Romans: God in the Flesh

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  Today we are going to be starting a series on the book of Romans, and I have to admit that I am excited and a little nervous.  Because Romans is one of the most theologically dense books – probably the single most theologically packed book in the entire bible.  Although all scripture is God breathed and useful – not all scripture is ripped with theological muscles like this book of Romans.

One pastor – who has pastored many years admittedly, on his website, has preached more than 250 sermons on the book of Romans alone.  Can you imagine?  Today we are going to start a five-year series on the book of Romans.  It’s doable.  Because it’s that rich.  (We’re going to try to cover the basics in about ten weeks)

I have never attempted to do a series on Romans, however my guess is that I’ve referenced Romans, or included at least one verse from the letter to the Romans in far more than half of all the sermons I’ve ever preached.

How important is Romans?  Well, ever wonder how it came about that the Protestant Church came to be?  It was in large part due to the impact of the book of Romans on Martin Luther, who read the book of Romans in 1590’s and came to realize that the Church had veered from the theological truth that he was reading about in this letter to the Romans.  He broke from the Catholic Church – and the people who went with him – the protesters – began to form new churches in an effort to get back to the bible, so to speak.

Romans was written about 58ad by an early church leader named Paul, who is often called the Apostle Paul.  But Paul didn’t start out as a follower of Jesus, he, like many of you, wanted nothing to do with Jesus at one point in his life.

In fact – he was a staunch opponent of Christians – a man whose Hebrew name was Saul.  Saul first shows up in the bible in the book of Acts, who tells us that Saul was a Jewish Pharisee – who was in on the death of the first Christian Martyr – a man named Stephen – who Acts chapter 7 tells us was stoned to death by the Jewish leaders who were outraged at his claims that Jesus was the Messiah.  Acts 7:58 tells us that Saul was there, holding the cloaks of the men who were doing the killing, and giving his full approval of the killing.

Saul then became a man who hunted Christians down.  According to Acts chapter 8 his intent was to destroy the church.  Acts 8:3 But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

What an image!  Saul was dragging men and women out of their house, persecuting and imprisoning the very first believers in Jesus.  One wonders how in the world Christianity ever grew.  It was a death sentence for many – from day one until the present day.

Believing in Jesus is a dangerous thing.  Know why?  Oppressors fear most losing the ability to make others afraid of them.  A person who has begun living in the Kingdom where God reins, cannot be intimidated, harassed, badgered, or belittled.

Saul tried his best to stamp out Christianity.  Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.

-so he decides to head to Damascus to continue the persecution, and while on the way there suddenly Jesus appears to him, and his life changed forever.  He was drafted into the service of God, and ended up becoming a church planter, theologian, missionary, and early leader of the church.

After his conversion, Saul became known by his Roman name, Paul.  Paul began writing to churches to instruct and correct and encourage and teach, and these letters he wrote were collected, copied and shared between churches.  And eventually, this collection of letters, along with letters written by other leaders off the church, men like John and James and Peter – became the basis of teaching in all the church  – and eventually became what we call the New Testament.

Now if you were to open your New Testament you’d see that letters written by most writers were named after the person who wrote the letter.  John wrote three letters, so they are called 1 John, 2 John and 3 John.  Peter wrote two letters – 1 Peter and 2 Peter.  James wrote one.  James.

Paul however wrote 13 letters.  So the church decided rather than having a book named 13 Paul, they would name the letters after the people to whom Paul wrote.  So Romans was the letter that Paul wrote to the people who comprised the church that met in Rome.

To further add to the confusion, the church decided, rather than putting them in the timeline of when they were written, instead they took all of Paul’s letters and organized them from the longest book to the shortest.  So Romans leads all of Paul’s 13 letters, but only because it was the longest.  It was probably the 6th of the 13 letters penned, written from Corinth in about 58AD.  Once he was imprisoned he had more time to write, like Timothy and Titus and Philemon.

So the book of Romans was written by Paul to the church in Rome.  Now interestingly, no one exactly knows how the church in Rome got started.  Paul is writing to a church that he hadn’t started.  There isn’t any record of anyone making it to Rome – Paul certainly hadn’t yet traveled that far west in his travels.  But he had heard of the church’s existence, and met some of their people in Corinth – and we read about that in Acts chapter 18.

How did the church start then?  Well in Acts chapter 2 we read that there were people from Rome in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost – and it’s interesting to read that the were careful to mention that there were both Jewish people from Rome as well as non-jewish converts to Judaism in the crowd – why that is important in a moment.  Acts 2 tells us that the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they began to preach to people about the good news of Jesus.

So we must assume that some of the 3000 people who responded to the message of Jesus included these visitors from Rome.  And when they went back to Rome, they brought the message of Jesus with them and started a church.

Now – also interestingly, Roman history tells us that the jews who lived in Rome were not pleased with this message they brought back with them that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, and the Jews in Rome responded by persecuting the church.  Things got so intense and heated, in fact, that the Emperor Claudius Expelled the Jews living in Rome – kicked them right out of the city, due to the riots that were taking place regarding a man named Christ.

So what remained were now believers in Jesus – some of whom had a Jewish background, but were really out there now on a theologically dry land without a lot of support as they grew in numbers.

That explains why Paul is writing such a theologically rich book.  Normally he would take weeks to expand on these subjects, but since he hasn’t made it there yet, he is backing up the truck and unloading a lot of information on them in an effort to get them up to speed on the basics of Christian teaching.

Paul also has another motive for getting the church healthy.  It’s his desire to make Rome a launching pad for a planned missionary trip to Spain.  Paul never makes it to Spain, but that’s his goal.  And so he wants a strong church in Rome to help him achieve that goal.

So where is Paul going to start this letter?  Let’s begin to read and see.

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 

This is Paul’s introduction.  He didn’t choose this – God chose him on the road to Damascus and told him and taught him to be a preacher of the good news.

God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. 

We talked about this a few weeks ago – the entire Old Testament is about Jesus.  It’s a signpost pointing to Jesus being the promised Messiah.  And even though there might not have been many Jewish believers in Jesus, there were certainly enough non jewish converts to Judaism who had become followers of Jesus for them to understand the Old Testament.

The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.

So how does Paul begin this letter?  After introducing himself, he begins by wishing them, in essence, a Merry Christmas!  He begins with the basics of all basics – Jesus is God born in the flesh.

The theological term for this is the incarnation.  Ever eat a carne asada burrito?  Carne means meat.  Asada means delicious.  The incarnation means that God become flesh.  He became meat.

And so – here’s our road map for this morning.  Paul is going to point out

  1. The reality of the incarnation.
  2. The results of the incarnation
  3. The ramifications of the incarnation.

First – Paul stresses the reality of the Incarnation.

So yes, Jesus was born of Mary – and Luke goes to great lengths in his genealogy to make sure we see that Jesus was born from the right family, after all God promised King David he would have a son whose kingdom would never end.  That son is Jesus.

However, although Jesus was born of Mary, whose lineage is from King David, Jesus’ real Father is God the Father. Now what does Paul mean when he says that Jesus was shown to be the Son of God when he was resurrected?

Well, listen, Jesus is an interesting religious figure.  Because the claims he made about himself were either true or they were the words of the worlds biggest megalomaniac.  I mean Jesus declared himself to be the way the truth and the life.  And the only means to the father.  He allowed people to fall to their knees and worship him.  I mean – every time an angel shows up in the bible people fall to their knees and every time the angels say – get up – don’t worship me.

But Jesus allows people to worship him.  He tells people – come to me if you are weary and I will give you rest.  He says at one point – I and the Father are one.  He is claiming divinity.  And you know – people understood that – and in that case people picked up stones to stone Jesus for making blasphemous claims.

What Paul is saying is that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead verified Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God.  It was shown to be true when he was resurrected.

Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  And although he grew up with Joseph as a father figure in his life, his real Father was in Heaven.

Can I show you one of the most beautiful portions of Scripture – in my opinion?  If you read through the New Testament book of Matthew you will come across this beautiful scene in 3:13-17 – before Jesus began his ministry – he goes to John the Baptist to be baptized – (And by the way If Jesus was baptized then you should be baptized too –  and we are having on at the end of the month – September 30)

When Jesus was baptized a very special thing happens.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Can I just stop here for a minute and say that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this recently.  Here’s Jesus about to begin his public ministry.  And just before he starts his Father takes the time to bless him.  What son doesn’t want to hear these words from his father?

This is my son.  I love him.  I’m proud of him.  There are many in the world, and probably many in this room, who’ve yearned to hear their earthly father say these words.  This is my son.  Whom I love.  In him I am well pleased.  This is my daughter, I love her and I’m so proud of her.

And can I point out something else here.  This is before Jesus has accomplished a single thing in his ministry.  He hasn’t done anything to earn this blessing from is dad.  He hasn’t raised anyone from the dead.  He hasn’t healed anyone or forgiven anyone.  He’s just there, and God says, This is my boy.  I love him so much.  I’m so proud of him.

See, Paul starts at the beginning with the Romans and the first thing he wants them to understand is that Jesus is fully human, and fully God.  We learn in other places in the Bible that when Jesus became Human he set aside his divine powers and lived life fully as a human who depended on the Holy Spirit as he lived his life.

Not only that he lived the most human life possible.  Which meant he lived life without any of the callouses that often deaden the pains that afflict our soul – we often grow numb to the cruelty of this world, but Jesus was fully human, fully alive.

So when Jesus was betrayed he felt that betrayal more than any other human had ever felt it.  He felt the sting of rejection more than any other.

He was fully God and fully man.  And he had to be this way.  Why?

If he wasn’t completely human, than he couldn’t have taken our place on the cross.  If he wasn’t God then his death couldn’t have covered all of humanity through all time.

Paul begins his letter by wishing his readers a first century Merry Christmas.  Jesus is fully man – and fully God.  The incarnation was a reality.

Now let’s look at the results of the incarnation.  And the first thing Paul says is that we carry with us Good News.  We are Heralds.  We are here to tell people – there’s good news concerning you and God.

Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.

Now this is a wonderful sentence.  Paul alerts his readers to exactly what the good news is all about.  And the message that Paul and the early church leaders have been given is that God has done something awesome for them.

See – this is something that makes Christianity different than any other religion.  Every other religion points to the principles that their founder taught – while the heart of Christianity is not principles, but a person.

And the Good News is NOT that Jesus has arrived with new principles for us to follow in order to make God happy.  Good News – here’s a bunch of new commandments.  No – The good news is Good because God has done the work for us.

The Good News – the gospel – is that Jesus has thrown wide open the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven – so that, we might be restored in a relationship with God.  And the doors are thrown open to anyone.  Even Gentiles like the Romans.

Good news for the whole world.  The Incarnation is a reality.  And the results of the incarnation?  Good News.  Salvation is available!  Whosoever will, may come.  Come and receive what God has done for them.  Come on in.

Because God loves us – he became incarnate.  He became God in the flesh.  Jesus lived a perfect life and died an unjust death so that all who believe might be saved.

Let’s skip down to verse 16…

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.

The results of the Incarnation is salvation for everyone who believes.

God has become flesh in order to make it possible for us to swap places with Him.  Let me explain what I mean.

The deal is that Adam and Eve got humanity into a great deal of trouble – why?  Because Adam and Eve decided to take God’s place.  They took God’s place – as being the entity in charge of their lives.  When they decided they would run things, thank you.

They thoroughly broke humanity by instilling in all of us a desire to take God’s place.  We will be the ones who decide right and wrong, thank you.  Right and wrong for me.  I will be the master of my own destiny, thank you.  We took God’s place.

How does God respond?  He sends Jesus to take our place.  The essence of salvation is an incarnate God who takes our place. He takes the penalty we deserve.  He takes the punishment.  He takes the death.

We took God’s place when we decided we would run our life, thank you.  Jesus comes and takes our place for us.  And the result?  Salvation.

So here’s the result.  You know what happens?  Jesus makes it possible for you and I to hear from God – you’re my child.  I deeply love you.  I’m proud of you.  See Jesus took our shame and guilt and sin and what is left through faith in His work?  God saying, you’re my son whom I love.  You’re my daughter.  I’m so proud of you.

But Phil I haven’t done anything to deserve it!  Exactly.  God has done it.  All that’s left for us is to believe it.

Will you allow your soul to receive that?

Listen to how John puts it as he begins his account of the life of Jesus.

10 Jesus came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 

This is the results of the incarnation.  Through faith, we get to hear God say to us…  This is my child, whom I love – in whom I am proud.  The blessing you’ve always wanted – and you haven’t done a thing to earn it.  Jesus has done the work for you to make this possible.

As we partake in communion – we remember the extent that God went to in order to make it possible for us to hear the words – this is my child, whom I love and in whom I am well pleased…

The bread is a symbol of the actual physical body of Jesus, broken for us as he took our place on the cross.  The juice is a symbol of the actual real blood of God that was shed to take away the sins of all who would be grace, place their faith in Jesus.

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