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January 5, 2020

Sermon Romans 1:16  . . .“Paul said:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel’”

“Paul said:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel’”

Romans 1:16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It all started nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, when American lawyer, statesman, philosopher, and future president James Madison thought having a national library would be a good idea.  So in 1800, when the capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., our nation’s leaders set aside $5,000 to buy a collection of books, 740 in all, not to mention three maps.  Two years later, Thomas Jefferson appointed the very first librarian of Congress.

But it wasn’t easy.  In 1814, after our collection had grown to more than three thousand books, the invading British army burned it.  Within a month, Jefferson came to the rescue, offering to sell his library of nearly 6,500 books.  But a few decades later, another fire destroyed that too.  It would take years for it to recover.

But recover it did.  Today, the Library of Congress holds thirty-two million books in 470 languages, adding, on average, some twelve thousand more items a day!  Even more, the library holds the largest rare book collection in North America, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of three copies of the Gutenberg Bible, one million copies of world newspapers from the past three centuries, six million works of sheet music, as well as a Strativarius viola and violin.  While the British library has some 388 miles of shelves, the Library of Congress has 838, making it the largest library in the world.

We like books.  Whatever their genre, whether they’re fiction, non-fiction, or science-fiction, romance, mystery, thriller, or suspense, they help to define how we think, what we believe, and who we are.

The Bible is a book too, God’s book, made up of sixty-six books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation.  Want to read some history?  Turn to Genesis, Exodus or Leviticus, Joshua, Judges or Ruth.  Do you like poetry?  Read Job, Psalms or Proverbs.  Want to read the gospel?  Turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

And among those many books God has chosen to give us, there’s also a collection of letters, epistles we call them, from an apostle to a person or to a church.  Think of Hebrews, I and II Peter, and I, II, and III John.

The apostle Paul wrote epistles too--thirteen in all, like I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

And among those thirteen letters is one he wrote to the church in Rome.  It’s what English poet and literary critic Samuel Coleridge once called, “The most profound work in existence,” and what Luther called, “The chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel, the absolute epitome of the gospel.” Frederick Godet, 19th century Swiss theologian, said it’s “The cathedral of the Christian faith.”

And it all begins with this.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1194.  Romans chapter 1, beginning at verse 1:  “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 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, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The book of Romans is different from all of Paul’s other epistles.  While the others focus more on the church and its challenges and problems, this letter to the Romans focuses on God and His plan of salvation.  To put it another way, if you understand this book, you’ll understand all of Scripture.

It was the winter of A.D. 57, just twenty-four years after Jesus died and rose again.  And, at the time, Paul was on his third missionary journey in Corinth, thirteen hundred miles away.  He didn’t know the church in Rome very well.  He hadn’t been there yet to visit them.  Still he took this opportunity to share God’s Word with them.

As one commentator put it, “Step by step, persistently and consistently, Paul hews his way through a flood of thoughts which present themselves to him as he undertakes to explain the meaning of God’s work in Christ.”

And we’re glad he did, because here we find words like these, in chapter 3:  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Chapter 6:  ”For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And chapter 8:  ”Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And he wrote:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No wonder many call this book Paul’s most beautiful and powerful book of all.

And here in chapter 1, just as soon as he greets them, he also takes time to thank them.  Verse 8:  “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”  Verse 11:  “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.”  And verse 15:  “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

Now in verse 16 come some of the beautiful words of all:  “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.”

Let me pause there for just a moment.  You know, as simple as this text might seem to be, they’re words that changed the world.  First they changed a man, then that man changed the world.

Listen to what Luther said:  “When by the Spirit of God I understood these words, then I felt born again like a new man.  I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.”

You see, when Luther found this text, or rather, when this text found him, it turned his life upside down.  No longer would he be a simple monk at a monastery.  Now he would set a fire that would first blaze across Europe, and then all the world.

And it was all because of this.  As Paul wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God.”

If you think about it, it’s a pretty bold thing to say!  After all, he’s writing to the church in Rome, the home of philosophers and poets, of emperor worship, and of every conceivable god.  It’s the beating heart of the empire, a city built on war, the greatest city in the world.

And what does he offer them?  A lowly Carpenter, born in an animal barn, laid in a feeding trough, a refugee from Egypt, who came to live, not in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religion, but in hicktown, Galilee.  Then when men couldn’t stand Him or the things He said, they put Him to death on a cross.

Back in 1857, when archaeologists were digging near Rome, they came across a plaster etching from just after the time of Christ.  It was a slave bowing down before a cross.  And beneath it were the words, “Alexamenos worship his god.”  And on the cross was a half-man, half-donkey.

A hundred years later, a man named Celsus had something to say about Christianity.  He said, “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 Christianity.”

Christians, he said, were the most uneducated and vulgar persons.  He said they’re like a swarm of bats, like ants creeping out of their nests, like worms cowering in the muck, like frogs holding a symposium around a swamp.  “Christians worship a dead man,” he said.

And who is Paul?  He’s been thrown in prison in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens, thought a fool in Corinth, and stoned in Galatia.

Yet he is so bold to write:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel”?

Why?  Because it’s the power of God.

Even today, the world laughs at us.  Author Michael Grove writes that, in England, if Christianity isn’t simply ignored, it’s looked down on.  To say you’re a Christian, he writes, “is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious, and backward.”  Even more, a recent Barna survey says that even though 70% of Americans call themselves Christian, as little as 18% of Millenials believe Christianity matters at all.

So why wasn’t Paul ashamed of the gospel?  Because it’s the power of God...for salvation...to everyone...who believes.

Let me say it again.  Because it’s the power of God...for salvation...to everyone...who believes.

As another author put it:  “For in the gospel, we discover that we are far worse off than we thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed.”

This past July, a sixty-seven-year-old woman was scheduled for cataract surgery.  It wasn’t a surprise.  She was, after all, sixty-seven, and her age and her dry eyes seemed to be catching up with her.

But as she leaned back in the chair and an anesthetist was about to numb her eye, he noticed a blue mass under her upper eyelid.  When he looked a little more closely, he found a clump of contact lenses, seventeen of them.  When he looked a little closer, he found ten more.

That’s right--she had twenty-seven contacts all stuck in one eye.

Apparently, the woman had worn disposable lenses for thirty-five years and, sometimes, when she tried to remove one, she couldn’t find it, so she just assumed she had lost it somewhere.  Her doctor, on the other hand, said he had seen patients with one lens stuck, but never twenty-seven!  And he said, “This is one for the record books, as far as I could tell.”

We have a condition that no one, no doctor, no scientist, and no philosopher could ever save or solve.  “The wages of sin is death,” wrote the apostle Paul.  “But the free gift of God, the gospel, is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And so we are not ashamed.

 

We thank You, Father, for what the gospel has done for us, and for what it continues to do for us.  Help us to never, ever, be ashamed, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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