daily biblical sermons


THE GOSPEL AND JUSTIFICATION
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Third Week of Lent, February 29, 2016
2 Kings 5:1-15, Psalm 41-42, Luke 4:24-30


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:14).


One of the purposes of Lent is to prepare the catechumens for baptism. Today's readings seem to have been chosen for that purpose. Naaman, the Syrian general, is told to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of his leprosy. Leprosy is a figure of sin, and the Jordan River was a place of baptism, where John the Baptist baptized and where Jesus was baptized. So the washing of Naaman in the Jordan to miraculously cleanse him of leprosy at the command of the prophet Elisha is seen by the liturgy as a symbol of baptism, which cleanses us from sin. This is a lesson for the catechumens, but it is also good for the rest of us too to reflect today on the meaning of our baptism.


Baptism effects our regeneration, whereby we are born again. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3 NKJV). We are born again by believing in Jesus and being baptized. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).


Baptism causes us to be born of God as his children. "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Through faith in Jesus together with baptism we are born again, regenerated, and enabled to see the kingdom of God. If we were baptized as infants, we need to renew our baptism now as adults for it to become fully activated and effective in us. We do so by expressing our adult faith in Christ and his saving work on the cross.


In his first sermon on the day of Pentecost, St. Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). They are to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, that is, they are to be connected to him through faith and baptism. The result of this connection is the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.


This is because it is Jesus' death on the cross that saves and justifies us, and faith in him plus baptism connects us to him and enables the merits of his death to be applied to us. So when we believe and are baptized, our sins are forgiven, for he has paid our price and resolved our debt that we had with God for our sins, a debt in punishment for our sins that we were unable to pay and that weighed us down with guilt and fearful dread of the punishment that we will have to suffer for them after death.


Christ came to free us from all of this, to make the necessary reparation for our sins that only he could make, and thus pay our debt for us, thereby removing our sense of guilt and our depression for our sins, and instead of these giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Adult faith now activates in us all of this, which we received potentially as infants at our baptism. Thus we can speak of baptismal regeneration that is then later fully activated when we come to adult faith. This is when we experience the reality of being born again in Christ. It is a new life in God, freed from the burden of past sins and guilt, and illuminated by the gift of the Holy Spirit shining in our heart.


Furthermore, our adult faith is reckoned to us as righteousness (Romans 4:3). God will consider us as righteous because of our faith in Christ. What makes us righteous is not our faith but Christ himself in his saving death for our sins. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). So it is Christ's own righteousness that is reckoned to us when we believe and are baptized. Abraham's faith "was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.' But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,' were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord" (Romans 4:22-24).


Our connection with Christ by faith and baptism enables God to consider us ungodly sinners as righteous, shining with the very righteousness of God himself, because Christ paid our debt and took our place in suffering our just punishment that we owed God for our sins. Our penalty having been paid by Christ on the cross as far as God is concerned, God then considers us as henceforth no longer guilty sinners but as righteous people, "new men," regenerated people, born again, living a new life in God.


And if it is God who now so considers us, we are that indeed! If God considers us as righteous and in the right, then we are righteous and in the right. If God declares us to be righteous, in the right, and not guilty, then we indeed are truly righteous and not guilty.


We are united to Christ. His death becomes our death to sin and to being ungodly. And we rise with him in his resurrection to walk in the newness of life, in the light of his resurrection, illuminated from within by him. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).


Our baptism connects us with Christ's death and resurrection. He died to make reparation for my sins. My baptism and faith enables God to apply his reparation work on the cross to me, so that my sins are now justly forgiven; and if my sins are justly forgiven, then I am justified, that is, declared just and righteous by God. And if I am declared just by God, I am just indeed. And this declaration itself is just, because Christ paid my just price and made the necessary just reparation for my sins. And my faith and baptism enables this to happen to me, because it connects me with Christ and his saving work on the cross, allowing its effects to be applied to me.


In short, it is "Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). He was put to death in punishment for our trespasses to make reparation for them; and he was raised to show us that God accepted his death as a sin offering for us, to atone for our sins. Therefore we are declared to be and are truly made righteous with the very righteousness of God himself.


As the human race became alienated from God because of the sin of one man, Adam, so one man's righteous act (Christ's death on the cross) made all who believe in him righteous. As we were connected to Adam by birth and so inherited his curse, so we are connected to Christ by faith and so inherit his blessing, namely righteousness. This is what St. Paul says: "Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19 NKJV).


It is the mission of the Church to preach the gospel, which is this basic message of justification, forgiveness, and salvation in Christ through his death for our sins on the cross, to all nations and call and invite them to faith in it and baptism. These were Jesus' final words to us in the gospel of St. Matthew: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). No one is to be excluded. All need to hear this gospel, this good news of Christ's work on the cross for our justification, forgiveness, and salvation; and all peoples are to be invited to faith in this gospel, to faith in Christ, and to receive baptism and enter into his Church.

 

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