Year A – Lent 2 – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Summary – Paul explains that Abraham’s righteousness did not rest upon his works. Moreover, the promises God made to him did not rest upon works. He received a promise to be heir of the world, the land promise, now extended to all the world (v13), through faith. If you read the entire context of this passage, the argument Paul makes is one of history. Abraham received the promises of his covenant prior to his circumcision. So Paul reasons that this could not have been based upon the law or identity markers of Israelites or keeping of things such as circumcision and the Mosaic code. Rather, Abraham believed God and that was accounted to him as righteousness and that is the basis for the promises.

Insight – To be polite we always congratulate people who have been awarded for hard work. Sometimes our words may (out of kindness) express that their achievements have been completely earned by their efforts. However, a thoughtful person receiving such an award, will note how often they were dependent upon others or how grateful they are for others, and to some extent how much they were unable to do it without the help of someone else. Paul cuts through all of this in the discussion of justification by simply saying the father of our faith Abraham had nothing to boast about. It is certainly one of the most precious promises in Scripture that God declares righteous, justifies, the ungodly by faith in Jesus. We are called to trust Jesus and then to obey. This is what Abraham did. In the argument of Romans Paul is making the point that it is not distinctive Jewish practices like circumcision that make one righteous, it is not being “hearers of the law” (Rom. 2:13), but faith in the God who raises the dead. Abraham did not have anything to boast about and neither do we.

Child’s catechism – How did Abraham gain acceptance before God? Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Discussion – How would you contrast the Christian way of righteousness against other religious or secular ways of righteousness?

Prayer – Our merciful Father, we thank you that you justify the ungodly by faith in Jesus Christ and that you take such ungodly people as Abraham and turn them into fathers of the faith. Grant that we may also rest in faith in Jesus, and as a result of your Spirit’s work, be faithful to you. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

Year A – Advent 4 – Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a willing slave, of the Anointed King Jesus, called an apostle, distinguished in service for the Announcement of God, which he promised long before through His prophets in holy scriptures, concerning His Son, of the line of David in terms of biological ancestry, distinguished as Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, out of resurrection of the dead ones, Jesus the Anointed King, our Lord, in whom you are also called to belong to Jesus the Anointed King. To all that are in Rome, in the covenant love of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed King. (Romans 1:1-7, Gregg Strawbridge, trans.)

Background – The term “Christ” does not mean Jesus’ last name. Christ means the anointed One, but for what was this person to be anointed? King. Jesus is the anointed King. And of what is He king? He is the Lord over all. This is the key point in Romans. It seems that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth or nearby in about 57 A.D., as evident from the greetings of Gaius, who lived at Corinth (16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), and of Erastus (16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Phoebe (16:1-2), who possibly carried the letter, was from an area near Corinth. Why does Paul address the themes he does? In the first century there was a great displacement of the Jews due to some seditious behavior (Acts 18:2). “[In Corinth Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.” When Claudius died, Nero permitted refugee Jews back to Rome and it seems they were integrating into the Roman Christian congregations. Paul’s burden for his people is prominent in Romans and the very issues of integration of Jews and Gentiles are clear in Romans. Hence we find replete references to Jews throughout Romans (“Jews” – Rom. 1:16; 2:9f, 17, 28f; 3:1, 9, 29; 9:24; 10:12; “Israel” Rom. 9:6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25f; “My people/His people” Rom. 9:25f; 10:21; 11:1f; 15:10).

Let’s Start Where They Were – Imagine that you are a household slave, previously from a tribe conquered by one of the Roman legion. Imagine that you were once a “free,” but you were sold into slavery and are now a blacksmith to an aristocratic Roman family. You have always known that a great god exists above all gods and now other slaves in your household have told you of the Announcement that the true God is redeeming all peoples through a god-like man. You have begun to gather with those that  follow, “The Way” (Acts 9:2). If we listen to what they would have heard, Paul’s emphatic point to frame this letter is the “gospel.” But what is the gospel? Is it like “gospel preaching” or “gospel music” or “gospel fried chicken”? Is it a way to have a personal experience of peace and purpose? What did these first century believers hear. And perhaps more importantly, what did Paul think as he wrote the term. The word “gospel” has two connotations in Paul: one of the good news of the end of the exile (Is. 40-42), the other is quite Roman, as an announcement-celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor in Rome. Therefore, Paul means the “gospel” is God’s announcement fulfills prophecy of the royal enthronement of Israel’s anointed king, the Lord of the whole world. Jesus was the Davidic King in fulfillment of the Promised Seed (Ps. 110) and the resurrection made clear to the world that He is the Anointed King. “The root of Jesse shall rise to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope” (Isa. 11.10, cited Rom. 15.12). In a word, the “gospel-announcement” is that Jesus is the LORD.

Discussion – Why would a “gospel/goodnews” that Jesus is the King over all have been a problem in first century Rome? Why is a problem today?

Prayer – Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Reign of Christ)

Year A – Advent 2 – Romans 15:4-13

Romans 15:4–13  – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Overview  – Chapter 15 is the Hallelujah Chorus to the book of Romans. Handel’s libretto is taken from the “seventh trumpet,” – “The kingdoms of this world [is] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Romans 15, like Rev. 15, brings Israel’s history to its climax. God through Jesus, has opened the way of mercy to the nations. This is a thick statement summing up whole sections of Romans (ch. 3-4, 9-11). We must strive reach out to those that not like ourselves in this congregation. Psalm 117, cited by Paul, made clear that the goal of the gospel includes all nations. As John Piper has written, “Let the nations be glad.” Shared worship with all nations and all kinds of people is central to Paul’s vision. Paul concludes with a litany of fulfillment texts. These are all precisely what he began with: the promises to the fathers are being fulfilled in the new covenant church. “Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy” (15:8-9). The promise of God is for Jews and Gentiles, all humanity, to come into Christ as a New Man (Eph. 2:15), a new Adam or humanity. The ending of chapter 15 makes clear the “missionary purpose.” The message of unity in Christ over differences of status, ethnic identity and cultural differences, when accepted, becomes the foundational message for church planting. A church that sees the promises of God coming to bear can reach out and establish more churches in different contexts. Romans 1 reads right through to chapter 15.  1:15 Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. . .  15:20 I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, 15:22  This is the reason I was often hindered coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired  to come to you…”

Insight – What would you find if you read the book of Romans backwards? You would see how Paul has been making the argument for the salvation of all nations in a new Body, the Church as the goal of his arguments about sin (chs. 1-2), justification in Christ (chs. 3-5), life in Christ (chs. 6-8), Israel’s role (chs. 9-11), and application to the Church (chs. 12-16). What was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah and the Psalms, for example) is coming about through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Child’s Catechism – How will God get praise from all nations? He will be praised as all nations accept the gospel that Jesus is the Savior.

Prayer – O Lord our God, thank You that in Your wonderful redemptive plan, You have destined all nations and peoples to know deliverance through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Grant that we may continue in faithfulness to Him as we rejoice in the harvest that all nations will become worshipers of the true God. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Year A – Advent 1 – Romans 13:11-14

Casting Away the Works of Darkness (Rom. 13)

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.  Romans 13:11–14

Overview – In ch. 12, Paul explains how the body “faces” inward. We are “living sacrifices” and are part of the “body” (new man/’adam). A body member is “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (12:3). We are prone to exalt certain gifts and to be a “respecter of persons” in the worst sense and to think much more highly of our kinds of Christians than others, we demean serving gifts and exalt knowledge/leadership gifts. The body example refutes this. Which part of your body would you like chopped off? Jesus said “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:44).  In ch. 13, Paul explains how the body “faces” outward toward Roman society. Paul is a Roman citizen and knows history of Israel relating to pagan society. Remember Joseph (in Egypt), Daniel (Babylon), and Nehemiah (Persia). They submitted themselves to pagan rulers under God and served their world emperor (like the eagle face of the cherubim). Paul is able to say “submit” with straight face to those in even Caesar Nero’s household (Phil. 4:22).  Submit to the exousia – “powers that be” in general and trust in God’s sovereign power (1 Tim. 2). Thus Christians should be better citizens than most pagans. The “powers” exercise the sword (mache) to punish evil doers – not to rehabilitate them, but to deter them with death if need be. Christians should not be trouble makers nor seek methodological revolution to bring about change which was exactly why the Jews were banished from Rome under Claudius (49 A.D. cf Acts 18:2). Rom. 13 does not contemplate righteous and necessary occasions for civil disobedience (such as in the case of Shadrack et al, 3:12), it only shows one bowing gesture of the outward facing body. There are exceptions and desperate times call for desperate self-sacrificial measures (“for such a time is this” Esther). Thus, Romans 13 should not be used to prop up Nazi-ism or Stalinism or a future totalitarianism instituted by an American President or U.N. Czar. We can do our duties by rendering what is due (tax, custom, fear or honor). Love is right motivation in fulfilling law. And in acting out of love, we remember the “the time.” There is a temporal aspect of this. In the original setting judgment was near (70 AD) and the upheavals of the Roman world are coming (68 AD). “We know the time, that it is already the hour…” (13:11). Therefore don’t “eat, drink and be merry” but get ready and be alert. Make no provision for the flesh. Keeping with the theme of Advent 1: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Discussion and Insight – What are some ways in your life to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts”? Are there temptations you could overcome if you did not “provide” for those opportunities?

Prayer – [As you pray this the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, be mindful of the connections to Romans 13 in this prayer written by Thomas Cranmer in the 1500s.] Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year C – Lent 1 – Romans 10:8-13

 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13 ESV)

Summary–In this section of the letter to the Roman Church, Paul explains how the Jews of his day wanted to follow God through obeying rules but failed to find Him, while the Gentiles, who did not seek God through their own ability, but looked to Christ, found Him.  Why couldn’t the Jews find God?  Well it wasn’t because the law that they tried to follow was somehow lacking.  The law is perfect.  It wasn’t because they didn’t work hard enough.  No amount of work could make them right with a Holy God.  They sought the righteousness of the law but failed to see what the law pointed to, namely Jesus Christ.  The Jews “stumbled over the stumbling-stone,”.  (Rom 9:30–33).   Paul compared the righteousness of the law with the righteousness by faith in Jesus as the end or purpose of the law. In today’s text, we hear Paul proclaiming salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ.  We also hear Paul’s warning against putting faith in your own strength in earning salvation.  As Paul put it: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). 

Insight–The season of lent reminds us of Christ’s suffering at the hands of the Jews.   They persecuted Christ for His message of hope to the Gentiles.  Jews could not understand what Christ was offering.  Gentiles didn’t deserve God’s salvation; they were dirty and didn’t walk according to the law.  They believed that works of the law would save them from the judgment that was to come.  As Christians, we know that our works cannot save us.  There is no manner of scrubbing we can do to rid that sinful dirt under our fingernails.  But we must be careful that we don’t miss Paul’s teaching on how we are saved.  We are saved in Christ by grace through faith alone but not with a faith that is alone.  Paul tells us that what we believe in our hearts must be confessed with our lips.  We must confess Christ with our actions to those around us and not just in the quietness of our own hearts.  If you act one way throughout the week and then change your spots on Sunday morning, you are falling into the same type of error that the Jews fell into.  Our faith becomes a work that saves us.  See how Paul ties two Old Testament verses together in our passage to make his point.  With Isaiah Paul says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and with Joel he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” True saving faith comes from believing in Jesus Christ and calling on His name.  This offer is for everyone, to the Jew and the Greek.  You have been offered salvation through Jesus Christ.  Don’t worry about the embarassment that could come from letting others know what you believe.  Don’t worry about not being clean enough to come before the Lord.  Just put your faith in Him and you will be saved.   

Catechism–(Q) Who will be saved?  (A) Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Prayer–Father God we thank you for your free offer of salvation to all who put their faith and trust in your Son.  We praise you for the riches you give us beyond what we could ever earn or deserve.  Your love abounds, Lord.  We ask that you give us the courage to proclaim with our lips and our actions to those around us what we believe in our hearts.  You deserve all glory, honor and praise.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year B – Lent – 2 – Romans 4:13-25

Romans 4:13-25

“For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.  For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

Summary – Paul’s teaching in this passage follows a progression.  Having just finished explaining that Abraham was circumcised after having believed in God so that he would be the father of the circumcised and uncircumcised, Paul continues his argument by referring to the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 15 and 17.  The promise speaks of land which Abraham’s offspring would inherit, but here Paul understands the promise to be not of a certain piece of the world, but the world itself.  This fits into his point here:  the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant would not be narrow (i.e. through one people group in one piece of land) but broad (through all of the faithful–Israelite or not–in the whole world).  This makes it based on grace.  Paul then explains Abraham’s faith:  Abraham believed God’s promise even though the state of things made it seem impossible.  This faith was strengthened while Abraham praised God!  Paul turns from his Abrahamic example to make his point: Abraham’s faith was his righteous deed.  But not just his, this applies to anyone who has faith in God and His work through the Son.

 Insight – It can be hard to believe God’s promises.  We have all been told, “Be like Abraham in your faith,” but that is easier said than done.  Can you make yourself believe God’s promises just by trying really hard?  That would be like believing a pig could fly if it just thought it could, or like thinking your bed could become a spaceship if you just pretended hard enough!  Faith in God doesn’t come through our effort.  This passage tells us that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  So as Abraham thought about who God is and praised Him for those things, his faith grew.  When we worship God at church and hear through His Word what He has done for us, our faith, too, will grow.

 Child Catechism – What is one thing you learn through worshipping God?  I learn that I can trust Him totally.

Discussion – What does it mean that “Father Abraham had many sons”  (vs 16)?  Who are Father Abraham’s many sons?  Why does Father Abraham have many sons (vs 14)?

 Prayer – Faithful Heavenly Father, your Word teaches us that you will remain true even when everyone else is false.  We ask for your grace to believe your promises like our father Abraham did.  Help us to hope against hope.  Help us to trust when it seems impossible.  Make us strong in our faith as we give glory to you.  Through Jesus our Lord, Amen.

-JHerr