The 15th Sunday After Trinity September 28, 2003
536, 385(1-5), 346, 354
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is 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 suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
In the name of Jesus in whom we glory, dear fellow redeemed:
As human beings we are mixed up and confused about a lot of things. We have so much to learn about our God and His ways, and the more we learn, the more we realize just how far above us He is.
We continue to show our lack of understanding and our confusion by our view of pride and shame. What puffs up our chests in pride has to do with ourselves. We often take pride in what is actually sinful as we look back over our lives and remember with fondness the wild excesses of youth. Shameful actions by God’s definition might be viewed with pride rather than remorse.
On the other hand we often feel shame for the wrong things. When questioned about our beliefs or our Lord and His Word we often meekly and apologetically respond by making excuses where there should be none.
The Word of God before us today sets us straight on what we should glory in and that of which we should be ashamed. To this end we yearn to repeat with our mouths and our lives the statement found in verse 16 of our text: I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. We’ll examine I. Why we should not be ashamed and II. How we may glory in the good news of Jesus.
The news of Jesus rescuing you has much more impact when you consider from what you have been rescued. If your car ran out of gas at 2:00 in the morning when you were forty miles from the nearest town you would be much more grateful for help than if you were one block from a gas station. In the same way, there is a difference in attitude toward Christ if you have the view that He rescued you from a slap on the wrist or an eternal torment where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The latter part of our text should make us more appreciative of our rescue as these words strike terror in hearts that are not occupied by Christ. Let’s read again the final three verses of our text: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
There are certain people whom you don’t want to make mad. Just to name a few, these are the people who would physically hurt you and those who can make your life miserable. We are told that the unrighteous will have the wrath of God fall upon them. It is difficult to imagine the power and anger of God turned on you. Through His power He made this universe. Can you imagine that power turned against you in anger? Yet that is the case for those who are unrighteous.
Two more words in verse 20 also strike terror in the heart. Those words are: “without excuse.” God speaks to the world through creation and shows His invisible attributes in what people see day after day. After observing the power and wisdom it took to make this world, the only honest conclusion is that of the psalmist, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1) We’d like to see exceptions to this rule, and say, “What about this case or that case?” God simply says, “They are without excuse.” If someone on Judgment Day says, “I didn’t know,” that’s not going to cut it. The ungodly and the unrighteous will have God’s wrath fall upon them. They will experience not 10-20 years in a maximum security prison, but will be cast forever into a lake of fire with no release from the torment.
That is the fate from which you have been rescued. It is an escape that is only possible because of God’s power. His power is not only used for condemnation, but also for salvation.
The Gospel of Christ—the good news of sins forgiven in Christ—is power. Incredible things happen as the Holy Spirit works through this Gospel. We use such words as “quickening” (being made spiritually alive), “regeneration” (being born again), and “conversion” (being turned). “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” (Isaiah 1:18). It takes power to effect such changes and turn sinners into saints, unrighteous into righteous, to bring about escape from eternal death.
The One who did not escape from death is Jesus who voluntarily placed Himself between us and God’s wrath. Jesus absorbed the punishment that you and I so richly deserve. At times we find convenient targets for our anger and lash out at someone who doesn’t deserve it. Jesus became the target for God’s anger as He who knew no sin became sin for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Good News—the Gospel—is that you have been changed from being unrighteous and expecting God’s wrath, to righteous, receiving God’s favor, and looking forward to heaven. Jesus has freed you from death, and brought you to salvation. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” [v.17]
This verse tormented Martin Luther for many years because he understood the righteousness of God only as the demands that he could never meet. For Luther, the doors of heaven were slammed shut! They were flung open when he understood the last phrase, “The just shall live by faith.” When you are connected to Jesus through faith you are declared righteous. You are right and just before the Almighty God because Jesus took away your sin and gave you His righteousness. When you consider that we’ve been rescued from Hell and then also given salvation in Heaven there is plenty in which to glory. Why aren’t we ashamed of the Gospel? It is the power of God to salvation. It is the only ticket out of Hell and into Heaven and it’s yours simply through faith. Words fail us when we consider the magnitude of that rescue.
Obviously, there’s no reason to be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. In fact, it seems ridiculous to be embarrassed and ashamed of how we were rescued or of the One who rescued us. Yet, we consider that there are times when we act ashamed of our Lord and His Word. Now we’ll examine how we may glory in the wonderful Word of God.
Our example in this case is the Apostle Paul. His aim and goal in life after his conversion was to glorify God. It was so important to him that he wanted to bring the news of Jesus to “Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and unwise.” [v.14] Whether people were of the upper crust of society or of the lower class, educated or not educated. Paul was striving to bring the news of salvation to them.
Paul wanted desperately to bring the Word of God to Rome. The saying went, “All roads lead to Rome,” and Paul saw that capital city as an excellent staging point for the Word of God to spread even further. He was ready to preach the Gospel to them.
Paul’s pride was in his Lord. So often he was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and left for dead, and yet his attitude did not change. He did not feel ashamed of his faith nor did he try to hide it. He poured out his life like a drink offering giving himself entirely to the spread of God’s Word. In verse 14, Paul calls himself a “debtor.” He felt an obligation to speak what he knew. There was an inner compulsion to share the key to heaven.
We might feel that by coming to church and putting our money in the plate we have satisfied the necessity for hearing and sharing God’s Word. That’s the easy part. Preaching the Word from the pulpit is also relatively easy. There is generally no opposition. Glorifying God outside of these walls is more difficult. Testifying of what you believe when there’s no negative feedback is easy. Testifying when you feel that there will be repercussions is more difficult.
Understand, however, that you’re not laying yourself on the line. You’re not giving your opinion, but rather, you are giving people God’s Word. You are giving them the ticket out of Hell. You may have confidence in that Word of God. It is the sword of the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 6:17).
When we hide our faith by trying to be like a chameleon and camouflage ourselves in the world, that is being ashamed of Jesus. Jesus has never been afraid to call us His own despite our miserable track record. How is it that we’re ashamed to claim Him as our Savior? Just remember what is at stake—souls that Jesus loved enough so that He died for them. God forbid that by being ashamed of our rescue, or by our lack of boldness, we would withhold that vital information from needful souls!
The saving information of the Gospel can be withheld not only by not saying what we should, but by not doing what we should. Consider yourself a representative of your Redeemer throughout the week. You are a representative of both your Savior and your congregation. People will be painting a picture of each by the way you act.
How does someone outside of your congregation view the group through you? Is it as a group which strives zealously to proclaim the Gospel and rescue souls, or as a group which is full of dissension? Is it as a group which wants to do the right thing, or a group full of hypocrisy and “Sunday-only” Christians?
We have a wonderful thing going here. We are privileged to have the unadulterated Gospel among us. Is that true for your neighbor? Is he missing hope that you may provide. There are opportunities to do this when we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.
It comes back to pride and shame. In ourselves we find nothing about which to glory. We’ve let our Lord down so often we can’t even count the times. We can’t even take pride in our involvement with God’s Word. When we look at ourselves there is plenty of which to be ashamed.
However, we may rightly glory in the Gospel of Christ. It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. In that Gospel there is no shame, there is only hope. There is life. In the Gospel of Christ we find forgiveness for our failures and love which never ends.
May God grant us the wisdom to discern between the things of which we should be ashamed and those in which we should glory, and may He give us the strength and courage to glory in our rescue and bring the news of the rescue to the attention of all who sit in darkness. 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.