Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gospel: Bolts First

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:18-20

When I was in high school I owned an old 1965 GMC pickup. One day, I was driving this truck down a hill in my neighborhood when something cracked in the steering wheel. I quickly realized that my steering wheel no longer controlled which direction my truck went. I was literally spinning the steering wheel to the left while my truck headed steadily toward the curb on the right side of the street. I found out later that there had been two bolts connecting my steering wheel to the steering column. These bolts had slowly eroded over time, and that morning the last remaining thread broke. Now when we think about what a car needs to operate we tend to think of an engine, tires, gasoline, even spark plugs, but not bolts. I never even knew those bolts were there before, yet without those two little, ignored bolts my truck was no good. It couldn't be driven.

In the same way Paul begins his explanation of the gospel with two little known and often ignored truths: 1) Man has rebelled against God and in so doing has suppressed the truth about Him and 2) God feels a righteous wrath towards this rebellion. We don't tend to think about these truths very often. In fact, we may not even be comfortable with the idea that God feels wrath or that we have participated in some sort of mass rebellion against Him. But like those bolts in my steering wheel, without these two truths the gospel simply doesn't work.

That man has rebelled against God is almost undeniable. When we compare what the Bible tells us about what the world was created to be to what the world actually is, it becomes pretty clear that mankind as a whole has turned its back on the Lord. What we tend to deny is our personal role in this rebellion. We may have never been table pounding atheists who organized anti-God events, but each one of us is guilty of rebelling against our Maker. We have each refused to live in accordance with His will and in so doing have suppressed the truth about Him. The Bible often speaks poetically of creation declaring God's glory (e.g. Psalm 19:1). Creation does this merely by being what God created it to be, beautiful and awe-inspiring. We were created to do the same but to a much higher degree. But when we sin, when we refuse to submit to God's authority, we refuse to be what we were created to be. We live as though God does not exist or at the very least that His dominion does not extend into our lives. In this case the old saying, "actions speak louder than words" is true. When we choose sin, it is a declaration to the world of our rebellion against His wishes and His authority.

But is it really acceptable for God to respond with wrath? The surprising answer is yes. When you consider the devastation and pain that sin has caused God's perfect creation, you begin to realize how ungodly a "ho-hum" response from God would be. Consider the Holocaust and all the other atrocities of war throughout human history. Consider the thousands of children who have been sold as sex slaves and all the others who have been raped, molested and abused. Consider all the terrible ways man has invented to kill and torture one another and all those who have suffered greatly by those means. And now, consider your sin and my sin added to these and all the other sins that have been committed since creation. It begins to become clear that for God to have any response other than wrath would be deficient. It would make Him a lesser God.

But why would Paul begin his presentation of the gospel with God's wrath? Why not begin with God's grace or forgiveness? We must understand that God's wrath forms the backdrop for His grace. Without His righteous wrath God's grace means nothing. There can be no forgiveness where no wrong has been committed. It was the righteous anger of God that led to the gracious crucifixion of His Son.

Let us rejoice that even in His wrath our God is full of grace!

For further reading:
   - Psalm 19, 24, 29, & 96
   - Genesis 1-3
   - Isaiah 40:21-31

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not Ashamed!

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…
Romans 1:16

The word ‘gospel’ means “good news.” In the Roman Empire this word was often used in reference to Caesar’s coronation. Romans believed that Caesar had brought them justice and prosperity, so the day of his crowning was good news. And when a new emperor was crowned, he would certainly make sure that the gospel of his ascension to the throne was proclaimed throughout the empire as well.

None of this would be lost on his Roman readers when Paul uses the word ‘gospel’ in reference to Jesus, the one he had just declared to be the “Son of God in power” (1:4). Paul is proclaiming a new gospel to the Romans: King Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. He now sits on his heavenly throne at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

In short, Paul is saying that the world is under new management! We tried to run the world our own way; it led to wars, bloodshed, and pain. But now, the promised one has taken the throne, and the best news of all is not that there is a king but that this King is good. The same Jesus that loved sinners, spoke the truth, and offered forgiveness while on earth now reigns supreme and is holding out salvation for all who will believe.

Paul is unashamed to proclaim this gospel because he knows that in it lies the power of salvation. Even as Paul wrote the words “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” he knew the sting of persecution. He had suffered much because of the gospel. He had already been stoned, beaten with rods (three times), shipwrecked (three times), received 39 lashes (five times), and on many other occasions had been imprisoned. Yet, he says, “I am not ashamed.” He proclaims the gospel all the more boldly. Why? Because he knows that “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Paul had seen the enslaved sinner set free, the hopeless given hope, and the broken hearted healed by the power of Jesus. He had counted the cost of his persecutions and determined that the joys of serving the Lord far outweighed the pains.

Church tradition holds that less than ten years after writing this letter Paul was martyred for the gospel in Rome. He simply refused to stop proclaiming the good news about his King. May our great King and Savior grant us the same passion and perseverance in declaring His goodness to the world.

For further reading…
- Hebrews 2:10-18: Jesus is not ashamed of you.
- Mark 8:31-38 & Luke 9:18-26: Christ speaks about being ashamed.
- Philippians 1:12-30 & I Tim 1:8-12: Paul speaks about being ashamed.
- Isaiah 55:10-11: The power of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Identity Crisis?

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…
Romans 1:1-4

I hate wearing name tags. You can't be anonymous when you have a name tag on; people just come up and introduce themselves to you. This puts me in an awkward situation because the polite thing to do is to introduce myself in return but I never quite know what to say. Do I tell them where I grew up or should I tell them about my wife or maybe talk about my career? How do I sum up who I am in 30 seconds?

That is exactly what Paul is doing in these first few verses of his letter. Picture Paul slapping on a big name tag and introducing himself to the Christians in Rome. On his name tag, right under where it says "Paul," he writes three things: 1. servant of Christ Jesus; 2. apostle (which is to say that he is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus); and 3. set apart for the Gospel of God (which is the story of Jesus). All three labels revolve around Jesus. It is as if Paul is saying, “If you want to know me you have to know Jesus. I cannot be known except in relation to Him.”

Then Paul gets so excited that he goes ahead and tells them who Christ is. He says that “according to the flesh” He was a man of the line of David but according to the Spirit He was the “Son of God in power” and was declared to be so by His resurrection.

It is interesting to note that in Rome Caesar was the “Son of God.” Caesar was commonly referred to by this title and was worshipped as a living deity. Yet, Paul is challenging the Roman Christians to put their Christianity over their citizenship as Romans. Paul is saying, “You want to know me? I am a servant of the King. Not a servant of the man that masquerades as the Son of God (Casear), but a servant of the true King who was declared to be the Son of God in power when He defeated death. Caesar does not have the power, Jesus does.”

What would it be like for your identity to be so wrapped up in Christ that people could not know you without getting to know Jesus? What if you were known as a servant of the true King first, and everything else second?

So let me give this a try: Hello, my name is Lance. I'm a servant of Jesus, a pastor called to share the good news about Jesus. Welcome to my blog.

For further reading: