A Gospel for the World

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 16:25-27

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.

Greet also the church that meets at their house.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.

I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Romans 16:3,5a,20-22,25-27

The monumental book of Romans opens with a brief statement outlining the Christian gospel, and it closes in exactly the same way.

What the Taj Mahal is to palaces, what the pyramids are to monuments, what the Great Wall is to fortifications, what Niagara is to waterfalls, the book of Romans is to the gospel. It is its ultimate expression. What makes Romans great is its teaching – the densely packed, closely and carefully reasoned, incredibly rich explanation of Christian truth. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this book, or its influence on Christians throughout history. Because of this, it is easy to forget that Romans is not a theological treatise at all. It is a personal letter. It was written by a real person, a man called Paul, to a group of real people, the Christians who lived in Rome. Paul wrote it in order to explain in detail the message he had been preaching throughout the world, to express his intention of visiting Rome, and to enlist the support of the Roman Christians in sending him to still more distant places with the gospel.

So when he has finished his main business, Paul brings his letter to a close in a very natural way. After spending fifteen chapters writing about human guilt and God’s grace and Christian gratitude, he comes to chapter 16 and strikes a different note. What he says, in effect, is: “Say hi to a bunch of folks there in Rome for me, will you? And, by the way, some of my friends here want to be remembered to you as well.”

There is even a point near the end where the scribe, the man who was taking down Paul’s words by dictation, threw in his two cents’ worth. “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (v. 22). I love that human touch. I can just imagine poor Tertius spending all those laborious hours writing down every word, taking extreme care not to make the slightest mistake with this precious message. Now the end is in sight, and he can breathe easier, so he pauses, looks up at Paul for permission, and adds a sentence of his own, showing that this humble but important work has all been for Tertius a labor of love and service to Christ.

At last Paul comes to his close. It may be that he took up the pen in his own hand to write the final words as a sort of a signature after the whole letter had been finished and read back to him. He ends with a conclusion, a summing up, that takes the form of a doxology, or brief outburst of praise to God:

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL

If you read this paragraph carefully, you see that the doxology itself (the ascription of glory to God) comprises only the opening and closing phrases. “Now to him . . . to the only wise God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Most of the paragraph consists of a lengthy parenthetical clause. It is as though when it comes time to close, Paul’s mind goes back to all that he has written about the gospel, and he cannot help but repeat the essence of it one last time.

So Paul reminds us of the content of that gospel. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel . . . the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” When the apostle refers to “my gospel,” he is not suggesting that there are many different gospels, of which his version happens to be one. Paul is not like the modern-day relativist who says, “You have your truth and I have my truth. Yours is good for you and mine is good for me, but we mustn’t try to impose them upon each other.” No. Truth is truth. If something is true, it must be true for everyone. Paul’s gospel is the gospel. There is only one message of salvation, the good news of God’s grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ with salvation through his cross. When Paul talks about “my gospel” he means the gospel as he himself has believed and preached it, not a gospel he invented.

Paul defines the content of the gospel with the phrase, “the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” This means the preaching or message whose content is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ – his miraculous birth, his holy life, his sacrificial suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension, his present reign and future return – is the substance of the gospel, indeed, of the whole Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. Paul goes on to explain how Jesus Christ is “the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known” to all. He is the one of whom the Old Testament prophets spoke. No one clearly understood this in former times. The truth of it was hidden to most minds, but now that he has come, it can all be understood.

So the gospel is now being proclaimed and made known everywhere throughout the world. It is all about Jesus Christ. It is the message of what God has done through Jesus to save humans who were helpless to save themselves. The gospel, said the American theologian B. B. Warfield, is good news, not good advice. It is not about what we ought to do or what we have to do to be saved. It is about what God has done to save us. What we ought to do comes later as part of our response to God’s amazing grace. The gospel is not “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is not “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is not even “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength.” The gospel is: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL

“Now this gospel,” Paul writes, has been made known and is now being proclaimed “so that all nations might believe and obey him.” Here we learn about the gospel’s universal goal: The gospel is intended for all nations. It is a gospel for the world. The gospel was not just for Jews but for Gentiles too, not just for the Roman world but for all those savage tribes living outside the empire, not just for Europeans but for the new world and for Africa and Asia, not just for Westerners or whites or the middle class, but for all races and classes and nationalities. It is for everyone. If the gospel is true, then it must be for every person on earth. If it is not for everyone, if it is just something for those who have been raised in a Christian environment, while others can find God through their own religion, then it is not true. The gospel tells about the only way to come to the holy and living God. That way must be the way for everyone, or it cannot be for anyone.

When Paul mentions the nations, we should not picture those familiar shapes on the map shaded in pink and green and blue and yellow, with definite borders and capital cities. A nation in this modern sense is an artificial political entity. Nations like that did not even exist when the Bible was written. What the Bible means by the term nations is “peoples” – groups bound by ethnic, linguistic, or cultural ties. There are thousands upon thousands of such groups in our world today. (Experts estimate that thousands of such peoples do not yet have the gospel.) These “nations” are the goal of the gospel. No biblical Christian can rest until the gospel has been brought to each of these nations, until every person on earth has had the opportunity to hear, in a way he can understand, of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Notice also what particular thing is expected of those who hear the gospel: “that all nations might believe and obey him [Christ].” The ultimate goal of the gospel is that all people practice the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus. The goal of the gospel will not be reached when the world is evangelized – when people everywhere hear the good news about Christ. The goal of the gospel will not be reached when the world believe in Christ – when the nations are converted and confess their faith in the Lord Jesus. The goal of the gospel will only finally be reached when the nations believe and obey him – when all peoples trust in Christ, confess his name and obey him in all of life, living in accordance with his word and to the glory of his name.

THE RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL

So the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ. The goal of the gospel is to proclaim the message of Christ to all of earth’s peoples, so that they believe it and obey it. When that happens, two wonderful results come from the gospel.

The first is salvation for us. This is the way the apostle puts it: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel.” What God does through the gospel is to establish us, to set us up, to cause us to stand. We sometimes talk about “setting up” someone – our children, for example – in business. What we mean is that we provide them with everything they need not only to survive but to succeed. A person who is well established does not have to worry or fear for the future. Through the gospel, God has established us forever. He has set us up with eternal life, providing everything we need so that we will stand and never fall. The gospel is a strong base on which to build your life. Believing and obeying it is like building a house on a foundation of solid rock. No storm in time or eternity will ever sweep you away.

The second result of the gospel is glory – glory for God. The gospel establishes us, providing salvation and eternal security, and it glorifies God, adding infinitely to the luster of his praise. This gospel, this good news of sinners saved through Christ, displays to best advantage all the praiseworthy attributes of God. Here is seen his wisdom – who else could have thought of such a plan to save those who could not save themselves? – and His power – who else could have done it? – and above all, his love – who else would have done it?

It all – the book of Romans, the gospel, the Christian life itself – ends in doxology. “Now to him, to the only wise God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”