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God sets things right
Summer Quarter: Toward a New Creation
Unit 2: A World Gone Wrong
Sunday school lesson for the week of July 17, 2016
By Rev. V.L. Daughtery, Jr.
Lesson Scripture: Romans 3:21-31
Background Scripture: Psalm 148; Romans 3:21-31
A minister had purchased a white robe for Easter. As he stood behind the pulpit, his adoring spouse, seated in the second pew, was heard to whisper, “Doesn’t he look like an angel with wings.” The parsonage 8-year-old, who recently had been sent to “time out,” responded by saying, “He will never get off the ground.”
Psalm 148 does get off the ground and flies with praise to the Lord from heaven and earth. An invitation to praise is extended, and rationale is given for doing so. Everything is engaged in praising God.
Read aloud Psalm 148
This hymn invites praise to the Creator from heavens and earth.
The composer of this song of praise is also the choir director. The Lord dwells beyond all he has created. Because he is the source of all that has been made, in gratitude the sun, moon, stars, highest heaven, and the waters above the heavens will sing an anthem of praise to their maker. It is to God they owe their existence. Their functions were instilled in their formation.
The song in its theme now moves from heaven to earth. Words of praise come from animate and inanimate parts of the earth who owe their existence to God. Those humans acknowledged as kings, princes, and rulers also are called to recognize God’s authority. They rule over all he has made. God’s name alone is to be exalted on earth and in heaven.
“To raise up a horn” means to protect or to strengthen. It may refer to the exile and the Jews returning to live in Jerusalem. God rules heaven and earth. Every voice and sound in all of creation is called to praise God. Such adoration is incomplete without full participation. Humans praise God because they have a constant need and desire to be near God.
Read aloud Romans 3:21-31
All humans have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In this sin, humans are like an arrow that is shot from a bow but fails to hit the intended target. Humans, in a sinful condition, have missed the target of righteousness. All who have missed the mark can, however, still be salvaged. All are sinners. God’s gift to sinners, Jesus Christ, died to ransom sinners. All sinners can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, in this section of his letter, describes the righteousness of God and God’s desire to search for, find, and redeem the lost.
This verse deposits the reader of Romans in the midst of a debate that Paul began earlier in the letter. Trying to be good and keeping the law will not make a person acceptable to God. The law and the prophets, however, have borne witness as to how humans become acceptable to God. Acceptance by God is not received by obeying the Law of Moses. To be reconciled to God is by God’s grace. To be redeemed by God takes faith in Jesus Christ.
God will accept sinful humans and absolve their guilt by declaring each one, by his divine judgment, not guilty. The human responsibility is to believe and declare that Jesus Christ has taken away sin. Humans are justified by their faith.
There is a story that when the reformer Martin Luther was translating the Bible into German, his study had a visitor. In the mystical experience, Luther encountered the Devil carrying two heavy volumes. “What have you there?” asked the translator. “A record of all your sins” replied the prince of darkness. Upon examination, Luther felt all the pain and suffering he had caused God. Then looking at the manuscript he had been translating, he dipped his quill in the ink and handed it to the Devil. In bold faith he said, “Write across each list of my sins these words: ‘the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.’” (I John 1:7)
Being made right with God is a gift from God. Our treatment from God is better than we deserve. Jesus going to the cross met the moral demands of God, paid the penalty for human sin, and bestowed grace on believing sinners. Christ, on the cross, opened the channel for a proper relationship to God for all humans. No longer bound by the chains of sin, humans are free to go and begin liberating life anew.
Paul declares three things about what God has done for humans upon the cross. First, any boasting of personal salvation through what has happened upon the cross is now allowed. All who have received by faith the “not guilty” from God are forever debtors to God. Second, there is not one God for the Gentiles and another God for the Jews. (Deuteronomy 6:4) Justification for sin will come from this one God to Jews and Gentiles. Third, is the law made useless by faith? The law strengthens faith. Now the law is observed in the experience of a God who loves sinners. Love by faith and grace has replaced fear. Law becomes more powerful when influenced by God’s love through personal belief in Jesus Christ.
Reflections for discussion of Romans 3:21-31
Rev. V.L. Daughtery, Jr. is a retired South Georgia pastor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Does love of Christ make keeping rules a requirement of a moral, lawful life style much easier? How?
- What is the response to the declaration that Jews and Christians love and worship the same God? Paul believed that Jews and Christians belong to God’s family. Yet, Jewish worshippers still look for the Messiah. How do the two groups meet and dialogue??