Sunday, September 30, 2018

180930 The Power of God

Romans 1:16-17 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
In the very beginning of the letter to the Romans, Paul presents his reasons for writing. The first, we touched on last week, he longed to see the Roman Christians so that they could encourage one another. His second reason was presented in verses 14 and 15. He wrote the letter because he was under obligation. Not a writer’s deadline but a debt to be paid. Paul was obligated to everyone he could meet in order to be sure they had the opportunity to hear the gospel. He pointed out that his plan was to go to Spain! To fulfill his obligation all the way across the Roman Empire. He was not obligated to people — he was in debt to God. His third reason for writing was a holy boldness in presenting the gospel — which is the power of God!
Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. Paul prayed constantly for him and his ministry. He reminded Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Based on that…
He encouraged Timothy to be bold. Let’s look at 2 Timothy 1:8. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,
A side note here: Paul did not see himself as a prisoner of the Roman government. He was Jesus’ prisoner! He knew what we need to continually remind ourselves. Nothing comes into our life, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, that does not come under God’s authority!
There was a time when Paul, himself, had felt a need for a holy boldness. By then he had arrived in Rome as Jesus’ prisoner. During that time he wrote a letter to the churches in Ephesus. In it asked the Ephesians to pray for boldness in his life (Ephesians 6:19).
He was not ashamed of the Great Good News that he had been given on the road to Damascus. However many things had happened that caused him to need encouragement and boldness. Most of us have a need to overcome shyness because of the social pressures around us. We should be ashamed! In writing to Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:34b) Paul wrote “For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
Paul’s hesitation, if I can use that word here, likely grew out of what he had experienced along the way. He had been imprisoned, badly beaten so many times he could not count. He had come close to death many times. He had been stoned and left for dead. He had been in three shipwrecks. All of this, and much more, had occurred to allow him to preach the gospel!
Today many preachers often feel persecuted if the zoning board, or the church board, doesn’t give them what they want. These modern preachers (I do not call them pastors) often want to be honored as Paul was without paying the day-to-day price Paul had to pay.
In his inspiring hymn, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?” Isaac Watts asked and answered the question about 400 years ago.
Am I a soldier of the cross, A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.

As for Paul…
He knew why he was not ashamed. Let’s read what he wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12. I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.
He was not ashamed! Even though he had often suffered imprisonment even as wrote he faced execution. Paul knew where his faith was deposited. The Lord Jesus had personally stopped Paul on the road. He had no trouble believing in Jesus. He had seen him face-to-face. He was able to be unashamed because he was so convinced that he did not have to work up confidence. He knew Jesus and he knew Jesus as being able to guard the trust we have put in him. Jesus is the caretaker! We don’t have to work up the courage in order to be successful in the Christian life. We need to rest in the arms of our Lord and Savior. Our love for Jesus should be seen in our obedience to him. Jesus himself said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And also, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21). We certainly are not ashamed of those we love. Paul intensely loved the Lord Jesus and was faithful to follow him even when it cost him pain and imprisonment. No matter the difficulty we need to remember…
We are not to be ashamed. Look at the words of Jesus found in Mark 8:38. “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
These words were spoken by Jesus after Peter had tried to turn him aside from the cross. Jesus had told them that after they arrived in Jerusalem he would be turned over to the Jewish leaders and be killed. He added that he would rise again in three days. Peter rebuked him and Jesus responded with, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter, the one who had just testified that Jesus was the Christ!
Then, Jesus called on the crowd that followed him to deny themselves and take up the cross! The cross! One of the most demeaning instruments of execution was what awaited him down that road. Giving up one’s life for Christ and the gospel is salvation. Losing one’s life is the highest form of testimony. It is called being a martyr! My heart goes out to our brothers and sisters around the world who are called upon to give their life to prove their faith!
We should be concerned about our level of witness for Jesus. I’m not calling for you to go out into the streets unless that is what God leads you to do. The gospel needs to be presented in a way that people will receive it. We should always be prepared to tell anyone who asks why we believe what we believe.
It would be a horrible day if Jesus returned only to say, “I never knew you; depart from me”. I am only slightly relieved that Jesus added, “you workers of lawlessness.” I do hope — though I am not totally free of sin — that I am not a worker of lawlessness. (Matthew 7:23) Peter, later in life, wrote, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord is holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asked you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Undoubtedly, he remembered his experience when he tried to turn Jesus aside from going to the cross!
Don’t worry, we do not have to depend on our own strength…
The gospel is dynamic! Look at 1 Corinthians 1:18. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians remind us that people the world around think of the cross as being foolish. In fact, God has made foolish the wisdom of this world. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men. The weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Greek word for “power”, found in verse 18, is the root word where we get our word “dynamic”! It is also the root word for “dynamite”! The foolishness of the gospel is the power of God being worked out on the cross. That power is found in the work that Christ did on the cross. It’s not a gold ornament on our clothing or a decorative piece on the wall that counts. It is not even in the heavy wooden instrument of execution that Jesus carried to Golgotha!…
The gospel power is found in Christ. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 1:23-25. But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Many people who claim to be Christian, even who claim to be pastors, reject the necessity of the cross. Paul was very clear in his writing to the Corinthians. He tells us that he preached Christ — CRUCIFIED — even though it would be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles! But to the called, those who are born again, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God!
Jesus on the cross set us free from sin and death by being our sacrifice. We must understand that…
God’s righteousness is released in it. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:21. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I recall Miss Bertha Smith when she said that second Corinthians 5:21 was the dirtiest verse in her Bible. What she meant by that was, in her years in China, she had learned to follow her reading with the moving finger which transferred to the paper a little bit of dirt each time. She read this passage so many times that it became her “dirtiest verse”! He (God the Father) made him (God the Son) to be sin even though he did not commit sin or ever give into temptation. Since he had no sin of his own he could bear our sins before the throne in heaven. When he entered the throne room in heaven with his own blood he enabled us — through faith — to become the righteousness of God in him! We have no righteousness of our own.
We depend on Christ to set us free from sin and death because of the power of God’s righteousness which is released by Jesus’ substitutionary death for us. Therefore, everyone who places their faith in him has the privilege of becoming children of God. Children born of the Holy Spirit! Therefore Jesus is our Lord and Savior but also our elder brother. Have you been adopted into the family of God? That, my friend, is a serious question! Believe the gospel!
“Gospel” means “good news”! When the baby Jesus was born it was good news! In fact, the birth of every baby should be good news. Paul was not ashamed of the Good News because it is the dynamic, unharnessable power of God to make salvation available with all its benefits for everyone who believes. We must never be ashamed. Paul concludes with a quote from Habakkuk. “The righteous will live by faith.” The great Good News proclaims that it is possible to stand sinless before a holy God. It is possible to know that one has eternal life. It is possible to be free from the struggle to be righteous. The sole requirement is faith! This is the greatest news ever proclaimed! Have you put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? This can be your day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

180923 Mutual Encouragement

Romans 1:11-15 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
We know from the book of Acts that Paul intended to visit Rome. I believe that this letter was sent to Rome to encourage and inform the believers there prior to his coming. His intention was to visit Jerusalem and afterward visit Rome (Acts 19:21). He may have been very discouraged when he was arrested in Jerusalem and then imprisoned by the Romans. Discouraged except for the encouragement he received from the Lord Himself.
We can learn a great deal from studying the life and writings of the Apostle Paul. He had been brought up in the religious strictness of the Pharisees. He had never hesitated in anything he believed to be right. He was on the road to Damascus to bring believers back to Jerusalem for prison and execution when he met the living Lord Jesus for the first time. (Acts 9) After that encounter, he laid aside everything he had lived by and began the road to Rome. Little did he know that 20 to 30 years later he would arrive in Rome. At the time of his conversion, he could not have known where he would end up.
He entered the city of Damascus and after three days met one of the men he had come to arrest. Ananias, after a short debate with Jesus, brought…
Paul’s commission. Let’s look at how Paul described his call Romans 1:5-6. 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,
Back in Damascus, the commission had sounded a little different. Ananias had explained to Jesus that this man had come to do much harm to the believers in Damascus. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) In debate with the religious crowd in Jerusalem, Paul had added an encounter some three years later in which Jesus told him “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” These words immediately caused the crowd to attack him with the intention of taking his life.
Paul spent the next several years attempting to fulfill the commission he had received from the Lord Jesus. He returned to his hometown where he preached the gospel faithfully throughout the region of Cilicia. Then he went with Barnabas to Antioch to strengthen the church there. Afterward, he and Barnabas went on a missionary journey to carry the gospel across much of what would become modern Turkey.
After coming back to report to the church in Antioch, and in Jerusalem, he went on his second missionary journey. During that time he carried the gospel into Greece and Macedonia.
Returning from a third missionary journey he wrote this letter to Rome and then soon found himself in the hands of the Roman army.
In fulfilling his commission it was his desire to carry the gospel where Christ had not already been named. He wanted to fulfill his commission. He had seen the great possibilities of bringing the gospel to Rome and from there on to Spain! We see from his own words…
Paul’s compassion. Let’s read on Romans 1:7. 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.
Grace and peace showed his compassion. Though he had not yet been to Rome a quick reading of chapter 16 tells us that he knew a lot of people who were there. He asked the Roman Christians to welcome Phoebe, who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae. He sent greetings to Prisca and Aquila, his faithful friends, as well as the church in their house! He went on to send greetings to nearly 30 more! Yes, he should have been well known in Rome. And obviously, he cared for these people who were called to be saints. He greeted them with God’s grace and prayed for peace that can only come from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. His compassion drove him on to fulfill his commission. We see…
Paul’s commitment. Let’s read Romans 1:9-10. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
Even though Paul had not been to Rome he had a plan that would have provided encouragement for them. In his prayers, he mentions the Christians in Rome continually. Most of us can never say “without ceasing” when we talk about our prayer life. I really don’t know how much the average believer prays but I suspect their plan involves, at most, beginning and ending each day in prayer. On the other hand, we should constantly recognize the presence of God in our life. I often find myself praying the prayer that John Wimber said God always answers, “HELP”! Or, the simple prayer, “Father where did I put it?” In fact, our ongoing life should be characterized by conversational prayer.
If we are in the presence of another person it would be awkward, or even rude, to exclude them from the conversation. We are in the presence of the living God! He promised he would never leave us nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20). God hears everything we say why not include him in the conversation?
So, through Paul’s prayer life he committed himself to visit Rome. And when he arrived he expected to be encouraged and he expected to be able to encourage the believers there.
Certainly, when Paul wrote this letter, he would not have known exactly how it was going to get to Rome! But he knew for certain that he was going to get there. Let’s look at…
Paul’s confidence. Going to the historical account we find part of Paul’s testimony concerning his salvation. Let’s read Acts 23:11. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
First, let’s imagine his disappointment on that night. As he and his companions traveled to Jerusalem they were confronted by prophets who had repeatedly told him that when he arrived in Jerusalem he would be beaten and turned over to the Romans. His reply to these detractors was simple. “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13) So we see that Paul not only expected to die in Jerusalem but he seemed to have been looking forward to it. Rather than being turned over to the Romans he was rescued by the Romans from the hands of his fellow Jews. After the rescue, he found himself in prison, and I believe, disappointed that he was still alive.
Second, his disappointment melted away in that jail cell. We don’t find him singing and bearing witness as he had Phillippi. We find him alone and probably somewhat confused. And then, the Lord stood by him! Can you imagine? The Lord stood by him! The Lord gave him a powerful promise. He would not — no could not — die until he had borne testimony in Rome. Later, he would find himself swimming in the Mediterranean after a two-week long storm destroyed the ship they were on. But he could not die! At the end of that experience, he was bitten by a very poisonous snake and he just shook it off into the fire and went on about his business because he could not die yet! (Acts 27:39-28:6)
I’m reminded of an instance of the life of an evangelist by the name of Manley Beasley. God chose to use physical suffering in his life as a major framework through which He would display Himself. Having been an active, strong, handsome evangelist with a wife and four children, suddenly in 1970 Manley, at age thirty-nine found himself in the hospital stricken with several diseases, three of them “terminal.”
As I remember the story. He had been told that he really had no hope of remaining alive. He said that he entered into prayer asking the Lord what to do. He was willing to die is that was God’s plan and he was willing to go on. While he was praying he was also reading from Psalm 128 when his eyes fell on the last verse, “thou shalt see thy children’s children.” Since his son was young and certainly had no children Manley was confident that he would live on. For the next twenty years, he baffled the medical community as he trusted the Lord to sustain and use him in mighty ways.
Paul’s gospel. Let’s look at Romans 1:16-17. 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know what God used to guide him through life. It was the gospel! He was not ashamed of the gospel. This gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Later, in chapter 10, Paul spelled out the substance of the Good News.
He wrote, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:9) “with the heart one believes and is justified, with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (10:10) and, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:13)
Things did not work out the way Paul had planned. But they certainly worked out the way God planned! Not only did Paul go to Rome but the Romans paid his room and board as well as his travel tickets. The word of God says “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24) We should learn from the apostle to accept God’s direction for our life. Nothing comes our way that doesn’t pass by Our Heavenly Father first! We cannot know in advance what God is up to. We can see from Paul’s life that he did not know God’s plan. He knew what he wanted to happen, and by the way, that coincided with what God intended. When things do not go our way we should praise God that he knows the way for us to travel. We can rest in him and rejoice in the knowledge that nothing happens by accident. Have you placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Today could be your day to commit yourself to him.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.