I invite you to open your Bibles to Romans, chapter 1. This morning, our text covers verses 16 and 17. It can well be argued that these verses changed the course of human history. Because, these verses changed a man. And that man changed the world.
I'm talking about Martin Luther. Yvonne and I have been reading aloud Roland Bainton's classic biography about Martin Luther each evening before we go to bed. It's called, "Here I Stand." A few nights ago, we were reading of his transition from being a monk in Erfurt to being a Bible teacher at the university in Wittenburg. In the fall of 1515, 501 years ago, he began to lecture through the book of Romans. Bainton called Luther's study through this book his "Damascus road" experience. 
And of Romans 1:17, Luther wrote, "I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, 'the justice of God.' [which the ESV translates, 'the righteousness of God']" Luther wrote, "... because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust." Or, to use our the ESV's rendering of the word, "... because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous."
Luther continues, ...
"My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage [satisfy] him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
"Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that 'the just shall live by his faith.'"
Again, that's in verse 17, "The righteous shall live by faith." These words troubled Luther and he pondered over them long and hard, because, he was teaching them to his students. And he had to understand them. Then, the light came. Luther writes, ...
"Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven." 
And this launched the reformation and changed the course of church history. You may be here this morning in the same place at Martin Luther. Oh, you may not be a monk, but you may be equally into walking righteously as Luther was -- praying, reading, serving others. And you may have a troubled conscience. "Will God be satisfied with my efforts?"
May today be your Damascus road experience. May you see that your standing before God isn't a matter of your religious efforts. But, it's a matter of faith. As Paul says in verse 17, "The righteous shall live by faith."
My message this morning is entitled, "The Powerful Gospel," because that's what Paul is talking about in our text. He's talking about how the gospel is the power of God to bring about salvation in our lives. Let's read our text.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
The first think that you need to notice about these verses is the repetition of a certain connecting word. Three times, the word, "for" is used in these verses to mean, "because."
You can take these words and form three sections with them. You can easily translate these verses like this: "Because I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"
With each of these phrases, Paul is answering a question that came before. That's what the word, "because" means. You say something, and then you back it up with, "because." For instance, I like going to California, "because" the weather is always nice. I need to go to the doctor, "because" my knee is hurting me. I'm going to read this afternoon, "because" I have a test tomorrow. I'm looking for a new job, "because" it is slow at work and I might be laid off.
That's how, "because" works. It explains something that came before.
Here's the logic of our passage this morning. First of all, we need to go back to verse 15. Verse 15 says, "I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome." Why are you eager to preach?
Because I am not ashamed of the gospel,
Why are you not ashamed of the gospel? Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. How is the gospel so powerful for salvation?
Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Do you see how it works? These three answers are going
to form the points of my message this morning.
1. Why is Paul Eager to Preach? (verse 16a)
2. Why is Paul not Ashamed? (verse 16b)
3. How is the Gospel Powerful? (verse 17)
Let's look at our first point this
1. Why is Paul Eager to Preach? (verse 16a)
In order to see the context of this question, let's go back to verse 15. "I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome" (Romans 1:15). Paul mentions how eager he is to preach the gospel to the church in Rome. The key to our text is his eagerness. It is like a youngster eager to go to Great America. Do you see anything a bit odd about that? Paul is eager to preach the gospel to the church. He is eager to preach the gospel to believers.
Many times people can think that the gospel is only for unbelievers, as if only those who don't believe need to hear the message of salvation. But let me tell you, we all need to hear the gospel. We all need to hear it new and fresh. We all need to hear it again and again. Because the gospel isn't something that we hear once and believe, and then carry on with our lives. The gospel isn't like the chicken pox vaccine that you simply need to have it once when you are young, and never worry about it again.
No, the gospel is like marriage. At one point in your life, you stand in front of a church (or a judge), and pledge your life-long loyalty to your spouse. And for the rest of your life, you spend it serving your spouse and growing in your knowledge of your spouse.
The same is true with the gospel. We come to believe it in the past. And we continue to stand upon it in the present day. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul said, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand." We stand in the gospel. That's where our hope is firmly rooted.
In Colossians 2:6, Paul writes, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him." In other words, we never move on from the gospel. As we received Christ, so we walk in Christ. As we received Christ by faith in the gospel, so we walk in Christ by faith in the gospel.
When those in Galatia departed from this, Paul rebuked them. He said, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3). In other words, you don't come to faith with one message only to come to maturity with another message. You don't become a believer with the gospel and later become a disciple with some other message.
No, the gospel is what nourishes us and strengthens us and guides us and directs us. It gives us hope when we are discouraged in our sin. It gives us rebuke when we are proud of our own righteousness. Think about it. What does the gospel teach us? "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Our sin, not in part, but the whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! If you are trusting in Christ, never despair in your sin. It was nailed to the cross.
But the gospel also teaches us that, "he saved us, not because of our works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). If ever you come to boast of your own righteousness, the gospel will humble you. It will show you that your righteousness doesn't impress God.
Anyway, I could preach a whole sermon about the importance of the gospel for believers, but let's go on.
Why is Paul Eager to Preach? (verse 16a) The explanation comes right there in verse 16, ...
For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
Paul knew that the gospel doesn't have such a great reputation in the world. Paul knew of the natural tendency to feel ashamed of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says that, "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing" (1 Corinthians 1:18). In other words, for those who are lost in their sin, they think that the gospel is foolish.
Have you ever thought about what we believe? We believe that a man was born 2,000 years ago from a virgin. We believe that he was actually God--the very God who created the world with a word. We believe that this man was perfect, living a sinless life! Never sinning, even in the slightest degree.
We believe that he performed stunning miracles, making the blind to see and the lame to walk. These are things that we have never seen personally in this life. We believe that he was crucified upon a cross in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. We believe that he was raised from the dead. He really died--no heartbeat, no pulse, no blood flowing, no brain activity. He was dead. Then, he rose from the dead. And we believe that he never died again, but rather ascended into heaven in the presence of his disciples. Lifted right up off the ground and floated into heaven. And we believe that he is going to return someday and King of kings and Lord of lords.
And we believe that his death upon the cross was a sufficient punishment for all who believe in him, for the millions of people who have come to faith! All of those sins, he bore God's wrath for them all. And we believe that we can gain that forgiveness, simply by believing in Jesus. No works needed. No sacrifices required. Simply faith.
And when people of this world hear this message, they think it to be foolish.
I was talking this week with a man about what his children are learning in Kids KLUB. I was talking with him how to have your sins forgiven, through faith in Jesus, not by works, but by faith. And as quickly as I could talk about that, he quickly sought to change the subject like he doesn't even want to hear what I'm saying.
He doesn't understand the gospel. Nor does he understand why I give of my time to tell these precious children about Jesus. I think he sees the gospel as strange. But, I think that he's grateful that I'm putting efforts into his children, so he isn't hostile to me, because I'm helping his kids.
Others aren't so kind. Others laugh at us and pity us. Just go to a college campus and see the shame that is brought upon Christians. The wise of this age mock at our morality. They mock our beliefs. They say, "How can a man be born of a virgin?" They say, "How can a convicted criminal save you from your sins?" They say, "How can there be only one way to God when there are so many people and so many religions in the world?" They say "You are so arrogant!" They call us "Close-minded bigots!"
This has been going on since the time of Christ. They laughed at Jesus in his day, "He saved others! Let him save himself!" They laughed at his followers.
Are you familiar with the piece of Roman graffiti, identified as the Alexamenos graffito. It was scratched in plaster on the wall of a room in Rome, but now has been preserved in museum in Rome. It dates back to about 200 A. D. "It's an image of a young man worshiping a crucified, donkey-headed figure. The Greek inscription reads something like 'Alexamenos worships [his] God. The graffito was apparently meant to mock a Christian named Alexamenos'" 
This is how the world looks at our precious gospel: "Your god is a jack-ass!" And when that's what the world thinks about us, it is easy to be embarrassed. It is easy to be ashamed.
And so, as the great commentator, C. E. B. Cranfield says, "Paul's sober recognition of the fact that the gospel is something of which, by the very nature of the case, Christians will in this world be tempted to be ashamed." 
Paul knew the temptation. He told Timothy, "Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8). It's a shameful thing to associate yourself with a criminal. Just ask any boy whose father is in jail. It's not something that people hold highly.
When Jesus died, he died in shame. Hebrews 12:2 says, "[Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame." When Jesus was stripped of his clothes and crucified with other criminals as a criminal, it was shameful. But, Jesus endured the cross for us. To secure our salvation.
Still, that doesn't negate the fact that the gospel message, appearing foolish to the world, can easily be a source for our shame. So, are you ashamed of the gospel? Are you ashamed of Jesus?
Listen to Christ's words: "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. You say "Why?" Glad you asked. Because, that's the question that Paul asks in the second half of verse 16.
Here it is, ...
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
This message of the cross may sound foolish to the world, but it is a powerful message. It is able to turn drunkards into sober-minded people. It is able to turn the sexually immoral into pure lovers of Christ. It is able to take the simple-minded and turn them into wise people. It is able to give joy to the depressed. It is able to give hope to the hopeless. It is able to give strength through the trials of life. It is able to sustain us until our final day.
This is the power of the gospel. It has the power to transform. It transforms sinners into saints (Romans 1:7). The gospel has the power to sustain. It sustains God's people until the end of their lives.
Now, we normally think of the gospel in terms of the transforming power, when people are converted. We normally think of the power of the gospel to change these people from a life of drugs and sex and all manners of immoral behavior to a life that is respectable and responsible in every respect. But, I don't think that's Paul's emphasis here. I think that Paul is talking here about the power of the gospel to bring about our final salvation in the end, our final rescue (if you will).
I say that because that's how the word is most often used. Turn over to chapter 5 and verse 9.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
This verse talks about our state now: justified by his blood. And it talks about our later expectation: saved from the wrath of God. And the gospel is powerful enough to keep us until the final day. We see this again in verse 10.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Again, you see our state now: reconciled to God And you see our future experience: we will be saved. Salvation is talking about our final salvation. Turn over to chapter 13. Look at the second half of verse 11.
... For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
In other words, our "salvation" is not yet. It's coming. It gets nearer every day. Paul talks about our future salvation.
Likewise here, I think that this is the point of verse 16. The gospel has a sustaining power in our lives to keep us until the final day of salvation. Which, by the way is the reason why we always need to hear the gospel. It needs to come often and center our focus upon our true hope. When we are discouraged, it will give us hope. When we are prideful, it will humble us. It will keep us until the end. One commentator said it this way, "The gospel is God's instrument not only to make us Christian in the first place, but also to keep us Christian to the end." 
In recent days, I have had an opportunity to see this. I've been talking recently with Clark Richardson, pastor of Crossway Chapel in Fox Valley. He told me the news of some friends of ours, Greg and Sally. I'll let Clark's email speak for itself, ...
I wanted to ask you to pray for a specific couple here at Crossway. Greg and Sally are deeply embedded in the life and DNA of Crossway. They are a choice brother and sister who live their lives passionately for the kingdom.
Two weeks ago, Sally was quite suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor that has now been successfully removed. However it is a Glioblastoma which is the most deadly brain cancer known today in medicine. It will return and apart from a miraculous work of God, it WILL take her life in the flesh here on earth. The prognosis with all of the most aggressive (and painful) treatment is really not substantially better than with little to no treatment at all. So, they have decided to, in their words, "Enjoy life and make much of Jesus through all that God has in store." Their testimony of grace is amazing but one that you would expect from people whom God has truly graced with eternal perspective and hope in His Son.
Thank you for praying for this family and may Jesus be truly exalted as they join Him in suffering.
Here's Sally's recent Facebook post: She begins by quoting Spurgeon.
Believer, do you not remember that rapturous day when you first realized pardon through Jesus the sin bearer? Can you not make glad confession, and say, "my soul recalls her day of deliverance with delight. Laden with guilt and full of fears, I saw my Savior as my substitute, and I laid my hand upon Him; oh how timidly at first, but courage grew, and confidence was confirmed, until I leaned my soul entirely upon Him; and now it is my unceasing joy to know that my sins are no longer imputed to me, but laid on Him, and like the debts of the wounded traveler, Jesus, like the good Samaritan, has said of all my future sinfulness, "set that to my account."
- Charles Spurgeon
Dear ones, I am recovering very quickly from my surgery; feeling stronger each day. Praise God! I thank you all for your love, displayed in so many ways, and most special to me are your prayers on my behalf. The body of Christ is such a beautiful thing as it has no boundaries.
God is teaching me surrender in a remarkable way; God is in control, for his glory and my good. The Lord has used this trial to cause me to cling tighter to Him and hold more loosely to the things of this world.
My love for Jesus, my Savior is growing. He is more precious to me with each new day. He has ministered to me in the depth of my soul, and has given me such peace. This is not to say that I haven't had my "moments," but He has been faithful to bring me back to solid ground. When I am weak, He is my strength.
2 Corinthians 12:9
And he has said to me, "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Through prayer, God has led us to an alternative cancer treatment, because traditional medicine does not offer any "hope". We have researched Protocel and decided to proceed with this and a stringent diet in response to the cancer. We also have personal testimony from 2 family members who have been using the product for 6 years. They have done no traditional medicine and only used Protocel. Their oncologist continues to be amazed that there is no reoccurring cancer in either one of them.
Ultimately we worship and serve a sovereign God; so our confidence is not in anything except for Him. If He so chooses to heal me based on the path we are now on – praise Him. If God in His unmeasurable love decides to take me home, then we will still praise Him.
I am now more independent but still cannot drive. I very much desire to see all of you from time to time, please do not hesitate to text or call and we can set a time to get together.
Thank you again for all of your thoughts, prayers and encouragement.
And here's what I know about the gospel. It is powerful enough to sustain them through these trials.
Here's another pastor friend of mine, Jeremy, and his wife, Anouk. Again, I will let Facebook tell the story:
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
This morning's visit to the ER revealed that Anouk has a tumor the size of an apple in her colon. She is in surgery right now as I type this. One of the first things she said after finding out about the tumor was an expression that God would use this to bring people to Himself. Thanks for your prayers!
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Anouk is doing well. The surgery took a while so she is really wiped out right now. It was 2:30 AM by the time she was out of surgery and I could see her. Because she is so tired right now, we are going to wait on visitors for the time being. She does want to see people, but the doctors say that right now she needs to rest as much as possible. So, we will see how today goes.
Here is the update from last night's surgery:
- The colon on both sides was so bloated that it had started to tear but not completely torn, so they stitched that up to help it heal.
- The tumor had grown into the uterus and left ovary so they removed those as well as the portion of the colon affected.
- The surgeon didn't want to risk reattaching the colon until it had time to heal a bit so he did put in an ostomy bag. The hope is that he can reverse that and reattach the colon in a few months.
- While he can't be for sure, the doctor does believe the tumor to be malignant. We will know for sure when the lymph node testing comes back sometime next week. When I asked if he thought the cancer (if indeed it was malignant) was contained to the tumor he said he wasn't sure but the lymph node testing would tell us that. But he didn't see any other tumors while he was in there. So, a lot to process and as I do, I am sure I will write more. But for the time being, we are confident that God is good and He is sovereign. We are so grateful for the many texts, emails, and FB messages communicating your love, prayers, and support. Words cannot express our thanksgiving for you all.
On Saturday (yesterday), Anouk wrote a long entry on Facebook. It's too long to share it all, but I'll share a bit.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Lessons I'm learning or being reminded of while I'm in this new trial/season:
1. When you say you're praying for someone, and really do it, it may not seem like you're doing enough. But to the person hearing it, it's a huge blessing. Never discount the power and encouragement prayer brings. Your prayers have helped lift my burden.
2. The little accomplishments are reason for thankfulness and celebration. Rejoice in answers to prayers (even if they may be prayers you wouldn't have thought to pray). Don't downplay the fact you can now pee on your own :) (but maybe don't share it with all of Facebook? Oops!).
3. Little details show God's hand. I really wanted grape juice since early this morning when I had low blood sugar and the nurse said she would get me some grape juice. But then the doctor nixed that and instead I got some IV glucose which not only didn't taste like grape juice, but was kind of painful to get in the IV. I was teasing with the nurse that I was going to get my grape juice sometime today. Tonight for supper, I got two servings of grape juice. Oh, and I also got chicken broth again which I prefer to beef broth. Tomorrow I get to order my own food, today was just what the kitchen chose for me… Or maybe I should say what God chose for me. Thankful.
4. I'm seeing 2 Corinthians 1 in action. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV People who have been through similar trials, on bed rest, in the hospital, etc, are being a blessing to me without overwhelming with advice or information. They are reaching out with the comfort they have received. Thank you.
5. In light of #4, I need to become a better gift giver. I never really knew what to bring to someone in the hospital. It doesn't need to be much (or anything really), but things I might not have not considered: chapstick (yes!!! Didn't know how desperately I'd need that, especially at first), lotion, coloring book (never have/take time at home but have plenty of that here), magazines, pens, journals . . . but also remember that a gift or a visit is not necessary. A kind word and prayer is just as appreciated.
I'm learning a lot more, but that's all my brain can handle writing out for now. Thank you again for your kind words of encouragement and prayers.
P.S. - God's grace and peace that surpasses all understanding is truly enough - even when we don't understand. I see it so clearly during this time.
And here's what I know. The simple message of the gospel will sustain her through her trial. I say this because I have seen others go through similar trails, sustained by the gracious hand of Christ, through the simple message of the gospel.
As John Newton said in his dying days, "Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior."
The gospel is powerful to keep us until the day of salvation. It's powerful for all who believe! Paul says in verse 16 that this is powerful.
... to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Let us never forget that our faith comes from the Jews. The Jews were promised a Messiah And he came to save them. And his salvation was so wonderful that it came also to us. Salvation in Jesus Christ comes to all who believe! Do you believe? Are you trusting in the work of Jesus Christ?
You say, "What is that work?" I'm glad you asked, because Paul will get at this in verse 17 (and our final point). We have seen Paul answer the questions, Why is Paul Eager to Preach? (verse 16a) and Why is Paul not Ashamed? (verse 16b). Now, in verse 17, Paul will explain, ...
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
The gospel is powerful because it makes sinners right with God! Here is the glorious gospel! God's righteousness comes to us in faith!
Paul is going to explain this more in chapter 4, when he talks about how "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." In other words, God looked down upon Abraham and saw that he believed God. And so God considered his faith to be righteousness.
And this is good news, because God isn't demanding of us a perfect righteousness to stand before him absolved of our guilt. Rather, God gives to us his righteousness when we simply believe. That's the message of verse 17, "In [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith."
In other words, it's all of faith. From the first to the last. As the ESV note says, "beginning and ending in faith" That's how the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. It's that we can have and experience the righteousness of God by faith. And "The righteous shall live by faith." 
That's powerful, because it brings us, sinful human beings, up to God's standard of righteousness. Psalm 130:4 says, "If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" The only way that we can stand is if God doesn't mark iniquities, but gives us his own righteousness.
This will be explained in more depth in chapter 3, verses 21-26.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Well, I began my message with Luther. I will end my message with Luther. He writes, ...
"… If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and over-flowing love.
This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.
He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face" 
Because, when we believe in Christ, God looks upon us as righteous. There is no anger in him at that point. It has been satisfied at the cross.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
October 2, 2016 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.