Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sermon: Romans 1: 1-17 I am not ashamed of the gospel

I wonder if you've ever been ashamed. Maybe it was a long time ago when you thought you were a big boy, and your mum took your hand to cross the street - in front of your friends. Perhaps it was an embarrassing situation where you've made yourself to look like an eejit. You'd rather the ground swallow you up. Like the time you asked the lady when her baby was due and then to discover she wasn't actually pregnant... I think one of the times I was most ashamed was the night many years ago we took the youth group to Dundonald Ice Bowl, and I managed to split my trousers while ten pin bowling. If you've been very fortunate to have never been ashamed of yourself, then maybe you can identify by thinking of the situations others get themselves in!

In our second reading today, we hear about being ashamed, or rather, about not being ashamed. The apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome before he comes to visit. He has been wanting to visit for a long time, to make it to the capital of the entire Roman Empire, but he hasn't made it so far. And why is it he wants to get to Rome? Is it for a decently priced city break? Does he want to do the touristy sites - the Coliseum, the Vatican? Well, no, of course not, the Vatican doesn't exist.

He is eager to get to Rome because he wants to preach the gospel in Rome. Just as he has been preaching everywhere else, so now he longs to go to Rome to preach the gospel in that great city. But once he says that, he then says what might seem as a bit of a strange thing to say: 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel.'

Why does Paul say this? Or, to put it more accurately, why does he feel he has to say this? It must be because some people were ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps the Christians in Rome were under pressure from their friends and workmates - you don't really believe all that about Jesus, do you? You don't really think there's only one God rather than all the hundreds of Roman gods and goddesses? Is it not very intolerant of you to claim that there is only one way to God?

There is always a danger of drifting. To pay more attention to the opinions of the world around us than God's opinion will always lead us away from God, to be ashamed of God and his gospel. I wonder if you have felt that pressure as well? It's easier to be ashamed of God and turn away.

For Paul, there may also have been the temptation to tone down his message. Perhaps people were saying to him - do you really have to be so dedicated and committed? Maybe you wouldn't land in prison as often if you just moderated your message.

But Paul declares that 'I am not ashamed of the gospel.' In doing so, he challenges the Roman Christians, and us as well gathered here today, to echo his words. I wonder can you say with him, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel'? To help you do that, let's look at why Paul says it - what the gospel is, and what the gospel does.

So what is the gospel? So that the Romans are left in no doubt, Paul outlines the gospel in the very first verses of the letter. The whole letter is a fuller statement of the full extent of the gospel, but even in the very first verse, Paul gets to the gospel of God. This isn't just a fairy story; it isn't something made up to make us feel good for now. It's not, as Marx claimed, the opiate of the people, designed to keep the poor happy until they die. The gospel is God's gospel - his good news given to us.

This good news didn't just appear in the first century either. The gospel was promised beforehand by God - through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament was laying the foundation for what would come later, just as you have to lay your foundation before you build a house.

The gospel is all about a person. Paul writes, 'concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.' The gospel is the good news about Jesus, the God-man who was the Son of David (the King), and the Son of God. He lived, he died on the cross, and he was raised to new life. This is the good news, that Jesus has defeated death, and now lives. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then there is no news, no good news. This is the gospel - Jesus died and lives.

So why does Paul hold fast to this gospel? Why is he not ashamed of it? He tells us the reason in verse 16. Here's what the gospel does. '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.'

This message about Jesus is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. You see, without Jesus, we are in danger. We are lost. We need to be rescued. We are dead men walking. We stand under judgement by a holy God, who cannot abide our sin. And yet so often we don't realise. We drift along, in danger unawares.

Now if you’re out on a boat on Lough Erne and you get into difficulties, then you need a rescuer. You need someone to come and get you out of danger and bring you back to safety. And that’s what Jesus has done. He came into this world, he took on our flesh, he took up our sin, and he gave his life so that we might live. The King of heaven left his high throne to be the rescuer.

The rescue has been accomplished. The victory has already been won. And all you have to do is to trust in the Lord Jesus - to believe the good news proclamation. As Paul goes on to say: ‘for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.’ Everyone, anyone, all who will come will be saved. Those like us and those we like; those we don’t like so much - all can come and be saved.

It’s not about bringing a big list of reasons why you should be good enough for God to save. To trust in ourselves is to say that Jesus isn’t enough; that we can do it by ourselves. But there is only salvation in Jesus. Without the gospel, we are lost, both now and for eternity. In the gospel, we find God’s righteousness revealed, accessible only by faith.

About five hundred years ago, a German monk struggled to be good enough to please God. He could never be satisfied that he had done enough. The demands of God’s law weighed down heavily upon him, with no relief. He even grew to hate the God he tried to serve. But then he began to study Romans, and in 1:17 found the key to his own changed life, and began the Protestant Reformation.

‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Martin Luther came to discover that it’s not about what we bring to the table. The good news of the gospel declares the finished work of Christ and asks us - do you believe this? It is by faith that we trust the promise, and by faith that we receive eternal life. This is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. It is God’s gospel from start to finish. It’s all about Jesus, what he has done for us. And it is the power of God for salvation for anyone who will believe.

Perhaps today as you hear of the gospel, you realise that you’ve never really believed the message. You’ve heard it many times before, but never received it for yourself. You can trust in Christ for the first time, just where you’re sitting. Take hold of the promises. Look to Christ, and discover that he did it all for you. Believe on him today.

But maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time. You’ve been around a few corners and you know how life works. It’s far easier to keep your faith private. No one else need know. No one could even guess! Paul challenges you today - are you ashamed of the gospel?

As we are reminded of the glories of Christ, the marvellous good news of what he has done, the amazing promise that anyone who believes will be saved, may our hearts be strangely warmed like Wesley on reading Luther’s introduction to Romans. Be bold in your faith and your proclamation. Count all else as loss compared to knowing Christ. Live in such a way that proclaims to everyone you meet: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel.’ And may we all, on that last day, be joined with the great crowd from every nation, all who have received the good news and trusted the Lord Jesus, for his glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached at the RBP service for Brookeborough Victoria RBP 487 in Brookeborough Methodist Church on Sunday 27th July 2014.

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