Jack Graham - Team Jesus
- Prayer Request
Take your Bibles and turn with me to Romans, the sixteenth chapter, Romans chapter 16. This is a passage of Scripture that so many just skim over or skip over, and yet it's one of the most beautiful and wonderful passages to me in all of God's Word. Even though it is a list of names, people who are, some known, many unknown, unpronounceable names for some of us, and yet each person on this list played a vital part on what I'm calling "Team Jesus". It is what Romans 16 is all about. You know that the Apostle Paul, perhaps, I do believe, the greatest Christian whoever lived. The murderer who became a missionary. The one who once hunted the Church down and persecuted Christians, now proclaiming Christ all around the world. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life was rerouted; he was never the same. And he was called and appointed to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
So he not only preached to the Jews, he said, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first, and then also to the Gentiles". And so he became known as the apostle to the Gentiles as he went from city to city and place to place, and often prison to prison, proclaiming Jesus. Great scholar, preacher, wrote more than half of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And yet, as great as this one man was and is, Paul didn't go it alone. Because the Christian faith is not a solo act; it is a team sport. And when we say, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God". All of it, that means all of it, including all these names that we often miss, that speaks so well of the church and the ministry and the mission of the church.
We get insight when we read even the names and a bit of their bio in these verses. We see something of the function of the Church and the force of the Church in the world, including Rome which was, you know, the capitol city of the world-renowned Roman Empire. And yet these Christians were turning the world upside down. Just a few of them at first, but they believed something that we as Christians believe, and that is Christ is alive; that Jesus is Lord. And in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they established colonies of heaven, places where churches were planted all over the world. The Church of Jesus Christ is a church planting movement. It is a Gospel witness to our neighbors and to our nation.
And so Paul as he's closing the book of Romans, takes time to say thank you. Thank you, gratitude is the virtue in my view of all virtues. It is the first virtue. And out of gratitude: gratitude to God and gratitude for one another flow all the other virtues. And Paul is grateful and he singles out nearly 30 members of the church at Rome, or Christians related to church at Rome. And he calls their name. And so we're going to look at some of these people who are forever friends. And I want you to know them and I want you to love them in the sense, not as Paul perhaps loved them, but in the sense that God uses common people to do uncommon things. Ordinary people just like you and me to do extraordinary things. And so when we say that all the Scripture is inspired, yes, that means even the names of people who occur in God's Word.
If you're taking notes, my first point in this passage of Scripture, calling it "Team Jesus" is the worthy woman on Team Jesus. We won't take much time here today because we talked quite a bit last week about the first two verses of Romans chapter 16. Met a woman by the name of Phoebe. You see her story in verse 1, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron (that is, a benefactor) of many and of myself as well". And how we thank God for women like Phoebe. A church without women would be like a baseball team with no infielders. Or maybe a pitcher without a catcher. Because just as in the home we have order and distinction and unique roles, so do we have this in the church. But it was the heart of Paul to put his hand on this woman and she, a servant of the church, was to be honored as a worthy woman. Thank God for Phoebe.
So on Team Jesus you have not only this worthy woman but she is representative of all the worthy women and willing women that faithful served the Christ and delivered the Gospel and ministered in the church. And we thank God for you. But not only do we see in this passage the worthy woman on in Team Jesus but I want to show you know a courageous couple on Team Jesus and we meet them in verse 3: "Greet Prisca and Aquila". You may know her as Priscilla. Paul refers to her as Prisca which the formal name. Her diminutive name was Priscilla. It's sort of like my wife's name is Deborah. That's her formal name but she goes as Deb. So that's the sense. And this couple Priscilla and Aquila, Paul says are, "my fellow workers in Christ, who", watch this, verse 4, "who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well".
Now who is this couple Priscilla and Aquila who Paul calls partners. And not only partners but co-workers and close friends? They met at Corinth years before this letter is written. They serve together at Ephesus. And in their journey with Jesus, Priscilla and Aquila end up in Rome. And so he is greeting them. They were church planters, planting churches in their house, in their home around the world; specifically at Ephesus and here at Rome. They even mentored one of the great preachers of all time. His name was Apollos. Apollos was known as golden throat or the golden tongue. He was a man, according to Acts chapter 18, who was mighty in the Scripture, powerful, persuasive apologist, declaring the Old Testament scriptures and describing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. But when Priscilla and Aquila met this man Apollos, there were a few gaps in his theology.
There were a few things missing in this man’s life. And so he went to the seminary of Priscilla and Aquila. They took him aside into their home and they discipled this great man of God. And first of all, you're grateful for Apollos who humbled himself and went to these commoner's home but a home where people loved Jesus, both of them, and they led him more accurately in the Word of God. I mean this is a power couple! A dynamic duo who had the church in their house. They graciously opened their home for the sake of the Gospel of Christ and the work of the church. A good place to stop and just remind all of us, to remind ourselves that our house, your home should be God's house. A place where Jesus is Lord and people are loved. That your house could be a place in your neighborhood as a vantage point for the Gospel of Christ. Whether people are meeting in your home or just know the people in your home, you and your family.
The church, of course, did not meet in big buildings in the early days, but it spread from house to house. There were big gatherings like we have here today. Solomon's portico which is an outdoor venue, they could have gathered tens of thousands there. They met openly but they also met in homes and houses for Bible study and teaching in small groups. More about that a little bit later. But the work of Christ could not exist apart from men and women like Priscilla and Aquila. A marriage, a husband and a wife dedicated fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. Is your marriage a ministry to others? Starting with your own family and your friends. Priscilla and Aquila had a church in their house. Would your house be a good place for the church? It should be. They gave themselves seriously to winning people to Christ. They served the Lord faithfully to the degree that Paul said, "They risked their necks, their very lives for me".
For what are you willing to lay down your life? For who are you willing to lay down your life? Would you lay down your life for the sake of the Gospel and the advancement of the message and the mission of Jesus? That was Priscilla and Aquila. And how we thank God for them. Co-workers, co-laborers who lived their lives and left their legacies for us to experience. Protective of Paul, powerful in their witness, and Paul loved them. As a matter of fact, when it came to the end of the Apostle Paul's life, you can find this in 2 Timothy chapter 4. Don't turn to it now; just trust me on this. At the end of it, he's already signing off; he's ready to go to heaven. He said, "I fought the good fight. I've run the course. I've kept the faith. And there's laid up for me a crown of righteousness".
And so he's saying goodbye cause he knows he's ready to blast off into heaven and he indeed would give his life, executed for his faith in Christ. He's now himself in Rome at the Mamertine prison which was a dung hole in the ground. He's looking at death but he's looking to Jesus. And as he is signing off, among the last words that he gave was "Greet Priscilla and Aquila". He wanted them to know "I'm going, but I'll see you in heaven! I'll meet you on the other side"! Because together they shared Christ and the witness of the Gospel. So we see here on Team Jesus a worthy woman and all worthy men and women who serve the Lord, we see a courageous couple and all couples, men and women who together serve the Lord. But I also want you to see next on Team Jesus, faithful friends.
And that's really what we read in verses 5 all the way down to 15. We won't read them all again. We took note of them all last week, but I want to cherry-pick a few of these and remind you of a couple of these because these are the friends of God and they're the friends of Paul. And he, once again, is saying "I love you in Christ". What is the call of Christ, the command of God? When you wrap it all up, Jesus said, "The first and greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength. And the second is like it: that is, show your love for God by loving your neighbor as yourself". Jesus would go on to say, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another".
And so Paul, the loving Christian, loves on his faithful friends. Some he had met; some he had never met; he knew by introduction or by the inspiration of their lives. One is in verse 5, "Greet my beloved Epaenetus (or Epaenetus), who was the first convert to Christ in Asia". Paul thinks back and he remembers when this man Epaenetus came to faith in Jesus Christ. He was of the first fruit, he said, of the harvest in Asia. There's something about your first convert. I don't know if this was literally Paul's first convert, but it must have been fairly close. This man, and so it’s important to note this first man in Asia who came to Jesus because the Gospel is for the world. It’s for everyone! He says in verse 6, "Greet Mary who has worked for you".
There are 5 or 6 Marys in the New Testament. We meet her here. The only thing we know about here according to verse 6 is that she worked hard for you. Ergo, which means sweaty labor; hard working, to the point, toiling to the point of exhaustion. This was Mary. There's no easy way, there's no cheap way to serve the Lord. Ask Mary, ask Priscilla and Aquila. It will cost you to serve Jesus, but it will cost you far more not to serve Jesus. Mary is notable for her hard work in the Lord. And then there is Andronicus and Junia, (most likely again, a couple) my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. This is verse 7. They're well-known to the apostles. The apostles knew them because they actually came to faith in Jesus Christ before the Apostle Paul. They were, no doubt, relatives of the Apostle Paul.
Could it be that these family members are the ones who first witnessed and influenced Saul of Tarsus who became the great Paul the missionary? We don't know. But again, Andronicus and Junia "my kinsmen", my relatives. And they were in prison with Paul at some point. Side by side in the service of the Lord. And all the apostles, we're talking about the big dogs now, they all knew Peter and John and James, they all knew this great couple. Then down in verse 8, are you with me? "Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord". We don't know much about this man other than the fact that there is this name Ampliatus that is on a tomb in the catacombs outside of Rome where Christians met in the first and second century. And could it be that this man beloved in the Lord. This is a slave's name by the way. A slave who came to Jesus. And yet at his tomb, if this is his tomb, Ampliatus beloved in the Lord.
There's a decorated and beautiful done tomb in the catacombs to honor a man like this for his faithfulness to the Lord. And then he mentions others. This shows you something, doesn’t it, of the diversity and yet the unity of the church. All of these people together. Skipping down to verse 12, "Greet those workers in the Lord", again, hard workers in the Lord, "Tryphaena and Tryphosa". Twins whose names mean dainty and delicate, but they were anything but dainty and delicate for the Lord. They were dynamic for the Lord, these triumphant twins! And, "Greet the beloved Persis", which was a woman from Persia who again, "worked hard for the Lord". Have you noticed how often these women show up working hard for the Lord? And Paul addresses them and acknowledges them and blesses them. Verse 13 is a great one, because here we meet a man by the name of Rufus, "chosen by the Lord". Most likely that should be translated "Rufus, a choice man in the Lord". He was a choice person.
And what stands out about him is his mother, because the Apostle Paul said the mother of Rufus was a mother to me as well, a spiritual mother. Not his biological mother, but she was a spiritual mother. We have brothers and sisters in the church; we also have mothers and fathers in the church spiritually, because remember, we are a family. There are spiritual mothers who mentor women and spiritual fathers. Like my pastor, Fred Swank. Forty-three years, same church. I'm so grateful for the great people of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church and my pastor who was a spiritual father. I had a wonderful dad myself, but this man because my mentor in the ministry, my father in the ministry. And there are men and women in our lives if we will listen and look for them, that will equip us and encourage us and elevate us in the Lord. I know my life was never the same since the day I walked in and met my pastor, Fred Swank.
And so you can think of people in your life, I hope, that have served the Lord well and has served you well and have mothered you, nourished you. Paul was nourished and nurtured in some way by this woman, Mary. And whose wife was Mary? In the book of Mark, we're told, I reminded you of this last week if you were here, when Jesus was carrying the cross to Calvary and fell beneath the load, the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He was beaten to within an inch of His life; he collapses under the cross and a Roman soldier conscripts a man from the crowd by the name of Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross of Jesus, which he did, to the place where Jesus died. Did you know that that man Simon of Cyrene and his wife Mary had two children that are mentioned in the book of Mark, Alexander and, yes, Rufus? So Rufus was the son of a man who carried the cross of Jesus. Can you imagine the stories that were told in that family? Well, he mentions more: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes (this is verse 14) Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Then he mentions the family together, all of these important to the Lord.
Every person matters. All of them mentioned because they advanced the Gospel of Christ. I'm so grateful for the theme of this verse and these verses. Because it reminds us what we're to be now on Team Jesus as the compassionate congregations of Team Jesus. When you look down at the last verse, verse 16, it says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you". All the churches of Christ say hello. The people in all of these churches. Now blossoming, flourishing around the world, small house churches, people gathered together in rooms, winning people to Christ, proclaiming the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the churches. And he mentions greet one another all the churches are all the saints that are in Christ Jesus, all the saints, all the saints. A saint is a saved person. The church in Rome doesn't make a person a saint. Heaven makes a person a saint! Not the church, but Christ makes you a saint. And if you are saved, you are a saint. You're either a saint or an ain't. You're either in or you're out.
In fact one of the things that recurs in this passage of Scripture is the phrase "in Christ Jesus". I'm running out of time so we won't cover it all, but 6 or 7 times in Romans 16 here it says "in Christ Jesus, in Christ Jesus, in the Lord". You're either in the Lord or out of the Lord positionally. You're either in or out in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You're either a saint or not a saint. These saints, it also means set-apart ones. The word saint means set apart or sanctified. You can hear the word sanctify. They are growing in their faith; they are set apart. Remember, they aren't saints in heaven; they're saints in Rome! They're living it out in Rome of all places. A light in the darkness.
Then what Paul said in Romans 12:21: "Overcoming evil with good". And that's what we're to do. Saints are radically saved like Paul. Real conversion. These people were not saints in the churches because they were in the church, but because they were in Christ. You can join a church, you can be baptized, you can go to Sunday school and Bible study. You can do all that, you can be in the church but not in Christ; not have a personal relationship with Christ. Some have a relationship with the church but not a relationship with Jesus. So these are the saints and there’s real conversion here. Let me remind you that you have to do something more than die to go to heaven. Jesus died for you and took your sins and rose again on the third day so that you can be given eternal life, the free gift of God. And when you receive and respond by repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ and Christ alone as your Savior, then you are in Christ and Christ is now living in you. And we all make up the church together. This is Team Jesus!