Good morning and welcome to worship! This morning we continue our fall sermon series on Paul’s letter to the tiny Christian church in Rome. His other letters were addressed to churches he had founded. Although Paul knew many of the Christian leaders who were in Rome, he had never been there himself. He begins his letter this way. “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
What an encouraging word! In verses 16-17 he lays out his purpose for writing. “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. 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 1:16-17
Which brings us to the question of the day - “Who are the righteous ones?” Let’s begin today’s study at Rom 1:18. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Rom 1:18 “Halleluiah! Go get ‘em, God!”
Maybe we should keep reading… “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Rom 1:19-20
Paul is referring to natural revelation. Whether we look through a microscope or a telescope, God has revealed himself in the complexity, beauty, order of what he has made. Paul isn’t only speaking about his time, but all of history. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Rom 1:21-23
The Greek seaport of Cenchrea where Paul is writing from was famous for the little idols they shipped across the Mediterranean world. Just like human beings all the way back to the dawn of history, we still make idols and worship images of physical things. What do you stare at that triggers your desire? “Whoa, I’d love to have one of those!” That’s idolatry!
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Rom 1:24-25
Paul, the theologian and historian is giving a history lesson on how the human race got in the mess we are in! Those who know their Bibles would instantly remember Abraham and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. But they would also be aware of the orgies and sexual depravity for which contemporary Rome was infamous.
Paul continues... “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Rom 1:26-27
How sick, how depraved, how disgusting! But Paul isn’t finished …
“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity...” Rom 1:28-29a
“They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Rom 1:29b-32
If we could just rid the world of despicable people like these then the rest of us could live in peace! Right! Racists, sexists, perverts, ISIS, greedy Wall Street tycoons, self-serving bureaucrats, selfish self-centered people who gossip and lie …
Wait a minute, Paul! Are you trying to lump us in with those other guys. Surely we aren’t as despicable and depraved in God’s sight as they are? Are we?
It appears that Paul has just set us up! “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Rom 2:1
Paul knows what he’s talking about. When it came to self-righteously judging and condemning others before he met Jesus, Paul was the best there was! But now look what he writes!
“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Rom 2:2-4
Sounds like what happened when the religious leaders through the woman caught in adultery down in front of Jesus and demanded that she be stoned. Jesus didn’t say she wasn’t guilty, he simply said, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Back to Paul’s letter verse 12 “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” Rom 2:12
Our behavior may vary, but we all stand under the same righteous judgement of God. This is not good news, this is very bad news – but its’ also the truth. Turn over to Romans 3:9. Here’s Paul’s point “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Rom 3:9-18
The title of our sermon series in Romans is “Jesus, the Hope of the Nations”. If we were to remove the name Jesus and put something else in its place what would it be? Some might suggest ISIS is the Hope of the Nations. Others might suggest Money is the Hope of the Nations. Or Science is the Hope of the Nations. How about the Republicans or the Democrats? Are they the hope of the nations? That’s what they’d like us to believe! How about the Capitalists or the Socialists? How about the Christians or the Atheists?
Paul is saying there is no hope in the world of men, no matter how righteous we might think we are. Sin is a progressive disease and the longer we are in it the more depraved we become. And the more depraved we become the less able we are to see it. True?
Sometimes this depravity is easy to see. Like in ISIS, or those who market aborted baby parts, or those who kidnap children for the sex trade. Sometimes our depravity isn’t so easy to see. Like when politicians intentionally craft social programs that displace the father’s role in the family home, all for the sake of their own political power. Or when we arrogantly assume we are more righteous than those around us.
Sometimes we do things that are clearly self-serving and wicked. Others times we have the best intentions but we fall short. Sometimes our solutions create more problems than we solve. Unless help comes from outside to redeem and rescue us, we are without hope.
How did we get to such a miserable place? It began in the Garden of Eden. Remember what Paul said in verse 24? “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts...”
There are many people today who say the way to fulfillment is to follow the desire of your heart. They use these words to excuse all kinds of depraved behavior. The truth is there is something deeply twisted in the human heart. The desire of our heart is not a reliable guide to right and wrong! Prov 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right, but it ends in death.”
Only the Word of God can get us where we really want to go. And the first thing the Word of God does is convict us of our sin and self-deception. Is there any hope for people like us?
Absolutely! His name is Jesus. He took God’s wrath against sinners upon himself. The Father gave his Son to save us. The Son willingly went to the cross and died for us. The salvation God has provided is a gift for anyone who will receive it by faith. Let’s read again what Paul wrote in Rom 1:16-17.
“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. 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 1:16-17
I hope you’ll be back next Sunday as Paul explains more clearly what it means that Jesus is the Hope of the Nations, the hope of folks like you and me and all those we are tempted to judge and despise.