Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "The Even Worse News"

“The Even Worse News”
All Roads Lead to Romans
October 12, 2014 :: Romans 2:1-29 

Ready or not, after two additional weeks, it’s time for this “sermon casserole” to come out of the oven and be served.

This Fall we began a sermon series that we’re calling, “All Roads Lead to Romans,” and we’ve had 4 messages so far in that series.

In the first one, we remembered that Romans is a letter from Paul to the Roman Christians who were both Jews and Gentiles. And we said that that was important. This letter was to both the Jews and Gentiles who were followers of Christ in Rome.

And apparently they were having trouble getting along. There were tensions between the Jews and Gentiles, and Paul wrote “Romans” in large part to help them iron out their problems. He also wrote to get them ready for his visit, a visit he has longed for for some time. We learned in the second message that Paul wants to share a spiritual gift with them, a deeper understanding of the gospel.

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, the good news about Jesus.

Why? Because its “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Both of them!

How does that salvation work? Through the righteousness of God.

Romans 1:17. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

That’s the power of salvation in the gospel!

And then the Apostle Paul begins to unpack that gospel, that good news.

But before he can really get to the good news, he has to explain, what?

The bad news.

In our third message (remember this?), we learned the bad news.

The wrath of God is coming, we have no excuse, and we’re asking for it. Romans 1:18

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness..”

Human beings have exchanged God for stuff. We have exchanged God for idols. We have worshiped created things instead of our Creator.

And that comes out in all kinds of wickedness, including sexual wickedness. Our fourth message, went deeper into the unholy sexuality that is a product of our fallenness.

We are sexually broken because we are sinners.

But Paul didn’t just talk about sinful sex, he ended Romans 1 with a long laundry list of sins that humans regularly fall into. V.29

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

That’s the bad news.

And today, Paul wants to tell us the “The Even Worse News.”

I told you a few weeks ago that these next few messages aren’t going to be fun. They’ll be true. They’ll be necessary. They’ll be needed. But they won’t be very fun.

Paul has us right where he wants us.

There are some people who have been listening to him so far and nodding their heads.


They are in the “Amen corner.”

“Amen, Brother Paul, preach it! You said it. Those people are sinners. They deserve the wrath of God. Homo-sexuals. Murderers. Inventors of evil. Drug-dealers. Terrorists. Those who do wrong and approve of those who do wicked things. You tell ‘em!

People like that gotta know what they have coming.”

And in chapter 2, Paul turns around, and he points the finger at those who are agreeing with him.

And he says, “You, too.”

“You are condemned, as well.”

“When I said there was no excuse, I meant there was no excuse.”

Who do you think Paul has in mind here?

In chapter 1 verses 18-32, it was mainly the Gentiles, those who did not have this thing. They didn’t have the Bible. But Paul said that they had enough to condemn them. Everything yells, “God!” including every leaf changing colors out there in the woods. Gentiles without special revelation are without excuse.

Who do you think he’s going to talk about in chapter 2?

The Jews, right? Remember, this is a letter written to both Gentiles and Jews.

The Jews had the Law. They knew about God.

And they would have been tempted to trust in that and to look down their noses at those stupid sinful Gentiles with their wicked ways.

“But that’s not us. We’re the Jews!”

Paul, a Jew himself, says, “I’ve got some even worse news for you.”

Romans chapter 2, verse 1.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Paul isn’t going to let anyone get away with anything.

And that’s because God doesn’t let anyone get away with anything.

Those who sinfully judge others, who look down their noses at other people convinced of their moral superiority, are condemning themselves because they aren’t being honest with themselves.

If you are honest, you’d realize that you are a sinner, too.

Now, Paul isn’t saying that we all sin in the same ways. We don’t. Some of us sin in one way and others in another.

But we all sin. And if we act all “holier than thou,” we’re lying. To ourselves. And to others.

But often, we do sin in the exact same ways that condemn in others.

Let me tell you a short gossip story. A few weeks ago, I was in a place of business which will go nameless. I don’t want to gossip about those who were gossiping.

But that’s what they were doing. I was in a place of business and the three or four folks behind the counter were loudly complaining to one another about some drama that was going down on Facebook. They were all complaining about someone’s comments about someone else and saying, “When will people grow up and learn?” And then one of them said, “What happened? I want to hear.” And another said, “I didn’t get the whole story. Wait for me. Don’t show them until I’m back there.”

What were they doing? They were guilty of the very thing they were condemning someone else for. V.2

“Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?”

When we play God and set ourselves up as someone else’s judge and jury, we are setting ourselves up for judgment. V.4

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?”

God has been so kind to all of us, especially to those of us who have the word of God, but that kindness, tolerance, and patience is not an excuse for more sin. It’s supposed to lead us to repent.

And people who think they are “pretty good” or at least better someone else are very tempted to not repent. To not see their deep need for repentance. V.5

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Even Worse News Number One:


It’s not good enough to be better than “those people.”

We all have “those people” in our heads.

Those people who we look down on as despicable.

We might agree that we’re sinners, too, but we weren’t not like them.

We’re not child molesters. We’re not ISIS terrorists. We’re not ... whatever. Fill in the blank. Put your rival political party in the blank.  Put in a people group you don’t care for.

“We’re not like them. We’re pretty good.”

Paul says that pretty good doesn’t cut it. V.6

“God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”

God doesn’t grade on the curve.

I almost titled this message, “Good People Are Bad, Too.”

Paul lays it out in two different ways, two different paths.

He says that those who persistently do good will experience eternal life and blessing.

It doesn’t matter who they are. God is just. If they live the good life and seek glory, honor, and immortality, they will get glory, honor, and peace and eternal life.  Jew or Gentile. God is just.

But, here’s the thing. Nobody does that. Nobody. Nobody.

Now, some people have seen Christians in verses 7 and 10 who having been justifieed live by the Spirit now and get eternal life. That’s a legitimate way of reading the verses, but I don’t think it’s right.

Because we’re deep in the bad news section of the letter.

Paul’s point is that God doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t matter who you are. He is just. If you lived it out perfectly and persistently, then you would get blessing forever.

But (v.8) for those who “are self-seeking and who reject the turth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Sound familiar? Sound ironic?

The Jews are not exempt from the justice of God.

If they do evil, they get punished. God is not partial.

A “pretty good” just doesn’t cut it.

“Better than them” just doesn’t hold water.

It isn’t enough to hold back the wrath of God.

Who is the most holy person you can think of? They really live it out. They are good and do what is right.

Whoever it is, whether it be Billy Graham or your grandmother, that person, too, is lost without Jesus.

They are not good enough.

Being “pretty good” is not enough to escape the wrath of God.

No excuse.

Now, that would be very surprising to the Jews reading Paul’s letter. That’s not how they thought.

I almost entitled this message, “Hey! But we’re the Jews!”

They thought of their birthright and the blessings of being Jewish as being excuses for their sins. Because they were the chosen people of God and had been blessed by Him again and again, they were tempted to think that God was not going to treat them the same way He treated “those icky Gentiles?!”

But here’s Paul’s even worse new for them:


Cut out your smug finger pointing!

Just because you have the Torah, doesn’t mean that you are safe. V.12

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law [yes], and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

Do you see what he’s saying?

It’s more of the same thing. The law here is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, especially those books that explain God’s commands for His people. How God wants His people to live.

We often think of the 10 Commandments as the summation of that Mosaic Law.

If you don’t have that law, like the Gentiles didn’t, then you aren’t going to be judged by it. If you sin, you will perish apart from the law.

But if you have sin under the law, you will be judged by the law.

It’s not whether or not you possess the law, it’s whether or not you live up to it. V.14

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”

Paul is saying that Gentiles don’t have the Torah but they do have consciences. They have a kind of law, a kind of knowledge of right and wrong, and when they do something good, their conscience can say, “That was good.”

And when they do something bad, deep down they know that, too.

You don’t need the Torah to know you’re a sinner.

It helps!  But you don’t need it. You conscience is enough to know that you’re a sinner. V.16

“This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

That day is coming and soon.

The Gentile’s secrets will be judged by their inner law.

And the Jew’s secrets will be judged by their law.

But nobody gets off just because they have a law!

It doesn’t work that way.

You see, the Jews had a birthright. They were blessed to have that law. They were blessed to have the promises of God. They were blessed in many, many ways.

But those blessings–that birthright was not something that excused their sin or saved them–by itself–from the wrath of God.

That’s why Paul says the even worse news:


“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”

As the kids say these days, “Boom!”

Is Paul saying that the law is bad?  No way.

Is he saying that the Jews weren’t supposed to be a guide, a light, an instructor, a teacher? No. They were.

But Paul is saying that they didn’t live up to their calling.

And they couldn’t trust in that calling for their salvation.

They couldn’t trust in their birthrights and blessings...including circumcision.

There wasn’t a greater sign that you were a Jewish man than the mark you carried in your body.

That mark said, “You belong to God.”

But Paul says, “Only if you live out what that mark meant!” v.25

“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

[It’s not about the sign. It’s about the signfied by the sign.]

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.”

Here’s the bad news for the Jews.

It’s not enough to just be a Jew.
It’s not enough to have Abraham as your father.
It’s not good enough to have the mark of circumcision or the Law.

You can’t just be a Jew on the outside. That’s not enough to escape the wrath of God if you are lawbreaker, if you are a sinner.

Paul is not saying that every Jew was a thief, or an adulterer, or a idolater.

But he is saying that those who boast about having the law are, to a man, lawbreakers.

And God’s name is blasphemed among the unclean Gentiles because of the sin of the Jews.

Being a physical Jew is not good enough to escape the wrath of God.

Now, what do we do with this even worse news?

Let me suggest three applications.

First, stop passing judgment on others as worse than us.

We often think too highly of ourselves, and we act as judge and jury in situations where we are not qualified to condemn.

Of course, we have to be discerning and make judgments, but we don’t have to be judgmental or censorious or condemn others.

We may be “pretty good,” but we’re not perfect, and we shouldn’t act like we think we are.

Is there an area of your life right now where you have let yourself get all judgmental?

You might not have realized it until just now. It often feels good and right to judge people, but it’s not.

Let’s humble ourselves and stop.

#2. Stop relying on your behavior or your birthright.

Yesterday, I had the chance to explain the gospel with a man who had some deep questions about Christianity.

And he was surprised, I think, that I told him that salvation wasn’t about being good, and doing the right thing, and doing good works.

Of course, we should be good, and do the right thing, and do good works.

But we can’t rely on that for our salvation because we have failed so much.

We have not persistently sought glory, honor, and immortality.

We have, even the “pretty good” among us, been self-seeking and rejected the truth and followed evil.

We have stored up for us wrath.

Don’t trust in your behavior.

And don’t trust in your birthright.

Maybe you can’t relate to the Jew because you aren’t one.

But we all do this sort of thing.

We might not say, “But I’m a Jew.”

Maybe we say, “But I’m an American” of course I’m saved.

or, “But I was baptized by Father so and so.”

Or “But I was born a Lutheran or a Catholic or an Evangelical Free person.”

Or “My grandmother was a godly woman, and I’m her grandson.”

Or “My parents dedicated me to the Lord.”

Or “My dad was a pastor. I’m a pastor’s kid.”

Or “I know my Bible. I got an award at Kids for Christ for memorizing a bunch of verses.”

Or “We were in church every Sunday when I was growing up. And Wednesdays, too.”

Are those good things? Are they blessings? You bet.

But don’t trust in them.

Some people trust in being connected to a pastor.  “I go to Lanse Free Church. Pastor Matt is my pastor.” So what?!

The other day, I was talking to guy who said, “I’m talking to a pastor who is like a holy man, a direct-line to God.”

And I just snorted and laughed at that.

I am just a man.

I have no more of a direct line to God than any other Christian here.

We do have a direct line to God, but I am not it.

I am happy to be your shepherd, but I am not your priest, not your mediator.

Don’t rely on being connected to me to be saved.

Don’t trust in your behavior or your birthright or your baptism or even your spiritual blessings to escape the wrath of God.

Third, Trust Fully in Christ Alone.

This bad news is headed there. I can’t keep from running ahead.

Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone saves us from the wrath to come.

He did what we could not do.

He fulfilled the Law.

He persistently sought glory, honor, and immortality.

He did good and never evil.

He has no bad secrets to reveal on the last day.

He never broke the law.

And when we put our faith in Him, we get circumcised, not outwardly but inwardly, and we become true Jews. By the Spirit, not the written code.

And, amazingly, if we trust in Christ alone, some day, we will experience the praise of God singing over us.

Trust in Christ alone.

And if you are trusting in Christ alone, keep doing it!

And rejoice in that Savior whose grace is greater than all our sin.

A Savior that turns around the even worse news to make it even better than we could ever imagine.


Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality