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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
The Penalty is too Great for me to Pay

Romans 3:23-24, 5:1-11

You may not know it, but the Bible consists of sixty-six books. It is like a library of sixty-six books. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Focusing on the books of the New Testament, there are four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which describe the life of Jesus. Then the book of Acts which describes the life of the early church. And then come fourteen letters of Paul, beginning with the book of Romans and ending with the letter to the Hebrews. So the books of the New Testament go Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans. The book of Romans is the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote; it was at the very end of his ministry; it was his summa, his summation of his theology. But his last letter was placed first, before all the other letters. Why? Because his last letter was so good. It was his best. It was placed first. Instead of being letter fourteen, it became letter number one.

This summer we are preaching a series of fourteen consecutive sermons on the book of Romans. We will slowly work through the book of Romans as a summer series of sermons. We, here at Grace Lutheran, follow the lectionary system, and so the Sunday morning Scriptures are chosen for us, as they are for all Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans around the world.

From the book of Romans, the best letter of the Apostle Paul, the first letter in the Biblical list of his books, we heard the first sermon on the theme that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We heard the tune, “Me and My Shadow, walking down the avenue.” I suggested that we could not get rid of our shadow; no human being. None of us can get rid of our shadow, our dark side, our belly side, the sin side of our personality but the miracle of the Christian faith is that God still loves us in all of our sinfulness. God loves you as a free gift; God gives you his love.

The second sermon focused on the entire chapter four. Romans four, the faith of Abraham, is pivotal to his argument and reasoning and you can’t move onto chapters five, six and seven unless you first understand the nucleus, the center, the foundation of faith in Christ. And what does it mean to believe in Christ? See Father Abraham and he is the true example of what genuine faith is. That was the focus of last week’s sermon.

Today is the third sermon of this summer series and we ask the question: who is going to pay for the penalty for our sins? Who is going to pay the bill? Who is going to pay the consequences? Who is going to pay the price? It is inevitable that we are all going to sin. “Me and My Shadow.” Yes, none of us can escape sinner, but who is going to pay the price for my sin. I can’t pay it. In the Bible, we discover that God pays the price for our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.  We hear such archaic words from the Bible as “expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, redemption.” Christ is our atonement. Christ is our expiation. Christ is the sacrificial lamb who dies for the sins of the world.  In other words, it is Christ’s death on the cross that pays the penalty through his blood. You can boil all these big fancy Biblical words into one fundamental concept: Christ paid the penalty for our sinfulness, and that is what we are going to talk about today.

Four stories: the penalty was too great for me to pay.

The first story comes from Jackson, Minnesota, a long time ago when I was a little boy. We were out in the back yard of John Adam’s house and I can feel it as if it were yesterday. If you remember something clearly from so many years ago, it is an indication that something went wrong.  We were in his back yard playing softball. John Adams was pitching and pitched that ball to me. I hit that ball and it flew high, high, high, across the fence and right through Pearly DeMoore’s picture window. Now, Pearly DeDemoore was the chief of police in our little town, and he was called Pearly because the handle of his handgun was made of mother pearl. Do you think that I was a nice little Christian boy and I would go over to his house and confess my wrong doing? No. I ran. We ran to the central park a few blocks away and hid underneath the green bandstand there in the center of the park. Well, about that time, we saw the old police car driving around the block. We got nervous. Pretty soon, we saw those black pants with black shoes come walking up to the bandstand. I watched those legs kneel down and pretty soon I was looking into the face of Pearly DeMoore, his hands gesturing to me to come out from beneath of the bandstand. He put us into the police car. He took us down to the jail. I remember the jail and all the steps and all the yellow painted bars. He telephoned my dad, Ed Markquart Senior, and said, “Mr. Markquart. We have a problem with your son. Would you please come down here to the police station.” My father came down and Pearly DeMoore said, “I just replaced that window and it cost me $300. $300. I was stunned. I was young, only that tall. How would I ever pay for that window? I looked at the bars; I looked at the jail; I thought I would be there for all eternity but my father simply said, “I will pay for the bill.” Sometimes the debt is so big, you can’t pay for it and somebody has to pay it for you, and on that day, my father paid the bill. As the Bible says, he who has ears to hear, let him figure out the meaning of the parable, the riddle about the kingdom of God. 

Second story about a little boy and his dog. The boy’s name was Jim and the dog’s name was Jimmie. Let me explain how that came to be. Jim and Jimmie were born of the same day. The day that Jim was born the neighbors had a litter of puppies, black cocker spaniels, and so the neighbors gave a puppy to the family of Jim who was born on that same day. Jim and Jimmie grew up together. Where Jim was, Jimmie was. And where Jimmie was, Jim was. They were together for eight years. Jim and Jimmie were inseparable. One day, the two of them were playing out in the front of the house, and has had been done a thousand times before, Jim threw a stick on into the street for Jimmie the dog to fetch it. And just as Jim said, “Fetch it Jimmie,” a car came barreling down the street much too fast. Fifty, sixty, seventy miles an hour.  The wheels screeched. Jim screeched. The pavement screeched. And there was sudden silence. The car door opened. The young man got out. The two of them walked to the front of the car and there was Jim’s dead dog. The driver of the car muttered, “I am sorry. I am really sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. I will get you another dog. I’ll get you another dog, that is what I will do.” Jim said, “I don’t want another dog.” Jim picked up his dog and walked back to the house. Sometimes, you make mistakes that are so bad that you can’t make up for them.

One time, the car was filled with kids, having a good time. They got out of school, the last day of school, and they came driving down that road almost as fast as the car could go. They were flying down that road, taking the curves, trying to see how fast that car could go and still take the curves. They got down to the bottom of the hill and the car got out of control. The car went into the ditch and then out of the ditch and it headed for the gas station at the bottom of the hill. A woman there was pumping gas and that car came smashing right into the gas station and hit that woman and she was immediately killed. The boy jumped out of the car to see what had happened, and there was his neighbor, the mother of five children. The young man was mortified, thinking, “what am I going to do?” And when he faced that father, when he faced those five children, what was he going to say.  You see, there are times in life when you can’t get out of it. There are certain times in life that are so bad that you cannot pay your way out of it.

You may have read in the newspaper or seen on television recently about the story of Terri Barton, and how she confessed to setting the forest fire near Denver that has destroyed one hundred thousand acres at the cost of some $50,000,000. The story is told that Terri is a an employee of the forest service, a likeable person in her forestry department, but she was upset by a letter from her estranged husband and burned it in a campfire and the sparks from that burning letter set off a blaze that resulted in one hundred thousand acres of woodland burned at a cost of $50,000,000. What a terrible mistake by a good person! How tragic for her and everyone else! How can she pay back all the misery that she has caused, the homes that have been burnt, the one hundred thousand acres, the $50,000,000? There is no way that she could pay back the debt.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, understood that. It was his conviction that in our lives, we make such mistakes that there is no way that we can buy our way out. We can’t wiggle our way out of it, as we so often try to do. We hurt others by our sins of commission, of what we have done wrong to hurt others. The way that we have hurt people and our family. The way we have hurt our fathers and our mothers. The way we have hurt our brothers and sisters. Our friends. Then there are the sins of omission.  The starving of the world.  I remember that famous quotation that “I am satisfied as long as I am eating out of the shiny side of the apple. Too bad for all those other folks who have to eat out of the side of the apple which is rotten.”  So as an American, I am happy eating out of the shiny side of the apple, not giving a rip of how tragic life is for the other fifty percent living on our globe. And so there is an accumulation of the sins of commission and an accumulation of our sins of omission.  And not to mention the sins against our fathers on Father’s Day. Not telephoning them. Not thanking them. Too busy for them. Like you, I sin. And like you, just as I could not pay back God for all the sins I have committed and omitted, neither can you.

Just as I could not pay the bill for the $300 window. Just as the driver could not pay Jim back for running over his dog Jimmie. Just as a young boy could not pay back the debt of having killed a wife and mother. . Just as a young woman could not pay back $50,000,000 of debt for a tragedy that destroyed one hundred thousand acres. So also, we cannot pay God back for all the sins of our lives. For all that we have done wrong. For all that we have not done right. And so when you and I come to stand before the judgment day before God, we are going to say, “O Lord God, please have mercy.”  And God, in that situation, pays the penalty for your sins. He takes the punishment. His son, Jesus, dies on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins with his blood. That is what the death of Christ is all about. That is what the atonement of Christ is all about. God gave his own son on the cross, to pay the penalty. In all reality, that should be you who is nailed to that cross. There is no way that you could pay for all the sins that you have done, but thanks be to God for his immeasurable gift.

Me and my shadow walking down the avenue. God not only loves me when I have this shadow but also, pays the penalty for my sin, pays the consequences for my sinful actions.

“Christ died for the ungodly. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6,8) The Apostle Paul keenly understood that while we were enormously imperfect and sinful people through and through, Christ still paid the penalty for us.

And what is the reaction to this truth that our penalty is so great and our sins are so great that Christ had to die on the cross to pay for them? What is our reaction to this? Sometimes, it is boredom. Sometimes, we have heard this story over and over again, that Christ died for our sins. Sometimes, we have heard this story of forgiveness too often for it to be meaningful. Sometimes, we are not really grateful that Christ died for our sins. For example, in our everyday lives, sometimes we can become comfortable and complacent with someone’s kindnesses to us. A mother, father, brother, sister, friend can be consistently kind to us and gradually, we can actually take it for granted. So also we can become complacent and  comfortable with God’s kindnesses to us, including  when God pays the penalty for all our sins.

Why? Why are we not so grateful for the forgiveness of God? Because sometimes we don’t take our sinfulness so seriously, and we figure that God does not really take our sinfulness seriously either. We can wiggle our way out of it. We can be slippery and avoid the consequences.

It is my prayer that you and I will never not be complacent about God’s mercy, kindness and goodness to us.

Let me tell you a story. It is an Arabian story. You go to an Arabian kingdom and so that means Bedouin tents and Bedouin donkeys and Bedouin winds and desert sands for week after week and month after month and year after year. It is a Bedouin kingdom in Arabia. In this kingdom, they are always short of water. There were many wells throughout the whole kingdom, and the king had placed a sign near each of the wells, “You shall not waste the water.” Water was always scarce. But soon a drought came and it made the bad situation even worse. There was no rain for one year, two years, three years, four years, five years, six years, seven years, and now the only wells that had water in them were on the king’s property. Now, all the people from the kingdom had to come to the king’s wells to get water. And even the wells of the king were starting to dry up. And so the king made another edict: “Anyone who steals the water shall die by hanging.” Yes, a rule is a rule. Anyone who steals the water, shall die by hanging. The famine went on into the eighth year, the ninth year, the tenth year. One night, there were tracks up to the well. Someone had stolen the water. A month later there were tracks ago. Someone had stolen the water. A week later, there were tracks again. Some one was stealing the water. The guards finally came to the king and reported that someone was stealing the precious water and the king replied, “You make sure that you find those who are stealing the water and you shall die by hanging. You must find those robbers and they shall die by hanging.” So that night, the guards hid in the shadows, laying a trap for the robbers. And sure enough, two figures crept up to the king’s well ever so quietly. The guards pounced on them, threw a net over them, then a canvas over them, rolled them into a big satchel and dragged them to the king immediately. The king was roused from his sleep and came to sit on his throne in the middle of the night, thinking to himself, “These thieves and robbers. We finally caught them. They will die by hanging.” Unveil them to me. The guards took off the canvas wrap, the canvas satchel, and it was the king’s son and his daughter. The king did not know what to do. There was stunned silence. The children cried out, “Father, father, we are so sorry. We got so thirsty and…What are you going to do? What is going to happen to us?”  The king was speechless, frozen, not knowing what to say nor what do to. Finally, the king broken from his frozen posture and pointed to them and said, “You shall die. I am a man of principle and you shall die…by hanging. Take them away guards.”  The guards took them away, took them to the back of the room by the door to the outside and the king shouted, “Stop. Stop.  I will go. I will die in their place.” The soldiers were stunned and spoke up, “King, you cannot do that.” The king said, “Yes I can. I love my children. I will die on behalf of the sins of my children.”

That is the Gospel.  Somebody has got to pay the price. Somebody has got to take the consequences for your sins and mine. And the gospel is that God, at great cost to himself, gave his son to die on the cross for your sins and mine.

Me and my shadow, walking down the avenue. I have never been able to escape my shadow. I got this underside. I got this belly side and I always come up short. I have hurt people by what I have done and by what I have failed to do. And the gospel is this: God loves us with all of our shadows and has been willing to pay the price for our sins. The gospel. Amen.

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