Sunday the 18th day of January, 2015
First Christian Church
Introduction To The Book Of Romans
Welcome In The Name Of The Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Find the book of Romans in your Bibles and prepare to be stay there for the next two years. If the time it took us to preach through The Gospel Of John and the Acts Of The Apostles is any indicator we’ll be here for a hearty period of time.
And, I’m kinda glad we will be, because Romans is about the Gospel, and my soul misses the Gospel “like the deserts miss the rain”.
Reading and lecturing on the book of Romans was instrumental in Reformer Martin Luther reclaiming the early Church’s understanding of Justification by Faith Alone through the gift of God’s Grace in Christ Crucified for Sinners.
Luther writes in the Preface of His commentary on Romans,
“This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
We of course, believe every part The New Testament to be rather equal to every other part as all of it is inspired and useful. Martin Luther was kinda like that kid who says the last movie he saw was “The Best EVER”, every time. Luther was given to hyperbole, but we still love him. And you get the point: Romans is deep, and true.
John Wesley, the great open air evangelist and founder of Methodism had his famous conversion when he felt his “heart strangely warmed” at Aldersgate. He was at a meeting were Luther’s preface to the book of Romans was being read. The Book of Romans is so Gospel centered that God has used the preface of commentaries on it to save souls.
If you don’t like theology, doctrine, or dogmatics, then the Book of Romans will be shocking to your system like a man at a Church potluck who reaches for the orange coffee pot only to find that it has, in fact, been filled with very much caffeinated, fully loaded, Sumatra.
In this Letter we see the mind God blessed the Apostle Paul with. His arguments are soaring, yet precisely what the soul of the dearly bedraggled saint ever wrestling the flesh, ever wrestling his doubts about his own salvation needs to hear. I invite you to drink deeply from this well in the days to come.
In this Letter Paul will write about Justification, that is to say, how sinners like you and I are declared righteous before a Holy God by Jesus dying and rising.
In this Letter Paul will write about Law & Gospel, that is to say, how God’s imperatives and commands convict us of our sins and point us to Christ’s finished work on the Cross to set us free. Knowing what God uses His Law for, and knowing what God uses the proclamation of the Good news for, is vital to the life of the Church. It is the difference between the Christian going home in utter despair, or going home rejoicing in Christ Crucified For Sinners. It is the difference between questioning one’s salvation, and resting in the truth of Eternal Security. Christians should leave Church, and their Bible reading, knowing that Jesus finishes what He starts, and that God keeps His promises.
In This Letter Paul will write about the relationship between Jewish & Gentile Christians, and how they both fit into the family of God. This is important because people still argue about how ethnic Jews and Gentiles fit into God’s plan.
Theologian, Douglas Moo writes,
“Hence Paul fights on two fronts: criticizing Judaism for its overemphasis on the law and it’s presumption of “most favored nation” status, while affirming Israel as the root of the church and emphasizing its continuing place within the plan of God.” (Moo, The Epistle To The Romans, p. 21)
This is also important to you because the question of whom the Gospel is for, and how free the Gospel truly is, remains debated today.
Christians, there are people in our world who would very much like to see you separated from your head. Some of this has to do with your nationality, much of it has to do with Christ. We would recognize as much were we to look at the dark powers behind the scenes.
You may well have to decide whether you kill first, or die carrying the message of the Gospel to your enemies. Is the Gospel for us alone, or is it for all men on Earth, including our enemies? Furthermore, if your enemies actually were converted, would you actually be able to live in covenant community with them? Loving your enemy-turned-brother is all well in theory until it actually happens, and it’s a strange thing that we are surprised when God does something we prayed for.
The notion of whom the Gospel is for is also relevant to us today because our society struggles with the issue of race. It ought to be hard to dehumanize a man based upon the color of his skin, or his nationality if He is covered in the blood of Christ. I say ‘ought’ because in 2,000 years of Church History people claiming to be Christians have managed to do so.
The question of whether the Christ truly surpasses where we come from is of paramount importance, for if the new family of God we are adopted into is not greater than our nationality, race, and culture, then we have believed a fairy tale. Christ must be preeminent above all, or we might as well just give up and watch Netflix.
After all: Netflix is the fastest growing religion in America.
Paul’s argument in Romans is that all people need the Gospel, that is to say, God the Son paying for your sins on the cross so that you don’t have to pay for your sins in Hell forever, applicable to you by His gift of saving faith through His gift of grace. That very Gospel is both the answer to the internal wrestling match we have inside our souls as well as the wrestling between the nations with one another and their creator.
In particular the missionary Paul is addressing a group of house churches in the imperial capital of Rome. The Church in Rome was likely planted by Jews who were converted on the day of Pentecost, while on holiday. Imagine that, they were going back to the promised land for vacation, and ended up Christian. Well, most people don’t see Christ coming. He just has a way of showing up. I’m sure glad He does. Where would any of us be without Him showing up, uninvited? Their Messiah sought them and bought them with His redeeming blood, and they took their newfound faith in Jesus their Christ back to the imperial capitol.
As we saw in the book of Acts the New Testament Church started out predominately Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. The Apostles were Jewish. The Church was concentrated in Jerusalem. Yet, as the Church grew and spread it usually became composed of Gentile God fearers who also trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of sins.
And, as has been the pattern for 2,000 years: once we’ve been forgiven of our sins we look for other people with sins to fight with. I don’t know why that is, or maybe I do, if I think about it long enough, and keep reading the book of Romans.
Paul writes this complex and extraordinary letter to Roman Christians to remind them of things they already knew (15:15).
In this letter Paul will point to the Gospel as the answer to our greatest divisions, as well as our deepest fears concerning whether God could ever really love people like us, let alone forgive us.
Our purpose verse in this series will be Romans 1:16-17
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I hope this is what you take home today, beloved ones: All the sin of mankind was poured out upon the Son of Man so that all men could have the opportunity to stand in all the righteousness of God the Son…. That is the best news in the world… and preachers want to talk about how cool they are. That’s Wackyville.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Paul self identifies as:
3. Set apart for the gospel of God (God has good news of rescue, and God is the hero of said rescue, it’s not about you, talented as you are.)
Many of the Churches Paul wrote to were Churches he started. He was their spiritual father. Here he introduces himself to Christians he does not know so well, though surely he knew some of them, and his exploits had no doubt reached them. He introduces himself in so many words, “I am Paul and I am about the Gospel.”
The Gospel is the hill I die on, for it was the hill the Lord died upon.
Christ Crucified For Sinners is the foundation, basement, tower, Pinnacle, wings, mudroom, garage, and pool house of the Father’s House.
Spurgeon once quipped, “We are beggars at the door of mercy”
It follows that the Preacher is about the Gospel, The Church is about the Gospel, and the Christian is about the Gospel.
Paul is about the Gospel. He self identifies as a slave of God, an Apostle, and as one who is “set apart for the Gospel of God.”
People self identify in all sorts of frivolous fashions, hobbies, mostly, or watching other people participating in their hobbies of choice. But to be identified with the pinnacle of God’s purpose and plan on planet Earth, well, I suppose that might be better than having your hobbies engraved on your tombstone. But to be able to self identify with the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the beginning of a letter and not have all the recipients give a collective “Naw!”, and laugh in your face, well, that’s a reason to live.
A reason to live, as nice as that is, doesn’t give life. Only Jesus gives life. People confuse the two. People find something that makes their pulse roar. People find that something to be passionate about and confuse it with redemption.
Paul wasn’t saved because he introduced himself in this way, he was saved because God made these things true in His life.
Paul isn’t boasting here.
I think it must be tough being a great leader.
I watched a matinee showing of “Selma” last week. I nearly had the place to myself, which was a good thing because I had a rather prolonged and noisy battle with a bag of unwrapped starburst that I could not get open. I also think I saw a crazed albino mouse out of the corner of my eye. Movie theaters are notoriously populated by rodents because people like me drop starbursts on the ground after they tear open stubborn bags. Which is why Netflix is the fastest growing religion in America. I can’t blame the rodents: I like starbursts too.
“Selma” is about Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights work in Selma Alabama. Having won the right to vote under the Civil Rights act many local municipalities found various ways to deny African Americans their right to vote. What was particularly interesting in the movie was how the FBI systematically harassed the family of Dr. King in order to cause trouble on the home front. They left messages on his answering machine, sent letters to the house, and fabricated recordings of Dr. King supposedly doing things a married man ought not do.
Much of the movie centers around the sacrifices Dr. King made as a husband and father.
I think it must be a very difficult thing, being a leader.
At one point in the film Dr. King calls a gospel singer in the middle of the night and asks her to sing for him… because even leaders need to hear the Gospel.
It never ceases to amaze me what a mighty God accomplishes through weak and frail people.
We are after all, merely dust.
When I read Paul writing with power, vulnerability, and conviction about the power of the Gospel of our crucified carpenter king, if he did so because the people needed to hear it, or if it was because Paul himself needed to hear it. Both, I would imagine.
Have you ever heard of a website called “Twitter”? As near as I can tell “Twitter” is a website that encourages people to write an opinion on something they are not qualified to have an opinion about in a sentence or two. Then strangers read said opinion, and disagree with them. It’s better than Netflix, or starbursts.
This week a well-known speaker type tweeted:
“We do not need weak preachers with a weak message, speaking to weak congregations, about reaching a dying world.”
I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I think what he meant was that Preachers should be men of Biblical conviction who mean what they say and say it like they mean it. If a man is not one of Biblical conviction and passion, he has no place behind the pulpit.
However, people were struck by the part saying we don’t need weak preachers preaching to weak congregations, because Paul says repeatedly that He is a weak.
2 Corinthians 11:30
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The tweet did get me thinking about whether Churches in fact do need weak preachers.
When Paul introduces himself as a slave to Christ, as an Apostle, as one set apart for the Gospel of God, I don’t think he’s showing off. I don’t think he’s trying to come off as this guy who has it all together. I think he was a weak and humbled man who was well aware of the depths of his own depravity who had been run over by the grace of God.
I wonder why so many American preachers boast in everything but their weakness?
There are so many different kinds of preachers, really.
The Disciplined Guys
I like these guys. They always talk about Pastoring and Preaching and what an important calling it is, because it is. They do their research and their homework. They read the right dead guys as opposed to the wrong dead guys and are always fighting for the faith. They’re running the race and not punching the air in vain. I like them, I really do. But in their own way they sort of project that they have it all together. They don’t do weak.
The CEO Guys
These pastors like to remind people of how much money they could make outside the Church. They like business models, golf, and winners. They view the Church as a business, and they tell people what they want to hear. They know “How to win friends and influence people”. They have very white teeth, and are going to shake your had and look you in the eye for the correct amount of time. They don’t do weak.
The Life Coach Guys
Life coach pastors want you to reach your full potential. They have deep tans, and workout a lot. They want you to have your best life now. They don’t do weak.
The MMA Guys
The MMA Pastor guys are tough dudes. They think Jesus has a P.R. problem. They want you to know that Jesus was tough guy despite what He said during the Sermon On The Mount. They are focused on gathering wingmen rather than making disciples. They don’t do weak.
The “Soul Winner” Guys
I don’t know what these guy’s deal is. I’ve only met one “soul winner” and His name is Jesus. They don’t do weak.
There are too many tough guy preachers in America. They regale their audiences with their exploits and tough guy antics. They tell stories of beating people up. Paul tells stories of being beaten up for the sake of the Gospel.
Preaching the Gospel to you has allowed me to keep preaching the Gospel to myself. The Gospel not only tethers the unsaved to heaven the moment they believe; the Gospel continues to anchor the believer to Eternity through the trauma of any number of disasters.
Contra the tough guy preachers, I for one, am not ashamed to proclaim and declare from this pulpit that I preach the Gospel out of weakness. I invite other ministers of the Gospel to do the same. I am a sinner by my work, and a Saint by Christ’s work. I am broken, not because it is trendy and in vogue to declare one’s self “broken” in the Christian Blogosphere, but because I have been dragged through the dark forest of searing loss. This forest is the opposite of Eden and was planted by The Fall. It is tended by nefarious woodsmen: a serpent, a dragon, and Death. But the Dustling knows he is being carried in the hands of the Crucified Carpenter King to a Prairie that shall never be touched by the Shadow of Death.
All that imagery to say: I think Christians and their Preachers must be careful in how they describe themselves. We know from Paul’s letters that when he calls himself weak he means it from a wounded heart, and that God proved Himself strong in the midst of it.
Who are you when all your descriptors are striped away, when you are father, mother, husband, wife, provider, breadwinner, caretaker, advocate. professional, thinker, no more?
What are you when it is all taken from you? You’re God’s, just like you always were before.
Paul preached out of great weakness.
I have preached to you these past eight months out of the most profound weakness of my life (for there is no me without her), yet I pray out of my desperate weakness that God has used my feeble echoing of His beautiful Word to save you, to assure you, and to sanctify you in Truth.
Watching the woman you love slowly die for two years and not being able to save her has a way of breaking a man. I haven’t talked a lot about Danielle from the Pulpit these past eight months because it is too painful, and because I think sermons should be about Jesus.
It is a strange thing to find all you hold dear gone.
I think Churches are full of people who have been crushed by this or that. And, everybody just sort of dusts themselves off and goes on with life because somewhere along the line we believed the lie that having it all together was really spiritual.
But grace is for sinners, and God is near to the broken hearted, and there is great power in weakness for when I am weak He is very strong.
In the Apostle Paul we find a genius with a whole Church full of skeletons in his closet. He is surrounded by people, yet one gets the impression that he is perhaps a solitary man in spite of it all. He is not the most sought after speaker, in fact there are others people prefer. He is bold in letter yet meek in person. He longs for his people, the Jews, to know Christ, yet God has called him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. He suffered immensely for the name of Christ. He was beaten, scorned, stoned, and ship wrecked. He was betrayed by friends, and wore chains of iron rather than chains of gold.
I imagine the enemy accused Paul during the late watches of the night, over and over again with the word “Murderer, Murderer, Murderer”. But Paul believed what God said about him, “Forgiven, Forgiven, Forgiven.” We too shall endeavor as we study the book of Romans in weakness to believe what God has declared about us, in Christ: Forgiven, Forgiven, Forgiven.