When it comes to naming favorite books of the Bible, Romans is always on the short list of God’s people; and it might be that only the Gospel of John would outrank it. Surely some would favor Psalms. Personally, I rank Hebrews as my all-time favorite.
Here on our devotionals page we are approaching 900 posts, and we have a complete series on John (“God Up Close”), Psalms (“God’s Playlist”), and Hebrews (“Endure”). But Chris and I have never done an entire series that works exclusively through Romans, chapter by chapter. So it seems timely to do this as we study on the coming Sundays through Easter under the topic of “In my place: Why did the cross have to happen?”
Our series which seeks to answer this question as to the centrality of the cross as the symbol of the faith – featuring the cruelest instrument of human execution imaginable – will have wide-ranging tentacles into all the corners of the Scriptures. But central to much of what will be shared is the great teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans.
Ancient letters customarily began with the name of the writer, the identity of the recipient(s), and a statement of greeting. And so we have in verse 1:1 the writer Paul … and then we skip to verse 7 to see the recipients and greeting … 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. The intervening material is rich with parenthetical thoughts about Paul and his ministry, as well as the gospel message and those to whom it would reach.
1:1 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul begins by calling himself a servant of Christ, a word that pictures being essentially a slave. His view was one of doing what Christ sent him to do, irrespective of his own interests or even any cautious concern or consideration of personal safety in carrying out his mission. That really is commitment, and it is good for us to remember that in God’s will and leading we are safer in the most dangerous place on earth than we are in the seemingly securest location imaginable, though outside of God’s leading.
Paul knew he was set apart for the work of the gospel. His entire background, though convoluted by Jewish and Greek instruction mingled with Roman citizenship in a secular world, all worked together toward the perfect skill set to accomplish his appointed apostolic mission.
And this gospel message was not something of his own construction or imagination (as accused by traditional Jewish hearers). No, it was the fulfillment of a multitude of writings of God’s prophets over vast centuries of time. It all pointed to the Son. And Paul here affirms the very teachings we just completed in our previous series about Jesus Christ – that he was fully man as a descendant of David, yet fully also the Son of God as proven by the resurrection.
1:5 – Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Paul never ceased to marvel at God’s grace. It is my anticipation that we shall do an entire sermon series on the life of the Apostle Paul over this coming summer, but we recall here the simple fact of Paul’s divine salvation that was literally out of the blue! Paul was not looking for it at all. Rather, he was persecuting the church and Christians with great zeal, only to have God break in and marvelously turn around his entire life.
A lot of us who have lived a while in this life would have never imagined we would do or serve in places that we have either worked or given copious amounts of our time. And Paul could have never imagined as a young man that he would be called by God to follow and promote an entirely “new” message and revelation (a mystery from a Jewish perspective). And it was one thing to do this under the Jewish umbrella of Christ as the fulfillment of Messianic promise, but it was quite another thing to grow to understand that this was a message for the whole world … for Gentiles as well as Jews. And now, Paul comes to see that he has been made the primary spokesman for this message and work.
He tells the Romans, a host of Gentile believers in the gospel message of Christ, that they are the gracious recipients of this calling of God. These Gentiles who were most likely following a pantheon of false gods in the Greek and Roman tradition had heard the gospel message through some divine circumstance. Like Paul, they would not have been looking for it; and like Paul they were exposed through a work of the Spirit that opened their eyes to life-changing truth.
Paul’s story … the Romans’ story … it is our story as well. As we have come to hear the gospel message and responded to it in faith, we have come to understand that our eyes were opened to it in grace and through providential circumstances sourced in God. It is all of grace. But we are included. And we may also like Paul rightly marvel at this grace … at this inclusion!