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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Grimwade

Silenced Before God


'What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.'

I want you to imagine this morning that you are in a courtroom. I don't know whether you've ever

been on jury service, in which case you will have been in the centre of courtrooms, but if you

haven't you may have watched dramas on television. But of course at the centre is the judge and to one side will be the jury and then down below the judge will be the lawyers representing the

prosecution and the defence and then in the dock of course is the person on trial and then there'll

be the gallery where observers and family members and so forth are watching.

And so that's the scene I want you to have in your mind this morning as we come to the word of God. But I want you to see it as you are the defendant, so you're the one who is sat in the dock and you've just been brought up the stairs and you take your seat. It's the last day of a long trial and so this morning what is going to happen is the closing speeches of the defence and the prosecution aiming to sum up the arguments and then it will be over to the judge and the jury to bring their verdict onto where you stand.

Well that is exactly the situation we have in Romans chapter 3 and verses 1 through to 20. God is the judge, Paul as it were is the prosecution barrister summing up the case and it's written against us as human beings who are in the dock. Now you say we've only got one side here, we've only got Paul the prosecuting barrister, but the way he writes is as though the defence is speaking too because he's answering all the objections that they raise. So we can see how both sides are putting their case and then how it unfolds.

So how do we stand? How do we stand before God? That's the question, that's what we're

being taught and pictured here. Are we guilty or not guilty? This has been an argument that's been

raging since chapter 1 and verse 18 as the prosecution have been laying out their case and the defence have been arguing back. So we're going to watch and listen this morning as this courtroom battle plays out. So we're going to do three things, we're going to listen to the

closing argument, then we're going to listen to the verdict and then we're going to see what the

outcome is. But I want you to remember this is not some drama or game, we may be picturing it

like that, but this is how each one of us relates to the God who made us. This is the most

serious thing that you will ever give consideration to in your whole life.

So first of all then the closing arguments. So the defence, the defence's closing argument is

basically this. My client is a good honourable Jew who believes in God, has the Old Testament

and therefore is not guilty of the charges being brought against him. Paul is summing up what's

been going on since the beginning of chapter 2 and which is now concluding in the first eight verses of chapter 3. And you can hear the defence's argument in verse 1 is where it's posed as a

question, 'what advantage then is there in being a Jew or what value is there in circumcision?' You can hear them pushing back against what Paul had been saying in chapter 2, that even if you've

got a religion it doesn't help and these people are saying but surely there's some advantage,

there is, we're good Jewish people, good religious people, we must be fine. We could put it like this, Paul, this is the defence's argument to Paul, Paul all this speaking of sin and guilt and the need

to repent, it doesn't apply to us because God said I'm fine. You know he made promises to Abraham and he told us to be circumcised and he'll be faithful to those promises and so I'm okay.

Now this is the same way that millions of people think, perhaps you're amongst them, millions

of religious people think like this, they say I've been to church, I've heard promises that God made,

in fact in response to the promises I got baptised, I have belief, I know my beliefs are right because

I follow the Bible, I've even taken the Lord's Supper, I've lived a good life, I've never harmed

anyone and so surely God is going to be good to his word and I'll be okay. Maybe that's how you

think because of your upbringing, because of your links to church, but your confidence is in yourself of who you are, and you think I'm okay.

So let's listen to the prosecution's summary as they push back Paul the barrister and the first answer he gives to this question then, what advantage is there in being a Jew, being circumcised, is to say there are many advantages and blessings, in verse 2 he says that, because you've been entrusted with the very words of God and yes God will keep his word and God has made promises and you're right about that and even if you're unfaithful God will still be faithful, here's the but, that also means God will be faithful to judge you if you sin because God is a God of justice and therefore if you sin and offend God he will keep his promises and keep his word and he will punish you.

See God's promises work both ways, he rewards obedience if you perfectly keep all of God's laws

then you'll be fine, but he also promised to punish disobedience, see this is what he's saying in verses three and four, 'what if some were unfaithful will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness, not at all, let God be true and every human be a liar' and then he says this 'as it is written' and then he quotes from Psalm 51, 'so that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge'. We read Psalm 51 earlier, it's David's psalm of repentance after Nathan confronts him of his adultery, in fact it's more than adultery because he has raped Bathsheba, he's committed horrible, awful sin and then he sought to cover it up and the prophet Nathan has come and confronted him and said you are the man and then David responds with this beautiful psalm of humble repentance and in that he says to God you're right to punish me, you are being faithful

by punishing me, that's the quote that you have here in verse four of Romans 3 which is a quote

from Psalm 51 and verse four.

He's saying 'God, you're right to put your wrath on me, it shows that you are being consistent and faithful and righteous, you see the prosecution's point is that sin is a problem and it must be dealt with and just because you have a religion and the beliefs that go with it which are good things but it doesn't in itself deal with your sin problem, you need something else'. And then he goes on to this, 'the people who are saying I'll be okay and God isn't gonna, you know, God will still be faithful and my sin doesn't really matter', he goes on to push that to its logical conclusion and basically says it's total nonsense.

Verse five, if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly what shall we say,

that God is unjust in bringing his wrath upon us because they're saying you know look if my sin

shows God to be righteous more clearly well I should just do more of it, you know, it's not a

problem then is it because it's bringing something good out of God and he's saying that's just

nonsense to think like that and he goes on, verse seven, someone might argue if my falsehood

enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory why am I still condemned as a sinner?

Why not say some slanderously claim that we say let us do evil that good may result, you end up

in this position where you're saying let's just do more sin because somehow it shows God to be

righteous, that doesn't help you because your sin still needs to be dealt with.

This is like somebody saying my badness has brought out God's goodness into the open more so I've done him a favour but it doesn't mean that your badness is still sin, still a problem. So Paul now returns to the same question that was asked in verse one in verse nine, what shall we conclude then, do we have any advantage and this time he says not at all. Now this has confused some people, how can Paul give two different answers to the same question because what he's saying is there is a blessing in being a Jew and having the promises of God but in terms of your relationship with God and dealing with your sin it doesn't help you at all. Just because you have a religion, just because you believe certain things, doesn't actually because as he explains in verse nine, for we

have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.

In terms of becoming acceptable to God, it has no advantage. Just having God's words doesn't in and of itself doesn't deal with your sin. He's saying everyone is under the power of sin. There are two kinds of people in the world but in the end there's no difference between them because they're all under sin and judgment. There are bad people who approve of bad behaviour

and then there are people who don't approve of bad behaviour but do it anyway.

We are all under sin and judgment. So this is the closing argument that the prosecution is

bringing. We are all enslaved to sin and we cannot break free. That's what he says in verse nine.

That we are all under the power of sin. It has gripped us. It has taken hold of us and we can't

break free. I don't know whether any of you have played bowls or have watched the game bowls.

I'm not talking ten-pin bowling. I'm talking about the bowls on the green. When you first watch it,

you think it's easy. They're just rolling a ball and what's the problem? But the balls are weighted. They will not go in a straight line. They always go in a curve and you can try as hard as you like to try and make it go straight. It will not. It's always going to bias in some direction and that's the same with the human heart. With every human being you can say I'm determined to live a good life but you can't because you're enslaved. You will always be twisted and you will always bias in a particular direction. This is what the bible calls total depravity. That all of us are impacted by sin.

Imagine three glasses and this first glass is full of pure water. I should say pure Yorkshire water.

It's got no impurities in it at all. The third glass over here, this one is full of poison, 100 percent poison. The one in the middle is full of water but it has a couple of drops of poison in it. When you drink it, it's only got a couple of drips in. It's 99 percent the same as the pure water but you're not going to argue because it's tainted now. It's coloured. It's going to kill you because it's got poison in it. That's the point. He's not saying that we are all as utterly bad as we could be but he's saying that every part of us has been corrupted. There is poison. There is sin that is permeated right through us as human beings. Therefore we're guilty.

We're all under the power of sin. Now every single one of us needs to face this issue.

It's deeply humbling because we all want to think I've got something that means God will say I'm

okay and Paul is saying no you don't. You've got a deep problem that goes right to your heart.

But this truth is also re-humanising because we always tend to look on some other people

as being in a different category to us. They are evil and somehow we're a bit different to them.

They're off the scale evil whereas I'm only a little bit. Whereas Paul is saying actually

we're all in the same category. In God's sight we're all sinners. We're all under sin.

We're all under judgment. So those are the closing arguments.

So now let's secondly come to the verdict. So back to our courtroom. The two barristers have

spoken. One saying he's basically okay because he's got some religion. Paul standing up saying

that's rubbish. There's a problem of sin and that affects everybody. Now the judge speaks

and the judge is God. Because what Paul does as he lays out the argument in Romans 3 is he now

quotes from the Old Testament and says this is what God says. Now I'm not saying that Paul's

words are not the word of God. Of course all of them are but it's as though he's saying let's

listen to God himself speak. Here are a series of Old Testament quotes that establish my case.

So this is as it were God speaking. We've got three sections of Old Testament quote and they

paint a devastating picture of how God sees us in our sin. So here is the verdict. Every heart by

nature turns away from God. This is verses 10 to 12. There is no one righteous, not even one.

There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. That's Psalm 14, 1 to 3.

It's also Psalm 53, 1 to 3. No one is said four times. All is also said. He's pressing the point

that this is every human being. This is how God sees every one of us including you. Every human

being without exception by nature is under sin. Do you think this is a bit extreme? No one righteous.

No one seeks God. But there's millions of people in churches and synagogues and mosques.

Surely they're seeking God. How can you say no one seeks God? Surely he's being a bit

over the top to say this. This is God speaking and he says I can see into the human heart

and I see that every heart is against me and even when people seek me they do so selfishly.

They do so because they want to get something. They come to me and they say look I've lived

like this or I believe this or God you must give me this. They're not seeking God purely for who

he is because every human heart is twisted and corrupted.

He's describing the relational dynamic that is at the heart of who we are as human beings in our sin and he's saying we are corrupt and we are evil because every heart does not do good. Not even one. The second section moves on to talk about how we speak. Rotten hearts speak with bitter tongues. Verses 13 and 14. Their throats are open graves. Their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. This is Isaiah 59, 7 and 8. No it's not. It's Psalm 5, verse 9. Psalm 140, verse 3 and Psalm 10, verse 7. The focus is now on the tongue and he's saying out of the heart then the mouth speaks and what is it that comes out of the heart and can be seen by the words that are used?

Well deceit and poison and cursing and a bitter tongue comes from a self-seeking heart and unless the heart is by changed by God its evil intent will burst forth in unsavory and unkind words. Again remember the distinction between total depravity and utter depravity. We're not saying that everything, we are all as evil as we could be.

That would be utter depravity. We're saying that every part of us as human beings has been impacted by sin. Nothing is immune from it. We're not saying that all our words are evil but we're

saying that the speech that comes because of our hearts is tainted by sin. A few years ago Karen

had made a lovely pot of stew or something which was and then I was doing something in the garden putting some weed killer down or something and anyway some spoon or something got used for both things. That's a beautiful subject there's nothing wrong with it. Would you eat it?

It didn't get eaten because the risk of some contamination with weed killer.

Now you know let's say definitely we had put a few nodules of weed killer in. Would you say it's

utterly bad? No but you'd say it's thoroughly corrupted. That's the point. You know we may be good things that come out of our speech but it's all tainted and corrupted in some way because of our hearts. This is God's verdict. And then the third thing is that bitter tongues destroy human community. This is verses 15 to 18. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. This is Isaiah 59:7 and 8 and Psalm 36:1. He's saying that the words that we speak cause strife. Children learn a rhyme. Sticks and stones may break my bones but calling names will never hurt me. It's the biggest pack of lies ever. Let me give you how it should go.

Stick and stones can only break my bones but words can pollute, distort and destroy my very soul.

What is the greatest stress in life? Is it not things people say? Things people say about you?

That's what hurts. That's what destroys. That's what brings down isn't it? And this is true the

world over. Do you see what he's done? He's gone from the heart to our speech to our actions and

he's showing how because the heart is alienated from God and under sin it leads to impure words

that leads to human community falling apart in the ways that you see so much of in our world.

In every community of people there is strife and difficulty. It doesn't make any difference

whether they're religious communities or non-religious communities. They are all

full of strife as human hearts battle with each other. As unkind things are said that cause

hassle and strife and fallings out. And verse 18 then summarises it all. There is no fear of God

before their eyes. God's verdict on mankind. It's exactly the same as when God looked at mankind

just before the flood in Genesis chapter 6 and verse 5 and he described them like this.

The Lord saw how wicked, how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. That's God's verdict on us. You got it? Thirdly the outcome. We've listened to the closing speeches.

The judge, God has spoken and given this damning verdict and now there is silence

in the courtroom. No one moves. That's what Paul is describing in verse 19. Now we know that

whatever the law says it says to those under the law so that every mouth may be silenced

and the whole world held accountable to God. It doesn't matter whether you have the law written

in the word of God as in the pages of the Bible or whether you just have the law which is written

onto your heart. The outcome is the same that everyone is guilty and he emphasises then in

verse 20, therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law

rather through the law we become conscious of our sin. It's the first time he uses this phrase

the works of the law. That's our attempts to keep the law ourselves and he's saying all that the

law does is show us how much we failed.

Those of you who are doing exams or tests you may come out from an exam and you have an exam hunch as to how well you might have done. I think I did okay or I think I made a complete mess but when you get the mark scheme then you can see much more clearly exactly where you stand and it's the same with us then. Our hearts tell us because God's law is written into our hearts, tells us you failed but when we see the law of God written down all it does is clarify just how bad we are. Silence. Have you got to this point? You see it's only when the but stops that you've really grasped your sin. If you're still sat there this morning but but I, but I, but I, you haven't got it. It's only when you sat there in the dock and you go okay God I have nothing to say. I'm just, I'm guilty. I'm deserving of your judgment. I've sinned. I see that now. I've offended you. It's only when you get to that point when you hear the good news.

So what next? We're sat in the courtroom. Nobody's moving. God has spoken. You would expect now sentence will be given and there won't be any argument about it because all recognize it will be entirely fair. There's no arguments to be made. God has proved his point. The only issue now is punishment. We've offended a holy God who made us. We've broken his laws. We've lived for idols. We've tried to cover it up. Surely we deserve everything that is coming to us. The full force of his wrath as David said in Psalm 51 and verse 4. You're right God. You're right when you judge us and as we wait in the silence but now another voice speaks breaking the silence. It's the judge's son who is the delight of his father and he is full of glory and he stands up in the court and he says

I'll provide them with righteousness and I will cover their liabilities and the judge looks at his son and he says this is my son and in whom I am well pleased and he will pay the price for your sins and he looks at you and me and the doc and he says on the basis of his sacrifice you can be clothed in his righteousness and therefore you're welcome. You're welcome to my family and you're welcome to come home with me and you say but what about the law? I've broken the law.

I'm surely I'm guilty and he says I am the one who is just and justifies the ungodly.

I am able to justify those who have faith in Jesus because he pays the price. That my friends

is the good news of Romans 3:21 to 26. Another righteousness has been provided

in the Lord Jesus Christ who presented himself as a sacrifice of atonement so that through the shedding of his blood we can be forgiven and know God. We've been going through loads of stuff of my dad's and discovered this letter. My mum died when I was 13 in June and he in the Christmas letter to some people that may not have heard he wrote about it and then he wrote this PS: death comes to us all but we generally prefer not to contemplate its implications.

As a Christian Jane that's my mum had put her faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ confident

that when death and judgment came she would stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ and thereby pure holy and fit for heaven where the righteous dwell with God forever.

It was her greatest desire that all her family friends and acquaintances would similarly turn

to Christ and be saved too. She knew that neither in her case nor any other would any amount of good works make us right in God's sight. His standards for heaven are that he demands we have total purity of every thought word and deed. He hates evil and his judgment for any lack of purity

is to separate those concerned for himself forevermore a position commonly and correctly

called hell and the end for everyone who is not a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the other hand for those who have believed a substitution has taken place. The Lord Jesus has

been punished in our place whilst we receive his purity and hence become cleansed and acceptable to God. It's just a summary of Romans 3 1 to 26. Praise God for the Lord Jesus Christ.

God's provision for those who are guilty. God said we do not seek him. The good news is

he seeks us. That's why he sent the Lord Jesus Christ. Not just to provide us with forgiveness

but so that we might be welcome and acceptable in his sight.

Praise God that the silence is broken by but now. This is what God has done.


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