49. Ezra 1–6, Psalm 137, Haggai 1-2, Zechariah 1–14 (Cyrus, Promised return from exile, Darius)
A Chronological Daily Bible Study of the Old Testament
7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Discussion Questions, and a Practical Daily Application
Sunday (Ezra 1-6)
The Decree of Cyrus
1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:
1:2 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:
“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 1:3 Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 1:4 Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’”
The Exiles Prepare to Return to Jerusalem
1:5 Then the leaders of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and the Levites – all those whose mind God had stirred – got ready to go up in order to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. 1:6 All their neighbors assisted them with silver utensils, gold, equipment, animals, and expensive gifts, not to mention all the voluntary offerings.
1:7 Then King Cyrus brought out the vessels of the Lord’s temple which Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem and had displayed in the temple of his gods. 1:8 King Cyrus of Persia entrusted them to Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the leader of the Judahite exiles.
1:9 The inventory of these items was as follows:
30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 silver utensils,
1:10 30 gold bowls, 410 other silver bowls, and 1,000 other vessels.
1:11 All these gold and silver vessels totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all along when the captives were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
2:1 The Names of the Returning Exiles
These are the people of the province who were going up, from the captives of the exile whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile in Babylon. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own city. 2:2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.
The number of Israelites was as follows:
2:3 the descendants of Parosh: 2,172;
2:4 the descendants of Shephatiah: 372;
2:5 the descendants of Arah: 775;
2:6 the descendants of Pahath-Moab (from the line of Jeshua and Joab): 2,812;
2:7 the descendants of Elam: 1,254;
2:8 the descendants of Zattu: 945;
2:9 the descendants of Zaccai: 760;
2:10 the descendants of Bani: 642;
2:11 the descendants of Bebai: 623;
2:12 the descendants of Azgad: 1,222;
2:13 the descendants of Adonikam: 666;
2:14 the descendants of Bigvai: 2,056;
2:15 the descendants of Adin: 454;
2:16 the descendants of Ater (through Hezekiah): 98;
2:17 the descendants of Bezai: 323;
2:18 the descendants of Jorah: 112;
2:19 the descendants of Hashum: 223;
2:20 the descendants of Gibbar: 95.
2:21 The men of Bethlehem: 123;
2:22 the men of Netophah: 56;
2:23 the men of Anathoth: 128;
2:24 the men of the family of Azmaveth: 42;
2:25 the men of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah and Beeroth: 743;
2:26 the men of Ramah and Geba: 621;
2:27 the men of Micmash: 122;
2:28 the men of Bethel and Ai: 223;
2:29 the descendants of Nebo: 52;
2:30 the descendants of Magbish: 156;
2:31 the descendants of the other Elam: 1,254;
2:32 the descendants of Harim: 320;
2:33 the men of Lod, Hadid, and Ono: 725;
2:34 the men of Jericho: 345;
2:35 the descendants of Senaah: 3,630.
2:36 The priests: the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua): 973;
2:37 the descendants of Immer: 1,052;
2:38 the descendants of Pashhur: 1,247;
2:39 the descendants of Harim: 1,017.
2:40 The Levites: the descendants of Jeshua and Kadmiel (through the line of Hodaviah): 74.
2:41 The singers: the descendants of Asaph: 128.
2:42 The gatekeepers: the descendants of Shallum, the descendants of Ater, the descendants of Talmon, the descendants of Akkub, the descendants of Hatita, and the descendants of Shobai: 139.
2:43 The temple servants: the descendants of Ziha, the descendants of Hasupha, the descendants of Tabbaoth, 2:44 the descendants of Keros, the descendants of Siaha, the descendants of Padon, 2:45 the descendants of Lebanah, the descendants of Hagabah, the descendants of Akkub, 2:46 the descendants of Hagab, the descendants of Shalmai, the descendants of Hanan, 2:47 the descendants of Giddel, the descendants of Gahar, the descendants of Reaiah, 2:48 the descendants of Rezin, the descendants of Nekoda, the descendants of Gazzam, 2:49 the descendants of Uzzah, the descendants of Paseah, the descendants of Besai, 2:50 the descendants of Asnah, the descendants of Meunim, the descendants of Nephussim, 2:51 the descendants of Bakbuk, the descendants of Hakupha, the descendants of Harhur, 2:52 the descendants of Bazluth, the descendants of Mehida, the descendants of Harsha, 2:53 the descendants of Barkos, the descendants of Sisera, the descendants of Temah, 2:54 the descendants of Neziah, and the descendants of Hatipha.
2:55 The descendants of the servants of Solomon: the descendants of Sotai, the descendants of Hassophereth, the descendants of Peruda, 2:56 the descendants of Jaala, the descendants of Darkon, the descendants of Giddel, 2:57 the descendants of Shephatiah, the descendants of Hattil, the descendants of Pokereth-Hazzebaim, and the descendants of Ami.
2:58 All the temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon: 392.
2:59 These are the ones that came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer (although they were unable to certify their family connection or their ancestry, as to whether they really were from Israel):
2:60 the descendants of Delaiah, the descendants of Tobiah, and the descendants of Nekoda: 652.
2:61 And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, the descendants of Hakkoz, and the descendants of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). 2:62 They searched for their records in the genealogical materials, but did not find them. They were therefore excluded from the priesthood. 2:63 The governor instructed them not to eat any of the sacred food until there was a priest who could consult the Urim and Thummim.
2:64 The entire group numbered 42,360, 2:65 not counting their male and female servants, who numbered 7,337. They also had 200 male and female singers 2:66 and 736 horses, 245 mules, 2:67 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys. 2:68 When they came to the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders offered voluntary offerings for the temple of God in order to rebuild it on its site. 2:69 As they were able, they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priestly robes.
2:70 The priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel lived in their towns.
The Altar is Rebuilt
3:1 When the seventh month arrived and the Israelites were living in their towns, the people assembled in Jerusalem. 3:2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his priestly colleagues and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his colleagues started to build the altar of the God of Israel so they could offer burnt offerings on it as required by the law of Moses the man of God. 3:3 They established the altar on its foundations, even though they were in terror of the local peoples, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and the evening offerings. 3:4 They observed the Festival of Temporary Shelters as required and offered the proper number of daily burnt offerings according to the requirement for each day. 3:5 Afterward they offered the continual burnt offerings and those for the new moons and those for all the holy assemblies of the Lord and all those that were being voluntarily offered to the Lord. 3:6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. However, the Lord’s temple was not at that time established.
Preparations for Rebuilding the Temple
3:7 So they provided money for the masons and carpenters, and food, beverages, and olive oil for the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar timber from Lebanon to the seaport at Joppa, in accord with the edict of King Cyrus of Persia. 3:8 In the second year after they had come to the temple of God in Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak initiated the work, along with the rest of their associates, the priests and the Levites, and all those who were coming to Jerusalem from the exile. They appointed the Levites who were at least twenty years old to take charge of the work on the Lord’s temple. 3:9 So Jeshua appointed both his sons and his relatives, Kadmiel and his sons (the sons of Yehudah), to take charge of the workers in the temple of God, along with the sons of Henadad, their sons, and their relatives the Levites. 3:10 When the builders established the Lord’s temple, the priests, ceremonially attired and with their clarions, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with their cymbals, stood to praise the Lord according to the instructions left by King David of Israel. 3:11 With antiphonal response they sang, praising and glorifying the Lord:
“For he is good;
his loyal love toward Israel is forever.”
All the people gave a loud shout as they praised the Lord when the temple of the Lord was established. 3:12 Many of the priests, the Levites, and the leaders – older people who had seen with their own eyes the former temple while it was still established – were weeping loudly, and many others raised their voice in a joyous shout. 3:13 People were unable to tell the difference between the sound of joyous shouting and the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people were shouting so loudly that the sound was heard a long way off.
Opposition to the Building Efforts
4:1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin learned that the former exiles were building a temple for the Lord God of Israel, 4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders and said to them, “Let us help you build, for like you we seek your God and we have been sacrificing to him from the time of King Esarhaddon of Assyria, who brought us here.” 4:3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leaders of Israel said to them, “You have no right to help us build the temple of our God. We will build it by ourselves for the Lord God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.” 4:4 Then the local people began to discourage the people of Judah and to dishearten them from building. 4:5 They were hiring advisers to oppose them, so as to frustrate their plans, throughout the time of King Cyrus of Persia until the reign of King Darius of Persia.
Official Complaints Are Lodged Against the Jews
4:6 At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus they filed an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 4:7 And during the reign of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia. This letter was first written in Aramaic but then translated.
4:8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter concerning Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows: 4:9 From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues – the judges, the rulers, the officials, the secretaries, the Erechites, the Babylonians, the people of Susa (that is, the Elamites), 4:10 and the rest of nations whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and other places in Trans-Euphrates. 4:11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent to him:)
“To King Artaxerxes, from your servants in Trans-Euphrates: 4:12 Now let the king be aware that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and odious city. They are completing its walls and repairing its foundations. 4:13 Let the king also be aware that if this city is built and its walls are completed, no more tax, custom, or toll will be paid, and the royal treasury will suffer loss. 4:14 In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king, and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage, we are sending the king this information 4:15 so that he may initiate a search of the records of his predecessors and discover in those records that this city is rebellious and injurious to both kings and provinces, producing internal revolts from long ago. It is for this very reason that this city was destroyed. 4:16 We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control of this portion of Trans-Euphrates.”
4:17 The king sent the following response:
“To Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and other parts of Trans-Euphrates: Greetings! 4:18 The letter you sent to us has been translated and read in my presence. 4:19 So I gave orders, and it was determined that this city from long ago has been engaging in insurrection against kings. It has continually engaged in rebellion and revolt. 4:20 Powerful kings have been over Jerusalem who ruled throughout the entire Trans-Euphrates and who were the beneficiaries of tribute, custom, and toll. 4:21 Now give orders that these men cease their work and that this city not be rebuilt until such time as I so instruct. 4:22 Exercise appropriate caution so that there is no negligence in this matter. Why should danger increase to the point that kings sustain damage?”
4:23 Then, as soon as the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes was read in the presence of Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their colleagues, they proceeded promptly to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped them with threat of armed force.
4:24 So the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt. It remained halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.
Tattenai Appeals to Darius
5:1 Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied concerning the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 5:2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak began to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
5:3 At that time Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and their colleagues came to them and asked, “Who gave you authority to rebuild this temple and to complete this structure?” 5:4 They also asked them, “What are the names of the men who are building this edifice?” 5:5 But God was watching over the elders of Judah, and they were not stopped until a report could be dispatched to Darius and a letter could be sent back concerning this.
5:6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and his colleagues who were the officials of Trans-Euphrates sent to King Darius. 5:7 The report they sent to him was written as follows:
“To King Darius: All greetings! 5:8 Let it be known to the king that we have gone to the province of Judah, to the temple of the great God. It is being built with large stones, and timbers are being placed in the walls. This work is being done with all diligence and is prospering in their hands. 5:9 We inquired of those elders, asking them, ‘Who gave you the authority to rebuild this temple and to complete this structure?’ 5:10 We also inquired of their names in order to inform you, so that we might write the names of the men who were their leaders. 5:11 They responded to us in the following way: ‘We are servants of the God of heaven and earth. We are rebuilding the temple which was previously built many years ago. A great king of Israel built it and completed it. 5:12 But after our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he delivered them into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and exiled the people to Babylon. 5:13 But in the first year of King Cyrus of Babylon, King Cyrus enacted a decree to rebuild this temple of God. 5:14 Even the gold and silver vessels of the temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and had brought to the palace of Babylon – even those things King Cyrus brought from the palace of Babylon and presented to a man by the name of Sheshbazzar whom he had appointed as governor. 5:15 He said to him, “Take these vessels and go deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt in its proper location.” 5:16 Then this Sheshbazzar went and laid the foundations of the temple of God in Jerusalem. From that time to the present moment it has been in the process of being rebuilt, although it is not yet finished.’
5:17 “Now if the king is so inclined, let a search be conducted in the royal archives there in Babylon in order to determine whether King Cyrus did in fact issue orders for this temple of God to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us a decision concerning this matter.”
Darius Issues a Decree
6:1 So Darius the king issued orders, and they searched in the archives of the treasury which were deposited there in Babylon. 6:2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana which is in the province of Media, and it was inscribed as follows:
“Memorandum: 6:3 In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus gave orders concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: ‘Let the temple be rebuilt as a place where sacrifices are offered. Let its foundations be set in place. Its height is to be ninety feet and its width ninety feet, 6:4 with three layers of large stones and one layer of timber. The expense is to be subsidized by the royal treasury. 6:5 Furthermore let the gold and silver vessels of the temple of God, which Nebuchadnezzar brought from the temple in Jerusalem and carried to Babylon, be returned and brought to their proper place in the temple in Jerusalem. Let them be deposited in the temple of God.’
6:6 “Now Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar Bozenai, and their colleagues, the officials of Trans-Euphrates – all of you stay far away from there! 6:7 Leave the work on this temple of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this temple of God in its proper place.
6:8 “I also hereby issue orders as to what you are to do with those elders of the Jews in order to rebuild this temple of God. From the royal treasury, from the taxes of Trans-Euphrates the complete costs are to be given to these men, so that there may be no interruption of the work. 6:9 Whatever is needed – whether oxen or rams or lambs or burnt offerings for the God of heaven or wheat or salt or wine or oil, as required by the priests who are in Jerusalem – must be given to them daily without any neglect, 6:10 so that they may be offering incense to the God of heaven and may be praying for the good fortune of the king and his family.
6:11 “I hereby give orders that if anyone changes this directive a beam is to be pulled out from his house and he is to be raised up and impaled on it, and his house is to be reduced to a rubbish heap for this indiscretion. 6:12 May God who makes his name to reside there overthrow any king or nation who reaches out to cause such change so as to destroy this temple of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have given orders. Let them be carried out with precision!”
The Temple Is Finally Dedicated
6:13 Then Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and their colleagues acted accordingly – with precision, just as Darius the king had given instructions. 6:14 The elders of the Jews continued building and prospering, while at the same time Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo continued prophesying. They built and brought it to completion by the command of the God of Israel and by the command of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 6:15 They finished this temple on the third day of the month Adar, which is the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
6:16 The people of Israel – the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles – observed the dedication of this temple of God with joy. 6:17 For the dedication of this temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and twelve male goats for the sin of all Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 6:18 They appointed the priests by their divisions and the Levites by their divisions over the worship of God at Jerusalem, in accord with the book of Moses. 6:19 The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6:20 The priests and the Levites had purified themselves, every last one, and they all were ceremonially pure. They sacrificed the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their colleagues the priests, and for themselves. 6:21 The Israelites who were returning from the exile ate it, along with all those who had joined them in separating themselves from the uncleanness of the nations of the land to seek the Lord God of Israel. 6:22 They observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with joy, for the Lord had given them joy and had changed the opinion of the king of Assyria toward them, so that he assisted them in the work on the temple of God, the God of Israel.
Lord, You decide when to revive drifted and stale believers, and when to bring spiritual awakening to the lost. May I never presume upon Your sovereign plan but rather invest myself in faithful obedience day by day, ready to celebrate Your miracles of revival and spiritual awakening when You bring them. You allow those who are Yours to choose obedience or disobedience, and those who do not know You to cooperate or to refuse to cooperate – and although You are patient Your sovereign will is always fulfilled. May I choose to be obedience and not become frustrated when others are disobedient and the lost temporarily interfere., Your temple was built because You declared that it would be so, and those who tried to resist were swept aside. May I never have a moment's doubt as to Your sovereign power to cause the continued unfolding of Your great plan.
Scripture In Perspective
King Cyrus of Persia obediently followed the prompting of the Lord God and granted permission to the Israelites to return and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
Cyrus also instructed their neighbors to provide for the Israelites the resources of food, water, transportation, animals for food and work, silver, gold, and tools.
The valuables from the former temple that Nebuchanezzar had displayed among the other artifacts of his multiple false gods were entrusted to the Israelite treasurer.
The text recorded the families of the various cities and of the Levite priest who returned home.
The Israelites started the reconstruction of the temple with an altar constructed according to the instructions of Moses. Then, despite fears of attack from the non-Israelite population, they offered many traditional sacrifices.
Zerubbabel led the reconstruction of the temple in the second year of the edict of Cyrus and the Levites celebrated with praises as described by King David.
Enemies of Judah and Benjamin, brought to Jerusalem by the Assyrians, reported that they had been sacrificing to the Lord God since their arrival and asked to assist with the construction of the temple.
Zerubbabel refused to allow them to participate and so they began to harass the project in a variety of ways, finally filing a complaint that accused the Israelites of a plan to declare independence with the new king of Persia, King Artaxerxes, who called for a halt to the construction.
Although the reconstruction of the temple had been halted during the time of the Persian king Artaxerxes the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had, at the prompting of the Lord God, motivated the Israelites to begin again once Darius had assumed the throne.
The locals challenged their authority to engage in the reconstruction and Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates petitioned Darius for the truth of the Israelite's assertion that Cyrus had granted them authority and provided the resources.
Darius discovered the record from the time of Cyrus and not only did he forbid any interference he ordered that the tax collections of the Trans-Euphrates region be used to provide for every need of those doing the reconstruction. He made the seriousness of his orders exceptionally clear, writing “I hereby give orders that if anyone changes this directive a beam is to be pulled out from his house and he is to be raised up and impaled on it, and his house is to be reduced to a rubbish heap for this indiscretion. May God who makes his name to reside there overthrow any king or nation who reaches out to cause such change so as to destroy this temple of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have given orders. Let them be carried out with precision!”
The temple was completed in the sixth year of the reign of the Persian king Darius and the Israelites celebrated with many sacrifices and joyful praise and worship, including the celebration of the Passover.
Interact with the text
The rebellious Israelites, who refused the first opportunity to enter the promised land, spent forty years wandering in the wilderness until all of the adults had died. The rebellious Israelites who were kicked out of the promised land spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity, purging all but the youngest children, before they were allowed to return. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the region worshiped many false gods and had been taught to include token worship of the Israelite God among them. They did not understand that He was the only true God. The Lord God is patient and flexible, the flow of created time seems like a big deal to mere humans but is nothing in His reality, so across the time of human kings and the span of human generations He guides His great plan of redemption.
Would the Israelites, in captivity to a Persian king who listened to the Lord God, have learned to be themselves keen to listen and obey – unlike their previous generations under Israelite kings – prone to refuse to listen or to obey? Might it have seemed very odd to the people of that region for the Israelites to be permitted to return and to rebuild their temple?
Just as when they left Egypt the host people gave to them many resources. The local inhabitants were being spiteful when they lied about the intentions of the Israelites but Artaxerses was ignoring the Lord God and was listening only to his fear of threats to his power. Since there was little to gain and considerable potential risk to Darius to allow the historically troublesome Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem it seems clear that it was the prompting of the Lord God that would have caused him to endorse, to fund, and to protect their enterprise.
When have you experienced or observed a second chance after a time in discipline? When have you experienced or observed a new leader completely ignoring the commitments of a prior leader, and for apparently selfish reasons? When have you experienced or observed the support of a faith-based work from a highly unexpected source?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you and opportunity He is providing to rebuild His temple in your life, and a task which He has assigned to you – one which includes some risk of criticism from unbelievers (perhaps even immature believers).
Today I will praise the Lord God for His prompting to rebuild his temple in my life. His expression of care and of love is exciting. His Word says that my body, perhaps my soul/spirit is the temple of His Holy Spirit. Rebuilding His temple means to cleanse myself of things that offend Him, fill myself with things that give Him joy, and taking care of my physical body supports those other activities. I will boldly obey the instructions of the Holy Spirit for the ministry to which I have been called and not fear the criticism of unbelievers (or immature believers). I will pause and give praise to the One true and sovereign God Whose great plan is being constantly worked-out and Who has chosen to include me as one small instrument in His work.
Be Specific ________________________________________________
Monday (Ezra 7-10, Psalm 137)
The Arrival of Ezra
7:1 Now after these things had happened, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra came up from Babylon. Ezra was the son of Seraiah, who was the son of Azariah, who was the son of Hilkiah, 7:2 who was the son of Shallum, who was the son of Zadok, who was the son of Ahitub, 7:3 who was the son of Amariah, who was the son of Azariah, who was the son of Meraioth, 7:4 who was the son of Zerahiah, who was the son of Uzzi, who was the son of Bukki, 7:5 who was the son of Abishua, who was the son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eleazar, who was the son of Aaron the chief priest. 7:6 This Ezra is the one who came up from Babylon. He was a scribe who was skilled in the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given. The king supplied him with everything he requested, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7:7 In the seventh year of King Artaxerxes, Ezra brought up to Jerusalem some of the Israelites and some of the priests, the Levites, the attendants, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 7:8 He entered Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 7:9 On the first day of the first month he had determined to make the ascent from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he arrived at Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 7:10 Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel.
Artaxerxes Gives Official Endorsement to Ezra’s Mission
7:11 What follows is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priestly scribe. Ezra was a scribe in matters pertaining to the commandments of the Lord and his statutes over Israel:
7:12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the perfect law of the God of heaven: 7:13 I have now issued a decree that anyone in my kingdom from the people of Israel – even the priests and Levites – who wishes to do so may go up with you to Jerusalem. 7:14 You are authorized by the king and his seven advisers to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of your God which is in your possession, 7:15 and to bring silver and gold which the king and his advisers have freely contributed to the God of Israel, who resides in Jerusalem, 7:16 along with all the silver and gold that you may collect throughout all the province of Babylon and the contributions of the people and the priests for the temple of their God which is in Jerusalem. 7:17 With this money you should be sure to purchase bulls, rams, and lambs, along with the appropriate meal offerings and libations. You should bring them to the altar of the temple of your God which is in Jerusalem. 7:18 You may do whatever seems appropriate to you and your colleagues with the rest of the silver and the gold, in keeping with the will of your God. 7:19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem the vessels that are given to you for the service of the temple of your God. 7:20 The rest of the needs for the temple of your God that you may have to supply, you may do so from the royal treasury.
7:21 “I, King Artaxerxes, hereby issue orders to all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates, that you precisely execute all that Ezra the priestly scribe of the law of the God of heaven may request of you – 7:22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of olive oil, and unlimited salt. 7:23 Everything that the God of heaven has required should be precisely done for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the empire of the king and his sons? 7:24 Furthermore, be aware of the fact that you have no authority to impose tax, tribute, or toll on any of the priests, the Levites, the musicians, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or the attendants at the temple of this God.
7:25 “Now you, Ezra, in keeping with the wisdom of your God which you possess, appoint judges and court officials who can arbitrate cases on behalf of all the people who are in Trans-Euphrates who know the laws of your God. Those who do not know this law should be taught. 7:26 Everyone who does not observe both the law of your God and the law of the king will be completely liable to the appropriate penalty, whether it is death or banishment or confiscation of property or detainment in prison.”
7:27 Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who so moved in the heart of the king to so honor the temple of the Lord which is in Jerusalem! 7:28 He has also conferred his favor on me before the king, his advisers, and all the influential leaders of the king. I gained strength as the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.
The Leaders Who Returned with Ezra
8:1 These are the leaders and those enrolled with them by genealogy who were coming up with me from Babylon during the reign of King Artaxerxes:
8:2 from the descendants of Phinehas, Gershom;
from the descendants of Ithamar, Daniel;
from the descendants of David, Hattush 8:3 the son of Shecaniah;
from the descendants of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were enrolled by genealogy 150 men;
8:4 from the descendants of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men;
8:5 from the descendants of Zattu, Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men;
8:6 from the descendants of Adin, Ebed son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men;
8:7 from the descendants of Elam, Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men;
8:8 from the descendants of Shephatiah, Zebadiah son of Michael, and with him 80 men;
8:9 from the descendants of Joab, Obadiah son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men;
8:10 from the descendants of Bani, Shelomith son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men;
8:11 from the descendants of Bebai, Zechariah son of Bebai, and with him 28 men;
8:12 from the descendants of Azgad, Johanan son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men;
8:13 from the descendants of Adonikam there were the latter ones. Their names were Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men;
8:14 from the descendants of Bigvai, Uthai, and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.
The Exiles Travel to Jerusalem
8:15 I had them assemble at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there for three days. I observed that the people and the priests were present, but I found no Levites there. 8:16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were teachers. 8:17 I sent them to Iddo, who was the leader in the place called Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his relatives, who were the temple servants in Casiphia, so they would bring us attendants for the temple of our God.
8:18 Due to the fact that the good hand of our God was on us, they brought us a skilled man, from the descendants of Mahli the son of Levi son of Israel. This man was Sherebiah, who was accompanied by his sons and brothers, 18 men, 8:19 and Hashabiah, along with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men, 8:20 and some of the temple servants that David and his officials had established for the work of the Levites – 220 of them. They were all designated by name.
8:21 I called for a fast there by the Ahava Canal, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek from him a safe journey for us, our children, and all our property. 8:22 I was embarrassed to request soldiers and horsemen from the king to protect us from the enemy along the way, because we had said to the king, “The good hand of our God is on everyone who is seeking him, but his great anger is against everyone who forsakes him.” 8:23 So we fasted and prayed to our God about this, and he answered us.
8:24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brothers, 8:25 and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the vessels intended for the temple of our God – items that the king, his advisers, his officials, and all Israel who were present had contributed. 8:26 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver vessels worth 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 8:27 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two exquisite vessels of gleaming bronze, as valuable as gold. 8:28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the Lord, just as these vessels are holy. The silver and the gold are a voluntary offering to the Lord, the God of your fathers. 8:29 Be careful with them and protect them, until you weigh them out before the leading priests and the Levites and the family leaders of Israel in Jerusalem, in the storerooms of the temple of the Lord.”
8:30 Then the priests and the Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the vessels that had been weighed out, to transport them to Jerusalem to the temple of our God.
8:31 On the twelfth day of the first month we began traveling from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from our enemy and from bandits along the way. 8:32 So we came to Jerusalem, and we stayed there for three days. 8:33 On the fourth day we weighed out the silver, the gold, and the vessels in the house of our God into the care of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest, and Eleazar son of Phinehas, who were accompanied by Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui, who were Levites. 8:34 Everything was verified by number and by weight, and the total weight was written down at that time.
8:35 The exiles who were returning from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel – twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs, along with twelve male goats as a sin offering. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord. 8:36 Then they presented the decrees of the king to the king’s satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, who gave help to the people and to the temple of God.
A Prayer of Ezra
9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the leaders approached me and said, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice detestable things similar to those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 9:2 Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has become intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this!”
9:3 When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and my robe and ripped out some of the hair from my head and beard. Then I sat down, quite devastated. 9:4 Everyone who held the words of the God of Israel in awe gathered around me because of the unfaithful acts of the people of the exile. Devastated, I continued to sit there until the evening offering.
9:5 At the time of the evening offering I got up from my self-abasement, with my tunic and robe torn, and then dropped to my knees and spread my hands to the Lord my God. 9:6 I prayed,
“O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God! For our iniquities have climbed higher than our heads, and our guilt extends to the heavens. 9:7 From the days of our fathers until this very day our guilt has been great. Because of our iniquities we, along with our kings and priests, have been delivered over by the local kings to sword, captivity, plunder, and embarrassment – right up to the present time.
9:8 “But now briefly we have received mercy from the Lord our God, in that he has left us a remnant and has given us a secure position in his holy place. Thus our God has enlightened our eyes and has given us a little relief in our time of servitude. 9:9 Although we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our servitude. He has extended kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, in that he has revived us to restore the temple of our God and to raise up its ruins and to give us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
9:10 “And now what are we able to say after this, our God? For we have forsaken your commandments 9:11 which you commanded us through your servants the prophets with these words: ‘The land that you are entering to possess is a land defiled by the impurities of the local residents! With their abominations they have filled it from one end to the other with their filthiness. 9:12 Therefore do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, and do not take their daughters in marriage for your sons. Do not ever seek their peace or welfare, so that you may be strong and may eat the good of the land and may leave it as an inheritance for your children forever.’
9:13 “Everything that has happened to us has come about because of our wicked actions and our great guilt. Even so, our God, you have exercised restraint toward our iniquities and have given us a remnant such as this. 9:14 Shall we once again break your commandments and intermarry with these abominable peoples? Would you not be so angered by us that you would wipe us out, with no survivor or remnant? 9:15 O Lord God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left as a remnant this day. Indeed, we stand before you in our guilt. However, because of this guilt no one can really stand before you.”
The People Confess Their Sins
10:1 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself to the ground before the temple of God, a very large crowd of Israelites – men, women, and children alike – gathered around him. The people wept loudly. 10:2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, from the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra:
“We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples. Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard. 10:3 Therefore let us enact a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in keeping with your counsel, my lord, and that of those who respect the commandments of our God. And let it be done according to the law. 10:4 Get up, for this matter concerns you. We are with you, so be strong and act decisively!”
10:5 So Ezra got up and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath to carry out this plan. And they all took a solemn oath. 10:6 Then Ezra got up from in front of the temple of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he stayed there, he did not eat food or drink water, for he was in mourning over the infidelity of the exiles.
10:7 A proclamation was circulated throughout Judah and Jerusalem that all the exiles were to be assembled in Jerusalem. 10:8 Everyone who did not come within three days would thereby forfeit all his property, in keeping with the counsel of the officials and the elders. Furthermore, he himself would be excluded from the assembly of the exiles.
10:9 All the men of Judah and Benjamin were gathered in Jerusalem within the three days. (It was in the ninth month, on the twentieth day of that month.) All the people sat in the square at the temple of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the rains.
10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have behaved in an unfaithful manner by taking foreign wives! This has contributed to the guilt of Israel. 10:11 Now give praise to the Lord God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the local residents and from these foreign wives.”
10:12 All the assembly replied in a loud voice: “We will do just as you have said! 10:13 However, the people are numerous and it is the rainy season. We are unable to stand here outside. Furthermore, this business cannot be resolved in a day or two, for we have sinned greatly in this matter. 10:14 Let our leaders take steps on behalf of all the assembly. Let all those in our towns who have married foreign women come at an appointed time, and with them the elders of each town and its judges, until the hot anger of our God is turned away from us in this matter.”
10:15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were against this, assisted by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite. 10:16 So the exiles proceeded accordingly. Ezra the priest separated out by name men who were leaders in their family groups. They sat down to consider this matter on the first day of the tenth month, 10:17 and on the first day of the first month they finished considering all the men who had married foreign wives.
Those Who Had Taken Foreign Wives
10:18 It was determined that from the descendants of the priests, the following had taken foreign wives: from the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. 10:19 (They gave their word to send away their wives; their guilt offering was a ram from the flock for their guilt.)
10:20 From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah.
10:21 From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah.
10:22 From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
10:23 From the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also known as Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
10:24 From the singers: Eliashib. From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
10:25 From the Israelites: from the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah, and Benaiah.
10:26 From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah.
10:27 From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza.
10:28 From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.
10:29 From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth.
10:30 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh.
10:31 From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 10:32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.
10:33 From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.
10:34 From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 10:35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, 10:36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 10:37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu.
10:38 From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, 10:39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 10:40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 10:41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 10:42 Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.
10:43 From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.
10:44 All these had taken foreign wives, and some of them also had children by these women.
137:1 By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.
137:2 On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,
137:3 for there our captors ask us to compose songs; those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying:
“Sing for us a song about Zion!”
137:4 How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?
137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!
137:6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.
137:7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
They said, “Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!”
137:8 O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!
137:9 How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!
Lord, You bring blessing to the hopeless and the powerless as mercy is one of Your many attributes, and Your great plan includes keeping Your people connected to You through praise and worship no matter their worldly circumstances. May I recognize Your blessings in my life and never fail to respond with praise and worship and service. You chose to gather a remnant to rebuild Your temple, because You determined that a remnant was to be preserved. You also forgave them for yet another offense against You, committed even as You had gathered them, and You provided a way of redemption. May I never fear that there is no way back to You from sin – You are the way and You make a way. There seems to be no end to Your mercy, though we know it ends at the Final Judgment – where Justice takes it's final and full measure. May I never presume upon Your mercy but rather live in obedience to Your perfect loving will for my life.
Scripture In Perspective
While the Persian king, Artaxerxes, had earlier suspended construction in Jerusalem he was not entirely resistant to the prompting of the Lord God.
The prophet Ezra was called out of Babylon to Jerusalem to promote worship in Jerusalem and to draw other Israelites there.
Artaxerxes issued a decree permitting the travel of Israelites to Jerusalem and the exchange of funds to support the worship. The text does not mention new or renewed construction.
Ezra gathered many of the families of Israel to travel to Jerusalem. When they were gathered he discovered that there were no Levites to serve as priests among them.
When the Levites were located the Lord God blessed them with a family of Levite musicians.
Ezra had assured the king that they would be protected in their travels by the Lord God, so they stopped to fast and pray and ask His protection, rather than solicit the protection of Persian horsemen/soldiers.
The gold and silver was delivered to the priests already there in Jerusalem, weighed-out and distributed in the precise amounts with which they had begun.
The people stopped and gave thanks and presented sacrifices.
Ezra delivered the papers from the king to his local officials who then provided assistance to the Israelites in the reconstruction of the temple.
Ezra was informed by some of the leaders that many of their fellow leaders, and the general population of Israelites, had both intermarried with the local peoples and mixed their pagan religions in with their right-worship of the Lord God. He was shocked and tore his clothes, hair, and beard and then sat silent the rest of the day.
At the time for the evening offering Ezra cried-out to the Lord God his remembrance of all that He had done for Israel, the many offenses of Israel, His recent restoration of Israel to rebuild the temple, and now the latest offense of Israel against Him.
The high priest confessed the sin of the people to Ezra and proposed that they separate from their foreign spouses. All of those of Judah and Benjamin were required to gather within three days or lose fellowship and property. They gathered, trembling in a cold rain, and with an even greater trembling before an offended God.
Their leaders asked for time to make arrangements for their foreign wives and three months later the process had been completed.
Psalm 137 was an imprecatory prayer “O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated! How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us! How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!” The author was not identified in the text. It was a symbolic cry for vengeance.
Interact with the text
The residents in the region surrounding Jerusalem had included the worship of the God of the Israelites in addition to their many false gods, so this would have been an amplification of that worship, rather than something entirely new. Ezra was assembling a representative population from among the dispersed people of Israel. While the Biblical text records that many donated resources in support of the ministry – it was the faithful obedience of Ezra and others which resulted in the work really getting done.
Might Artaxerxes have responded to the prompting of God from a fear-based motivation? Local history would have reported that the early non-Israelite re-settlers of the region surrounding Jerusalem had suffered calamity until they added worship of the God of the Israelites to the worship of their pagan false gods. Artaxerxes had stopped the reconstruction because the locals had appealed to his fear of conflict. Given all that they had experienced why would the Israelites have been so foolish as to mingle with the pagan locals, both with their false religion, and to marry them?
The captive Israelites received favorable treatment from the Persians despite their own powerlessness – due to the irresistible prompting of the Lord God. The text still makes no reference to rebuilding gates or walls or any part of the city of Jerusalem; the emphasis of Ezra at this point was entirely on the temple. The text does not discuss what happened to the spouses, nor the children. It is left to one to presume that the request for more time was to make provision for them.
When have you observed an apparently powerless person or group of persons receiving favor from an unexpected source? When have you sensed that the Lord God was calling you, or a fellowship with which you are/were associated, and you stepped-out with confidence as he provided along the way? When have you experienced or observed someone getting a second chance and still making the same old bad choices? When have you experienced or observed a very difficult choice being mandated to resolve a sin that was discovered in the fellowship of believers?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place and time in your life where He blessed you – when you were feeling hopeless and powerless, a place where you have been given a second chance but where you are repeating some of the errors of the past, and/or something that you need to deal with in your life which will require a painful choice.
Today I will step out in faith, trusting in the Lord's provision, to serve in the ministry to which He has called me. I will give thanks for a second chance and I will confess and repent and receive the Lord God's forgiveness for repeating errors of the past. It may be financial assistance but I am still being careless financially, relationship restoration but I am still being careless relationally, it may be extra-credit to make up missing school work but I am not giving it my best effort, it may be a job when I had been fired or laid-off but I am being late or lazy or otherwise less-than-grateful and responsible to a Biblical standard. Whatever it is I will step-up to a Biblical standard, doing my best and giving my best, to bring glory to God. I will courageously and humbly confront the circumstance in my life where a sinful choice has created an environment which is unacceptable to the Lord God. Within the boundaries of Your Word and the limits of my capacity to do so I will make things right. As is appropriate I will consult one who meets the Biblical qualification of “elder” for prayer and counsel and accountability.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
1:1 On the first day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year, the Lord spoke this message through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak:
The Indifference of the People
1:2 The Lord who rules over all says this: “These people have said, ‘The time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple has not yet come.’” 1:3 So the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai as follows: 1:4 “Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? 1:5 Here then is what the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Think carefully about what you are doing. 1:6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’”
The Instruction of the People
1:7 “Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Pay close attention to these things also. 1:8 Go up to the hill country and bring back timber to build the temple. Then I will be pleased and honored,’ says the Lord. 1:9 ‘You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little, and when you brought it home it disappeared right away. Why?’ asks the Lord who rules over all. ‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! 1:10 This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce. 1:11 Moreover, I have called for a drought that will affect the fields, the hill country, the grain, new wine, fresh olive oil, and everything that grows from the ground; it also will harm people, animals, and everything they produce.’”
The Response of the People
1:12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, along with the whole remnant of the people, obeyed the Lord their God. They responded favorably to the message of the prophet Haggai, who spoke just as the Lord their God had instructed him, and the people began to respect the Lord. 1:13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s word to the people: “I am with you!” says the Lord. 1:14 So the Lord energized and encouraged Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the whole remnant of the people. They came and worked on the temple of their God, the Lord who rules over all. 1:15 This took place on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year.
The Glory to Come
2:1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord spoke again through the prophet Haggai: 2:2 “Ask the following questions to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the remnant of the people: 2:3 ‘Who among you survivors saw the former splendor of this temple? How does it look to you now? Isn’t it nothing by comparison? 2:4 Even so, take heart, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord. ‘Take heart, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you citizens of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and begin to work. For I am with you,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:5 ‘Do not fear, because I made a promise to your ancestors when they left Egypt, and my spirit even now testifies to you.’ 2:6 Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says: ‘In just a little while I will once again shake the sky and the earth, the sea and the dry ground. 2:7 I will also shake up all the nations, and they will offer their treasures; then I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:8 ‘The silver and gold will be mine,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:9 ‘The future splendor of this temple will be greater than that of former times,’ the Lord who rules over all declares, ‘and in this place I will give peace.’”
The Promised Blessing
2:10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of Darius’ second year, the Lord spoke again to the prophet Haggai: 2:11 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘Ask the priests about the law. 2:12 If someone carries holy meat in a fold of his garment and that fold touches bread, a boiled dish, wine, olive oil, or any other food, will that item become holy?’” The priests answered, “It will not.” 2:13 Then Haggai asked, “If a person who is ritually unclean because of touching a dead body comes in contact with one of these items, will it become unclean?” The priests answered, “It will be unclean.”
2:14 Then Haggai responded, “‘The people of this nation are unclean in my sight,’ says the Lord. ‘And so is all their effort; everything they offer is also unclean. 2:15 Now therefore reflect carefully on the recent past, before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 2:16 From that time when one came expecting a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty measures from it, there were only twenty. 2:17 I struck all the products of your labor with blight, disease, and hail, and yet you brought nothing to me,’ says the Lord. 2:18 ‘Think carefully about the past: from today, the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, to the day work on the temple of the Lord was resumed, think about it. 2:19 The seed is still in the storehouse, isn’t it? And the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not produced. Nevertheless, from today on I will bless you.’”
Zerubbabel the Chosen One
2:20 Then the Lord spoke again to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 2:21 Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah: ‘I am ready to shake the sky and the earth. 2:22 I will overthrow royal thrones and shatter the might of earthly kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride them, and horses and their riders will fall as people kill one another. 2:23 On that day,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”
Lord, we easily lose perspective, getting ourselves so focused on the day-to-day struggles that we forget the One who gives it any purpose and us any hope. May we lift our eyes to You frequently so as to never lose sight of Your presence and Your priorities.
Scripture In Perspective
Haggai was allowed to bring the message of chastising for their obsession with making their homes look nice while the temple lay in ruins, but to then also deliver the message of hope-in-immediate-obedience, and more hope in the future.
Interact With The Text
The Lord had repeated the message over and over and here it was again; one's worldly possessions are meaningless and temporary unless one is right with Him, and that includes not allowing the things of the world to interfere with our relationship with Him.
As much as the temple was a symbol of faith and of national pride why would the people have thought it OK to make their homes more luxurious while allowing the temple to remain a mess?
Zerubbabel was as culpable as anyone for the neglect of the temple but because he was repentant and responded rightly and actively was chosen by the Lord to lead in His new plan.
When has it been apparent that the less-important was consuming your life and the more-important was being ignored?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place in your life where priorities are out of balance, especially where something worldly has displaced the priorities of the Lord God.
Today I will humble confess, seek and receive forgiveness from the Lord, and repent, then act to restore balance – the Lord God first in all things.
Be Specific _________________________________________________
Wednesday (Zechariah 1-6)
1:1 In the eighth month of Darius’ second year, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah son of Iddo, as follows:
1:2 The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 1:3 Therefore say to the people: The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn to me,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and I will turn to you,” says the Lord who rules over all. 1:4 “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets called out, saying, ‘The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn now from your evil wickedness,”’ but they would by no means obey me,” says the Lord. 1:5 “As for your ancestors, where are they? And did the prophets live forever? 1:6 But have my words and statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, not outlived your fathers? Then they paid attention and confessed, ‘The Lord who rules over all has indeed done what he said he would do to us, because of our sinful ways.’”
The Introduction to the Visions
1:7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, as follows:
The Content of the First Vision
1:8 I was attentive that night and saw a man seated on a red horse that stood among some myrtle trees in the ravine. Behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.
The Interpretation of the First Vision
1:9 Then I asked one nearby, “What are these, sir?” The angelic messenger who replied to me said, “I will show you what these are.” 1:10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees spoke up and said, “These are the ones whom the Lord has sent to walk about on the earth.” 1:11 The riders then agreed with the angel of the Lord, who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have been walking about on the earth, and now everything is at rest and quiet.” 1:12 The angel of the Lord then asked, “Lord who rules over all, how long before you have compassion on Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah which you have been so angry with for these seventy years?” 1:13 The Lord then addressed good, comforting words to the angelic messenger who was speaking to me. 1:14 Turning to me, the messenger then said, “Cry out that the Lord who rules over all says, ‘I am very much moved for Jerusalem and for Zion. 1:15 But I am greatly displeased with the nations that take my grace for granted. I was a little displeased with them, but they have only made things worse for themselves.
The Oracle of Response
1:16 “‘Therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘I have become compassionate toward Jerusalem and will rebuild my temple in it,’ says the Lord who rules over all. ‘Once more a surveyor’s measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.’ 1:17 Speak up again with the message of the Lord who rules over all: ‘My cities will once more overflow with prosperity, and once more the Lord will comfort Zion and validate his choice of Jerusalem.’”
Vision Two: The Four Horns
1:18 Once again I looked and this time I saw four horns. 1:19 So I asked the angelic messenger who spoke with me, “What are these?” He replied, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” 1:20 Next the Lord showed me four blacksmiths. 1:21 I asked, “What are these going to do?” He answered, “These horns are the ones that have scattered Judah so that there is no one to be seen. But the blacksmiths have come to terrify Judah’s enemies and cut off the horns of the nations that have thrust themselves against the land of Judah in order to scatter its people.”
Vision Three: The Surveyor
2:1 I looked again, and there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2:2 I asked, “Where are you going?” He replied, “To measure Jerusalem in order to determine its width and its length.” 2:3 At this point the angelic messenger who spoke to me went out, and another messenger came to meet him 2:4 and said to him, “Hurry, speak to this young man as follows: ‘Jerusalem will no longer be enclosed by walls because of the multitude of people and animals there. 2:5 But I (the Lord says) will be a wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem and the source of glory in her midst.’”
2:6 “You there! Flee from the northland!” says the Lord, “for like the four winds of heaven I have scattered you,” says the Lord. 2:7 “Escape, Zion, you who live among the Babylonians!” 2:8 For the Lord who rules over all says to me that for his own glory he has sent me to the nations that plundered you – for anyone who touches you touches the pupil of his eye. 2:9 “I am about to punish them in such a way,” he says, “that they will be looted by their own slaves.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me.
2:10 “Sing out and be happy, Zion my daughter! For look, I have come; I will settle in your midst,” says the Lord. 2:11 “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on the day of salvation, and they will also be my people. Indeed, I will settle in the midst of you all.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. 2:12 The Lord will take possession of Judah as his portion in the holy land and he will choose Jerusalem once again. 2:13 Be silent in the Lord’s presence, all people everywhere, for he is being moved to action in his holy dwelling place.
Vision Four: The Priest
3:1 Next I saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 3:2 The Lord said to Satan, “May the Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Isn’t this man like a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 3:3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood there before the angel. 3:4 The angel spoke up to those standing all around, “Remove his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “I have freely forgiven your iniquity and will dress you in fine clothing.” 3:5 Then I spoke up, “Let a clean turban be put on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood nearby. 3:6 Then the angel of the Lord exhorted Joshua solemnly: 3:7 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘If you live and work according to my requirements, you will be able to preside over my temple and attend to my courtyards, and I will allow you to come and go among these others who are standing by you. 3:8 Listen now, Joshua the high priest, both you and your colleagues who are sitting before you, all of you are a symbol that I am about to introduce my servant, the Branch. 3:9 As for the stone I have set before Joshua – on the one stone there are seven eyes. I am about to engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘to the effect that I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 3:10 In that day,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘everyone will invite his friend to fellowship under his vine and under his fig tree.’”
Vision Five: The Menorah
4:1 The angelic messenger who had been speaking with me then returned and woke me, as a person is wakened from sleep. 4:2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a menorah of pure gold with a receptacle at the top and seven lamps, with fourteen pipes going to the lamps. 4:3 There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the receptacle and the other on the left.” 4:4 Then I asked the messenger who spoke with me, “What are these, sir?” 4:5 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” So I responded, “No, sir.” 4:6 Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”
Oracle of Response
4:7 “What are you, you great mountain? Because of Zerubbabel you will become a level plain! And he will bring forth the temple capstone with shoutings of ‘Grace! Grace!’ because of this.” 4:8 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me as follows: 4:9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this temple, and his hands will complete it.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. 4:10 For who dares make light of small beginnings? These seven eyes will joyfully look on the tin tablet in Zerubbabel’s hand. (These are the eyes of the Lord, which constantly range across the whole earth.)
4:11 Next I asked the messenger, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the menorah?” 4:12 Before he could reply I asked again, “What are these two extensions of the olive trees, which are emptying out the golden oil through the two golden pipes?” 4:13 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” And I said, “No, sir.” 4:14 So he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
Vision Six: The Flying Scroll
5:1 Then I turned to look, and there was a flying scroll! 5:2 Someone asked me, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a flying scroll thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.” 5:3 The speaker went on to say, “This is a curse traveling across the whole earth. For example, according to the curse whoever steals will be removed from the community; or on the other hand (according to the curse) whoever swears falsely will suffer the same fate.” 5:4 “I will send it out,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and it will enter the house of the thief and of the person who swears falsely in my name. It will land in the middle of his house and destroy both timber and stones.”
Vision Seven: The Ephah
5:5 After this the angelic messenger who had been speaking to me went out and said, “Look, see what is leaving.” 5:6 I asked, “What is it?” And he replied, “It is a basket for measuring grain that is moving away from here.” Moreover, he said, “This is their ‘eye’ throughout all the earth.” 5:7 Then a round lead cover was raised up, revealing a woman sitting inside the basket. 5:8 He then said, “This woman represents wickedness,” and he pushed her down into the basket and placed the lead cover on top. 5:9 Then I looked again and saw two women going forth with the wind in their wings (they had wings like those of a stork) and they lifted up the basket between the earth and the sky. 5:10 I asked the messenger who was speaking to me, “Where are they taking the basket?” 5:11 He replied, “To build a temple for her in the land of Babylonia. When it is finished, she will be placed there in her own residence.”
Vision Eight: The Chariots
6:1 Once more I looked, and this time I saw four chariots emerging from between two mountains of bronze. 6:2 Harnessed to the first chariot were red horses, to the second black horses, 6:3 to the third white horses, and to the fourth spotted horses, all of them strong. 6:4 Then I asked the angelic messenger who was speaking with me, “What are these, sir?” 6:5 The messenger replied, “These are the four spirits of heaven that have been presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6:6 The chariot with the black horses is going to the north country and the white ones are going after them, but the spotted ones are going to the south country. 6:7 All these strong ones are scattering; they have sought permission to go and walk about over the earth.” The Lord had said, “Go! Walk about over the earth!” So they are doing so. 6:8 Then he cried out to me, “Look! The ones going to the northland have brought me peace about the northland.”
A Concluding Oracle
6:9 The word of the Lord came to me as follows: 6:10 “Choose some people from among the exiles, namely, Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, all of whom have come from Babylon, and when you have done so go to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 6:11 Then take some silver and gold to make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 6:12 Then say to him, ‘The Lord who rules over all says, “Look – here is the man whose name is Branch, who will sprout up from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 6:13 Indeed, he will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed in splendor, sitting as king on his throne. Moreover, there will be a priest with him on his throne and they will see eye to eye on everything. 6:14 The crown will then be turned over to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 6:15 Then those who are far away will come and build the temple of the Lord so that you may know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”’”
Lord, Your great plan is a unique new “Jerusalem”, one without physical borders and one which has as its foundation Your truth. May I celebrate with a life dedicated to You what You have promised to those who are Yours. You control the ultimate fate of all, and You will purge Your creation of evil, and of the evil one. May I never doubt that victory belongs to the Lord.
Scripture In Perspective
Zechariah was a peer of Haggai, he prophesied about 520 BC, during the reign of Darius in Persia.
He was told to tell the rebellious people “Therefore say to the people: The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn to me,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and I will turn to you,” says the Lord who rules over all.”
Zechariah received several visions, the first was to explain that the prophesied time of seventy years of exile was about to end and Jerusalem was to be restored.
The second vision was to explain that the four nations who had been allowed to serve as the instruments of the Lord God's judgment would now themselves be punished.
The third vision was of the restoration of Jerusalem without walls due to the large numbers of the returning people, and a clarion call for the people to flee Babylon ahead of the Lord's judgment ot it – taking with them great resources.
The fourth vision was of a high priest, Joshua [Jehozadak, identified in Haggai 1:1 and Ezra], who would lead the people in righteous living and worship, he would have a major responsibility, but was to recognize that he was a place-holder for “the Branch” [the Messiah] Who was to come.
The fifth vision was of the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel that he would be His instrument to build the new Jerusalem: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”
[The NET Translator's Notes explain that the “two anointed ones” would have been Joshua and Zerubbabel as they were descended from king David and the high priest Aaron.]
Zechariah was shown a sixth vision where the law of the Lord God was rhetorically traveling across the earth to destroy all that was in violation; the laws against stealing and swearing falsely in His name were specifically mentioned.
The seventh vision was [from the NET Translator's Notes] of wickedness epitomized by a demonic counterfeit of divine omniscience and power, it was shown as symbolically-contained and relocated to a symbolic Babylon by two agents of the Lord God. The symbolic woman was to be placed in her own home there. A symbolic woman of Babylon appears in last days of end times prophesy.
[From the NET Translator's Notes] the eighth vision was of chariots and horses which at that historic time represented Persia conquering Babylonia bringing a sort of peace to the region and therefore to the exiled Jews there. The “peace” has a parallel imagery in last days of the end times when the Lord God conquers all.
Zechariah was told to create a crown and to temporarily place it on the head of Joshua the high priest as a symbolic representation of the coming “Branch” or Messiah. It was to be given to the four representatives of the people from among the exiles in Babylonia who would place it in the temple. People would come from many places to rebuild the temple, at the behest of Zerubbabel (and later Ezra and Nehemiah) in fulfillment of the prophesy.
The fulfillment of this was conditional “This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
Interact With The Text
The Lord God again calls to the people to choose to turn to Him and then He will bless them. He was defining His omnipotence over all of creation, escalating the confrontation between the law and the law-breakers, isolating the powers of deception, and creating a pathway for redemption.
Why would the religious leaders of the time of Jesus have missed Him given the clear evidence of the path to His identity and purpose?
The religious leaders, who were supposed to serve the people for the Lord, to teach them of the coming messiah (the Branch), and to stand ready to step-aside when He arrived – chose to instead monstrously cling to power and to cause Him to be crucified. As with every prior covenant the fulfillment of this was conditional “This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
When have you experienced a success that was clearly ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’? When have you become profoundly aware of the hard boundaries of the law and that only Jesus saves?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a moment in you life where He blessed you and it was ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit’, and a place where you were deceived and now see clearly.
Today I will give praise and thanks to the Lord God for His blessings and I will give Him praise for setting me free from the deception of the world.
Be Specific ________________________________________________
Thursday (Zechariah 7-10)
The Hypocrisy of False Fasting
7:1 In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. 7:2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melech and their companions to seek the Lord’s favor 7:3 by asking both the priests of the temple of the Lord who rules over all and the prophets, “Should we weep in the fifth month, fasting as we have done over the years?” 7:4 The word of the Lord who rules over all then came to me, 7:5 “Speak to all the people and priests of the land as follows: ‘When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months through all these seventy years, did you truly fast for me – for me, indeed? 7:6 And now when you eat and drink, are you not doing so for yourselves?’” 7:7 Should you not have obeyed the words that the Lord cried out through the former prophets when Jerusalem was peacefully inhabited and her surrounding cities, the Negev, and the Shephelah were also populated?
7:8 Again the word of the Lord came to Zechariah: 7:9 “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. 7:10 You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’
7:11 “But they refused to pay attention, turning away stubbornly and stopping their ears so they could not hear. 7:12 Indeed, they made their heart as hard as diamond, so that they could not obey the Torah and the other words the Lord who rules over all had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore, the Lord who rules over all had poured out great wrath.
7:13 “‘It then came about that just as I cried out, but they would not obey, so they will cry out, but I will not listen,’ the Lord Lord who rules over all had said. 7:14 ‘Rather, I will sweep them away in a storm into all the nations they are not familiar with.’ Thus the land had become desolate because of them, with no one crossing through or returning, for they had made the fruitful land a waste.”
The Blessing of True Fasting
8:1 Then the word of the Lord who rules over all came to me as follows: 8:2 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘I am very much concerned for Zion; indeed, I am so concerned for her that my rage will fall on those who hurt her.’ 8:3 The Lord says, ‘I have returned to Zion and will live within Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem will be called “truthful city,” “mountain of the Lord who rules over all,” “holy mountain.”’ 8:4 Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says, ‘Old men and women will once more live in the plazas of Jerusalem, each one leaning on a cane because of advanced age. 8:5 And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing. 8:6 And,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘though such a thing may seem to be difficult in the opinion of the small community of those days, will it also appear difficult to me?’ asks the Lord who rules over all.
8:7 “The Lord who rules over all asserts, ‘I am about to save my people from the lands of the east and the west. 8:8 And I will bring them to settle within Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’
8:9 “The Lord who rules over all also says, ‘Gather strength, you who are listening to these words today from the mouths of the prophets who were there at the founding of the house of the Lord who rules over all, so that the temple might be built. 8:10 Before that time there was no compensation for man or animal, nor was there any relief from adversity for those who came and went, because I had pitted everybody – each one – against everyone else. 8:11 But I will be different now to this remnant of my people from the way I was in those days,’ says the Lord who rules over all, 8:12 ‘for there will be a peaceful time of sowing, the vine will produce its fruit and the ground its yield, and the skies will rain down dew. Then I will allow the remnant of my people to possess all these things. 8:13 And it will come about that just as you (both Judah and Israel) were a curse to the nations, so I will save you and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid! Instead, be strong!’
8:14 “For the Lord who rules over all says, ‘As I had planned to hurt you when your fathers made me angry,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘and I was not sorry, 8:15 so, to the contrary, I have planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and Judah – do not fear! 8:16 These are the things you must do: Speak the truth, each of you, to one another. Practice true and righteous judgment in your courts. 8:17 Do not plan evil in your hearts against one another. Do not favor a false oath – these are all things that I hate,’ says the Lord.”
8:18 The word of the Lord who rules over all came to me as follows: 8:19 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘The fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful and happy, pleasant feasts for the house of Judah, so love truth and peace.’ 8:20 The Lord who rules over all says, ‘It will someday come to pass that people – residents of many cities – will come. 8:21 The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the Lord, to seek the Lord who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.”’ 8:22 Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord who rules over all and to ask his favor. 8:23 The Lord who rules over all says, ‘In those days ten people from all languages and nations will grasp hold of – indeed, grab – the robe of one Jew and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”
The Coming of the True King
9:1 An oracle of the word of the Lord concerning the land of Hadrach, with its focus on Damascus:
The eyes of all humanity, especially of the tribes of Israel, are toward the Lord, 9:2 as are those of Hamath also, which adjoins Damascus, and Tyre and Sidon, though they consider themselves to be very wise. 9:3 Tyre built herself a fortification and piled up silver like dust and gold like the mud of the streets! 9:4 Nevertheless the Lord will evict her and shove her fortifications into the sea – she will be consumed by fire. 9:5 Ashkelon will see and be afraid; Gaza will be in great anguish, as will Ekron, for her hope will have been dried up. Gaza will lose her king, and Ashkelon will no longer be inhabited. 9:6 A mongrel people will live in Ashdod, for I will greatly humiliate the Philistines. 9:7 I will take away their abominable religious practices; then those who survive will become a community of believers in our God, like a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 9:8 Then I will surround my temple to protect it like a guard from anyone crossing back and forth; so no one will cross over against them anymore as an oppressor, for now I myself have seen it.
9:9 Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.
9:10 I will remove the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be removed. Then he will announce peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
9:11 Moreover, as for you, because of our covenant relationship secured with blood, I will release your prisoners from the waterless pit. 9:12 Return to the stronghold, you prisoners, with hope; today I declare that I will return double what was taken from you. 9:13 I will bend Judah as my bow; I will load the bow with Ephraim, my arrow! I will stir up your sons, Zion, against yours, Greece, and I will make you, Zion, like a warrior’s sword.
9:14 Then the Lord will appear above them, and his arrow will shoot forth like lightning; the Lord God will blow the trumpet and will sally forth on the southern storm winds. 9:15 The Lord who rules over all will guard them, and they will prevail and overcome with sling stones. Then they will drink, and will become noisy like drunkards, full like the sacrificial basin or like the corners of the altar. 9:16 On that day the Lord their God will deliver them as the flock of his people, for they are the precious stones of a crown sparkling over his land. 9:17 How precious and fair! Grain will make the young men flourish and new wine the young women.
The Restoration of the True People
10:1 Ask the Lord for rain in the season of the late spring rains – the Lord who causes thunderstorms – and he will give everyone showers of rain and green growth in the field. 10:2 For the household gods have spoken wickedness, the soothsayers have seen a lie, and as for the dreamers, they have disclosed emptiness and give comfort in vain. Therefore the people set out like sheep and become scattered because they have no shepherd. 10:3 I am enraged at the shepherds and will punish the lead-goats.
For the Lord who rules over all has brought blessing to his flock, the house of Judah, and will transform them into his majestic warhorse. 10:4 From him will come the cornerstone, the wall peg, the battle bow, and every ruler. 10:5 And they will be like warriors trampling the mud of the streets in battle. They will fight, for the Lord will be with them, and will defeat the enemy cavalry.
10:6 “I (says the Lord) will strengthen the kingdom of Judah and deliver the people of Joseph and will bring them back because of my compassion for them. They will be as though I had never rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and therefore I will hear them. 10:7 The Ephraimites will be like warriors and will rejoice as if they had drunk wine. Their children will see it and rejoice; they will celebrate in the things of the Lord. 10:8 I will signal for them and gather them, for I have already redeemed them; then they will become as numerous as they were before. 10:9 Though I scatter them among the nations, they will remember in far-off places – they and their children will sprout forth and return. 10:10 I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to the lands of Gilead and Lebanon, for there will not be enough room for them in their own land. 10:11 The Lord will cross the sea of storms and will calm its turbulence. The depths of the Nile will dry up, the pride of Assyria will be humbled, and the domination of Egypt will be no more. 10:12 Thus I will strengthen them by my power, and they will walk about in my name,” says the Lord.
Lord, the faithlessness and hypocrisy of the people continued, but You sought-out the faithful remnant for Your blessing and for the restoration of Your creation. May I grow in the direction of faithfulness rather than empty ritual and double-minded hypocrisy. You punish those who reject You and those who abuse Your people while they worship false gods. The “New Jerusalem” is where there will be no more sin – only perfection in Your presence. May I live with hope and joy in the future of Your promise, serving You today so that more may join me there.
Scripture In Perspective
Zechariah responded to the leaders of the people who requested a word from the Lord God as to their religious tradition of weeping and fasting on the fifth month, he challenged their integrity in so-doing for the prior seventy years [since the destruction of Solomon's temple], asking if they had ever truly done so with Him first in their hearts. They had not.
He shared the Lord's challenge to demonstrate their repentance “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’” They refused, even covering their ears so that they could not hear His message.
Zechariah was blessed to share in prophesy the encouraging words of the Lord “I am about to save my people from the lands of the east and the west. And I will bring them to settle within Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.”
He then prophesied “As I had planned to hurt you when your fathers made me angry,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘and I was not sorry, so, to the contrary, I have planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and Judah – do not fear! These are the things you must do: Speak the truth, each of you, to one another. Practice true and righteous judgment in your courts. Do not plan evil in your hearts against one another. Do not favor a false oath – these are all things that I hate,’ says the Lord.”
Zechariah continued his prophesy of the Lord's plans for the future of His people “‘It will someday come to pass that people – residents of many cities – will come. The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the Lord, to seek the Lord who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.”
Zechariah declared the prophesy of the Lord God, first that the enemies of His people would be swept from their lands as they had exiled the Israelites, even Ashkelon would be populated by “a mongrel people” - those whom the Babylonians would re-locate there - and later in history Greeks, Romans, and Muslims. [The Muslims destroyed the city when the Crusaders arrived.]
He then spoke again of the promise of a distant time when the Lord God would restore peace and righteousness to the land though a king who would arrive on a donkey – the Messiah.
Zechariah continued his prophesy of promise “I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to the lands of Gilead and Lebanon, for there will not be enough room for them in their own land. The Lord will cross the sea of storms and will calm its turbulence. The depths of the Nile will dry up, the pride of Assyria will be humbled, and the domination of Egypt will be no more. Thus I will strengthen them by my power, and they will walk about in my name,” says the Lord.”
Interact With The Text
For seventy years the people had practiced their empty religious rituals and for all of that time their hearts were not committed to the Lord – so they had suffered exile. Those whose hatred of the Jews, and whose selfish desire for conquest, served as instruments of punishment and sifting were themselves not free from the Lord God's justice.
Were the people asking if they should again practice the ritual because they were hoping to hear that they no longer needed to, or were they really seeking affirmation that it was of value? Isn't it amazing that the Lord God would implant a detail in the ancient prophesy of Zechariah, like that of the Messiah “Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.”?
Once again, consistent with His history, the Lord God required a proper response of the people “These are the things you must do ...” How interesting to note the specific history of Askelon where “a mongrel people” did indeed inhabit their precious city, in fact – to them – many different “mongrel” peoples.
When have you experienced or observed a situation where a religious practice has become a tired and empty ritual and the lives of those engaged in it a terrible hypocrisy?When have you imagined the “New Jerusalem” and your heart was lifted in joy?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something in your life that has become more of an empty ritual than a meaningful celebration to the Lord.
Today I will prayerfully reassess all that I do, evaluating through a Biblical filter, why I do what I do when I do it the way that I do it – is it from my heart and to the Lord God? I will pause to praise the Lord God for His endless patience and for His powerful action to redeem and to restore His people. I will invite a fellow believer to join me in that.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
Friday (Zechariah 11-13)
The History and Future of Judah’s Wicked Kings
11:1 Open your gates, Lebanon, so that the fire may consume your cedars.
11:2 Howl, fir tree, because the cedar has fallen; the majestic trees have been destroyed. Howl, oaks of Bashan, because the impenetrable forest has fallen.
11:3 Listen to the howling of shepherds, because their magnificence has been destroyed. Listen to the roaring of young lions, because the thickets of the Jordan have been devastated.
11:4 The Lord my God says this: “Shepherd the flock set aside for slaughter. 11:5 Those who buy them slaughter them and are not held guilty; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich.’ Their own shepherds have no compassion for them. 11:6 Indeed, I will no longer have compassion on the people of the land,” says the Lord, “but instead I will turn every last person over to his neighbor and his king. They will devastate the land, and I will not deliver it from them.”
11:7 So I began to shepherd the flock destined for slaughter, the most afflicted of all the flock. Then I took two staffs, calling one “Pleasantness” and the other “Binders,” and I tended the flock. 11:8 Next I eradicated the three shepherds in one month, for I ran out of patience with them and, indeed, they detested me as well. 11:9 I then said, “I will not shepherd you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be eradicated, let it be eradicated. As for those who survive, let them eat each other’s flesh!”
11:10 Then I took my staff “Pleasantness” and cut it in two to annul my covenant that I had made with all the people. 11:11 So it was annulled that very day, and then the most afflicted of the flock who kept faith with me knew that that was the word of the Lord.
11:12 Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, pay me my wages, but if not, forget it.” So they weighed out my payment – thirty pieces of silver. 11:13 The Lord then said to me, “Throw to the potter that exorbitant sum at which they valued me!” So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the temple of the Lord. 11:14 Then I cut the second staff “Binders” in two in order to annul the covenant of brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
11:15 Again the Lord said to me, “Take up once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 11:16 Indeed, I am about to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not take heed to the sheep headed to slaughter, will not seek the scattered, and will not heal the injured. Moreover, he will not nourish the one that is healthy but instead will eat the meat of the fat sheep and tear off their hooves.
11:17 Woe to the worthless shepherd who abandons the flock! May a sword fall on his arm and his right eye! May his arm wither completely away, and his right eye become completely blind!”
The Repentance of Judah
12:1 The revelation of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: The Lord – he who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth, who forms the human spirit within a person – says, 12:2 “I am about to make Jerusalem a cup that brings dizziness to all the surrounding nations; indeed, Judah will also be included when Jerusalem is besieged. 12:3 Moreover, on that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy burden for all the nations, and all who try to carry it will be seriously injured; yet all the peoples of the earth will be assembled against it. 12:4 In that day,” says the Lord, “I will strike every horse with confusion and its rider with madness. I will pay close attention to the house of Judah, but will strike all the horses of the nations with blindness. 12:5 Then the leaders of Judah will say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are a means of strength to us through their God, the Lord who rules over all.’ 12:6 On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like an igniter among sticks and a burning torch among sheaves, and they will burn up all the surrounding nations right and left. Then the people of Jerusalem will settle once more in their place, the city of Jerusalem. 12:7 The Lord also will deliver the homes of Judah first, so that the splendor of the kingship of David and of the people of Jerusalem may not exceed that of Judah. 12:8 On that day the Lord himself will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like mighty David, and the dynasty of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. 12:9 So on that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”
12:10 “I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn. 12:11 On that day the lamentation in Jerusalem will be as great as the lamentation at Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12:12 The land will mourn, clan by clan – the clan of the royal household of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the family of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; 12:13 the clan of the descendants of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; and the clan of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves – 12:14 all the clans that remain, each separately with their wives.”
The Refinement of Judah
13:1 “In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. 13:2 And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. 13:3 Then, if anyone prophesies in spite of this, his father and mother to whom he was born will say to him, ‘You cannot live, for you lie in the name of the Lord.’ Then his father and mother to whom he was born will run him through with a sword when he prophesies.
13:4 “Therefore, on that day each prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies and will no longer wear the hairy garment of a prophet to deceive the people. 13:5 Instead he will say, ‘I am no prophet – indeed, I am a farmer, for a man has made me his indentured servant since my youth.’ 13:6 Then someone will ask him, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ and he will answer, ‘Some that I received in the house of my friends.’
13:7 “Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” says the Lord who rules over all. Strike the shepherd that the flock may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the insignificant ones.
13:8 It will happen in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it.
13:9 Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Lord, You choose for Yourself a remnant of the people who will respond to Your cleansing so that You may restore the planned kingdom of relationship between You and Your creation. May I daily respond to the cleansing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Scripture In Perspective
Zechariah recorded “The Lord my God says this: “Shepherd the flock set aside for slaughter.”, then he described the step by step process of His symbolic termination of covenants which the people had nullified through their disobedience and rebellion, leading to their punishment.
He then shared the word “The Lord – he who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth, who forms the human spirit within a person – says, “I am about to make Jerusalem a cup that brings dizziness to all the surrounding nations ...”, which referred to the terrible judgment from the God of creation upon His rebellious people.
Zechariah then prophesied the last days of the end times when the newly re-assembled people of God would have a leader, in royal lineage from David through Solomon and in physical lineage through Nathan, who would rule with righteousness and without all of the sins of selfishness that He had warned would come when they had demanded a human king “like the nations around us”.
He prophesied further “I will pour out ... a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn ...”
Zechariah continued “In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.”
He concluded “It will happen in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it. Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Interact With The Text
The Lord God never failed in His part of any covenant, it was always the people.
Isn't it amazing how the Lord God inserted clear descriptions of the coming Messiah – and also clear evidences that they were One and the same “... so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced.”
“They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
When have you experienced the purifying of the Lord God?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place in your life where He is beginning a purifying work.
Today I will humbly submit to the purifying of the Lord, surrendering the things of the world which interfere with His discipleship of me, clinging to the things that move me toward righteousness.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
Saturday (Zechariah 14)
The Sovereignty of the Lord
14:1 A day of the Lord is about to come when your possessions will be divided as plunder in your midst. 14:2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away.
14:3 Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. 14:4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward. 14:5 Then you will escape through my mountain valley, for the mountains will extend to Azal. Indeed, you will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come with all his holy ones with him. 14:6 On that day there will be no light – the sources of light in the heavens will congeal. 14:7 It will happen in one day (a day known to the Lord); not in the day or the night, but in the evening there will be light. 14:8 Moreover, on that day living waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it will happen both in summer and in winter.
14:9 The Lord will then be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be seen as one with a single name. 14:10 All the land will change and become like the Arabah from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem will be raised up and will stay in its own place from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate and on to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses. 14:11 And people will settle there, and there will no longer be the threat of divine extermination – Jerusalem will dwell in security.
14:12 But this will be the nature of the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that have fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will decay while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot away in their sockets, and their tongues will dissolve in their mouths. 14:13 On that day there will be great confusion from the Lord among them; they will seize each other and attack one another violently. 14:14 Moreover, Judah will fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered up – gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance. 14:15 This is the kind of plague that will devastate horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in those camps.
14:16 Then all who survive from all the nations that came to attack Jerusalem will go up annually to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, and to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. 14:17 But if any of the nations anywhere on earth refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, they will get no rain. 14:18 If the Egyptians will not do so, they will get no rain – instead there will be the kind of plague which the Lord inflicts on any nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. 14:19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and of all nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
14:20 On that day the bells of the horses will bear the inscription “Holy to the Lord.” The cooking pots in the Lord’s temple will be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar. 14:21 Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah will become holy in the sight of the Lord who rules over all, so that all who offer sacrifices may come and use some of them to boil their sacrifices in them. On that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord who rules over all.
Lord, the end will come as You have determined and a battle will be joined to begin the final cleansing of humankind, concluding at that stage with Your earthly kingdom in power and all others required to pay homage. May I recognize that now is my time to pay homage, now is my time to recognize that You are already on Your throne, and now is my time to tell Your story that many others will choose rightly for You.
Scripture In Perspective
Zechariah prophesied the coming of the last days of the end times battle of Armageddon.
He detailed the purging of Jerusalem and Judah, the subjugation of those nations who had been enemies of them, and the period of domination of the Lord's earthly kingdom.
All will be require to pay homage to the Lord God and any and all will be welcome to come to submit to Him in worship, to surrender to Him in faith, and there will no longer be [as Jesus the Christ would later refine it] “Jew nor Gentile”.
Interact With The Text
An end is surely coming when the Lord's patience has run out, when His time for the end has arrived, and that is when His final sifting of humankind will begin.
Is it interesting to you that the Lord God would provide a time when unbelievers will be required to pay homage, that those who refuse will be punished with no rain, and that all will be welcome to come as surrendered-believers – regardless of nationality?
The Lord God's covenant shifted from “the chosen people” to “the people who choose”.
When did you experienced the change in yourself from that person who chose rebellion against the Lord God's gift of salvation to the person who then chose to receive His gift?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the moment of your surrender, to stir-up in you a more-profound sense of His presence, and to stimulate in you a desire to share your story about Him.
Today I will joyfully recall my absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ, I will celebrate anew His presence within me, and I will respectfully but resolutely share His story in my life with the one (or ones) to whom He directs me.
Be Specific _________________________________________________
All Bible text is from the NET unless otherwise indicated - http://bible.org
Note 1: These Studies often rely upon the guidance of the NET Translators from their associated notes. Careful attention has been given to cite that source where it has been quoted directly or closely paraphrased. Feedback is encouraged where credit has not been sufficiently assigned.
Note 2: When NET text is quoted in commentary and discussion all pronouns referring to God are capitalized, though they are lower-case in the original NET text.
Commentary text is from David M. Colburn, D.Min. unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 2012 by David M. Colburn. This is a BibleSeven Study –“Genesis 3. Prepared by David M. Colburn and edited for bible.org in August of 2012. This text may be used for non-profit educational purposes only, with credit; all other usage requires prior written consent of the author.
Lesson 20: God Justifies the Ungodly (Romans 4:1-5)Related Media
A faithful Catholic nun spends her life working in a slum in a poor country, feeding the poor, ministering to the sick and dying, and caring for the orphans. As she nears death, you ask her why God should let her into heaven. She replies, “Because I have devoted my life to serving Him. I have denied myself for decades. I hope that I have added enough merits that God will accept me.” She dies and faces God’s eternal wrath because her faith was in her own good works, not in the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone.
Meanwhile, on death row a serial killer awaits execution. He mercilessly tortured, raped, and murdered many young women. Their families mourn the tragic loss of their daughters. A chaplain visits this killer and finds that he has been reading the Bible. God has convicted him of his terrible sins, so that he despairs about dying and facing God. He knows that he deserves eternal torment in hell. But the chaplain shares that if he will believe in Jesus Christ, who died for the ungodly, God will forgive all his sins and credit Christ’s righteousness to his account. He does believe, is filled with joy, and goes to his execution at peace with God. He spends eternity in the unspeakable joy of heaven.
Do these two stories grate on your soul? Do you want to scream, “Wait a minute! That’s not fair! That sweet, selfless old nun deserves to go to heaven! That evil, depraved murderer deserves to burn in hell!” If that’s your reaction, then you may not understand the crucial, bedrock message that Paul sets forth in our text, that…
God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who does not work for salvation, but believes in Jesus Christ.
In Romans 4:5, Paul makes one of the most outrageous claims in all Scripture: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” What a staggering verse! Surely, there must be a copier’s error in the text! Paul must have said, “God justifies the one who tries to do his best. God justifies the nice person who always meant well, who loved his family, devoted his time and money to help the needy, went to church, read his Bible, and prayed every day.” But Paul could not have meant, “God justifies the ungodly, could he? That’s unthinkable!”
In All of Grace [Ages Software], C. H. Spurgeon wrote about Romans 4:5,
I have heard that men that hate the doctrines of the cross bring it as a charge against God, that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge, and plainly states it! ... You thought, did you not, that salvation was for the good, that God’s grace was for the pure and holy, who are free from sin? It has fallen into your mind that, if you were excellent, then God would reward you; and you have thought that because you are not worthy, therefore there could be no way of your enjoying His favor. You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” I do not wonder that you are surprised; for with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder at it.
My aim today is that all of you will understand this crucial doctrine that is at the core of the gospel and that you will join Spurgeon in worshipful wonder that God has justified you.
Paul is still hammering at the religious Jew (or any other religious person) who thinks that he qualifies for heaven because of his religion and good works. He brings up Abraham because the Jews revered him as the father of their nation and their faith. Many early Jewish writings put Abraham on a pedestal far higher than the way the Bible portrays him. For example, the Book of Jubilees (23:10), written about 100 B.C. states, “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life” (cited by Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 256). The Prayer of Manasseh (8), states that God did not appoint repentance for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “who were righteous and did not sin against Thee.” (What Bible were they reading?) Thus many Jews assumed that Abraham was right with God, at least in part, because of his life of obedience. It’s a short step from there to believing that any person who follows Abraham’s example of obeying God will be accepted by God.
But in Romans 4 Paul challenges that view head-on. The flow of thought in the chapter is as follows (from Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], pp. 210-211): In verses 1-8, Paul expands on and illustrates with Abraham and David the principle of 3:27-28, that we are justified by faith, not by our works, and thus we have no grounds for boasting. Verses 9-16 develop the theme of 3:29-30, that righteousness by faith applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. He proves this by showing that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Thus God can justify uncircumcised Gentiles who follow the faith of Abraham. Verses 17-22 explain the nature of Abraham’s faith. Finally (4:23-25), Paul applies the lessons of Abraham’s faith to his readers.
It’s absolutely essential for you to understand the doctrine that Paul sets forth in Romans 4:1-5, that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone, apart from any works. It was when Martin Luther finally understood this truth that he was saved. He called justification by faith “the chief article from which all our other doctrines have flowed.” He said, “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” He argued, “It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God, and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” (James Boice, Romans: Justification by Faith [Zondervan], p. 126, citing from What Luther Says: An Anthology, compiled by Ewald Pass, [Concordia], 2:702-704.)
John Calvin called justification by faith “the main hinge on which religion turns” (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 3:11:1). He explained (ibid.), “For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.” In other words, this truth is foundational for your entire Christian life.
Thus it is not by accident that it always has been under fire. The Catholic Church launched the counter-Reformation and published The Canons and Decrees of Trent in large part to attack justification by faith alone (see my “Justification by Faith Alone,” Aug. 11, 1996, on fcfonline.org). In our day, the unity movement has sought to break down any divisions between Protestants and Catholics by advocating that we come together where we agree and set aside the things that divide us, including this doctrine. In the 1990’s, many evangelicals signed a document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” that would relegate justification by faith alone to the sidelines. The New Perspective on Paul also argues that the Reformers misinterpreted Paul regarding this doctrine.
But if the Reformers were right that this doctrine is the foundation of our salvation, then justification by faith plus works cannot be right. We cannot politely agree to disagree on the core of the gospel! Thus for your own salvation, for your being able to resist the winds of false doctrine blowing in our day, and for your being able to present the gospel clearly to those who are trusting in their good works to save them, you must be clear on this truth: God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus Christ. Paul first demonstrates this truth in the life of Abraham (4:1-3). Then he illustrates it negatively by a common example (4:4) and states it positively in rather shocking language (4:5).
1. God justified Abraham by faith alone, not by his works (4:1-3).
Paul goes back to the theme of boasting (3:27), to argue:
A. If Abraham had been justified by works, he would have grounds to boast (4:1-2).
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:1-2)
Some commentators argue that the phrase, “according to the flesh,” should not modify “forefather,” but rather, “has found.” Thus Paul would be asking whether Abraham found some way, according to the flesh apart from God’s grace, to be justified. Others argue that it should modify “forefather” (NASB & ESV). Paul is referring to Abraham as the Jewish forefather by lineage; but there may also be the hint that fleshly descent from Abraham is insufficient.
Verse 2 explains (“for”) verse 1, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Most commentators understand the last phrase to mean, “When God’s viewpoint is considered, Abraham has no right to boast at all” (Moo, p. 261). In other words, Paul does not mean that Abraham could have boasted before people, but not before God. Rather, he had no grounds for boasting at all.
But it seems to me that Paul could be conceding to his Jewish readers, “Okay, maybe Abraham has some grounds to boast before men. After all, he was a godly man. But when you bring God into the picture, Abraham’s boast vanishes.” It’s as if one bug was bragging to another bug, “I’m taller than you are!” just before a human comes along and squashes both of them. When you compare humans to humans, Abraham was a good guy. But when you compare humans to God, Abraham is just a bug along with everyone else.
Paul’s point in 4:1-2 is that if justification were by works rather than by faith alone, it would give us a ground for boasting. It would feed our pride. But such boasting is foolish, because we’re really just one bug boasting to another bug. What is the best of human righteousness when you compare it to God’s absolute righteousness? So Paul is attacking the popular Jewish views about Abraham in his day, saying, “He couldn’t have been justified by his works.” Then he supports his argument with Scripture:
B. Scripture clearly teaches that Abraham was justified by faith alone (4:3).
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (4:3, citing Gen. 15:6)
Genesis 15:6 is the first time that the word believe is used in the Bible and it is also the first time that the concept of God crediting righteousness to anyone (justification) is mentioned. So it’s a very important text to understand. Paul not only cites it here, but also in Galatians 3:6, where he argues against the Judaizers, who said that we must add our works to faith in order to be saved.
The passage in Genesis raises the question, “What did Abraham believe and why did God credit it to him for righteousness then?” We know that he had believed God previously, when he left Ur and set out for Canaan (Heb. 11:8). Thus Abraham was already what we would call “saved” before this experience. So why does Moses mention in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed God and that God reckoned it to him as righteousness?
Martin Luther said that Abraham was justified by faith long before this time, but that it is first recorded in this context in a connection where the Savior is definitely involved in order that none might venture to dissociate justification from the Savior (cited by H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis [Baker], 1:479). John Calvin thought that it is mentioned here, long after Abraham was first justified, to prove that justification does not just begin by faith, only to be perfected later by works. Rather, justification is by faith alone, apart from works, from start to finish (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 1:408-409). So Genesis 15 ratifies Abraham’s earlier faith.
Derek Kidner (Genesis [IVP], p. 124) notes that Abraham’s faith was both personal (in the Lord) and propositional (the Lord’s promise concerning a son). Abraham knew that through his seed, blessing would come to all the families of the earth (12:3). In Galatians, Paul argues that seed is singular, not plural, thus pointing to Abraham’s one descendant, Christ (Gal. 3:16). So when Abraham believed in the Lord, he believed the specific promise that a Savior for all nations would come forth from his descendants.
How much did Abraham know about Jesus Christ, who would be born 2,000 years later? He knew more than we may assume! Jesus Himself said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Paul said that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham when He promised, “All the nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8). Though he didn’t know Jesus’ name and he had no evidence other than God’s promise, Abraham looked forward in faith to God’s Redeemer and thus God credited it to him as righteousness.
The word credited (Greek = logidzomai) is used 40 times in the New Testament, 34 times by Paul, 19 times in Romans, and 11 times in this chapter, so it is a key word. It’s an accounting term that means that God credited to Abraham a righteousness that did not inherently belong to him (Moo, p. 262). The word it does not refer to Abraham’s faith, as if God exchanged his faith for righteousness, in a sort of trade. That would give some sort of merit to faith, which cannot pay the debt of our sin. Rather, faith is the means by which we lay hold of God’s promise in Christ. Abraham believed God’s promise about the Savior who would come and God credited the work of the promised Savior to Abraham through his faith. Christ’s substitutionary death paid the just penalty for the sins of those who will trust in Him (3:25).
Having illustrated from Abraham’s experience as recorded in Scripture that God justifies by faith alone, not by works, Paul proceeds to apply it to every sinner who will believe in Christ:
2. God justifies any ungodly person who does not work for salvation, but believes in Jesus Christ (4:4-5).
“Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (4:4-5).
First (4:4) Paul gives a negative example from everyday life that we can easily understand. When you work and your boss pays you, he isn’t doing you a favor. (Favor is literally grace.) You don’t send him a thank you note, telling him how much you appreciated his kindness. No, he owes you the money. If he doesn’t pay, you can take him to court to make him pay. It’s a debt.
But the principle of grace is different (4:5). Under grace you do not work for justification. Rather, you believe God’s promise to declare righteous any sinner who trusts in Jesus and His shed blood as the propitiation for his sins (3:25). As the righteous Judge, God recognizes Jesus’ death as payment in full for all our sins. The instant we believe in Jesus, God bangs the gavel and declares, “Not guilty!” But He not only removes our sin and guilt. Also, He imputes the very righteousness of Jesus to our account.
Again, although Paul says here, “his faith is credited as righteousness,” in the context (3:24-26) he means that the guilty sinner’s faith has laid hold of Jesus Christ as the perfect and final sacrifice for sins. Faith is not a work that merits righteousness. If it were, verse 5 would be saying the opposite of what Paul is arguing! Faith does not merit God’s favor, or grace would not be undeserved. Rather, faith means not doing anything ourselves to earn salvation, but rather trusting what Christ did for us on the cross. God justifies us as a gift through faith (3:24). Faith is the hand that receives the free gift of right standing with God apart from our works.
Let me draw out four implications of this astounding truth:
A. To be justified, you must cease working for salvation.
Paul clearly spells it out, “to the one who does not work….” If you try to blend your works with God’s grace, you muddy the waters of pure grace. If you work to earn justification, then God owes you something. But God will not be a debtor to anyone.
If you feel bad about your sins and are trying to get them under control so that God will accept you, you have not ceased working. You do not understand God’s grace. If you think that maybe you should become a missionary or go live and work in a slum for years, depriving yourself of the normal comforts of life, so that God will overlook your sins on judgment day, you’re still working. You do not understand His grace. To be justified by God’s grace, you must stop working!
B. To be justified, you must see yourself as ungodly.
God justifies only one kind of person: the ungodly. There is debate among scholars as to whether Paul was referring specifically to Abraham or whether he meant to contrast a notoriously sinful person with the relatively good Abraham. While Abraham was relatively good when you compare humans with humans, in God’s sight we all have sinned and fall short of His glory. Abraham was as much in need of God’s perfect righteousness as were the wicked people of Sodom. In God’s sight (Rom. 3:10), “There is none righteous, not even one.” We’re all bugs!
So if you see yourself as a basically good person, you can’t be justified. If you see yourself as better than notorious sinners and thus somehow more deserving of salvation, you can’t be justified. To be justified, you must see yourself as ungodly and deserving of God’s righteous judgment.
C. To be justified, you must believe that God will justify you, the ungodly, through the propitiation of Christ’s blood.
Faith means taking God at His word when He promises to justify the one who has faith in Jesus (3:26). You acknowledge that the wages of your sin is death (Rom. 6:23), eternal separation from the holy God. But you trust God’s promise that “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Faith means taking the gift of Christ’s full payment for your sins, much as you would thankfully receive a check from a wealthy man who offered to pay a large fine that you couldn’t afford to pay. Faith means trusting Jesus to be your advocate in court, to plead His shed blood in your case before the bench of God’s justice.
D. To be justified means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to your account through your faith.
If justification were based on how righteous we were in actual conduct, then we could never be declared perfectly righteous in this life, because we always have some indwelling sin in us. We need Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to our account. We need our sin put on Christ’s account. That transaction takes place the instant that we believe in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).
Spurgeon ended that chapter in All of Grace by telling a story about an artist in the years before photography who painted a picture of a part of the city where he lived. For historic purposes, he wanted to include in his picture certain characters well known in the town. A street sweeper who was unkempt, ragged, and filthy was known to everyone and there was a suitable place in the picture for him. So the artist found the man and told him that he would pay him well if he would come down to the studio so that he could paint him.
He came to the studio the next day, but the artist sent him away because he had washed his face, combed his hair, and put on a suit of clean clothes. The artist needed him as a poor beggar and he was not invited in any other capacity.
Spurgeon applies it by saying that even so, God invites sinners to come at once for salvation, just as they are. Come in your disorder. Come with your confusion. Come with your despair. Come filthy, naked, and dirty. Come with all of your sin. Come to Jesus, crucified for sinners! If God justifies the ungodly and you’re ungodly, there’s hope for you! The best news in the world is, God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who does not work for salvation, but rather believes in Jesus Christ!
- What is wrong with the idea that good people deserve salvation, while evil people deserve hell?
- Is it fair (just) for God to forgive an evil murderer who trusts in Christ, but to condemn a loving person who didn’t trust Christ? Why/why not?
- Is it right or wrong to join with Roman Catholics in proclaiming our common faith in Christ when we differ over justification by faith alone? Why/why not?
- Why must I see myself as ungodly before I can be justified? Doesn’t this damage one’s self-esteem?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 21: Forgiveness: The Supreme Blessing (Romans 4:6-8)Related Media
Carl Hoefler (Will Daylight Come? [C. C. S. Publishing, 1979]) tells the story of a little boy who was visiting his grandparents. He was given his first slingshot and was having fun playing with it in the woods, but he never hit anything he was aiming at. But on his way home, as he cut through the back yard, he saw Grandmother’s pet duck. He took aim and let the stone fly. To his horror, it went straight to the mark and the duck fell dead.
The boy panicked. He quickly hid the dead duck in the woodpile. Then he saw his smirking sister Sally standing by the corner of the house. She had seen the whole affair.
They went in for lunch. Sally said nothing. After lunch, Grandmother said, “Sally, let’s clear the table and wash the dishes.” Sally said, “Oh, Grandmother, Johnny said he wanted to help you in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” Then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later in the day Grandfather called the children to go fishing. Grandmother said, “I’m sorry, but Sally has to stay here to help me clean house and get dinner.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help today, didn’t you, Johnny?” Then she whispered, “Remember the duck!”
This went on for several days. Johnny did all the chores, both his and those assigned to Sally. Finally, he could stand it no longer, so he went to his grandmother and confessed all. His grandmother took him in her arms and said, “I know, Johnny. I was standing at the kitchen window and saw the whole thing. And because I love you, I forgave you. And knowing that I loved you and would always forgive you, I wondered just how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
Guilt makes slaves of us all. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they tried in vain to hide from God. Guilt makes us want to hide from His holy presence. It also alienates us from one another. We’re afraid that if others find out what we have done, they will either reject us or use the information to hold us hostage. “Remember the duck!” Because we all have sinned and because God knows all of our sins, even our secret sins, what we all desperately need is the supreme blessing of God’s forgiveness.
In our last study, we saw how Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, was justified by faith alone, not by his works. To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. It is to be acquitted of all our sins by God’s judicial decree. In explaining this wonderful truth, Paul states (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” We saw that God does not justify the pretty good guy who tries to do his best. He does not justify the one whose good works outweigh his bad works. Rather, He justifies the ungodly sinner who has faith in Jesus.
But maybe Paul was stretching things a bit. After all, the Jews knew that Abraham was a good man. Maybe God justified Abraham because of his good works. So Paul brings in another witness, King David. The Jews also recognized David as a great man. He was the best of Israel’s kings. But as everyone knew, he also sinned greatly. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up when she got pregnant by having her husband murdered. So Paul brings David in as a second witness to prove that God justifies sinners by faith apart from any good works.
Paul (4:7-8) cites David’s Psalm 32:1-2 (from the LXX): “Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” The common thread between Psalm 32:2 (Rom. 4:8) and Genesis 15:6 (Rom. 4:3) is the word “credited” or “take into account” (Greek = logidzomai). It is an accounting term, meaning to enter something into a ledger. In Abraham’s case, God entered into the asset column, “Righteousness.” In David’s case, God did not enter into the liabilities column, “Sin.” He didn’t credit David’s sins against him.
But Paul says that it amounts to the same thing (4:6), “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” And so in Psalm 32 David extols the supreme blessing of God’s gracious forgiveness of all our sins. Paul uses these verses to teach us that…
The supreme blessing of God forgiving all your sins comes through faith apart from any works.
As we saw in our last study, this doctrine of God justifying the ungodly by grace alone apart from any good works grates against our fallen human nature. We instinctively want good people to go to heaven because of their goodness. We want terrible sinners to pay for their sins. They shouldn’t get off scot-free. But if that were true, then we would have grounds to boast in our own goodness as the reason for our salvation. And, there would be no hope for really bad sinners. There would be no good news. So if Mother Teresa is in heaven, it is because she saw herself as an undeserving sinner and she fled to the cross for mercy. And if a mass murderer is in heaven, it is because he saw himself as an undeserving sinner and fled to the cross for mercy. God only justifies the ungodly.
Do you remember the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20? A landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for their day’s wages, so they went to work. Mid-morning, he went out again and hired others and agreed to give them whatever was right. He did the same thing at noon and at mid-afternoon. Then, an hour before sundown, he found others and sent them into his vineyard.
When it was time to pay the laborers, those who came an hour before dark received a denarius. When those who had been working all day came, they expected to get more, since they had put in a long day’s work. But they also got a denarius. They grumbled about how unfair it was, but the landowner said, “I gave you what we agreed on, so take what is yours and go. But am I not free to be generous to these last men with what is my own?” That’s how God’s grace works. It is not dispensed according to merit. He gives it freely to whom He chooses. As Paul says (Rom. 9:16), “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
The point that Paul drives home from 1:18-3:20 is that we all are under sin. The pagans who do not know God are obviously under sin. But so are the religious folks (the Jews), who think that they are better than the pagans. All deserve God’s judgment and so all desperately need His grace (unmerited favor). The good news of the gospel is that God freely justifies and pardons every sinner who does not work, but believes in Jesus as the propitiation for his sins.
So in our text, Paul is reinforcing that point from David’s Psalm 32. The emphasis is on the blessing of God’s gracious forgiveness. (He uses “blessing” or “blessed” in 4:6, 7, 8, and 9.)
1. The greatest blessing of all is to have God forgive all your sins.
To appreciate the blessing of forgiveness …
A. We must feel the heavy burden of our guilt.
A cartoon pictured a psychologist saying to a patient, “Mr. Figby, I think I can explain your feelings of guilt. You’re guilty!”
Ever since the fall, sinners have instinctively responded to their guilt by blaming others. When God confronted Adam, he blamed his wife and he even implicated God for giving him his wife (Gen. 3:12): “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” In effect, he was saying, “It’s her fault or Your fault, but don’t blame me!”
But blaming others doesn’t alleviate the guilt. True, if a person keeps denying his sin and blaming others for it, eventually he may develop a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), where he feels no guilt, even for horrific sins. I read that the Cambodian dictator, Pol Pot, felt no twinge of guilt for murdering over a million of his countrymen! But even if the sinner’s conscience is seared, it doesn’t remove the reality that he will answer to God for his many sins.
So a guilty conscience is a good thing. It’s like the pain sensors in our body, which alert us to a problem. A person with leprosy can’t feel pain, and so he can burn his finger off without knowing it. If we suppress our guilt, it often leads to other emotional, physical, and relational problems. But guilt should get our attention by shouting, “You’re not right with God!” David suppressed his guilt over his sin with Bathsheba for about a year until the prophet Nathan cornered him with a story and then directly said, “You are the man!” You’re guilty!
Puritan Robert Bolton, who at first resisted the gospel, but later came to Christ after deep conviction of his sins, wrote (Instructions for a Right Comforting Afflicted Consciences, cited by Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], p. 128):
A man must feel himself in misery, before he will go about to find a remedy; be sick before he will seek a physician; be in prison before he will seek for a pardon. A sinner … must be cast down, confounded, condemned, a cast away, and lost in himself, before he will look about for a Saviour.
J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], on John 4:7-26, pp. 204-205) put it,
Never does a soul value the Gospel medicine until it feels its disease. Never does a man see any beauty in Christ as a Saviour, until he discovers that he is himself a lost and ruined sinner.
Or, as C. H. Spurgeon put it when describing his own painful five years of conviction of sin before his conversion (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54):
Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.
So for God’s blessing of forgiving all your sins to be the supreme blessing, you must feel to some extent the heavy burden of your guilt before Him. Then,
B. Forgiveness is the greatest of all blessings.
The Greek word “blessed” means “happy,” especially in the sense of being the recipient of God’s favor (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Walter Bauer, translated by William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich [University of Chicago Press], 2nd ed., p. 486). John Piper (“When the Lord Does not Take Account of Sin,” on DesiringGod.org) defines it as “a condition in which you are deeply secure and content and happy in God.”
We might think that those who are rich in this world’s goods are blessed, but as you know, many rich people are miserable because they lack close relationships with others. They often have to keep others at a distance because they’re afraid that they will take their money. Besides, this world’s riches can disappear in a moment with a stock market collapse or war or some other disaster. And everything that we accrue in this life is instantly taken the moment we die. So the only true and lasting blessing is to be right with God by knowing that He has forgiven all our sins. What a great feeling to know that the burden of guilt is gone forever!
We need to understand that when God forgives all our sins, it does not mean that He removes all temporal consequences for our sins. God forgave David, but He ordained some rather severe consequences on David and his family for the rest of his life (2 Sam. 12:10-15). Sometimes God graciously softens the consequences, but at other times He uses them to teach us to hate our sin The fact that we experience difficult trials does not mean that God has not forgiven us. In fact, it is one evidence that He has forgiven us (Heb. 12:8-10).
Also, although many Christian authors talk about the need to forgive yourself, you won’t find that concept anywhere in Scripture. If we have sinned, we must seek God’s forgiveness and we must ask forgiveness of those we have sinned against. And if others have wronged us, we must forgive them. But the Bible never talks about forgiving yourself. Your need is to receive God’s forgiveness.
Before we leave this point, let me ask: Have you experienced this greatest of all blessings? Do you know that God has forgiven all of your sins? Are you sure that He will not take them into account on that day when you stand before Him?
In the context Paul is still talking about the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But we might wonder, how does forgiveness fit in with justification?
2. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner and forgives all his sins apart from any good works.
John Calvin (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 3:11:3, p. 727) summed up his understanding of justification, “that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”
A. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner.
As we saw in verse 3 (citing Gen. 15:6), “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” To justify is not to make righteous or to infuse righteousness into the sinner, but rather, to declare the sinner righteous. It is a judicial act of God, based on the satisfaction of God’s righteous penalty by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (3:25). Because Christ paid the penalty that our sin deserved, God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
B. Justification means that God’s forgives all of the guilty sinner’s sins.
Positively, God declares the sinner righteous by crediting to his account the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. Negatively, God does not credit the sinner’s sins to his account. Paul uses three somewhat synonymous phrases to describe this blessing of forgiveness:
First (4:7a), “Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven.” The Greek word for forgive means “to send away.” It is sometimes used of divorce, which means a permanent sending away of one’s spouse. It was used of forgiving a debt. The books were wiped clean as the debt was removed from the debtor. In the Old Testament ritual for the Day of Atonement, two male goats were selected. The high priest laid his hands on the head of one goat (the scapegoat), confessing the sins of the people. That goat was then sent away into the wilderness, taking away the sins of the people. Forgiveness means that God has sent away all of our sins. They are removed from us.
Second (4:7b), blessed are those “whose sins have been covered.” The word covered is used only here in the New Testament, quoted from Psalm 32:1. It also referred to the Day of Atonement when the priest took the blood of the other goat and sprinkled it on the mercy seat (or covering) of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, which God’s people all have broken. The blood of an innocent victim covered the sins of the people. Those repeated animal sacrifices postponed judgment until Christ offered Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice to cover all our sins (Heb. 9:11-15; 10:1-14).
Third (4:8), “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” This is the accounting term, used 11 times in this chapter (translated as “credited” in 4:3, 4, 5; “credits” in 6). God takes our debt of sin off the books. He wipes the slate clean. It means (Rom. 8:1), “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Also, since David was already a justified man when he sinned with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Psalm 32 shows that God’s crediting of righteousness and forgiving of sins is not revoked by a believer’s sins (Everett Harrison, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 10:49). Although as I said, God disciplines us for our sins and does not remove all of the consequences of our sins, He does forgive them so that we do not incur His eternal wrath and judgment. We must submit to His discipline, but we do not need to fear His condemnation.
C. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner and forgives all his sins apart from any good works.
Paul says (4:6) that “David speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” If it’s apart from works, then how is it done? In verse 5 Paul says that the ungodly person’s faith (in Christ) is credited as righteousness. We must be clear that he does not mean that God views our faith as a work that merits righteousness. That would make verse 5 say the exact opposite of what Paul is saying! If faith somehow merited God’s favor, then grace would not be undeserved. Rather, faith lays hold of what Christ did for us on the cross (3:24-26). God justifies us as a gift (3:24), not as a reward or payment that our faith earns. Faith by definition looks away from oneself and to Christ. Faith is the hand that receives the gift of forgiveness through Jesus paying for our sins on the cross. Thus,
3. To obtain this blessing, we must cease from our own works and believe in God’s provision in Christ.
As we saw in verse 5, the only one God justifies is “the one who does not work.” In case we missed it, Paul repeats (4:6), “apart from works.” If you are trusting in any sense in your good works, you exclude yourself from God crediting Christ’s righteousness to your account. Paul plainly states (4:6), “God credits righteousness apart from works.” While you must repent of your sins, if you are trusting in your repentance, you exclude yourself from this blessing of forgiveness. And while you must believe in Christ, if you are trusting in your faith, you exclude yourself from God’s forgiveness. Your faith must not be in faith. Rather, your faith must be in Christ alone.
Some years ago, a 6-year-old Michigan boy could not be found. That night, 80 people frantically searched the woods near his home. By morning, more than 300 were looking for him. Then at about 10:30, he suddenly emerged from his bedroom. He had been hiding in a large drawer underneath his captain style bed.
It turned out that he hid himself in there because he was afraid. The evening before he disappeared, a policeman had asked him if he knew anything about a broken window across the street. He lied to the officer. A little later the officer turned on his flasher to stop a nearby motorist. The boy saw it and his imagination ran wild. He thought he would be locked up in jail. Fear and guilt drove him into hiding (from “Our Daily Bread,” Winter, 1980-81).
Guilt over your sins can cause you to keep your distance from others and to try to hide from God. If you are not in Christ, you have legitimate cause to fear His judgment. But God offers every sinner the supreme blessing: He will forgive all of your sins and credit the very righteousness of Christ to your account if you will cease from your own works and trust in what Christ did for you on the cross. Trust in Christ and you don’t have to “remember the duck.” The guilt will be gone and you will know the supreme blessing of having all of your lawless deeds forgiven.
- Should Christians feel guilty when they sin? What is the proper function of guilt? How can we recognize false guilt?
- How can we know whether our guilt is due to the Holy Spirit convicting us or Satan accusing us? What action should we take in either case?
- Some might argue that forgiveness by grace alone without penance on our part would lead to licentiousness. Your response?
- Genuine faith includes repentance, which includes “a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17). Some might argue that this then becomes a work that nullifies grace. Agree/disagree? Why?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 22: Religion Can’t Save You (Romans 4:9-15)Related Media
If you’ve been tracking with this series in Romans, you may be getting to the point where you’re thinking, “Why does Paul keep hammering on the truth that God’s righteousness is credited to us by faith alone?” How many times does he need to say it? He states it in Romans 3:22, “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” He hits it again in 3:26, “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (To be the justifier means to declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.) He hammers it again in 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
He keeps going in 4:3 (citing Gen. 15:6): “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” In case we missed it, he repeats it in 4:5: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” If you still didn’t get it, he comes at it again in 4:6, “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Not done yet, he says it again (4:8), “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (“credits” and “take into account” both come from the same Greek word).
But he still isn’t done! He anticipates the reaction of religious Jews who will still be thinking, “Yes, God credits righteousness by faith, but it is only for the circumcised who believe, not for uncircumcised Gentiles.” So in 4:9-12, he proves from the Old Testament that God credited righteousness to Abraham by faith while he was still uncircumcised. In proving this, he relentlessly beats the same drum. In 4:9, he cites again Genesis 15:6, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” In 4:10, he insists that it was credited to him while he was still uncircumcised. In 4:11, he repeats that the uncircumcised who believe will have righteousness credited to them. And in 4:12 he applies it to the circumcised Jews: They, too, must follow in the steps of the faith of Abraham which he had while he was still uncircumcised.
But Paul anticipates another objection from religious Jews: “Surely we become heirs of God’s promises to Abraham through the Law. Gentiles must keep the Law to come under these blessings.” This was the teaching of the Judaizers, who plagued Paul’s ministry (Acts 15:1, 5; Galatians). But Paul insists that the true heirs of the promises to Abraham are not those who are of the Law, but rather those who are of faith. He sums this up in 4:16 (which we will examine in more detail next time): “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
So why does Paul keep hammering on this truth that God’s righteousness is credited to us by faith alone? I think it’s because he knows how deeply embedded in the fallen human heart is the idea that we can do something to commend ourselves to God. The last two millennia of human history prove him to be right. All religions, including the major ones that go under the label of “Christian,” are works oriented. They teach what Paul explicitly and repeatedly denies here, that at least in part, we are saved by keeping religious rituals and by our good deeds.
For example, at the Council of Trent (in 1547), the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Protestant Reformation, including the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Canons and Decrees of Trent represent the official teaching of the Catholic Church to this day. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s declared these doctrines “irreformable.” The Council of Trent did not deny that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But it added works to faith by combining justification (right standing with God) with sanctification (our growth in holiness subsequent to being justified) and by making justification a process that depends in part on our good works. To quote:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, ... let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 9, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker], 2:112.)
If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 12, in Schaff, 2:113.)
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 24, in Schaff, 2:115.)
If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened [to him]: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 30, in Schaff, 2:117.)
In other words, the Roman Catholic Church declares that we are justified before God by grace through faith, but not through faith alone. We must add our good works to that faith in order to obtain, preserve, and increase our right standing before God. This process is not completed at the initial point of faith in Christ, and not even in this life, but only, hopefully, in Purgatory. Thus the Catholic Church denies the sufficiency of the guilty sinner’s faith in Christ’s sacrifice as the means of right standing with God. (See Justification by Faith Alone [Soli Deo Gloria], ed. by Don Kistler, especially pp. 7-14, by John MacArthur, Jr.)
I do not point out these things to be unkind to Roman Catholics. Quite the contrary, I say it because I care deeply that Catholics come to understand what Paul teaches about this most crucial matter of how a person gets right with God. And, even if you are not from a Catholic background, because of the fall you are prone to trust in your religious activities and your good works as the basis of your standing before God. But Paul wants you to see that …
Salvation does not come through religious rituals or the Law, but through God crediting righteousness through faith alone.
“This blessing” (4:9) refers to the blessing of salvation, of God not counting our sins against us (4:7-8). First, Paul shows that Abraham was not justified after he was circumcised, but before:
1. The blessing of salvation does not come through keeping religious rituals, but through God crediting righteousness to us through faith alone (4:9-12).
We can apply this to any religious rituals, such as baptism, communion, going to mass, praying the rosary, or whatever. We can sum up Paul’s flow of thought under two headings:
A. God credits righteousness to the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus Christ.
This is the shocking point that Paul makes in 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” As I said when we studied that verse, most people would assume that it should read, “But to the one who tries hard and believes in Him who justifies all good people, his faith is credited as righteousness.” But Paul specifically states that on the one hand, this person isn’t trying hard; he does not work. On the other hand, he isn’t described as a good person, but rather as ungodly. He isn’t a religious person who tries to obey God. He isn’t a person who devotes his life to serving the poor. He isn’t a person who never deliberately hurt anyone. He is ungodly. God justifies the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus!
The Jews viewed Gentiles as ungodly, but they viewed themselves as godly people. Circumcision was the main religious ritual that distinguished them from the “Gentile dogs.” When Abraham was 99 years-old, God commanded him to circumcise himself and all the males in his household. He extended that command for all Jewish baby boys throughout all generations, that they be circumcised on the eighth day. It was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham (Gen. 17:11-12).
But Paul here points out a simple fact of Old Testament chronology: God’s command to Abraham to be circumcised happened at least 14 years after the incident in Genesis 15:6 where God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. Thus Abraham was in effect still an uncircumcised Gentile! So Paul effectively turns the tables on the Jews who argued for circumcision as essential for salvation. He is saying that it is not for the Gentiles to enter through the gate of Jewish circumcision, but rather for the Jews to enter through the gate of Gentile faith apart from circumcision (Frederic Godet, Commentary on Romans [Kregel], p. 174)!
Or, to put it in more modern terms, you do not get saved (or justified) by being baptized (whether as an infant or an adult) or by taking communion. You do not get saved by going to church or by faithfully saying your prayers or by doing penance. Rather, you get saved when God credits the very righteousness of Christ to you the instant that you believe in Him. Salvation does not come through the performance of any religious rituals, but only through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25).
Well then, what is the role of religious rituals? Are they worthless? Should we just forget about them? No,
B. Religious rituals serve as signs and seals of the reality that comes through faith in Christ.
Paul (4:11) refers to circumcision as both a sign and a seal of the righteousness of the faith that Abraham had while uncircumcised. This makes him “the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.”
A sign is not the real thing, but it points to it. A sign that says “Flagstaff, 10 miles” is not the actual city, but it points you to it. Circumcision was a physical sign in every Jewish man’s flesh that pointed to the fact that he belonged to God. He was in covenant with God and God’s people. He was separated to God through the shedding of blood. It was a sign of purification from the flesh, so that both Moses (Deut. 10:16) and the prophets (Jer. 4:4) exhorted Israel spiritually to circumcise their hearts.
As Christians, baptism is a sign that your sins have been washed away through faith in Christ (Acts 22:16). It pictures the truth that you have been identified completely (immersed) with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). The Lord’s Supper is a sign of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 11:25), showing that you are a partaker in Christ’s sacrificial death on your behalf. The sign is not the reality, but it points to the reality. The reality is God’s promise to forgive all our sins and impute Christ’s righteousness to our account by faith alone. The “ritual” is a sign of the reality. If you don’t have the reality, the ritual is worthless.
Also, Paul refers to circumcision as a seal. A seal authenticates or attests to the reality of something. A notary’s seal on a document attests that it is the real thing. Circumcision attested to the reality of Abraham’s previous faith that justified him and to God’s covenant with him. But it was the faith that justified, not the act of circumcision. In 4:12, Paul applies this to the Jews, but then narrows it by saying that it does not apply to all Jews, but only to those “who also follow in the steps of the faith” of Abraham. He almost twists the knife when he adds, “which he had while uncircumcised.” He is saying that whether you are a Gentile or a Jew, the key thing is to believe God’s promise to justify the ungodly. The rituals follow as signs and seals, but the reality is through faith alone.
What then is the benefit of religious “rituals,” such as baptism and communion? Should we do them at all? Yes, because Scripture commands us to do them. But they should only be done after you have put your trust in Christ as your righteousness. They then become a sign pointing to that reality and a seal that attests to your faith in Christ.
I can only briefly deal with the fact that those who argue for infant baptism point to Romans 4:11 as a key verse. They argue that although for Abraham circumcision pointed back to his previous faith, for Abraham’s descendants, it was done for them as infants and thus pointed ahead to the faith they later would exercise. They argue that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Thus we should baptize infants.
How do we answer this? (For a more thorough treatment, see my sermon, “Why We Do Not Baptize Infants,” 9/8/96, on fcfonline.org). But, briefly: First, there is no New Testament example or command to baptize infants. Rather, every mention of baptism in the New Testament shows that it is the appropriate response to saving faith, not the precursor of it. Also, while the New Testament shows some correspondence between circumcision and baptism (Col. 2:11-12), it explicitly mentions faith in that context. It is an argument from silence, but it is a loud silence when in the many New Testament discussions about circumcision, there is absolutely no reference to it now being replaced by baptism.
There are some significant differences between circumcision and baptism. But even if we grant the parallels, then just as circumcision was administered to the physical descendants of Abraham in the age of type, so baptism ought to be administered to the spiritual descendants of Abraham in the age of fulfillment, namely, to believers. Old Testament Israel consisted of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and thus the sign was given to show that the males were children of the covenant. But the New Testament church consists of those who are the spiritual children of Abraham through faith in Christ (Gal. 3:7). Thus baptism should only be administered to those who give a clear profession of faith in Christ.
I should also point out that while some denominations (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran) teach that baptism imparts regeneration to infants, others that practice infant baptism (Presbyterians, the Reformed Church, and Methodists) do not. But I argue that even if a church denies that it imparts regeneration, to baptize infants is potentially damaging in that it later gives them false assurance that they are right with God through a ritual. But we are right with God through faith in Christ alone. (See also, John Piper, “How do Circumcision and Baptism Correspond?” on DesiringGod.org.)
But Paul anticipates that his Jewish readers will bring up the Law. Surely Paul wouldn’t throw out God’s Law! Don’t the Gentiles have to keep the Law in order to call Abraham their father?
2. The blessing of salvation does not come through keeping the Law, but through God crediting righteousness to us through faith alone (4:13-15).
The Jews would have not restricted the obedience which they thought necessary for salvation to circumcision, but would have expanded it to the whole Law (Acts 15:5). Paul could have countered their argument, as he does in Galatians 3:17, by showing that the Law, which came 430 years after the promise to Abraham, does not invalidate the previous covenant. But instead, he limits himself here to the argument of Galatians 3:18, that the concept of a covenant promise is fundamentally opposed to the concept of the Law.
He states the principle in 4:13: “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Then he explains (4:14), “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” Thus he is saying,
A. If you seek to be justified by keeping the Law, you make faith void and you nullify God’s promises (4:14).
The principle of receiving a gift by faith is the opposite of receiving a reward that you work for (Rom. 3:24; 4:4). If you offer me a gift and I say, “Let me pay you back by working for it,” I have turned the gift into something that I owe you or you end up owing me. God promises to justify the ungodly person who does not deserve it, but who receives it freely by His grace. If you mix human works with God’s grace, then grace is no longer grace. The promise of salvation as a free gift received by faith has been nullified and turned into a debt for payment of services rendered.
B. If you seek to be justified by keeping the Law, rather than gaining the blessing of salvation you actually incur God’s wrath (4:15).
In 4:15, Paul explains why the attempt to gain salvation by the Law is doomed to fail: “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there is no violation.” The Law brings wrath because no one can keep it perfectly. To gain acceptance with God by keeping the Law, you have to keep it perfectly (James 2:10). Any failure makes you liable for God’s judgment. The second phrase does not mean that there is no sin when there is no law. As Paul previously stated, the Gentile who did not know the explicit commands of God is guilty of violating his own conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). But the Jew who knows the Law and violates it is going against what he explicitly knows to be right. The Law shows us what sin is (Rom. 7:7). Thus to know the Law and violate it incurs God’s wrath to a greater degree than not to know the Law at all.
Also, note that there are two and only two possible eternal futures for every person: either you are an heir of the world as a true descendant of Abraham (4:13) or you are an heir of wrath as one who sought to be right with God by keeping the Law (4:15).
The phrase, “heir of the world,” does not occur in those exact words anywhere in God’s promises to Abraham. Rather, Paul is probably summing up God’s promises that Abraham would have a large number of descendants from many nations (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 22:17); that he would possess the land (Gen. 13:15-17; 15:12-21; 17:8); and that he would be the channel of blessing “all the peoples of the earth” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 274). Jesus Christ is the final “seed” (“descendant”) of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). If we are in Christ through faith, then we are fellow heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 3:6). As Paul puts it (Gal. 3:29), “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
In verse 9, as I said, “this blessing” refers to the blessing that Paul has enumerated from Psalm 32 (in Rom. 4:7-8), namely, the blessing of knowing that your lawless deeds have been forgiven, that your sins have been covered, and that God will not take your sins into account. Do you want that blessing?
You won’t get it by being born into a Christian home or by faithful attendance at a Christian church. You won’t get it by being baptized and partaking of communion. You won’t get the blessing of forgiveness by doing penance or devoting yourself to sacrificial service to the poor. In short, you won’t get the blessing of salvation through religious rituals or by keeping the Law. Rather, God forgives all our sins and credits Christ’s righteousness to us if we put our faith in Jesus and His shed blood. Religion can’t save you, but Jesus can. Trust in Him and instantly you become an heir of God’s promise of eternal life as His free gift!
- Some say that the doctrine of justification by faith alone should be set aside so that Protestants and Catholics can come together in the many areas where they agree. Your thoughts?
- Discuss: Do religious “rituals” convey grace to all who participate or only to those who participate in faith?
- Do you agree that infant baptism is potentially damaging? Why/why not?
- Why is the concept of approaching God by keeping the Law (or any good works) fundamentally opposed to “the righteousness of faith”?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 23: The Nature of Saving Faith (Romans 4:16-22)Related Media
In 1947 a rumor spread that the Ford Motor Company would give a Ford in exchange for every copper penny dated 1943. The rumor spread so fast that Ford offices throughout the country were jammed with thousands of requests for information. The U.S. mint also received a large volume of inquiries.
It all turned out to be a hoax. The statistics of the mint show that in 1943 there were over one billion pennies minted from steel-zinc, but due to a copper shortage, the number of copper pennies was exactly zero.
There has been a rumor abroad in the human race for centuries that entrance into heaven can be obtained by good works. But it’s not true. The fact is, there are no works made on earth that are acceptable in heaven. All of our works are tainted by sin. The only righteousness that gains entrance to heaven is the righteousness of Jesus Christ graciously imputed to sinners who believe in Him (I adapted this illustration from Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell], p. 356).
Your eternal destiny depends on your understanding and personally believing the truth that Paul has been hammering on in Romans 4, that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone. We are not justified by works or by moral behavior, but rather by faith in the God who credits righteousness to the ungodly apart from works (Rom. 4:1-8). This blessing is not based on religious rituals (4:9-12) or on keeping the Law, which only serves to condemn us (4:13-15). Rather, as Paul now shows,
Saving faith is rooted in God’s grace, it rests on God’s promise, it revels in God’s glory, and it relies on God’s power.
Paul is arguing that Abraham, whom the Jews rightly extolled as the father of their faith, was justified by faith alone, not by being circumcised or by keeping the Law. And as such, Abraham is not only the father of believing Jews, but also of Gentiles who believe. So Paul now expounds on the nature of Abraham’s faith as an example for us all.
1. Saving faith is rooted in God’s grace, not in human performance.
After pointing out that the Law brings wrath, not salvation (4:15), Paul continues (4:16), “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
This verse is a summary of 4:1-15. “It” refers to the promised inheritance to Abraham, which was not promised on the basis of obedience to the Law, but rather through the righteousness of faith (4:13). The reason that this promised inheritance is by faith is so that it may be in accordance with grace. Paul explained this back in 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor [“favor” is the Greek word for “grace”], but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
The point is simple: if salvation comes to us as a wage that we deserve because of our good works, then it is not by grace, which is undeserved favor. God would owe it to us, and of course then we could boast in our own efforts which obtained it. Salvation would not be a gift, but a wage. But God only gives it as a free gift, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:27-31).
When Paul mentions in verse 16, “those who are of the Law,” he is referring to believing Jews, not to all Jews. If he meant all Jews, he would be contradicting what he has just said (4:15), that the Law brings about wrath. So he means that since the promise of becoming an heir of righteousness is by faith, it is available to all who believe. Gentiles do not need to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Rather, Jews and Gentiles alike must believe in Jesus to be saved.
Paul says that faith (as opposed to Law or human performance) guarantees this promise. If salvation were based on our good deeds, how could we ever know when we’ve done enough? As I pointed out in our last study, this is the problem with the Roman Catholic system of adding our works to faith in order to accumulate enough merit for heaven. When have you done enough service to the poor? When have you given enough money? When have you been honest enough? When have you demonstrated that your love for God is pure and fervent enough? When have you arrived at loving your neighbor as you in fact love yourself? If you base salvation on good works, you’ll always be plagued with doubts.
And so we must all come to God with “the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (4:16). This faith is rooted in God’s gracious promise to declare righteous all who believe in Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sin. It is available to all people, without distinction. Perhaps, like the Jews in Paul’s day, you come from a religious background. God must open your eyes to see that you are a guilty sinner who cannot earn salvation by your own efforts. If you respond to God’s gracious promise by faith, He will credit the righteousness of Christ to your account.
Or, perhaps like the Gentiles, you come from a pagan background. You have lived to pursue pleasure through sin. But if God opens your eyes to see that you are a guilty sinner and that He offers a full pardon to those who believe in Jesus’ death as the payment for sin, He will credit Christ’s righteousness to you the instant you believe in Jesus. The faith of Abraham guarantees the promise to all.
Paul goes on to expound on Abraham’s faith:
2. Saving faith rests in God’s promise, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
As indicated in the NASB, the citation from Genesis 17:5 is parenthetical (4:17a): “(as it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you.’)” In Genesis 17, Abraham was 99 years old. Although God had promised to give him a son through Sarah almost 25 years before, they still had no son. Now, the human prospects of having a son seemed impossible. Abraham was almost 100 and Sarah was about 90. She had been barren all her life and now both of them were past the age of conceiving a child.
At this point, the Lord appeared to Abraham and promised to establish His covenant with him, which included making him the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:4). In light of this, God gave Abram (his name up to this point, which means “exalted father”) a new name, Abraham, which means, “the father of a multitude.” Then (in Genesis) the citation that is in our text follows (from the LXX), “A father of many nations I have made you.”
As Abraham stood there before God, although the promise was outside of the realm of human possibility, Abraham believed in God, whom Paul here (4:17) describes as the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” That faith was not without its struggles, as we will see. But the point is, Abraham believed God’s promise, even though the fulfillment of it was humanly impossible and seemed very unlikely.
To believe in God’s promise is the same as believing in God’s person. If I promise to do something for you, but you don’t believe my promise, in effect you’re calling me a liar. You’re saying that I won’t do what I’ve promised. If God promises something and we refuse to believe it, we’ve called God a liar!
Paul is emphasizing God’s promise (4:13, 14, 16, 20; the verb is in 4:21). Leon Morris writes (The Epistle to the Romans Apollos/Eerdmans], p. 212), “Abraham had nothing going for him except the promise of God. But for the man of faith that was enough.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 211), Abraham believed “the bare Word of God” and “nothing else whatsoever.” He adds, “Faith is content with the bare Word of God, because He is God.”
It’s easy to sit here and think, “Well, I’d believe God, too, if He appeared to me as He did to Abraham and promised me something.” But, would we? The promise flew in the face of every human consideration. First, Sarah, who had been barren all of her life, had now gone through menopause. And Abraham was 100. So when God told him that he would be the father of a multitude of nations and that Sarah would be the mother of nations, Abraham laughed and asked God that Ishmael might be the heir. But God insisted that the heir would come through Sarah (Gen. 17:15-19).
Then there was this embarrassing matter of changing his name. Abram was embarrassing enough. When people met him they would probably ask, “Abram, ‘exalted father,’ huh? How many children do you have?” Abram would look down, clear his throat and say, “One.” He’d probably not explain that the one son was not through his wife, but through her servant. Abram probably saw a lot of people roll their eyes as they thought, “Exalted father, and he’s 99 and only has one child? Yeah, sure!”
But now, after God appears to him, the next day Abram announces, “I have a new name. God gave it to me last night.” Everyone is waiting, thinking, “Maybe he’s finally going to take a name that reflects reality!” Then Abram says, “My new name is Abraham, father of a multitude!” Maybe some of his servants turned their backs quickly and put their hands over their mouths to suppress their laughter. They thought, “The old man is losing it!”
But Abraham believed God and His promise, even though it was humanly impossible ever to be fulfilled. We look back in history and can see how the promise was fulfilled literally through the many descendants of Isaac and Jacob, Ishmael and Esau, and through Abraham’s sons through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-4). But the promise has been fulfilled even more so through the spiritual descendants of the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, with the gospel going around the world to every nation. But Abraham didn’t live to see any of this. He “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Heb. 11:13).
John Calvin perceptively observes (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Rom. 1:20, p. 180):
All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.
Before we leave this point, let’s apply it to God’s promise of salvation. He promises to justify and give eternal life to the ungodly person who believes in Jesus. Where do we learn about this promise? Our only source is the Word of God. You won’t learn how to have eternal life by studying nature. You won’t deduce it from philosophy or logic. You won’t learn it by studying human behavior. Rather, the only source is the written Word of God, conveyed to us by the apostles and prophets. Do you believe it? Have you put your trust for eternal life in God’s promise as recorded in His Word? If not, you’re calling God a liar!
Another application of this is: When you talk to people about the gospel, cite God’s Word and encourage people to read it, especially the Gospel of John. John tells us that he wrote his gospel (John 20:31), “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Word is powerful to save sinners (James 1:18).
3. Saving faith revels in God’s glory, not in human effort or will power.
Paul writes (4:20), “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Abraham’s faith was solidly God-centered. He didn’t believe in himself. He didn’t have faith in faith. He wasn’t an optimist who practiced positive thinking. He didn’t think, “If Sarah and I just visualize the goal and try again, we’ll succeed.” Rather, looking away from the circumstances and away from himself, he believed God and His promise, so that God got the glory. In Romans 1:21, we saw that the fundamental sin of the human race was, “even though they knew God, they did not glorify [lit.] Him as God or give thanks.” But here, by way of contrast, Abraham grew strong in faith and gave glory to God.
This teaches us that our faith should grow. Weak faith (or little faith) is still faith, but we should grow strong in faith. The Greek verb is passive, “was strengthened in faith.” Although some scholars take it in an active sense, I think that Paul could have used the active verb if he had meant to; but he used the passive. It implies that faith must come from God. It is His gift to us. And yet, like so many gifts of God, we have a responsibility to appropriate it and grow in it.
How do we grow in faith? The key is to grow in your knowledge of the object of our faith, namely, God. Faith is only as good as its object. You can have strong faith in a faulty bridge and it will collapse under you in spite of your strong faith. Or, you can have weak faith in a strong bridge and it will hold you up, along with a semi-truck that rumbles over it next to you. But your weak faith does not glorify the strong bridge for what it is. The right way to have strong faith that glorifies the bridge is to know that the engineer who built it is competent and the company that constructed it has a solid reputation of not cutting corners. Your knowledge of that bridge would increase your faith in it, even though it may go over a frightening chasm below. Your strong faith stems from your knowledge that this is a trustworthy bridge. The bridge, not your faith, gets the glory.
To grow in faith, study God’s attributes and His ways as revealed in His Word. See how He has been faithful to His Word in the past. See how He has kept His promises to His people, even in the face of staggering odds against them. Read how He has acted in the history of the Bible. Read the history of His saints who have trusted Him. In some cases, He delivered them miraculously. At other times, they were tortured, thrown in prison, stoned, sawn in two, and put to death by the sword (Heb. 11:37). But in no case did God ever abandon His people or act unfaithfully to His promises. Revelation 6:9-11 tells us that He has a precise number of martyrs who will be killed before He finally judges the wicked. But the evil deeds of the wicked do not threaten God’s sovereign power or plan. Study His attributes and His ways and you will grow in faith.
Then, put your faith into action. As you act in faith and see God work, your faith is strengthened to trust Him the next time. We need to be careful not to misapply His promises. John the Baptist in prison was confused because he thought that if he was the Messiah’s forerunner and Jesus was the Messiah, then he should not be in prison (Matt. 11:2-11). Jesus gently assured John that He was indeed the Messiah, but as you know, John did not get out of prison alive. But even if God’s will is our death, we can glorify Him by dying in faith as we look to His promise of eternal life. Faith does not glory in human effort or human will power, but rather in God alone. Salvation is totally from God and so saving faith properly gives Him all the glory.
Thus saving faith is rooted in God’s grace. It rests on God’s promise. It revels in God’s glory. Finally,
4. Saving faith relies on God’s power to keep His promise, in spite of human inability.
These verses contrast Abraham’s hopeless inability with God’s mighty power. Abraham and Sarah were past their human ability to conceive a child, and even when they were in their prime, Sarah could not conceive. But God waited until they were clearly past all ability to conceive, so that the greatness of the power would be in God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (4:17).
Verse 19 says that Abraham “contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” The King James Version follows a textual variant that says that Abraham did not consider his own body, but the better reading (textually and contextually) says that he did consider it. In other words, he didn’t ignore reality. He didn’t close his eyes to the obvious and have blind faith.
Rather, he faced the reality of his and Sarah’s complete inability to conceive the promised son. When Paul says that Abraham did not waver in unbelief, he is looking at the overall pattern and final result, not at his momentary lapses in faith. He wavered in faith when he took Hagar, conceived Ishmael, and then asked God to make Ishmael the heir. The phrase, “in hope against hope” implies the struggle of faith that Abraham experienced and that everyone who walks by faith experiences. Circumstances often dash our hope, but against that, we fight back with hope. Our faith and hope are not in ourselves or our ability or in a positive attitude that everything turns out okay for good people in the end.
No, our faith and hope are in the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into being that which does not exist. He renewed Abraham’s and Sarah’s “dead” bodies to produce Isaac, the son of the promise. He said, “I have made you a father of many nations” before Abraham had Isaac. God’s word that said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3) is effectual. Paul applies this to our salvation when he says (2 Cor. 4:6), “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Saving faith relies on God’s power to keep His promise, not on any human ability.
Verse 22 gives the cumulative result of Abraham’s faith: “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.” Paul repeats that verse in 4:3, 5, 9, and now here. Plus, he alludes to it in 4:6, 8, 11, and 13. He has repeatedly mentioned “faith” or “believe,” often in deliberate contrast to human works (4:3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20). He wants us to see that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone in God’s promise, not by any works or merit added to it. Since God’s salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, we can join Abraham (in 4:21), “being fully assured that what God [has] promised, He [is] able also to perform.”
I’ve told you before about the granny who had never flown in an airplane, but she had to make a trip by air. Her kids and grandkids all tried to convince her that it was safer than riding in a car. Finally, with a lot of misgivings, she got on board.
When she returned safely, the family met her at the airport and asked, “How’d it go, Granny? Did the plane hold you up?” She reluctantly agreed, “Yeah.” But then she added, “But I never put my full weight down on it!”
Could your faith in Jesus Christ to save you be like that? You believe in Him, but you’re also keeping one foot in your good works to get you into heaven. Saving faith puts all its weight on Jesus Christ and His shed blood. It’s rooted in God’s grace, it rests on God’s promise, it revels in God’s glory, and it relies on His power. Make sure that your trust is in Christ alone.
- Some argue that if we are saved by grace through faith alone, it will lead to licentiousness. Your answer (with biblical support)?
- How can a person who struggles with doubt know if he has enough faith to save him?
- A skeptic asks, “If God is faithful, then why does He allow good Christians to be persecuted and martyred?” Your reply?
- Where is the balance between faith and using means? Are the two compatible? When do we cross the line?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 24: What is a Christian? (Romans 4:23-25)Related Media
A former secretary of mine told me about a doctor from Texas that she knew who owned a home in Mexico. He felt sorry for the poor people there, many of whom were often sick because they didn’t pasteurize their milk. So he bought them a pasteurizing machine. The villagers built a special shed to house the machine and had a big celebration when he brought it down and installed it.
A few months later when the doctor returned, the leading man of the village greeted him by saying, “Oh, doctor, good to see you! If we had known you were coming, we would have plugged in the pasteurizing machine.”
We chuckle at that story, and yet it describes the way that many Christians use their Bibles. They know that the truths of the Bible would be good for what ails them, but they only plug it in for special occasions, like when the pastor comes around. The rest of the time, it’s as useless as an unplugged pasteurizing machine.
D. A. Carson observed (Christianity Today [6/29/1979], p. 31):
The supreme irony is that most Christians hear best what the Spirit is saying to someone else. Speak to the fundamentalist about the truth, and he hears you, precisely because he doesn’t need to; it is the person with fuzzy notions about the eternality of the truth who will not hear. Speak to the genuinely broad-minded ecumenist about love, and he hears you, precisely because he doesn’t need to, but fundamentalists of a harsher variety will not. Speak to the Ephesian Christians about discipline, endurance, perseverance, and sound doctrine, and they will hear you—precisely because they don’t need to. But will they hear when you speak of lovelessness? The one who truly hears what the Spirit says to the churches will be the one who is receptive to the words of God that he least wishes to hear.
Paul has spent an entire chapter hammering home the truth that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by our good works, not by our religious rituals, and not by keeping the Law of Moses. He uses Abraham as the prime example of a man who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (4:3, 5, 9, 22). But now, as he wraps up this chapter, he wants us to plug it in personally. He doesn’t want us to cheer and say, “Brilliant argument, Paul! You really stuck it to those religious Jews! Nice going!” No, he wants each of us to apply it on the most fundamental level so that we, too, are sure that the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to our account by faith. In applying this to us, Paul gives us a simple description of what a true Christian is:
A Christian personally believes in God who delivered over Jesus to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to confirm our justification.
1. A Christian personally applies the lesson of Abraham’s faith so that the righteousness of Christ is credited to him.
Paul writes (4:23-24), “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Note four things:
A. Our faith must be personal.
Verse 24 reads literally, “to whom it is about to be credited.” The verb, “is about to,” has a future reference from the standpoint of the Old Testament, looking ahead to God’s promise as fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 242). Schreiner paraphrases it (ibid.), “Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.” In other words, Paul wants us to apply personally the truth of Abraham’s being justified by faith.
We can see this in the text by the fact that Paul uses the pronoun “our” four times: “for our sake also”; “Jesus our Lord”; “our transgressions”; and, “our justification.” These truths must be ours personally. And as C. H. Spurgeon pointed out (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 48:560), “you can never truly say, ‘Our Lord,’ till you have first said, ‘My Lord.’” Is Jesus your Lord because you personally have trusted in Him for eternal life?
Paul’s point is that this chapter about Abraham and his faith is not just a quaint history lesson. We need to apply it personally. The Bible was written so that first we would understand it, but then so that we will apply it. The story of Abraham is for your sake also. Has the righteousness of Christ been credited to your account? Romans 4 won’t do you any good unless by faith you are a true son of Abraham, an heir according to God’s promise (Gal. 3:7, 29).
Also, Romans 4 shows the importance of understanding and applying the Old Testament. Paul built the entire chapter on the story of Abraham’s faith being credited to him as righteousness. If we do not understand the Old Testament, we will not properly understand the New Testament. Douglas Moo observes (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 287), “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.” As Paul goes on to say (Rom. 15:4), “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (See, also, 1 Cor. 10:11.)
So before we leave this point I want to ask you two questions: First, do you regularly read and seek to understand and apply the Old Testament? Reading through the entire Bible in a year is a good plan. I try to read from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament, each day. Don’t neglect the Old Testament.
Second, have you put your faith in Christ alone, trusting God to credit Christ’s righteousness to your account? If you have not done that, you are not a Christian in the most important sense of the word. A Christian personally believes in Jesus Christ.
B. Our faith must be like the faith of Abraham.
Paul’s emphasis here is on the continuity and similarity of Abraham’s faith with ours. As he said (4:12), we must “follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.” And (4:16), we are to be “of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
Last week we saw the nature of Abraham’s faith, which is an example for our faith. Abraham believed God’s promise and so should we. In his case, it was God’s promise to give him an heir through Sarah, to give him the land, to make him the father of many nations, and to bless the nations through his “seed.” Those promises were ultimately fulfilled in Christ. But Abraham died in faith without receiving the promises (Heb. 11:13). In our case, we look back to God’s promise to justify sinners who believe in Christ.
Also, Abraham believed God’s promise in spite of circumstances that seemed to be to the contrary. He and Sarah were both beyond the years when they could physically conceive children. It required a miracle for God to fulfill His promise. But “in hope against hope he believed” (Rom. 4:18). As we look at our own hearts and realize how sinful we have been and how inclined toward sin we still are, it seems impossible for God to save us. But, like Abraham, we must believe God’s promise in spite of circumstances that seem to be contrary.
Abraham also believed that God is able to give “life to the dead” and to call “into being that which does not exist” (4:17). In Abraham’s case, it was his and Sarah’s “dead” bodies, which were incapable of conceiving a child. Later, Abraham’s faith focused on God raising Isaac from the dead after He commanded Abraham to sacrifice him (Heb. 11:19). In our case, we must believe that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead. And, we must believe that every time God saves a soul, He is giving life to the dead (Eph. 2:1-5) and calling into being that which did not exist (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17). In other words, the new birth is a miraculous, life-giving event.
Also, Abraham’s faith grew strong and gave glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform (4:20-21). Even so, our faith in Christ must grow stronger as we study God’s Word and learn more of His attributes and His ways. We don’t glory in our strong faith, but rather in our strong God. Our faith should point others to Him, because He is faithful.
Note also that in 3:26, Paul talks about God justifying the one who has faith in Jesus, but here (4:24) he talks about believing “in Him who raised Jesus from the dead,” namely, God the Father. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 238) expresses his concern that some people speak only about Jesus, but never mention God the Father. Others put the emphasis on God, but don’t see their need for Jesus. And others put all their emphasis on the Holy Spirit, while some hardly mention the Spirit. Lloyd-Jones’ plea is that we maintain the balance of Scripture, where everything starts with God and ends with God. The work of Christ is designed to bring us to God and reconcile us to Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the work of Christ to us who believe. But it is all aimed at bringing us to glorify God.
Thus our faith must be personal. It must be like the faith of Abraham, although because of God’s promise being fulfilled in Christ, we have much more revelation than Abraham did.
C. Our faith must have specific content, namely, what Scripture reveals about God, sin, Christ, and salvation.
As we saw in our last study, Abraham didn’t have faith in himself or faith in faith itself or faith in positive thinking. Rather, he believed the specific promises of God. Even so, our faith must have the specific content of what the Bible teaches about God, who is holy, just, and loving. We must believe the biblical revelation about the pervasiveness of human sin, which renders us all incapable of seeking after God or pleasing Him. We must believe in the full deity and sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to die as the substitute for sinners. And, we must believe that we are saved—rescued from God’s wrath—by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
It is important to say that our faith must have specific content because there are those who make the false distinction that our faith must be personal, but not propositional. They argue that we are to believe in Jesus, but not in specific doctrines about Jesus or about salvation. They contend that doctrine only divides us, so we should set it aside and just believe in Jesus without the doctrines. But clearly the apostle Paul didn’t spend an entire chapter arguing that we are justified by faith alone if that doctrine doesn’t matter for our salvation!
The Bible is filled not only with stories, but also with many doctrines that are vitally important to our salvation and our spiritual health. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, but their doctrines contradict and deny the Jesus and the way of salvation set forth in the Bible. There are many Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants who believe in the Jesus of the Bible (not in the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon “Jesus”), but contrary to Scripture, they believe that we are saved at least in part by our good works. But Paul said that the Judaizers, who taught that to be saved we must believe in Jesus plus keep the Mosaic Law (especially circumcision), were damned (Gal. 1:6-9). So we must believe in sound doctrine, especially regarding doctrines related to salvation.
Of course, some doctrines in the Bible are more important than other doctrines are (Matt. 23:23; Rom. 14:17). We should not divide over minor doctrinal differences or even over more major doctrines (such as biblical prophecy) where godly men differ. So we need wisdom and discernment to major in the things that matter. We all need to be growing in our understanding of the content of the Bible so that we don’t minimize key doctrines or maximize minor ones.
D. Our faith must appropriate the righteousness of Christ as our own.
Paul keeps repeating the word “credited” (4:3, 5-6, 8, 9-11, 22, 23, 24) to hammer home the point that righteousness before God is a forensic matter. It is not a matter of God making us righteous or infusing righteousness into us, which is the process of sanctification. Rather, justification is God’s declaring us to be righteous based on Jesus taking all of our sins on Himself on the cross. God credits the perfect righteousness of Christ to every ungodly person who believes in Him (4:5).
I’ve said it before, but let me emphasize once more that God does not credit our faith as righteousness as if faith were a work on our part that God agrees to accept as payment for our sins. Our faith is not viewed as some sort of righteousness that is good enough to cover our sins. Rather, faith lays hold of Jesus Christ, who becomes the righteousness of God for us (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). By faith, God’s righteousness in Christ is applied to us (Rom. 3:22). So when Paul talks about faith being credited as righteousness (4:3, 5, 9, 22), it is the same thing as when he says that God credits righteousness to us apart from works (4:6, 11). The righteousness of faith (4:11, 13) is God’s righteousness that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
John Piper devotes an entire message to explain this in far more detail than I can do here (“Faith and the Imputation of Righteousness,” on Rom. 4:22-25, on DesiringGod.org). He uses this illustration:
Suppose I say to Barnabas, my sixteen-year-old son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to go watch the game tonight.” Well, suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences.
To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit your apology and submission as a clean room. I said, ‘You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to go watch the game tonight.’ Your room is clean. So you can go to the game.” What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology as a clean room,” is not that the apology is the clean room. Nor that he really cleaned his room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of reckoning—in my grace—his apology connects him with the promise given for a clean room. The clean room is his clean room. I credit it to him. Or, I credit his apology as a clean room. You can say it either way. And Paul said it both ways: “Faith is credited as righteousness,” and “God credits righteousness to us through faith.”
So when God says … to those who believe in Christ, “I credit your faith as righteousness,” he does not mean that your faith is righteousness. He means that your faith connects you to God’s righteousness.
Thus Paul is saying that a Christian personally applies the lesson of Abraham’s faith so that the righteousness of Christ is credited to him. Have you done that? It is essential!
2. A Christian believes that God delivered over Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins.
Here we are focusing on the phrase, “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions” (4:25). “Delivered over” is passive, meaning that God delivered Jesus over to death. There is a sense in which Jesus voluntarily gave Himself over to death (John 10:18), but there is another sense in which the Father delivered over the Son (Rom. 8:32). Romans 4:25 is not a quotation, but it relies in substance on Isaiah 53:12 (LXX), which states of Messiah, “his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many and was delivered over because of their iniquities.” Or, as it says just a few verses earlier (Isa. 53:6), “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Or, again (Isa. 53:10), “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, …” The last two phrases refer to the resurrection, which we will look at in a moment.
Peter mentions God’s delivering Jesus over to be crucified in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23): “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” He goes on to affirm that God raised Him up again.
But the point is, our salvation, which includes at its center Jesus’ death on the cross, was not an unfortunate moment in history when evil men gained the upper hand. Although they were fully responsible for their sin, the crucifixion was God’s predetermined plan to give His eternal Son to pay the penalty for our sins. A Christian believes that salvation is from the Lord so that it all is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). Finally,
3. A Christian believes that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead to confirm our justification.
Paul emphasizes Jesus’ resurrection from the dead twice here: “Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24); and, Jesus “was raised because of our justification” (4:25). As Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith and our forgiveness. And, it is based on solid, varied eyewitness testimony. He says there (1 Cor. 15:17), “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In Romans 1:4, Paul says that Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection puts God’s stamp of approval on the death of Jesus as payment in full for the sins of all who believe.
The phrase, “Jesus our Lord,” emphasizes both His deity and His humanity. Jesus took on human flesh so that He could bear our sins, but He did not give up His deity. He is the Lord. But as I said, we must trust in Him as our Lord personally.
The phrase, “raised because of our justification,” is a bit difficult. It is parallel with the phrase, “delivered up because of our transgressions.” Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is that Jesus was delivered up to death as a consequence (“because”) of our sin; He was raised as a consequence (“because”) of our justification, which He achieved by His death (Rom. 5:9). In other words, when God raised Jesus, He put His seal of approval on Christ’s death as obtaining our justification (Murray J. Harris, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown [Zondervan], 3:1184). So the resurrection confirms that our justification was valid and acceptable to the Father.
Note carefully that not everyone is justified. Jesus’ death only justifies “those who believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead” (4:24). In other words, this truth that God delivered Jesus over to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to affirm our justification will save you only if you personally believe it. The pasteurizing machine only benefits you if you plug it in and actually use it to pasteurize your milk. This wonderful doctrine of justification by faith that Paul has spent an entire chapter hammering home was not written as a quaint history lesson about Abraham. It was written for your sake. God will credit the righteousness of Christ to your account the instant that you believe in Him. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead affirms that it is true!
So what is a Christian? A Christian is a person who personally believes in God who delivered over Jesus to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to confirm our justification. Make sure that you are a true Christian through faith in Jesus Christ!
- Much of the Old Testament is hard to read and understand. Why should we read it? How can we understand it better?
- Since it is possible to “believe in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2), how can we make sure that our faith is genuine?
- Why does doctrine matter? How can we hold to sound doctrine without being needlessly divisive? What guidelines exist?
- Is the substitutionary atonement essential for salvation? Why?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 25: The Blessings of Justification (Romans 5:1-2)Related Media
If you were to ask many Christians what words they associate with “doctrine,” you would probably hear, “boring,” or “irrelevant.” We tend to be pragmatists who view the doctrines of the Bible as something that interests theologians or seminary students, strange breed that they are. But we want something practical. We want to know how to deal with the problems we face every day. So we tend to skip the doctrine and move on to the how-to’s.
The apostle Paul would be baffled by that approach. He would view it as building a house without a foundation. In all of his letters, he first sets forth the doctrine and then draws the practical applications from it. In Romans, he spends 11 chapters laying the doctrinal foundation before he gets really practical. But even within the first 11 chapters, he can’t resist drawing out the practical implications of the doctrines that he sets forth. So in chapter 5, he gives us some wonderful blessings that flow from the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which he has laid down in 3:19-4:25.
Some scholars argue for a major break between chapters 4 & 5, so that chapters 5-8 form a unit that sets forth the hope and assurance of believers. Others understand chapter 5 as concluding the section that began at 3:19, dealing with justification by faith. Still others make the break at 5:12. I would not be dogmatic, but I am comfortable viewing chapter 5 as the conclusion of the earlier section dealing with salvation, with chapter 6 beginning to deal with sanctification. But however you outline it, the themes of hope and assurance certainly are prominent in chapters 5-8.
In 5:1-11, the word “exult” occurs three times: Paul exults in the hope of glory (5:2); he exults in his tribulations (5:3); and he exults in God (5:11). The theme of reconciliation with God (5:10-11) ties back in to the opening theme of peace with God (5:1). So we could view the entire section as “exulting in the blessings of justification.” Today we can only look at 5:1-2, where Paul sets forth three blessings that come from justification:
Justification by faith gives us peace with God, access to His grace, and the joyous confidence that we will share His glory.
1. Justification by faith gives us peace with God.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). Before we go farther, I should mention that there is a textual variant consisting of a single letter in the Greek text which would make the verse read, “let us have peace with God.” It is an unusual situation in that the strongest manuscripts support “let us,” but almost all scholars argue on the basis of the flow of thought that Paul wrote, “we have peace with God.” There are no other exhortations in 5:1-11. Rather, Paul sets forth the wonderful blessings that flow from the fact of our justification. So it is almost certain that Paul wrote, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).
Peace with God is the most wonderful gift that anyone can possess! This does not refer to the feeling of inner peace, but rather to the objective fact of peace. People may feel at peace with God when in fact they are in danger of His judgment (Jer. 6:14). Genuine peace with God means that we are truly reconciled with Him. We are no longer enemies with God, but friends with Him. We do not need to fear His judgment.
Because of the universality of sin, the human race is by nature at war against God. Many may feel at peace because they do not comprehend God’s absolute holiness or their own sinfulness. But because of sin, the wrath of God abides on all who do not believe in and obey Jesus Christ (John 3:36). As Paul wrote (Rom. 1:18), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
This means that unless people come to peace with God on His terms, when they die they will face His eternal judgment. They may be the world’s greatest philanthropists, who have given millions to help the poor. But philanthropy will not atone for their many sins. They may be the nicest, most loving people you could know. But all the niceness and love that anyone can show will not atone for the many sins that we all commit. They may be fastidious about their religious duties, but the most religious people in the world cannot gain an entrance to heaven by their religious observance. None of these things gain genuine peace with God. So, how do we get it?
A. To have peace with God, you must be justified by faith.
If you do not know what it means to be justified by faith, please go back to the previous seven messages from Romans 3:21-4:25, where we covered this in depth. It means that God declares an ungodly person to be righteous based on that person’s trusting Christ’s death as the payment for his or her sins. It is not something that we earn or deserve. It is a gift of grace alone (4:5).
Paul’s statement implies that we can know for certain that we have been justified by faith and that we now are at peace with God. If we’re justified by adding our good works to what Christ did on the cross, we can never know that we’ve done enough. When have you done enough penance to be justified? When have you served enough or given enough money to the church? When have you been good enough? The system of works keeps everyone uncertain about whether they are saved or not and it keeps them dependent on the church. But Paul implies here that we can know that we are justified by faith alone. We trust in Christ’s death on our behalf to pay for our sins. As a consequence, we do not need to fear God’s judgment. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). But note:
B. To have peace with God, you must have the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer and Mediator.
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). This means that peace with God is not due to any merits or efforts on our part, but rather through what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. Douglas Moo observes (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 300):
That all God has for us is to be found “in” or “through” Jesus Christ our Lord is a persistent motif in Rom. 5-8: peace with God comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1); our boasting in God is “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:11); grace reigns through righteousness, resulting in eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21); the gift of God bringing eternal life is “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23); thanks for deliverance are due to God “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25); the love of God, from which nothing can ever separate the believer is “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). When we consider that these phrases occur in only one other verse in Romans (15:30), and that every chapter in this part of the letter concludes on this note, a very definite focus on this matter is evident here.
The full title, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” looks at all that He is for us. First, He is our Lord, which focuses on His deity and His sovereign authority. We are His subjects or slaves. When you become a Christian, there is no option to believe in Jesus as your Savior, but to wait before you submit to Him as your Lord. He is both Savior and Lord, which means that you begin the Christian life by submitting all of yourself that you are aware of to all of Christ that you know. As you grow in Him, you learn more of who He is and what He commands and you see more areas in your life that you need to submit to Him, including your thought life. Jesus is the only rightful Lord of everything.
As Jesus, He is fully human. He took on human flesh in the incarnation, yet apart from sin. He lived in perfect dependence on the Father, in perfect obedience to His will. He went to the cross to atone for our sins (Rom. 3:24-26).
As Christ, Jesus is God’s Anointed One, the promised Messiah (“Christ” is Greek and “Messiah” is Hebrew for “Anointed One”). As such, Jesus is God’s appointed prophet, priest, and king. As God’s anointed prophet, Jesus spoke the very words of God to us (John 8:16-17). As God’s high priest, Jesus offered Himself once for all to atone for our sins. Now He lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:24-28). As God’s anointed king, Jesus is the rightful Sovereign over our lives. He is coming again to rule the nations with a rod of iron and to tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev. 19:15).
This means that the only way to have peace with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way of salvation (Acts 4:12).
2. Justification by faith gives us access to our standing in the riches of God’s grace.
Paul continues (5:2), “Through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Some early manuscripts omit “by faith,” but the context makes it clear that we receive all of God’s benefits through faith in Christ. Two things:
A. Our access to God comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Through whom” refers to Christ. “Introduction” may point to our initial introduction into the sphere of God’s grace. The word is used in extra-biblical Greek for introducing someone to royalty (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans [Westminster Press], rev. ed., p. 73). Other New Testament authors use the verb to refer to bringing someone into another person’s presence (Matt. 18:24; Luke 9:41; 1 Pet. 3:18). So it could refer to our initial introduction to God’s grace when we first believed.
Or it may refer to our ongoing access to the treasures of grace. Paul is the only author to use the noun and both of the other times, he uses it to refer to ongoing access. In Ephesians 2:18, he says, “for through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have our access in one Spirit to God the Father.” In Ephesians 3:12 he adds, “in whom [Christ Jesus our Lord] we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” I lean towards this idea here. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can come again and again into the presence of Almighty God to receive grace for every need!
This means that we do not need another way of access to God. Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). We do not need to pray to Mary or the saints or to go through a priest. Rather, we come directly to the Father in the name of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. That gains us access, any time and anywhere.
The late Donald Grey Barnhouse (Epistle to the Romans [Bible Study Hour], Part 19, p. 1007) told a story about Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this point. A Southern soldier who had been freed from a prison camp because he was too wounded to return to active duty was seeking access to the President to intercede for his brother in a prison camp who was the sole support of their mother. But the White House guards would not let him in to talk to President Lincoln. He had no access.
One day the President’s young son, Tad Lincoln, was walking near the White House and saw the wounded veteran crying as he sat on a bench. The boy went up and asked him what the matter was. The soldier explained that he wanted to get in to see Mr. Lincoln to tell him about his brother, but the guards would not let him in. The President’s son took the man by the hand, led him past the guards, who all saluted, and brought the man into the presence of his father.
Barnhouse says that the story may be apocryphal, but it illustrates what the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, has done for us. We were desolate and alone, wounded by our sin. We had no way to come into God’s holy presence. On the cross, Jesus tore the veil into the holy of holies. When we come in faith to Him, He clothes us with His righteousness. Now He takes us by the hand and leads us again and again, at any time we have need, into the presence of His Father. What a wonderful blessing to have access to God!
B. Our access to God puts us in permanent standing in the riches of God’s grace.
Paul pictures God’s grace as a realm in which we stand. The verb tense of “have obtained” and “in which we stand” implies past action with ongoing results. In other words, we have gained entrance and now have ongoing standing in this realm of God’s grace. “Stand” implies a place of solid footing, or a place where we belong by right—not in ourselves, but by our union with Jesus Christ, the rightful heir.
In Ephesians 2:7, Paul says that in the ages to come God will “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 3:8 he describes it as “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” It will take all eternity for God to show us the various treasure rooms, loaded with all of the blessings that come to us by free grace through Jesus Christ! It’s as if we’ve been given unlimited blank checks to the bank account of a billionaire like Bill Gates and told, “Use it any time you have a need.”
Either you relate to God by trying to earn His favor by keeping the Law, which only brings His wrath when you disobey (4:15); or by receiving His undeserved favor through all that Christ did for you on the cross. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? When you trust in Christ, He becomes your way of access into the presence of God, who now relates to you as a loving Father. Some of you may have had angry fathers who seemed to be against you and who always said “no.” But listen to how Paul describes the riches of God’s grace in which we stand (8:31b-35a):
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Again, the way to gain access to permanent standing in God’s grace is by being justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Justification by faith gives us peace with God and access to the surpassing riches of His grace. Finally,
3. Justification by faith gives us the joyous confidence that we will share His glory.
Paul concludes these two packed verses (5:2), “and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Note two things:
A. Sharing in God’s glory is our certain future.
Hope in the New Testament is not something uncertain, as when we say, “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow.” Rather, it is absolutely certain because it is based on the sure promises of God, who never fails. But we hope for it because we have not yet received the promise (8:24-25). It’s as if when you were a kid your dad promised, “For your birthday, I’ll give you a new bike.” You know that your dad does not lie or tease you on something like this. You know that he has plenty of money to keep his promise. It’s just that your birthday is still a month away. The bike is yours and it’s certain, but you don’t yet have it; so you hope for it.
What does Paul mean when he says that we hope in the glory of God? It means in part that he eagerly looked forward to seeing the glory of God. God’s glory is the radiant splendor of His being. It is the visible manifestation of all of His perfect attributes. It was what Moses asked to see, but God told Him that He would show him His back, because no man could see God’s face and live (Exod. 33:18-23). But in heaven, we will see God (Matt. 5:8). It will be the most beautiful, stupendous sight that we’ve ever seen!
Paul also means that he hopes to see the glory of Christ. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that His disciples might see His glory (John 17:24). Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2; 2 Pet. 1:16-18). John saw it again in Revelation (1:13-17). Paul was blinded by the heavenly vision on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-6). He saw it again when he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:1-6). But in heaven, we will see the glory of the risen Lamb who was slain (Rev. 7:9-17).
But beyond seeing the glory of the Father and the glory of our Lord Jesus, we are promised that we also will share in His glory! We lost that glory as a race when Adam sinned (Rom. 3:23), but when we see Jesus, we will be fully conformed to His image, free from all sin and from every shortcoming (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). And thus we will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17). It’s our certain future! But this isn’t just a truth to grasp with our intellects.
B. The confidence of sharing in God’s glory causes us joyous exultation right now.
“We exult in hope of the glory of God.” “Exult” is a favorite word with Paul that means literally, to boast or glory in. It contains the idea both of confidence and joy, so that it can be rendered, “we are joyfully confident of” (Moo, ibid., pp. 301-302). While it’s wrong to boast in man, it’s right to boast in God, because it brings Him the glory He deserves (1 Cor. 1:31; Gal. 6:14; Phil. 3:3).
But—and I admit that I fall far short here—to exult in hope of the glory of God is not just an intellectual truth to affirm. It’s also an emotional response that we should have even, as verse 3 shows, in the face of trials (see, also, 1 Pet. 4:13). In my case, as perhaps you will admit for yourself, I just don’t spend enough time meditating on the hope of seeing and sharing in the glory of God.
Dr. Barnhouse (ibid., Part 20, pp. 1037-1038) illustrated the joys of heaven by picturing a soldier in a cold foxhole, eating K-rations. He has to stay there day and night to hold his unit’s position against the enemy. Then one night he hears a voice call out his name and serial number. It’s another soldier telling him, “I have orders to replace you. You are to go out on the next Red Cross flight. An order has come for you to go home. You have to go back to your mother’s house. They’re going to give you a hot shower and clean clothes. You have to go home and eat your mother’s Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, with apple pie and ice cream for dessert.” And the soldier replies, “Oh! You don’t mean that I’m going to have to leave this nice foxhole and give up my K-rations, do you?”
Barnhouse says, “We smile at the absurdity of the idea, and yet there are some believers, perhaps some of you … who are unwilling to leave your foxhole in this life to go to the Heavenly home to sit down at the banquet table of our God and to fellowship with Him in [the] joys of Heaven ….”
So to conclude, I ask you three questions:
Have you been justified by faith so that you enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?
Do you frequently utilize your access to God and the riches of His grace through our Lord Jesus Christ?
Do you exult in your certain future of sharing God’s glory?
These are just a few of the blessings of being justified by faith in Jesus Christ!
- If peace with God is not primarily a feeling, but a fact, how can you know if you’ve got it?
- Why does justification by works (even in part) completely undermine the possibility of assurance of salvation?
- Some argue that if God’s grace is completely undeserved, it will lead to licentious living. How would you refute this?
- How can a Christian who does not exult in the hope of God’s glory grow in this area? Why should we?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 26: Exulting in Trials (Romans 5:3-5)Related Media
I always dread preaching about suffering, because as I have told you, preaching is a lot like throwing a boomerang. You aim it at the congregation, but it comes back and hits you first! And who wants to be hit with the thought of “exulting in trials”? I’d rather not have to practice what I preach on this topic!
But trials are a fact of living in this fallen world, so we all need to learn what God’s Word tells us about how to handle them. The problem is, the biblical approach to trials is just plain nuts! Paul says that he exults in his tribulations. Maybe we could explain him away as being a bit carried away, but then what do we do with Jesus? He tells us (Matt. 5:11-12), “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”
But it’s not just Paul and Jesus. James (1:2-3) says the same thing: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Peter is of the same mind (1 Pet. 4:13-14): “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
When you trace the behavior of the apostles through the Book of Acts, you discover that they actually practiced this strange response to trials. When the Jewish Sanhedrin flogged the apostles, we read (Acts 5:41), “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” When Paul and Silas were illegally beaten, imprisoned, and fastened into the stocks in Philippi, we read (Acts 16:25), “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.” Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:9b-10), “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” And the author of Hebrews reminded his readers (Heb. 10:34), “For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”
So we can’t escape the fact that this strange response of exulting in trials is the uniform teaching of the New Testament. But if you’re like me, you’ll have to admit that it is not your standard response! Some of us may be able to say that we don’t complain about our trials. We grit our teeth and stoically endure them. A few may be able to say that you usually rejoice in spite of your trials. But how many of us can honestly say that we exult in our trials? So we all have something to learn here.
Paul is continuing to enumerate the blessings of being justified by faith (5:1-2), as seen by his words, “And not only this ….” Probably he is answering an unexpressed objection to his teaching in verses 1 & 2: “Paul, you say that you have peace with God and that you now stand in His grace. You exult in the future hope of the glory of God. But why doesn’t God protect you from trials right now? If you’re the object of His love and grace, shouldn’t you be enjoying a trouble-free life?” So Paul is showing why God brings trials into the lives of His saints: because through the trials, we grow in endurance, proven character, and hope. And our hope will not disappoint, because even now God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
By the way, note that Paul mentions the three persons of the Trinity in 5:1-5. We have peace with God [the Father] through the Lord Jesus Christ. God has given us the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity plays a role in our salvation and preservation as God’s children. In our text, Paul is saying,
We can exult in trials if we develop God’s perspective and keep in mind that trials do not nullify His great love for us.
1. To exult in trials, develop and maintain God’s perspective: He is using trials to shape our character and prepare us for heaven.
Regarding exulting in our tribulations, Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 255) observes, “This is an astonishing statement since future glorification is prized precisely because afflictions are left behind.” To get a handle on what Paul means and how we can grow in this strange virtue, let’s explore four thoughts:
A. Exulting in trials is not an automatic response: It requires deliberate focus.
If exulting in trials were the automatic response, we’d see multitudes of people rejoicing, because nobody lacks trials. Instead, we often see multitudes complaining about their trials. Even among Christians, grumbling about trials is far more common than rejoicing or exulting in them (the word, literally, is boasting or glorying in). Whether it’s being caught in a traffic jam when we’re late for an appointment or something more major, like being diagnosed with cancer, our knee-jerk response is to grumble, not to exult.
We see this with the children of Israel after the exodus. God has brought them out of slavery in Egypt by inflicting the plagues on the Egyptians and then parting the Red Sea so that Israel could escape from Pharaoh’s army, which was drowned when they tried to pursue Israel. Israel celebrated God’s miraculous salvation with singing and dancing. Then we read that they went three days in the wilderness and found only bitter water. Did they rejoice and exult, saying, “Let’s see how the Lord will provide”? No, we read (Exod. 15:24), “So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” The Lord told Moses how to make the water drinkable.
But in the very next chapter, we read that the whole congregation grumbled again, saying that they should have stayed in Egypt, where they had plenty to eat (Exod. 16:2-3). So God graciously provided daily manna for them. But then as they traveled across the desert, in spite of God’s provision, they grumbled again about having no water (Exod. 17:3). Their history for those 40 years was that of constant complaining in spite of God’s gracious provision. Paul uses their story as a warning to us, so that we will not grumble in our trials, as they did (1 Cor. 10:6-11).
In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul exhorts us to follow the example he set when he was falsely accused, beaten, and wrongly imprisoned in Philippi: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Isn’t that the truth! We live in a grumbling world. If we don’t grumble, but are cheerful and even exult in trials, whether the minor irritations at work or the major trials in our personal lives, we’re going to shine like lights in the darkness. But this doesn’t happen automatically. It requires deliberate focus.
B. Exulting in trials does not mean denying the pain.
The Bible does not encourage us to deny reality, put on a happy face, and pretend that we’re just praising the Lord, when in fact we’re hurting inside. Later in Romans (12:15), Paul says, “weep with those who weep.” He does not say, “Exhort those who weep to exult in their trials!”
I’ll never forget my 36th birthday. I had to conduct a funeral for a man in his late thirties who died of cancer. He left behind a wife who had already battled breast cancer. Two and a half years later I had to conduct her funeral as she succumbed to the disease. They had two young children. Before he died, Scott asked me to preach at his funeral on his favorite chapter, Isaiah 40.
After the service, as I was consoling the widow, who of course was weeping, her former pastor from another town bounced up with a silly grin on his face and said in an upbeat voice, “Praise the Lord! Scott’s in glory now!” I wanted to punch him in the mouth! I wanted to scream, “Let her weep and weep with her!” Exulting in trials does not mean denying the pain.
Paul acknowledges the tension when he describes himself (2 Cor. 6:10), “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” He goes on to describe how in his trials his emotions were all over the chart, but he had God’s comfort (2 Cor. 7:4b-6). Undergirding all of his trials was genuine joy in the Lord. The author of Hebrews recognizes the same tension when he says (12:11), “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” You see the same thing throughout the Psalms. The psalmist is in a situation where he despairs of life itself. His enemies are trying to kill him. Sometimes he even questions where God is or why God delays. He expresses his anguish and pain as he cries out to the Lord. But by the end of the psalm, even though he’s still in grave danger, he is filled with joy and praise to God.
So there’s nothing wrong with feeling sorrow or pain or grief in the midst of a difficult trial. We shouldn’t deny these feelings in an attempt to look more spiritual. But through our tears and pain, we should be sustained by our hope in the promises of God. We know that He is sovereign over all things and that He cares for us. Exulting in our tribulations does not mean denying the pain.
C. Exulting in trials is possible when we keep in mind that God is using the trials to shape our character.
After mentioning exulting in his tribulations, Paul continues (5:3b-4), “knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” Don’t miss the word, “knowing.” This is part of the deliberate focus that I just mentioned. Our mental focus must include some vital knowledge, namely, that God is using the trials to shape our character, if we submit joyfully to Him. Not everyone grows in the way that Paul describes here. We will grow only if we submit joyfully to God because we keep in mind that He is sovereign and that He is using these trials to make us more like Christ.
Note the chain of thought here: Tribulation (lit., “pressure”) brings about perseverance (endurance or steadfastness). Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Rom. 5:3, p. 190) points out that you don’t need endurance if you’re not feeling distressed and sorrowful. But, he adds, when you regard your trials as dispensed from a kind Father for your good, you feel great comfort. When you know that God is promoting your salvation, you have a reason for glorying.
So Paul’s point is, you don’t develop endurance unless you go through trials. You don’t have to endure when everything is going your way. It’s not difficult to trust the Lord when you’re experiencing nothing but blessings. But will you endure by faith when life is hard? Will you trust God and submit to His mighty hand when you lose your job or when you’re going through a hard time in your marriage or when you’re diagnosed with a serious disease?
Perseverance produces proven character. This is a single word in Greek that means something that has passed the test. It comes out approved. In the desert west of here, south of Kingman, there is a Ford proving ground. They put their vehicles through various tests to prove that they will hold up in extreme situations. Once their trucks pass the test, they can confidently say, “Ford trucks are built to last.” They’ve proven their character.
When you go through a trial trusting in God, your faith becomes proven. You’ve been through the test and passed. You know by experience that you can lean on His faithfulness. It proves that you’re not just a flash in the pan Christian, like the seed on the shallow soil, which faded quickly under the heat of trials. Perseverance works proven character.
Then Paul adds that proven character works hope. This brings us back full circle to verse 2, where we who have been justified by faith “exult in hope of the glory of God.” It’s the same hope, but now it’s stronger. It works like this (I’m following Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Assurance [Zondervan], p. 71): The initial hope comes from understanding the blessing of being justified by faith. We begin the Christian life full of faith and hope. Then we get hit by difficult trials. We cling to God like we’ve never had to cling before. We prove His faithfulness and He develops proven character in us as we endure. We come out the other side more certain of the hope of eternal glory with Him than we were before the trials. Our hope is stronger because it has been tempered in the flames of affliction. That leads to the last thought under this heading:
D. Exulting in trials requires developing and remembering the hope of heaven.
Our hope is not in a trouble-free life, but rather in a glorious, trouble-free eternity. To exult in our present trials, we have to keep our focus on the hope of the glory of God, which we will experience in heaven. Paul put it this way (2 Cor. 4:16-18): “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Paul could maintain hope and not lose heart in what he describes as “momentary, light affliction” (light!) because his focus was on the eternal hope of heaven.
Critics will say that Christianity is just “pie in the sky when you die.” The answer to that charge is, “Yes, you’re going to die. Would you like pie with that or no pie?” Your decaying outer man—graying and thinning hair, failing eyesight and hearing, and increasing aches and pains, are broadcasting a clear message to your brain, which can’t remember things any more: You’re going to die! Either you have the hope of heaven because you have trusted in Jesus Christ to forgive all your sins, or you have no hope. The only way to exult in trials is to develop and remember the sure hope of heaven. It is certain because it is based on Jesus’ resurrection and His promise to return and take us to be with Him (John 14:1-3).
Paul adds, “and hope does not disappoint.” Literally, “hope does not make us ashamed.” The phrase is rooted in the Old Testament. In Psalm 22:4-5, the psalmist in great distress cries out, “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.” That last phrase is literally, “they were not put to shame.” In Psalm 25:3, David proclaims, “Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed.”
The idea is, if you trust in God and He fails, you’re going to be put to shame. Others will mock and say, “He trusted in God, but God didn’t come through! What a joke! There is no reality in trusting God!” (See Ps. 22:7-8.) Keep in mind that Psalm 22 is a picture of Christ on the cross. His murderers were gloating in His death. Sometimes God permits His children to go through terrible persecution and martyrdom. They are only vindicated in the final resurrection. So if heaven is not true, we will be put to eternal shame. We will be eternally disappointed. But if it is true—and the resurrection of Jesus guarantees it—then even if we suffer persecution and a martyr’s death, our hope will not disappoint or put us to shame. We will wear the victor’s crown in the glory of heaven throughout all eternity.
Thus, to exult in trials, develop and maintain God’s perspective: He is using trials to shape our character and prepare us for heaven.
“But,” a critic may ask, “what about God’s love? If God really loves you, wouldn’t He spare you all of these trials?”
2. To exult in trials, we must keep in mind that trials do not nullify God’s great love for us.
The reason that hope does not disappoint is (5:5b), “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Paul is talking here about God’s love for us, as verses 6-8 plainly show. He did not see suffering as an indication that God does not love us. Quite the contrary, as he will show at the end of Romans 8, neither tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword can separate us from God’s great love. Keep your focus on God’s love and you can exult in trials.
Paul says that God’s love “has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” The tense of “poured out” indicates past action with continuing results, which especially points to God’s great love as we experience it at the time we are saved. “Given” points to the fact that the Holy Spirit is given to every believer at the moment of salvation. Because the Holy Spirit is God, it means that God Himself comes to dwell in our hearts. The Spirit makes us aware of God’s great love in sending His own Son to die for our sins. “Poured out” implies an abundant, continued supply of His love refreshing and sustaining us, especially in our trials.
This experience of God’s love comes to us as we meditate on the amazing truth of the gospel, that the Father gave His eternal Son, who willingly took the punishment we deserved so that God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. As Charles Wesley put it, “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me!” Don’t ever get over the wonder of it! Let the Spirit wash you daily in the amazing love of God!
In your trials, whether minor or great, remember Jesus’ words just before the cross (John 15:20-21): “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they keep My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” Did Jesus’ trials even hint that the Father did not love Him? Of course not! Neither do yours. To exult in trials, drink deeply of God’s great love, poured out in your heart by the Holy Spirit whom He gave to you.
James Boice (Romans: Volume 2: The Reign of Grace [Baker], pp. 533-534) concludes his sermon on these verses by telling about how the church in China grew exponentially during the terrible persecution under the Communists. An American student was going to Hong Kong to study the Chinese church. Before he left the States, a friend had asked him, “If God loves the Chinese church so much, why did he allow so much suffering to come upon it?” The student had no answer.
But after he had traveled to China and had talked in depth with many Chinese Christians, he decided to go back to America and ask his friend this question: “If God loves the American church so much, why hasn’t he allowed us to suffer like the church in China?”
It is a good question because trials are not to harm us. Rather, God uses them to shape us into the image of Christ. He uses them to strengthen our hope of heaven. Trials are a part of the “all things” that He works “together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (8:28). Even as strange as it may seem, we can exult in them.
- How can a Christian who is a perpetual grumbler break this sinful habit? What steps would you advise?
- If we feel depressed and discouraged in our trials, should we just accept it or fight it? How would you fight it?
- If a Christian tells you that she doesn’t feel loved by God, how would you counsel her? Are her feelings important or should she just ignore them and “trust God in spite of them”?
- How can we know that our hope of heaven will not disappoint? What anchors our hope to make it sure?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 27: God’s Amazing Love (Romans 5:6-8)Related Media
In 1861, a wild gambler and drinker named Harry Moorhouse rushed into a revival meeting in Manchester, England, looking for a fight. But instead he got saved. Six years later, the famous evangelist, D. L. Moody, was preaching in Dublin when Moorhouse came up and told Moody he would like to come to America and preach the gospel. Moody guessed Moorhouse to be about 17 (although he was older). He didn’t know if Moorhouse could preach, so he brushed him off.
But after Moody got back to Chicago, he got a letter from Moorhouse saying that he had landed in New York and he would come and preach. Moody wrote a cold reply, saying that if he came west to call on him. A few days later, Moody got a letter saying that Moorhouse would be in Chicago the next Thursday. Moody didn’t know what to do with him, so he told his deacons, “There is a man coming from England who wants to preach. I’m going to be gone Thursday and Friday. If you let him preach those days, I’ll be back Saturday and take him off your hands.”
On Saturday Moody returned and asked his wife how the young Englishman had gotten along. Did the people like him? She said they liked him very much. “Did you like him?” “Yes,” she said, “very much. He preached two sermons from John 3:16. I think you’ll like him, but he preaches a little different than you do.”
“How is that?” Moody asked.
“Well, he tells sinners that God loves them,” she replied.
“Well,” Moody said, “he’s wrong.”
Moody went to hear him that night, determined that he would not like him. But that first night as Moorhouse preached again from John 3:16 on God’s great love for sinners, Moody’s heart began to thaw out and he could not hold back the tears. For seven nights, Moorhouse preached to a crowded church on John 3:16.
The final night Moorhouse concluded his sermon by saying, “My friends, for a whole week I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, but I cannot do it with this poor stammering tongue. If I could borrow Jacob’s ladder, and climb up into Heaven, and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, if he could tell me how much love the Father has for the world, all he could say would be, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’”
Those sermons changed D. L. Moody’s life. He said, “I have never forgotten those nights. I have preached a different gospel since, and I have had more power with God and man since then.” (I collated this story from A. P. Fitt, The Life of D. L. Moody [Moody Press], pp. 53-56, and Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God [Harold Shaw], pp. 260-262.)
Romans 5:8 is the apostle Paul’s version of John 3:16: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul wants us to know and experience even more deeply the truth of verse 5, that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
In verses 6-8, Paul is explaining further (“for”) this life-changing truth of God’s great love for us as sinners. In doing so, he is showing why our hope of heaven will not disappoint us (5:5). This, as we saw in our last study, is a continuation of the blessings of being justified by faith (5:1), which include: peace with God (5:1); access into God’s grace (5:2); hope of the glory of God (5:2); and, joy in our trials, knowing that God is using them to develop perseverance, proven character and hope (5:3-4). The thing that anchors our hope is this abundant outpouring of God’s love within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. So now Paul shows us why God’s love is a sure thing and thus, our hope of heaven is sure:
Our hope of heaven is secure because it is based on God’s love that sent Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners.
In other words, God’s amazing love is not based on us getting our act together to deserve it. It is not based on our track record of performance to guarantee its continued flow. Rather, God’s love is based on the fact that God is love (1 John 4:7). He is gracious (Exod. 34:6). He extends His love and grace to sinners apart from and in spite of anything in them. This means:
1. Our hope of heaven is secure because it is not based on anything good in us.
Paul emphasizes this in our text with a series of synonyms: we were helpless (5:6); ungodly (5:6); sinners (5:8); and, enemies (5:10). Before we look at these terms, note:
A. To appreciate God’s great love, we must feel our own great need for the Savior.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed (God’s Way of Reconciliation [Baker], Ephesians 2, p. 201), “In order to measure the love of God you have first to go down before you can go up. You do not start on the level and go up. We have to be brought up from a dungeon, from a horrible pit; and unless you know something of the measure of that depth you will only be measuring half the love of God.”
This is illustrated in the story in Luke 7:36-50, where Jesus went to dine at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Picture the scene: You have this very religious man, who took great pride in his religious observance. He never ate unclean food. He tithed meticulously. He kept the commandments of Moses. He kept his distance from notorious sinners. He wanted to find out if this upstart, uneducated rabbi from Galilee was legitimate or not.
As they reclined at dinner, a woman who was known to be a prostitute slipped in with an alabaster vial of perfume. Standing at Jesus’ feet weeping, she wetted His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and kissed and anointed them with the perfume. And Jesus seemed to be pleased with her actions! Simon was aghast! He was thinking (Luke 7:39), “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Jesus knew what he was thinking, so He told him a story. A lender had two debtors. One owed him 500 denarii; the other owed him 50. When they were unable to repay, he forgave them both. Then Jesus asked (7:42), “So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
Jesus said, “Correct.” Then He drew the lesson. The sinful woman, who had been forgiven much, loved much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little. His point was not that Simon had little to be forgiven of. In fact, Simon had not even shown Jesus common hospitality. He was rude and arrogant. Rather, the point was that Simon did not realize how much he needed God’s forgiveness, and so he did not love Jesus as much as this woman, who knew her great need for the Savior.
If, like me, you grew up in a Christian home and never got into much trouble growing up, you’re more prone to be like Simon than like the prostitute. If you want to know and experience the great love of God in Christ, you have to see more of the awful depths of sin that lurk in your own heart. Again, to cite Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Assurance [Zondervan], p. 114), “It is to the extent to which we realize our inability and incapacity that we realize the love of God.” Paul shows us our inability in these verses:
B. We greatly need the Savior because we were helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God.
(1). We were helpless.
“Helpless” in this context means, “incapable of working out any righteousness for ourselves” (The Epistle to the Romans, by William Sanday & Arthur Headlam [T. & T. Clark] 5th ed., p. 127). F. Godet (Commentary on Romans [Kregel], p. 191) says that it means “total incapacity for good, the want of all moral life such as is healthy and fruitful in good works.” Lloyd-Jones (ibid., p. 112) says that it means “total inability in a spiritual sense.” But so that you see that these men are not making this up, let’s see what the Bible says about our helpless spiritual condition outside of Christ:
We were spiritually dead, living in disobedience to God. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked” (Eph. 2:1-2). We needed God to raise us from the dead.
We were not able to save ourselves. Jesus told the religious Nicodemus (John 3:3), “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was about as religious as you can get. But all that religion could not get him into the kingdom of God. He needed the new birth. And just as we could not produce our natural birth by our own efforts or will power, so it is spiritually. It must be an act of God. You can’t save yourself.
We were not able to see the light of the gospel to be saved. Paul said (2 Cor. 4:4) that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
We were not able to understand spiritual truth. Paul explains (1 Cor. 2:14), “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” God has to open our eyes to understand the gospel.
We were not able to hear God’s truth. In John 8:43, Jesus asked the Jews who were challenging Him, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” He answered His own question, “It is because you cannot hear My word.” They lacked the spiritual ears to hear (see, also, John 14:17).
We were not seeking God. We saw this in Paul’s indictment of the human race (Rom. 3:11), “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.”
We were not able to submit to God’s law or to please Him. In Romans 8:7-8, Paul states, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So when Paul says that “we were still helpless,” he means that we were totally unable and unwilling to do anything to bring about reconciliation with God. But he doesn’t stop there!
(2). We were ungodly.
“Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). This word takes us back to his indictment of the human race (1:18), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” To be ungodly is to be unlike God, who is holy and apart from all sin. It means that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). There is a humanly uncrossable chasm between us and God.
(3). We were sinners.
Paul says (5:8): “while we were yet sinners ….” As we saw in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The essence of sin is to fall short of God’s glory. We did not live for His glory. We had no concern for His glory. Rather, we lived for ourselves and our own glory.
(4). We were God’s enemies.
I’m jumping ahead to verse 10, where Paul describes our past as being God’s enemies. We were hostile toward Him (8:7), alienated from Him and opposed to His lordship over our lives.
Maybe you’re thinking, “This is awfully depressing. It tears down my self-esteem. It doesn’t help me to feel good about myself.” But if you do not see the depths of sin from which God rescued you, you won’t appreciate His great love. Christ didn’t come to help you polish your self-esteem or to feel good about yourself. He came to die for your sins in order to reconcile you to God. If you don’t see yourself as a helpless, ungodly sinner at enmity against God, then you won’t see your need for the Savior. And, you’ll never have assurance about your hope of heaven, because you’ll base that hope on your own goodness or merit. Our hope of heaven can only be secure if it is not based on anything good in us.
2. Our hope of heaven is secure because it is based on God’s gracious love for us while we were yet sinners.
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Demonstrates means to show, prove, establish, or render conspicuous. Note briefly:
A. God’s gracious love took the initiative to save us from our helpless, ungodly condition.
These verses show that salvation is totally from God and His great love. There was nothing in us that was lovable or that motivated God to send the Savior. As God pictures Israel (Ezek. 16:3-6, 9-10), we were like an unwanted newborn infant, thrown into a field, squirming in our blood, a piece of garbage about to die. He took us, bathed us with water, anointed us with oil, and wrapped us in fine garments. Salvation stems from His great love.
B. God’s gracious love for us is far higher than any example of human love.
This is Paul’s point in verse 7: “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” Some commentators argue that Paul is drawing a distinction between the righteous man, who keeps the law but is not very kind; and the good man, who is both righteous and kind. But I don’t see that as his point. The two terms are never distinguished like that in Scripture. Rather, Paul makes an initial statement and then qualifies it by granting that in some cases, a person may die for a good person. But who would offer to take the place of a scoundrel who deserves to die? Answer: Jesus would! In fact, He died for only one type of person: ungodly sinners! None of us deserved what Jesus in love did for us.
C. God’s gracious love for us sent none other than Christ.
Who is the One whom the Father sent to die for our sins? It was His beloved Son, in whom He was well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). He was the eternal Word, who was with God and who was God, who created all things (John 1:1-3). He is the One who “is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, [who] upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). He is the One whom the angels of God worship, whose throne is forever, who laid the foundation of the earth, and made the heavens, whose years will never come to an end (Heb. 1:6-12).
Paul says that God demonstrates His own love for us in that Christ died for us. But doesn’t that demonstrate Christ’s love for us? Yes, because Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30). Leon Morris observes (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 224), “Unless there is a sense in which the Father and Christ are one, it is not the love of God that the cross shows. But because Christ is one with God, Paul can speak of the cross as a demonstration of the love of God.” On the cross, Christ didn’t die to persuade the angry God of the Old Testament to love us, as some mistakenly have pictured it. The Father and the Son were one in their love that devised the plan of salvation for guilty sinners. The fact that it required the death of the eternal Son of God should cause us to bow in love and wonder.
D. God’s gracious love sent Christ at the right time.
Leon Morris explains this phrase (p. 222): “Two ways of looking at the time of Christ’s death are combined here: he died at a time when we were still sinners, and at a time that fitted God’s purpose. This second way emphasizes that the atonement was no afterthought. This was the way God always intended to deal with sin; he did it when he chose.” So in the grand scheme of the ages, Christ’s death was right on schedule. As Paul explains (Gal. 4:4), “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law ….”
But on the personal level, He died for us at the right time in that we were perishing. We had no hope. We would have been doomed if God had not sent the Savior. You must come to the end of trusting in yourself and your good works so that you see your hopeless, helpless condition. As Spurgeon put it (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54), you’ve got to stand before God, convicted and condemned, with the rope around your neck, so that you will weep for joy when God at the right time sends Christ into your life as your Savior.
E. God’s gracious love sent Christ to die for us.
The word die is prominent in these verses: it occurs once in verse 6, twice in verse 7, and once again in verse 8. Since the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), Christ had to die to pay the penalty for our sins. He was our substitute, bearing the punishment that we deserved. He died as “the Just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). While Jesus is our great example of how to live, His example did not save us. While He is our great teacher, His teaching did not save us. His death as our substitute bore the awful penalty of God’s justice. Jesus alone can save us and He does it through His death. “Christ died for the ungodly.” “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The bottom line is:
3. If we were helpless, ungodly sinners in need of Christ’s death to save us, then salvation cannot in any sense be due to human merit, works, or righteousness.
These verses do away with all works-based salvation. We were helpless, ungodly sinners, enemies with God. Christ did not come to help us save ourselves. He did not come to die because He saw a spark of potential in us. He didn’t come to die for us because we had some inherent worth in His sight. As Charles Hodge put it (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 136-137), “Our salvation depends … not on our loveliness, but on the constancy of the love of God.”
This is tremendously good news! It means that our hope of heaven is secure because it doesn’t have anything to do with us. In fact, it’s in spite of us! It has everything to do with God’s gracious love for us “while we were yet sinners.” If you’re not saved, it’s because you have not received the free gift that God offers. Maybe you’re still trying to earn your way to heaven. But if heaven is based on your works, you’ll never be sure of it, because you can never do enough. Trust instead in God’s loving gift of eternal life through Jesus, who died for us when we were yet sinners.
Years ago, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth visited the United States. At a question and answer session, someone asked him, “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought that has ever gone through your mind?” The questioner probably expected some deep, incomprehensible answer, as if someone had asked Einstein to explain his theory of relativity. Barth thought about the question for a while and then replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” (from James Boice, Romans: The Reign of God’s Grace [Baker], p. 539).
While Barth was off on some of his theology, he was right on that answer! The apostle Paul wants us not only to know intellectually, but also to feel experientially the great love of God as seen in the fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Why does the popular teaching on self-esteem and self-love militate against our experience of God’s great love?
- Some argue that while we were sinners before conversion, now we should not view ourselves as sinners, but only as saints. What Scriptures would you use to refute this?
- Is it right to lead off an evangelistic presentation by telling lost people that God loves them? Is there any biblical basis for this? What biblical guidelines apply here?
- How does any form of works salvation undermine a person’s experience of God’s amazing love in Christ?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 28: Saved for Sure! (Romans 5:9-11)Related Media
“Have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?” That is one of two questions that those who are trained in “Evangelism Explosion” ask as a prelude to presenting the gospel. The second question seeks to find out the basis for the person’s answer to the first question: “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and He were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” (D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion [Tyndale House], p. 22.)
You can easily see the importance of answering those questions correctly. Some have complete assurance that they are going to heaven when they die, but they wrongly base that assurance on their belief that they are good enough to qualify for heaven. How horrible to die and find out that you were not good enough to make it into heaven! There won’t be any make-up exams or second chances! It’s crucial to know that your hope for heaven is sure.
But Christians are divided with regard to assurance of salvation. The Roman Catholic Church declared, “No one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God” (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker], 2:99, The Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 9). Among Protestants, those from the Arminian wing (Wesleyan, Holiness churches, the Nazarene Church, Pentecostal churches, etc.) argue that true believers through sin can lose their salvation and fall from grace. Some Arminians, inconsistent with their view of saving grace, hold that believers are eternally secure. Those who hold the Reformed view believe that those whom Christ has genuinely saved, He will keep unto eternity.
We cannot survey the many verses of Scripture that the various camps use to defend their views. While there are difficult texts, such as the warning passages in Hebrews (you can read my sermons on Hebrews on the church web site), I believe that the Reformed view makes the most sense of all of Scripture: Those whom Christ saves, He keeps for all eternity. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
Our text is one of the strongest arguments for assurance of salvation in the Bible. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote (Romans: Assurance [Zondervan], p. 128), “The argument of these two verses [9 & 10] is, I suggest, the most powerful argument with respect to assurance of salvation, or the finality of our salvation, that can be found anywhere in the whole of the Scripture.” He goes on to say that the only thing that goes beyond it is the immediate witness of the Holy Spirit, which Paul mentions in Romans 8:16. Since being assured of your salvation is an important part of the foundation for spiritual growth, it is vital that you understand and apply the verses that we are studying here.
Before we examine Paul’s argument, let me give you a brief overview of my understanding of the basis for assurance of salvation. There are three aspects to it: First and foremost, have you trusted in Jesus Christ alone and His death in your place to forgive all your sins and clothe you with His righteousness?
If you answer “yes,” then there is a secondary basis for assurance: What evidence of the new birth do you see in your life? While we never will be perfectly sanctified in this life, there should be some definite signs of the new birth: a growing love for God, a desire to know Him through His Word, a desire to please Him by keeping His commandments, a growing love for others, a growing hatred of sin, etc. The “tests” of First John fit into this category, along with the qualities of 2 Peter 1:5-11.
Third, there is the witness of the Spirit, who “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). While this aspect of assurance is partly subjective and therefore subject to error, I understand it to be based on the objective promises of God. This inner witness of the Spirit is when He takes the promises of salvation in the Bible and testifies to your spirit, “Yes, these are true and by God’s grace I rest on them!” Or, the Holy Spirit assures you by reminding you of how He has worked the signs of new life in you.
Our text falls under the first basis for assurance, as Paul enumerates the blessings of being justified by faith (5:1). He takes these blessings a logical step farther by arguing from the greater to the lesser, as we can see by the twice repeated, “much more” (5:9, 10). He reasons, “If we were justified by Christ’s blood when we were yet sinners and if we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son while we were His enemies, then we can expect to be saved from God’s wrath by the risen Savior.” It is also an argument from the past to the future: If in the past God loved us and Christ died for us when we were sinners, then we can expect that in the future He will keep us from judgment as those who have been reconciled to Him. This, in turn, causes us to “exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the reconciliation” (5:11). Thus,
If as God’s enemies we were saved through the death of His Son then, praise God, as His friends the risen Savior will save us from future judgment.
I added “praise God” to that summary sentence to reflect Paul’s response in verse 11 to his arguments in verses 9 & 10. In other words, these aren’t just rational arguments that we hear and calmly conclude, “Yes, I agree.” The force of the arguments should cause us to exult in God! Verses 9 & 10 are essentially the same argument looked at from two slightly different perspectives.
1. If while we were sinners we were justified by Christ’s blood, then much more we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Him (5:9).
There are two parts to this:
A. While we were sinners, we were justified by Christ’s blood.
“Being justified” goes back to the entire argument of 3:24-4:25, summarized in edemption which is in Christ Jesus.” This shows us that justification is not something that we deserve, merit, or qualify for by our good deeds. Rather, it is the undeserved gift of God.
In 5:1 Paul shows that the means by which we receive God’s gracious gift of justification is faith. We saw this especially in 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” This does not mean that God counts faith itself as some sort of righteousness that qualifies the sinner to stand before Him as not guilty. If that were so, faith would be a work, which would undermine the very point of Romans 4:5! Rather, faith lays hold of the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the just payment for our sins, so that God credits the righteousness of Christ to the guilty sinner who has faith in Him. So faith is the means of receiving the gift of justification.
But in 5:9, Paul says that we have been justified “by His blood.” This looks at the ground or basis of our justification. The blood of Christ atones for our sin. As Paul stated (3:25), “God displayed [Christ] publicly as a propitiation in His blood … to demonstrate His righteousness.” Christ’s blood satisfied the righteousness of God, which declares (6:23), “the wages of sin is death.”
Also, our text makes it clear that justification is a completed action, a “done deal.” Paul uses the same verb form as in 5:1, “having been justified by faith.” Here (5:9), “having now been justified by His blood.” It’s a past completed action that the believer knows has taken place. When we trusted in Christ and His shed blood to save us, God banged the gavel and declared, “Not guilty! The penalty has been paid by My Son!” From this sure fact, Paul argues:
B. Much more we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Christ.
To wrath the translators have added for clarity “of God.” Literally, the text reads, “we shall be saved from the wrath through Him.” The wrath refers to the coming day of judgment, which Paul referred to (2:5), “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” There is a present manifestation of God’s wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in which God gives them over to the consequences of their sins (1:18). But that is nothing compared to the coming eternal wrath of God, where all who have not been justified by faith will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
It is important to grasp Paul’s “much more” line of reasoning here. To send Christ to shed His blood was the big thing. It was the only way that God could maintain His righteousness and at the same time forgive sinners. Through the propitiation in Christ’s blood, God can now be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). If God loved us enough to send Christ to die for our sins (the big thing), then how much more will He save us from the wrath to come?
I should point out that the Bible speaks of salvation in three tenses. Sometimes it looks at salvation in the past (Eph. 2:8), “For by grace you have been saved through faith ….” This happened the moment we truly trusted in Christ as our Savior. He delivered us from the penalty of our sins. At other times, the Bible looks at the present process of salvation (1 Cor. 1:18), “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And, sometimes (as in 5:9), it looks at the future and final deliverance that will be ours on the day of judgment (also, 10:9, 13; 13:11). The verb “to be saved” is in the future tense in seven of its eight uses in Romans (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Apollos/Eerdmans], p. 225). Here Paul wants us to know how we can be sure that on that awful day, “we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
Then Paul repeats the same idea, but with a different slant:
2. If while we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, then much more we shall be saved by His life (5:10).
Again, there are two parts to consider:
A. While we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.
Justification looks at salvation from the legal standpoint, whereas reconciliation looks at it from the relational point of view. Bishop Moule looks at verses 9 & 10 as a progression from the law-aspect of salvation to the love-aspect and then (at the end of verse 10) to the life-aspect (The Epistle to the Romans [Christian Literature Crusade], p. 138). So verse 10 picks up on the theme of God’s love for us, demonstrated by sending Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners (5:8).
But here the focus is, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Referring to Jesus as “His Son” especially brings out the love of the Father, both for Jesus and for us. Jesus was God’s beloved Son in whom He was well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). The Father loved the Son with a perfect, unbroken love from all eternity (John 17:24-26), and yet He sent Him to die on the cross so that we, His enemies, could be reconciled to Him! “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God, shouldst die for me!”
“Enemies” is the strongest of the string of synonyms that Paul has used to describe our condition before Christ saved us. We were helpless (5:6), which means that we were totally unable to do anything to save ourselves or to help out in the process. We were ungodly (5:6) because of our many sins. We were sinners (5:8), having violated God’s holy commandments. But worst of all, we were God’s enemies.
The word implies active hostility, both from our side toward God and from God’s side toward us. From our side, we did not want to submit to God’s rightful lordship over our lives. We wanted to block Him out of our lives so that we could do what we want to do. We viewed Him as the spoiler of all our fun. Paul describes our enmity toward God (8:7), “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” True, many might protest and say, “I’m not hostile toward God; I don’t have anything against Him.” But they show their hostility by their indifference toward His love. They’re happy if He just stays out of their lives and lets them live as they please. In this sense, they are enemies of God.
But the greater hostility here, as seen by the word “wrath” (5:9), is God’s hostility toward unrepentant sinners (Morris, Romans, p. 225; his The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Eerdmans], third rev. ed., pp. 214-250, deals with this more extensively). From God’s side, He is opposed to all that is evil and to everyone who is in rebellion against Him. They are His enemies (Phil 3:18; Col. 1:21; James 4:4). He will eventually judge all who do not willingly bow before His Son (Ps. 2). When Jesus comes again, He is pictured as a powerful warrior, whose robe is dipped in blood, who strikes down all rebels with His sharp sword as He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev. 19:11-15). This is God’s hostility toward all who do not submit to Jesus Christ. He cannot have fellowship with those who walk in darkness (1 John 1:5-6).
But our text says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Reconciliation is a wonderful word! One of the all-too-rare, but great joys of being a pastor is when I can have some part in seeing a couple who are hostile toward one another be reconciled. But it’s an even greater joy to see sinners reconciled to God through the death of Jesus, which removed the barrier of our sin. As Morris states (Romans, p. 225, note 33), “The death of Christ puts away our sin, which had aroused not our opposition but God’s.”
So the main idea here is not that we first ceased to be hostile toward God, but that through the death of His Son, He could cease to be hostile towards us whom He purposed to save. It was through the cross that God put to death the enmity, contained in the Law of commandments that we had violated, so that we now can be reconciled to Him (Eph. 2:15-16). So, while we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.
B. Much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Charles Hodge captures the logic (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 138): “If Christ has died for his enemies, he will surely save his friends.” If God did the really hard thing by reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son, it only follows that we shall be saved at the future judgment by (or, better, in) His life. “Shall be saved” points ahead to the day of judgment. Paul will develop the idea that we share “in His life” in 6:8-11. We are now completely identified with Christ in His death and resurrection life. Paul also explains this in Colossians 3:3-4, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Because we are now united with Christ, as members of His body, sharing His life, we shall be saved from the final judgment.
When God raised Jesus from the dead, He gave to Him all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). He exercises this authority for the salvation of His people (Eph. 1:22; see Hodge, p. 140). Furthermore, as Paul says (Rom. 8:33b-34), “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” We can know that our salvation is secure because if God did the greater thing by reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son, He will do the relatively easier thing by saving us from judgment because we are now partakers of His resurrection life. As Jesus promised (John 14:19), “because I live, you will live also.”
But Paul never set forth biblical truth as a dry, boring lecture and then said, “Class dismissed!” These glorious truths about our sure salvation evoked an emotional response:
3. The result of knowing that you are saved for sure because of God’s love and grace is to exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:11).
“And not only this” means, “don’t stop there! Class isn’t dismissed yet!” If you understand this truth, you’ve got to exult in God! As we’ve seen, Paul exulted in hope of the glory of God (5:2). He exulted in his tribulations (5:3). But now he exults in God Himself. To exult means to glory in or boast in. It’s an emotional word. A young man who is in love exults in his fiancée: “She’s the most beautiful creature on earth!” An artist exults in a beautiful sunset: “Isn’t it spectacular! Look at those gorgeous colors!” A football fan exults in a touchdown run: “Did you see how he dodged all those tacklers?” And those who have been justified by Christ’s blood and reconciled to God through the death of His Son exult in God through the Lord Jesus Christ: “Isn’t God wonderful! There’s nothing to compare to His love, His grace, and His tender mercies! There is no love like the love of Christ for sinners! Praise God!”
The last phrase of verse 11, “through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” shows that reconciliation is a finished work that we receive as God’s gift. It is an objective, accomplished fact because of the cross. It also shows that all God’s blessings come to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. But you must receive this reconciliation by trusting in Jesus and His shed blood to cover all your sins.
Paul states it as a given that those who have received this reconciliation now exult in God. But do we? Have you spent any time this past week exulting in God because of all that He has freely given to you through the Lord Jesus Christ? I encourage you to make time each day to open God’s Word and pray, “Lord, show me today some of the unfathomable riches of Christ so that I may exult in You. Thank You that I have been justified by Christ’s blood! Thank You that while I was Your enemy, You reconciled me to You through the death of Your Son!” The fact that you are saved for sure—justified by Christ’s blood, saved from God’s wrath, reconciled to God although you once were His enemy—ought to cause your heart to exult in God.
The early church father, Chrysostom, wrote (cited by Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 314), “And so the fact of his saving us, and saving us too when we were in such plight, and doing it by means of his only-begotten, and not merely by his only-begotten, but by his blood, weaves for us endless crowns to glory in.”
- Why is it important that believers feel assured of their salvation? What practical benefits come from this assurance?
- Since false assurance is a real possibility, how can we guard ourselves from it? What is the basis for true assurance?
- Should we try to give assurance to a person who professes to know Christ, but who is living in disobedience? What are the biblical guidelines here?
- Since glorifying God (or, exulting in Him) is the chief end of man, how would you counsel a Christian who rarely does this?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.