Sunday, June 22, 2014

Something better than wrath

We take another pause in our regularly scheduled Hadassah / China broadcasting to bring you another update from "Reflections on Romans".  This time from the 16th and 17th verses of chapter one.  These are the famed verses that are said to be the thesis of the whole letter.  They get at why Paul is writing and what he is writing about.  But before we can understand them, we really need to see the start of verse 18.

In verse 18, Paul explains how it is that "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven".  All mankind is sentenced to death because of sin.  This isn't exactly good news.  1:18-32 has some pretty crazy epistemological claims: (1) It says that what can be known about God is plain to mankind.  In other words, "there are no atheists".  But even further, (2) it says that mankind, even without the gospel, understands that the just sentence for sin is death (see 1:32).  So, in a certain way, they don't even need the gospel to know this stuff.  Of course, the problem, as Romans 1:18 states, is that mankind has done an amazing cover-up job.  So often, when we tell the gospel (to ourselves or others), it is necessary to lay the "ground work": we have sinned and therefore deserve death, eternal death.  And God is just to sentence us thus.

Interlude: About 600 years before Paul was writing, some really bad news was also delivered to Israel: "y'all gonna get it".  The Chaldeans are gonna wipe everyone out.  You'll be eating your children it's gonna be so bad.  Whoever isn't taken into captivity will die by the sword or by starvation.  It was a bleak picture there too.  The wages of sin was death for Israel.   Yet, in the midst of receiving this bad news, God offered hope.  Some were wondering, "if this is the case... if everyone is going to die... is there any way - any way at all, to live?"  And God's answer came in the prophecy given to Habbakuk (2:4).  He said that life came about from the interplay of righteousness and faith.  But, of course, that's all we got.  In the OT is Christ concealed.  In the NT is Christ revealed.  Interlude over.

So in verse 16 of Romans, Paul is addressing some cowardice.  Some wimps were ashamed of the gospel.  And Paul says "I'm not ashamed!"  [Imagine it said in a fiery Scott's voice after a good drink.]  Kind of looking the people in the eye who are ashamed.  And he gives his reasons:  In the midst of so much death and wrath being poured out, I've got a message that is the power of God unto salvation.  Paul had eternity in mind.  He had the "wages of sin" in his mind.  He had the "wrath of God" in his mind.  The plight of man.  And he wasn't going to let a little fear of man get in the way of his message of salvation.  "For", he goes on to explain, "in it, the righteousness of God is being revealed."  There's that phrase again: "is being revealed".  Remember that in verse 18, we learn that the state of the world that everyone knows is that "the wrath of God is being revealed"?  That's all anyone can know about apart from special revelation.  But in the gospel, we have a special revelation that reveals something better than wrath.  Something much better.  This is salvation.  This is "anti sin".  This is "anti condemnation".  And this is the reason Paul isn't ashamed of the gospel.

In the NT, Christ is revealed.  In the backdrop of so much death, red in tooth and claw - the just judgment for our sin - the heart cry of mankind is "how can we live"?  Paul resurfaces the same answer from the OT prophecy, but applies it to Christ: "He who by faith is righteous shall live." Life and salvation now come to the man who has become righteous by placing their trust in Christ.

These themes of salvation, life, and righteousness are at the heart of the matter.   Everyone knows that God is judging the world, and that if God is going to be just, sin will be punished - no matter what.  He hasn't quite gone into all the details of how He's going to work that salvation, but he promises us it's coming.  And he chooses to make that promise with a peculiar phrase.  (A phrase that will come up again in Romans in several key places.)  That phrase is "the righteousness of God".  This phrase, when it came up in the OT was so often connected with the saving hand of God.  The Psalmist (and Isaiah) time and time again pairs these two by thanking God for God's salvation and, in the next meter, thanking God for His righteousness.  God demonstrates His righteousness by saving His people.

And isn't that the thanksgiving of the Christian heart?  Thank You God for saving us!  Thank you for showing off Your own glory in the salvation of Your people!  Thank You for the brilliance with which Your righteousness shines.  Thank You for giving us something better than wrath.

For good reason, Paul was not ashamed.  May it be so of us.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder of Paul's perspective: it's silly to be afraid of man in light of God's wrath that is hanging over the heads of unbelievers. And I love the connections between the Old Testament and the New. =) -Natalie