THE PROOF OF GOD’S GRACE
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 3
While our girls were growing up, we loved to settle in for the evening and watch a good movie together as a family. More often than not, a thoughtful discussion would follow analyzing the various parts of the storyline. One of the main questions we always tried to answer was: what was the message of the movie? No one makes a movie or writes a book without having an underlying message they’re trying to communicate.
A few short weeks ago we began working our way through the book of Romans. When God put it in the heart and mind of Paul to write this book, God had a very specific message He wanted to communicate – the message of His grace-filled love for a lost and dying world. Nowhere is this more apparent than Paul’s opening words. Having never most of the people he’s writing to, he wants them to know right out of the gate why he’s writing them.
Turn with me to Romans 1:1-4. Look at the end of verse four. Most translations put a period there, but there is not one there in the original. Paul, in fact, doesn’t stop to take a breath of air until he gets all the way to verse seven. In other words, Romans 1:1-7 is one very long-winded sentence! All one-hundred and twenty-seven words worth! And all one-hundred and twenty plus words are driving at one singular message: The Gospel of God! There is an old adage of writing that says tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Paul must have known this because that’s exactly what he does. Paul’s singular intent in the first seven verses is to tell his readers about the news that racially changed his life and is changing the world, namely – the Gospel of God. He wants to establish the credibility of the Gospel in the hearts of his readers from the get-go.
This morning we’re just going to look at verses one through four. Paul shares three vital things he wants us to know about God’s Gospel: 1) Its source, 2) Its messengers, 3) and its focus. All three of these serve as proofs of God’s grace.
- The source: God. the gospel of God… (Romans 1:1). The gospel of God means it didn’t come
from man, it didn’t come from this world. It belongs to God, not man. It came from the heart of God, not man.
People are often impressed with the great intellects and literary genius like Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, Galileo, William Shakespeare, or Charles Dickens. It’s not unusual for people to say they were inspired. And in a sense, they were. But the source of their inspiration was from the world itself. Paul is saying something very different about God’s Gospel. It’s not from this world but from God Himself. Paul was no doubt a great intellect as well as author. But he is telling us from the very beginning so there’s no confusion whatsoever the Gospel did not come from the creative genius of his own great theological insight – it came directly from God.
If God is the source, then that tells us something very important about His Gospel – its motive is one of overwhelming love and grace. No one understood this better than Paul. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all(1 Tim. 1:15). God sent His Son because He loves people, and He hates sin. A lot of people like to think God is only a God of love. But He is a God of hate as well. He hates sin. He knows what sin is and what it does. It is because of sin we experience death and grief, fear, pain and sorrow. It’s because of sin we hear of mass shootings and killings done by sin-demented cowards. Whatever sin touches it kills, steals and destroys. We would have no God or Gospel at all if we believed God was only a god of love. What makes the Gospel complete is that God loves us, and He hates sin so much that He did something about it — He sent His Son to do what we couldn’t – destroy it. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). How did He do that? He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14, NLT). The Gospel of God is that God loves us and hates sin so much that He went to extraordinary lengths to rescue us – He gave His Son to die for our sin. Why did God do this? One five letter word – G.R.A.C.E.
Not long-ago Dr. Paul Pillai, the founder of a thriving ministry in what is known as the “graveyard of ministries” in Northern India years passed away. Shortly before he went to be with the Lord, I visited briefly with him and his wife in their home in New Delhi India. At the time, their ministry, India National Inland Mission (INIM) was the home to over 1,200 bright-faced orphans, a successful Bible college as well as cutting edge graduate school. After fifty years of faithful ministry, INIM had planted some 14,500 churches in India and the surrounding area. Dr. Pillai would be the first to tell you, ministry in India was far from a cake walk. Violent persecutions, threats, setbacks, struggles, supply shortages, financial needs plagued every step of the way. But Dr. Pillai understood the Gospel of God its sin-conquering power. Living in the center of great spiritual darkness and wickedness, Dr. Pillai had witnessed God’s rescuing, transforming love change the lives of thousands of lives. I witnessed this as a guest speaker speaking to some two-thousand people from India and surrounding country’s that had been freed from the strangle-hold Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions of the world.
Once Dr. Pillai found himself in the middle of a heated formal religious debate. One person stated his religion was superior and then gave supporting reasons. Another followed countering, no their religion was superior, and then gave supporting reasons. Finally someone asked Dr. Pillai, what made his belief superior or different from any other? He responded with one word – Grace. No other religion in the world has that word in its vocabulary nor embodies it in the sacrificial love of Christ. God suffered and died for His own people. Grace. Like God’s Gospel, grace does not come from the world, but God Himself. It cannot be earned or purchased. It is eternal, immeasurable, inexhaustible, immutable, unexplainable.
What is grace? We might say undeserved or unmerited favor. But, honestly, we don’t really grasp it. There is no adequate explanation short of God chose to love you and sent His Son to die for you. No matter how trapped you feel in sin or how far away you are from God, even if you can say with Paul, you’re the chief of all sinners, God offers you His forgiveness, healing, and love through His Son. So, the source of God’s Gospel is God Himself, His grace.
- The messengers: Prophets. His prophets in the holy Scriptures(Romans 1:2). Paul’s point is the
Gospel not only came from God, but it is not new. God’s prophets spoke often of it in the Old Testament. In other words, Paul is saying, this Gospel I’m preaching is not a new idea with God. It didn’t start with the New Testament. It isn’t God’s Plan B, or a slightly changed Plan A.
Paul had been accused of turning his back on the Laws of Moses, namely Old Testament (Acts 21:20). That what he was teaching was something outside of God’s Word. Paul’s point in mentioning God’s prophets in the holy Scriptures is to let them know the Gospel was believes in and teaches others is rooted solidly in God’s Word. He does this in a couple of ways.
A. God’s promise predates all other faiths. Promised beforehand through His prophets in the
Holy Scriptures(Romans 1:2). By pointing to the prophets, Paul is saying that not only is God’s Gospel not from this world, but that it predates all other faiths in the world as well.
A friend of mine once told me his oriental belief system is much older than Christianity, much older even than the Bible itself. There are other writings older than the Bible. One of the oldest, if not the oldest is what is known as the Epic of Gilgamesh (2900-2700BC). What we forget is ancient cultures didn’t have books, paper, pens, pencils like we have today in mass. The Guttenberg printing press wasn’t invented about 1450 AD. Knowledge was handed down from one generation to the next through the spoken word. In other words God’s Gospel, the Bible, began long before it was written.
Do you know when the Gospel was first introduced? When there were only two people on planet Earth – Adam and Eve. When sin first entered the world, God pronounced a curse on the Serpent, the Devil, He said: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel (Gen. 3:15). This verse is known as the proto euangelliōn – the first Gospel. Who wrote Genesis? Moses. Who was Moses? He was a prophet of the Old Testament (Deut. 18:15).
On the first day Jesus rose from the dead, He met with two downcast disciples walking toward a little village about seven miles outside of Jerusalem called Emmaus. Even after spending three intense years teaching His disciples, they still couldn’t wrap their heart and mind around the fact that their Scriptures taught that the same Messiah who would one day smash all the evil on Earth, must first suffer for the sins of His people. Shortly before Jesus revealed His identity to His two disciples, He once again patiently walked them through what the OT teaches. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27). Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them how the whole OT pointed to Him. Every Jewish prophet pointed to Jesus in some way. Every Blue-Ribbon Passover Lamb sacrificed for the sins of Israel pointed to the ultimate sacrifice the Eternal Lamb of God would make for the sins of the world (Jn. 1:37). God’s Gospel, then came from God, not the world and because it does it predates any and all other faiths.
B. God’s promise completes the Old Testament.through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures
(Romans 1:2). It’s unfortunate, but there are number of people who have the idea the Old Testament is the story of an angry God, and the New Testament is the story of a loving God – as though God were as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I want to ask them, “Have read the Bible, I mean really read it?”
Jesus taught He is the completion, the very fulfillment of what the Old Testament taught. There are over 332 prophecies in the Old Testament He fulfilled in His first coming. So much of His first coming is clearly spelled out in the OT: Where would He be born? Bethlehem. How would He be born? Of a virgin. What tribe would He come from? Judah. What would be His Name? Immanuel (God with us). How would He die? On a cross. How would He be crucified? Between two thieves. What would happen after He was buried? He would be resurrected from the dead. In Matthew 5 Jesus links His life with the Old Testament saying, Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved(Matt. 5:17-18, NLT). Without Jesus, the OT wouldn’t make sense. Someone put it this way: The New is in the Old contained, the Old is the New explained.
When Jesus was explaining these things to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He was saying if you can’t believe Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the other prophets, then you can’t believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John either because Jesus is the ultimate message of the Bible. Jesus Christ is the One who seems the Old and New Testaments together as one seamless book.
So far, Paul is saying the Gospel from God. It’s not of this world, but rather it flows from His heart of eternal love and unmerited grace. No matter how far we’ve fallen, or how greatly we’ve failed, the arms of God’s grace are ready to reach out and rescue us if we only ask Him. Paul also has told us God’s Gospel is not new at all but in fact predates all other faiths and completes the Old Testament and its focus is on One Person – Jesus Christ.
- The focus: Jesus Christ. Just who is Jesus? In verses 3 and 4 Paul answers this question. His
(God’s) Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3-4). Jesus is both human and divine.
A. Jesus is fully man. born a descendant of David according to the flesh… (Romans 1:3). He
was born in the linage of David emphasizing His total humanity. Jesus was not merely acting like a human being. He was completely human; therefore He completely identifies with us. Yet He was without sin (Phil. 2:4-8). He was tempted in every way we are – even more so, yet not even once did He falter giving into sin (Heb. 4:15). He is the only One who can truly say to us in our pain, “I understand.” If He was without sin, how can you say He understands? While He hung on the cross, the Bible says He took on the sin of the world, yours, mine, everyone. 1 John 2:2 says Jesus Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. No One understands you or your pain better than Jesus. Being fully man, He fully identifies and relates with us.
B. Jesus is fully God. declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,
according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord(Romans 1:4). The word declared does not mean He was declared God after His resurrection. It means the power of His resurrection verified that He the One the OT pointed to and the One He said He was all along – God incarnate.
It is the worth of Who Jesus is and what He did that gives value to the forgiveness He offers. God Himself is offering forgiveness. There is no greater offer. What’s more, He demonstrated the depth of that forgiveness by dying in our place. There is no greater demonstration of love.
I like the way the brilliant Bible expositor Donald Gray Barnhouse explained it. Suppose for a moment that a man owed an impossible large debt at the bank. Another man, his friend, walks in and says to the bank official, “I want to be responsible for that debt.” If the friend is as bad as the debtor, the gesture would is meaningless. If the friend is rich beyond any boundaries of human debt, then the offer becomes an act of grace in behalf of the debtor. The value of the promise to do depends entirely on his own position and worth (Barnhouse, Romans Vol I, p. 37).
None of us could die for the sins of the world, let alone our own, because we’re in as much debt to sin as anyone else. No, only Christ, the Son of God, could have taken our place and paid our debt. And, thank God He did!
While thinking through this passage a helpful image came to mind that captures the grace of God seen in His Gospel. I want to close with it.
Numerous times in the Bible the Church is called the Bride of Christ. This is a moving expression of God’s perfect, pure, and secure love for His Church. There is no greater nor more ideal love. In the OT, Israel is seen as the bride of God. Isaiah 62:5 declares, As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.
What captured my thoughts though was how ancient marriages took place. If a couple were engaged, they were considered legally married. Even though the wedding day itself was still future, they were nonetheless considered married. If one of them died before the wedding day, the survivor was considered a widow or widower. Typically, a couple would be engaged for a year. During that time plans for the wedding day would happen. The wealthier the bridegroom or his father, the more lavish the wedding.
According to the custom of the day, the bride waited for the bridegroom to come and escort her to the place of the marriage ceremony and the feast that followed. This was normally the home of the bridegroom’s father. The bride did not know exactly when the bridegroom was coming, so she had to be ready at any time. While she waited, the bridegroom would be busy preparing a new home for him and his new bride. The best food and preparations were made. Every detail was carefully though through. Jesus said this in John 14. Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house (Heaven) are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).
When the perfect time came for the bridegroom to escort his new bride to the wedding, a parade of delighted people would accompany him to celebrate the event. The same will be true when Jesus returns for us. 1 Thess. 4 tells us a host of angels will accompany Jesus when He appears in the sky. What an amazing time that will be for Jesus and His bride the Church!
It is this image that came to mind as I thought through this passage. In the Gospel of God we see what is one of the greatest expressions of ideal love, a perfect and pure love, reaching down from Heaven into our fallen world, down into our fallen lives. The value and greatness of the bridegroom speak all the more to the value and greatness of His bride to be. What’s more, the bride is the bridegroom’s first choice. God did not choose you because someone twisted His arm. This is no shotgun wedding. God’s Gospel is His personal invitation to know and experience His lavish love that satisfies our deepest longings of complete acceptance, fulfillment, and security. There is no greater picture or proof of God’s grace than this.