Skip Heitzig - Romans 1:1-23
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So let's turn to that book tonight as we get started. If you are new to this format, this evening's study or a study like this, we will be in the scriptures for the next hour. If that's something you did not bargain for, if you think that's way too long for you to be able to sit still or you might change your mind in the middle of it, we ask you to, as we pray, bow our heads, and close our eyes, speak now or forever hold your peace. You could get up at that time. You could then move to the very back row or slip out or, then you wouldn't be, otherwise you will be a distraction if you do it in the middle of the message. So we consider this a holy time, a time set apart. So we like that once you're in, you're in. You're in it to win it. Let's pray.
Father, thank you for the grace of God that has been shown to us, the unmerited, undeserved, lavish favor that comes from your hand and has been experienced in our lives. Lord, I pray that you would give us ears to hear what lessons you have for us in the book of Romans, this incredible treatise, this monumental letter by Paul the Apostle, and that we would see just how much you have loved us to establish a relationship with us, to call us, to convince us of our need of you. Strengthen us as we, as a church, study this portion of scripture. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
I'm guessing, I believe, this is my seventh time teaching through the book of Romans. And yet, I feel inadequate. It is such an incredible scope and breadth of truth that I always approach this book with great anticipation. I'm stoked to go through it, but also a little bit of fear and trepidation because it is so monumental. We come in Romans to the third major section of the New Testament. The New Testament begins with a four-fold testimony of the life of Jesus. Those are the Gospels, Matthew, Luke, and John.
The second section is the historical section, telling us about the growth after the birth of the early church, how it spread to different areas of the world and how it was taken by Paul the Apostle to different parts. Then we get in Romans throughout the rest of the New Testament until the book of Revelation, we get the letters, correspondence written by men of God to different churches because of different situations that we're going through.
So this is the first of that section, of the epistles or the letters of Paul the Apostle. You remember that Jesus, in the Book of Acts, told his followers that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, in all Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth. As far as Jerusalem was concerned, Rome was pretty uttermost. Though it was the center of the world, as far as Jerusalem was concerned, it was way far away. But Jesus said, you're going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the Earth.
What's interesting about that is, at that time, Paul the Apostle was not a saved man. And he would be the one to take the gospel to most of the uttermost parts of the Earth at that time. God will get a hold of him in Acts chapter 9, but when Jesus spoke that promise, at the very beginning part of Acts, the uttermost parts of the Earth had really remained untouched. The gospel was just taking root in Jerusalem, but it was Jesus' intention that it go everywhere. And Rome was the center of the world. As far as Rome is concerned, it was like a magnet for Paul the Apostle. He had always wanted to go there. When we start reading the Book of Romans, he will express his desire to go to Rome, having not been there when this book was written.
Now, chronologically, when we left off in the Book of Acts, which was some time ago, but we already saw that Paul does make it to Rome in the 28th chapter of Acts. He gets there. But when he writes the letter to the Romans, it was still a desire in his heart, wanted to go there, tried to go there, he mentions, but he couldn't make it. Something got in the way.
You remember, I'm sure, in the Book of Acts, Paul the Apostle was in the temple in Jerusalem one day. He had gone there. He had taken a vow with four other men, a Nazarite vow. He had paid the money for the completion of the Nazarite vow in the temple, the shearing of the hair, the sacrifice. And when he was in the temple, some of the Jews saw Paul the Apostle recognize him. That Saul of Tarsus turned Paul the Apostle. And since there was an Ephesian in the city that week named Trophimus that the Jews recognized, a very famous Gentile, they made a mistake thinking that Paul had brought Trophimus into the temple itself.
And so a riot broke out, and they apprehended Paul. They wanted to rip him limb from limb. The Garrison of the Roman guard got wind of it, apprehended Paul to protect him. And then Paul stood up and gave a testimony before his Jewish brethren, which made them more unglued. He went into Roman custody again. And while he was in prison that night, the Lord gave Paul a promise. He said Paul, don't fear. As you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you will bear witness of me in Rome also. So it's like, yes, I've always wanted to go to Rome, and now the Lord has made me a personal promise, I'm going to go to Rome and bear witness of him.
Can't wait to go there. I'm already planning my missionary trip. I've already got the agenda going in my mind. What Paul did not bank on is how he would go to Rome. I'm sure he thought it would be missionary journey number four. He had been on three missionary journeys. He couldn't wait to make number for his trip to Rome. He would make a fourth journey, he would go to Rome, though not as a missionary, but as a Roman prisoner, for he was arrested in Jerusalem, as I mentioned, taken to Caesarea later on. He will spend three years in that city going through successive trials before the governor Festus, Felix, Felix, Festus, and then King Agrippa, King Herod Agrippa.
He gets accused every time. They make up accusations every time. He thinks the trial is over. He keeps going through the same rigamarole for three years. Finally, he pulls out a right that is the right of every Roman citizen called appellatio. Appellatio is the Latin word for, to make an appeal. It was the right of any Roman citizen, if he felt his case was not being tried fairly, justly, with equity, to make a personal appeal to have none other than Caesar himself hear the case. That was the right of every Roman citizen. So finally, he just had enough of the going round and round and round.
And he thought, I appeal to Caesar. And King Herod Agrippa said, you know, this guy could have gone free, but he appealed to Caesar. To Caesar he will go. Now Paul is taken and put on a grain ship as a prisoner, and he makes his journey to Rome. So he goes, incarcerated, in chains, but what's cool about that is instead of raising money from the churches to send him on a fourth journey, the Roman government pays for his trip to Rome.
I love that. You're going to Rome, Paul, and all expenses are paid. I've got you covered. I'm going to make sure you not only go to Rome, but you don't have to raise money from the brethren. You don't have to raise money on your own. You don't have to use any of your own funds. The Roman government will pay for your trip to Rome.
I do believe that God is interested in economy. And if you're looking for a deal, maybe God can get you a deal, although the outcome may not be what you intended. So he goes as a prisoner, and he makes his way to Rome. But here, in this book, he has not yet gone. It's his desire, as we will see. And what can we say about the book of Romans? Well, it has been called the manifesto of the Christian life, the great Christian manifesto.
Now, there are some repeated words you need to know about in this book. The word law appears 78 times. It doesn't just refer to the law of Moses. Sometimes, it is used like a principle. Now Paul will say, "For the law of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." He's not speaking of the law of Moses. He's speaking of the principle of life and the principle of faith versus the principle of death. But 78 times the word law is used in the Book of Romans. The word righteousness appears 66 times, and the word faith appears 62 times. So by looking at the repetition of key words, we get an idea of what the theme of the book is.
The theme of the book, put those words together. It's how we are made righteous before God by faith, the principle or the law of faith, not the law of Moses or the principle of death. We are made right before God. We are given a righteousness by our faith. The great summary statement for the entire book can be found in chapter 1, verse 16 and 17 where he says, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek or the Gentile. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, the just shall live by faith."
The book of Romans can be traced, a study of the book of Romans can be found in every major revival in church history. Just think of that for a moment. Every major revival in church history, you will find the leaders transformed, touched by, influenced by their study of the book of Romans. One is the great Protestant Reformation. This is the book that transformed the life of Martin Luther. Martin Luther became an Augustinian monk. At 21 years of age, he was in the halls of Erfurt, Germany as an Augustinian monk. But he struggled. He struggled with the burden of his own sin. He wanted to be free from that. He found the book of Romans, and he decided I'm going to make a prolonged study of the Book of Romans. And Paul the Apostle said, the book of Romans is the chief part of the New Testament. It is the purest gospel to be found.
But let me tell you a little bit about what he found to get there. Martin Luther, as I mentioned, was burdened with his own sin. And as he started reading the Book of Romans, we just read that little phrase in chapter 1, verse 16 and 17, his greatest impediment was a phrase that bothered him greatly. It was the phrase "the righteousness of God." That bothered him because Martin Luther interpreted that to mean that God is righteous, and the righteousness of God is the righteousness that God has by which he punishes the unrighteous. But as he kept reading through the Book of Romans, he found that he had defined it wrongly, interpreted it wrongly.
The righteousness of God that Paul was speaking about isn't a righteous God judging an unrighteous world, as much as a righteous God imputing righteousness to an unrighteous world by faith, that he would use his righteousness to forgive the unrighteous, and it totally changed his life. God justifies the ungodly. So one of the great commentaries on the book of Romans, and I know I'm belabor, I'm giving you a long introduction. And believe me. I intended to go through chapters 1 and 2, but I always bite off more than I can chew. And sometimes I feel you need to know a little bit of the background.
So Martin Luther wrote a commentary on the book of Romans. And in the 18th century, a guy by the name of John Wesley started reading it. And it so greatly influenced John Wesley that John Wesley, just reading the introduction of the commentary by Martin Luther on the Book of Romans, says "my heart was strangely warmed by the truth that I was reading" in the introduction of the commentary. And that provoked a great evangelical revival of the 18th century under John and Charles Wesley. So again, every great revival, and you just find it over and over again, will trace some of its influence back to the book of Romans. In the book of Romans, just about every major doctrine, biblical doctrine is found, usually articulated and spelled out, but at least found, every major biblical doctrine.
Now let me give you a quick outline of the book. The Book of Romans falls into four categories, easy to remember, the wrath of God, the grace of God, the plan of God, and the will of God. That's the entire book. So chapter 1 to chapter 3, verse 20, is about the wrath of God, actually beginning in chapter 1, verse 17, the wrath, or 18, the wrath of God becomes the focus.
From chapter 1, verse 18, to chapter 3, verse 20, Paul will paint a dark background about the wrath of God, followed by the grace of God, chapter 3, verse 21, to chapter 8, verse 39, or the end of chapter 8 is all about God's grace. He will really, in depth, dissect that idea of God's grace. Then, in chapters 9, 10, and 11, it's the plan of God for the Jew and the Gentile because they had all sorts of questions about, well, if we're saved by faith, what about the Jewish race? What about the Jewish nation? Does God have plans for Israel? So that's chapters 9, 10, and 11.
And then beginning in chapter 12 to the end of the book, it's all about the will of God in the life of the believer. So we begin. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ", called an apostle, literally, the words "to be" are not found, "called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God." Ancient letters always put the author's name first.
In our Western culture, we put the author's name last. We put the recipient's name first. If this were a Western letter, it would say "dear Romans." And then we'd have 16 chapters. And then finally, it would say "Paul the Apostle, servant of Jesus Christ." And so we would get this long scroll, the Book of Romans that it would be to us, the Romans. And you'd look at it and go, well, who wrote this thing?
And you'd go all the way to the end of the scroll, turn it over and go all the way to the end. Oh, Paul wrote it. So I think it's just better to begin the letter by saying, "Hi, this is me, I'm writing this letter," so you don't have to go to the end and find out who wrote it. The author always names himself or herself first in ancient literature.
So Paul, Paul writes this letter. Paul writes so many of the letters in the New Testament. The word Paul, the name Paul means "little." Of course, his Hebrew name was Saul. And Saul means asked of God. He was named after King Saul, who was the first King of Israel from the tribe of Benjamin. Paul the Apostle was also a Benjamite from the tribe of Benjamin, and he was named after one of the heroes in antiquity, King Saul. Saul of Tarsus was his name. He was from the area of Cilicia, ancient region which is today Eastern Turkey. And he was from the city of Tarsus.
The name Saul, I get. The name Paul, as I mentioned, means little. Now, we don't exactly know why he was named Paul. That's his Gentile name or his Greek name, Paul. I have told you before, though, that in ancient times, people would name their children based on circumstances of their birth. It could be that Paul was a small child, and he could have grown up to be a small man. Now, we don't know. However, there's only one piece of information regarding how Paul the apostle looked from ancient records, only one. And it could not be, it could be true, it could be false. We don't know.
But the only surviving description we have of what Paul the apostle looked like is interesting. It says he was a very short man, and he was sort of hunched over. He had a hooked nose, according to this description, losing his hair on top, and he has one, his eyebrows, it says, joined in the middle. So a unibrow, hooked nose, unibrow, balding, short guy, and, the description says, bow-legged. So maybe it's true. Maybe it's not true.
It is interesting if that's the way he looked because he will mention that, when you look at me, you might not think I'm impressive, but wait till you read my stuff. He's very, very powerful, not much to look at in person, but quite bold and quite persuasive in his speech and in his letter. So Paul, and he introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, not Paul the Great Apostle, but Paul the Slave.
It's one of his favorite titles for himself. Doulos is the Greek term. "Called an apostle," and I like this, "separated to the gospel of God." Before Paul was saved, he was a Pharisee. He says in Galatians, Philippians, when he writes a letter, "I was a Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law a Pharisee, concerning righteousness which comes from the law, I was blameless, perfect."
The word Pharisee means separated. Perushim is the Hebrew word. It means to be separated. And the idea is separated from people, separated from activities, separated from sinfulness. I live a life of separation from these things. Very stringent Pharisees prided themselves and in being unlike everybody else, separated from them.
And so you would see devout Pharisees walking down the streets. And if Gentiles were coming their way, they would, the Pharisees would take their robes and place them very tight across their bodies as if to say, I won't even get close to you or let my robes rustle in your general direction. You are so stinking defiled, you Gentile, that I'm not going to get cooties from you, I'm just going to be separated from you.
But here, Paul doesn't say I'm separated from something. He says, I'm separated to something. That's important. A lot of people take refuge in a negative righteousness. I don't do this, and I don't do that, and I don't do the other thing. Cool, what do you do? What is it you do? What are you separated unto?
I think it's possible to have a saved soul but a lost life. Your soul is saved, you're going to heaven, but you don't do anything with your life. You're not separated to some grand purpose to be used by God. I'm separated to the gospel. I want to make sure people hear this good news, that's what gospel means, of Jesus Christ, which He promised before, through his prophets, in the Holy Scriptures.
The Old Testament anticipated the New Testament. The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 39 said, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the House of Israel, not like the Old Covenant. So it was promised before in the Holy Scripture. The prophet Isaiah predicts the coming of Christ, predicts his sacrifice on the cross in Isaiah 53. Concerning his son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh. God began to promise the Messiah, very definitely, unmistakably, when David was born and began to grow and God began to make a covenant with King David. God appeared to him.
God told David that he was going to make an everlasting covenant with him. So one day, David, this is how it all came about, was living in his palace in Jerusalem. He's the second king, he's got it made, he's got servants, he's got a nice big screen TV. He's got lots of donkeys in the garage. You know, he's got maids, servants, et cetera. And he's just looking around going, man, I got it good. But he looked out, and he noticed the Tabernacle, not the temple, the Tabernacle. There's a tent outside. They had taken the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle from the House of Obed-Edom and moved it to Jerusalem, but it stayed a Tabernacle, a tent.
And David just said, man, here I am living in this great palace, and God's living in a tent. He's camping out. And so he brought Nathan in, the profit, and he goes Nathan, I've got this idea. I'm looking around, I got this palace, I've got it made, I'm living high on the hog in this beautiful, beautiful palatial expression. But God's still living in that tent, that Tabernacle. I'm going to build got a house. I'm going to spare no expense. I'm going to make him a great house. And Nathan the Prophet says David, that's an awesome idea. Do all that is in your heart. That night, the Lord woke Nathan up from a sleep.
And he said, Nathan, you've spoke out of turn, you spoke rashly. You told David, do all that is in your heart. I didn't tell David to build me a house, I didn't tell him to build me a temple. In fact, David can't build me a temple. His hands are full of blood. He's a bloody man. He's a man of war. I don't want him building me a temple.
So you're going to have to go back and tell him he can't build me a temple. His son will, but you go tell him, I'm going to build him a house, a dynasty. I'm going to use him and his children after him to build a kingdom, an everlasting kingdom. Somebody from the House of David will reign upon the throne forever. You go tell him that.
So next day, Nathan comes in and goes David, I'm sorry, dude, I spoke out of turn. And I told you he said, do all that is in your heart. And God said, eh, can't do that. You're a man of blood. You're not building the temple. But that's the bad news. Now let me tell you the good news. God's going to build you a house, man. He's going to build you a dynasty. And this covenant that God made with him is the idea of this promise that Paul is mentioning. It was mentioned before in the Old Testament through David. By the time we get to Isaiah, that notion is clearly established that the Messiah is going to come.
Somebody is going to come. Somebody is going to be born to fulfill the promise that God made to David, "For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given." And the government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. "Upon the throne of David, to order it and establish it from this time forth, even forevermore, the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." So it's unmistakable. God promised a kingdom through somebody from the line of King David. So that is important to the Jewish mentality because of the promise that God made to the Jewish nation.
"And so it's concerning his son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the Resurrection from the dead through whom we have received grace, unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, and apostleship." That's what he was called to do. He was, an apostle means a sent-out one. God sent him out with a task, with a mission. "We've received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for his name, among whom you also, you and Rome, you believers in Rome, are the called of Jesus Christ, to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." Now, look at the words "to be."
They're italicized. See them? When they're italicized, it means they're not in the original. They're added by the translators. The translators are trying to get us to make sense of it. But in the original, it doesn't say, "You are called to be saints," because if we read that, especially some of us, depending on how we grew up, we might start thinking oh, well, maybe if I do good things and I die and miracles are done after I'm dead in my name, and people pray to me once I'm dead and things happen, and the church canonizes me as a saint, then I'll be a saint.
But notice, take out the words "to be," since they're italicized and not in the original. To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints. A saint is not a dead person. A saint is a living person. The word saint means set-apart one, hagios. The word holy and saint come from the same root word in Greek. So you're a saint. I grew up in the Catholic Church. We had Saints that we prayed to, Saints that had been canonized. That is not the biblical notion of a saint. Saints are God's people, living. So you're a saint, I'm a saint. And feel free to call me Saint Skip. It's got a ring to it, don't you think? It's biblical.
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called Saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, Paul had never been to Rome. He's anxious to get there. He's just about to mention his desires, long standing. But it begs the question, if Paul is writing to Christians in Rome and Paul has never been to Rome, then how did the church at Rome get started? Wasn't started by Paul. Probably, the church at Rome was started as a result of visitors to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, the Bible tells us there were people from all sorts of places in the world, Elamites Parthians, Medes, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes.
So they came, they saw, they heard the preaching of Peter. They were there on the day of Pentecost. They saw the great miracles that took place. Maybe some of them were baptized of the 3,000 that were baptized that day by the apostles in Jerusalem. And so they were saved in Jerusalem, went back to Rome, started a church. And that church bore fruit. And Paul was anxious to go see them. And so in verse 8, he says first, "I thank my God, true Jesus Christ, for y'all", Paul is a southerner, you see, "for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, for God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of his Son. That without ceasing, I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request, if by some means, now at last, I may find a way, in the will of God, to come to you, for I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift so that you may be established."
Back to verse 8, Paul mentions that he prays for them. He does that in most of his letters. But notice how he begins verse 8, his prayer for them. First, he says, "I thank my God." It's a shame that some of us think of prayer as a crisis event. I'm in trouble, I better pray. Things are getting really bad, all we can do is pray. First, "I thank God." That's first in his prayer activities, not, I'm in trouble, help. First, "I thank God." "In everything, give thanks," Paul said, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you." Think of how much we have to be thankful for. And that is something we should be reminding ourselves of daily. And our thanks giving should be daily.
Psalm 103, "Bless the Lord, oh my soul, let all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Who forgives all your inequities, who heals all your diseases, who rescues your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies, who fills your mouth with good things so that your youth is renewed, like the eagles. Gives you food to eat, gives you tender mercies, gives you blessings, forgiven your sins.
Pause and think of those things and go, thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Some people hear that and they go, yeah, but it's so much more fun to complain. I just, that's just my nature, man. I like to gripe. Let me tell you that complaining is not a spiritual gift. And when you complain, really, half the people that hear your complaints, they don't even care.
And the other half are glad you finally got what's coming to you. So rather than complaining, it's better to be thankful. And you know, that's something you learn as a Christian. Paul said, while he was in jail, he said I've learned in every state, whatever state I am in, to be content. You learn that. You learn content, but you learn thanks giving. I love the story about the boy who built a little boat. He labored long on it. He glued it up. He painted it up. And it was just a perfect day with a light breeze, and he took it out to the pond near his house and he set the boat on the pond.
And the little sails were filled with a slight breeze, and it started going across the pond. And he just took such delight in it. It's like, man, I've been planning for this day. This is perfect. But while it was right about in the middle of the lake, the slight breeze developed into a strong wind, and prevailing winds took over. And the little boat sank. And instead of complaining and griping, he smiled really big. And he goes, what a great day to fly a kite. And he went home and got his kite. So that's a good way to look at life. It's a good day to fly a kite. Didn't go as I planned, but I wonder what God has in store.
So first, I thank God, Paul said. And then he made request. And he said, verse 11, "I long to see you that I may impart to use some spiritual gift that you may be established." In other words, I want to come, and I want to serve you. But look at how he adjusts that a little bit in verse 12. "That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith, both of you and me."
Paul the Great Apostle was never above telling his audience, you really encouraged me. I really need to be together with you. It's not just me ministering to you. It's you ministering back to me as well. And so he's writing a letter, but he longs to see them. And there's something about writing or texting or emailing that just isn't satisfying.
You can only communicate so much. You want to eventually be eye to eye and see the person and get the body language and hear the inflection and the intonation, a full orbed communication. When I was dating my wife, before she was my wife, she was my girlfriend, Lenya. I lived in Huntington Beach, California. She lived in Hawaii.
And in those days, they didn't have, it wasn't like today with the cell phones. It was very expensive to make a long-distance phone call to Hawaii. So it was very sparing. But we wrote letters. And I still have those letters. I've kept them, that correspondence. And I go over it. I realize by the longing in the letters, it's just very unsatisfying to just write without being able to see face to face.
Now, of course, we have since seen each other face to face. And the rest is history. But so it was with Paul and the Romans. Verse 13 now, "I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I plan to come to you but was hindered until now, that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.
"I am a debtor, both to the Greeks and to barbarians, both too wise and to unwise so as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. I really want to go to Rome, Paul said, not as a tourist, not as a sightseer, but as a fruit bearer. I want to bear fruit among you. I want to do something spiritual in your midst. I want you to encourage me, but I want to really be able to minister to you in the spirit as well."
Interesting, in verse 14, that phrase, "I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise." Let me unravel that. There's a couple of ways you can be in debt. Number one, you can borrow money from somebody. Now you are in debt to that person. You have to pay off whatever you have borrowed from them, and you are in debt to them until you pay it off.
There's a second way you can be in debt. You can be given money from someone, for someone else, a third party. At that point, you are a debtor to the third party. You have an obligation. You owe a debt, and the way you pay it off is you take the money given to you and not spend it on yourself. You deliver it to them. You are in debt to them until you have given it to them. That's how Paul uses this phrase, "I'm a debtor to both Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and unwise." And what is the debt? The debt is the gospel. I am in debt to share the message with people, including Romans. And my obligation is to not hoard the gospel but to herald the gospel. That's the debt. I was reading it just the other day, maybe it was yesterday in Second Kings.
So there was a famine in Samaria up in Northern Israel, middle part of Israel. In the city of Samaria, there was a famine. And the Syrian army had encamped around Samaria to destroy it. And so in chapter 7, it says, there were four lepers, guys with leprosy, hanging out at the gate of the city of Samaria. And they had a death sentence, they had leprosy, so eventually the disease in those days would consume their body. And they're starving to death. There's a famine in the land. So they look at each other. And one leper says to his buddies, you know what? We're going to die. Why should we just sit here until we die?
If we just stay here, we're, going to die. If we go into the city of Samaria, we're going to die because there's no food in this city. But what if we were to go to the camp of the enemy, the Syrians, and turn ourselves in? It could be that they let us live, and they feed us a meal. Now, it could be that they don't. They could kill us. But so what? We're going to die anyway. If we sit here, we're going to die. We go into the city, we're going to die. We could try going into the enemy camp and seeing if we could turn ourselves in. They may feed us. We may live. What have we got to lose? So they go to the Syrian camp. Nobody's there. It's totally vacant.
What had happened is they imagined that they heard the sound of chariots, and they thought an army had come in, an army like of the Hittites or the Egyptians that had been conscripted by the Israelites. And so they said, we're surrounded, and they fled the city. They ran away. So these four lepers come in, they find all these tents filled with food, wine, water, gold, silver. They start drinking, eating, going from tent to tent, hoarding, hiding all the stuff they found. They go, man, we're just, this is awesome. We're having a heyday. And then they realized, they looked at each other again.
They said, this isn't right, man. What we're doing is not right, for this is a day of good news, yet we remain silent. We have just found the enemy camp with all of their supplies. We owe it to the people in Samaria to tell them there's food for you, there's water for you, there's supplies for you. This is a day of good news, and we remain silent. Folks, this is a day of good news. We have a debt to the world. We can't remain silent. There's salvation for the taking, there's grace that God is offering. So Paul said, I have a debt. I am a debtor to the Greeks, to the barbarians, to the wise.
Now, let me explain that, Greeks and barbarians. First of all, the Jews, the Jews divided the world into two groups, Jews and Gentiles, non-Jews. And Gentiles, a stringent, devout Jew would say God created Gentiles just to make hell hotter, to kindle the fires of hell. That's why God made them, throw them in there, make it nice and hot, to punish bad people.
That's why God made them. But we're the Jews, we're the chosen race. Now Paul's going deal head on with that. The Greeks also divided the whole world up into two groups, Greeks and barbarians. If you weren't a Greek, you're a barbarian. The term barbarian is an onomatopoetic word, meaning that the sound of the word is the definition of the word. The Greeks would listen to non-Greeks speak. The Greeks believe that their language was the language of the gods. It's beautiful, it's expressive, it's very precise, there's really nothing like it. I think, to this day, the Greek language is an awesome language if you studied biblical Greek.
Well, the Greeks took pride in their language, and their culture, second to none. So if you're not a Greek, high-cultured, you're a barbarian. And they would listen to the language of the non-Greeks. And it sounded to them like bar, bar, bar, bar, just gibberish. So they coined the term barbarian, somebody who doesn't speak Greek.
So when Paul says I am a debtor to both Greeks and to the barbarians, and he will also say Jew and Gentile, what he means is, I have an obligation to the high class and to the hick class, to the down and outers and the up and outers because they're both out. I have a debt to those who study Socrates as well as those who can't even spell Socrates. An obligation to all men for the gospel. So as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also, for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, verse 16, "for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes", notice this, "to the Jew first and also for the Greek." This is a phrase that will be repeated, "Jew first, also to the Greek."
That's a theological priority, first of all. God made a covenant with the Jewish people. God made promises to the Jewish people. God promised the Messiah to the Jewish people. So it is a theological priority that first it would go to the covenant people, the Jews. And the gospel did go to Jerusalem and Judea. And also, it is a chronological priority. Whenever Paul would go into a city, a Greek city, a Roman city, he would always go first to the synagogue and preach at the synagogue. The Jew first, he wants them to know their Messiah has arrived, all the promises in the Old Testament they have been longing to see fulfilled have been fulfilled in Jesus.
Then, after the synagogue, he would go to the agora, the marketplace, the city at large, the Gentile, and preach to them. So to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. "For in it", verse 17, there's that great verse, "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, the just shall live by faith."
Now I told you about Martin Luther. The verse that I just read, verse 17, is the key verse that transformed him. "The just shall live by faith." Martin Luther, as an Augustinian monk in Erfurt, Germany, was so burdened by his own failures, weighed down by his own sins, that he went to confession daily. And his confessor, or the priest who would hear his confession, was just sick of him coming so much because he would, like, confess little tiny things that weren't anything at all.
And so finally, the priest said to Martin Luther, go out and commit some sin worthy of confessing instead of bringing all this drivel to me. Paul then traveled to, Martin Luther then traveled to Rome. And in Rome, even to this day, there's a historic church called the Church of St. John Lateran. That's a very historical building from antiquity. It was a palace, at one time, of several of the Roman emperors. And it had been turned into a church by that time. And the Church of St. John Lateran has a set of stairs called the Santa Scala, and it was believed, purported by legend to be the very stairs up to the throne of Pontius Pilate where Jesus stood trial.
And so devout Catholics in times past, Martin Luther did it for this reason, to get on his knees and crawl up the stairs. And in so doing, a person will bloody their knees. And they do it on purpose. You know, it's, they will crawl up the stairs. And people to this day do it. Pre-COVID, at least, they did it. I don't know about now, but every step up the Sancta Scala, you get so many years off of purgatory.
So here's Martin Luther trying to burn all his sins off out of purgatory so he can go to heaven. And while he's going up the steps, since he was looking at the book of Romans, this verse came to mind. "The just shall live by faith." It really was in that moment and from remembering that verse that bore the seed of the great Protestant Reformation. I'm not, salvation isn't a fee. Salvation is free. It's not something I earn. It's a gift. That's what got him up and got him back. And the Reformation was on.
Now, in verse 18, there's a little bit of a change. Notice it. "For the wrath of God is revealed." This is the first section of the Book of Romans, the wrath of God. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
Now, so far, the book is filled with good news, chapter 1, until this point. It's the gospel. It's the good news. It's the righteousness of God revealed, hallelujah. But now, storm clouds move in. Now, chapter 1, verse 18, to chapter 3, verse 20, the theme over and over again is, you're all under the condemnation of God, the wrath of God. Well, why? Wait, wait, wait. You're telling us all about the good news, now you're just, like, going to the bad news? What up, Paul? Here's what up. He's saying, you'll never appreciate the good news till y'all understand the bad news. The bad news is what makes the good news so good. And the bad news is the whole world, Jew or Gentile, is consigned under God's eternal judgment.
And the wrath of God is upon them unless they find themselves in Christ by his grace and believe in him. So the grace of God is shown later, after the backdrop of the wrath of God. So though the theme is the righteousness of God, he's showing us the unrighteousness of humanity, which makes God's imputed righteousness all that much more awesome.
Now, a quick little tidbit of information, how often have you heard people say, well, the God of the Old Testament's a God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament's a God of love. Ever heard that? These are people who don't know either the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Old Testament has many promises of God's grace and forgiveness and many examples thereof, and the New Testament, including Romans, including Revelation, have plenty of the wrath of God. And here's one of them. The wrath of God is revealed. This is in the book of Romans. "Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them."
Now how he explains it. "For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead so they", the world, people in the world, "are without excuse because, although they knew God", this is historically, "although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor were thankful but became feudal in their thoughts. Their foolish hearts were dark and professing to be wise. They became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things."
He's describing their idolatry. Now he's making a very impressive argument to the Roman readers. He's saying that God is invisible and unknowable. But he has made himself visible, in a sense, and thus knowable. He has given you visible proof of his existence in the creation. He's given you a conscience to apprehend the visible creation around you.
And so you're without excuse. The argument that Paul is touching on or using, we would call the teleological argument. The teleological argument is the argument of design. If you look around, the thinking person, and looking around at the world understands the world in which I live looks like it's been custom made. It's been designed.
And if it indeed reveals design, it must therefore infer a designer. So if the art hanging in the skies is impressive, and it is, the artist must be more impressive. The universe in which we live, that was the argument of David in Psalm 19. "The heavens declare the glory of God. The firmament shows his handiwork, night into night, or day into day, they reveal speech. Night into night, they reveal knowledge. There is no voice nor speech where their voice is not heard."
The artist, just like an artist reveals himself or herself by a poem or a song or a sculpture or a painting, God reveals himself through his creation. He is invisible, but he has a visible expression in the world around him. But they change, verse 23, "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things."
Johannes Kepler, some of you are familiar with the name Johannes Kepler. He is the called the father of modern astronomy. Johann Kepler said, "The undevout astronomer is mad." I want you to hear that again, "The devout astronomer", the person who is an unbeliever, who doesn't believe in the things of God, he's not devout toward God. And, "The undevout astronomer is nuts."
In other words, if you can look around at the universe, the planetary system, the balance, the design, and not see a creator, you're like an idiot. The undevout astronomer is mad. That's the consensus of Paul. That's the consensus of David in Psalm 19. And Paul shows the stages of degeneration of the ancient world. But unfortunately, we have to save those stages for next week because we're out of time. And it's always a Bible teacher's great delight to hear the "aww" of people wanting more after an hour Bible study. I really thought I was going to make it through chapters 1 and 2. I'm prepared to go through the whole book, but this is the time we're allotted.
We'll be faithful to it. That's no big deal because we're going to pick up where we left off and move on next time. Father, thank you for the gospel, the good news of your grace, so much so that Paul said, I'm not ashamed of it. It's powerful. It's the power of God into salvation. For everyone who believes, that's the ticket. It's faith. The gesture are made just, made righteous by believing, by faith. It's not produced. It is received. And I pray for anybody who has not yet received your undeserved blessing of salvation. They would turn to the Savior for the relief of their sin, for the forgiveness of their sin. They would come into relationship with you through your Son Jesus.
If that describes you, before we mosey on any more through the book of Romans, make this the night where you commit your life to Christ. If you're here and you've not done that, say:
Lord, I need you. I'm a sinner. Forgive me. I believe in Jesus. I believe he died. I believe he rose again. And I trust him to bear the burden of my sin. I give it to him. He died for me. I'm going to let him take my place and receive him as my Lord and Savior. I turn from my sin. I turn to Jesus as Savior. Help me, Lord. Help me. Fill me with your Spirit to follow him as Lord and Master, in Jesus' name. Amen.