Preparation For Easter Week 2: A Visit With Paul
If Jesus took more than one day to prepare for His resurrection, shouldn’t we? This Easter, don’t just prepare your hearts for Resurrection Sunday. Help us prepare the house.
Well, good morning to everyone, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re concluding our two-week series called “Preparation for Easter.” As I promised this weekend, I told you I was going to do a lot of Bible. So, I just want to say up front that you might want to squint your eyes and then open them back up because it’s going to be like water from a fire hydrant today. It’s not the way I normally preach, if this is your first time here. This is going to be much more like having a Dr. Bennett class in college or seminary. It’s going to be a lot of work. So, just pay attention, if you would. If, somehow, I lose you along the way, just say to yourself, “You know, I really do love Chip. This guy is just crazy.” Then come back in and I promise you it’ll all make sense towards the end. But we’re going to do a lot of work.
So, let me ask you a question before I get going. Do you remember, back in high school, the yearbooks that they would have? One of the pages would be like, “Most likely to succeed,” or, “Most likely to be a drummer in a rock band,” or, “Most likely to end up in jail.” Whatever it may have been with those things. The reason they did those things and said those things is because they would know sort of who we were. It’s like you knew who this person’s character was and you figure that that is what they would be as they went forward. That’s how we sort of thought that they were going to be the most likely to succeed, and so on and so forth.
Every once in a while, though, you’ll meet one of those people from school that you grew up with, or someone that you knew that you knew was a certain way. You’ll meet them and they are completely different. It’s a shock, usually, to us because we know something. We know that even though change is possible in this life, we also know that a lot of people have a hard time changing. So, change is a really big deal, which brings me to what I want to talk about this weekend with everybody, which is called a visit with Paul.
Paul was formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. If you and I could’ve known Saul of Tarsus in high school — they didn’t have high schools like we have back there in the first century. But if we could’ve known him and known who he was, we would have never in a million years believed that he could’ve penned some of the words that he penned in the New Testament. Saul of Tarsus was born in Tarsus, which was probably, during the first century, second only to Athens in terms of a philosophical city. Somewhere between 80,000-100,000 people lived in this town. He was born into a family where his dad was most likely a Pharisee. His dad, also, was a tent maker, which is where he learned his trade because it was passed down from father to son, which means he grew up in an incredibly religious family, incredibly Jewish family, understanding Scripture backwards and forwards, and also understanding all the philosophical thoughts of living in a town like Tarsus. Because if you were a tent maker, you would be selling those tents to different people and working with other people. So, he would’ve rubbed shoulders with all kinds of people.
We know that he was an incredibly educated man who understood the Bible backwards and forwards — at least the Old Testament. He also understood philosophy, rhetoric and all of those things. Obviously, he had read Plato, Aristotle and knew those things. This is a very, very, very brilliant man.
The fact that he could pen what he penned in 2 Corinthians 3 would be shocking if he could’ve known he would one day pen this, and would be shocking to those who would’ve known him. Something happened in his life that got him to where it was. It would be very simplistic of us to say, “Well, he met Jesus.” As true as that is, and as life-changing as that is, there are many, many things that led to getting Paul to where he could write something like this.
This is what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:14. He’s talking about Moses coming off of the mountain with the Ten Commandments and he has a veil over his face.
He says, “For to this day, when they read the old covenant,”
That’s shocking that Paul refers to his own people as “they.” For to this day, when they read the old covenant, there is a veil on their face. It remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.”
“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
What’s he saying here? What he’s saying is, “The way I used to read the Old Testament, I don’t read it that way anymore. The way I saw that whole thing, I don’t see it anymore.” There’s such a massive change from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle, I think it would behoove us to look at the complexities of what got him from here to here, and not try to just make it as simple as we try to make it at times. “Oh, he just had a conversion,” as if that sort of explains everything. It’s usually never that easy. There are usually things that go on in life to get someone to where they are.
So, we’re going to look at that, and I think as we go through this there’s going to be a lot of information. I promise you that. Good thing is we record this, so you can watch it again and again if you need to. But what we’re going to do is move from here to here and we’re going to see how Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle. I think as we make that trajectory move and arch with him, our faith and our understanding of who Jesus is is not only going to be challenge, but it’s going to be deepened and anchored even more. Which, as we roll into Holy Week next week, I think it will make Easter and Good Friday so much more significant to every one of us.
So, let’s start working here with Saul of Tarsus and how he becomes the Apostle Paul. Well, I think the very first thing that we have to do is we have understand this was a very educated man who understood the Old Testament, who understood rhetoric, who understood the culture of the day. But we first meet him in a very unlikely place. We meet him in the book of Acts, in Acts 7, at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen is a young Christian man who’s out preaching the Gospel, telling people about Jesus. What it appears is, because in Acts 7:1 — and you can look at this later — the high priest asks him the question, “Are these things so?”
So, it appears that Stephen is in front of the Sanhedrin; the high Jewish court. It’s sort of like the Supreme Court, in some ways, to us today. They’re asking him a question about Jesus because they’ve got a problem with what He’s preaching. It doesn’t fit with their understanding. Jesus being a messiah doesn’t fit. Jesus hanging on a cross doesn’t fit. Jesus resurrecting doesn’t fit. They want to know, “What are you preaching? Are you a Jewish man? What are you telling people?” They’re there to figure out what they’ve got to do with this guy. If you’ve never read Acts 7, or even if you’ve read it once or twice, or if you think, “Well, I read the Bible through every year. I’ve read it through.”
Let me tell you this: You and I could spend the next six months in Acts 7 because it is so chalked full of a history of the Old Testament as he gives this whole large defense, which sort of culminates in Acts 7:51 where he looks at that whole court and says, “You are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, and you resist the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did.”
You can imagine that went over really well. Right? Can I get an “amen” on that one? It didn’t. What happens is they’re cut to the quick and they’re just so, “Ugh,” at him. And then he says, “And do you know what? I see Jesus, right now, standing at the right hand of God,” and they cover their ears and the rush at him. They take him outside and they stone him. They throw rocks at him and kill him. There’s a beautiful picture, a 17th century piece of art that’s in the Louvre at France called “The Stoning of Stephen.” It’s a beautiful picture of the stoning. It’s done well.
Over here, you can see somebody’s got a bunch of these garments that are laying at them. Luke tells us this in Acts: “Then they cast him out of the city.” This is Stephen as they’ve decided they can’t stand what he’s saying. They’re covering their ears. They’re rushing at him. In fact, if you like literary stuff — you know how I do literary stuff — Luke, who wrote both Luke and Acts, when he talks about the pigs rushing down the hill that Jesus delivers the man and throws the demons into the pigs, and they rush down the hill, he uses the same Greek words for the Sanhedrin as they rush at Stephen. He’s calling them swine. It’s really, really pretty powerful when you’re reading this. He’s not calling everybody that would be of that nature, but he’s saying, “At this particular moment, those that are ready to kill Stephen are possessed.”
“Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
This is the first time we meet Saul. They’re casting their lots, throwing their garments in front of a young man named Saul, who we find out is Saul of Tarsus, which makes this, really, an interesting passage because was he a member of the Sanhedrin because they were casting lots there with him? It’s very possible that he was, which will then make a lot of things interesting about his life as we talk more about it. But this is a moment where he’s not convicted. He doesn’t think, “Hey, I just heard Stephen talk about Jesus. I’m in.” In fact, at the very end of Acts 7, we’re told that he consents to the death of Stephen. He is for it. It doesn’t fit his theological system. It doesn’t fit his parameters as a scholar of the Old Testament. We find in Acts 8 that a great persecution happens against the Christian Church. In Acts 8:3, we’re told that Paul was so enraged, so incensed that he went from house to house, dragging people out and throwing those into prison who said they were believers in Jesus.
And then we have a section, a little interlude where we talk a little bit about Philip, and then — is that a plane or something? Who knows what it is. Anyway, we have an interlude with Philip, and then we get to Acts 9. In Acts 9, Paul has gone in front of the high priest to get letters, which basically would be like search warrants in some ways, to go to Damascus and go into the houses and synagogues, and grab people to throw them into prison and potentially, also, take their life. So, he’s on the way to Damascus and we have the next sort of domino that falls in his life, which we call the Damascus Road. On the way to Damascus, young Saul of Tarsus meets Jesus. There’s a moment where he just meets Jesus. And Luke, who traveled with Paul — and we know that he traveled with Paul in the book of Acts — has talked with Paul, obviously, and knows all the stuff. He records it this way. It’s really powerful, the way he records it.
“Now as he went on his way,” — this is Saul of Tarsus, at the time — “he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground,”
I love the literary cues that our Bible writers used. Where Stephen is falling to the ground and being stoned, now Paul is falling to the ground. Is he going to be stoned for what he did? No. He’s going to meet Jesus. It’s really cool. It’s a lot of just making you think about the goodness of God and all this stuff.
“And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul,’”
This is a man who would’ve known his Old Testament. He knew the Old Testament well. He knew there was another very important figure that was referred to with the double name. “Moses, Moses.” So, when he heard, “Saul, Saul,” I’m sure it was like, “Whoa. The double name.” It’s sort of like when your mom would call your name — the full name. You know what I’m talking about? You knew you were in trouble. It wasn’t, “Chip, get here.” It was when I heard, “Charles Dalton Bennett III,” that was when I was praying that God would come back. You know? You just knew that that was going to happen.
He hears, “Saul, Saul,” and then this is really interesting: “‘Why are you persecuting me?’”
Not “why are you going to Damascus to persecute my followers” or anything. And, of course, at this point, he wouldn’t have even known what He’s talking about. Like, “Persecuting me? Who’s talking to me that I am persecuting?”
He says, “‘Who are you, Lord?’”
He’s like, “Whatever’s going on here is not the way that it normally goes down. Something’s going on here.”
He says, “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
Now, in that moment, this young Saul of Tarsus would have been processing at a million miles a minute.
“We just stoned Stephen. He thought Jesus was resurrected. Now I’m talking to Jesus and He says I’m persecuting Him.” For Saul of Tarsus, the persecuted lot were the Jewish people. So, to hear that Jesus is being persecuted, it would’ve been a moment where his wheels would’ve been just churning. He’s blind and he can’t see. They take him to a house and Ananias comes and baptizes him. We find that he runs out, he’s telling everybody about this experience that he’s had, and nobody wants to hear it. They have to lower him down in a basket out of town. And then, because we sometimes, maybe, don’t pay close attention, there is radio silence from Saul of Tarsus for probably somewhere upwards of 10 years before he shows back up in Scripture.
Well, what happened? Those are great questions because he’s having to formulate what has happened in his life. He’s had to think through what it means and the experience that he’s just had. If he’s a member of the Sanhedrin, it makes it even more interesting because that means he goes back to Tarsus and not only does he tell his mom and dad and his family that he’s now becoming a Jesus-follower, which they would’ve shunned him — if he was, in fact, a member of the Sanhedrin, he would’ve been married, which means he probably lost his wife in that transaction where she said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with you with what’s happened.”
So, he probably went through a long period of really being crushed as a human being. And then he comes back on the scene. Well, as he comes back on the scene, he’s worked through a lot of this. First of all, what we know is this: We know that Jesus’ resurrecting was a game-changer. We know that as these dominos have fallen, he hears Stephen, he’s enraged, but then he hears Jesus and then he has a long time to process through this. As he processes through Jesus’ resurrection, it would be very simplistic of you and I to just say, “Well, he met Jesus and so everything changed.”
You have to understand something: For Paul, at this particular time, Jesus resurrecting did not fit his understanding. So, we have to go back. You have to go back with me here, into the first century, and understand how Jewish people thought. Jewish people thought that the world was divided into two periods. It’s called this age and the age to come. You read it in the Old Testament. “These days and the latter days,” or, “This age and the age to come.” We tend to read our own impregnated version into these texts; fanciful things that are not being said. The Jewish people never thought the world was going to end. At all. They didn’t think that at all. If God had created the world, why would He destroy something that was good? It just needed to be redone.
So, this idea of heaven passing away and earth passing away, a new heaven and new earth, is the same thing as the new moon. It’s not a new moon like the moon was pulled out of the cosmos and a new moon was stuck in. It’s called a renewal. The word “new” is renewal. Heaven and earth will be renewed. So, when Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away before my Word passes away,” that’s an idiom. When we say, “Hell would freeze over before Jesus’ Word would go,” we know that Hell’s not going to freeze over. Jesus is not saying heaven and earth are going to pass away. He’s saying, “Since you know they won’t, you know that my Word is good.”
The Jewish people saw the world, historically, in the two distinct periods. There was this age, and under this age Israel was suppressed. They were in bondage. It was much like their time in Egypt. They saw that, at one time in history, God had brought forth Charlton Heston to deliver them. Moses. They came out of Egypt into the promised land, but they had blown that. It had been something that they had seen before because Adam and Eve had the promised land, and they blew it, too. But they were waiting for the day when God would act again, and that day would be the age to come. And then the age to come, it wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t some cataclysmic stuff.
When we read all this imagery in the Old Testament that we’re not familiar with about all this apocalyptic imagery, we read it foreign to the way they would have spoken it. We have all the extant literature that helps us to understand these things. They’re not thinking of the end of the world. They’re just saying that when God acts, heaven and earth collide because, originally, heaven and earth were created together. They’ve been separated. But when heaven and earth come back together — which is what happens at the end of Revelation, we’re not flying away to heaven. Heaven is coming back to earth. God’s going to one day bring these things back together.
They believed that in the age to come, God would act. And when He acted, they had all their biblical data to know what that would look like. What that would look like is this: First of all, there would be a national resurrection. Ezekiel 37, the Valley of Dry Bones. The Sadducees would argue that’s not a literal resurrection, but that is just the resurrection of the nation of Israel. The Pharisees would say, “No. People who were Jewish would be resurrected. Their bodies would come together and they would be resurrected.”
But everybody believed that at some point in the age to come, which could happen at any moment — which is why they wanted their messiahs, which is why Rome crucified people that claimed to be messiahs because Rome didn’t want anybody overthrowing them, thinking, “Hey, what if the Jewish people are right?” So, they had a way of dealing with messiahs. They crucified them.
They were waiting for this day when God would resurrected Israel, and no longer would it be punished but it would be raised up. You see passages like Isaiah 2 where it says, “In the latter days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be elevated above all the other mountains, and all the nations will come to it, and the Law will go forth out of Zion. As the nations hear about Yahweh, they will beat their weapons of war into weapons of peace.
They expected this day to come. When that day came, like Jeremiah 31:31 and following, there would be forgiveness of sins, there would be the Law written in people’s hearts, and then, when that happens, they would go get the Gentiles. Sort of at an arm’s length until that day happened. They believed, like Isaiah 2, that there would be a day when all of this happened and they would go into the world and the Gentiles would hear. What would happen is God would sort of do what God had always said He would do. In their mind, God created the world good. The world’s not good right now. It needs to be redeemed and God’s going to use the suffering of Israel to bring the glory of God. Through the suffering, at one point, their glory will come up. When their glory comes up, all these things will happen.
So, for Paul, as he’s thinking through this, he’s like, “This guy resurrected like nothing changed. This doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit. But He rose from the dead because I talked to Him. I saw Him. I know that’s what this is all about.”
It wasn’t the resurrection that was strained because when he’s in front of a group, he’s like, “Why would anybody think it would be incredibly that God raises the dead? It wasn’t that God raised the dead that was the big thing for the Jewish people. It was never a matter of the resurrection. It was the timing and the individualistic claim of Jesus in His resurrection that was the problem.
“One man has resurrected in spacetime, and it doesn’t look like what we thought it was going to look like.” If that’s true, then that means the age to come has happened, which means there has been forgiveness of sins, there has been the Law written in people’s hearts, and it’s time to go, then, to the nations.
Well, that explains Paul to a T. What does the guy do when he comes to the understanding of who Jesus is? He goes out and starts telling everybody that’s a Gentile about Jesus. He plants all the churches all around the Mediterranean Basin. Do you want to know what got Paul going? Two things. First, he knew that the age to come had been inaugurated. It wasn’t the way he thought it was going to be. He was looking for a consummation all at one point. It was an inauguration waiting for a consummation, living in the period that’s between the inaugurated kingdom and the consummation. On top of it, he knew what Jesus had said. He knew in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 that Jesus had said, “Hey, do you see all the stones here on the temple? This place is going to get destroyed.” They’re like, “Whoa, really? Tell us.”
He says, “Well, this generation won’t pass until it’s destroyed.” He knew within his lifetime that the temple was going to be destroyed. So, what did he do? He worked as hard as he could to go and get the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God, and then he told them, in all of his epistles, “Hey, God’s doing this with both Jew and Gentile. He’s putting two together. Two have become one in the Church.”
You can read that in Ephesians 2 and other places. He knew that when the temple was destroyed, and when the Jewish people had no more sacrifices that they could offer for the atonement of their sin, maybe, just maybe, they would roll into one of the churches and realize that Jesus had been the messiah that had paid for their sins, which explains why Paul was so focused on doing what he was doing. Then, along that timespan, there was the flip of a switch that changed everything for him. It changed everything for the writers in the New Testament. When he realized and they realized this: The suffering and glory of Israel were actually about Jesus. He realized what I’m reading in the Old Testament is not about this nation. It’s about the nation, it talks about the nation, but it’s really about Jesus.
All the New Testament writers get this. If you take Matthew, for instance, what does he do? He has Jesus, at a young age, His life is threatened. Herod wants to kill the kids two years and younger. Okay. We know in the Old Testament that Aaron was three years older than Moses, so Moses was somewhere between 0-2 years old as he’s being threatened.
So, here’s Moses under the sentence of death. Jesus is under the sentence of death. We’ve got Moses, obviously, in Israel. They go to Egypt and they come out of Egypt, through the waters, into the wilderness and up to Sinai. So, what does Jesus do? Jesus goes to Egypt, and now we’re told, “Out of Egypt, I’ve called my Son.” No longer is that Israel. That’s Jesus coming out of Egypt. What does He do? He goes through the waters of baptism, He goes through the wilderness and then He goes up on the mountain and deliverers the Sermon on the Mount. We’re hearing the story of Israel told through Jesus. Paul thinks through this and starts realizing, “Oh, all this stuff in the Old Testament is about Jesus.”
That’s why he says, “There’s a veil that lies over everybody so they can’t see it.” It’s about Jesus. You have to understand it’s about Jesus. He starts realizing, as he’s thinking about these stories, you’ve got Adam in the garden, sinless in his perfection. He’s never sinned and never done anything wrong. And what does God do? He wounds him. In his sinless perfection, he cuts his side open. Out of his side, he takes this substance that will form his bride, Eve. And then He heals him. When he awakens in the garden, there’s his wife, Eve. Coincidental that a sinless Jesus is hanging on the cross, and when He goes into the sleep of death His side is pierced, as well, in His sinless perfection? And the blood and water that flows from His side that creates His Church; His bride. And when He awakens in the garden, who’s there? Mary Magdalene is there. It’s emblematic of the bride.
Where’s He at? He’s in the garden because she says, “I thought You were the gardener.” He’s able to think through, like, “Oh, yeah. Abraham. Abraham on the third day. Yeah. The third day.”
In like fifty-seven instances in the Old Testament, there’s a third day. Every time, it’s telling you about Jesus. Daniel, on the third day, is lifted up. There’s a stone that was rolled over, and they have to roll it off on the third day and lift him up. It was sealed. Paul’s going, “Oh, man. This is all about Jesus, man.”
Abraham takes his one and only begotten son — the Hebrew is very emphatic that it’s one and only. One and only. On the third day, he goes up the hill, which happens to be the hill where the temple will be, and all the sacrifices will be performed. And what does he do with his son, Isaac? He says, “Carry the wood.”
Anybody else walk up a hill carrying wood? He says, “Father, where’s the lamb?”
“Don’t worry. God will provide.”
Well, as he’s getting ready to take Isaac’s life, you should be looking for a lamb, but there’s not a lamb. It’s a ram. That’s because there will be a lamb that comes and takes away the sins of the world. He’s going through the Old Testament and he’s going, “Oh, the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness, it was Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10. Everything is about Jesus. I read it wrong.”
The second or third time back when I went to Israel on a tour, I flew El Al. I went over early. El Al is the Jewish airplane. It was cool because I got to sit next to a rabbi. It took me about an hour or two to get this guy to warm up to his Gentile friend, and he was all tasseled out and everything. I probably had on a Van Halen t-shirt or something.
Anyway — hey, David Lee Roth is Jewish, so I win. You know what I’m talking about? So, we’re sitting there having a conversation and talking, and I finally get him to warm up. I’m like, “So, rabbi, how do you read Isaiah 53? Who is the suffering servant?”
He says, “Well, of course, it’s Israel.” I knew he was going to say that because when they read that, they see Israel. Israel is the suffering one that will bring the glory to the world. Paul and the New Testament writers realize that it’s Jesus’ suffering. Jesus is the one that’s being talked about. Through His suffering, the glory will come. Luke, who travels with Paul, who obviously understood Paul — he chose the material he wrote in his Gospel. It’s not a coincidence that he chooses a particular scene where on the resurrection morning — this is really cool too. On resurrection morning, Jesus has just conquered sin and death. I don’t know how you’d have been, but if I’d have conquered sin and death, I’d have been like — all that stuff. What does Jesus do? It shows you the beauty of our Savior. Instead of glorying in His defeat over death, hell and the grave, He takes a journey with two lonely disciples and walks with them.
That tells you a lot about your Savior. Well, as they’re walking along, they don’t know it’s Him. They’re talking to Him about what’s happened. They say, “Moreover, some women of our company, they amazed us. They amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they didn’t find His body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.”
We read this and we’re going, “How are you guys not realizing what’s going on? He is risen from the dead.” Because they didn’t think somebody would raise from the dead in the middle of history. They were waiting for a national resurrection. This doesn’t fit their box at all. So, when we read this, we’re going, “Why are they not getting this?” They wouldn’t have gotten it. They wouldn’t have seen it because it didn’t fit their box.
“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Him.”
He wasn’t there.
“He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’”
In other words, all the prophets, Jesus is saying, have spoken about this day.
“‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’”
The suffering and the glory. Then listen to what He says.
“‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’”
It’s about a two and a half or three hour walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. For two and a half or three hours, Jesus told them, through the whole Old Testament, all the things about Him.
Church, if you can’t find Jesus in the Old Testament, you’re not reading it the way Jesus read it because this is what He did. So, knowing that and seeing how all of this starts to build into moving Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle to where he could write such a thing is there’s a veil. They’re not reading it the way it should be read. You come to the understanding that the culmination of Paul’s whole enterprise of how God is going to redeem the world, how He’s going to bring about the obedience of faith to all the nations, how He’s going to accomplish all of the things that He promised, you start to understand and see that Romans really, rather than being some great systematic theology — but, again, I teach systematic theology. I’ve taught it for so many years. For so many years, I thought, “Oh, do you want to talk about predestination and free will? We’ll go to Romans 9. Do you want to talk about security? We’ll go to Romans 8. Do you want to talk about faith? We’ll go to Romans 4. Do you want to talk about baptism? We’ll go to Romans 6.”
I’ve got all the little things. But this is a lifetime. This is 49 years of work and 30 years in school. This is a culmination. I couldn’t have preached this 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. It wouldn’t have had the data points. I start to realize, “Oh, man. The book of Romans, far more than it just being some systematic theology treatise, it is Paul’s definitive statement of having moved from here to here. He’s going to tell you through this whole landscape of this book how God is taking a world that He created that is not right, and He’s going to restore it back to right, and how He’s going to do all that.
For Paul, he calls that the Gospel. It is the Good News. So, how does he start? He starts off in Romans 1:5.
“...to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
He’s already talking about how God, like in Isaiah 2 where it goes out into the world and the nations are converted. That’s why Jesus, in Matthew 28, takes them up on a mountain, by the way, and says, “Now what I want you to do is I want you to go into all the world and make disciples.” They would’ve readily understood all this imagery of what was going on because they understood their Scriptures. We’re starting, here, with the obedience of faith. How does the book end? Well, it ends the same way.
“...but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
Most of these books are written that way in the New Testament. They start one way and they end that way. Luke starts in the temple with Zechariah. He ends in the temple. He starts with the obedience of faith in Romans. End with the obedience of faith. They’re all like this. They all bookend it. They all know exactly what they’re doing. They know their geography. They know the way that they write. It’s incredible stuff.
So, knowing that Paul’s now going to share with us how God’s going to do all the things that He said He would do, we come to the most — in my opinion — misinterpreted verse in all of the Bible, which is Romans 1:16.
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,”
He is not saying that I believe in Jesus so much that I’m willing to go knock on a door and tell people about Jesus. I’m not going to be timid about sharing Jesus. He’s not saying that at all, folks. That’s not what he’s saying at all. This is a thoroughly Jewish framework. Go read your Psalms. Your Psalms will have — over and over, you’ll see the psalmist go, “God, my enemies are encamped around me. It doesn’t look like it’s going to win. It doesn’t look like it. God, don’t let me be put to shame. Don’t let me lose here. I believe that You’re doing something great. I don’t want to be put to shame.”
Paul is saying, “Listen, I know what God is doing. There is no shame at all in my life about the Gospel; this Good News. I know where God is going and I know what He’s going to do. And there’s no shame at all. Although it doesn’t look like it, right now, that God is doing it, although it doesn’t feel like it right now, I know where this thing is going. I’m not ashamed at all of this Gospel, this Good News, of what God is doing in His Son Jesus to redeem the world, for it — understanding it, understanding Jesus’ death, His resurrection, the full scope of what God is doing in Christ, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
He says, “Let me tell you what happened. God created the world good, but the problem all the things that can be known about God, people have decided they don’t want to know about God. They decided on their own freedom to walk away from God. In fact, they walk away from God so much that they start doing all kinds of things that are unnatural. They start worshiping all kinds of crazy things. In fact, they get so bad off toward the end of Romans 1, he says, “Not only do they enjoy it, but they also want to get other people doing it.”
In Romans 2, in case you happen to be Jewish, Paul says, “Don’t think that because you have the laws, the commandments and Moses, that somehow you’re exempt. You’re just as bad. In case I missed anybody, in Romans 3, I’m going to quote from the Psalms in Romans 3:10,” Paul says, “to let you know there is none righteous, no, not one. If you didn’t get that one, let me say it again in Romans 3:23: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’”
Here’s the predicament that we’re in: We’re in a world that was created beautiful, but we’re in a world that is full of sin and it’s ugly. How’s God going to bring that back to rights? How is He going to do what He says? That’s the word righteousness. It’s not like we’re right with God. The righteousness with God is Him doing the right thing. It’s Him doing the thing that needs to be done. His righteousness demands that He will put things back together. He goes, “It’s as old as Abraham,” Romans 4. “It’s as old as this old patriarch. Abraham, way back when, got it. He got the plan here of the Gospel. He got the plan of the deal because Abraham had something called faith.”
His faith was unique because he called things that were not as though they were. He looked for a heavenly city, the writer of Hebrews 11 told us. He was looking for God to bring consummation of all things. He had faith in this trusting of a God that he was going to act. He didn’t have all the data points that we have. He didn’t have Jesus like we have, and resurrection and all that. But he knew that the God of the universe was going to bring all things back to right, and he trusted that.
In trusting that, he was made right before God. Paul says, “That is the way it starts. It’s all about trusting God in His plan, believing that God is doing something in His Son Jesus.” If you do that, Romans 5:1, you have peace with God through Jesus. You’re justified. Remember, in Romans 5:8, while we were yet sinners, He died for us. He came for you and I so that you understand that in the same way the one man, Adam, spread sin to the world, the one man, Jesus, in believe in Him, will bring life to those that believe. So remember, Romans 6, your baptism. When you went under the waters and you came back up out of the waters, we’re in the inaugurated age to come. You do have the Spirit within you. You do have God’s power within you. You no longer have to be a slave to sin, at all, because God has put His Spirit within you. He has put His Law within your heart he has done what He would say. It’s not fully consummated. It’s inaugurated. But you don’t have to live that power of sin anymore.
But I’m aware, Romans 7, that there’s going to be times — and he changes to present tense verbs to make sure that we’re not thinking that this is a past tense experience. All of the verbs, when he starts talking about this experience, are all present tense in the original language. He says, “There are things that I want to do that I don’t do, and there are things that I really want to do and I don’t find myself doing them.”
We all know that’s true. Even if we’re believers, there are times that we do things that we wish we wouldn’t do. He says, in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation, though, for anyone, because what God has done in you is forgiven you and made you right with God, for those of us who walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh.”
He says, “So, as we’re living this thing out, remember, Romans 8:18, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.” Suffering. Glory. The whole world, Paul says, is awaiting for the revealing of God’s children. All of it is waiting. The world’s groaning to be redeemed, to be set back to the way that it was. And you can take it to the bank if you’re one of His children, who He is, because those whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, and those whom He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, He called. And those whom He called, He justified. And those whom He justified, He glorified. And if God is for you, then nothing can be against you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Romans 9: But what about my people? What about Israel? He says, “Well, to tell you the truth, if I could be separated from Christ for eternity so that my people could come to know Jesus, that’s what I would do. That’s the love that I have for them, the people who are ethnically Israel. But not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they’re his offspring. It’s not about ethnicity. It’s about something else.”
He dials that in. In the very first epistle he ever writes, he says to the Galatian church, “The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. Abraham, your seed will be a blessing to the world. It doesn’t say offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one. Your offspring, who is Christ. The seed of Abraham wasn’t ethnicity. The seed of Abraham was Jesus. He would be the one that brought the glory to all of the nations.”
Once he figures that out, he says, “So now you understand it’s really people who have faith that are the ones that are true Israel.” In Romans 10, he says, “This Good News, this Gospel, has to be preached so people can hear it because when they hear the Good News, it can be united with faith, Romans 10:17, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
So, in Romans 11, there’s one tree. That tree is Israel. That tree consists of both Jew and Gentile. That tree, all Israel, those who are God’s children, will be saved, Romans 11:26, in this way: When God brings everything to a conclusion, the deliverer will come forth from Zion to consummate all of those things.
And then he says, “Man, how incredible are God’s ways? How unsearchable are His ways? How unbelievable are His ways? Unbelievable.”
So, Romans 12:1, in the interim, give yourself as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable and blameless before Him, and don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Live out the giftings and callings that God’s given to you, whether it be administration, whether it be this or whether it be that, do all of those things. While you’re living this thing out, make sure, Romans 13, that to the best of your ability, you honor those that are above you. At the end of the day, we’re to owe no man, Romans 13:8, anything but love. Live out the Gospel. Live out what God’s called us to do. In Romans 14-15, as we gather, make sure you love the weaker people, make sure you serve them, make sure you live this out because we’re part of the inaugurated kingdom that is waiting on the consummation. In that time, go and do the things God’s called you to do because, Romans 16:25, God’s going to crush Satan under your feet very shortly.
Which means that the Gospel, although all you need to know is that Jesus died on a cross and rose again on the third day, is also more deeply rooted than just that. Let that build faith in you, hearing the Gospel anew and afresh. If you’re in here today and you’re like, “Man, I don’t even know what that guy just said. That was a lot of stuff, man. That’s crazy. But, man, it sounded good. I want to be on that train, man. Whatever that train is.”
Just say, right now, “I’m ready to go forward.” Come grab somebody after church and say, “Hey, man. I want to go forward with this thing. I want to follow Jesus. I want to be in on this thing. I want to know that I’m good.”
That could be a reality for you as well. But I think the most important thing for you and I is to know that when we go into Holy Week next week, we’re going to see Good Friday and Easter in a little bit more depth than we have, and we understand it changes our life. Let’s make sure that we do everything that we can to get other people in here so that the Gospel can change their life as well. Amen? Let’s bow our heads and let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, for just the majesty of Scripture. It’s unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable. My prayer is that, God, You would really speak to our hearts. As we go into Holy Week and we celebrate Your death and resurrection, Your suffering and Your glory, I pray that this Easter would be even more meaningful to us as we understand the depths of the Gospel.
So, Lord, as we walk out of here, I pray that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us. I pray that You would watch over us and protect us. I pray, Lord, that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, and help us, Lord, to stay diligent on being what You’ve called us to be here at Grace: A church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him.