Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon: Romans 1: 1-17 Not Ashamed

We’re getting into the time of year when people are either planning their holidays, or else they’ve already gone on them. The kids are off school, the Twelfth fortnight has arrived, so lots of people will be heading on holiday this week or next. Maybe you’re counting down the days, you just can’t wait until you head off. And you’re very excited to be going wherever you’re going. You’re telling everyone about your holiday.

Now, I realise this might be a strange question to be asking a congregation of mostly Orangemen, and maybe you don’t want to put your hand up or nod, but you can waggle your eyebrows or just wink at me... but have you ever been to Rome? I haven’t been myself, so if you’ve been and you’ve any tips for holidaying in Rome, you can let me know sometime. The reason I ask, though, is because in our second reading today, on page 1128 in the pew Bibles, Paul is a wee bit obsessed about travelling to Rome.

The Bible publishers have added in the section heading above verse 8 - Paul’s longing to visit Rome. Do you see in verse 10, ‘I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened...’ or in verse 13 ‘I planned many times to come to you...’

Paul has been wanting to visit Rome for a long time. He’s been frustrated by changed travel plans, but now, at last, he’s on his way. So why does he want to visit Rome? Is it for a decently priced citybreak? Does he want to do the touristy sites - the Coliseum, the Trevi fountain, the Vatican? Well, the Vatican didn’t exist at the time, but, no, he’s not interested in being a tourist.

So why is Paul going to Rome? He tells us in the passage. He’s writing a letter to the Christians in Rome, and he says that he longs to see them, to meet up with them, so that they can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. When they eventually meet up, they’ll be able to encourage each other because of their faith - telling stories of how their prayers have been answered; sharing how they’ve been given grace to endure - being together with other Christians is a good thing to do. It’s one of the reasons why we meet together on Sundays as the church family.

The other reason why Paul wants to go to Rome is to preach the gospel in Rome. He wants to have a harvest (13), people becoming Christians for the first time, but it’s also because he owes it to people to share the gospel. Paul has been given good news, and so he needs to pass it on to others. They need to hear it too.

So Paul is going to Rome, he wants to share the gospel there. But there in verse 16, he says something strange. ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel.’ Why does Paul say this? Or, rather, why does he feel he has to say this?

I wonder if you’ve ever been ashamed of something? What does it feel like? You don’t want to be associated with it, or identified with it. Maybe this helps us to see why Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel.

It must be that some people in Rome were ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps these Christians in Rome were under pressure from their friends - you don’t really believe all that about Jesus, do you? Maybe over their tea break at work they were feeling the heat - You don’t really think there’s just one God rather than all the Roman gods and goddesses? That’s not very tolerant of you to claim there’s just one way to God!

Perhaps there’s the same pressure today for us. Just think back to the treatment of the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron on whether he thought gay relationships were sinful. Or the way people from Northern Ireland have been ridiculed by the mainland media for maintaining a Christian stance on abortion. Could we become ashamed of the gospel? Maybe tone it down to fit in and be accepted?

Paul felt the same pressures. By the time he’s writing this letter, he’s been in prison several times; he’s about to be arrested again. Maybe people were saying to him, do you really have to be so committed? Moderate your message and you might get on better with people.

But Paul declares, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel.’ In doing so, he challenges the Roman Christians, and us gathered here as well, 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? In order to be clear from the very start, Paul outlines the gospel in the very first verses of the letter. The whole thing is a fuller statement of the gospel, but even in the 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, to give us something to do on a Sunday; it’s not, as Marx claimed, the opiate of the people, designed to keep the poor people 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. It doesn’t start with the birth of Mary’s baby in Bethlehem. 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 your house.

The gospel is all about a person. ‘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.’ The gospel is the good news about Jesus, the God-man who is the Son of David, 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, that he lives forever. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then there is 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, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’

This message about Jesus is the power of God for the saving of everyone who believes. You see, without Jesus we are in danger. We are lost. We need to be rescued. We stand under judgement by a holy God, who cannot tolerate our sin. And yet, so often we don’t realise. We drift along, unaware of the danger. Like someone lying on a blow-up sunlounger, being carried closer and closer to the huge waterfall, we go through life unaware of our danger.

We need a rescuer. Someone to bring you to safety. And that’s what Jesus has done. He came into this world, took on our flesh, he took on our sin, and he gave his life so that we might live. The rescue has been accomplished. The victory has already been won. The good news is being told.

And all you have to do is trust in the Lord Jesus - to believe the good news proclamation. As Paul says, ‘it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’ Everyone, anyone, all who will believe will be saved. Those like us and those we like; those we don’t like so much - all who believe will be saved.

It’s not about bringing a bit long list of reasons why you should be good enough for God to save you. You see, to trust in ourselves - our good works, our church attendance, our praying, our giving to charity, our paying in to church - to trust in ourselves and what we have achieved is to say that Jesus isn’t enough; that we can do it by ourselves - that Jesus didn’t really need to die. But there is only salvation in Jesus. Without the gospel, we are lost, both now and for eternity, no matter how good or decent we might think we are.

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 had to study Romans, to teach a class, and in 1:17 he found the key to his own changed life. This truth would lead to him starting the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago this year.

‘The righteous will 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 (alone!) that he trust the promise, and by faith 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 needs to know. No one could even guess! Paul challenges you today - are you ashamed of the gospel? As we’re 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 we know God’s power at work in our lives.

Be bold in your faith and in living it out. 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 in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday afternoon 9th July 2017. The members of Richhill District LOL No. 2 were in attendance at the service.

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