First Sunday after Trinity

June 11, 2023

Romans 1:1-17

Today, we’re starting something a bit different. Throughout the non-festival half of the church year—the summer and fall— and during many Advent and Lenten midweeks I’m going to preach through various books of the Bible. This will give us all another opportunity to regularly hear a book of the Bible. The first book we’ll focus on is Romans. I pray that it will be a blessing to each one of us.

Paul writes the Epistle—the letter—of Romans to the Christians in Rome. He is believed to have written it in AD 55—toward the end of his third missionary journey and nearly 20 years after his conversion.

The apostle Paul writes the letter for three reasons: to defend the central teaching of our faith—that we are justified, or declared righteous, through faith in Christ Jesus. He also teaches what it means to be a Christian—how one ought to live. He, thirdly, writes what maybe could be described as miscellaneous info.

The letter begins with Paul’s identity—his credentials for writing such a letter. He’s a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel. Thus, this man seeks to serve Jesus and Jesus only. He’s an apostle which means that he has been sent by Jesus directly. All of the authors of Scripture knew that what they were proclaiming comes from the Lord Himself. Paul knows that the mission Christ has called Him to do is to call people away from everything false in the world and call them to the truth of the Good News of Jesus.

Paul then goes onto explain that the Gospel was already foretold in the prophets. It’s nothing new. The Gospel concerns Jesus, God’s Son and David’s descendant. Jesus is God’s Son and it was ultimately revealed through His resurrection from the dead. Through Christ, Paul says that he and the other apostles have received their call by grace to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations—including the Romans and including you gathered here today.

The letter is officially opened with a word of thanksgiving. Paul thanks God the Father through Jesus Christ for the fellow believers in Rome, as their faith in Christ is being made known in the various churches. Picture it this way. Missionary efforts have been going on very briefly about 20-25 years. The Good News of Jesus has been spreading from Jerusalem and Judea, into Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Just how far to the ends of the earth? You’ll have to wait till the last few weeks of this series to find out. Nonetheless, the Good News of Jesus is being spread from town to town and city to city. You can imagine the excitement as word gets spread around that churches are growing in place like Philippi, Corinth, and Rome. “Hey did you hear the incredible news—there’s a church in Rome. The capital of the empire has Christians!”

Paul mentions to these Roman Christians that he keeps them in his prayers and desires to see them so that the Lord may bless them, and encouragement will come about from each one’s faith. That is, after all, one of the big reasons that we all gather together. We’re the family of God, a spiritual family. I understood there are biological families, but there is… there should be something a bit different about the spiritual family that can’t be ignored without harm being done to all involved. Paul says that when he sees them, he will be an encouragement to them. He also confesses that seeing their faith in person will encourage him. It’s similar to how my job is to encourage you as an under-shepherd of Christ, but it’s equally true that your faith offers encouragement to me.

Paul has a missionary desire to visit Rome. He says, “in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” He wants to see how God is working in the lives of the Roman Christians, and he wants to continue preaching to the Gentiles in Rome. In fact, he wants to preach to everyone. In verse 14, he makes an interesting statement. “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Ancient world Greek speakers considered themselves to be more sophisticated and wiser than others. They were the civilized and the rest were foolish barbarians. Paul doesn’t care. He wants both—he wants all people—to hear, receive, and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Therefore, he strongly desires to preach the Gospel to anyone and everyone.

Then, Paul comes to the heart of his letter—the thesis statement, the theme. Something that we need to remember, rejoice in, and firmly cling to. He writes, “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” That is the heart and soul of this message, just as it is the heart and soul of all that we believe.

The devil and the world certainly want us to be ashamed and embarrassed of the Gospel. The temptation is whispered into our ears, “You really believe that weak little message about a man who died on the cross is really going to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to people? You’ve got to be kidding. You’re embarrassing yourself. You should be ashamed of this message. Really? A crucified guy the Savior? Stop it.”

Our sinful nature is all too willing to go along. Instead of sharing the Good News with someone else, we make any number of excuses. It’s because there’s a part of us that thinks God’s Word—the Gospel—maybe isn’t the power of God for salvation.

So, we think—I don’t know enough of the answers. I don’t have enough charisma. He or she will just laugh at me… You know what? It’s probably true. You don’t have all the answers. Neither do I. You don’t have enough charisma. Neither do I. He or she probably will laugh at us.

But you know what? If the Gospel can change things so that Paul—who stood by the stoning of Stephen approvingly—that Paul now says that the Good News of Jesus is the power of God for salvation, the Word of God can do so through your lips. You can tell them about Jesus like you would tell them about a loved one. You can invite them to church. You don’t need to have all the answers. The power of God isn’t knowing everything or charisma. The power of God is God’s Word itself.

The Gospel went out to the Jews first and then the Greeks (the Gentiles—those who aren’t Jews by birth). The Jews were chosen by the Lord to be the bearers of the Messiah through whom the whole world is saved. God spoke His Word to them through the prophets. Naturally, the message would go to them first. It would also go out to the whole world. When a Canaanite woman (a Gentile) approached Jesus seeking healing for her daughter, Jesus remarked that He was sent to the lost house of Israel (Jews). What happens by the end of the story? Her daughter is healed, for she showed more faith than Jesus even saw in Israel. The Gospel is for all.

The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God. For the Gospel makes known God’s work through which He saves the unrighteous from sin, death, and hell through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ who was righteous. This righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, which enters our ears as kind of a weird saying. What he’s getting at is that the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God. It tells us what God has done to save us. In doing so it creates faith within our hearts that trusts in Christ Jesus as revealed in the Gospel message. So, faith trusts the Gospel and faith is born of the Gospel. From faith for faith.

Paul’s big statement that sets the tone for the rest of the letter of Romans is actually a quote from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. “The righteous shall live by faith.” The righteous shall live by trust. The righteous shall live by belief. The holy, pure, and spotless shall live by trust in Christ Jesus through whose death and resurrection we’re declared holy, pure, and spotless—that is, righteous. It's not your works—not anything you think, say, or do that makes you righteous. It’s faith in Christ Jesus your Savior—a faith created by the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation.

We see a picture of this in the Old Testament reading. Abraham believed God and this was credited to Abraham as righteousness. He was righteous through faith in the Lord, and so are you. For Christ Jesus is our righteousness. When He took our place upon the cross, He canceled the record of debt—the record of sin against us—and God credited Jesus’ righteousness to us.

Most banking transactions today are numbers on a screen. So, imagine you’re looking at a debt that can’t be done away with. You can’t declare bankruptcy, there’s no forgiveness, and the debt only disappears when you die. Whenever you log on, you see a number so big that no matter how much of a payment you make, the interest keeps compounding, and the debt gets bigger. Then, one day you log on and you see the current balance is 0. You think there must be some sort of mistake. Some glitch. Some computer error. But then you see on the screen a link that says, “Good News!” So you click it, and it explains how one person used his wealth to pay the debts of everyone carrying these loans. Now you’re debt free and a wave of relief comes over you.

This is what Jesus has done. We owed God a debt we could never ever in infinity years pay off. But Jesus did. Now, in Him we live and move and have our being. Our allegiance is to Jesus. The righteous shall live by faith in Christ Jesus.

This sets the tempo for the rest of the letter. This is the power of God. Amen.