Grace to you and peace in God, who has called us to belong to Jesus Christ, our Messiah, and Lord. Amen.
This Easter season we’ve been spending time in the New Testament. We spent the last few weeks in the Book of Acts, and last week we heard a story about the adventures of Paul and Barnabas in a city called Lystra. Now Paul traveled all over the Mediterranean world, sharing the story of Jesus with the people he met, and starting little house churches in the cities he visited. And afterward, he would write letters to see how these little house churches were doing, and to encourage them in their journey of faith.
We know some of the places that Paul visited, because of the names of the letters he wrote: Corinthians to the people in the city of Corinth; Philippians to the people in the city of Philippi, Thessalonians to the people in the city of Thessalonica, and Galatians, to the people in the region of Galatia.
And then there is Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul had not yet been to Rome, but he wanted to write to the community of believers in Rome to let them know he was hoping to travel there soon. So this month we are going to be spending time in Romans, and we’ll get a chance to really dig into this amazing letter. And if you’re interested, I’d invite you to read through Romans with us.
Now Paul’s letter to the Romans is different than Paul’s other letters. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians, for example, he was mainly writing to address certain problems that had come up in those communities. But Romans is different. Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet, so he wasn’t writing to help them solve particular issues in their church. Rather, he wanted to give them a summary of his teaching, so they knew what to expect when he got there.
Now this letter was particularly important to Martin Luther because it was while reading Romans that he came to understand what we call the “doctrine of justification by faith alone.” In other words, it was through studying Romans that Martin Luther came to understand that God forgives us and accepts us into God’s family not because of anything we do or don’t do, but simply through faith, as a free gift of shear grace.
Today, we heard from the first chapter of Paul’s letter. And the first thing that stands out to me is the word “called.” Paul introduces himself like this:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus the Messiah, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel.”
Paul doesn’t say, “Hey I’m Paul, and my job is to be an apostle.” Or, “Hi, I’m Paul, and I was born to be an apostle.” Or even, “Hi, my name is Paul, and I work part-time as a tent maker, and part-time as an apostle.”
No. It’s “Paul, a servant of Jesus the Messiah, called to be an apostle.”
Huh. There must have been some experience in Paul’s life when he heard God calling him to be an apostle. And we know that’s true, right? We know that one day, when Paul was traveling on the road to Damascus, he experienced this blinding vision, and he received this powerful call from God, not only to believe in Jesus Christ but spend his entire life telling people about Jesus.
“Paul, a servant of Jesus the Messiah, called to be an apostle.”
And then Paul addresses his audience, and he says, “You, Gentile believers in Rome, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
Paul, called to be an apostle, writing to you, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Not, “you, who have chosen to believe in Jesus,” or “you who have passed the test and earned the title, ‘Christian.’”
“You who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
Christ has called you as his own. Christ has called you to be a part of his family. Christ has called you to belong to him.
And it’s not only the believers in Rome who are called to belong to Jesus. Here’s the big news that Paul’s bringing: everyone is called!
Paul makes that announcement in verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith!”
Right here, in the first chapter, Paul blows the whole thing open! God doesn’t love just a few people. God’s not happy for just a small group to be saved. God’s love is for everybody! And God has called everyone to be a part of God’s family!!
So this is Paul’s amazing message, the thing that he is so passionate about that God is calling all people through the gospel, through the good news of Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. God is calling everyone to be a part of God’s family.
And this is why God has called people like Paul to be apostles so that they can tell as many people as possible about Jesus. And when those people hear the good news when they hear what God has done for them in Jesus, that this free gift of grace, forgiveness, and salvation is available to them because of what God has done for them, that their hearts would be transformed by faith, and that they would come to believe and trust that God has truly called them into God’s family.
So as we read Romans together, we’re going to hear more about this, as Paul unpacks his understanding of what God is up to in the world. And we’ll hear why Paul is so convinced that the story of Jesus has opened up God’s gift of salvation to all people through faith.