19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 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.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 3:19-28 

This past week, I imagine there was a lot of bragging going on in your house. It might have been your kids bragging about their Halloween costume or more importantly how much candy they got from trick or treating. Or maybe mom and dad were bragging about their Halloween decorations or how well they have stayed away from the temptation of candy…watch out though, we still have Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas cookies ahead. Bragging and the holidays always seem to go together, but that bragging often ruins the holiday spirit. When bragging children begin to feel that their costumes don’t stack up to their sibling’s, classmate’s or what they see in a commercial, their bragging can turn to bawling. When mom and dad give into the candy, turkey and cookies, their bragging about their weight can turn into sagging due to their weight. As the holiday season gets going we each have expectations for ourselves, our families and our experiences that the holidays will be brag worthy, but a lot of those expectations end up falling short and inside our once hopeful hearts there is the feeling of failure. The good news for us is that when the holidays or any day doesn’t go the way we wanted and we feel like a failure, we can still find something to brag about because our faith finds relief from failure in Jesus.

Today we celebrate the Reformation. It’s not a typical holiday like Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas. Today we celebrate the efforts of Martin Luther and other reformers of his day a little over 500 years ago when they stood firm on their faith in the gospel that Jesus has saved us, rather than faith in works or our best effort to keep God’s law. Now the Reformation is like other holidays in that we will leave here bragging about how loud we sang, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and who had the best bratwurst in honor of the German Lutheran heritage. However, today our bragging in song and sausage doesn’t come from our efforts, but as thanksgiving to God. A point Martin Luther understood very well as did the Apostle Paul as evidenced in our Epistle Lesson from Romans 3. Paul made it very clear in the first three chapters of Romans that we have no right to brag or boast about anything we do as we are all sinful.

Paul made it very clear that no one has the right to brag about how good they are according to God’s law by the first verses of our text from Romans 3,

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

God’s law is for the whole world, all people. No one is able to stand outside of God’s law and live by their own set of rules. Yet, many have fallen into the false belief that they can live as they please apart from God’s law and from recognizing him as their God and Creator as Paul said in Romans 1:25

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

Many have rejected that they are creatures, created beings, who owe their lives, livelihood and purpose to God, but their decision to live as if there were no God cannot separate them from God and the demands he makes of all of us in his law. Demands that we have failed to keep as Paul said,

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.

The power of God’s law is not to give us a list of things we can do for him, but a list of ways we have failed him. And that guilt is what drives many away from God as they try to find relief in their own set of rules.

Since, the power of God’s law is to make us aware of the harsh, depressing reality of our sinful failures, we come up with other things by which we can judge ourselves. These alternate laws or criteria we use to judge our lives are also then things that we can brag about. For example, we can brag about our bank accounts and what they can buy for ourselves and our family. And, the bigger the bank account, the more bragging one can do. From that perspective, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has the most right to brag. He is now the richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $112 billion, according to Forbes’s 2018 Billionaires List[1]. $112 billion is a huge amount of money, but for all that wealth, what could Mr. Bezos do? Let’s put it into perspective like this, the median household income in the U.S. is around $59,000[2] and the current population of the United States is about 327 million people[3] with about two and a half people per household[4]. Doing some calculations with those numbers reveals that Mr. Bezos’ fortune could pay the salaries of 1.5% of people in the U.S. for one year, but that would still leave us with an unemployment rate of about 2.2%[5]. From another angle, we would need about 200 Jeff Bezos to pay off the $21.7 trillion national debt[6].

What about the world? The median per-capita household income for the world is around $2,900[7] and there are about 7.6 billion people in the world[8], which means Mr. Bezos could cover the salary of one out of every 200 people in the world for one year. These numbers are impressive, but even with the richest man in the world donating all of his money to help others, it still leaves a lot to be done to help everyone. The reality of all those in need in our world and the few who seem to have it all make it very clear that we are a far cry from having a world worth bragging about.

The many issues facing our world from the richest to the poorest all stem from our failure to keep God’s law. No system we come up with to judge ourselves by can cover over all of our problems. There is no government, program or lifestyle yet to be discovered that will suddenly give all people the chance to have something to brag about. We are all subject to one unchanging law, the law of God and it reveals our failures. The summary of God’s law in the Ten Commandments make it clear that we are all guilty. We may not all be hiding bodies in the woods, cheating on our spouse or stealing cars, but Jesus tells us that even 1 John 3:15

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer

and Matthew 5:28

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

All of these convict us as sinners and leave us with nothing to brag about, but we even sin when we do not brag.

We sin as believers when we have the opportunity to brag about what our Savior has done for us, but keep silent. When we see someone consumed by their desire to be perfect or at least better than everyone else, it is our time to share God’s law and use its power to show them that they will be lost if they rely on themselves. When someone has the weight of God’s law and their failures on their shoulders, it is our time to share the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness. When someone gets to share in the blessings God has put in our lives, it is our time to brag about God’s grace and goodness, not our own talents or abilities.

Paul was right to say about our ability to keep God’s law,

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

We have nothing to brag about in and of ourselves to fulfill the law nor anything to boast about regarding our faith, but everything to boast and brag about through God’s gift of faith because our faith finds relief from failure in Jesus.

Paul explained how we are saved from our failure to keep God’s law through what our faith holds on to, through what Jesus has done for us. Paul wrote,

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

The Law and the Prophets are a reference to the Old Testament. These God given words all pointed to the coming of Jesus, the Savior, about whom King David wrote,

“Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior”

Psalm 27:9

God’s law had always pointed believers to their failure to keep the law, but God never left out the promise of the Savior to give us relief from our failure to keep his law. Through the Savior, God would not reject us for breaking his law, for being sinners and for lacking righteousness. Instead, Paul wrote,

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

The righteousness, the perfect, goodness and brag worthy life that we could never achieve,Romans 3:23-24

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

was achieved through Jesus,

24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Martin Luther spent the beginning of his life in true fear of God for his failure to have this righteous. Growing up, Luther was very aware of his sin and haunted by the fact that,

whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it

James 2:10

He punished himself constantly for his sins because he was afraid of God’s judgment, until he was assigned to teach Psalms and Romans at the University at Wittenberg. Through his preparations to teach these two books, Luther found that the writers of the Psalms did not live in fear of God, but called out to him for rescue and relief as in Psalm 31:2

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.

Then in Romans, he found God’s plan to save him from his lack of righteousness and failures, Romans 1:17

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

It was not our ability to be righteous that saves us, but the righteousness we have by faith in Jesus.

Jesus provided righteousness for all people through his perfect life sacrificed on the cross. Paul wrote,

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

As Jesus hung on the cross, all the sins of all people of all time were put on his shoulders to bear and the punishment for all those failures was death. And through his sacrifice, all sins were able to be paid for by Jesus because he is the only one who can boast that he kept God’s law. His life was the only perfect sacrifice to make payment for our sins and bring us relief from our failures. The justice carried out against Jesus allows us to call out to him as Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

This past week, I image there was a lot of bragging going on in your house. It might have been about costumes, candy, creative pumpkin carving or calorie consumption. As the holiday season gets going we each have expectations for ourselves, our families and our experiences that the holidays will be brag worthy, but a lot of those expectations end up falling short and inside our once hopeful hearts there is the feeling of failure. We have many expectations for our lives, but God’s law and his expectations are what we will be judged by at the end of our lives. On our own, we are failures according to God’s law, but in Jesus, we have a righteousness apart from the law-

a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.

Since, we have Jesus’ righteousness, we need not fear God or his punishment, as the words of Psalm 46 remind us, Psalm 46:2,3

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Even as the world falls apart, we have no reason to fear as Jesus said in our gospel lesson from John 6:35

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

We have no right to boast in ourselves during the holidays or any day, but that does not mean we have to feel like failures. Instead, we have relief from our failures, our sins and all we endure in this sinful world through Jesus. The good news for us is that we are forgiven and at peace with God through Jesus and that is something worth bragging about because his forgiveness and peace are for everyone. We pray then that the Holy Spirit would work through our words about all Jesus has done for us to bring others who need relief from their sins and failures to faith in Jesus because faith finds relief from failure in Jesus. Amem.

 

 

[1] http://time.com/money/4746795 /richest-people-in-the-world/
[2] https://seekingalpha. com/article/4152222-january-2018-median-household-income
[3] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/
[4] https://www. census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf
[5] https://ycharts.com/indicators/unemployment_rate
[6] http://www.usdebtclock.org
[7] https://news.gallup.com/poll/166211/worldwide-median-household-income-000.aspx
[8] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/