A sermon on Romans 1:1-7 by Richard Keith on Sunday 4 September 2022
Today we are looking at Romans chapter 1 verses 1 to 7 under three headings: the Messenger, his Message and his Master. The Messenger is Paul. He wrote in verse 1.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.
This book that we call Romans is a letter. Just like you might write to your cousin or to your insurance company. Written by someone to someone for a reason.
The letter of Romans is written by Paul. The man once known as Saul, who rounded up Christians and put them in gaol until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and became a member of the movement he’d once tried to destroy.
Although, when I say that Paul wrote Romans I mean he composed it. Paul didn’t write it down himself with a pen on parchment. I’m not saying that Paul couldn’t write. I’m saying he didn’t write Romans himself. Romans chapter 16 tells us that a man named Tertius did the writing down. Paul composed the letter. He made the words up and said them out aloud, while Tertius wrote them down.
But a letter doesn’t just have a writer. But it has a recipient, the people to whom the letter was written. In this case it was the Romans. The book of Romans is named after the people Paul was writing to. And by Romans, I don’t mean all the people who lived in Rome, but I mean the people who belonged to the Christian church at Rome. Which wouldn’t have been a large congregation meeting in a large cathedral, but a network of small assemblies that met in people’s homes, like Bible studies or a home groups.
Letters are written for a purpose. Sometimes it’s to keep in touch with a friend. Sometimes it’s to ask someone to do something for you. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans for a reason, in fact, for three reasons.
Firstly, he’d never been there before. Paul had been busy in different parts of the world spreading the message about Jesus, making disciples and planting churches as he went. He didn’t have to do that in Rome. Someone else had already done it. So he’d never been there. Romans is Paul’s letter of introduction, introducing himself to people he’s heard about, but most of whom he’d never met.
The second reason Paul wrote this letter is because he wanted to visit them. He had a plan to go to Spain to continue his work as a missionary and Rome was on the way. In particular, he wanted to get their support for that trip to Spain, in prayer and money. And this explains why he went to so much trouble, not only introducing himself, but also spelling out his message. To win their support for his missionary work. He told them the message he wanted to tell the people of Spain.
But there’s a third reason why Paul wrote this letter. He had heard about some friction between the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in the church. Wherever they went, Jews were treated as different, as second class citizens and it was no different in Rome. And unfortunately, it was happening in the church at Rome. The Jewish Christians were being treated like they didn’t belong. And so a lot of this letter to the Romans is about pointing out how much Christians owe to the Jewish heritage and about how we should show Christian love to each other, especially to those who were different.
To these people he’d never visited and whose support he wanted and whose problems he wanted to help solve, Paul introduced himself as
a servant of Christ Jesus and as an apostle set apart for the gospel of God.
With these words Paul was trying to win a hearing. But not one based on his own importance or on his own natural talents. Because some people are important because they a rich. Poor people are told you can’t do that. Poor people are told, “I’m sorry but that’s not possible.” Rich people are told, “Yes, certainly, that’s no problem at all.” Some people are important because of their power. Others are afraid of them or want to do them a favour for a favour in return.
Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to listen to him. He wanted their support. He wanted to influence their choices and actions. He wasn’t rich or powerful, and if he had any standing in the Christian community, if he had any weight he didn’t want to go throwing it around. He was merely a servant, a messenger. And so his authority, his influence, didn’t rest in himself, but in him whom he represented.
Paul was a servant of the Christ, the heavenly king Jesus. Promised in the Old Testament. Revealed in the New Testament. Rejected by the Jewish and Roman leaders but exalted by God, ruling at his Father’s right hand side. This is who Paul served, the heavenly king who had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and turned his life upside down. Paul was an apostle, an official messenger, an ambassador called and commissioned by God himself to announce the good news of the gospel. Set apart from all other people, who had other gifts and other responsibilities. Set apart from all other duties for this one important job. The gospel of God. The good news from our Creator. The news that is good in itself, that sets all things right, and that is also good for us, announcing an amnesty between the holy God and sinful human beings, making peace with our Creator whom we have offended, and fulfilling his purpose of life and blessing for us in a way beyond what we deserve or have any right to expect.
As a servant of the heavenly king, as an ambassador for God, Paul hoped that the Christians at Rome would listen to him. And I hope that you listen to me. Not because of my job or my title or because the slides I make are interesting and insightful, although of course they are. No, I hope that you listen to me, because I too am a servant, a messenger with a message. The message of the Word, of the gospel of God. I hope that you listen to me because God is speaking to you through me. Because if he is not, we are all wasting our time.
We’ve looked firstly at the messenger. Let’s look secondly at his message. In verses 2 to 4 Paul wrote,
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.
Paul’s message, his good news from God, is about Jesus. It’s not about you. It’s not about God’s wonderful plan for you. It’s about Jesus who was promised in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament.
He is the one promised in Genesis chapter 3 who would come to crush the head of the snake who tricked our first mother Eve. He is the one promised in Isaiah chapter 53 upon whom the Lord would lay the iniquity of us all. He is the one promised in Ezekiel chapter 47 that we looked at last week who would cause a river of life to well up from within us by the Holy Spirit and out into the world. Blessing us and blessing others through us.
We see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. Who was rejected by his brothers like Joseph. Who was tested in the wilderness like Israel. Who led his people out of slavery like Moses. In fact, Moses said to the people of Israel,
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.
Moses meant Jesus. Listening to Jesus is the most important thing we can do. Because God’s good news for us is about him.
And Paul helpfully clarifies two points about Jesus that explain why he lies at the heart of God’s good news. Firstly,
as to his human nature [he] was a descendant of David.
Paul affirms here Jesus’ true and genuine human nature. Born a son of Mary. Raised in Nazareth. He learned a trade. He got hungry and thirsty and tired and hot. He needed to sleep. Although he always helped people and taught the crowds, he also craved solitude and communion with his Father God. He was tested just like we are and felt the horror of the coming cross. He was rejected not only by the leaders of Israel, but also by his brothers and his disciples. And he died among thieves.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.
Jesus was truly and genuinely one of us. A real live human being. But as a real live human being, he was also a descendant of David. That’s king David, if you needed reminding. Descendant of David and heir to his throne. God’s promised king, the Christ, the Messiah. Like David Jesus was persecuted by his nation’s rulers. Like David Jesus defeated the enemies of God. Like David Jesus brought salvation to his people. Like David Jesus was crowned as king. Jesus was in every single possible way a true son of David and a worthy recipient of his kingdom. Because all that David tried to be and fell short of, Jesus truly was.
Not only did Paul affirm Jesus’ true and genuine human nature but affirms secondly that
through the Spirit of holiness [he] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
Paul didn’t mean that Jesus only became the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. As if God was looking for a worthy man to adopt as his Son and found it in Jesus. Jesus didn’t become the Son of God by his resurrection. Instead, he was “declared with power” to be the Son of God by his resurrection.
In the same way Queen Elizabeth didn’t become her father’s heir at her coronation. Both as a princess and in her wartime service, she truly was her father’s daughter. But through her father’s death and her own coronation, she inherited the kingdom to which she was heir and became our head of state.
In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to God’s right hand, we see his coronation as the heavenly king. He always was his Father’s Son. That fact motivated his attitudes and choices and actions.
Not my will, he said, but yours be done.
Father, he said, into your hands I commit my spirit.
So that by his resurrection he is declared publicly with power for the whole universe to know, and for every creature in heaven and on earth to acknowledge as Son of God and heir to the kingdom of God.
This was Paul’s message. And it is my message to you. It’s not good news about you. But it is good news for you. There is a king in heaven who rules from God’s right hand, and he shares your flesh and blood and calls you his friend and calls himself your brother.
We’ve looked at the Messenger and his Message. Let’s look thirdly at his Master. Paul’s whole message could be summarized in four words.
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus is Lord. By birth as a descendant of David and by powerful declaration through his resurrection Jesus rules as king. Not an earthly kingdom that can be drawn on a map and measured in value in dollars and cents. But a heavenly kingdom above all nations and rulers. A king who knows how to serve who leads from the front. Who not only commands the wind and the waves but, as the same story reminds us, also knows the benefits of an afternoon nap. His law is love and his gospel is peace.
This Jesus is Paul’s Master. His Lord. And as he reminded the church at Rome and as he reminds us too, Jesus is our Lord too. So that while we acknowledge earthly authorities at work or in government or in the church, above them all rules Jesus as king. To him we owe our first love and our greatest commitment. He is our life and the source of our greatest joy. His words bring us healing. His promises bring us hope. His death and resurrection remove our fears and every need to justify ourselves. This is the compass needle that directs our life. This is our message to the world. Jesus Christ is Lord and our Lord too.
And so if Paul’s message can be summarized in four words, Jesus Christ our Lord, he summarises the result that that message was meant to bring about in verse 5 as
the obedience that comes from faith.
If Jesus is truly the heavenly king, if Jesus is not only Paul’s Master, but our master too, then this is what it means to believe in him. This is what it means to call him Lord. It means that we obey him. You don’t obey me. You don’t obey the people in church head offices in Sydney. You obey Jesus and his law of love. Jesus who said,
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Jesus who said,
Love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus who said,
Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.
To believe in Jesus is to obey him. To obey him is to trust in him and his word. In this way we are truly, like Paul, his servants. In this way we are truly, like Paul, God’s ambassadors. In this way and only in this way is Jesus truly our Lord.
My prayer for you is that you would find complete freedom in his service.