19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
In late 1945 Colonel Burton Andrus had a difficult task. He was the commandant of a special prison in Nuremberg, Germany where Nazi war criminals were being held, awaiting trial. He had run across a man whom he thought could help, Army Chaplain Henry Gereke who was deployed in nearby Munich to aid in rebuilding a bombed-out hospital. For the next year Pr. Gereke and his Roman Catholic counterpart, Sixtus O’Conner, served the spiritual needs of some of the most hated men in all the world.
The sentence which begins at the end of verse 22 and runs into verse 25 would prove to be key to Pr. Gereke’s ministry for that year as the men were tried. Some were acquitted; others were found guilty. Some were sentenced to prison and some to be executed. All of them received the admonition to repent and to be forgiven. Consequences for crimes might still need to be exacted, but Gereke forgave and communed several of the men entrusted to his care.
The New Testament and these verses in particular make a shocking claim about what Jesus has done in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. He has forgiven the sins of the whole world, all of them, not just the sins we understand or the ones which we tolerate. He died for and forgave all of them. We dare not make this into a pat answer. Paul’s message to us is incredibly hard if you are a victim of abuse or some other atrocity. Pr. Gereke received hundreds of letters filled with hatred because he had ministered to these men. Some who had suffered could only see them as monsters who should be killed. They were the enemy and deserved no comfort. But Pr. Gereke listened to his New Testament as he walked with the condemned to their execution. He prayed with them and, if they asked, he absolved them. Jesus had died for them too.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who also suffered terribly in the 20th century, once said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” As Paul says, “there is no distinction, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.” This troubled world needs to hear those words anew and afresh. In 1945 he called an LCMS Lutheran Pastor to those men in Nuremburg. Today he calls you and me to speak into the conflicts and tensions of this moment. There is so much that is wrong. Jesus died for all it.