God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).
I once attended a disaster preparedness meeting for churches. During the meeting, one of the speakers presented a number of possible disasters that could affect us all. What are some of these? The speaker put up a PowerPoint slide listing floods, hurricanes, food-borne diseases, chemical accidents, vector-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, and agro-terrorism. Then he asked something like, “Are you worried yet?” At that moment I must confess that I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve heard too much hype about any number of possible disasters with the words “it could happen tomorrow!”
I can understand the situation that disaster preparedness presenters are in, because we who follow Jesus Christ have a very difficult time arousing interest in the subject of God’s wrath against sinners. Many times we get a “yeah, right, tell me later” response, because it seems some far out compared to the usual course of daily life. But our task, like the disaster presenters, is to tell people that they must be prepared to face God. Our text answers the question, “Why the cross?” And it shows the power of the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The cross addresses two judicial situations.
The first is God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 1:18). When we speak about God’s wrath, we are not talking about some kind of whimsical or capricious anger or a hot-headed explosion of a self-centered tyrant. As we will see, the cross dismisses those ideas at once. Instead, the wrath of God is the settled opposition of his entire being against sin, which is rebellion against God and twistedness. God knows that his glory or worth is the most important reality in the universe. It is soul-satisfying and he wants to share it with his creatures. Our horrifying problem is that we actually imagine we can have glory, significance and pleasure forever apart from God and in opposition to his ways. God must set himself against that delusion.
That means that God will judge sinners. We should realize that sin cannot be separated from the sinners who commit sin. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong (5:5 NIV). And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment (John 3:36 NLT; cf. Psalm 7:11; 11:5; Ephesians 5:6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 6:16-17; 20:11-12).
Next, the apostle says the surprising words that God let sin committed prior to the cross go unpunished. The idea Paul talks about is not forgiveness of sins, which is the way that some try to translate the Greek text, but as the NIV correctly translates, leaving sins unpunished. What is Paul talking about?
“Paul’s meaning is rather that God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate ‘satisfaction’ of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Hebrews 10:4)”. [Moo, Commentary on Romans] It might have seemed that God, who is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4), did not really care about sin. How could God accept Abraham as his friend, since Abraham was a liar? How could David stand before God after committing adultery and murder? How can we, because we have sinned? We’ve rejected God as God, refused to love him, and rebelled against his word? We need a Savior!
Grace and peace, David