I’ll say it frankly—I enjoy the theater.
I’m not talking about the movie-theater (although I certainly can appreciate the newest blockbuster as much as the next guy). What I really enjoy is going to a bona fide, pull-the-curtain, right-in-front-of-you, wooden-stage-and-props-and-everything theater. If you’re more cultured than I am—or British—perhaps you spell the word “theatre” to separate yourself from the cinema-going commoners.
Do you ever wonder what’s happening behind the curtain between scenes, though? Do you consider the lightning-quick hustle and bustle as stagehands rearrange the sets and actors and actresses jump out of one costume and into another?
I’ve also had the privilege in high-school and college of being on the other side of the curtain, part of that world backstage. Once that curtain drops—boom! Everybody breaks character to reset for the next scene. It can and does become truly crazy. Set pieces fall over, people search frantically for props, men and women slam into each other rounding corners, directors and stage-managers bark commands as loudly as possible while still technically whispering. In a matter of seconds, the frenzy of bodies and objects somehow reassembles itself into a coherent new scene, like some backwards tornado that goes through a junkyard and builds a functioning double-wide trailer!
Having been there myself, I’m glad I don’t see backstage when I attend a play or musical as an audience member. Honestly, it would just ruin the magic for the most part.
But when God removes the curtain and when he reveals his mysteries, that’s when the magic happens.
Except that it isn’t magic, and it isn’t an illusion. It isn’t a make-believe play, and nobody is pretending.
When God removes the curtain, he reveals righteousness.
It would probably serve well at this point (as it will many times in this series) to do some defining of terms. What is this word “righteousness”? What does “righteousness” mean according to God? What does “righteousness” mean for people?
A basic English definition: “righteousness” means that somebody or something is “characterized by uprightness or morality” (dictionary.com). Often the term is used negatively, to describe a "better-than-thou" type of person. If you’re in Hawaii, you might use “righteous” to describe the gnarly breaker you just surfed.
When God uses the word “righteousness” in the Bible, he does so with a variety of flavors and nuances. It might be used differently in one context than it is a few verses later. But if we want to tie a common thread through all those uses, let’s go with this: “righteousness” means “a state which is perfectly faultless and upright.” I don’t know if I’m entirely happy with that definition, but that’s only because the immediate context of its usage will always shade it much more richly. (Try to define the word “run” without any context, and you’ll run into similar issues.)
But the righteousness that God reveals in Romans is this—a righteousness that is not found within our capabilities and is not a product of our incredible wisdom, but one which is found in the gospel of Jesus. It’s a righteousness that is given to us through faith.
Paul writes this in Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes … For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.”
Today we would call this a thesis statement. Every good essay has one. A thesis statement in the introductory paragraph of a paper gives the reader a summary of its main point and following contents. The previous Bible passages serve as Paul’s thesis statement as he begins his great treatise on the subject of righteousness. Every brushstroke from here on out is colored through this lens—righteousness.
Going to the theater can produce a lot of emotions in a person. One scene might be bright and cheery, full of hope or humor. Cinderella and Prince Charming find each other and are married—hurray! Another scene may be dreary and bleak, full of despair. Tevye and all the other villagers of Anatevka are forced by the Russians to leave their town and country—sniff sniff. The theater is full of all kinds of emotions. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some can fall about a million other places in between.
When God pulls back the curtain to reveal righteousness, be prepared for what he shows you.
Some will hurt for us to hear. That’s because each and every human being has lived, thought, and spoken in ways that are the opposite of “righteousness.”
Some will be sweet for us to hear. That’s because each and every human being is offered Christ’s righteousness as their own through faith in him.
After all is said and done, what we hear in God’s Word found along this Romans Road changes our lives completely.
Rodgers and Hammerstein, did you ever do that in one of your musicals? I didn't think so...