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Author: Rick VanderHorst
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:The reunion and refreshment of the church
Text:Romans 15:30-33 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 99:1,2,3,4;


Ps 99:5,6;

Reading: Romans 1:7-15; Romans 15:13-29

Hy 63:1,3

Hy 52

Ps 68:2,12;

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

Romans 15:30-33 sermon

Reading: Romans 1:7-15; Romans 15:13-29

Singing: Ps 99:1,2,3,4; Ps 99:5,6; Hy 63:1,3,; Hy 52:1,2,4,5; Ps 68:2,12;


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, this past summer I had the privilege of attending a family reunion out west. The restrictions were lifted enough to the point that we could all travel to a beautiful lake and spend a week together with family. I am sure many of you have had family reunions before.

Perhaps you grew up with many siblings in your family, but over the years you moved to different locations. And every so often you tell each other, “Hey, we should get together again.” And those moments of reunion with close family members can be wonderful. It’s refreshing to see people you love after having been a part for so long.

Well, the church is the household of God. We who believe in Christ belong to the family of faith. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Thankfully, we can have some here this morning. But sadly, we have been apart as an entire family for quite some time. But we pray, we continue to pray, that we would be able to meet in full again soon. It can be easy to grow weary in this, but we need to persevere.

The apostle Paul experienced something of this. He wanted to see the church at Rome. He wanted to be refreshed in their presence. And so he called them to pray, to pray that they could meet together and enjoy fellowship with each other.

Join together in prayer that God’s people may be reunited and refreshed

1) The context

2) The call

3) The comfort


Our text this morning is the last words of Romans 15. There doesn’t seem to be much here at first glance, but there’s actually a lot to unpack. However, in order to benefit the most from this text we need to see the big picture. And so, we are going to spend some time in this first point looking at the context.

Paul, by the Holy Spirit, wrote the book of Romans near the end of his third missionary journey.He travelled throughout modern-day Turkey and Greece, preaching the gospel as he went. He describes this work in Romans 15:16 in this way, “I was made a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Notice that he describes his preaching of the gospel as priestly work. Why is this? Well, as the gospel goes out, people are called to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. And when they do believe, the blood of Christ is applied to them by the power of the Holy Spirit for their salvation.

 It’s similar to the work of the OT priests. The forgiveness of sins was administered through the blood of the sacrifices - the sacrifices offered up by the priests as they pointed ahead to Christ. In the NT age, Christ came to offer the one great sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. The benefits of that sacrifice, including the forgiveness of our sins, is given through the preaching of the gospel.

That’s one big reason why the preaching of the gospel is so important. The preaching of the gospel is priestly work. The forgiveness of our sins is administered through the preaching of Christ also to us here today. This blood of Christ is powerful and effective for the forgiveness of all our sins. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven through his blood.

Paul says that he performed this priestly service, “So that the offering of the Gentiles, may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” By this work of the gospel, people from any nations can be included in God’s people. And so the apostle Paul travelled from Jerusalem to many parts of the Roman Empire, seeking to bring the Gentiles into the people of God.


However, there is one area to which Paul had not yet gone. He had not yet gone to the city of Rome.  But he wanted to. In fact, he longed to go to Rome. You can see this throughout the NT. Paul writes in Romans 1, “God is my witness…that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you.” He writes again in Romans 15, “I have longed for many years to come to you.” Finally, we read in Acts 19:21, “After these events, Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”


Why did he want to see them so badly? Well, he says in Romans 1, he wanted to gain a harvest of believers also in Rome – he wanted to grow the church there. He also says in Romans 1,  “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Then he adds in Romans 15, “He wants to enjoy their company for a while.” It’s not just about his mission work. But Paul simply loved them. He loved the church in Rome, even though he had never met many of them. It didn’t matter because they were fellow believers, part of the same spiritual family. And he says in our text, “He wants to come to them with joy and to be refreshed in their company.”


This is the beautiful nature of the church and the communion of saints. Being together as the people of God brings delight. We can be refreshed by each other’s presence. We can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. The churches in [insert location] have not been together in full for so long now. It’s been hard. We want to be together in full. It’s refreshing to see fellow believers again. It’s delightful to get another taste of the fellowship we can enjoy as Christians. This is something we hope for and long for just as Paul longed to see the believers in Rome.


Now at this point we might wonder, “If Paul wanted to go to Rome so badly, why didn’t he just go there?” Well, there were reasons for that. The church at Rome was founded by others already. In Romans 15, Paul says he was compelled to work in places where no one else already had. He felt this was part of the calling as an apostle. And so he focused on preaching the gospel as he says, “From Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.”


But by God’s grace, that work was now over. The way was now open for him to do what he wanted to do for many years – to go to Rome.  Paul wrote this letter at the end of his third missionary journey, most likely during his three-month stay at Corinth. And so as he looked ahead to the future, he eagerly told the church his intentions to come to them soon.



2) The call


You can imagine the joy both Paul and the church at Rome felt at the prospect of finally being together. However, Paul could not go straight from Corinth to Rome. There was one last thing he needed to do. During his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul not only preached the gospel. He also carefully collected money from all the churches to help the church in Jerusalem.


You can read about this collection throughout the New Testament and also our reading from Romans 15. The church in Jerusalem was by far the largest church at this time. Many Jews there had come to believe in Jesus Christ. But that church was also very needy. A famine had likely caused much poverty in that area also among the Christians. And so Paul took pains to collect money from the Gentile churches for their needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.


Paul felt he must deliver this collection money at all costs. Many people in Jerusalem needed this gift to make ends meet. Paul had also gathered large sums of money from all the Gentile churches. Paul would sin if he played fast and loose with this money and went to Rome first. Furthermore, this gift showed the beautiful fruit of the gospel. Gentiles and Jews were now one in Christ and this collection proclaimed that loudly and clearly. And so Paul wanted to bring this gift himself.


However, there was a major dilemma that came with this. Not only would going to Jerusalem delay Paul from visiting Rome, it also endangered him from going at all! And that’s because there were many Jews in Jerusalem who had rejected Christ. These Jews were furious at Paul. They believed that the apostle Paul, by his ministry, was destroying their religion. And so some of the Jews came up with a plot against him. They wanted to stop his ministry, and to even kill him.


Paul had faced things like this throughout his journeys, but Jerusalem held a particular danger. And so in our text Paul urges the believers in Rome to join him in praying to God. He calls them to strive together with him in prayer. And what are they to pray so earnestly about? He says in our text, “[pray] that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” If the collection for the church in Jerusalem is quickly accepted, the sooner he can go to Rome. If the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem don’t give him trouble, his trip to Rome won’t be endangered.


And so you can imagine the church at Rome receiving this letter. They have heard much about Paul. Some of them knew Paul very well having worked with him. Although Scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us their reaction, it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption that they did this very thing ---- that they did join Paul in striving in prayer to God.


It’s interesting how the Apostle puts it – striving in prayer. There’s a certain difficulty that comes with prayer. It takes concentration, it takes energy, it takes perseverance. As Paul calls them to strive with him in prayer to God, one is reminded of the patriarch Jacob. Right before his encounter with Esau in Genesis 32, Jacob spent all night wrestling with a man. Jacob would not let the man go until he blessed him. The rest of Genesis 32 makes clear that Jacob was wrestling with God. Now how this all works, we don’t fully understand. But the point is that Jacob wrestled with God because he was seeking his blessing. This is the sort of thing Paul is getting at in our text with call to strive in prayer.


Now we might wonder why God would have us do this. Why does prayer sometimes need to be a struggle? Why would God have us ‘wrestle’ in prayer in this way? Is he trying to make us discouraged? Does he sometimes just outright ignore our prayers?


I’m sure many of you have gone through these sorts of things. A trial comes into your life and it takes so much prayer. And maybe you pray for something every day or have prayed for something for years.And that can be tiring. In fact, it’s easy to grow weary.


We don’t know all the reasons God does this of course. God has reasons we probably will never know. But one thing is sure, that God often does this to draw us closer to himself. Through this striving in prayer, we learn more and more that our blessing comes from him.


Think of the patriarch Jacob again. For so many years he relied on himself. He practiced cunning. He deceived others for his own gain, even his very own father. But the LORD used this encounter with Esau to break Jacob of his self-reliance. Jacob knew that his own strength would not be able to defeat Esau. And so he Jacob wrestled with the LORD, seeking his blessing.


The only question now is, “Are you striving in prayer to God?” Are you striving in prayer for the wellbeing of the church? Are you striving in prayer for individual members who need special care? Are you striving in prayer for the spiritual wellbeing of family members and friends? Are you striving in prayer for your own spiritual wellbeing?


And as that call goes out to you, remember also what God has promised us in Christ.  He has promised that we can come before him through Christ. Our prayers are heard by God because of Christ, our great Saviour. 


3) The comfort


Now, I’ve titled this third point, “the comfort.” And that might sound like everything was smooth sailing for Paul------- That the Lord heard his prayer and the prayers of the Roman church. And that Paul could quickly drop the money off in Jerusalem and head straight for Rome.


However, there were some major problems. Because of the plots of the Jews in the region of Corinth, Paul was forced to take a much longer way back to Jerusalem. Along the way, people urged Paul not to keep going. In fact, in Acts 21 a prophet named Agabus prophesied that the Jews in Jerusalem               would imprison Paul. But Paul kept going, insisting that he needed to go on.  And when he came to Jerusalem, the unbelieving Jews did in fact capture him, They seized him in the temple.


And with that, it seemed like all of Paul’s longings and the hope of the church would go unfulfilled. It was a difficult act of God’s providence. How many prayers were not prayed by the saints in Rome for Paul to be kept safe in Jerusalem? And what happened? The exact opposite happened of what they longed for and prayed for. 


That can be so hard. Have you ever had something like that before? Where you, as it were, wrestled in prayer to God about something, only to get the very opposite of what you asked for? That’s pain. That can be crushing. And it can potentially damage our faith.


When you go through something like that, it’s hard not to wonder, “I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed for something so much and then God gives me the very opposite, and it’s painful! Why did that happen?” And it might discourage you from praying any further. You might even wonder, “Does God love me? Doesn’t he care that I have this painful struggle? Why is he answering my prayers for godly things with such an emphatic ‘no’?


Those are hard things to go through. However, it’s good to also look farther ahead in this story of Paul and the church of Rome. God was not yet finished working. You see, the Jews were about to kill Paul, but a Roman official ordered soldiers to take Paul into custody. A short time later, the Jews plotted to kill Paul again. At that point, Paul was sent to the Roman governor Felix for trial. Felix did not hand him over to the Jews. However, Felix wanted to do the Jews a favour and so he left Paul in prison for two whole years! Two whole years!


After that long, you wonder if anyone was still praying that Paul would make it to Rome. It was so long! But Governor Felix was eventually succeeded by a man named Festus. And in his trial before Festus, Paul then appealed to Caesar. Festus replied, “To Caesar you have appealed, to Caesar you shall go.” Caesar of course lived in Rome, the very place Paul hoped to go! Finally, finally, Paul’s longing to go to Rome would be fulfilled. Finally, finally, the church’s desire to see Paul would now come about. And this was years after Paul urged them to pray for this very thing in our text. God made them wait, he made them wrestle in prayer for so long, but finally he granted them this request.


And not only that but we read this at the end of the book of Acts: “And so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the solider who guarded him.” What a reunion it must have been. All that praying, all that waiting, and finally it happened. Paul was most certainly refreshed in their presence as he hoped to be. And Paul even came with his own personal body guard – the Roman soldier who guarded him.


The very last words of the book of Acts say this: “Paul lived [in Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” This is astonishing. Paul was not delivered from the Jews in Jerusalem. It seemed like an opposite answered prayer. But through that long and difficult process, Paul was able to live there comfortably for over two years and he could see anyone he wished!  The same amount of time he was kept in prison in Jerusalem, is the same amount of time he could spend in Rome. This was probably far beyond anything Paul imagined when he asked the Roman church to pray!


This shows the power and the grace of God! What at first appeared disastrous in fact turned out for the better in the end! What at first appeared to be an emphatic “no” turned out to be an emphatic “yes”! And may that encourage you in your prayers! Remember the words of Ephesians 3, “God is able to do far more than all that we ask or even imagine.”


Now of course, I am NOT saying that all of your prayers will be answered in the way that you like. I am NOT saying that if you just pray harder and pray more, you’ll get whatever you want. But God’s Word here is encouraging us not to give up. It’s encouraging us not to lose heart when our prayers seem to go unanswered. We don’t know what sort of things God will eventually bring about through them.


I can’t help but think also of the situation we face as church right now. We’ve been separated for so long. Many prayers have gone up to God…..we’ve seen some fruit…yet still we wait. But let us not lose heart. Keep striving together in prayer. We don’t know exactly what the Lord has in store. Maybe we will get to meet in full again very soon. Never doubt God’s power to make that happen.  Maybe it will take some time.  But whatever the case may be, we pray that we will see all of us here in due time.


And when that happens by the grace of God, there will be a happy reunion. I think again of Paul finally coming to Rome. The believers there came from all over to meet him. What joy they must have felt! And may we experience that same joy soon.


Paul ends our text with a blessing, “May the God of peace be with you all.”Paul would not see the Roman Christians for quite some time. But God would be with them. He would be with his church in Rome and he would keep them in his care. May the God of peace be with us all too. He is our God through Jesus Christ our Lord, He will be with us through his Holy Spirit. And so let us take courage, let us keep striving in prayer, and let us wait for him. Amen.























* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rick VanderHorst

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