Good morning and welcome to worship! This morning we begin our fall sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. We’re calling it “Jesus, the Hope of the Nations!” In Paul’s world, the nations included the Jews, all the Greek speaking cultures that surrounded the Mediterranean Basin and the barbarians, which includes the rest of us.
Let’s start with a little background on this man named Saul who became Paul. He was born about the same time as Jesus 160 miles north of Israel in what is now eastern Turkey. His parents were Pharisees, the strictest sect in Judaism. At 7 years old they sent him to boarding school in Jerusalem under the instruction of a rabbi named Gamaliel.
Saul was a brilliant driven student who excelled in everything he tackled. He was taught that if even one person could perfectly keep the law and traditions of rabbis for even one day, the Messiah would come. Saul was determined to be that man.
During the years of Jesus’ ministry, he was out of Israel, probably in Tarsus. When he returned shortly after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he was astounded by this new cult. It didn’t take long for the unscrupulous religious leaders to exploit his passion by sending him out to destroy these new Christians. Before long he looked more like an ISIS terrorist than a Jewish rabbi. But that all changed on the road to Damascus when he met Jesus.
It’s now 22 years after his conversion, Saul, now Paul, is on his 3rd missionary journey to the Gentiles. He is in Greece preparing for a trip to Jerusalem with an offering he has collected to help the struggling Christians there. But before he leaves, he sends a letter to the Christians in Rome, a place he has not yet been, promising to come as soon as he is able.
With that in mind, let’s get started. Will you pray with me - “Lord Jesus, we are about to open your Word. Your Word is truth and life. Guide us through the power of your Holy Spirit that we might receive, understand, and respond in faith to the truth you share with us today.”
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Rom 1:1
I did some research in this name change. I’ve always read that Saul changed his Jewish name to a Greek name in order to minister to the non-Jews, but I think there’s more to it. There always is when the Lord is involved. The name Saul means “answer to prayer”.
I think young Saul saw himself as the “answer to everybody’s prayer”. Ever meet somebody with that attitude? The Greek name Paul means “small or humble”. When Paul wrote, “I am the least of the apostles” he was acting out that name. Jesus said, “If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, learn to be the servant of all.” You must change the way you see yourself, from the answer to everyone’s prayer to the small or humble one. Once that happens, then God can use you.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” The word servant has a double meaning. It means slave, one who is owned by another, who has no rights of their own. Paul obviously believed that. He wrote “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.” But the world also means servant, one who chooses to serve another. Jesus didn’t have to wash the disciple’s feet, he wasn’t their slave, but he chose to do so and then he told the disciples to do the same.
Paul continues, “Called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the Gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…” The word apostle means “sent one” but this commissioning is more than the general commissioning of all Christians, this is personal and particular from Jesus to the 12 and to Paul.
The uniqueness that Paul brought to his apostleship was his training and skill as a scholar of the OT. As a student, Paul had memorized most of the OT. He recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT in a way none of other disciples were able to do. He was able to recognize and correct the misconceptions concerning the coming Messiah and argue the reasons why the cross and resurrection were God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
Look at verse 3-4 “…regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 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.” Rom 1:3-4 Through the OT Scripture he had studied as a youth and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to comprehend and unpack the truth of Jesus as true man and true God who became the sacrifice of atonement for our salvation.
Look at verse 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. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Rom 1:5
Paul more than anyone, understood the grace of God that came to him through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. If God could forgive and include a man as wicked as Saul whose hands and garments were stained with the blood of Stephen and others, then he could forgive and cleanse anybody. And not only forgive them, but transform them and use them to bring life and hope to a dying world. Are you with me here? That was just the “from”!
“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!” The church in Rome was made up of Jews and Gentiles. These may be just words to us, but to the people who received them, they were a big deal!
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” Rom 1:8 How would you like that to be said of us here at Christ Lutheran Church in Whitefish? You know what? It is! Because the desire of our heart is to serve the Lord, the Holy Spirit is going to bless that and that’s exactly what’s happening even if we can’t see it.
“Constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” Rom 1:9-10
It would be six long years before Paul got to Rome. On the way would be riots in Jerusalem, 2 years in jail in “protective custody” in Caesarea, shipwreck on the way to trial in Rome, jail in Rome waiting trial before Caesar. But God has his reasons and redeems all things for his glory. Slowly Paul was learning to “go with the flow” and trust Jesus to be with him. Whether we see it or understand it or not, God’s ways and timing are perfect.
Jump down to verse 11 “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Rom 1:11-12
We need each other if we are going to grow in faith. We were not created to go it alone. Faith grows in community with others. Life together isn’t always easy, but that’s where the Lord shapes and finishes us. Don’t neglect the fellowship of God’s people, get involved.
Look at verse 13 “I do not want you to be unaware that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” Rom 1:13
Prov 16:9 puts it this way, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Prov 16:9 Our job is to keep moving in the wisdom and direction the Lord has given us, and his job is to get us to where he wants us to be. We may end up in a very different place from the one we originally planned, but don’t be afraid, the Lord get us where he wants us to be.
“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” Rom 1:14
Consider the people that surround us in here in the Flathead Valley. Paul is saying we are obligated to them. We have a debt that we owe to them. What is that debt? It is to share the Gospel with them, to love them as Jesus loves them. By Greeks, Paul means the cultured elite, by non-Greeks he literally means the barbarians, the outsiders to the mainline culture.
So we have a debt to the Jews, the religious, and to the Greeks, the mainline middle class, and to the barbarians, those on the edge, the outsiders. We have a debt to all of them. How do we pay our debt? We share the Gospel in word and deed with them. We invite them into the fellowship we all share in Jesus. We exist for the sake of those who aren’t here yet!
Finally Paul gives us the major premise of his whole letter, indeed his whole ministry. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of every on who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Rom 1:16
By first, Paul doesn’t mean the Jews have a superior position. He means they were the ones God called to bring salvation to the world. Jesus was Jewish, the Law was Jewish, the prophets, the covenants, worship all came through the Jewish nation for the sake of the whole world. They were the invasion force God used to begin his redemption of the world.
“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.” Rom 1:17
A right standing before God is not something we can achieve through our own efforts or merit, but comes to us as a gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. If anyone understood this, it was Paul, murderer, ex-persecutor of the church and this grace will be Paul’s theme and our theme over the next 10 weeks. The best is yet to come! Jesus is the hope of the nations!