Romans 15, Part 2
Jan 14, 2011
Romans 15:13 is Paul's first hint that he is beginning to contemplate the end of his epistle, as it almost sounds like the start of his benediction.
(13) Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Their "hope" is based upon Paul's previous assertion that Christ came as a servant both to the circumcision and to the nations, for "in Him shall the nations hope" (Is. 11:10).
(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.
This church in Rome did not consist of new and immature believers in Christ. In fact, in 16:7 he greets people "who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." This explains also why Paul would expound on such profound and deep matters in this epistle. He had confidence that they were mature believers who could understand the meat of the word and the deep things of God.
(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 from God, (16) to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the ethnos, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the ethnos might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
To be "a minister of Christ Jesus" was a New Testament priesthood. Paul was preparing the sacrifice to God. The people as a body form the "living sacrifice" (12:1), which Paul was preparing to offer to God. He therefore labored to make that offering "acceptable" and "sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
Both "the circumcision" and "the nations" were being offered here. This was pictured under Moses as the offering of both sheep and goats. The Passover could be celebrated with either a lamb or a goat (Ex. 12:5). We also see later that if a ruler sinned, he was to offer a male goat (Lev. 4:23), but if the common people sinned, they were to offer a female goat (4:28).
Goats were as acceptable as lambs on the altar of sacrifice. The difference is that a lamb represents the ruler, while the goat represents the non-ruling public. It shows us that the overcomers, who are destined to reign with Christ, have the character of lambs, while the rest of the church has the character of goats. Yet both are clean animals, and both are acceptable as living sacrifices on the altar of God.
Likewise, in the Old Testament context, Israel was chosen to rule the nations. They were disqualified and failed, of course, because the nation as a whole did not manifest the lamb-like character of Christ. So in the New Testament we see Christ leveling the playing field, giving all men opportunity to be either lambs or goats, according to their character.
If we take this one step further, we see that simple believers join the tribe of Judah by faith in the King, while the overcomers go beyond simple faith and are inheritors of the Birthright of Joseph. The church was the continuation of the tribe of Judah, while the overcomers are of Joseph, Ephraim, or Israel. This goes back to our earlier discussion on Romans 2:28 and 29.
(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 except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the ethnos by word and deed, (19) in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
We have no reason to boast in ourselves, but we have every reason to boast of the work that Christ has done through us. The "signs and wonders" are accomplished by "the power of the Spirit," confirming the Word as He said (Mark 16:17). These are the manifestations of the Spirit which prove the Word to be true. It is therefore proper to boast about the love and power of our great Anointed One, Jesus Christ.
Illyricum was located east of Macedonia and included what is now Bosnia and to the north. Paul's journeys took him north of Greece and even beyond Macedonia.
(20) And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation;
In one sense, it did not matter where Paul preached. His ministry to the ethnos was quite distinct and unique. Most of the others had focused upon the synagogues and "the circumcision." Not wanting to offend the Jews, they tended to perpetuate the inequality of the ethnos. Paul's ministry tore down those dividing walls, angering many Jews and upsetting even those who believed in Christ.
For this reason, Paul's message seemed to lay better and stronger foundations than had been laid by many others. Paul did not have to preach the gospel in far-away places to avoid building on the foundation of others. He often laid good foundations alongside of the faulty ones.
(21) but as it is written, "They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand." [Isaiah 52:15]
The verse Paul quotes here is from the passage that includes Isaiah 53. It is the great messianic passage of the suffering Messiah. Chapter 53 should have begun with Isaiah 52:13. Verse 14 speaks of the fact that "his appearance was marred more than any man," a prophecy of the terrible beating that He endured at the cross. Verse 15 then says,
(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.
This verse was fulfilled as the gospel began to be preached to "many nations," and believers began to be baptized (by the law of sprinkling, or "various baptisms" in Heb. 9:10). The Ethiopian eunuch helped fulfill this prophecy in Isaiah 52:15, for he was reading this very passage when Philip spoke with him in Acts 8:26-38. Philip explained to him the meaning of this passage, so that he could "understand" what he was reading. When he understood its meaning and how it applied to him personally, he requested to be baptized. "Thus He will sprinkle many nations."
Paul referred to this same verse in support of his statement that he was laying foundations in places where the gospel had not yet been preached. He was referring to Isaiah's prophecy that the gospel would be preached to "many nations" who had not previously been told, nor had they understood the Word.
(22) For this reason I have often been hindered 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 for a while-- (25) but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.
Paul does not finish his sentence, but lets us know that his work in Greece and Asia had largely been completed. He had ministered for ten years and three missionary journeys in that region. He was now free to go to Spain by way of Rome on his fourth missionary journey. But first he believed that he had to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (58 A.D.). He was to take financial contributions to Jerusalem, according to verse 26.
This is the second part of a series titled "Romans 15." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones