The Thirty-Seventh in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
At long last we come to the final verses of the Book of Romans. In this remarkable letter, Paul has described the human predicament (bleak as it is), before explaining the nature of the gospel and describing how it is that guilty sinners receive a right-standing before God based on the righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel and received through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to describe how these same justified sinners also begin the life-long process of sanctification in which the remnant of our sinful nature (the flesh) is progressively put to death, while the new man is continually strengthened through word and sacrament. Paul then describes the role that Jew and Gentile will play in redemptive history, before giving a series of imperatives regarding our daily behavior as Christians. As Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is concerned to shepherd this flock of Jesus Christ and so he leaves the Romans with a final pastoral warning as well as a wish and a prayer for God’s continued blessing upon the Roman church.
In his concluding remarks to the church in Rome, Paul explains his current situation–he desires to come and visit the church in Rome but thus far has been prevented from doing so. Before Paul can come to Rome for a visit on a hoped-for journey to Spain, Paul must first deliver an offering to the suffering Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. This offering for the poor had been collected from Gentile churches throughout Macedonia. The Jewish Christians in Rome were undergoing a very difficult trial. Having come to believe that Jesus is the Christ–Israel’s Messiah–Jewish Christians faced horrible persecution from those Jews who regarded the preaching of Christ crucified as a great threat to the religion of Israel. But Jewish Christians also had a hard time accepting the Gentile mission to which Paul had so whole-heartedly devoted himself because Christ had called him to do this very thing. Gentiles were not familiar with the Old Testament. They had never heard of Moses, nor did they know the commandments of God. They ate things which Jews found offensive and they tended to engage in sexual immorality. So not only would the offering Paul be bringing to Jerusalem provide relief from their very real suffering, it would have encouraged the Jewish Christians to be more accepting of the Gentile Church.
Paul has just told the Romans that his calling is primarily to preach the gospel in those areas where it had not yet been preached. It has long been Paul’s desire to labor in mission fields to the west (Spain) since the gospel had not yet been preached in this area. Rome would make a good base of operations for Paul, which is probably why he informs the Romans of his long-standing desire to come and visit so that there might be mutual encouragement both for the shepherd and for the sheep. Paul asks for their prayers for the success of his trip to Jerusalem, but he also prays for the church that they will be refreshed and encouraged by Paul when he finally comes to this visit congregation he has heard so much about.
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