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Reading: Isaiah 52
Text: Romans 15:14-32
Sermon: The Accomplishments of Christ through an Apostolic Ministry
Isaiah 52 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
52 Awake, awake,
Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion;
Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Will no longer come into you.
2 Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose yourself from the chains around your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.
3 For thus says the Lord, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord [a]God, “My people went down at the first into Egypt to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. 5 Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?” Again the Lord declares, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long. 6 Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”
7 How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces [b]peace
And brings good news of [c]happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God [d]reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see [e]with their own eyes
When the Lord restores Zion.
9 Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
[f]That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God.
11 Depart, depart, go out from there,
Touch nothing unclean;
Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves,
You who carry the vessels of the Lord.
12 But you will not go out in haste,
Nor will you go [g]as fugitives;
For the Lord will go before you,
And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
The Exalted Servant
13 Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and [h]greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.
15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.
Romans 15:14-32New American Standard Bible (NASB)
14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me [a]from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything [b]except what Christ has accomplished through me, [c]resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of [d]signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have [e]fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written,
“They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard shall understand.”
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company [f]for a while— 25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the [g]saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the [h]saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have [i]put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the [j]saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.
Sermon: The Accomplishments of Christ through an Apostolic Ministry
Isaiah 52, Romans 15:14-33
We’ve come to the closing address of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He has gone to great lengths to explain to them the good news about Jesus and to explain that justification is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This was laid out in the first 11 chapters of the letter to the Romans. Then from chapter 12 through to chapter 15:15 Paul has set out the Christian response to justification which in a word is to love God, the church your neighbour and even your enemy.
Did they understand Paul? Were they convinced that nothing could separate them from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ? Were they in Christ? And were they convinced that Paul was telling them the truth that among all the competing religions he was the true representative of God?
These kinds of questions are put to rest here in the rest of chapter 15. Whatever Paul did was nothing for Paul to boast about. Paul himself was once a Christians hating persecuting Jew and would likely have remained that if it wasn’t for Christ. And so Paul goes to some lengths here in our text to show that his ministry and their faith was not by human design or effort but accomplished by the Spirit of Christ in three ways.
1. First it was a ministry offered to God. In verse 16 Paul calls himself a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, “ministering as a priest the gospel of God that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” In the New Testament the term priest was often a reference to the Old Testament priest who typically offered sacrifices for the atonement of sin. This system was abolished by Christ who offered himself up as a once for all sacrifice for all the sins and then beyond Christ to the sacrifices of believers, no longer a sacrifice of sin but a sacrifice of service to God.
Paul’s sacrifice therefore was his offering of Gentile converts as a living sacrifice to God. Now we note in the text that Paul was very careful not to take any personal credit for these converts or for the many churches that came into existence as a result of his missionary labours. In verse 17 & 18 he says as much. “Therefore in Christ I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except which Christ has accomplished through me resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and by deed.”
Now there are several reason why the credit for accomplishment of Paul’s missionary service belonged to Christ.
a) In Acts 9 we find Paul (formerly Saul) as the persecutor of Christians held up on the road to Damascus by Christ who converts Paul and makes him a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles. In verse 15 Paul acknowledges that ability was given to him by God.
b) Secondly in Romans 10 Paul teaches that it’s the preaching of the gospel about Jesus Christ which saves sinners, not the ability, influence or smooth talking of the person through whom the gospel comes.
c) Thirdly it was the operation of the Holy Spirit working in the Gentiles hearts sanctifying them and making them acceptable to God which changed their hearts of stone into hearts able to receive the gospel.
So while we are thankful for people of faith who work tirelessly in the Lord’s service in whatever their calling may be we are reminded here of who actually accomplishes such service lest we fall into the same factional trap as some of the Corinthians who said things like, “I am of Cephas or I am of Apollos and I am of Paul.” Paul’s answer to the men flatterers was” let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31)
Now although Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Gentiles was unique it is true all those who share the gospel with others today are priests in a similar sense as Paul was. As priests we offer ourselves and our service to God. But what are we offering? We are offering the very gift which Christ has first given us . It says in Ephesians 4: 8 that when Christ ascended into heaven he gave gifts to men and then in the verses which follow a list of spiritual gifts are mentioned. We also find further lists of spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12.
What is your gift? Is it encouraging, discernment, helping and healing, serving, teaching, management; whatever it is, it has been given to you by Christ. Will you offer it back to God by using that gift to promote Christ and Lord willing be that instrument God uses to bring others into his kingdom? By God grace you will. It says in Ephesians 2:10 that “you are God’s workmanship created in Jesus Christ for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10).
This is Christ’s accomplishment through an apostolic ministry. Is ours an apostolic ministry? Ours is not the same as Paul’s or the disciples. Their ministry was attended with new revelation and signs and wonders. Yet our work as a church is apostolic in the sense of our church being a sending church. Because that is what the Greek word aposteloo means ‘to send’. We confess with the Nicene Creed that we are one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” in other words a holy catholic, sending or evangelistic church.
That doesn’t mean that we are all evangelists. It means that we accept that evangelism is one of the five main tasks of the church and therefore as a church we want to find people and ways to fulfil that task and as a ministry which we offer to God.
Now since it is only Christ who can accomplish that work through us. Faith is the key, the necessary characteristic in each of us which he uses to accomplish his work through us as well. He will provide opportunities, and raise up those who are willing and able to do that work through a people of faith.
2. That brings me to the second point a ministry accomplished with power. According to the text the ministry Christ accomplished through Paul resulted in “the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed and in the power of signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit.” How was this ministry powerful? In several ways
It was powerful to lead the Gentiles to obedience in Romans 16:26 its put as “leading to obedience of faith” and faith as we know has three elements knowledge trust and will. Those who believed possessed the will to obey and this led Paul to say earlier in verse 14 “I am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to admonish one another.” Obedience to the commands of Christ and the law of God is an integral part of true faith. Without obedience then faith is either weak or non-existent. Stott calls it a vital ingredient of Christian discipleship. Obedience then is the evidence of Christ’s power working through us.
Secondly Paul’s ministry is powerful because it was not something Paul did in his own strength but was accomplished by Christ. Verse 18 implies that Christ “worked through Paul”. That is true of all Christian ministry. The Spirit of Christ or the Holy Spirit drives it. Without the Spirit ministry just would not happen. Elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul wrote “We are Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us. This is also why we regard the elders in the church as those who stand as representatives of Christ to the congregation. Elders are made by the Holy Spirit according to Acts 20:28 and Christ works through them.
Thirdly Christian ministry is powerful because it is a word and deed ministry. The ministry of Jesus is the best example of word and deed ministry and not just through his miracles. One of Jesus most powerful deeds was when he took a child into his arms and said the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. One of the most powerful witnesses for Christ was the early churches care for the unborn and abandoned infants, or the sick and despised form whom no-one else at the time cared for. What was it that Paul said? “If I have not love I am merely a noisy going ad a clanging symbol” May it be that as a church we are also know for caring for people. There is power in love.
Fourthly Christ’s ministry through Paul was by signs and wonders. In the New Testament these were miracles which authenticated the messages given by the apostles for example in Acts 27 when Paul was shipwrecked on the Island of Malta. He came to one of the local’s homes, a man by the name of Publius whose father was sick with dysentery and fever and Paul healed him. Later it says that the rest of the people on the island who had diseases came to Paul and were healed.” This is not to say that God doesn’t work miracles today but the main reason for miracles in Paul’s day was to authenticate his message about Jesus Christ. Those signs and wonders then were unique to the apostolic era. However they point to the new creation where sickness pain and suffering will be a thing of the past. Where, as it says in Rev. 21, there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. All things will be new.
Finally Paul’s ministry was accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit and here we note that a physical miracle was just one way in which the power of the Holy Spirit was seen. However an equally powerful if not more powerful way is the Spirit working together with the word of God which by the way is called the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6. The Holy Spirit uses that word to change hearts, minds, consciences and the will of those who hear it and believe. In other words every conversion, every profession of faith, every step of faith is a powerful working of the Holy Spirit who together with the word rescues and regenerates sinners.
Where do we normally see the Spirit’s power today? We see it in obedience and in the word and deed ministry which belongs to the Church. We also see the Spirit’s power in the ordinary everyday things such as the habit of daily prayer and Bible reading, family worship, regular Lord’s day attendance, giving to the Lord’s work, keeping oneself from sin, and confessing one’s faith not just by word but also by deed. These ordinary everyday acts of faith are evidence of the Spirit’s power in the church today.
3. In the third place our text reveals the accomplishments of Christ through the apostolic ministry in reaching new territory. And what Christ accomplished through Paul was truly remarkable. He took the gospel “from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum). That was Paul’s modest summary of ten years missionary service including three long missionary journeys from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch, through the provinces of Asia across the Aegean sea, to Greece and Macedonia and according to Paul on to Illyricum which is west of Macedonia facing Italy across the Adriatic Sea. Luke in Acts doesn’t record any missionary activity by Paul in that country however during his time in Macedonia it would have been relatively easy to have walked west along the Egnatian Way into Illyricum.
We also notice that Paul says that he aspired to preach the gospel in places that no-other evangelist or preacher had ventured so as not to build on another missionary’s foundation. That was Paul’s special calling. God wanted him to reach new places, start new churches and then leave them for others to establish. In fact he uses a quotation from Isaiah 52 to validate this claim. In this prophecy Isaiah predicts among other things that the kingdom of the Messiah who is to come will be a world-wide kingdom and that the gospel must be preached to the Gentiles. Paul says here in Romans 15 as he does elsewhere, for example in Romans 10: 15 that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.
His point is further established with two metaphors which Paul uses to describe this pioneering work. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 he wrote “I planted a seed Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.” And here in Romans 15: 20 and further on in 1 Corinthians 3:10 he uses the building metaphor of a foundation. “According to the grace of God which was given me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building on it.” Sowing the seed of the word and laying the foundation of the church was Paul’s special calling.
Well we know that what Christ intended to accomplish didn’t finish with Paul because since then then many others have been stimulated by the Word and Spirit and Paul’s example to take the gospel even further afield. Where ever the Lord has work to do he raises up men with a heart to perform that work until as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:24 “ the end has come and Christ delivers up the kingdom to God the Father when Christ has put all his enemies under his feet and when all the elect are in the kingdom .
Well as we look at the very brief history of our own church we can see that we are not so different from the churches Paul wrote his letters to. They consisted of Jews and Gentiles of varying description. So more others less devout. But God called them together to form the church. We are just as much as they unlikely bedfellows! We are after all sinners saved by grace! But we can also see that in spite of ourselves and our weaknesses, Christ continues to build his church here through us. How? He builds with people who believe in him, people like the disciple Peter who said “you are the Christ the son of the living God” or Paul who said “if anyone wants to boast let him boast in the Lord”. Well let’s make that same confession about Jesus Christ and keep the faith because it’s on a faithful confession; spoken and lived out, that Christ will continue to build his church today. Amen