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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Greatest Sermon Ever Written: The Context
Text:Romans 1:18-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2023-01-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Habakkuk 2

Text: Romans 1:16-32

 

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER WRITTEN: THE CONTEXT

  1. The Righteousness of God

  2. The Wrath of God

 

  1. Psalm 19:1

  2. Psalm 1: 1-2

  3. Psalm 4: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 73: 1, 4, 5

  5. Psalm 59: 8

  6. Psalm 67:1-3

 

Words to Listen For: mocked, cobblestones, snow, random, flat

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What is the philosophy of education?  The philosophy of the gospel?

  2. Why might the Apostle Paul be ashamed of the gospel?  Why wasn’t he?

  3. What is the righteousness of God?

  4. Why do we need the righteousness of God?

  5. Are we any better?

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


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

School has been back in session now for a few weeks, and I wonder if the traditional philosophy of education still stands.

What I mean by this is, of course, the famous statement made by Sir William Curtis, the Lord-Mayor of London in the late 1700s.

Educators, don’t worry, you’ve all heard the phrase, even if you don’t know who originally said it.

This particular philosophy of education goes, some say, as far back as St. Augustine and the 300s.

So what is this philosophy?  The popular phrase?

“The 3 R’s of education: READING, WRITING, and ‘RITHMATIC.”

Of course, as all the students know, there’s only one “r” in that list, though all 3 words SOUND as though they begin with an “r.”

These three very simple elements of education were deemed to be the 3 very important, or even KEY PARTS of education.

  • To know how to read, so that you can fill your head with the knowledge of the ages

  • To be able to write, so that you can display your knowledge, and make your way in the world

  • To be able to do arithmetic, the foundation of all complex mathematics and science.

We can apply this kind of logic to the gospel as well.

During our nearly 3 years together now, 

  • We have heard the gospel in 2 words: BUT GOD

  • We have heard the gospel in one verse: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

And now, we can be introduced to the gospel in two R’s.  The two R’s of theology - RIGHTEOUSNESS and WRATH.

What we will discover as we continue to go through the Apostle Paul’s sermon to the Romans together, is that righteousness and wrath go hand in hand through the entire book.

Righteousness and wrath, seen by some as opposites, others as identical, with the truth somewhere in the middle.

Join me as we continue to examine

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER WRITTEN.  This morning we will examine THE CONTEXT the sermon comes in.  We will see, first of all:

  1. The Righteousness of God, and secondly

  2. The Wrath of God

 

The Righteousness Of God

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.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, for faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith.”

Our text this morning begins with a “for.”

This is typical of this sermon to the Romans.  It is very logical.  There is a real flow to it.

This

    Therefore this

And so what came before?  Let's recap.

Verse 1 - Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God

The Apostle Paul, formerly a persecutor, an insolent opponent, and a blasphemer who denied the truth of the gospel had his life transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

And it is this gospel, that which Paul previously labored to destroy, that He is now obligated to preach.  Both to Greek and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel.

Now, why WOULD Paul be ashamed of the gospel?  Why is it important for him to comment that he is NOT ashamed of the gospel?

Well, there are several options here - Paul, as one speaking to the Romans, with Rome being the center of civilized society at the time, the center of higher learning, the center of philosophy, preaching the good news of a criminal who was condemned to death…was foolish.  Preaching the good news of being a servant…was foolish.  Preaching the good news of Christians partaking of the body and blood of their Lord…was foolish.  Preaching that Jesus, and not Caesar was Lord…was foolish.

Each and every one of these aspects of the gospel would have Paul mocked, imprisoned, or both.

Another option is far more personal.  Would Paul, like the rest of the Jewish community not be ashamed of the gospel?  The gospel that was promised to them as God’s chosen people, the people who received hints and clues and shadows of the Messiah who was to be.  Theirs are the prophets, theirs is the law…and yet…it was the chosen people of God who rejected and killed their own Messiah.  This is shameful indeed!

But Paul…Paul is not ashamed of the gospel.

And why?

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes

Whichever option is in the Apostle’s mind here, he is not ashamed.

If preaching the gospel would lead to mockery and death, the gospel is worth it.  It provides status and eternal life.

And if the gospel paints the Apostle Paul in a negative light, it paints Jesus Christ in a glorious light.  That He would choose to love and save His enemies.  More than a conqueror.  Personal humiliation is worth it.

For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes

And how does this work?

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed, from faith, for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Here we come to the first of the 2 r’s of the gospel.  RIGHTEOUSNESS.

For in it the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IS REVEALED

What does this mean, “the righteousness of God” ?

 

Well, the best way to understand this phrase is to walk alongside a man who pondered it.  A man who read it to himself again and again.  A man who was first puzzled by this phrase.  Then infuriated by it.  And then, finally, this phrase filled him with inexpressible joy.  Let me explain.

Imagine taking a time machine back with me to the early 1500s.

When we land, we exit our time machine, and our feet hit cobblestones.  

We hear someone speaking, and the language is unfamiliar to us.  Eventually we recognize it as an old German dialect.

Before us appears a man dressed in a black robe.  A monk.

We follow him as he goes into confession, and we overhear a seemingly never-ending list of sins.  We are there 20, 30, 90 minutes.  This man, we conclude, has an over-active conscience.  This man, we conclude, needs to rest more securely in the grace of God.

Then suddenly we are transported with him to Rome, to a staircase known as the sancta scala.  The sacred stairs.  And our friend the monk is going up and down them, mumbling to himself.  You see, these stairs are, according to legend, the very stairs up to the throne of Pontius Pilate, where Jesus stood trial.

And going up and down these stairs, crawling on all fours until your knees were bloody, was, so the Pope said, an act to atone for your sins.

And the words that this man poured over in his mind, and came tumbling out of his mouth as he crawled up and down the stairs, were the words of Romans 1:17 - The righteousness of God…the righteousness of God…

And he went from confusion to anger over these words.

Later, he would write: Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?”

For this man, the gospel just makes it all worse!

  • Condemned already by Adam’s sin, imputed to us…

  • Condemned further by the Law, the 10 commandments that tell us how we fail…

  • The gospel just adds to the burden.

The law brings wrath, and the gospel of God that reveals His righteousness…what can righteousness do in the face of sin, but express itself as wrath?

His righteousness meets my sin, and therefore He pours out His wrath.  Logical.  A real flow to this.

And so our monk concluded: At that time, I did not love, no, rather I HATED God.

 

But is this really what Romans 1:17 means?  That the gospel is good news…only for those who are perfect?

We know that the Apostle Paul could not rejoice in a gospel like this.  A former blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of the church and Jesus Christ?  Surely if this was true, Paul too would hate the gospel.

And as he crawled, as he bled, our monk that we are following through history had it dawn on him…

For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, for faith, as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith.”

Suddenly our monk stands bolt upright.

THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL LIVE BY FAITH!

I SHALL NOT DIE, BUT I SHALL LIVE!

I SHALL NOT BE COUNTED GUILTY, BUT RIGHTEOUS…BY FAITH!  BY FAITH!

The righteousness of God is not the Apostle Paul’s way of building up to wrath in the next verses…but rather…the righteousness of God is HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS that He GIVES TO US!  This is IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS!

Just like original sin imputed the sins of Adam to us…

    So too the righteousness of God imputes the righteousness of Christ

Jesus to us!  By faith!

And this monk by his own description says, “I was born again, and entered through the very gates of paradise!  He returned to Wittenberg with a calmed soul and a joyful heart, in love with the gospel, and, more importantly, in love with the God of the gospel.

He went about teaching the doctrine of CHRIST ALONE and FAITH ALONE, changing the world.  And it would never be the same.  And his name?  Martin Luther, the protestant reformer.

 

You see…the gospel is about both righteousness and wrath.  And we HAVE TO GET THIS RIGHT.  There is wrath in the gospel.  We will get there in a few moments.  And it is important.

But just as important, just as foundational, is the other R of the gospel - RIGHTEOUSNESS.

The gospel isn’t love for the perfect and wrath for the sinner.

The gospel is God reaching down to us in grace and saying - “I know that you aren’t worthy.  I know that you aren’t perfect.  I know that you can’t live up to my righteous standards.  I knew that when I called you.  I knew that when I chose you in eternity to be my child.  But…let us reason together.  Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be made white as snow.  Because…there IS ONE who is worthy.  There IS ONE who is perfect.  There IS ONE who lived up to my righteous standards.  Jesus Christ.  My Son, your Saviour.  And His righteousness…can be yours.  By faith.”

The righteousness of God…when received by faith…even by sinners like us…the righteousness of God is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

But.

And when I say “but” usually it’s a shift from the bad news to the good news.  But…it’s the opposite here.  The opposite this morning as we follow the argument of the Apostle Paul.  He goes from good to bad, and so must we.

BUT.  Those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation, those who refuse to believe in Him, those who spit in the face of His Saviour…then His righteousness does lead to wrath.  Our second point.

There is a universal need for the imputed righteousness of God.  The righteousness of Christ given to us as our own.

And why is there this universal need for divine righteousness?

The Apostle Paul lays it out for us…it is because we are universally under divine wrath because of our sin.

Verse 18 - For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

This “FOR” is what connects what came before - the righteousness, with what will be the theme for the next few chapters of the sermon to the Romans: THE WRATH OF GOD, from Romans 1:18 to 3:20.

At 3:21, the righteousness of God, that is, the GRACIOUS, MERCIFUL, IMPUTED, GIFTED righteousness of God, returns to Paul’s argument…but for now…for now it’s WRATH.

The WRATH OF GOD.  It’s not a nice-sounding word…WRATH…but its sound perfectly brings forth its meaning.

Wrath: indignant, strong, stern, or fierce anger.

Wrath isn’t a word that we use casually.  And it is a word the Bible uses to describe the heart of God.  And not just here in Romans.  Not just a few scattered times.  Not just a handful of times.  

Over 180 TIMES in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us that God is wrathful, or that He is about to pour out His wrath, or that sinners are storing up His wrath for themselves.

This is a picture of our God, given to us BY OUR GOD.

And you may wonder if I’m seeking to undo everything that Martin Luther bled for on those stairs.  If I am trying to once again close the gates of paradise, and make our monk, and each one of us, HATE GOD once more.

 

Not at all.

 

But rather, it is only through the bad news that the good news is good.

Without knowing our sins and misery, how can we appreciate the salvation we have received?

Why would we care about the imputed righteousness of God if we think we have righteousness enough of our own?

“No thanks!  Full up on righteousness over here already - give it to someone who really needs it!”

And so the Holy Spirit, writing through the Apostle Paul explains to us our predicament.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

We are, first of all, ungodly.  This is our disbelief in, and hatred for GOD.  The breaking of the first and greatest commandment: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

And this is expanded on in the next few verses.

Verse 19 - For what can be known about God is plain to them.  For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.

Even though God Himself is invisible, He has made Himself visible in the created world.  We are without excuse!  The truth is crystal clear.

But instead, the truth has been suppressed by the wicked heart of man.

And lest we think that this is just true for those in the Apostle Paul’s day, evolutionary biologists, who say that this world came into being through RANDOM CHANCE, that there IS NO GOD, NO DESIGNER, have also said, “As we research, we have to constantly have to remind ourselves that it wasn’t designed.”

A designer, a creator, one of immense power and of a divine nature, is SCREAMING OUT TO THEM as they look at creation, but they close their eyes and shut their ears.  IT CAN’T HAVE BEEN DESIGNED!  IT CAN’T HAVE BEEN DESIGNED!

And what does this lead to?

Verse 21 - For although they knew God, they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

Claiming to be wise, they became FOOLS.  Well-educated FOOLS!

And this, beloved, is not the Apostle Paul being INSULTING, using a playground insult that is unfitting for a Christian, but the actual definition of foolishness.

For if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…

    Then rejecting Him, dishonouring Him, denying Him the worship due

His name is the beginning of folly.  LITERALLY FOOLS.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, an exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals, and creeping things.

Man the worshipper decided to wear the hate of man the philosopher…but we can never really step away from worship.  We are, after all, liturgical beings.  God created us to worship.

And so, even when we ignore God, we do not become godless, but rather, we exchange God’s glory for something else.  Ignoring the one true God can lead to building idols and statues and bowing down to them, or it can lead to building up celebrities and politicians in our minds and worshipping them, or even building up ourselves as our own god.

I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO GETS IT.

I AM SURROUNDED BY FOOLS.

I CAN BE A BETTER GOD THAN GOD HIMSELF.

All of this, no matter how secular our society claims to be…it is still a religious society

  • A religious society with our own sins - intolerance, homophobia, conservatism, racism

  • A religious society with our own virtues - extreme environmentalism, free gender expression, the hatred of white men

  • A religious society with our own religious terminology - misgender, lived experience, woke, birthing people and microaggressions

  • A religious society even with our own sacraments - abortion, gender-reassignment surgeries

Being godless is no excuse…being godless cannot save you from God’s wrath…because it simply does not exist.  No one is GODLESS.  We all have our own gods.  We all have our own religion.

And we are SO UNGODLY in how we worship.

Now, despite using the words “we” and “us” and “our” throughout…we can start feeling pretty good here.

For we know and we worship the One True God!  We do not substitute the 10 commandments for the “sins” of our culture, or substitute the Fruit of the Spirit for the “virtues” of our culture.  We use the terminology of the Bible - justification, sanctification, righteousness, wrath, gospel…and we celebrate the two sacraments our Lord gave us - baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

So…is Paul’s argument falling flat here?  The whole point was for us to recognize that we need someone ELSE.  We need an OUTSIDE RIGHTEOUSNESS to be given to us as our own.  But…that hasn’t really been proven yet, has it?

Well, yes and no.

This is where we START, we START with ungodliness, and, despite our protests, we are, all of us, ungodly in various ways.  Whenever we follow our heart instead of God’s Word, we are substituting ourself for the Almighty.  Every sin we commit, we are committing ourselves to following something else or someone else other than the One True God.

And we see that in the trajectory of Paul’s argument.

He begins with ungodliness, and then moves on to unrighteousness.

This can be understood as disobedience to the second great commandment: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

And from the starting point of rejecting God, this leads into rejecting His commandments, the perfect way that we are to love those around us.  A hatred of God leads, directly, to a hatred of our fellow human beings.

And this…we can see…puts us squarely into the camp of desperately needing the righteousness of Christ to be given to us.

Verse 26 - For this reason

For what reason?  For the reason of rejecting the one true God, the Creator who is blessed forever…God acted.

 

And how did He act?

For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  For their women exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

It is key that we understand this.  God did not strike down idolators and blasphemers with an incurable case of homosexuality.  Not at all.

What God did was simply give the idolators what they wanted.

Those people who spend their lives suppressing the truth of God, those who spend their lives blaspheming and worshipping anything and everything that is not the true God, the only one worthy of worship…in His wrath…what did God do?

He gave them exactly what they wanted.

“You want to live as though I don’t exist?  All right then.  I will remove my hedge of protection around you.  I will give you over to the Devil.  I will allow you to give up your heart to dishonorable passions.  I will allow you to give up your mind to dishonorable thoughts and desires.”

The world told God - GO AWAY - and He did.  He gave them a small foretaste of hell.

This is the wrath of God.  Hell is where the wrath of God is poured out in complete measure.  And it’s simple.  God’s wrath looks like God removing Himself.  God stepping back.

If you spend your entire earthly life running from God, telling God to leave you alone…eventually He will give you exactly what you want.  This is Hell.  The absence of everything good.  The absence of any light, any joy, any comfort.

The worst thing that God can do to you is turn His back on you.  The worst thing that God can do to you is turn His back on you.

And what does this look like in this life?  This wrath of God being poured out?  It looks like unnatural relationships.  Women filled with passion for women, men consumed with lust for other men.  Destroying themselves, destroying society which is built around the family unit.

But still, many of us haven’t found ourselves in this.  There may be some in this congregation who struggle with same-sex-attraction…and if that is one of your sins, then I hope that it is a STRUGGLE.  Something you fight against instead of embrace.  Like every other sin.  But our passage goes on, and if you have any ability to self-examine, you will find yourself somewhere in this list.

Verse 28 - And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strift, decit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithfulness, heartless, ruthless.

We will hear more of this next time, but already now…do not be hypocrites.  Do not look at the man struggling with attraction to another man, a woman struggling with attraction to another woman and say, “Thank God that’s not me!  I thank you God that I’m better than him.  I thank you God that I’m more holy than her.”  Do not sneer at them.  Do not despise them.

Because…have you ever coveted anything that belonged to your neighbour?  That’s a debased mind.

Have you ever been filled with malice, or envy?

Have you ever been deceitful?

Have you ever gossipped - oh that’s a big one for us.

Haughty or boastful?

Have you ever disobeyed your parents?

Then you are on equal footing with those who sin sexually.  Do not think you’re better than them.  You’re not.

All of us who sin - and that’s every single human being who has ever lived or who ever will live (apart from one) - all of us who sin must humble ourselves, and see the real problem.  The ultimate problem.

When you hate…when you are filled with lust or malice…when you gossip, when you slander…the ultimate problem is not those particular sins.  They are A PROBLEM, they must be taken care of - confessed, fought against, annihiliated - but they are not THE PROBLEM.  The ultimate solution is not to mute your gossipping mouth, or gouge out your lustful eyes…the ultimate solution is to humble yourself before your Creator and say: “You alone are God.  Let me submit to you and your will for my life.”

Because you’re not God…so quit playing Him.  Quit playing God - you’re not good at it, and the position is already filled.

So what is the solution?

I could answer: “Paul doesn’t really get around to it for another 49 verses.  Let’s just wait.”

But I can’t do that to you.  I can’t do that to me.

And so we return, in the end, to what we saw in the beginning.  The righteousness of God.

Just a sneak peek.  Go with me ahead in your Bibles 49 verses to Romans 3:21 and following.

But now

The words we love to hear: But now.  Like but God.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

You see?  The righteousness of God as a gift.  The righteousness of God imputed to us!

For there is no distinction

No distinction between Jew and Gentile, between Greek and Barbarian, between homosexuals and gossips…

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Righteousness and wrath.  The two r’s of theology.  The two r’s of the gospel.

But…just as we end…could I add one more?

Righteousness, wrath, and now…redemption.

That’s what it’s REALLY all about.

The righteousness that Christ gives us as our own

Despite the wrath of God that we deserve because of our wayward hearts, because we want to serve ourselves and go our own way

When, by faith we humble ourselves, when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the horror of a life without God and we say: “Please, be my God!  I can’t do it…please, let me serve at your throne” -  through faith, we are REDEEMED.  We belong to Him…FOREVER.

These are the basics of the gospel.

This is the foundation of our hope.

It’s not in us.  We are deserving of wrath.

We deserve wrath, but we get righteousness and so are among the redeemed.  The 3 r’s of the gospel.  How simple it ultimately is.

AMEN.




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

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