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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:God's Showing Them Up!
Text:Romans 1:18-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2004-08-08
Added:2007-12-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture Reading: Acts 17:16-34

Hymns (Blue Psalter Hymnal): 327; 183; 454; 3; 469

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


ROMANS 1:18-32

(Reading: Acts 17:16-34)

 

God’s Showing Them Up!

 

 

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ…

 

Someone remarked to me about the way our society is today. We were discussing how the proposed New Zealand Civil Unions Bill was legitimising homosexual marriage. As a Christian she felt the way things had become was all quite depressing. “How can people be so sick?” she said.

That’s true, isn’t it? We wonder why the moral fabric of our world has so quickly unravelled. It’s all so suddenly falling to pieces! Well, what can you say when someone says that? Agree with them? Commiserate about how terrible it all is?

 

That would be true if we looked at it from a human perspective. No matter how hard Christians are trying it all seems to be written off as some right-wing, fundamentalist, bigoted, view. For every little step we appear to be making progress there are two or more big steps going the other way! But shouldn’t we see it with God’s eye? And where else do we find His view than in the book He Himself wrote - the Holy Bible?

So we open that up now. We turn to a passage which describes the way the world is today right down to a tee. The only thing is, though, it was written two thousand years ago! That was when the apostle of the Lord, Paul, wrote these words of the text.

 

And not only was he writing these words which applied then and now, but they are words which have applied many times before he wrote and lots of times since. Over fifty years ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “It is truly amazing and astonishing how this second half of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans sums up so perfectly the modern situation. Had it been written specially and specifically for our day it could not have been more perfect or more complete.”

So what’s this text about?, we may well ask. How can it describe our situation today down to such gruesome detail and yet apply to so many other times in history as well? “Ah, there’s the rub!” Because what we meet as the text begins in verse 18 is the complete antithesis of verse 17. As Paul brings out the righteousness from God in verse 17 - the righteousness that is by faith - he cannot avoid the wrath of God.

You see, in our text Paul begins telling us why the Gospel is good news by telling the bad news. You don’t get to see the difference light makes until you’ve been in the dark. God couldn’t be the good and loving God if He didn’t react to our evil with wrath. And that evil is right here, in this world.

 

There are two aspects to how the apostle deals with this. We can already see that in verse 18. For there Paul speaks about God’s wrath being revealed from heaven against the “godlessness” and the “wickedness” of men.

“Godlessness” talks about wrong belief. “Wickedness” talks about wrong practice. They are both connected.  But wrong belief - idolatry - always comes first and then wrong practice - immorality - follows.

So, in the first point, we see WHAT THEY’RE DOING INSIDE. We get to have a look at the pagan heart. This is about “godlessness”.

The fact that we’re able to see this is the result of the Gospel. For Paul is not specially writing to us here about how bad things got at that point in Roman society. He’s not having a whinge about the decline in standards then. Rather, he’s saying that the effect of preaching Christ crucified, risen, ascended and coming again, also brings the revelation of God’s wrath against their sin. Then their real selves will show up - the character that mankind has had ever since the fall into sin.

 

That’s why those who don’t believe the gospel will always suppress God. They will try whatever they can to stop the truth getting to them.

Now, they can only attempt that, because they simply cannot ever get away from it. Verse 19 is quite clear when it says that God has made the truth quite plain to them. For no one in the world can get away from God’s creation. That was how Paul appealed to the Athenians in Acts 17. In verse 24 there he argues with them that the Lord God is their unknown god, the One who made the world and everything in it.

Those Paul is speaking about here have been trying to suppress that witness. Verse 20 shows how much they have been doing that. And because they have been doing that, the suppressing doesn’t stop there. It actually develops into ignoring God.

         

We can think here about when someone keeps doing something wrong when they know it’s wrong. At first they tried to avoid any criticism, or they play it down. But then they just bluntly ignore it.

You can go and try convincing them to change. You can do that till you’re blue in the face! But you might as well be hitting your head against a brick wall!

In fact, what you notice about them is that they’re on a completely different wave length. It is as if you just don’t connect anymore. Because you don’t! As verse 21 says, “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

In using the word “heart” Paul shows how the suppressing and ignoring of God comes from the intellect. Those who are going the opposite way to God’s way are doing that with quite strong arguments. That’s what you’ll find when you have a debate with them. You’ll soon see how they have an answer for everything.

You know, when you do that you’d almost think that they are replacing God altogether! And that’s exactly it! The verses 22 till 25 show what’s happening inside them. The words “wisdom” and “images” are speaking of their alternative option to the Lord. What those who suppress and ignore God end up doing is making their own god. It’s a false belief. But it shows how deep the hostility to God is.

             

It’s at this point we come to a phrase we find appearing three times in this passage. For in verse 24 it says “God gave them over”. So, in other words, God let them go to do this. In His plan for this world here He’s letting it all hang out. The contrast between the Gospel and the world is going to be quite graphic.

We can see that, can’t we? But they can’t, though. For so hell-bent are they it’s the prince of this world that’s completely taken them in. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” verse 25 says. So the Father of lies himself is having his way with them. That’s why they’re worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator.

But right throughout this, congregation, there’s still the gospel. While it may seem that God’s giving them up means the end of them, it’s actually so that they might yet turn to him. Perhaps they’ll be that confronted by the awfulness of what they doing the Spirit might yet save them.

That’s the word the Lord has in Isaiah 19. There in verse 22 the prophet declares, “The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.”

And how about 1st Corinthians chapter 5? There the church is told, in verse 5, that the man who has so rejected the gospel must be handed over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

 

I like how one person put the current situation in our society to me. He said that this may well be the opportunity for the Church to claim back marriage as an institution of God. The direction of our society could well be the way to witness to the Lord even clearer.

It’s a good point. Often we can fall into the trap that it’s good laws that make a good society. But that’s working from the outside in. True revival is quite the opposite. For isn’t it when things become so bad on the outside that the Holy Spirit especially blesses the gospel to take effect inside?

 

That may help explain the way Paul ends verse 25. For there in the midst of this passage outlining the evil set against God he suddenly expresses praise to God.

Now, this follows the Jewish pattern that when God’s name is mentioned there’s a type of benediction said. But its happening at this place, and with the “Amen” as well, makes this an affirmation of the blessedness that belongs to God. Even right in the darkest pagan night, there’s His light!

 

Thus we’ve seen, congregation, WHAT THEY’RE DOING INSIDE. Next, in the verses 26 till 32, the apostle turns to HOW IT GETS SHOWN OUTSIDE. Here we will see Paul’s exposition of what the “wickedness” of verse 18 is.

He does this using a similar framework to the previous section. So the rest of the text follows a similar pattern on the outside to what we’ve seen happening inside in the verses 18 till 25. That’s why the verses 26 and 27 bring out their unnatural lusts.

 

Paul starts with describing what a wrong belief brings out. “Even their women” makes it clear how pagan this is. For aren’t our women seen to be the more modest sex? Many times they have been the bastion of morality. But the false religion sweeps them away, too.

It’s when this happens that we often are most shocked. This is when it’s “in your face!” And that’s what they do, too. Through their Mardi Gras’, Gay Pride marches, Hero Parades, television, and other media, their selfishness is clearly shown. You see, it is a religion. Believing in it as they do they have to convince you it’s true, too. And don’t get in their way either. Then their intolerance for other beliefs will be vividly shown.

 

This is what the Rev. Charles McIlhenny found out in San Francisco. In that city with a 20% homosexual population, his Orthodox Presbyterian church dismissed the church organist when it was discovered that he was a practising homosexual. Fair enough, we would say. That lifestyle is completely incompatible with Christianity. But that didn’t stop a flood of persecution. They were subjected to two lawsuits brought by that organist and later by two lesbians. Their home has been fire-bombed, vandalised and graffitied numerous times. They’ve received a multitude of obscene phone calls and death threats. Several times, for the sake of their children, they had to flee the city.

You see, we cannot say that those homosexuals can’t help themselves. They weren’t born that way. They became that way through hearts set against the gospel. Hearts and lives that violently oppose God’s Word.

That it makes no sense at all doesn’t matter. Because it’s unnatural means they can’t reproduce; it means they will have more diseases; and it means they cannot sustain committed relationships.

You’d think they’d realise that. Don’t they know you need a mother and a father? Can’t they even see how it is in nature around us? But, remember, it’s coming from within. That God has given them over to this means it doesn’t need to make any sense. Because if that were the case wouldn’t Pharaoh have let the Israelites go?

And what about all the other religions in the world? They don’t make no sense at all! And how many haven’t been taken in by that ‘New Age’ non-sense!

 

Now, when these things start to happen in a society we know things are pretty grim. The Bible shows this with Sodom and Gomorrah, and with the situation at the end of the Judges. It’s those situations which show how entrenched this evil behaviour has become. And that’s what the verses 29 till 31 spell out.

Because you have a look at this list. And a list it certainly is - a list of everything which actively opposes the good news about Jesus. While it’s not as comprehensive as the list in Galatians 5 the verses 19 till 21, it makes its point. For this is what comes out of the depraved mind of verse 28.

 

A depraved mind is missing something. There is something that’s not stopping a person morally. And that’s what God has done.

This may shock many Christians. They think that it’s what these people have got themselves into. It’s their own fault. And if they get AIDS because of it, well, it serves them right!

But it’s actually then, congregation, that we have to proclaim the Gospel more - by what we say and what we do. This was exactly what the believers of Paul’s age were doing. And it’s what Christians have done throughout history in such desperate times.

You see, in Paul’s day there was rampant homosexuality, adultery, paedophilia, abortions, and euthanasia. And there were so many others who just stood by and let it happen. They even encouraged those doing it. Like so many millions are doing today as they watch it on TV, or read in the weekly gossip magazine. The more depraved it is the better it sells!

 

That’s why the gospel is hated today. The Christian leader who dares raise his voice at yet another sexual perversity is called twisted himself! He’s a kill-joy! Those who openly flout the law in pushing their filth, though, are the heroes of the day!

Now they are even looking to laws banning so-called “hate crimes”. Then the witness for the gospel will cost us. We could well be thrown into prison!

That’s what has happened already in Sweden. Because of a law passed there which is similar to that proposed here, a minister was recently jailed for preaching from the Bible against homosexuality.

But, you know, then we couldn’t be in better company! We would join the apostle Paul, the other apostles, and thousands of thousands of other believers all round the world today. Together with them we’ll be shining the mirror of God’s Word into their faces.

In the words of verse 32, those people “deserve death”. It’s the death which is not only physical. And that’s what the gospel must show. It must strike them in their hearts - again and again. Perhaps that might mean a hardening of their souls. But it could also mean their salvation.

 

That’s why God’s Word needs to be declared from the pulpits of this country. Not the words of men, no matter how sincere and spiritual they may sound! It has been the lack of God’s Word which has contributed to where we are now. But God has allowed that, too.

Because now He calls us even more to show them up! As 1st Corinthians 1 verse 23 says, Christ crucified is be a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but it’s the only way to be saved.

Let’s pray for such a revival. Let’s pray that’s God’s grace would crack hardened hearts. Let’s pray that instead of living for themselves they would live for the Lord. And let’s do what we pray. Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray...

     Lord, we do pray for this. We ask that Your Spirit, through Your Word, would so work in the hearts of those right now denying You. Because they know what they’re doing. And yet, without Your Spirit convicting and converting they will die. And die in the most terrible way.

     Please so use each one of us, and Your people right throughout this world.

     In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz

(c) Copyright 2004, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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