Romans 15:14-21 – Paul the Missionary

Apostle Paul by Ivan Filichev
Apostle Paul by Ivan Filichev

My brothers and sisters, I know without a doubt that you are full of goodness and have all the knowledge you need. So, you are certainly able to counsel each other. But I have written to you very openly about some things that I wanted you to remember. I did this because God gave me this special gift: to be a servant of Christ Jesus for those who are not Jews. I serve like a priest whose duty it is to tell God’s Good News. He gave me this work so that you non-Jewish people could be an offering that he will accept—an offering made holy by the Holy Spirit.

That is why I feel so good about what I have done for God in my service to Christ Jesus. I will not talk about anything I did myself. I will talk only about what Christ has done with me in leading the non-Jewish people to obey God. They have obeyed him because of what I have said and done. And they obeyed him because of the power of the miraculous signs and wonders that happened—all because of the power of God’s Spirit. I have told people the Good News about Christ in every place from Jerusalem to Illyricum. And so, I have finished that part of my work. I always want to tell the Good News in places where people have never heard of Christ. I do this because I don’t want to build on the work that someone else has already started. But as the Scriptures say,

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard about him will understand.” (ERV)

Paul was an Apostle – a person commissioned by God for a specific purpose. His task was to go to the Gentiles – non-Jewish people. Although a Jew himself, Paul was sent as the missionary to places where Gentiles were the dominate culture. Through the Apostle Peter, and then Paul, the good news of Jesus spread to persons that were beforehand considered unreachable. Paul viewed himself as having no limits as to who could hear and respond to the gospel of new life in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul understood himself as standing between heaven and hell, interceding, and pleading on behalf of people in need.

It is quite likely there are persons in our sphere of influence for whom we think would never respond to the message of Christ’s redemption. In these dog days of summer’s ordinary time in which we may be just trying to beat the heat; and, we might see family that we typically don’t throughout the rest of the year; it could be easy to lose sight that attending a virtual meeting, family gathering, and/or interaction with a person outdoors, there are those who need the kind of life which Jesus invites us to – and we will never know if God is wooing them to himself unless we share life with them.

Perhaps we need to see ourselves as Paul did – standing in the gap and always trying to find ways to speak good news to people who need deliverance from empty ways of life. The cousin or uncle, co-worker or friend, neighbor, or new acquaintance, can be forgotten by us as to their very real need to discover faith and the spirituality which resides within.  We, my friends, are the conduit that God has ordained to bring the life-giving message to people all around us – people for whom we might have already written off as unreachable.

Sometimes the Apostle Paul gets a bad rap as moving beyond the bounds of his apostolic authority in dedicating his life to reaching the non-Jewish person, as if Gentiles were not really on the radar of Jesus. Yet, Paul took pains to demonstrate biblically that his mission was really God’s mission. Indeed, Paul did not fabricate including Jew and Gentile together as one people of God. Romans 15 is filled with Old Testament quotes pertaining to God’s agenda that all peoples of the earth would come and worship together.

It has always been God’s vision to restore humanity, Jewish and Gentile alike, to a life-giving place of beauty and joy in the Garden.

So, Paul had a healthy pride in his work as an Apostle sent from God to the task of reaching the vast numbers of non-Jewish people. I sit here today, two millennia later, the spiritual progeny of the Apostle’s great effort. Because Paul kept pioneering new churches, pushing ever farther into places which knew little to none about Jesus, and being concerned for people very different from himself, Christians today enjoy a rich legacy of faith and works to draw upon in our own lives.

Yes, as an historian I am quite aware of the complicated history between the Jewish people and their Gentile neighbors. I perhaps know more than the average bear about how the Church has far too often brought harm and not help to the world. Yet, this in no way mitigates the incredible new life which has occurred for so many people and cultures throughout the past two-thousand years of Christian history. In fact, in the light of today’s New Testament lesson, it behooves us Christians to establish gracious and loving connections with our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as all of humanity. Their pain of persecution and difficulty through the centuries is our pain, as well.

May the power of God’s Spirit come upon us all. May we all become a community of priests and prophets proclaiming peace, love, and joy – the life we are all meant to experience and share together.

We praise you, O God, for the ministry and success of your servant, the Apostle Paul, through whom we who are Gentiles owe our own faith and calling.  Grant us a vision like his, the conviction and commitment to pursue it, and the grace which confirms and prospers it.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Good News

Stained Glass victory

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it, if you hold on to the message which I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach, and this is what you have believed. (CEB)

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death isn’t just a doctrine for Christians to believe; it is a powerful reality to live into. 

Christianity is not a checklist of right beliefs to hold; it is a spirituality deeply concerned with the integration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection into the believer’s daily life – affecting everything she says and does.

Belief and action are to be a seamless whole.  Christianity “works” when faith in the redemptive events of Jesus are woven into the daily fabric of our lives.  Where there is a disparity between verbal confession and daily actions, there is need for integration.

To hold to the message of Christianity is to allow and actively practice applying and integrating Christ’s redemption into all of life.

The greatest tool in this work of integrity is grace.  In Christianity, God graciously delivers people of all kinds from sin, death, and hell through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  God graciously gives us the gift of faith, to believe.  And God works throughout the duration of the Christian’s earthly life to graciously and patiently sew together a solid spirituality within the believer that effects holiness of life.

The Apostle Paul stated that “you are being saved through [the good news of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection] if you hold on to the message.”  That’s Paul’s way of expressing the need for this integrating work of belief throughout a person’s life.

Far too often, in many places of evangelical Christianity, salvation is looked upon as something static – a mere belief to possess.  Again, I will say: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death involves belief and much more; it is a powerful reality to live into.  Salvation is more expansive than a first glance can perceive.  Three statements of salvation are true:

  • We have been saved (past historical redemptive events of Jesus).
  • We are being saved (present integration of Christ’s redemption into daily life).
  • We will be saved (future event of Christ coming again to bring salvation in its complete fullness).

In other words, faith is dynamic.  It can be strengthened or weakened, has ability to grow or wither, and rarely sits idle.

Faith needs attention and exercise to develop a strong spiritual life.

Christianity is a practical boots-on-the-ground divine/human cooperative.  When we put ourselves in a position to receive, then grace has no obstacles to generously give.  And that’s not a one-time thing – it is to be a constant and healthy dynamic of receiving from God and giving to others.  The bedrock belief for this to happen, according to Christianity, is that Jesus is alive.  Because he lives, we live.  He has ability to graciously and lovingly help those coming to God.  That is some incredibly good news!

Lord God Almighty, the resurrection of your Son has given us new life and renewed hope.  Help us to live as new people in pursuit of the Christian ideal.  Grant us wisdom to know what we must do, the will to want to do it, the courage to undertake it, the perseverance to continue to do it, and the strength to complete it; through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-7

             All of Scripture is God-breathed and his self-revelation.  Yet, there are some passages of the Bible that, although not any more significant, control other parts of Holy Scripture.  I call these “boss” verses; they are sections that bring light and authority to the entirety of the Bible.  Today’s Old Testament lesson is a “boss” section of Scripture.  It both encapsulates the message of the Bible as well as projecting an intentional focus of life and ministry for us.
 
            “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor… to comfort all who mourn.”  The Lord Jesus picked up these verses and read them in the inauguration of his ministry to his fellow Jews in the synagogue.  He did so because God’s message would be fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  This, then, is an overarching message which is like a big tent idea that controls all of Holy Scripture.
 
            There ought really to be no doubt, of even the casual reader of the Bible, that God is deeply concerned with the poor, the needy, the grieving, and the spiritually destitute whose souls require hope and rescue.  Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor; he preached the good news of God’s kingdom.  He blessed the poor in spirit and those who mourn.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Christians have a message of good news to proclaim.  Just as Jesus came in the flesh to rescue the needy, so we who have been delivered from sin’s prison, are to embody the message of redemption to others in desperate need of rescue.
 
            Who is in need of God’s good news in your relational sphere of influence?  How might you bring Christ to them both in speech and in the flesh?  What needs are in their lives which Jesus might fulfill?  Will you intentionally and fervently pray for them every day for the next two weeks?
 

 

            Merciful God, your grace has saved me from myself and an empty way of life.  May I never lose sight of what you have done for me.  Anoint me to proclaim the good news of Jesus so that many others might be rescued from their desperate plight.  Amen.

Luke 2:1-14

            It is Christmas Eve.  Over the centuries since Christ’s birth we in the Western world have tended to so romanticize the Nativity that we have lost the scandal of grace.  So, in order to attempt a humble return to the original impact of Jesus coming to earth, I offer a contemporary version of Luke’s account of the shepherds and angels….
 
            In those days a law went out from the President that everyone in the country should be registered for the draft.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from his hick small town to another small village called Bethlehem, because that is where his family was originally from.  He took his betrothed wife, Mary, with him and she was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for Mary to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in an old ratty blanket and laid him in a dresser drawer in the trailer they were staying in, because they could not afford the Motel 6.
 
            And in the same area there were truckers out at the local truck stop, sipping coffee with their semis all around them.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were afraid.  And the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid because I am bringing you some really joyful news that is for everyone.  For your sake a Savior has been born tonight over in the trailer park, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find a baby wrapped in an old ratty blanket and lying in a dresser drawer.  And suddenly there was with the angel a whole lot of other angels who together started praising God and saying:  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
 
            The good news of Jesus coming to this earth is that he came not only for the educated, the wealthy, and the influential; he came for all kinds of people, especially those on the margins of society because the gospel is for everyone.
 
            This night not everyone will be within a church building celebrating with a candlelight service.  Some will be working and just trying to make a living.  Some will finally be with family after being on the road most of the year.  Some will just be happy to have a break.  They need Jesus just as much or more than we do.  Maybe by the grace of God an angel will show up and tell them where to find Jesus.  But if that doesn’t happen, let us be the ones who tell them the good news that Christ the Lord is born just for them.
            Gracious God, you have mercifully sent us your beloved Son to save us all so that we might live new and holy lives.  Help us so to be sensitive to your coming that the news comes joyfully out of us.  Amen.