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1-16 Not Ashamed of the Gospel 5-20

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MBC - 5/20/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

Romans 1:16,17

Ø      ROM 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

Ø      ROM 1:15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Ø      ROM 1:16 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.

Ø      ROM 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." [And this could be read, “The man who is righteous by faith, shall live.”

In Rome there is a cathedral called St. John of Lateran. There is a staircase in this church that the Roman Catholic church says is the very staircase that Christ climbed to appear before Pontius Pilate. The Catholic church says that the Crusaders brought this staircase back from Jerusalem to Rome--which is not supported by Scripture, archaeology, or architecture! But for hundreds of years, poor pilgrims had been climbing this staircase on bloody knees, saying a prayer on each step to do penance for their sins. Martin Luther was one of those pilgrims. His son, Dr. Paul Luther wrote about that experience:

“Wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the Pope to all who shall ascend the so-called Pilate’s staircase on their knees, the good monk is painfully creeping up those steps, which, he is told, were miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While he is performing this meritorious act, however, he thinks he hears a voice of thunder crying, “The just shall life by faith! The just shall live by faith!” [from Rom.1:17] These words struck him like the voice of an angel from heaven, and resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rises in amazement from the steps up which he is dragging his body; he shudders at himself; he is ashamed at seeing to what depth superstition plunged him. He flies far from the scene of his folly.”

That was just the beginning of Luther’s spiritual awakening--he wrote this:

Meanwhile . . . I had begun interpreting the Psalms once again. I was confident that I was now more experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St. Paul's Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews. I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: "The righteousness of God." I hated that word, which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to that righteousness by which God is righteous and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn't be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, "Isn't it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?" This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'The righteous person lives--by faith.'" I began to understand that in this verse the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. . . . i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: "The righteous person lives by faith." All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I exalted this sweetest word of mine, "the righteousness of God," with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.”

It wasn’t just Luther who was re-born, the church was re-born as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and other Reformers, rediscovered the Gospel in the Scriptures and proclaimed it throughout Europe. And it proved to be exactly what Paul said it is, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

I want you to leave here this morning not only understanding the Gospel, but with an unashamed confidence to share it with others because it is God’s gospel, and it has His power to save anyone who will believe it.

* * * *

We tend to speak of “the gospel” as a four- or five-point outline of salvation truths. The gospel is the formula that gets you saved. But in Romans (and the rest of the NT), we see that the gospel includes all the revealed truth about Jesus Christ. It doesn’t stop at the point of conversion, but it embraces every other aspect of salvation, from justification to sanctification to glorification.

The gospel’s significance for a Christian doesn’t end the moment the new birth occurs; it applies to the entire Christian life. So when Paul talks about “preaching the gospel,” he wasn’t just talking about evangelistic preaching to unbelievers. Look at v. 15: He was eager to preach the gospel to the Christians--those who were already saved--in Rome!

Beloved, there is nothing that unbelievers need more than the gospel, and there is nothing that believers need more than the gospel, in all its richness and depth, which is what we are going to find in Romans.

I want you to get the flow of this passage. In v.15, Paul says: “I am eager to come and preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome,”

For [Because] I am not ashamed of the Gospel,

For [Because] it is God’s power to save everyone who believes,

For [Because] it is the revelation of God’s imputed righteousness through faith in Christ.

We’re going to take it phrase by phrase this morning--

I. “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”

Why does Paul even say this?

Maybe some of the Christians in Rome wondered if Paul hadn’t visited them because he was a bit embarrassed to take such a simple message to such a great and glorious city. Certainly Paul knew that the Romans looked upon Christianity as a crude, uncul-tured religion. In the first century, rumors circulated among Roman society that Christians were cannibals, because they ate flesh and drank blood in a strange ritual--the Lord’s Supper. They were accused of incest and immorality because they called each other brother and sister and talked so much about love. They were accused of being traitors and disloyal to the emperor because they claimed to have only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and they were called atheists because they wouldn’t bow down to any of the Roman gods.

Ø      Archaeologists discovered graffiti on an ancient Roman wall. It was a picture of a man bowing down before a man on a cross who has the head of a donkey. Underneath, it says, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Ø      In the second century, a man named Celsus wrote a letter mocking Christians: [They say] “Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible. . . for all that kind of thing we count evil; but if any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool, let him come boldly to Christ!”

Ø      He went on about Christians: “We see them in their own houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons. They are like a swarm of bats, like ants crawling out of their nests, like frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, like worms cowering in the muck!”

But apart from the lies and rumors, the gospel message is intrinsically disagreeable. It exposes sin, condemns pride, and shows human righteousness—even the best, most appealing aspects of human nature—to be worthless, defiled, filthy rags (cf Isa.64:6).

The gospel says that we can’t blame anyone else for our failure and misery. It goes on to say that we are weak and helpless to save ourselves, we don’t even want to change. And we can only be saved by unconditionally surrendering and throwing ourselves upon  the mercy of Jesus Christ. And how does that save us? Well the gospel says that Jesus, a Jew born in poverty in Bethlehem, was man and God, He lived a perfect life, died on a cross for sins, and rose again to ascend to the right hand of God in heaven. Anyone who trusts in Him will be saved. That is an insult to modern philosophy, psychology, it’s politically incorrect, and well, it’s just not . . . tolerant!

Paul says in 1 Cor.1:18 that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Beloved, that has not changed in 2,000 years! Get the message right, preach it accurately, straight from the Word of God, and many people will say “That’s ridiculous--you should be ashamed!”

That’s the reaction Paul got when he preached the gospel--

Ø      He had already been imprisoned in Philippi, run out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, and laughed at in Athens. In Acts 26:24, when Festus heard Paul preach the gospel--“Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.’”

Ø      Janice was at a meeting this week with some other teachers. She was having lunch with two other teachers who are Christians (one of them was Natalie Jetter, who has sung here with her husband Norvelle), when their boss (who is not a believer) came up and began asking questions about what “Bible churches” believe. These ladies took the cue and began to share the gospel. They were explaining that at our churches, we don’t try to entertain people, and we don’t cut corners on the truth. She said, “What do you mean?” Natalie said, “Well, some churches only talk about positive things, but we teach the Bible and that includes things like Rom.3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Ø      That pretty much ended the conversation! But does that mean that they garbled the message? Not at all! The Gospel is not a popular message, but it is a powerful message. That’s why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel!

And he would have been appalled at preachers today who have the privilege and opportunity to preach the gospel and choose instead to entertain people, and give speeches on self-esteem. A pastor of a mega-church wrote a book about how to reach unchurched folks. One of the chapters is entitled: “Different Times Require Different Messages.” He writes,

In times past the human spirit was far more sturdy than it is now. Modernity has taken a high toll of the human spirit, as has the high cost of the American dream. The stress of modern life has had a greatly negative impact on the self-esteem of modern man.

Consequently, there is a high level of fragility in the modern human ego. [Baby] boomers particularly have been fragmented and shattered by the fast pace of modern-day development. That’s why our baby boomers today are in a very fragile state.

Have you ever taken the time to read messages by some of the great nineteenth-century preachers …[like Spurgeon and others]? If you have, you will probably have noted that [men of that era] addressed quite a different crowd than we do today and they addressed them in a very different manner. And because of those differences, I disagree with those who say that such messages are appropriate for our time.

You see, people in our culture are truly broken and deeply wounded. They need desperately to be healed and put back together. But the process of healing, I believe, is different for every era and every generation, including this one.

Yes, different times do require different messages.2

So where should we get our message? The Word of God? No, He gives this list of suggestions for finding sermon topics:

1. Visit those how-to sections in your local bookstores.

2. Acquire inventories of needs from several secular people in your community.

3. Periodically, examine issues of Time, Newsweek and USA Today, as these publications tend to be on the cutting edge of the felt needs and fears that people are facing.

And then he gives this advice to pastors--

Limit your preaching to roughly 20 minutes, because boomers don’t have too much time to spare. And don’t forget to keep your messages light and informal, liberally sprinkling them with humor and personal anecdotes.

Don’t get your hopes up! Actually I do preach 20 minute sermons--I just do 2 or 3 at a time!

But I can’t help but think that this methodology flows from embarrassment over the gospel. Let me ask you: Why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel? Are you embarrassed that people might think that you are weird--they might think that anyway--or that you are a weak person, a wimp, a fool--a fanatic? Do you care more about what they think than what the Lord Jesus thinks? You have to choose:

Ø      MAR 8:38 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."

So why would church after church fall like dominoes for the idea that we have to disguise the gospel, we can’t give it straight, we have to dilute it, sweeten it, sugar-coat it--why? Because they don’t have confidence in its power. Paul did, and he tells us why he was not ashamed of the gospel--This is the antidote:

II. “For it is the power of God for salvation.”

This is why Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel. He knew from Scripture and from personal experience that the gospel is the power (Gk. dunamis--from which we get dynamite), the dynamite power of the omnipotent God to save the most stubborn, hardened, Christ-rejecting sinners. That message alone, apart from any human arguments, illustrations, or ingenuity can save anyone and everyone who believes. How many of you can testify to this?

As a matter of fact, Paul was so confident in the bare, unadorned message of the gospel to save sinners, that he went out of his way not to dress it up with anything close to human cleverness. He wanted everyone to know, unmistakably, that this was the power of God at work, not human manipulation. Listen to his confidence in the gospel, and compare it in your mind to the kind of superficial, happy-face stuff that is coming out of many pulpits today:

Ø      1CO 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Ø      1CO 1:19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside."

Ø      1CO 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Ø      1CO 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Ø      1CO 1:22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;

Ø      1CO 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,

Ø      1CO 1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

You never need to be ashamed or apologetic about presenting this simple, clear message: “The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave for sinners, so that anyone who believes in Him will be saved from judgment and have eternal life!” This message alone contains in it the dynamite power of God for salvation--

            A. “To everyone who believes,”

The key word is “everyone.” Jews thought that salvation was only for the Jews, but Paul says that the gospel is powerful enough to save everyone who believes, regardless of their race, social status, gender, age, or intelligence.

Ø      Just stop and think about this: What other message has that power? You could present this message to an Eskimo in Greenland, or an aborigine in Australia, an untouchable in India, a United States Senator, or a convict on death row—and if God opens their eyes to believe it, it has the power to save them and transform them into a new creation in Christ—that is amazing!

Ø      I have many friends who were alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals, until the gospel saved them.

Ø      I have a pastor friend who was up to his ears in the homosexual lifestyle, until the gospel saved him.

Ø      I was at a conference on Reformed theology a few years ago and ran into Alice Cooper—the original shock-rocker. I went up and talked to him and said, “What in the world are you doing here?” He said, “Well, my grandfather was a pastor, but I went off track until God finally saved me, so I’m here because I want to get the meat of the Word—and he held up 2 bags stuffed with theology books!

Ø      And I think about the video I saw of Ed Breazeale baptizing his dad who was saved by the power of the gospel when he was pushing 80 years old!

Beloved, you don’t need to be ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to save everyone who believes!

            B. “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

And then Paul adds: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” This was his way of saying: “all of mankind, with no distinctions,” but the Jews were to get the gospel first—why? Because they are the historic chosen people of God; because they were the recipients of God’s special revelation in the OT Scriptures; because the Messiah came from the Jews; and salvation comes from the Jews because everyone who is saved becomes a spiritual child of Abraham. Paul is going to deal with all of this later in Romans, so we won’t go into detail now.

The point here is that the Gospel message has in it the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. That includes you. Don’t think, “But I’m ruled out because I have the wrong background, the wrong family, the wrong culture or race or sexual preference. I’m so bad I don’t deserve it. or, I’m so good I don’t need it.” God says to you in ROM 10:9: “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

And v.17 tells us why:

III. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”

Let’s go back to Martin Luther and his struggle with this passage. Luther was a Roman Catholic monk in the Augustinian order. He had always been taught that salvation was something that a person had to earn by their faith and their good works, and their sins had to be atoned, not just by what Christ did on the cross, but by acts of penance, and confession. And Luther spent hours in the confessional—he drove the other priests crazy! And then he would return to his cell, still feeling guilty, and he would lie on the stone floor and whip himself to make up for his sins.

Luther took “the righteousness of God” to mean the attribute of God’s character. God is just and righteous and holy. And Luther knew that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and he knew that he didn’t even come close, so if the gospel is the revelation that God is holy and just, and Luther is sinful—then the gospel is not good news, and Luther is damned. That’s why he said he hated God.

But what happened to Luther as he studied this passage in the original Gk., was that that God’s power in the gospel broke through to his heart, and he finally understood what it meant: It means the righteousness of God which comes from God to us! Yes, God is righteous, and holy, and just. He demands absolute righteousness from His creatures—look at vv.18ff—God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness. God demands holiness—from you and I!

We don’t have it. Not even close. But when the lights came on, Luther saw the good news of the gospel in v.17: God supplies us with the righteousness that He demands by giving us His own. Luther saw what Paul saw when God saved him!—

Ø      PHI 3:9 [I have counted my Pharisee past as garbage, so that I ] may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

What once was only a demand is now a gift in Jesus Christ.

Luther called it “an alien righteousness,” a “righteousness outside myself,” meaning that when God is considering whether or not a believer meets His demand of absolute righteousness, He doesn’t even look at the believer, He looks at His own Son. We sing it: “For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.”

If the gospel is the power of God for your salvation, you can say with Isaiah:

Ø      ISA 61:10  I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

And this robe of righteousness can’t be bought or bargained for. You will never receive it as a reward for being really good or trying really hard. It is given as a gift to those who will trust in the gospel message about Jesus Christ, that’s why Paul says it is—

            A. --“from faith to faith,”

 

He means that this good news of the rtnss. of God from God is from faith from first to last. And finally he quotes a passage from Habakkuk--

 

            B. “as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

This means, the man who is counted as righteous by his faith, shall live—have eternal life.

Is that you? Are you that man?

*In Matt.22 Jesus told a parable about this day. He said that a king (God) threw a huge wedding feast for His Son (Jesus Christ). Now in that day, when a person would appear before a king, he would be given a robe to wear into the king’s presence--you couldn’t just waltz in to see the king in shorts and a t-shirt. So as the guests came to the party, they were each given the robe to make them fit to enter. But Jesus said this: "But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

You get the point. Are you ready to appear before the King? Are you wearing your own filthy rags, or the robe of rtnss. that He provides?


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