Romans 1:18-23

Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 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. 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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Verse 18 here opens with Pauls statement that God Wrath is revealed from Heaven. The first question we have to ask is what we understand by Gods Wrath? However before we do we have to ensure that we do not simply attribute what we perceive to be the human equivalent or wrath which many times is simply anger. We have to realise that Gos wrath is righteous and just. The wrath that we might experience as humans is but a shadow of Gods wrath and is corrupted due to our fallen nature. Thus we see wrath as a very negative thing almost without exception.

If however we view Gods earth as something that is just and righteous we see that it has two sides to it. There is of course the “anger” element within it but and this is significant, there is the “Just” element. What does this mean then? Well in short it means that depending upon where you stand in relation to God will very much depend upon your view and experience of Gods wrath. If you are a believer and have that relationship with God through Jesus Christ then Gods wrath is not something to be feared. Gods wrath has been and is and will be exercised on your behalf. Why? Because you are a child of God, you are justified through the works of Jesus Christ you are adopted into Gods family. (That is not to say that God will not discipline you, that is a whole different subject that is not part of this study).

If however, you are not in that relationship with God and have rejected the free gift of eternal life offered by Jesus and His work on the cross, then Gods wrath is a thing to be feared above all else.

One commentator (MacArthur) has identified 5 types of wrath that God exhibits:

  • • Eternal Wrath; which is Hell
  • • Eschatological Wrath; which is the Final Day of the Lord
  • • Cataclysmic Wrath; which is like the Flood in the days of Noah and the judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah
  • • Consequential Wrath; which is the principle sowing and reaping and cause and effect, and,
  • • Wrath of abandonment; which is the removal of restraint and allowing people to go their own way deeper into their sins

What we need to remember in all of this however is that the wrath of God, no matter how it is displayed is never an uncontrolled emotional outburst, but is rather a controlled display of justice and a holy reaction often only released after protracted periods of forbearance on Gods behalf.

I do not want to stretch the text too far but the phrase that “Gods wrath is revealed from Heaven” intrigues me. It s easy to see this in situations where hellfire and brimstone as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah rains down in a miraculous feat executed by God or when the angel of death visited Egypt on that fateful night and all the firstborn of any household that did not have the blood of the lamb daubed on the door posts was killed, but, it got me thinking about Jesus and His mission.

Primarily Jesus came that we might be saved through his sacrifice. It is often taught that on the cross the earth of God was poured out upon Jesus in response to the sins of mankind. In response to your sin in response to my sin! But yet, Jesus had led a righteous perfect life. The only man ever to have done so. And so here we see Gods wrath, revealed from Heaven in the person of Jesus Christ and His mission to come and save mankind. So there is a sense that even in Jesus’ life Gods wrath was revealed from Heaven because it required the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God in order to achieve the righteous justice in order for our relationship with God through Jesus to be restored.

This wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. It is easy to simply skip over these two terms and see them as meaning the same thing or as interchangeable terms and that Paul is using them both to drive home the point. There is an element of truth in this, but if the rest of the chapter is read very carefully it can be seen that in the verses up to 25 Paul is primarily speaking about Ungodliness in the remaining verses up to verse 32 Paul is primarily speaking about Unrighteousness.

Ungodliness then is in the main the act of ignoring God, the act of substituting something else in our lives that takes the place of God. Unrighteousness is primarily undertaking acts that make us “not right” with God. We will look at this in more detail in the next post when we study verse 24 – 32. The remainder of this post will deal with up to verse 23. Suffice it to say that by our “unrighteousness” we too can suppress the truth about God which leads us into ungodliness.

Paul makes an appeal to the history of the OT in the next few verses. For those of you who know their OT, you will know the story of Adam and Eve and how they fell and the rapid decline of mankind following their disobedience to God simple command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil. The first sign of that decline? They realised their nakedness and hid from God, then they diverted attention from what they had done, Adam saying it was Eve who gave him to eat of the fruit and Eve in turn trying to blame the serpent! Not exactly a lie, but certainly a using of the “truth” in a vain attempt to divert the gaze of a righteous God away from themselves.

The next big this we read about is a murder! Cain slaying his brother Abel because he was jealous of him. In short it went rapidly down hill from there.

Before long, part form a small remnant, we see mankind turning to idolatry using carvings of wood and stone and probably whatever materials were available to them to creat images of “gods” of either their or of Satans and his minions inventions. They ignored the Glory of the Creator God. They Ignored the “Evidence of their Eyes” that was clearly displayed in the creation and they decided to worship the graven images that they had created themselves.

The psalms talk about the heavens declaring the glory of the Lord. For those of us who live in urban areas we often miss this. I recall spending a weekend in the middle of the Derbyshire Dales National Park and looking up into the sky and seeing the Milky Way with my own eyes for the first time ever in my life. I look up now, and even though I now live in God’s own country (Yorkshire for those of you who don’t know this), it is difficult to see that display of Gods creative glory.

But even through the endeavours of scientists, many of whom would classify themselves as atheist we see pictures from things such as the Hubble Space telescope of distant galaxies and stars and nebulae and what we see in the narrow band of the electro attic spectrum that we call light, is beautiful beyond description. When the clever people who know about these things use infrared and ultraviolet and x-ray detectors we discover hidden worlds that are beyond human imagination. The heavens do truly declare the glory of the Lord!

Psalms 97:6 (ESV)6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.

And this is just one aspect of the creation. Look at the beauty of the world in which we live, look at the sky, the mountains, the rivers the vast oceans, the polar caps, plan life animal life, the eco systems the intricacies of how fauna and flora are interdependent on one another; these do truly display Yahweh’s eternal power and divine nature as stated by Paul, as a species, we are truly without excuse. And yet, back then, in the dawn of creation, during the time after the establishment of the nations, during all of Israels history, through to the birth of the early church and over the past 2,000 years and I woulda True at an accelerated rate since the time of the supposed “enlightenment” we have on the whole become futile in our thinking! (Vs 21).

This word futile is used only once in the NT and it means to be rendered worthless, vain (as in a waste of time etc), empty, foolish. The scarcity of its use in a sense rams the message home even harder, that Paul was as it were searching for a term that was powerful in its description, one maybe that was so strong it didn’t get used very often. (I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems this way to me).

How does this reflect our society today. How much do we hear about fake news, we hear falsehoods proclaimed from high office, we watch banal programmes on TV of people seeking their 15 minutes of fame, or even worse their 5 minutes of notoriety. (the state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed).

The result, which is as true today as it was in Pauls time, pursuit of these empty futile things renders us with darkened hearts. We become selfish, self centred, gossips, heartless, haughty, malicious, we covet things more and more and more, we become boastful, and worse…………. (read to the end of the chapter don’t take my word for it, see what Paul had to say).

Verse 22 rings true to me today as much as it ever has rung true, who, but mankind has become wise in their own opinion and yet the reality is we have become fools.

(Psalms 14:1 (ESV)

1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.

The rise of “the new atheists is the epitome of this. It is as though nothing has really changed and in a sense it hasn’t. Mankind is still seeking to find a reason to forget God. It’s just that now it is easier to simply claim that God does not exist. That we are the product of Time +Matter+Chance. What has changed is our sophistication as a species. Scientist us complex calculations and predictions and on occasion simply blind us with science. But sophistication and intelligence does not equate to wisdom. Exercising wisdom, in particular Godly wisdom is the exact opposite of foolishness. Paul declares that the foolishness of God is superior to the wisdom of man in every way (my paraphrase). So yes there may be things that we can not explain but science whilst it will answer many of the how questions as time goes on it will never be able to answer they why questions. We need a revelation from God for this.

The sad fact is, that as we travel down this route as a society in general, it becomes darker. As Paul said take God out of the equation and our hearts become darker. It’s a slippery slope that we are on.

Go re-read Romans 1 verses 18-23 again and as you do think of what you know already about society, the world view of none Christians, and society in general and be amazed at how accurate Paul is in his descriptions. It was Solomon who, when in a state of despair stated “ there is nothing new under the sun”.

Romans 1:16-17 I am not Ashamed!

Verses 16 – 17

  • Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)

  • The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

  • 16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

  • Our last study form Chapter 1 of Romans concentrates on the last two verse. Verse 16 within Christin circles is probably a very popular one. Pauls assertion that

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

    It is a powerful declaration of the gospel message and contains much that can feed us spiritually.

    Let’s look first at the concept of shame. In todays western society it seems that there is not much that shames us anymore. The reality is, that even in Pauls day, the debauchery and sinful ways of life were not to dissimilar to modern society and our studies in Romans will expose some of that as we move on.

    But there was one way that is significant that was considered shameful and it relates directly to our faith.

    The Romans had very little in their culture that was original, they stole the Greek gods that they worshiped, they renamed them but essentially they took the Greek mythology and adopted it into their culture. And they adopted the worst form of torture and execution that to that time had been dreamt up by man and that was crucifixion . It was the Medes and Persian before them that had developed this form of execution as a means of state execution and for none Roman citizens the Romans adopted it as their ultimate deterrent. It was considered a most shameful way to die and would cast a shadow over the surviving family members. Often victims were hung on the crosses naked after having been ridicule led and tortured beforehand. The very nature of the act of crucifixion was highly public. Whilst the height above the ground of the crosses may not have been as high as those we see on modern dramatisations of crucifixions there was clearly an act of lifting the victim up higher than the height of the onlookers. Also as we see in the case of Jesus the executions were undertaken in public places and in Jesus case on a hill just outside the city walls.

    Maximum pain, maximum humiliation maximum exposure all added up to a most horrendous end for any victim.

    In addition to this, for the Jew they would be mindful of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

    22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. (ESV).

    Not to sound too irreverent about it but it was a double whammy for a Jew to be crucified. There is an extra level of curse from God himself for anyone hung on a tree. The law of Moses is not explicit about what is meant by the term hang and in our western minds we might immediately think of execution by hanging or suicide, but to the first century Jew crucifixion fell into the definition of been hung on a tree!

    The Church was relatively small still, the Romans still worshiped their multiplicity of Gods and Caesar worship was on the rise and politically, socially and morally to be a member of “The Way” would have put you on the fringes of society.

    Bearing in mind the social/political context, Paul sweeps in with this amazing statement of faith:

    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.

    In other wringing Paul talks about the cross of Christ been a stumbling block to the Jew and a folly to gentiles in other words secular society struggles with the logic, the message and the wonder of the cross and its implications for us.

    Paul was nailing his colour well and truly to the mast in this statement because it undermined Roman rule and it undermined the Temple system of the Jews who saw salvation only in the Law of Moses. Paul could easily and eventually was executed for his faith, but that end did not prevent him from proclaiming very publicly what the cross meant, who Jesus was and why salvation is by no other name than the name of Jesus.

    Paul here is declaring also that the Good News of Jesus (the gospel) is the power fo God! Mediate on that a while. Jesus was crucified, he was beaten, he was ridiculed, and here Paul is saying this is the Power of God. Its not found in the Law, but it is found in the person of Jesus! And it is the power fo God for the biggest single problem that our planet faces. The earth faces many problems most of them of mankind’s making, but the worlds main problem, even though it is not recognised by many, is the need of salvation. The need to enter into a relationship with creator God. The need to have our sins forgiven on a personal basis, not as a nation, not as a body of people in church, not as a family, but you and I individually one by one personal, intimate, special.

    And note how Paul clearly states here that it is for those who believe. Not those who do good works to try and earn brownie points with God. Believe that Jesus died and rose again, that Jesus is Lord and Saviour that Jesus is the answer and he will enter not your heart and transform you both supernaturally and through the renewing of your mind!

    Why first to the Jew and then to the Gentile?

    Well there is no doubt a deep theological reason in this phrase, but simply Paul is following the pattern established by God.

    God set up the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations, their mission was to be established in the Holy Land and tell the rest of the world about their God so that the peoples of the world could get to know him. So first to the Jew then to the Gentile.

    Jesus followed this pattern in that in the early part of His ministry he sent the disciples out to tell the people of the news that the Kingdom of God was upon them. But initially He instructed them only to tell the Jewish people. It was almost os if they were been given one last chance to fully understand and accept Gods purpose for them, that they might receive the Good News first. But they didn’t and so Jesus sent the disciple out to tell whoever would listen, see first the Jew then to the Gentile.

    Next we see it in the early church history recorded in Acts. Almost exclusively in the early months of the church the converts, the followers were Jewish converts to the extent that it is regularly recorded in the book of Acts that they regularly attended Synagogue still. Eventually God made it clear to Peter that the Gospel message was for everyone and he did it in a most dramatic way. In Acts Chapter 10 (go look it up) Peter receives a vision regarding clean and unclean food. If I had a pound for every sermon I have heard on this passage which extols the message that this justifies the eating of any food stuff and not just restricting us to the Levitical laws, I would be a little bit richer than I am presently, but the real message of this vision is God telling Peter that he is to go to a gentile house and tell them about Him. This results in Cornelius and his household being converted and finally the acceptance that gentiles equally with Jews can receive salvation through faith and be baptised by the Holy Spirit. So you can see the pattern, first to the Jews then to the Gentiles. For everyone!

    Finally this part of chapter 1 concludes with Paul making astounding statements of faith:

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

    Righteousness is one of those more technical Christian terms that sometimes we can miss the point of a simple way of remembering what it means theologically is to think of it a “rightness”, being right with God. Gods righteousness stems for his very being he is righteous by definition all His acts, all his words are by definition righteous and we see that righteousness through revelation according to Paul here. But what does Paul mean by from faith for faith?

    The writers of the Old Testament exercised faith, the writing of the Law was undertaken in faith the promises revealed fo the coming saviour right back in Genesis were statements of faith inspired by God, the prophets foretold many many details of the first coming of the messiah by faith and so the righteous act of Jesus’ death was revealed by faith in the OT to us believers for our faith. And simply put Pauls seals this with a quote from the OT that confirms that righteous people live by faith. Not by self righteousness that is simply hypocrisy but by having faith in God through Jesus our Lord and Saviour we were under His banner, we are part of his family, we are His children, we clothe ourselves in His righteousness.

    Before we move onto the rest of Chapter 1 take some time to meditate on this, how it impacts on you as an individual, how it should impact on you if it doesn’t quite yet impact, how it will influence your decision making and the way that you act and live out your daily life. Think on it and pray over it ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and understanding. Be blessed.

    Romans Chapter 1 Continued

    The next several verses of Romans explains Pauls longing to visit the church established in Rome:

    Romans 1:8-15 (ESV)

    Longing to Go to Rome

    8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

    So what can we learn form this. On face value it is the desires of the Apostle simply been expressed to make a visit to the church in Rome. A church, which unlike most of the other Epistles penned by Paul to church’s is one that he had no role in helping to establish.

    It is not known how the church in Rome was established, maybe from visitors to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost seeing the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and being one of the 3000 added to the embryonic churches numbers at that time, who knows it is mere speculation.

    What we do know is that there were both Jewish converts to Christ and Gentile converts to Christ. And it would appear from Pauls opening words in this section that they were quite active because their faith was been proclaimed in all the world. Just as a side note, we know that there is a degree of hyperbole in such statements. Critics would at times try to impose a literal translation on such phrases as “in all the world” and say either this was impossible as the Americas and Australia were not yet discovered. Of course Paul means the “known world” and even then he probably didn’t literally mean every town, village and hamlet, every valley and mountain top, every continental area and every island, rather, it is a figure of speech meaning, as I am sure you already know, the Rome church had a reputation. This may be obvious, but this is an easy example to use to show such literature devices that are used in the Bible. Been forewarned is been forearmed, as the saying goes.

    So the church in Rome was active. This in itself tells us something of the power of the Gospel. At this time Christianity, or “The Way” as the faith was known was a sect, a minority religion and certainly one that worried the authorities. The Romans worshipped an pantheon of Gods and even so, they were moving towards ceased worship and so anything that undermined his authority was frowned upon and usually dealt a fatal blow very early on.

    The message of the Gospel was counter-cultural because it placed Jesus on the throne of peoples lives, not Caesar. Oh how things have changed! Caesar has a salad dressing named after him, Jesus is the head of the largest single people movement the world has ever known, the church!

    So what does this passage tell us about what our attitude should be? “that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” In these few words we see that Paul has no jealousy regarding the Church in Rome. Remember Paul is a Roman Citizen and considered to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, arguably he could have tried to claim that the church in Rome should be under his oversight. But here we see Paul praying for them and not just praying for them, but praying for them continuously. “Without ceasing” “always in my prayers” what an example for us to follow. I have to confess that all too often I speak to someone and end the conversation with ‘of course I will pray for you’. Then what do I do? Move on to the next thing be it work, shopping, cleaning, cooking almost anything but actually doing what I said that I would do. Paul here shows us an example of how our attitude should be one of constant prayer.

    And paul was praying for something that he cannot himself take the glory for.

    Pauls desire is to impart some gift to them what we don’t know exactly, a blessing, teaching, encouragement, a revelation who knows. But here is a demonstration of putting the welfare of others before your own. Paul wants to impart a gift to them. By extension the lesson for us here is to fulfil the second great commandment considering the welfare of others before our own, “Love Others as Yourself”.

    But Paul also recognises that there may be mutual benefit, he is not lording it over them, he is not so arrogant so as to consider that they cannot minister to him, it is not a one way street.

    Our relationships need to be based on this. Those we have regular contact with, our friends, family and brothers and sister in Christ all have gifts and things to impart, no one is higher then the next, we are all equal in Gods sight. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the one “abnormally born” looked forward to meeting with his fellow believers in Rome not only to give to them, but also to receive from them.

    Also we need to note here that the word used in the original Greek translated Brothers in this passage, in this context also means bothers and sisters. All too often people have twisted the evidence of the biblical narrative to place women into a second place, but if the gospel accounts are read and studied carefully Jesus’ interaction with women is radical and empowering. Just some brief examples:

      The Samaritan woman at the well – according to the culture of the day this encounter was wrong on several levels; first she was a woman, second a Samaritan, third had a dubious past, and fourth had a dubious present. Jesus however treated her with dignity, respect and grace
    • The woman brought to Jesus caught in the act of adultery – Again Jesus treated this women with respect and grace and did not judge her even though He, the creator of the world was the one person present who had the authority to judge and righteously so. What is telling about this story is how the man who she was caught with in the act of adultery, was notable by his absence. The Jews dragged the woman to be judged by Jesus but somehow the man involved escaped their judgement! In spite of their best efforts she received forgiveness and grace in abundance from Jesus rather than judgement.
    • The first people Jesus appeared to and allowed to “discover” His resurrection were women go check out the gospels they all tell the story of that first resurrection Sunday morning.

    I could go on, but the reality is that Jesus treated women with respect and equally as he treated the men. There may even be a case for arguing that He treated them better, but that would have been on the basis that by virtue of the society they lived in women could not be priests or teachers in the Temple or Synagogue. There are, as far as I am aware no female priests or rabbi’s. Therefore they by definition, women can not have been in the positions of responsibility that allowed them to be criticised for their hypocrisy that Jesus so often pointed out to the Pharisees and Saducceces of the day,

    What strikes me in the final verse that this post is looking at is Pauls obligation. In the original Greek this is quite a strong word in that it can also be translated sinner depending on the context. That is not to say that Paul was committing any form of sin in relation to the church at Rome, but what is does demonstrate is the profundity with which Paul took his responsibilities seriously. I ask myself and by extension you the reader, how obligated do I feel to share the Good News of the Grace of Jesus Christ with people? All to often not obligated enough, yet when you think about the debt of gratitude we owe Jesus for what he did on the cross my apathy towards it is all too pathetic!

    Another lesson we get form this verse is to learn who Paul and by extension every believer since, is obligated to? Paul talks about Greeks and Barbarians, the wise and the foolish. Elsewhere Paul talks about there being no such thing as Jews and Gentiles, male and female, free and slave, in simple terms Paul is saying we are obligated to everyone to share the Gospel with them. Barbarians here is not a derogatory term as we would understand it, is simple referees to less educated people when contrasted with Greeks who were the epitome of the educated.

    So, we too must not distinguish who we share the Gospel with. God loves everyone we must too, even the unlovely.

    Challenged?

    I am!

    Notes on Romans Continued

    Chapter 1 Verse 2-6

    Romans 1:2-6 (ESV)

    2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 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, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

    We see immediately that isolating a verse, as I did in the previous post is potentially dangerous. Verse 2 continues Paul’s greeting to the Church in Rome and immediately clarifies for us what the Gospel of God is. It is the promises of God (in the Old Testament). These promises were made through his prophets and were written down in the holy scriptures.

    The promises of God in the OT were/are many and varied but the golden thread that runs right through the OT right from the third chapter of Genesis is that of a promised saviour. The Jews, certainly first century Jews of Jesus’ time, were hopeful for a saviour that would be a military/political leader that would overthrow the invading forces of the Romans and give them their promised land back in terms of their own rule and autonomy. Even then some far thinking Jews of that time would likely have seen that only as Messiahs first job, the next phase would be the ruling of the nations, (maybe).

    Few had caught Gods real vision for the coming messiah. There were one or two, Mary Jesus mother maybe had an inkling. And Joseph was told that the child Mary carried was of God and so perhaps he too had an idea. Simeon certainly had an idea as it had been revealed to him through by the Holy Spirit:

    Luke 2:25-32 (ESV)

    25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

    29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

    according to your word;

    30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

    31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

    32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

    But on the whole the nation was pretty clueless when it came to Gods plan of salvation. The reasons for this are many and again this is something that will be touched upon in later studies as we walk through Romans.

    But we, who have the benefit of looking back and over 2000 years of biblical studies and interpretation can see clearly how Jesus was the fulfilment of so so many OT prophecies concerning the promised messiah. This is what Paul is making reference to here.

    One of my favourite NT stories is that of the disciples who, (we don’t know who they were), were walking on the road to Emmaus and the resurrected Jesus meets and walks with them. While they walk they do not realise who is with them, but talk to him about recent events and Jesus in response opens up the whole of the OT scriptures concerning the promised messiah. What a bible study that would have been!

    But again I digress. You see in these first few verses of Romans Paul is introducing some fundamental and significant doctrines.

    • God had a plan of salvation – We have established that. (Verse 2)
    • God has a Son (Verse 3) But His Son is a descendant of David (verse 3) and a descendant of God Himself (verse 4) – we will clarify the Father Son relationship in due course.
    • The bodily resurrection of Jesus
    • Paul introduces the doctrine of Grace
    • The idea of evangelism – and the fulfilment of Gods intended purposes for Israel as a nation (but again more on that as we go on). And
    • Finally here we see Paul making reference once again to the concept of been called (to belong to Jesus Christ verse 6)

    God plan of salvation, whilst clearly the driving force behind Pauls letter(s) in the context in which it is referred to here also teaches us other lessons.

    Firstly – God made promises and he kept them – We then can take encouragement in the fact that when God makes you a promise he will keep it and fulfil it. Oftentimes what the “problem” is with Gods promises is that, like His plan of salvation, His way of fulfilling them to us is far above what our minds can conceive and always so much more wonderful than what we can imagine. Israel’s view on salvation, if indeed they had any was that they were Gods chosen people and pretty much that was it. If you were born into the Jewish culture then, for those that believed in the resurrection (which the sect of the Sadducee didn’t), then you were okay and would be part of the resurrection. They had lost sight of the fact that God wanted no one to perish and that they were to be light to the nations.

    But Gods idea was bigger, better, more inclusive, and much more universal than that, and, he had a plan!

    The next really big idea that Paul introduces us to here and this is a big one, is Jesus dual nature. He was fully human – a descendant of David and he was fully divine – he was begotten of God This, Paul tells us, was proven by Jesus resurrection from the dead. And even more profoundly Paul also introduces us here to the idea that today we call the trinity. Because here in these two verses 3 and 4 we have God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Salvation was executed by all three each with a different emphasis but each in one accord. Again we shall be making references to the triune nature of God as we go through various studies.

    Also fundamentally here is Paul’s confidence that Jesus was resurrected. A bodily, physical, miraculous, resurrection, but certainly not, absolutely not a spiritualisation of the resurrection. As we will see, even though Paul only saw Jesus after Jesus had ascended and the Holy Spirit had come and fallen on the believers at Pentecost, Paul was convinced beyond doubt that Jesus sat up and walked out of that tomb on Sunday morning after having been tortured, hung and having died on the cross the previous Friday.

    The next real, really, really big idea that Paul introduces us to is that of Grace.

    Grace, a classic definition is “unmerited favour” you receive something from someone for which you have not paid, indeed cannot pay for, something that you have not earned, indeed cannot earn, something for which even if you were “a good person” you simply do not deserve! Amazing grace. Outrageous grace.

    Paul here tells us that we as believers have received this grace. If you are unsure then pray about it, go and seek God about it, but one of the reasons people are so joyous when they “are saved” is because of this profound realisation that they have received this most precious gift imaginable, through grace. It is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith, the concept of grace, you and I, no one ever in the whole wide world can achieve anything of any lasting worth towards God, except through the gift of grace!

    Evangelism – Does that word scare you? Are you afraid of “been called” to some distant third world country? Maybe that is Gods plan for you and indeed if it is He will speak to you about it, but Evangelism is about so much more than that.

    Look at your neighbours,

    Look at your work colleagues,

    Look at your family members,

    Look at the stranger in the street,

    Look at that person who seems to have it all together and is materially wealthy

    Look at the beggar on the street corner

    Look at your friends,

    Look at anyone who you have contact with even if it is fleeting

    The potential to share the good news of Jesus Christ is with us all day every day

    We are blessed in the UK we don’t have to go to all the nations, the nations have come to us. There are so many potential openings to share with people of other faiths. Oftentimes as well you will find that people of other faiths are actually more open to talk constructively about your faith as they at least have a concept of ‘a god’. People who have been raised in our secular god banning society who have little Bible literacy are often the most difficult to talk to because often they think they have it all sorted. Until of course, they realise that they don’t.

    But evangelism in its widest sense is not about missions and preaching but about sharing your daily faith daily with those around you. through your words deeds and actions preferring others needs in front of your own, loving others as you love yourself.

    And again Paul introduces the concept of “been called”. This time however he broadens it out. Been called isn’t just for the elite, the intelligent, the wealthy, the ones in the know (although there is a sense where this is true) but it is for everyone. Realise that you are called and as Paul says you are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Let me assure you there is no higher calling that you could wish for!

    Notes on Romans

    Imagine if you like, a sponge. Soaked with water and that as you rest it in your hand, some of the water drains out over your hand as a simple result of the weight of the sponge and water combination resting in your hand.

    The Bible can be a bit like this, it can rest in our hand and we can be blessed as the truths and challenges and blessings it contains naturally flow from it simply because it is the living word of God.

    Now think of that same sponge and the effect that tightening your grip has on it. Now the water that was previously content to stay within the sponge is forced out and your hand and most probably your wrest and lower arm are likely to be soaked as the water flows freely from that sponge but more than that, the floor beneath you hand will also be soaked wet as the excessive quantity of water that was previously in the sponge now pours down and rains onto the ground below it.

    In a similar way we can “squeeze” the Word of God and the truths and blessings and promises will flow out from its pages in an abundance that we would not have thought possible and very much like the sponge, other parts of us and our surroundings will benefit from the blessings that such study and understanding of Gods Word can bring, and even more than the water in this analogy Gods Word is Living! It will if allowed to, produce a crop of blessings and even souls into Jesus kingdom. So as I write these notes on the book of Romans it is my intention to squeeze the Word and my prayer and hope is that the blessings that are unearthed will overflow and “splash” onto your life giving you a portion of the blessing that these studies have given me.

    Of course, analogies and pictures when compared to the eternal truths that are Gods Words all eventually breakdown and in this case this analogy breaks down as soon as the sponge is squeezed so tightly and so completely that it ends up been a dried out, primitive, sedentary, aquatic, invertebrate. Whereas in contrast the Living Word of God is never “dried out”. You can go back to it time and time again and always find something new, fresh or refreshed that you have not noticed before or that hits you with a new and deeper understanding.

    A word of caution is also relevant here, our analogy does not allow a twisting of the scripture it is simply one that seeks to extract, at this moment in time, as much meaning and understanding as is possible (which I know is ultimately impossible), but to realise that there is meaning and reason in every word sentence and phrase in God written revelation to us. I will venture into the realms of “what ifs” but hope that I catch these and make sure they are clearly my own thoughts and not necessarily those of established Christendom and likewise there will be times of conjecture which again I hope to capture and clarify. But the primary aim is to feed whoever reads these words and bring all of us into a deeper understanding and relationship with Jesus as a result.

    Let’s begin in Chapter 1:

    The introduction to the Book of Romans (verses 1-7), ought to be read in its entirety but for the purposes of these notes I shall break them down into the verses that are in use today. Therefore we will be dealing with incomplete sentences and phrases but hopefully if you have the chapter open for you to refer to in reading these notes it won’t be too disjointed

    Verse 1:

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

    It is clear from the outset that we realise who the author of this epistle is, it is Paul, formerly known as Saul, the former Pharisee who had stood and watched the martyring of Stephen (Acts Chp 8 v1). At the time of writing, Paul a Jewish convert, but Roman citizen had not managed to visit the church in Rome, even though as we find out in this chapter that he had tried but had been prevented from doing so. Paul had not planted the church in Rome, in fact we do not know who was responsible for its planting but as the capitol of the Roman Empire it is perhaps understandable why Paul would wish to visit apart form his desire to use the visit as a launchpad to take the gospel further afield even to Spain.

    Immediately we get into the verse we get a hint of Paul’s character he describes himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus.” Some translations will have to word slave or bondservant which can help us to understand Paul’s relationship to Christ and the example that it sets us in living our lives.

    Jesus was and always will, of course, be the ultimate example of the way we should live our lives, and he lived his life as a servant king. He demonstrated His Love for us by serving those around Him whilst at the same time demonstrating amazing authority such that even the wind and waves obeyed him. This brings me to another analogy. Society, in particular western society would have us live our lives in a manner that means we must get to the top, or as close to the top of the pyramid in order to be successful, fulfilled and content. Jesus economy however is quite the opposite, he famously calls that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and teaches us in so many ways to be humble and innocent preferring the needs of others to ourselves, teaching us that the second greatest commandment is to love others as ourselves, showing us through the way he lived His life that we should consider others needs before our own. In order to do this we too must become servants or slaves if you will to Christ we should bond our lives to his in such a way that His attitude to others becomes our attitude to others, that the love He expressed for the lost, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the infirm, the widow, the orphan becomes ours. This is what it means to be a servant of Jesus Christ. The pyramid is turned upside down and those at the top should be the ones we serve and we, as His bondservants should be at the bottom.

    Paul then goes onto describe himself further as one “called to be an apostle” this raises the spectre of an interesting debate that no doubt these notes and our studies in Romans will inevitable come to the fore that of what appears to be two opposing doctrines that of predestination and that of total free will. But for now we can accept that Paul when he was Saul was called by Jesus at his Road to Damascus experience in Acts chapter 9. But what was he called to? Well according to this verse he was called to be an apostle. Many mainstream Christian denominations do not “recognise” the office of apostle in the modern church structure. This is because in the main it was accepted that there were 12 apostles and they were apostles because they had a personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. Clearly Judas was not an Apostle because he had killed himself prior to the burial and resurrection of Jesus. But the remaining 11 all had encounters with Jesus after His resurrection from the dead. Early in the Book of Acts the story is recorded of the Apostles (who as far as I am aware were not called Apostles until after the resurrection), and they drew lots for Judas’s replacement in Chapter 1 we read Matthias was selected to be the twelfth Apostle:

    Acts 1:15-26 (ESV)

    15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

    “‘May his camp become desolate,

    and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

    and

    “‘Let another take his office.’

    21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

    Now in reading this text we have Peter, the disciple whom Jesus said was to be called the rock and upon whom he would build his church (which is a whole separate study in its own right), perhaps for the first time taking the “bull by the horns” and doing something sensible, reasoned and well thought out. Notice in the above reading how Peter even relies on OT scripture in the justification of his suggestion. Peter was not just going to let any upstart from Jerusalem take the 12 disciple slot he insisted that the replacement had to be one of the people who he’d walked, fellowshipped and lived with them since the baptism of Jesus and had witnessed Jesus resurrection. So good so far. The casting of lots to help in decision making was not a new concept to the Jewish mind and again there is a whole study that is possible on this, and reference in such a study would be made no doubt to the Urimm and Thurrim stones of Aaron’s breastplate, but I digress, and to top off all this sensibleness surrounding the choosing of the replacement 12th disciple they even pray.

    It seems like all the pieces are in place a working partnership with God, sensible decisions, based on scripture and covered in prayer.

    The upshot however is that in this they were wrong. Not that they were dramatically and fatally wrong, but they did not understand Gods plan for who would replace Judas, and indeed, how could they humanly speaking. The evidence in all of this? Matthias is never spoken of again in the NT. (that is not to say that Matthias didn’t go on to do wonderful and amazing works for Jesus and that when we meet him in eternity, I am sure he will be able to fill us in, but in Gods overall scheme of things Matthias was not going to play much of a role that would be handed down through the ages).

    Rather Gods plan was that Saul the most feared and possibly hated Pharisee of the day would meet with Jesus on his journey to Damascus and come into that relationship with Jesus the one he was persecuting. He fulfilled therefore the essential requirement of apostleship in that he saw the resurrected Jesus albeit in a manner that causes him to describe himself as one “untimely born”.

    1 Corinthians 15:8-9 (ESV )

    8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

    Gods plan brought into the Kingdom the man who was ultimately to wrote the lions share of the NT outside fo the Gospels who would have thought it? Who would have dreamed it? No one but God.

    Next we move onto Pauls claim that he was “set apart” this brings us to the concept of holiness and the word holy.

    What is the image that pops into your mind when you hear the word holy? Is of men in dresses, smells, bells and holy water? Or maybe it is a devout person who seems to be in a constant state of prayer. Maybe a church building, the magnificent York Minster, or Beverly Minster or Westminster Abbey? I could go on, but is this what the word holy really mens in a Biblical context? I would say no, and it never was meant to men that. It simply means set apart, separate.

    God intentions for Israel were that they were to be a holy nation, He wanted the to be different from the surrounding nations, set apart if you like in their customs and practices, different and thus by demonstrating this separation and difference they would be a light to the nations.

    Similarly we are called to be holy. But not in some pious, “smells and bells” kind of way, but by the way we live our daily lives. Its good to have your head in your Bible regularly don’t get me wrong, but if we don’t look up and see the world around us and be moved to respond there is something wrong. To be set apart, to be holy, means that we are a part of the world we interact with it and we act, live and behave differently. To be holy therefore is not something that is unattainable, but something that is in a sense within our control. Yes of course God by His grace will help us, The Holy Spirt will prompt us to do things that are good and wholesome, to not do things that are damaging to us and others, the Word of God will guide us and be our moral compass and the fellowship of believers (church in its widest sense) will be our support and encouragement.

    And the word gospel simply means good news. What is interesting here is that the gospel is considered to be “Gods” gospel, in other places it is clearly referred to as the “gospel of Jesus Christ”. But this is where we can begin to get a glimpse of the complexity of God, (and again this is something we will return to time and time again in our studies). God or the Father clearly had a plan for the salvation of mankind. Jesus was the ‘executor’ of that plan in that He emptied Himself of all but love and died for yours and my sins. The Holy Spirit is the guarantor, the deposit made within us of the plans completeness. I short the Gospel of God is the good news that we can come into right relationship with Him we can be saved from our sinful natures and be sons and daughters of God Almighty. No wonder there are times when Paul, in his writings to the various churches and individuals moves into a stream of praise and worship written down for our benefit praising God for his mercies, Hie blessings and the marvellousness of his salvation. Words really cannot express the joy, peace and wisdom of God all we can do is try.

    An Occurrence of Angels

    Luke 2:8-14

    The Shepherds and the Angels

    And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

    John 20:11-14

    Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

    But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

    These are two of the rare occurrences of angels recorded in the Gospels. The first is taken from what is commonly referred to as the Nativity narrative or story and is a wonderful telling of how the Good. News that the Messiah was entering to world was announced to the lowly shepherds.

    In first century Judah, being a Sheperd was not considered that honourable a job, they were relatively unskilled and possibly illiterate workers who worked unsociable hours a a lot of the time, hence why they were in the fields during the night time when the Angels announced the Birth of Jesus.

    But look at the spectacular display that God put on for them, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude o the heavenly host praising God……..” One only has to take a read of some of the apocalyptic type writings predominantly in the Old Testament but also in the book of Revelation to realise that the Heavenly Host comes in many and varied forms.

    This of the best firework display that you have ever been to. Maybe the New Year’s Day celebration on the stroke of midnight in London? Maybe, if you are old enough to remember, a similar display held somewhere across the globe at the turn of the millennium? Think of the best light show that you have ever been to, maybe a Pink Floyd Concert or similar (am I showing my age there making that reference?)

    Well I bet that in every way possible the display of the multitude of the Heavenly Host beats your experience hands down.

    All those beings right from the presence of God singing his praises in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ! Magnificent.

    Zip forward approx 33 years and we have a very different scenario, but one that is nonetheless any less exciting.

    It is Sunday morning, and the previous Friday a day we now refer to as Good Friday, and Jesus had been killed in the most cruel torturous way devised by man at the time. His body had been hurriedly entombed in linen and expensive spices so as not to violate the impending Sabbath and all of the associated regulations that entailed.

    The women who were followers of Jesus had got up early, before sunrise, prepared some more spaices and had visited the tomb in which Jesus had been lain to prepare his body. Weather it was because the job on the Friday prior had been rushed because fo the Sabbath, or because this was simply their act of honouring the man they had followed for the best part of three years is not clear, and is not important, what is important is that the Tomb was Empty!

    A few things occurred from the initial discovery put to he point in the second set of verses above but we find Mary (Magdelane) on her own at the tomb crying over the disappearance of her Lord. Go read the whole section to get a full picture. And she encounters two angels sitting in the tomb, one at the head and one at the feet of a body that was not even there. And they simply ask why she is weeping?

    There is no fanfare, there is no Heavenly Host, there is now chorus or orchestra of celebration just two angels asking a simple question.

    Now, we have two thousand years of Biblical exegesis to benefit us and we know the end of the story, if you don’t go read it for yourself its right there in the Gospel accounts. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead that he was resurrected that he now sits at the right hand of the Father and all that, but what had just been achieved here is nothing less than the victory over sin and death. Re-read that, what has just happened here is nothing less than the victory over sin and death. The victory over sin that allows us, you me and everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Saviour to enter into relationship with God. And the victory over death because as we enter into that relationship we begin a journey that will last into eternity in His presence that whilst we may die in these mortal bodies, we have a hope of resurrection ourselves. And that some will not “taste” even death but at the appointed time will be caught this up in the air to be with Jesus. Transformed in the twinkling of an eye.

    Of all the battles ever fought and won this is the most marvellous, most magnificent, surely the most praiseworthy?

    But unlike in our first verses the angels who maybe have witnessed this great even do not offer up a single note of music of praise to God. There is no Heavenly Multitude here there are no lights in the sky, now merge presentation of worship to God for what Jesus has achieved by these beings.

    Have you ever wondered why? No? Maybe not, but I have and maybe if you have managed to read this far maybe you are now?

    Well I think the answer is simple. Of course the good news of the birth of the Messiah was some ting to celebrate and maybe something that the angels could get excited about because they could see the instigation of Gods plan of salvation.

    But the significance of the resurrection relates only to us. To the Human Race. You see we are the ones made in Gods image, not the Angels or other elements of the Heavenly Host, you, me, mankind we are made in Gods image and it is for us that Jesus emptied Himself of all except love and became obedient, even to obedience to death on a cross.

    So it is not for the Angels that it is incumbent upon to praise God for this event, rather it is for us, you me and all believers to offer up our praise and worship, be that manifest in song, music, service, works, attitude of heart and mind, whatever form our worship takes it is ours to give, ours to offer ours to make sure that it is given. Not the angels or other Heavenly Hosts.

    My challenge is how am I going to make sure I do that?

    NEEDTOBREATHE

    I am not the worlds biggest fan of American rock. I prefer the stuff that I was brought up on good ol’ British stuff. and not necessarily just rock my musical interest spans almost all genres and I have everything from Beethoven, (who by the way wrote the best ever piece of music in his 9th Symphony), to Paul McCartney and Wings, ELO, Coldplay, with a healthy dose of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in for good measure.

    But I digress. Other than Meatloaf, and who can’t help but like a bit of Meatloaf, I have not ventured much into Americano music.

    But this band, discovered on UCB1 with the sublime track Brother has had me listening to them almost constantly for the past 18 months. and like most good musicians, their music, as good as the studio stuff is, gets an extra dimension when they play live: Please take the time to let me introduce you to NEEDTOBREATHE. <- Click the link!

    A gospel rock band that is not overtly gospel in their lyrics playing songs that show their struggles simply as human beings trying to do something that they love. After having a listen to them I encourage you to search them out, using your favorite search engine and discover more about them.