The Sunday After Epiphany January 11, 1998
5, 277, 346, 422
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, through whom we find mercy, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
A while back I read an interesting article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine; the article was about shame. Shame, said author Robert Karen, is when a person feels that he or she is somehow not good enough. Often this feeling comes because of something the person has done, something he or she views as shameful. Unfounded feelings of shame, said the author, may lie behind all sorts of mental illness, including addiction, obsession and depression. In other words, some people actually become sick because they’re ashamed of things they shouldn’t be ashamed of!
Well, I don’t know if I bought his entire argument; certainly there are a lot of things people do in this day and age that they ought to be ashamed of! But he did have a point: sometimes we are ashamed of things we shouldn’t be ashamed of. Today’s text gives us a great example: Christians should never be ashamed of the Gospel! Are you? Have you ever felt a little embarrassed when someone asked you about what you believe? Have you ever joined in with the sinful activities of the world rather than stick out and be ridiculed? Have you ever had a golden opportunity to tell someone about Jesus but were too timid to do it? Then listen to the advice the Apostle Paul. His words form our sermon theme for this morning:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”—If you think about it, that statement sounds almost blasphemous. Who could ever be “ashamed” of the Good News that Jesus is our Savior from sin? Why would the Apostle Paul even say such a thing in a letter to the Christians in Rome? To answer that, you have to understand a little bit about Roman culture.
At that time, the city of Rome was the center of an empire that stretched across the whole of the civilized world. The Romans were very proud of their culture. They looked down on anything that didn’t come from Rome. They especially despised the Christian religion. They dismissed Christians and Christianity as barbaric and superstitious. The Romans went out of their way to heap ridicule and shame on anyone who was known to be a believer.
But the Apostle Paul wasn’t afraid of that. He was eager to travel to Rome and preach the Good News about Jesus. Paul wrote, So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t shy about the Gospel. He had two good reasons not to be! For one thing, says Paul, I could never be ashamed of the Gospel, because the Gospel is the only thing that can deliver me from God’s wrath.
The vast majority of people in this world are living under the wrath of God. They are the ungodly, the unbelievers. They do not trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They freely indulge in the pleasures of this world. They live as though there is no higher power to whom they are responsible. For them, the Gospel is foolishness; they haven’t got time for it. “Yes,” you say, “but maybe they don’t know any better!” Nonsense, says the Apostle Paul. It’s not that they’re ignorant of the truth. “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They know that there’s a God. If there’s no God, then where did that little voice come from that tells them the difference between right and wrong—where did they get their conscience? If there’s no God, then who created this incredibly complex universe in which we live? Someone once suggested that the best way to deal with an atheist is invite him to a lavish dinner—and then afterwards ask him if he believes in the cook! No, says Paul, no one can escape the wrath of God over sin by saying they just didn’t know there was a God, “…for that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
Well, that describes the unbelievers. They consider the Gospel foolishness, and they would certainly be ashamed to be associated with it. But what about us Christians? Are we ashamed of the Gospel? None of us here this morning would ever say so, of course. But what does our behavior say about us? Does the way we live tell the people around us that the Gospel is our most treasured possession? Or do we keep our faith well hidden? If you became friends with someone new who moved to town, how long would it take them to tell from your behavior that you were a Christian? Would they ever find out? Remember what Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38.
We are guilty sinners. We have often broken God’s Law in this and many other ways. We, too, would be under the wrath of God and would be condemned to hell, except for one thing—the Gospel! That’s why it’s so ridiculous to be ashamed of the Gospel. Why, the Gospel is the very thing that allows us to escape from this burning wrath of God! Is a sailor ashamed of the floatation vest that saves his life in a shipwreck? Is a jet pilot ashamed of the ejection seat that saves his life as his plane is plummeting toward the earth? Then how can we be ashamed of the Gospel? How can we be ashamed of the Good News that all the world’s sins have been paid for by Christ? For that, my friends, is our life preserver. It is the very message that plucks our souls from the burning pit of hell.
A certain minister told of how a little girl came up to him before church and said, “I need my sins forgiven. Would you say a prayer for me? But please don’t mention my name.” When it came time for the prayers, the pastor said solemnly, “Lord Jesus, there is a little girl here who does not want here name known, but Thou dost know her. Have mercy and forgive her sins.” All was quiet for a moment, and then a little girl stood up in the back pew and said in a pleading voice, “Please, it’s me, Jesus, it’s me.” You see, she didn’t want there to be any doubt about it. She needed her sins forgiven, and she wasn’t ashamed to say, “Jesus, it’s me.”
You’re not ashamed to have Jesus know your name, are you? Of course not! You desperately need the forgiveness that only He can give you. Then don’t be ashamed to know Jesus—don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. After all, the Gospel is the only thing that can save you from the wrath of God over sin!
It’s important to understand, though, that the Gospel doesn’t just rescue us from something terrible—it also gives us something wonderful. Why am I not ashamed of the Gospel? Paul replies: because the Gospel is the only thing that can bestow on me God’s righteousness.
Dynamite is another name for the solid form of nitroglycerin. It is a high explosive. As you know, it’s mostly used to destroy things. But sometimes it’s used to create something, to build something. Gutzon Borghlum, for instance, used dynamite to rough out the shapes of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore. Well, guess where the word “dynamite” comes from—from the Greek word dunamis, which means “power.” And that’s the very same word Paul uses in our text when he says, “The Gospel of Christ…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” The Gospel is God’s dynamite! He uses its tremendous power not to destroy, but to create—to create saving faith in people’s hearts and turn them into believers.
Why is this Gospel such a powerful thing in people’s lives? What can the Gospel give you that you can’t get from any other source? Paul says: “In it [that is, in the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.”
You know, for a long time Martin Luther was ashamed of the Gospel. Or at least he was afraid of it—mostly because he misunderstood this passage, Romans 1:17. When Luther read the term “righteousness of God,” he thought it meant the quality of majestic holiness which God has in Himself, and by which he damns the unholy sinner. “Then as often as I read this passage,” said Luther, “it made me wish God had never revealed the Gospel. For who could love such a God who is angry, who judges and damns?” You see, he didn’t want to hear how righteous God was—Luther wanted to find out how to become righteous himself! Then one day the wonderful truth finally dawned on him. He realized that what this passage really refers to is not the righteousness God has, but the righteousness God gives. “Namely, that a man becomes righteous in God’s sight through faith. Then,” said Luther, “the entire sacred Scriptures, and heaven itself , were opened unto me. Just as I had hitherto hated the phrase ‘God’s righteousness,’ I now began to think of it as precious and esteem it as my dearest and most comforting word, and this passage in Romans became for me the very door of paradise.”
You need righteousness to stand accepted in God’s sight. You need righteousness to get in the door of heaven. And not just any old righteousness, either. The half-hearted, moth-eaten righteousness of your own good works certainly won’t do. You need perfect righteousness—righteousness as holy and pure as God Himself. Jesus said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Mat 5:48. My friends, the Gospel is the only thing that can bestow on you God’s righteousness.
This is why Paul said he could never be ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is Good News! The Gospel is God coming to a sinful world and saying, “Take courage. Be not afraid. Yes, you have sinned, but I have put away your sin. I made My Son Jesus to stand in your place. I punished Him instead of you. I laid your sin on Him, and upon you, My dear children, I now bestow His righteousness.” Yes, any sinner can have that perfect righteousness. Just trust Jesus as your Savior. If that sounds hard to you, don’t worry—God not only gives you a Savior, He even gives you the faith to trust your Savior! And when you do, His righteousness—the very righteousness of God!—becomes yours. God simply drapes the snow-white robe of Jesus’ righteousness over your shoulders. Instantly, you are perfect in God’s eyes, you stand accepted, you have unlimited access to God’s throne of mercy, and you are on your way to heaven! As Isaiah says, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isa 61:10.
There’s a true story about a union soldier who was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, during the Civil War. A major artery in his arm had been shattered by a shell fragment, and he lay on the battlefield bleeding to death. At that moment a doctor happened to be passing by, and he stopped and bound up the wound, saving the man’s life. As the physician was leaving the man cried out, “Doctor, what is your name?” “What does that matter?” asked the doctor. “I must know your name,” the man said. “I want to tell my wife and children who it was that saved me.”—So it is with us. Jesus is the Great Physician who has saved our lives eternally. We must know His name. We must proclaim His name to others. We’ve got no choice! Like Peter and John, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Act 4:20. Then let us say boldly with Paul, “I am ready to preach the Gospel also in Rome.” I am ready to tell the Good News to my friends, my neighbors, the people I work with, the people I go to school with. For this Gospel is what has delivered me from God’s wrath. This is what has bestowed on me God’s righteousness. Let us say with Paul, I am not ashamed of the Gospel! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.