Hope, Joy and Peace – June 14, 2015 – Romans 15: 1 – 13

My New Testament Bible professor would be disappointed if I preached Romans without telling you the story of the Roman church. I’ve preached from Romans a couple times in May and haven’t yet told you their story and Paul’s story in relation to the church. I also need to tell you what Paul is addressing in his letter to the Roman church.

Paul is writing to a church that he did not start and had not yet visited. The church did not know Paul. They probably knew of him by reputation. Paul writes to the Roman church for a few reasons, one being to introduce himself. Paul wanted to come to them for their support in his continued mission. Paul also writes to the church to address some concerns he has heard about in the church.

In the beginning, the Roman church had been predominantly Jewish Christians who were allowing Gentile Christians to join. Then, Emperor Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome around 49 AD. There had been rioting in the city over a slave Christo. The details aren’t clear about who was rioting or about what they were truly rioting about – it may have been Christ but historians don’t agree on who Christo was. It could have been Jews rioting Christians preaching in or near the synagogues or it could have been Christians preaching was perceived as riots. Either way, the Emperor decided to kick the Jews out of Rome thinking they were the ones causing the problems. This edict was for all Jews, including Jewish Christians.

When the Jews left Rome, the Roman church was predominantly Jewish. After the Jews left, their roles in the church were filled by Gentiles and the church become primarily Gentile. Five or ten years later, when Emperor Claudius died and Emperor Nero took over, the Jews were allowed to return to Rome. When the Jewish Christians returned to the Roman church, they found a Gentile church with Gentile leaders.

So, Paul writes to a church with Jewish Christians who want their prominent roles back and Gentiles who aren’t sure they should welcome the Jewish Christians back. They’re having trouble getting along as one big happy fellowship. They have disagreements about how they should do things and Paul wants to talk to them about unity in the body of Christ.

There are major themes throughout the letter, some of which I’ve touched on in previous sermons on texts from Romans. Paul says the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God. Through faith and for faith, we are justified. Much of the first 8 chapters of the letter are Paul’s words about reconciliation in multiple metaphors. He wants the Roman church to know that we have been reconciled to God though we are sinners. For Paul, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners. Jews because they violated the Torah and Gentiles because they violated their conscience.

Paul wrote this letter while he was in Corinth where the church had its own problems. Paul had taken up a collection and was going to soon leave Corinth to take the collection to Jerusalem to help those in need. Paul planned to leave Jerusalem and set out for Rome then go on to Spain. Paul makes it to Rome in shackles, not to visit the church, but to visit prison.

When Paul took up collections at his churches, he made his appeal to Gentile Christians that they owed the Jews for the Gospel. He would say they owed a collection to be taken to Jerusalem to help the Jewish Christians. The Gentiles owed the Jews because the Gospel came to them through the Jews. It was first for the Jews, then the Gentiles. He made his way through the churches taking up a collection and needed to soon leave Corinth to take it to Jerusalem so he could move on to Rome. You can imagine how well this message of the Gentiles owing the Jews for the Gospel would sit with a Gentile church leary of the Jewish Christians.

To the Roman church, Paul has 2 messages. First, he wants to encourage unity. Paul makes him claim negatively and positively. He first says, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself.” Then, Paul puts it another way, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Paul encourages the Jews and Gentiles to welcome one another and be hospitable toward one another, seeking first to please the other more than themselves so that they may glorify God in their fellowship.

Second, Paul wants to turn them to the Scriptures for hope, joy, peace and faith. Paul said, “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.” Because, “the God of steadfastness and encouragement {will} grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul cites Scriptures from the Old Testament that speak of the coming time when Jews and Gentiles will rejoice together and praise God. For Paul, that time has come in the Roman church. The Scriptures have been fulfilled as the Jews and Gentiles worship together in the church in Rome. Paul quotes 3 Scriptures from the Old Testament about the Jews and Gentiles praising God together. He wants to show that the Law, the Wisdom Literature, and the Prophets all has something to say about the day to come when Jews and Gentiles would worship together.

Paul starts with a verse that is both 2 Samuel 22: 50 and Psalm 18:49. So, it is coming from the history of Israel and the Psalms which is from the Wisdom literature. As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the nations; I will sing hymns to your name.” The nations used in the quoted Old Testament text are synonymous with the Gentiles for the nations who are not Jewish are Gentiles. King David looks forward to the day when he will sing God’s praise among the Gentile nations.

Next, Paul looks to the Law or Torah in Deuteronomy and quotes Deuteronomy 32: 43: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” This time Moses is looking toward the day when the Gentile nations will rejoice with the Jewish people. This, Moses says before the nation of Israel has even been established. Moses hopes in a day to come when the nations and the Promised Land of Israel will rejoice together.

Paul continues with another quote from the Psalms. Psalm 117:1 says: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him all you peoples.” Finally, Paul looks to the prophet Isaiah and cites a text that might remind us of Advent. Isaiah 11:10 says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in Him the Gentiles shall hope.” We read this Scripture during Advent because it reminds us that God promised the salvation of a remnant of Israel and the Gentile nations will recognize that the Spirit of the Lord rests upon Him.

Paul turns the Roman church to look to Scripture for witness that they can live and fellowship and worship as one. Paul knows that they need the encouragement of Scripture to reconcile their differences and live in harmony. The encouragement of Scripture will give them hope.

I think we can read this today for the reminder that we need to read and study the Scriptures. As Paul says, the Scriptures are steadfast and encourage us. They give us hope. The Scriptures tell us about Jesus. The Scriptures tell us stories of how God has worked in the past which helps us recognize how God works now because God is as steadfast as Scripture.

Every emotion is expressed in Scripture. King David cries out in anguish over losing a child in the Psalms. Job trusts God through difficult times. Jesus weeps when He loses a friend. There are songs of praise and times of rejoicing. There are expressions of fear and lament. We can look to Scripture and know that God’s people have felt the way we feel for thousands of years. And, God has heard and responded to them for thousands of years. So, when we feel like God is ignoring us or not hearing us, we can be encouraged to wait with patience for God’s response. Or, we can find stories of people to rejoice with as we rejoice God’s active role in our lives. It’s all right there in our Bible.

I’m going to be going on Sabbatical soon. My Sabbatical work of renewal will be to write a devotional. I hope that the devotional will help you develop the habit and practice of reading Scripture daily so that we can all be daily encouraged by the Scriptures. Then, in the closing words of Paul, “the God of hope [may] fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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