19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
In Medieval Europe, there was a plant that people desperately craved. This plant originally came from China, and it was expensive – more expensive than cinnamon, saffron, and even more expensive than opium. In Luther’s day, this plant cost more than silk, rubies, and diamonds. The plant was rhubarb, and it was used to cure you if you were constipated (or, as one of my children once said, “constellated”). Rhubarb would help you purge and relieve your clogged up bowels.
From our text, “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,” that means everyone, that means you. You are under the law. You are accountable to God’s law. You are a slave sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Ro. 3:9-12). The Law speaks to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped. Every mouth stopped.
“Well, I didn’t mean to do it.” “But it wasn’t my fault.” “I wouldn’t have done that unless he had done that first.” “I would have done better if I had a better upbringing.” Stop. STOP! When you hear the Law, stop your mouth. Quit speaking. Shut up. You have no excuse. You have no alibi. You have no defense.
The Law speaks to you and fills you up with sin. The Law plugs you up. The Law constipates you with the excrement of sin, and you cannot purge yourself. You cannot find relief. By works of the Law, no human flesh (lit.) will be justified in God’s sight, since through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
Hear it again, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Lex semper accusat, as the church said in Latin – and when there is a Latin phrase for something in the Church, you know it’s important. Lex semper accusat, or in English, “the Law always accuses.” The Law is relentless. The Law points out your sin, stops your mouth, and fills and impacts you with the scat of sin that cements itself into you. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin and you are completely constipated.
But, as Luther says, “Do not despair, there is a Rhubarb that is by far the best, namely Christ, lay hold of Him and you will live.” The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
In the past, I have mentioned unfortunate places where the Scriptures are divided by chapters and verses. Ro. 3:23-24 is one of them. Notice that v. 24 does not have a subject. You have to go back to v. 23 to find it. The universal declaration “all have sinned” is followed by another universal “all… are justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus died for all the sins of the whole world. No sin falls outside of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All sinners are redeemed by Jesus. Jesus died for every sin of every sinner. All are justified by Jesus’ death. Does that sound too universal? Probably. But Scripture says it, so it is true. Go ahead and call me a universalist. I will wear it as a badge of honor.
All are justified by Christ’s death and resurrection, but not all are saved. Sadly, people do reject Jesus’ justifying death and resurrection. They reject Jesus’ atonement. They reject His blood because they want to justify themselves. Their mouths are not stopped by God’s Law. They deny that they are constipated with their sin. They think that by doing good they can purge themselves of their sin. They would rather stand before God on their own merits and works of the Law. In the end however, they will be bitterly disappointed.
Jesus has come, but He has come only for sinners. Jesus is the Rhubarb that relieves and purges your constipation of sin. Take hold of Jesus by faith and you will live. Do not try to run. Do not try to hide. Let the Law do its work on you. Let it stop up your mouth. Let it accuse you because you have Jesus for you.
You have Jesus for you. He justifies and declares you to be innocent. He sets you free. Jesus redeems you. His blood washes over you and makes you holy.
When you see that your salvation has been done completely by Jesus, you are free. You have been a slave to sin, but no longer. You have been set free by Jesus. Whoever Jesus sets free is free indeed (Jn. 8:36). Fight against your sin. Put your old, sinful nature to death every day. That is a life of faith. Faith is an active thing. Faith kills the old, sinful Adam and makes you a different person in heart, spirit, and mind (Luther).
Today, is Reformation Sunday. Be reformed by faith. Be transformed by the Gospel. Be changed by Jesus, your Rhubarb. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.