As we enter verse 21 of Romans 3, Paul begins to turn the corner and paint for us another picture, but this time, this is one we can truly rejoice in as we see that the righteousness of God is shown in the Gospel, which contains His sovereign plan to justify men by faith alone through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.
Paul unpacks this incredible plan and shows the Christian audience in Rome, with a special emphasis towards the Jews, through many Old Testament allusions, that this seemingly “new” doctrine is in fact exactly what “the Law and the Prophets” have been teaching all along.
In Romans 3:25 we read that Jesus was “put forward as a propitiation by his blood...” This is especially significant as Paul communicates the nullification of the old sacrificial system that we read about in Leviticus 16 known as the Day of Atonement. This Jewish sacrificial system was incredibly involved, time-consuming, specific and messy. Every year the high priest was allowed in the Most Holy Place in order to make atonement for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. Israel would publicly confess their sins to the priest and the priest would take three animals for the sin sacrifices: one bull for himself and his household and two goats for the nation of Israel. After sacrificing the bull for himself and his household, the priest would then sacrifice the first of the two goats. The first goat would be slaughtered to represent God forgiving Israel’s sin. The second goat would have all the sins of Israel confessed over it as the high priest placed both hands on the head of the goat. The goat would then be sent out into the desert to represent God removing Israel’s guilt.
These details are paramount to the language Paul is using here in Romans because what Paul is saying is that Jesus’ death replaced this system once and for all! Our sins can now be forgiven and our guilt removed solely through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross! Hebrews 1:3 also confirms this truth by saying Jesus “sat down” which contrasts the constant work of the priest offering sacrifices (a work which was never completely done) with the complete and final work Jesus accomplished through his death. The next part of that same verse in Hebrews 1:3 says that “he sat down at the right hand of God.” The place in which Jesus sat down happens to be the highest place of authority and honor – meaning his work was not only complete and final but it was also perfect.
This is good news! Because of God’s righteousness we have the opportunity to receive, by faith, the work of Christ in our life for the forgiveness of our sins and the removal of guilt and shame. In what areas of your life do you need to rest in the finished and perfect work of Christ?
This marvelous work that was accomplished through Christ should lead us to worship and to examine our lives in light of this truth. If we believe the truth that Jesus has removed all the barriers between Himself and us are we fully embracing the relationship with Jesus we can now have?
This truth should humble us. Apart from Christ, there is nothing anyone of us can do to gain a right standing before God. This leads us to the last few verses of this section where Paul implores us that there is no room for boasting in anything we can accomplish (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Jews were worried that Jesus would nullify the law and all their customs, traditions, and everything they stood for – but here Paul explains that it actually confirms their religion and we see the way of salvation tied directly to faith, which helps us understand the Jewish customs and traditions better.
In your house fellowship this week it is my hope and prayer that you would lift high the name of Jesus, knowing that he has accomplished salvation for you, through faith, and that you can rest, live and have your being in the perfect and finished work of Christ!
For His Name's Sake,
*The painting, "Scapegoat," by William Holman Hunt is in the public domain.