19 April 2015 The Third Sunday of Easter
Year A Color: White
First Reading: Acts 3:12-19; Psalter UMH 741;
Second Reading: Romans 1:1-5 (alt. rd.); Gospel: Luke 24:36-48
First Light Reading:Romans 1:1-5
Romans 1 New International Version (NIV)
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.
Since the 16th century the Book of Romans, (more properly, the letter of Paul to the Christians at Rome) has been the battle ground around which Protestants and Roman Catholics theologians have wrestled over which view of salvation is most accurate and true to the Bible. One of the un-intended consequences of this theological joust has been to cause most of the Christians in the Western Church to misread the book of Romans. This misreading has occurred because each side has been busy, scouring through the pages of Romans, looking for ammunition for their arguments, rather than paying attention to the story Paul is actually telling. We have also been ignoring how the rest of the Church, prior to the 16th century, and in the Eastern church have read Romans.
You have probably been taught to read the Book of Romans in this way. If so, you have been taught to see the book of Romans as an outline of doctrines. For example, one summary of Romans I found on the internet says,
• In chapters 1-8, Paul explains the fundamentals and foundations of the Christian faith. In chapter two Paul teaches about the sinful nature of all men in the eyes of God, in chapter three he teaches about justification, and in chapters 7 and 8 he teaches about freedom from sin, and victory in Christ.
This isn’t all together wrong; but this clunky sort of reading seems to leave a lot of extra pieces left over. Paul does seem to cover justification in chapter three, but if Romans is all about outlining doctrines, why does he suddenly want to start talking about Abraham in chapter four? And why, then, does he want to spend so much time talking about the role of the Torah?
The outline then goes on to say that chapters 9-11 are about God’s sovereignty and about election and predestination; which seem almost right. But then, why does Paul go on for so long, talking about God’s love and commitment to the Jewish people? Again, the reading strategy that teaches us to read Romans only as an outline of doctrine seems to leave too much un-explained.
The outline I found on the internet ends by saying, that having laid the proper beliefs and doctrinal foundations, Paul spends the rest of his time talking about how to live in light of this Gospel. This part seems mostly on track, but again, it leaves much to be desired.
When I was growing up, it seemed that my mom always had something she wanted my dad to build. Sometimes she wanted something for herself, like having dad put up a porch swing. At other times, she had something in mind for the kids, like having dad assemble a swing set or a bicycle.
Whenever dad worked on something, it was always good sign if at the end of the project all the parts in the box had been used. It was always a sign of future trouble if there were extra parts still lying around after dad had finished the project. As most of you know, companies do not usually include extra and un-needed parts. Chances are good that the instructions have not been read correctly or carefully enough if there are parts left lying around.
If, at the end of the project, you have parts left over, you are probably going to have to go back to the instructions and re-read them.
The same thing is true of reading a portion of the Bible. If your reading strategy leaves too much unexplained, the chances are that you have not read it correctly or carefully enough. Paul and other early Christians believed that they and most of Israel had mis-understood the plot. The destruction of Temple and the realization that they had failed in their vocation was quite shocking. Also, it must be said that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah most of God’s people were looking for. And, he had not done some of things they thought Messiah would do. Realizing who Jesus was forced them to go back and re-read the ancient words of Scripture, re-interpreting them through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus changed the way they read God’s book.
Paul wrote the book of Romans to show how God is fulfilling his ancient promises to Israel, in and through Jesus. Paul is taking us on a tour of the of the Old Testament (what Jewish people call the Tanak) showing us how Jesus fulfills every chapter of the Old Testament and showing us how Jesus becomes the lens through which we come to truly understand the promises God has made to Israel.
That is why I am giving this series the title, Romans: the power and relevance of Israel’s ancient story. This title could really be given to a series on any book in the New Testament. Every book of the New Testament is an interpretation of the Old Testament. But, I think the reason for giving this title to my series on Romans is that it helps us to read it correctly, in a way that covers all that’s in the book Romans without leaving extra pieces lying around.
The first five verses lay all of this out and provide on outline for the book of Romans.
verse 1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news.”
In the book of Genesis, God set apart the family of Abraham and called them to be the human instrument through which the rest of the world come to know the LORD. That was Israel’s vocation, which of course, they failed miserably. But, through Jesus, God was calling Israel back to their original calling and vocation.
The reason Jesus called 12 disciples was because he was sending an unmistakable message that he was renewing Israel, even as the book of Deuteronomy and the prophets promised God would. God was giving his ancient people another chance to live out their calling. And, when God renewed Israel, he would again set them to the vocation of making God known to the world. Paul and other early Christians, all whom were Jewish were part of this calling. And now, they were calling their fellow Israelites to take up their vocation and calling to bring the good news to the world.
verse 2 called to be an apostle of God’s good news, “which he promised in the sacred scriptures-”
The story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the same story found in the Old Testament. Long ago, God made promises to his ancient people Israel. What Paul and other Christians were sharing with others was that God had kept those promises. The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of the Old Testament. It is not a stand alone story or something new. What Paul will do through the rest of the book of Romans is walk us through the entirety of Israel’s scriptures, showing us how they are all about Jesus.
This should sound familiar to us. In Luke 24 we read about something that occurred shortly after Jesus’ resurrection:
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Through the book of Romans, Paul does for us what Jesus did for his disciples, on the road to Emmaus; he is opening Israel’s Scriptures to us, so that we can understand them correctly.
verse 3 and 4 the promises God made in the Old Testament is fulfilled in“the good news about his Son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully in the resurrection as God’s son in terms of the spirit.”
Humanly speaking, Jesus was the rightful heir of David’s throne, and the heir to the eternal dynasty God had given to David’s family. Through the Holy Spirit God appointed - the Greek word “orinthentos” means something like “demonstrated or to make something clear or understandable. I would paraphrase the verse like this: “Through signs like the resurrection, the Holy Spirit made it obvious that Jesus was more than the human descendant of David. He is none other than the LORD himself in human form.” God fulfilled and kept the promises in an extraordinary and unexpected way.
verse 5 “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”
Because of what Jesus had done, not only has Israel been remade and given a new opportunity to live out its vocation, but the world has finally been given a chance to know and serve the Lord. All of this comes from God’s own faithfulness, received by us through faith, so that the glory of God might be known throughout the world.
That, my friends, is Paul’s outline of the book of Romans. That is his summary of what is book is about; and that is what we are going to explore together for the next several months.
A writer in his 50s had written a manuscript for a book, and had sent it to several publishers without success. He grew so discouraged that he threw the manuscript into the wastepaper basket. His wife tried to salvage the manuscript, but he told her sternly: "We've wasted enough time on it. I forbid you to remove it from the wastebasket!"
Undeterred, she decided to show the manuscript to at least one more publisher. When she arrived at that publisher's office, she pulled out the most unusual looking proposal that the publisher had ever received. Underneath a wrapping of brown paper was a wastepaper basket still holding the writer's manuscript. This way, she reasoned, she was not technically going against her husband's wishes. She did not remove the manuscript from the waste basket the publisher did it for her. And when he read it, he loved it.
The writer in this story is Norman Vincent Peale; the manuscript was The Power of Positive Thinking. The book that Peale tossed in the trashcan eventually sold 30 million copies.
Israel had been called to be a light in a dark world. They were God’s chosen people, blessed with the task of helping the world come to know the salvation of God. Unfortunately, Israel was in as much need of being saved as any of the nations of the world. By the end of the Old Testament, Israel had failed to live up her calling and was in exile. She had broken faith with God and not upheld her end of the covenant. But, that was not the end of the story.
God still loved Israel, broken and dejected as they were. God came to them, wooed them back to him, and gave his life for them, so that they might be given a new opportunity to live out their calling of bringing the good news of the rest of the world. That is Israel’s story and it is the message of the book of Romans. It is full of explosive power, capable of turning the world upside down. It has more voltage than a power plant and is capable of transforming the lives of men, women, and children everywhere. Nothing could be more relevant for our times.