A few weeks ago we heard from Norm McLaughlin about the work of Open Doors. About how they support our Christian brothers and sisters in countries where they’re persecuted for being Christians.
And there were some incredible stories, weren’t there?
Like Pastor Youssef in Egypt. Beaten, attacked and shot over 30 times as he proclaims Jesus in prisons and hospitals and Muslim townships.
When Norm met him he was wearing a neck brace, the result of his latest beating. He rolled up his sleeves and showed Norm the scars he bore.
And yet he never complained. Never considered giving up. Because he saw the scars as the privilege of following Jesus, and proclaiming the gospel that Jesus is King.
His wife had accepted long ago that one day he probably wouldn’t come home. It was the price they, as a family, were willing to pay.
I wonder how you felt as you heard those stories. Did you put yourself in their shoes? Did you wonder whether YOU’D have the courage to stand up like Pastor Youssef did? Whether you’d keep going back for more day after day? Beating after beating?
Whether you’d have the courage of HIS WIFE to willingly send him off to work every morning, knowing she may never see him again?
Does the message of Jesus mean THAT MUCH to you? Or does your safety and comfort mean MORE to you?
They’re challenging questions, aren’t they? And I want you to think about them because, as we come to the start of the book of Romans this morning, they’re the sort of questions that are going to be facing us.
There’s lots going on in this letter. And we’ll have the next few months to unpack it. But in this introduction Paul wants to make one thing perfectly clear. HE’S NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL. See it there in v16?
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel…, because it is the power of God … for the salvation … of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Gospel. It’s a word we’re going to hear lots of over the next few month. It’s a word that in Greek literature meant “good news announcement.” Like a messenger would return with good news from the battlefield about a victory. And he’d bring a “gospel”. And when the biography writers recorded what Jesus had done during his earthly life, his death and resurrection, they called their histories “GOSPELS.” Declarations of good news. For example the Book of Mark starts
1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
And the Jesus came preaching the GOSPEL about the Kingdom of God. And then he passed the baton on to his disciples to pass on the news.
And so, when Paul uses the word THE GOSPEL, it’s short-hand for the message of salvation and forgiveness of sins and eternal life that God offers us because Jesus has come, died, and been raised.
That’s the gospel. And PAUL’S not ashamed of it.
But I wonder whether sometimes WE ARE. Whether the conversation at work turns to atheism or philosophy or evolution or same-sex marriage, or abortion, or Scripture classes in public school, or about how all religions are the same. Or about how out-of-date Christianity is.
And you’re not quite sure whether to speak up, or not. Not quite sure whether saying NOTHING is better than saying the WRONG thing. It’s certainly EASIER to say nothing. And so, you don’t rock the boat. And you keep the peace. And you say nothing. And the opportunity slips you by.
Is it because you’re ASHAMED of the gospel? Perhaps you think it’s not EFFECTIVE – that it can’t change people?
But Paul wants to say, right up-front, in this letter that sets out his gospel. The message he’s spent years proclaiming. He’s NOT ASHAMED of the gospel. Because it’s God’s POWER to SAVE people. And we need to believe that, too! Not just here at church. But at work on Monday.
We need to hear it waiting to pick the kids up from school with all the other parents on Tuesday. And on the golf course or netball court on Wednesday. Waiting for the train on Thursday.
NOT ASHAMED of the gospel. Because it’s God’s power to save people.
But I want to stop for a moment and think about how those first Roman Christians would have heard that idea.
The year is AD 57. Paul’s been preaching for the best part of 20 years. All over Asia and around into Europe. All around the Mediterranean. But never to Rome. He’d often WANTED to go there, but he’d never made it.
And a few years before, in AD 49, the Roman Emperor Claudius had expelled all the Jews from Rome. We read about that in Acts 18:2.
But he’d died in 54, succeeded by Nero.
And so the Jews could return. Including a whole bunch of Jewish Christians.
And now, they were back, and Nero was in charge. In charge of the greatest city in the world. It ruled the Empire. Great architecture, roads, armies and engineering.
And Nero was taking all the glory for himself. He was Caesar. Emperor. He had a huge statue of himself erected in Rome. He claimed he was equal to Apollo and the other Roman gods. And he encouraged Emperor worship. His tutor, Seneca, called him the LONG-AWAITED SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD. And inscriptions on coins, and in the Parthenon in Athens, declare him SON OF GOD.
And into that mix comes Paul. As an ambassador, an apostle – a sent messenger. With a message that’s going to seem pretty uncomfortable. A message that you’d be tempted to be ashamed of. Jump back up to v1 to hear about Paul, and the message he’s not ashamed of.
And as we read it, just appreciate the background to the title “Christ”. It means Anointed King. V1
1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus (King 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.
Do you catch something of the revolutionary, dangerous flavour of that message? This Jesus, this obscure descendent of the Jewish royal family. This Jesus who the Romans had put to the death a couple of decades before, WASN’T dead, buried and forgotten. Paul’s message was that he had a higher claim to respect and honour than NERO HIMSELF! Look at what he goes on to say in v5. His job was to call ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE to the OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH.
The whole world in obedience to Jesus Christ ALONE. HE was LORD. HE was King. HE was Son of God. Not Nero! They were DANGEROUS words. This was a DANGEROUS gospel.
Like Pastor Youssef preaching Jesus as the Son of God in Islamic towns in Egypt. The sort of message that gets you beaten up. Even killed.
And yet Paul says he’s not ashamed of it.
Why? What is it about this gospel that makes people prepared to take risks like that?
Paul – set apart for the gospel
First thing to notice, end of v1, is that this gospel. This proclamation of good news. GOVERNS PAUL’S LIFE. SHAPES him. He’s “SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD”.
It’s his reason for existing. It’s why he gets up in the morning. It’s what keeps him going during the day. And it’s what he thinks about when he puts his head on the pillow at night. How to communicate the news he’s got to as many people as he can, in as many places, as effectively as he can.
It shapes his thoughts and actions. His travel plans, his relationships, his letter-writing. It shapes his priorities, and his fears, his goals and his words.
Look at v9 for example. Paul serves God with his whole heart. And he CONSTANTLY remembers the Romans in his prayers.
V11-13, he talks about how he’s wanted to visit Rome for ages, so he can build up their faith.
V14. He’s obligated to Greeks and non-Greeks, the wise and the foolish. He’s got a burden for EVERY SORT of PERSON. That they hear the message that’s bursting out of him.
V15 He’s EAGER to preach the gospel in Rome.
Paul was unique. A one-off. But, still it begs the question begs: What influence does the gospel have on YOU? How does it shape YOU? Your choices and priorities? What do you DO, and don’t do, on account of the gospel? Is your life any different to your neighbour across the road, or across the corridor at work, BECAUSE OF THE GOSPEL?
How is your FAMILY LIFE different because of the gospel? If I asked your children, “What difference does the gospel make in your mum or dad’s life?”, what would they say? Would they struggle to come up with anything?
I guess it all comes down to whether you VALUE what you have in Jesus. Whether the good news of forgiveness and eternity and salvation/ actually MEANS something to you, or not.
Paul was SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL.
2. God’s gospel – promised beforehand
Second thing to notice about the gospel is that it’s GOD’S gospel. It’s GOD’S gospel because it CAME from him. And it CONCERNS him. Look there at v2.
set apart for THE GOSPEL OF GOD- 2 the gospel HE PROMISED BEFOREHAND through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
It’s news God planned to announce from the dawn of time. He promised it was coming through the prophets. Because he wanted his people to BE READY WHEN IT ARRIVED. Wanted his creatures to BE PRIMED. Like the best sort of advertising. Makes you eager to find out about the product.
The gospel is a message FROM God, and it’s also a message ABOUT God. He reveals HIMSELF in it.
3. Regarding his Son – God and man, power over death
Part of which is seen in the THIRD point. Three, the gospel is a message ABOUT his Son Jesus. V3.
2 the gospel he promised beforehand …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.
Like the fanfare of royal trumpets before the king enters the ball. That’s the introduction Jesus got from the prophets. Then he was introduced into history. Fully human. Born as a descendant of King David. With all the expectation and background that went with that.
But not ONLY human. Declared SON OF GOD. Declared DIVINE. Declared the conqueror of death by God when he RAISED him from death.
That’s good news worth trumpeting! That’s the gospel Paul’s not ashamed of.
4. For everyone
And it’s not just news FOR THE SELECT FEW. For those who happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s good news for EVERYONE. It might have been PROMISED by Jewish prophets in Jewish Scriptures. And Jesus might have been born a descendent of a Jewish KING.
But Paul’s job is to spread the message to EVERY OTHER NATION. There in v5.
5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among ALL THE GENTILES (or IN ALL THE NATIONS) to the obedience that comes from faith.
Nero’s armies were FORCING obedience all across the Roman Empire at the end of a sword. But Paul was taking the message all across the known world about the obedience to King Jesus that COMES FROM FAITH. Simply by TRUSTING him.
A message that crossed all sorts of boundaries. Crossed national boundaries, and geographical, language and cultural boundaries.
Paul WENT to every nation/ because it was a MESSAGE for every nation. A message that was EFFECTIVE in SAVING every nation. Down in v16.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes: FIRST FOR THE JEW, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.
That was God’s order of things. That Jesus came first to the Jews. God’s covenant people. But the plan was ALWAYS to go to the whole world. Which we see in the book of Acts. Where the message BEGAN in Jerusalem, and finished up with Paul finally arriving in Rome as a prisoner a couple of decades later. Beginning with Jews, and finishing with Gentiles.
But that wasn’t the end. Over the centuries the message spread across Europe, into Asia, and into Britain. Then to America, and EVEN TO AUSTRALIA!
This message that Jesus is the King over all kings. The Son of God. Who’s conquered death. AND WHO DESERVES YOUR OBEDIENCE. That sounds like it’s a message that should make A DIFFERENCE in your life! That shouldn’t leave you unaffected. That should influence the choices you make. How you bring up your kids. How you make moral decisions.
And you’d be RIGHT!
Though you wouldn’t know it from some of the people I know who call themselves Christians. Who go to church. But who don’t look or sound any different from the rest of the mob they spend the rest of the week with.
But if the God who made you really HAS sent you a message. And really HAS presented his Son as the King and Lord and Defeater of death. And who demands your obedience that comes from faith. Then that’s a message that you need to TAKE SERIOUSLY.
What’s so good about THAT good news?
But perhaps you’re thinking, “What’s so good about THAT? How’s that GOOD news?” Perhaps you’re thinking something like the comment that came back on a response card at a University mission. This student had HEARD the message about the obedience to Jesus that comes from faith, and he wrote, “It sounds to me like you’re talking about subservience to Jesus – which I’m not interested in.”
At least he’s HONEST!
And there’s plenty of Aussies out there who’d say the same thing. Who MOST DEFINITELY don’t want to recognise their dependence on ANYONE. To submit to ANY authority.
It’s that Aussie spirit of the underdog. Of thumbing their nose at authority. That streak of independence. Wanting to do their own thing. Never asking directions. Even if it means getting lost.
Being called to the obedience that comes from faith sounds like BAD NEWS. So where’s the GOOD news?
Let me finish by pointing out a few aspects of Paul’s message that ARE good news. Parts of the message that are POSITIVE. We’ll see many more over the next weeks.
First up, back in Paul’s introduction. Notice how he addresses the Roman Christians. V7.
7 To all in Rome who are LOVED BY GOD and CALLED TO BE SAINTS:
A SAINT is just someone who’s been SET APART. And the Roman Christians have been set apart because they’re especially LOVED BY GOD.
And we’ll see as the letter unfolds that the message of the gospel is a practical demonstration of the LOVE God has. The sacrificial, gracious, merciful, forgiving LOVE of the Creator for his creatures. Obedience to a God like THAT, isn’t about squashing our individuality, or beating us into submission. But a connection with the Father who created us. A relationship we were MADE for.
The second POSITIVE thing about this good news is that it’s about SALVATION. V16.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believe
The offer of RESCUE is GREAT news. Especially if the danger you’re in is DEADLY. And that’s what we’re facing. Death and judgment.
We’ll see more of that next week. But the gospel is the offer of RESCUE. It’s the safety line lowered from the helicopter. It’s the lifesaver dragging you up on his board. It’s the light from the search beacon fixing on you as you desperately wave your arms. It’s God, who calls you, and loves you, offering you RESCUE in his Son who conquers death.
And the final aspect of what’s GOOD about the good news is that it’s about RIGHTEOUSNESS. There in v17.
17 For in the gospel a RIGHTEOUSNESS from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
It’s the key word in the whole letter. And there’s a whole lot of aspects to it. God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS. Aspects to do with God’s CHARACTER. That he’s trustworthy and righteous in himself. Completely RELIABLE. The gospel REVEALS who God is.
But the gospel message is that he also he GIVES righteousness. He makes people RIGHTEOUS. He confers right standing. He aquits them. Changes their verdict from guilty to innocent.
It’s an action that comes through FAITH. Through our trusting the trustworthy one. Relying on the reliable one. To make us righteous. To save us. To LOVE us.
Which is GOOD news. GOSPEL news. News that CHANGES people because it’s powerful. It changed ME.
I was about 15. I knew all the facts. For as long as I could remember. But one night, lying in bed, it all just clicked. God opened my eyes, I BELIEVED it. Reached out to God. And he SAVED me. He made me RIGHTEOUS, and showed me his LOVE.
And if God can do it for me, he can do it for ANYONE. So don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Because it’s the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes.