Unity In Times of DisagreementThis week, in our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we are going to take a look at Romans 1:1-7. These seven verses, in large part, summarize the entire message that Paul wanted to communicate to the brothers and sisters in Rome. It is the “gospel of God,” the good news of God.
I don’t know about you, but I believe that this world could use some good news. Just this past week we’ve been inundated with bad news. You open the morning paper and there are stories of murder and mayhem. You turn on the television to catch the 10:00 news and what do you hear? More bad news. Folks can’t seem to find a job, our nation is up to its eyeballs in debt, and our leaders can’t agree on the color of the sky much less anything else. This past month we’ve heard about people being shot, marriages crumbling, killer snowstorms, the North Koreans tested an atomic bomb, and loved ones passing away. How do you deal with all of the bad news? What do you do when you are being overwhelmed with bad news? Well, some people try to think “happy thoughts.” That’s it! Just keep your mind away from reality and meditate on things that are happy like puppies and pay raises, weddings and watching a good ballgame, the kind where your team always wins. Think happy thoughts. You might be able to tune out the TV and refuse to pick up a copy of the morning paper so as to avoid the bad news being experienced by others, but you will still have to deal with the bad news that resonates within you. You may be wondering what I’m talking about. I’m talking about sin. Even if we were able to totally seclude ourselves from this fallen, tragically broken world, we would still feel hollow, uneasy, unsettled, and we would know that something is wrong, very wrong. Why? Because of sin. Sin is a poison that rots our soul. Sin is a cancer that eats away at our bones. Sin alienates us from God, from others, and makes us uncomfortable, uneasy, even disgusted with ourselves. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 32:3-5.
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:3-5 NIV)
What was causing the Psalmist to “waste away” through the night and through the day? What sapped his strength like an August heat wave? Sin.
In the very letter that we are studying Paul writes about his own life and the war that he waged against the deadly affect of sin. Paul writes in Romans 7:18-24,
18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-24 NIV)
What can we do? Is there an antidote? Is there a plan, a self-improvement course, a course of action that we can take to alleviate this deadly virus that afflicts each and every one of us? Well, there have been many who have suggested a variety of things that we can do to deal with our problem. Some suggest religion. Buddhists, Hindus, and spiritual seekers suggest that we can strive for Nirvana, a release from the shackles of sin and our humanity. By working to live a better life hopefully you can escape this “wheel” of slavery called life, one day. Other religions suggest that we work to earn our way into God’s good graces some day in the distant future.
Outside of religion there are wise sages and cultural philosophers who would suggest to us that we simply need to try to find momentary escapes from the guilt, alienation, and frustration that is a by-product of sin’s affect. Pour yourself into your work. Find a hobby to distract you from the sense of emptiness you feel in your heart. Take a vacation, take a pill, have a drink, have an affair–do something to get your mind off of your situation.
I have tried some of those remedies and I can tell you that none of them work. I can also tell you that the answers offered by religion do not provide a lasting solution to the problem that you and I face in dealing with our own sin. You can work to make yourself look better than the guy or gal next to you, but you will never be able to do enough work to earn your way into God’s good graces.
The problem with all of these supposed answers is that they originate in humanity; they are our solutions to the problems we face in life in dealing with our sin. Paul gives us another avenue to travel, another solution to explore, but it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God. Let’s read together from Romans 1:1-7 and hopefully you will see what I am talking about.
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7 NIV)
We learned last week that Paul had never been to Rome at the time that he wrote this letter and yet that was no hindrance, it posed no limitation to him writing to the brothers and sisters in Rome with passion, wisdom, and insight–like he had known them for a hundred years. How can this be? All of humanity is facing the same crisis, the crisis of sin and its deadly effects. Paul knows this is true whether he is writing to brothers and sisters in Rome, Rwanda, or Rush Springs for that matter. The good news of God speaks to people from all walks of life, in all parts of the world, because it is God’s good news for a world gone wrong.
I want to show you this morning how this good news is all of God. Let’s take a look at the first verse for a minute so that I can begin to show you what I am talking about. Paul writes,
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.(Romans 1:1 NIV)
Paul says that he is three things: First, he is a “servant of Christ Jesus.” Second, he was “called to be an apostle.” Last of all, Paul says that he was “set apart for the gospel of God.” I want to take a minute to look at these three statements of Paul’s in greater detail.
Paul identifies himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus.” The Greek word for “servant” used here, “doulos,” means, “a slave, bondman, devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” I don’t know of anyone who would glory in calling themselves a servant, a slave, but Paul liked this description of himself. He used it in other letters that he wrote to churches. In Galatians 1:10 Paul wrote,
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NIV)
Again, when Paul writes to the church in Philippi, while he is under arrest in Rome, Paul writes,
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1 NIV)
Throughout the history of the world there has always been slavery, most of it, forced slavery. John MacArthur writes,
In New Testament times there were millions of slaves in the Roman Empire, the vast majority of whom were forced into slavery and kept there by law. Some of the more educated and skilled slaves held significant positions in a household or business and were treated with considerable respect. But most slaves were treated much like any other personal property of the owner and were considered little better than work animals. They had virtually no rights under the law and could even be killed with impunity by their masters. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. 1991)
In Exodus 21:4-6 we read about another form of slavery, those who chose to stay with their master even though they could go free. Some say that Paul’s understanding of being a “servant of Christ Jesus” was more Jewish, that he simply chose to be a servant of Jesus, but when you come to understand the next two phrases Paul uses to describe himself then it really causes you to question that narrow understanding of Paul’s servitude.
The next descriptive phrase Paul used of himself was that he was “called to be an apostle.” The word Paul uses for “apostle” is the Greek word, “apostolos,” and it means, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” The word referred to someone who was officially commissioned to a job or task. Cargo ships were sometimes called “apostolic” because they were dispatched with a specific shipment and bound for a destination under orders.
Paul did not decide to be an apostle. He didn’t attend a “Career Day” or “Work Fair” while he was in high school and decide to be an apostle after looking at all of his options for a career. If you will remember from our study last week, Paul was seized on the road to Damascus by Jesus and his life was turned upside down. Paul was a persecutor of Christians five minutes before Jesus confronted him and immediately after running into Jesus the course of Paul’s life was forever changed.
The last phrase I want us to look at is Paul describing himself as “set apart for the gospel of God.” The Greek word that Paul uses for the phrase, “set apart,” is “aphorizo” and it means, “to mark off from others by boundaries, to limit, to separate, set apart for some purpose.” Paul was separated by God for the good news of God. He had been “separated” before in his life, he had been a Pharisee. The word Paul uses in verse 1 could be related to the Aramaic word for Pharisee. David Darnell writes,
Evidently he means that his life had been separated from everything else–from the religion of his childhood, from his secular occupation, even perhaps from his family and circle of friends, certainly from his Separatist (or Pharisaic) companions in order to devote himself to the ‘good news.’ This is the radical nature of Paul’s call. It is nothing partial or temporary; it is total, it is life-transforming, it is all-consuming. (Darnell, David. Paul’s Letter To The Romans. pg. 5)
This has always been God’s method. God does not share His chosen people with anyone else, He brings us out, and sets us apart for His purpose. In Leviticus 20:26 God told the Israelites,
26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Leviticus 20:26 NIV)
In the New Testament, when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he urged them to stay away from idols. He reminded them of what God had done in their lives and how He had brought them out and made them His own. Paul writes,
16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NIV)
God sets us apart for His purpose. Paul was set apart for the gospel, but what is the gospel? It is the good news, that is literally what the Greek word, “euaggelion” means. Paul was set apart for the good news of God, “the good news that was promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son.” James Montgomery Boice says,
This is an important point because, new as the Christian gospel seemed when it first burst upon our sin-darkened world, the gospel of the salvation of men by God through the work of Jesus Christ was nevertheless no novelty. On the contrary, it was the goal to which all prior revelations of God during the Old Testament period led. ((Boice, James M. Romans: Volume 1, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1991. pp. 31-32)
Throughout the Old Testament the prophets are constantly crying out, calling people to take notice of God, and reminding them of God’s promised deliverance. It has been said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about God’s Messiah, Jesus. The Old Testament is filled with signs of God’s coming Deliverer.
When Jesus came onto the scene He used the Hebrew Scriptures to validate His ministry and try to help the people see that He was the fulfillment of the promises of God. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there were two followers of Jesus who were walking on the road to Emmaus one day. They were dejected and believed that their hopes for Israel were shattered when Jesus died on the cross. A Stranger joined them on the road that day and asked them, “Why the long faces?” They told the Stranger their story, His story. They told Him about their hopes for Jesus as the answer to the problems for their people. They told Him about how their leaders had killed Jesus and that there was a rumor that they had been told that Jesus was alive, but that some of the followers of Jesus had gone to check the tomb and didn’t see Him. They were hopeless. Their hopes died when Jesus took His last breath on the Cross. At that point Jesus spoke up and said,
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)
Jesus used the Hebrew Bible to teach the people about Himself. The followers of Jesus followed in His footsteps. Philip was led to an Ethiopian official, a treasurer in charge of Queen Candace’s finances, who was reading from the prophet Isaiah. Luke tells us in Acts 8:32-35.
32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35 NIV)
How did Philip lead the Ethiopian treasurer to faith in Jesus? Did he use materials from Campus Crusade For Christ or a Bible study from Max Lucado? Those are great resources, but Philip used what the prophet Isaiah had written. He used the Word of God. What a glorious gift we’ve been given! All of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, points toward the One who was coming from God and all of the New Testament testifies to His glory, majesty, and salvation.
Paul says that this gospel, this good news, is about a person. It is “the gospel regarding His Son,” as Paul writes in verses 2-3. The good news of God is good news about what God has done through His Son, Jesus, our Savior. Paul states some important information for us in these verses. He says that Jesus was both human and divine. He was a descendant of King David. There are two genealogies given in the New Testament about Jesus’ family tree. (Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38) The genealogies are not exactly the same, but both show that Jesus descended from the line of David. Jesus was a real person. He was born from a woman, just like you and me. He cried real tears when He was a baby, just like you and me. He grew from a little boy into a man, just like we grow and mature from childhood into adulthood. He got His feelings hurt, He had friends, He had His likes and dislikes, all just like you and me. Jesus was a real person, but there is one great difference that set Him apart from you and me…He never sinned. The writer of Hebrews wrote these words.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15 NIV)
Jesus was fully human, but that is not all that He was, He was also fully divine. There has been a lot of discussion by Bible teachers throughout the years about the order and meaning of the words in the phrase, 4 “and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4 NIV) The discussion centers around whether Jesus had two natures or two stages in His existence. I don’t want to get into all of that because we could spend days discussing it, but suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus from the grave was a pivot point, the turning point in human history. Jesus’ resurrection did not validate Him as God’s Son, nor did it “make” Him “the Christ,” as some would say. Jesus was the Son of God from the beginning, He was God’s good news for the ages, but the resurrection of Jesus from the grave declared to all of creation that Jesus is Lord, He is the Sovereign King of glory. Martin Lloyd Jones has written,
The Lord Jesus Christ was the Son of God before. He is always the Son of God. He was the Son of God before the incarnation and from all eternity; Where then is the variation?…It is in the form that he assumes; and what we have been told in verse 3 is that when he came into this world he did not come as the Son of God with power. No! He came as a helpless babe, he was Son of God, yes; but not Son of God with power. In other words, when he came as a babe, the power of the Son of God was veiled in the flesh. But what the apostle says is, that in the resurrection he is ‘declared to be the Son of God with power.’ It is there that we realize how powerful he is. (Lloyd Jones, D. M., Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), pp. 115, 116)
This is good news for you and me isn’t it? Paul says that through Him, Jesus, he had received “grace” and the call as an apostle, a sent one, to call people from among all of the non-Jewish nations to the obedience that comes from faith. This is what God did for Paul; this was God’s good news for Paul’s life. God’s good news doesn’t stop there; Paul goes on to say,
6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:6 NIV)
Paul says that the people of Rome are also among those who are called to belong to Jesus. We could just as easily say that all of you who are here at Britton Christian Church or reading this in some other part of the city or world today are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Unbelievable isn’t it! The same God who “called” Paul, who called Moses and Abraham and Deborah before Paul was ever born, is the same God who is calling people from all nations today.
What is He calling us to? That is a great question! So many people today spend an inordinate amount of time and money navel gazing and reading books from the New York Times Best Seller lists trying to figure out what they are supposed to do in life. I can save you lots of time and money if you will listen to me. You are to belong to Jesus. You are to surrender your life to the Lord of all lords and the King of all kings. You are to accept His gift of forgiveness for the sins you have committed against the God who fashioned you together in your mother’s womb, the One who has given you every breath you have ever breathed. You are to surrender your will to no other, pledge your commitment to no other, and live your life for no other cause or person than the King of glory, regardless of the costs.
As we close out our study for this morning I want to point out something very important for us. This idea of “the gospel,” or good news was not something that Christians popularized in Paul’s day. The Greek word, “euaggelion” was a very common term to those who lived under the rule of the Roman empire. We saw in our study of Revelation how Emperor Domitian would call himself, “Lord and God,” and make his subjects worship him as deity. When good events would happen in the emperor’s life the emperor’s heralds would shout out in the city square, “Good news! The emperor’s wife has had a baby,” or “Good news! The emperor’s army has captured the enemy.”
Paul was writing to people who heard “good news” coming from the emperor’s palace on a regular basis, but they needed more than good news from the emperor’s palace, they needed good news from Heaven. The good news that Paul delivered in his letter is that Jesus Christ is Lord. There is so much packed into that little word, “Lord,” that it would take many hours for us to unpack it all. I’ll be more brief than that I promise.
In the Hebrew Bible, the personal name of God, that no Jew would dare speak because it is too holy, is translated, “LORD,” in our English Bible. The Hebrew word is, “YHWH.” YHWH is Lord and He alone is Lord and God. Yet we find in the New Testament Jesus speaking openly and boldly that He and the Father are one. (John 10:30) Jesus told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Jesus told the Jews,
58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:58-59 NIV)
Jesus made it clear that He was claiming to be God, He was “LORD” come down to humanity. After Jesus’ resurrection His followers called Jesus “Lord.” Thomas, who had many doubts after Jesus’ death, cried out at the sight of Jesus after His resurrection, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28 NIV)
Along come the emperors of the Empire. To say that some of them suffered from a “god complex” is putting it lightly. Domitian and others loved to be called, “Lord,” but the followers of Jesus said that Jesus alone is Lord! This understanding of Jesus dominated the thinking of the followers of Jesus in the early Church. Paul writes in Romans 1:4, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” The emperor may be the lord of the citizens of Rome. They may make all kinds of sacrifices for their lord. They may worship at his altars, but for the followers of Jesus they would not bow their knee to any other than Jesus, their Lord. Let me give you an example as we close.
Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, was a godly man who was martyred on February 22, 156 A.D. Polycarp was arrested and sentenced to death because he would not bow his knee to Caesar and proclaim him as “Lord.”
As he was driven to the arena for his execution, two of the city officials, who had respect for him because of his age and reputation, tried to persuade him to comply with the demand to honor Caesar. “What harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and burning incense and saving yourself?” they asked. Polycarp refused. Later, in the arena, they tried one last time to get Polycarp to cave in, but Polycarp answered them by saying, “For eighty-six years I have been Christ’s slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp refused to call Caesar, “Lord,” because “Lord” meant “God” and there can only be one God. If Polycarp had called Caesar “Lord,” then Jesus could not have been “Lord” for Polycarp, and Polycarp could not have been a Christian.
Those who recorded Polycarp’s story shared his convictions, for they concluded by saying: “He was arrested by Herod, when Philip of Tralles was high priest, and Statius Quadratus was governor, but our Lord Jesus Christ was reigning forever. To him be glory, honor, majesty and eternal dominion from generation to generation. Amen.” (Story taken from Boice, J.M. Romans: Volume 1. Pg. 48)
How about you this morning? Do you hear God calling you? Have you come to recognize that God’s desire for you is that you belong to Jesus, that you have your sins forgiven, and your future secure? If so, then won’t you bow before Jesus our Lord this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 19, 2013