171217 Romans 16:25-27

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 December 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 16:25-27
Theme: The End Is Near: Praise God!

What do the Lord's Prayer, Paul's letter to the Romans, and the Advent season have in common? Besides the fact that they are all associated with Christianity, besides the fact that they are all a part of our worship today, each one ends with a song of praise called a doxology.

A few minutes from now we will pray the Lord's Prayer. We will ask God for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. We will pray for forgiveness and for our daily bread. And at the end of the prayer we will praise God with this doxology: "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever."

Paul's letter to the Romans is heavy on doctrine. For fifteen chapters the apostle explains the doctrines of justification and sanctification and how those teachings apply to Christian lives. Chapter sixteen (the final chapter) is different. There is a long list of greetings. There are a few final warnings. And then Paul brings his letter to a close with a beautiful doxology (which is also our sermon text for today).

The Advent season is a time for meditation and reflection. For four weeks we have been watching and waiting for our Savior to come, and in a few short days he will. He will come to us in a manger. He will come in poverty and humility. He will come to save the world from sin.

But Christians also believe that Jesus will come again. He will come in glory. He will come to judge the living and the dead. When Jesus comes back life as we know it will come to an end. When Jesus comes back our joy will never end. That gives us reason to break out into another doxology as we come to the end of another Advent season. Christians, lift up your heads. Christians, lift up your voices...

THE END IS NEAR: PRAISE GOD!

I. For revealing himself through the words of the prophets
II. For strengthening his people through the proclamation of the gospel

Paul's final farewell to the Roman Christians is filled with words of praise for God. In three short verses the apostle describes him as the eternal God, the only God and the only wise God. But what Paul knew about God and what Paul wanted others to know about God wasn't always very well-known. For much of human history the Creator was hidden from his creatures.

Deep down people could sense that there was a god, but because they didn't know who he was they invented gods of their own. Some worshiped the sun and the moon. Some made gods out of wood and stone. But their search for something greater than themselves, their quest for a higher power, didn't get them any closer to God. The true God remained a mystery...until he revealed himself.

We don't know if Paul was a fan of mysteries or not, but he did like using the word "mystery" in his letters (over a dozen times). When Paul talked about divine mysteries, he wasn't talking about secrets or secret information that was known by only a select few. In the Bible a "mystery" is something hidden that God has revealed for everyone to know and understand (like the mystery of his own identity).

It didn't happen overnight. The way God revealed himself can best be described as a process that took hundreds, even thousands of years. And the method he chose was simple. The God who was "hidden for long ages past" was "revealed and made known through the prophetic writings" (25,26). We call those writings the Old Testament.

In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, while Adam and Eve were still digesting the forbidden fruit, God came to them. He confronted them with their sin. He announced to them the deadly consequences of their sin. But he before he did that he gave them a promise, the promise of a Savior, the prophetic promise that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15).

Hundreds of years later the Lord appeared to Abraham. He told him to leave his country. He told him that his family would become a great nation, that he would be blessed, that he would be a blessing to others. It was a long list of promises, but God saved the best promise for last: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3).

Hundreds of years later the Lord delivered a message to King David through the prophet Nathan (the first lesson for today). David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, but instead God said: "I will build a house for you. In fact, your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

Hundreds of years later the Lord spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah. God wanted them to know that the Messiah was coming. The Savior would come from David's family (chapter 11). This child would be born to a virgin (chapter 7).

And hundreds of years later all of God's promises came true. In Bethlehem, in the town of David, in a stable, the Son of God was born...to a woman...to a virgin...to establish an eternal kingdom...to bring eternal blessings to all people.

Sometimes I wonder if we sometimes take the Old Testament for granted. We know that God kept his promises. We know how God kept his promises. In our Christmas Eve services we race through all those Old Testament passages at the beginning of the service so that we can get to the good stuff (the fulfillment) in Luke 2.

We are so blessed. We are so spoiled. We know the whole story. We can see the whole picture. But for centuries God's people couldn't. All they had was the prophecies. All they had was God's promises. And they clung to them. They lived by faith, not by sight. They lived with the hope that one day those promises would be fulfilled.

By God's grace every promise came true. By the command of the eternal God every prophecy was fulfilled. The Lord has revealed himself to us. The Lord has made his plan of salvation known to all "so that all nations might believe and obey him" (26b).

That's more than enough reason for us to sing a doxology today, but there is another reason. Not only has God revealed himself to us in the gospel. Not only does God save us through the gospel. Today we praise God for strengthening his people through the proclamation of the gospel.

Paul wanted to emphasize that. Paul wanted his readers to remember that. And so the first thing he said about God was: "To him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ" (25a).

To properly understand these words, we need to clear up a couple misunderstandings. When Paul called the gospel "my gospel," he wasn't boasting. Instead the writer (that's Paul) was reminding his readers (that's us) that his message didn't come from another person or another place or another religion. Everything Paul believed and everything Paul preached had been given to him by direct divine revelation.

And when Paul talked about his gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, he wasn't talking about two different things. Paul's gospel was the good news about Jesus. As a missionary he preached to many different people in many different places, but his message was always the same: "We preach Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

That message has power. God uses that message to "establish" his people. What does that mean? In other places in the New Testament, the same Greek word is translated, "strengthen." And if you make the change it's easier to grasp what Paul is saying: "To him who is able to strengthen you by my gospel..."

The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16). Faith comes through hearing the message (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit works through the Word to create faith in people's hearts. Lutherans believe that. Lutherans spend a lot of time in sermons and Bible classes talking about that, and we should. But we should also remember and we should also emphasize that the gospel is the tool (or means) God uses to strengthen faith.

My guess is that most of you have already made plans to worship on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. And my guess is that most of you already know what you're going to hear. So why do you do it? Why do Christians go to church to review the same stories and sing the same songs year after year?

You don't come to church to hear something new or different. If you do, you'll be disappointed. You come to hear the old, familiar story of Jesus and his love. God sent his only Son into this world to be born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, to die a sacrificial death, to rise from the dead, to forgive the sins of the world, to give us hope and joy and peace.

Santa Claus isn't going to tell you that. The devil is working hard to make people to forget about that, and sometimes he succeeds. We get busy. We get distracted. We choose the urgent over the important. We neglect what matters most, and our faith suffers. And then when we are worn out from all our hurrying and worrying the Lord takes a hold of us and says: "Stop. You need to spend some quality time with me."

And when we gather for worship in God's house that is exactly what happens. When we worship God speaks to us. When we worship God strengthens us through his Word and Sacrament. When we worship with our brothers and sisters we are strengthened and we strengthen each other.

Does the name Alexandro Bellini ring a bell? A few years back Bellini set out to row his little twenty-five foot boat across the Pacific Ocean. After ten months on the open sea, after traveling almost 10,000 miles he was picked up just sixty five miles from the Australian coast. Even though the end was in sight, even though he was so close to reaching his goal, he was too exhausted to continue.

We are nearing the end of our Advent journey, and unlike Alexandro Bellini I guarantee that we will reach our destination. In a few days our coming Savior will come, and someday our Savior will come again. Because God has revealed himself to us in the words of the prophets, because God strengthens his people through the proclamation of the gospel, we don't have to be afraid of that day. Instead we anticipate that day. We look forward to that day. We lift up our heads and our voices and say: "The end is near: Praise God!" Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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