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Walking The Roman Road – Lenten Season 2019

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, 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 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.  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.  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to your from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1-7 NIV).

Let me introduce myself……

Let me say right at the start that this is an unusual Lenten study.  I admit it.  But the Book of Romans is not only fascinating but essential to our understanding of the cross and the resurrection and therefore it is the perfect theological foundation for our journey into this Holy Drama.

The intent is to follow along as Paul explains the gospel without necessarily covering every single verse – a thematic expository approach.  At the end, during Holy Week we will take a closer look at the heart of the matter by exploring the transformative power of Confession, Repentance, Forgiveness and Reconciliation and how they are based in Christ’s ministry on the cross.

Here at the beginning of the Book of Romans, Paul finds it necessary to introduce himself.  After all, he has never met these people.  This letter was probably written around 57 AD from (or around) Corinth just before Paul went to Jerusalem with the offerings he had collected for the church there which was in dire straits (Acts 9).  Little did Paul know that his trip to Jerusalem would result in his arrest and, since he was a Roman citizen, he would be forcibly sent to Rome to face the emperor.

In this letter to the Romans, Paul talks of his plans to visit them on his way to Spain (Rom. 15: 22-29).  We don’t know if he ever made it.  It is likely that he died at the hands of Nero by decapitation (like John the Baptist).  At least that is how legend recalls it.  No one knows for sure.

In any event, Paul leaves behind a letter that stands as a foundational piece of understanding of what the Gospel is all about.  Paul doesn’t know these people so there is very little in this letter about the Roman church.  We know that ten years or so earlier all the Jews were expelled from Rome (under Emperor Claudius) for a while so the Roman church may have been more Gentile than Jewish.  If that was the case, which seems likely, then at the time of Paul’s writing of this letter, many Jews, including Christian Jews, were starting to return to Rome.  The problem is that for five or ten years, the Roman church had no Jewish leadership or influence and had to find its way as a primarily Gentile community (including the new converts during this time).

But that is only speculation.  In any event, Paul introduces himself as an “apostle” (two times) with a special interest in the Gentiles (and he includes the church in Rome as part of that group).

On the other hand, as we shall see later on, Paul has been trying to define the church as a whole, neither as a Gentile church (without the Jews) or as a Jewish church (where Gentiles had to become Jews).  He even had disagreements with Peter over this issue.  Of course, it is understandable for early Jewish Christians to believe that a new Gentile convert would have to become Jewish to become a Christian.  Jesus was Jewish after all.  But Paul was in vehement opposition to that kind of thinking.  He was convinced that it denied the heart of the gospel and he opposed it firmly.

At the same time, Paul did not want to deny the Jewish roots of the gospel even if he believed that Christ had changed everything with his death and resurrection – especially the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles.  So Paul would need to deal with this relationship not on a cultural basis but on a theological one, explaining this transformation of the Jewish faith into a Christian community that was neither Jewish nor Gentile but something different all together.

But before we get into the transformative insight of Paul that forms the foundation of our faith, there are a few golden nuggets that I want to point out in these introductory verses.  We tend to skip over them rather too quickly and miss the power in these words.

  1.  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…

Paul identifies himself not as a child of God, not as Jew, not even as a Christian (that term was only just becoming more popular).  He identifies himself as a “servant” of Christ Jesus.  Who we are in Christ is what matters.  Identity matters.  Identity is about relationships.  My name is Bert Amsing.  I am the husband of Vero van Kregten and the father of….  Perhaps we would also identify ourselves in terms of what we do.  I work as an English teacher.  I am an author and blogger.

Who are we?  Paul says that he is a “servant” of Christ.  Of course, the concept of a servant has two parts to it.  The first is someone who is bound to another by law and has no freedom to leave.  The second is often called a “bondservant” in the Old Testament to refer to someone who has been set free but chooses to stay and continue serving his Master out of love not obligation.  That is what Paul means here.  He is bound to Christ voluntarily in what he calls later on (vs. 5) the “obedience that comes from faith.”

We are so quick to agree that we are servants of Christ Jesus as well.  We all understand that Paul is not reserving for himself some special status but rather that we are all servants of Christ.  But that “servanthood” of obedience has a purpose.  In Paul’s case, he “received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”  What did you receive grace for?  What purpose is there to your obedience?  your servanthood?  What is your life ministry?  And are you walking in it?

2.  Called to be saints….

It is easy for people to assume that Paul was called to have a purpose as a servant of Christ Jesus but we are called only to be “saints.”  Of course, that little word “only” can get you in trouble.  Paul called himself a saint many times and calls all believers servants and even slaves of Christ Jesus so that won’t fly.  We are both servants/slaves as well as saints.

To be a saint is to be set aside for holy use.  We are in the realm of the priesthood of all believers here.  The church is a community of people “called out of the world and set aside for a specific purpose” which goes far beyond just being moral people living well-behaved lives.  Your life is a ministry to those around you.  You have influence for good or evil in the way you affect your children, your parents, your family and friends, your fellow church members.

To be a saint means to live in the righteousness of Christ and to live out the “obedience of faith.”  Make no mistake.  Without obedience in faith and to the faith, you are no saint of God even if you attend church regularly.  We are saints because we have the Holy Spirit within us as a result of a new, reconciled relationship with God.  Otherwise we are merely religious and judging from the extreme lack of “obedience to the faith” found in most churches, it appears that most people who go to church suffer from that same religious spirit.

3.  …and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead….

What great power and understanding is in that sentence.  What we say about Jesus is at the heart of the gospel.  And the one thing that needs to be said is that he is the Son of God.  Otherwise his death on the cross was nothing more than just another rebel being put in his place by the Romans.  Otherwise his earthly ministry was just another wise man sharing his view of the world.  Otherwise it was all in vain and we are still in our sins and we are the most miserable of all people, willing to give our lives in a cause that has no foundation in truth (I Cor. 15:12-19).

Did you know that Jesus, whom many consider to be only a man, was proven (declared by God) to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead?  Did you know that there were more than 500 witnesses of his resurrection (I Cor. 15: 5-8)?  That can’t be explained away by mass hallucination, or collaboration on a lie that they wanted to perpetuate.  Many of them died because of their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Psychologically it just isn’t possible for people to die for a lie that they know is a lie.  And it is not possible for more than 500 people over 40 days, over and over again, to have a mass hallucination that they are seeing, talking, walking, discussing with this same Jesus that they had spent so much time with before his death and resurrection.

That conviction, that Jesus rose from the dead and therefore is the Son of God, is at the heart of Christianity.  Without it, we are simply religious and our feeble efforts at morality are meaningless.  Without it, we are fools destined for a meaningless existence.  Without it, we are still lost in our sins and there is no salvation from the wrath of God to come.

So Paul cuts to the chase and lays out the foundation of his gospel so that there is no doubt who he is and what he declares.  This is “the gospel of God” which is rooted in the Holy Scriptures and foretold by the prophets (vs. 2).  The Jewish faith is vindicated by the resurrection of the Messiah so long as they accept Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies.  This gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike and they are both called to be “servants” and “saints” of the One who was raised from the dead:  Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Desert Warrior

P.S.  Let’s talk to God….

Lord, it is wonderful to remember that you were raised from the dead literally and physically and were seen by over 500 of your followers over 40 days before you ascended into heaven.  It boggles the mind.  Help us to live out that truth and that power in our own lives.  We have a lot to learn and we want to be open to your leading and teaching as we go through this letter to the Romans.  We want to be your servant and live our lives as saints in a lost world.  We have a high calling but we don’t always feel like we are up to it on our own.  And we aren’t.  We need your help.  Help me to live my life with purpose in the “obedience of faith.”  In your name I pray.  Amen.