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Who Is to Condemn 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

JULY 24, 2011

Who Is to Condemn?
Genesis 28:10-19
Romans 8:26-39

British television and media outlets cannot talk about anything else. European and American media are also abuzz with the story. It even made the cover of Time Magazine last week. I am speaking of the phone hacking scandal that has rocked the British press, and focused especially upon world media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who also owns now the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, built a fortune on tabloid newspaper sensationalism and uncovering scandal around the world. And now it is ironically Murdoch who is at the center of the scandal, where police were paid off to allow Murdoch's reporters illegally to tap into telephone conversations and voicemails to break stories and expose scandals and sins, writ small and large. Murdoch has built a media empire on finding and revealing dirt, wrong doing and the sins of others. And now the tables are turned, and he is the one who is now on the painful end of being exposed for his papers' breaking of the law and illicit journalistic license. I hate to say it, but it seems his competitor newspapers, magazine and cable networks are delighting in this most recent exposé. Murdoch has made a living exposing and condemning the sins of others. He has risen to the top of his field. Now he is the one being condemned and humiliated.

Of course, the press in America is not quite as aggressive and rough as the British press. But even yesterday on page one of The Tennessean we read an article revealing that of the 112 people running for public office in Nashville, six have been convicted of crimes. Their pictures were posted upon the front page. I wondered how I would feel if one of those pictures had been mine, or someone I love. It is the kind of article that I suppose sells papers. That is part of why it made the front page. And of course, it also is the mark of a free society that people have the right to know such information.

Freedom of the press is one of our nation's fundamental freedoms. But it does have an unseemly, even an unhealthy side to it. Let's face it: We have an appetite for scandal. Whether it is Tiger Woods or Bernie Madoff or Anthony Wiener or Barry Bonds or Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is a part of us that almost delights in learning of human failure and scandal, in stories that expose and condemn people for their sins and transgressions. I know there is a certain value in telling the truth. But there is also a danger in developing an appetite for the scandalous, and becoming a society bent on uncovering and condemning the sins of others.

Behind this practice can grow a certain self-righteousness, an undue interest in the sins of others. And very subtly, this frequent dwelling upon the sins and failures of others can render us blind to our own sins. None of us have lived blameless lives, and we all have things in our lives that would be very painful and very humiliating to us if they were brought out into the light of day. Part of why we have such an insatiable appetite as a culture for revealing and condemning the sins of others may well be to comfort ourselves that we are maybe not all that bad ourselves. We all like to think that we are "pretty good people."

And of course, the Apostle Paul would have none of such thinking. Paul never dwelt for long on the sins of others. He was too aware of his own. In Romans chapter seven, the one before today's text in this longest and most important of all Paul's letters, he writes, "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." This is the human dilemma. Paul thought it was dangerous for human beings to pretend that they are anything other than sinners. Martin Marty said once that "we all have clay feet that run clear up to our armpits!"

And we all spend more time than we ought seeking to convince others and maybe ourselves that we are good people. We all work hard to get the world to believe what Fred Buechner once called, "the highly-edited version of ourselves" that we present to the world. Paul would have none of this. Instead, he said, "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I have always thought that if Paul could say this of himself, where does that leave me?!

We are seeking all the time to justify ourselves with others. And in our text this morning, Paul reminds us that, "It is God who justifies." Notice Paul does not just say that it is God who forgives. No, he says, "It is God who justifies." It means that it is God who makes things right; it is God who is going to take care of injustice; it is God who is going to take care of evil and wickedness, of sin and wrong. It is God who will one day end terrorism. It is God who will make everything right. We can never justify ourselves. We ought to stop trying. It wastes a lot of our energy we could better use in other ways. It is God alone who justifies. The Church calls this grace. God makes right the things we will never be able to fix or restore. God heals and makes whole all the brokenness around us and within us.

And God does this freely, generously, but never cheaply. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us of this. He wrote a sentence on this I have never forgotten. He said, "The grace of God is free, but it is not cheap." God's justification of the world was terribly costly to Him. In our text this morning, Paul puts it this way: "He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not with Him also give us everything?"

Paul here is talking about the heart of God. He is revealing to us the very identity and character of God. Paul is speaking of the immense generosity of God. God justifies. God makes things right. God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. And God does all this at great cost, giving to us a gift that no one has ever been able to measure. Not poets, not painters, and surely not preachers! "It is God who justifies." This does not mean that God ignores our sin. Indeed, Paul would say at the end of his letter to the Romans, "We will all stand before the judgment seat of God."

But when we do, we will likely see two things. First, I believe that we will see ourselves honestly, truly, completely, and much of what we behold will not be easy to see. But secondly, we will see Jesus, and in seeing Christ, we will see something of the immensity and majesty, the sovereign grace of a loving, redeeming, reconciling God. So Paul asks the question: "Who is to condemn?" "It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?"

And of course, the only one in a position to condemn us is Christ. We say it almost every Sunday here: "And He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead." The only one in a position to condemn us is Jesus. And in the words of theologian Karl Barth, "Jesus is the judge who was judged in our place." And Jesus is the One whose very existence says to us that God judged us so beloved that He gave His only Son to redeem us, to justify us, to reconcile the whole world.

So there Rupert Murdoch and his son James sat before that hostile panel of British MPs and said, "This is the most humble day of my life." He looked ashen, shrunken, almost dead in his seat. And with those words, the panel on television for all the world to see attacked Murdoch and his son with self-righteous indignation. I don't know whether the Murdochs were truly sorry or not for their many sins, for the real suffering they have caused others. Only God knows their hearts, and only God knows ours.

But I do know that one day we all will be called to sit in THE judgment seat. And we will all in that day also see ourselves for what we truly have been. Some of what we see will be unbearable to behold. And for every last one of us it will be humbling.

Thanks be to God that the Judge who stands before us will be none other than Jesus, God's only Son. There will be no room for pretense in that moment. And no words we speak will be able to justify who we are. But in that moment, we will know how deeply, how greatly God has loved us, and we will see how costly God's grace has been. And with Paul, we will know "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

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