither beginning of days nor end, the King and a priest forever. He is God Himself “of one substance with the Father,” “begotten of His Father before all worlds,” “begotten,” that is, “not made,” not created, for “all things were made,” were created through Him.

Like Melchizedek the incarnate Word came into the world as the “Beautiful Savior, King of creation.” So He was welcomed into the old Jerusalem on that first day of the great and holy week, “Blessed is the King.” Like Melchizedek, after His priestly offering of Himself that Good Friday, the sacrifice of His own body and blood on the cross, His verdict announced the truth that this is “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” As the ancient Law of God from the beginning said, “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev 17:10-11), so, as St. John reminds us, it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses from sin and makes atonement for our souls.

So says St. Paul in today’s Epistle. How is God’s righteousness shown to us to become our own today? “Through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Believe what? That God justifies believers “by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:24-25).

By the time Martin Luther came on the scene the deception of the old evil foe had seemingly already for a long time set the theological cart before the theological horse so that the Church was teaching backwards and the spiritual blindness was as dark as the day Christ was crucified. Luther tells us, “the righteousness of God…was customarily explained to mean that the righteousness of God is a virtue by which He is Himself righteous and [therefore] condemns sinners…. The righteousness of God…is the wrath of God.” So Luther believed at the time asking “who could love a God who was angry, who [only] judged and condemned people?”

How many folks today think of God in this way, as only some heavenly parent or authority keeping lists of who’s naughty and nice and doling out punishment if you get caught? No wonder many do not seek God or want anything to do with Him!

It was not until, as Luther said, he was “enlightened by the Holy Spirit, [that] I finally examined more carefully the word of Habakkuk: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ From this passage I concluded that life must be derived from faith… Then the entire Holy Scripture became clear to me, and heaven itself was opened to me. Now we see this brilliant light very clearly, and we are privileged to enjoy it abundantly.”[1]

So with us. It is not until we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that we discover the way of faith. The righteousness of God is that He declares us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. By this faith the sinner is drawn to truly repent of sin. By this faith the penitent sinner who cries for mercy is heard in mercy. By this faith the penitent sinner is declared righteous by God for the sake of the merit of Christ’s blood. He seals that blessed verdict in the washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit by Holy Baptism and sustains us by the Holy Communion in Christ’s blood.

Now we celebrate Reformation Day not just once but every year, just as we gather in repentance and faith to receive the forgiveness of sins not just once but every Sunday. This is because for now, while we are still in this world of sin, we are, as Luther coined the phrase, simil justus et peccator, that is, “simil,” at once and the same time, “justus,” justified, “et peccator,” and sinner. Saint and sinner at the same time until we are completely delivered from this body of death from this dying world. It seems that this was the issue over which there was to be no reconciliation between the pope’s Rome and Luther’s Gospel.

The difference was not and is not so much on the definition of faith but on the role of good works. Under the definition of “Protestantism” and “’justification by faith’ in practice,” the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia criticizes this, which we call the central doctrine of the scriptures upon which the Church stands or falls in the following words.

[A]s it evades coercion, lends itself to practical application at every step in man’s life, and favours man’s inclination to evil by rendering a so-called “conversion” ludicrously easy, its baneful influence on morals is manifest. Add to justification by faith alone the doctrines of predestination to heaven or hell regardless of man’s actions, and the slavery of the human will, and it seems inconceivable that any good action at all could result from such beliefs.[2]

Attempts have been made, of course, to reconcile and some pastors, both Lutheran and Protestant, have given up their evangelical confession and returned to Rome. In four years, God willing, the world will celebrate with us the 500th anniversary of the Reformation of 1517. Though we are always willing to sit down and discuss Biblical theology, after such a long time it would seem we are no closer to resolving our disagreements even in the face of the most extreme ecumenical activities.

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. That Church exists and we say we are part of it. We say that because we believe in God’s Righteousness, Jesus Christ as taught in the Holy Scriptures. We admit and confess that we may privately and occasionally hold to some mistaken ideas or points of doctrine, though not on an official, confessional level. Therefore we also admit that there are Christian brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus Christ as taught in the Holy Scriptures in other Christian denominations in spite of official doctrinal error since saving faith is the creation and gift of God the Holy Spirit alone through the Word.

I thank God for our many laymen who are taking seriously these days and studying our Lutheran Confessions as the way of keeping our faith centered in the pure doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, the doctrine that draws us constantly to Jesus Christ and His blood and thereby to God’s declaration that you are forgiven, justified, righteous in His sight for the sake of Christ our Lord, our Beautiful Savior and our eternal King.

[1] Plass. Ewld M., comp. What Luther Says. St. Louis: Concordia, 1959, cited in The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1909.