Bible Passage: Romans 12:1-8
Big Idea: It’s in Jesus and the Love of the Spirit – that Walls Come Down
Intro: Well morning friends. My name is Matt Johnson and today we get into the last chapters of Romans. Romans 15-16 are widely regarded by scholars as little more than an epilogue, where Paul explains his travel plans and greets certain people. But I’d argue the theme of church unity and tearing down the wall between Jews & Gentiles in Christ is still central to the very last verse.
PRAYER: Well friends, a few years ago a very significant sociological movement gained worldwide attention – Black Lives Matter. You may recall an African American man named George Flloyd was killed by a white Policeman in Minneapolis and the world erupted in anger. Now I do believe Black Lives Matter, just as I believe Asian lives Matter, and Jewish Lives Matter and the lives of unborn children also matters.
But what many people fail to understand is that Black Lives Matter is driven by a humanistic (anti-God) ideology. This anti-God belief system has identified that some people in the world are oppressors and some people in the world are oppressed. It’s then argued that man’s ethical responsibility is to fix this problem (without God). The academic language for this belief is Critical Race Theory and it comes from Marxism. Karl Marx (who was very anti-God) – came up with an economic system where he identified an oppressor and an oppressed. He argued that the wealthy bourgeoisie in Europe were the oppressors and the ordinary people, the proletariat were the oppressed. Karl Marx then argued that the oppressed had to rise up in revolution to overthrow those who oppressed them – so that they could usher in a kind of utopian heaven on earth. But sadly, in economics (and the Socialism and Communism it spawned) – Marxism never created Utopia because whoever ultimately got into the position of power – inevitably used their power to oppress someone else to their advantage. The USSR and China are great examples of oppression simply reorganizing itself over a new oppressed.
But this idea of the oppressed overthrowing the oppressor is now enshrined in sociology, legal studies and world politics. This discussion of race (undergirded by ideas from Critical Race Theory) is now coming to Australia in the Voice Referendum that will probably happen within the next 12 months. The premise is that because Aboriginals have been oppressed by their anglo-saxon-white-Judaeo Christian oppressors – they need a special platform to voice their opposition and be properly heard otherwise systemic racism will continue.
Now at this point I don’t want to get into the politics of the Voice Referendum too much. But you need to understand that behind this bit of policy is a secular humanistic concept called Critical Race Theory which will present the Aboriginal people as the oppressed and white, wealthy, Anglo, Judaeo-Christian people as the oppressors. So very soon you will start hearing the media talk about “whiteness”, “white privilege”; “systemic racism”, “intersectionality” and “truth telling”. Supposedly, this process is going to fix race relations in Australia and restore dignity to indigenous Australians.
But the real problem between different races and racism whether in Australia, America, South Africa or Jews and Gentiles is actually rooted in sin, distrust, fear and pride on all sides. The idea that we’re really going to fix the problems of racism with a referendum and a small bit of legislation is dubious. The problem is there is a real oppressor in this world called Satan – who is oppressing us all. Satan also constantly tempts the strong to oppress the weak. So until the ultimate oppressor is thrown into the lake of burning fire – categories of oppressor and oppressed, strong and weak will remain. But humanism in its full-fledged pride and arrogance (most clearly seen in the United Nations) actually thinks it can save the world and create a harmonious utopian, heaven on earth without God AND without Jesus? Man can do it.
But it is actually Jesus and the gospel (and Romans) that really brings reconciliation with God and our fellow man.
Point 1: Paul wants the Gentiles to Accept him as a Jewish Apostle
Show: Rom.15:14-16 (READ)
Explain: Well most scholars note that Paul seems to dance with the Roman church in this final section. On the one hand – Paul commends them as being full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct others. But on the other hand – he says that he has written to them quite boldly on some matters – in the form of rebuke. Then, twice Paul reminds the church in Rome he is the apostle to the Gentiles and that’s why he has a right to speak to them – even boldly.
But why might the church in Rome be inclined not to listen to Paul? Well, given everything Paul said in Romans 9-11 about Gentiles not lording it over the Jews AND what Paul said in Romans 14-15 about the strong being considerate of the weak (not lording it over them) AND what Paul is about to say about the Gentiles having a real debt to the Jews – I think racial problems are still afoot.
We know the Jews and Gentiles were massively prejudiced against each other in the early church. The wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (that we spoke of last week) was not insignificant. Jews seriously thought they were better than Gentiles. Gentiles seriously hated the favouritism God seemed to show the Jews in the Old Covenant.
Now yes, technically this Berlin-Wall came down in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins levelled the playing field for everyone. (GOSPEL) We are all sinners – Jews-Gentiles; Blacks-Whites, Causasians and Asians – that Romans 1-3. We have all failed. We have all been the oppressed and the oppressor. But nonetheless God loves us. So God sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus took the punishment for all our wrongdoing as he died on the cross. Jesus did the time for our crime and we are saved by God’s grace, through faith – Romans 3-4. This means the same precious blood of Jesus was shed for Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, Asians and Caucasians.
We all have the same intrinsic worth – the precious blood of Jesus. And we all have the SAME WAY to be SAVED – through faith in Jesus and repentance of sin. The good news of Christianity is that by believing in Jesus, (accepting him as your Saviour and Lord) God not only forgives you and saves you – he also begins to change you (Romans 6-8). Of course, reject Jesus as your Saviour and Lord – the playing field is also level. Reject Jesus as your Saviour and Lord – you go to hell whether Jew-Gentile, white-black, heterosexual-homosexual. So have you accepted Jesus yet as your Saviour and Lord? If not, make sure you speak to me today.
The reality is – in Jesus the playing field has been completely levelled. No one is better. No one is worse. Romans 9-11 make it clear the only reason the Jews have been hardened for a time – is so that the full number of Gentiles might come in. The Gentiles are not better. The Jews are not worse. So Romans 12-15 says let us “offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God,” “not thinking too highly of ourselves”, but rather working together for Gods glory. Paul makes it clear that the strong should no longer oppress the weak – but be humble and considerate and work together for one another’s edification. But (like any sanctification process) it often takes time for our hearts to catch up with our head. Although the playing field is levelled in Jesus – we often still think, speak and act like some people are better or worse than others.
Now the Emperor Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome early 50’s AD. Let me show you (Acts 18:1-2; Slide 4). Now at this point power structures in the church shifted. We also know that the church in Rome was originally founded by Jewish Christians who heard Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). So initially the Christian church in Rome – would have been entirely Jewish in flavour. But after the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15 (around 50AD) – Jewish Christians started letting Gentile Christians into the church as full members. This was huge. This was an incredibly mature and gracious thing for Jewish Christians to let Gentile Christians into the church as full members (without circumcision).
But when Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome – early 50’s AD the power tables were turned. In the Roman church the strong Jews became the weak, and the weak Gentiles became the strong. What’s more, in the absence of Jewish Christians – the Roman church would have become very comfortably Gentile – and old anti-semitic prejudices seem to have been re-aroused.
We know Paul writes Romans about 55-56AD. So prettu tumultuous years. Jerusalem Council lets Gentiles in. Then Claudius’ expulsion kicks Jews out. Were Jews starting to come back? Hard to tell. But then Paul writes his letter to Rome. And while Paul’s main focus has been on explaining the gospel (there have been lots about Jewish-Gentile relationships). In Romans 9-11, Paul boldly rebukes the Gentile Christians for pride, arrogance and conceit. Then in Romans 14-15, Paul chastens the Gentiles for making a mountain (out of the mole-hill) of kosher food laws and Sabbath days. The Jews had been incredibly gracious in letting the Gentiles into the church without any real legal requirements. But just a few years later (when the tables turned) the Gentiles were showing no where near the same sort of grace or hospitality. There is real evidence in Romans – that the Gentile Christians – were operating with prejudice towards the Jews.
Apply: So Paul seems to be dancing with this Gentile prejudice. Will the Roman church listen to him as a Jewish apostle? Or will they write off everything he said because he is a Jew? Will they support a Jewish missionary going to Spain to evangelise Gentiles? Or is it a case that only Gentiles can truly minister to Gentiles? Sadly, prejudice is in all of us – even as Christians. Despite Romans 1-3 we are still prone to pride, arrogance and self-righteousness. So we distrust difference and we are all too quick to judge others. Paul defends the validity of his ministry. He goes on to appeal to his effectiveness from Jerusalem (the Jews) all the way around to Illyricum (the Gentiles) – think Macedonia. Paul’s ministry has been to Jews and Gentiles – and thoroughly stamped with God’s seal of approval. So the church in Rome should listen. But will they?
Point 2: Paul wants the Gentiles to recognize their Indebtedness to the Jews
Show: Rom.15:23-27 (READ)
Explain: Now again Paul talks about his plans to get to Spain and his current journey to Jerusalem to deliver a Gentile gift to the Jews. Now look at that final verse. If the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share their material blessings. That is a huge statement. The word owe – actually means an obligation or debt. It ties back to Romans 13;8 – where Paul said; “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.” The word debt and the word owe are – the same Greek word. And what Christians are indebted to do (and what we must do) is love one another – regardless of our cultural past, socio-economic past or even past experiences of racism or prejudice. Christians are meant to love one another in both spiritual ways (and practical material ways).
What Paul is saying is the Jews loved the Gentiles so much that they shared their spiritual blessings in Christ with the Gentiles (even though that was incredibly costly from a cultural, communal and religious experience). Letting Gentiles into the church changed everything for the Jewish Christian community. But in love they tore down the walls and let the Gentiles into the Jewish Christian community – explaining the Messiah, the Old Testament and the teaching of the apostles to the infantile Gentiles. That’s the reality. That’s what happened. So Paul is saying to the Gentile Christians they now owe it to the Jews to make some sacrifices and show some grace (perhaps materially) to love and extend fellowship to the Jews.
Now the Apostle Paul is still tearing down the Berlin Wall. In fact, as the early church grew, I think Paul realised the divide between Jew and Gentile – was still a huge divide that needed real work. On Pauls third missionary journey – a huge proportion of his journey and letter writing is dedicated to raising money from rich Gentile Christians in Greece and Turkey for poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem? You think this was just social justice? You think this was just alms-giving to the poor?
Personally, I think it had nothing to do with money or real poverty. I think Paul was simply ty
There is perhaps a real material issue – just in the background. If Claudius actually confiscated all the Jewish property and assets when he kicked them out of Rome (which seems to be standard operating procedure) – making it hard for them to come back. Then, perhaps as the Jewish Christians returned to Rome, the Gentile Christians owed it to them – to help get back on their feet.
Shed his precious blood for all of us – aso that we all approach God the same way. Wherever significant difference exists – prejudice arises. Why has anti-semitism been such a big problem in the world? Not just in Germany, but in lots of places. Why do so many aboriginals feel insecure or judged by westerners? Why is China always complaining about Sinophobia and being hated by the west? The problem is – cultural, historical and even biological differences have caused fear and prejudice since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden.
Prior to sin – Adam and Eve are naked, letting it all hang out in front of each other, with no fear ort shame. But straight after sin – they’re hiding from God and they’re hiding behind fig leaves from each other. This was the beginning of walls. Our differences – open us up to ridicule or exploitation or rejection. We all want to be a part of the cool group. We want to fit in with the majority.
So when Hitler started killing the Jews many Christians and churches – joined in the prejudice and hate – simply to fit in. They handed over those who were identified as a problem. I suspect the same thing happened in Rome in early 50’s AD. We know the Roman Emperor Claudius identified that Jews were a problem in Rome, some time prior to 54AD