Third Sunday of Pentecost (Homecoming)

Series on Romans:

Proclaimed throughout the World


Scripture reading: Mark 4:26-34.

Sermon text: Romans 1:8-17.

We gather today, as the redeemed of Christ, for New Hope’s 170th anniversary celebration. We’re here today because of at least 2 reasons.

First, all of us here have a connection to New Hope Baptist Church. For some of us, this is our ancestral church, the place where our families have gathered for worship for generations. For others, New Hope has only recently become home. Still, we’re here for homecoming because, in some way, we call New Hope home.

More importantly, we’re here to worship. We didn’t come to a community hall, nor did we  come here today simply to enjoy a meal and fellowship. We came together today because we know the truth of Scripture (or at least recognize that our ancestors understood it). The faith of New Hope has drawn us back here to celebrate the faith of those who founded this church and who have sacrificed for generations to maintain this family of believers.

New Hope has sent believers throughout the world — literally. Ministers have gone from New Hope to serve pastorates in other states. People born in this church have served as missionaries around the world. New Hope has consistently supported missions efforts throughout her history while simultaneously serving the Romulus community as a place for believers to worship Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.

In today’s sermon passage, St. Paul commended the Roman church for their faith and their reputation. According to St. Paul, the faith of the Romans was “proclaimed in all the world.” As we examine this passage today, we should ask ourselves about our reputation before the world. Do people in our lives know of our faith in Jesus Christ? Do we proclaim His gospel as we interact with people who need Jesus as our Lord?

St. Paul opened this passage by telling the Romans that he thanked God for their reputation in the Empire. As I mentioned last week, the Church Father known only as “Ambrosiaster” recorded that the Roman church began without any miracles or any apostolic witness. St. Luke recorded that Jews from Rome had heard St. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Some of these Jews apparently were among the first converts to the Church and carried their testimony of Jesus Christ back to Rome.

As the Church spread throughout the Empire, word quickly spread of the congregations in Rome, the imperial capital. Although he had never visited Rome, St. Paul had heard of the thriving congregations there. Most likely, St. Paul heard of the Roman believers from St. Aquila and St. Priscilla, 2 Jewish Christians he met and befriended in Corinth. These believers greatly aided St. Paul in his ministry to the Corinthians.

St. Paul had always wanted to travel to Rome. As a Roman citizen, St. Paul would have enjoyed visiting the center of the Empire, the founding city of the greatest empire on the earth. He also wanted to serve the congregations there. St. Paul never forgot his calling to serve the Gentiles. He wanted to give a “spiritual gift” to the Romans as he had given to the churches he founded in the eastern half of the Empire. Wherever St. Paul founded a church, he left a thriving congregation of believers. Whatever the spiritual gift entailed, we know that the Romans would have greatly benefited from it in their witness before the population of the Empire’s greatest city.

St. Paul also believed that visiting the Romans would allow them to strengthen him as well as he could strengthen him. I believe this reminds us of an important reason for us to gather today. Believers face constant struggles in our lives. We face temptations on a daily basis. We know the expectations of God, but we so often fail to meet them. Worship gives us an opportunity to come together to learn about God; to praise Him for His forgiveness of our sins and His work in our lives; and to encourage one another to live godly lives before a world desperately needing to know of God’s plan of salvation.

St. Paul then reminded the Romans of his calling to serve all Gentiles, not merely the Greeks among whom he had ministered to this point in his apostolic career. St. Paul told the Roman believers, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” This encompassed the cultured “Greeks;” this term referred to the Roman citizens and subject who spoke Greek, the preferred language of civilization. St. Paul’s calling also encompassed the “barbarians,” or those who didn’t speak Greek and were therefore considered uncivilized by the Greeks and Romans.

St. Paul also referred to the “wise and the foolish.” The “wise” would have referred to the educated, literate members of Roman society, while the “foolish” referred to the illiterate masses. St. Paul had ministered to both groups, ranging from the illiterate, superstitious people of Lester to the sophisticated philosophers of Athens.

St. Paul’s ministry reached all these people because he never forgot a crucial fact about our witness for Christ: Everyone with a soul needs to hear of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Every human in our lives needs to know that our sins separate us from God unless we pay the penalty for our sins. However, the penalty for sin is death: Eternal separation from God. Fortunately, Jesus took our penalty on Himself through His crucifixion on the cross and His death. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection, as St. Paul wrote in last week’s sermon passage, confirmed Jesus’ divinity as the eternal, only-begotten Son of God. The resurrection confirms that Jesus has conquered sin and death for us. Everyone who accept Jesus’ payment of his penalty receives salvation: A relationship with God the Father, the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit, and the assurance of His love for us.

St. Paul knew he had received this salvation even though he didn’t deserve it. St. Paul told the Romans, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” He knew God had called him to minister to Gentile believers through his preaching. He gave the Romans the greatest reason for his ministry: “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.”

Think about the gospel of Jesus for a moment. For nearly 2,000 years, the Church has boldly proclaimed that Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, died for us and rose from the dead. Many people over the centuries have scoffed at the notion that the death of an innocent man would accomplish anything for us, or that anyone could rise from the dead. Most people who hear of this at first cannot believe in the truth of the gospel. Many Christians today believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection (otherwise they couldn’t claim membership in the Church) but still have trouble telling someone about it. An entire industry of “witnessing materials” exists to teach people how to tell someone the gospel of Christ.

People of God, the Church exists because someone told us of this hard-to-believe plan that God enacted to redeem humanity from our fallen state. The Church exists because our spiritual ancestors, from St. Paul to those in this sanctuary today, has proclaimed the gospel of God. The gospel may sound impossible, but in reality it “ is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Everyone who believes in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection receives the salvation of God.

Of course, St. Paul also told the Romans something we must remember today: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” St. Paul reached back to the prophet Habbakuk to give us a way to tell people about the gospel. Our lives will tell people of the gospel of Christ. As we believe by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we will live a different lifestyle from unbelievers. This lifestyle will distinguish us from unbelievers and will give us opportunities to proclaim the gospel to them. Yes, many will fail to believe. However, others will believe and will receive the salvation of God.

Today, we celebrate homecoming here at New Hope. We’ve all come home to a sacred place where our we have found a refuge, a family of faith. As important as we find it to come home to worship, it’s just as important that we boldly live the gospel by loving God and everyone He places in our lives. It’s just as important that we love them enough to tell them of Jesus’ love for them. God’s love for humanity compelled Jesus to die for us and rise again to conquer death for us. If Jesus loved people enough to die and rise again for them, we must love them enough to proclaim the gospel to them.

The Church today proclaims the gospel around the world. Before next year’s homecoming, let’s insure that everyone in our lives hears of the gospel and knows the joy of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.