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Disciples and the Power of the Gospel
04/17/2005
Scripture: Romans 1:16
Track 2 of 11 in the Life-Changing Words series
Running time: 28 minutes, 48 seconds.


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


April 17, 2005 - Disciples and the Gospel

I learned a little bit about what it was like to try to find Madison Park's front door. I snuck out of the end of first service at Manchester Christian Church and Gail and I drove up to Concord, New Hampshire, where I was supposed to preach at a brand new church, Oasis Christian Church. They meet at Beaver Meadow Elementary School. There were signs nicely placed along the way pointing you to the school. I got to the school, I saw the sign, I drove in, I parked, and I started checking all the doors to figure out which one I could go in, and they are all locked. Well, I'm persistent besides the fact that I was supposed to preach. So we decided that well, maybe the sign that looked like it was pointing to the front door really wasn't pointing to the front door. It was pointing around behind the building. Now that's an odd assumption to make but we decided to take the journey. So we walked all around the back side of the building and low and behold we eventually came to a sign that said Oasis, enter here. So we did. It was a delightful experience with a one-year-old church in New England that's running about 125 on Sunday mornings and most of them are young married couples with kids and there were just kids everywhere in this gymnasium with acoustics that sound like a gymnasium. So bear with us, we're still in better shape than they are.

It was a delightful experience to be there and it's really kind of fun to have an opportunity to preach in a brand new place. So I was asked to preach particularly out of I Corinthians 1 and 2 where Paul raises lots of paradoxes, seeming inconsistencies between the wisdom of men and the word of God and the weakness of man and the power of God and there were just a number of things that I was asked to try to address. One of the things that I said to them I have said to you on a number of occasions. It's distinctly possible that you could come to church here on Sunday morning and not have a clue what's going on. Maybe because you just haven't been around us or you haven't been around church, nothing makes sense. But if you hang out long enough, if you just stay with this for a little while, it'll eventually begin to make sense because Jesus will begin to come alive in you and you begin to listen to him. I just simply suggested to them that if you get close enough to Jesus, if you get within listening distance, the spirit may actually have something to say to you. Well, interestingly enough when I got home I got this email from John Rose who is the preacher there, one of my former students. He says, "thank you so much for your message on Sunday. The guy sitting next to me was one of my co-workers from Best Buy. I hadn't seen him for over a year until three weeks ago when he called me and said that he wanted to come to church. Prior to Oasis he had been in church one time in his life. He told me that he was going to decide to really listen and try to learn what Jesus was about. He said that once he did that, everything that he was so abrasive toward went away and he began to see clearly and everything is becoming different. I think your message really helped validate what's been taking place in his life. Perfect timing." Well if there was anything perfect about the timing, just blame God for that. But it reminded me of the text that we're looking at this morning, Romans 1:16-17, that talks about the power of the word of God, the power of the gospel to impact lives.

In contrast to John's email, which really does validate the presence of what God is trying to do in the lives of people, I ran across this report from the Christian Science Monitor. It came out in May of 2004, so just about a year ago. It reports that there are over 100 different books that have been written that contain in their title the phrase "that changed the world." For example, "Gunpowder, the History of the Explosive that Changed the World," "Cod, a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World," "El Nino, the Weather Phenomenon that Changed the World," "Model T Ford, the Car that Changed the World," "The Twist, the Story of One Song and Dance that Changed the World," "Mauve, How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World." Well, color me a skeptic. But I do want to talk to you about a word that does in fact change the world. Romans 1:16-17 introduces us to a term, the term gospel. It's an intriguing word and it is an important word in the New Testament. In fact, the noun gospel which we sometimes see translated good news in our bibles is used somewhere in the ball park of 77 different times, 60 of those times by the apostle Paul, 10 times in the book of Romans alone. The verb form of that, to announce the good news or to preach the good news, is used another 54 times in the New Testament. It's a word that shows up somewhere around 125 times in our New Testament. It's not an unimportant word and it's right here at the heart of this text in Romans chapter 1. Look at verses 16 and 17 and then, if you will, keep your bible open because we're going to stay in this text this morning for the most part. Paul comes to the end of this opening paragraph and he says "I'm not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. Just as it is written, the righteous will live by faith."

Last week Matt preached a sermon on II Timothy 3:16-17 about the importance of scripture, how the word of God is alive and inspired by God, breathed out by him and is reliable, trustworthy word that has the ability to help everyone of us become the thing that God wants us to be. It's a powerful text that sets the stage for the next set of sermons that we're going to listen to about the words that scripture teaches us and a variety of ways that it impacts and transforms our lives. It is this powerful word from God that is reliable enough that we have no need to be ashamed of it. Paul simply says I am not ashamed of the gospel. I have no reason to fear the gospel. There is nothing about the gospel that would make me want to back away from it and not announce it. There's nothing about it that would prevent me from wanting to share it with somebody else because I know that this word has the power of God behind it to impact people's lives. I think about John's email and I think how appropriate to be able to say to somebody, if you just listen to God for awhile, it will start to make sense and have somebody say that's exactly what I did. I decided to put by guard down for a little while, let God have a chance to speak, and it's all starting to make sense. I don't know about you, but I have enough skeptic in me that I begin to wonder just how much we can depend upon our words to make a difference. Paul says I'm not ashamed of the gospel. It the power of God and the salvation to all who believe. He said that in a context that we know as ancient Rome. According to Seneca, one of their early Roman historians, someone who actually lived about the same time as the apostle Paul, in fact, coincided with the apostle Paul, Seneca wrote about the city of Rome, it's a cesspool of iniquity. Juvenal, another Roman historian who was born about the time that Paul was being put to death, just a few years after Paul's life in Rome made this comment about the city of Rome, it is a filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood. Writing to this city of sin Paul says I'm not ashamed of the gospel because I believe it has the power of God to change anyone who happens to hear it.

I just want to remind you about the harshness of sin, that sin is a vicious taskmaster, I would remind you of the guinea worm, although I'll not bother to show you the picture again of that nasty little thing coming out of people's legs, how easy it is to get infected by sin and how hard it can be to get sin out of our life, and yet here it is that the gospel is a stronger word than sin. Whatever your take on what's happening in the world today, particularly in Rome, does it not at least strike you as odd that here 2,000 years later after Paul has announced the gospel in this sin-infested city, that's the place where the Roman Catholic church will take up its residence in order to choose the next leader of their church. Paul says I am not ashamed of the power of the gospel.

I, I'm going to confess this. It hurts me to do this, but I actually watched the movie Hitch ... twice. I was forced into it both times, but it was a fun movie about a guy who was out to help men figure out how to treat women in such a way that they'll actually notice them and like them. And he's got a sure-fire means of doing that which obviously to make a movie, you have to have it backfire. But he goes at it with such absolute confidence. That's what amazes me. He's got this word that's going to change the lives of all the men in the world, and he believes it will actually happen. And for some it does. And then I was walking through the check-out line at WalMart, scanning all those academic magazines that are there by the check-out stand, and I saw one that said "Walk Off 60 Pounds by May." Now I don't know when that was put out, like 1980, or what, but I'm thinking, the skeptic in me says there's no way that you're going to keep that promise. There's something in us that frankly makes us just a little bit skeptical and a little bit gullible all at the same time. Down inside of us we know that no diet is going to drop 60 pounds in the next 6 weeks, alright? On the other hand, we want to believe that so bad we just might be willing to try. Paul says this word that comes from God is so ultimately reliable that you don't have to worry about whether it will do its job or not. I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to change people. And all you gotta do is just look in your bibles. Just look at the apostle Paul who wrote the statement. This is a man who went about killing Christians and here he is writing the gospel down. It transforms lives. My guess is that you're sitting in a room full of people about whom someone said one day, they'd never become a Christian and here you are.

There was a wonderful moment yesterday. We, some of us had the opportunity to share with the Andersons at Juanita's funeral. We were out at the cemetery where the funeral took place and this was a story that had not yet, I just discovered, had not yet been told. Joe and Juanita became Christians back in the early 1970s, 1970 and 1972. And the reason that they were attracted to the gospel was because they had a friend whose husband died and she bore that grief with such dignity and strength that they realized that she had something they didn't have, and they decided that they needed it. Now here 35 years later they're living out that same strength in the midst of grief because of the power of transformation in one person's life. Paul says I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God to transform people. And so we can trust it.

But we can also believe that that same word, that gospel word, gives us purpose in life. You see, it's the power of God to transform first the Jew, then the Gentile. Paul understood this word to be the word that was needed in order to really make a difference in anyone's life. Now it's true that as the gospel spread everywhere Paul went, he went first to God's chosen people, the Jewish nation. When they rejected the gospel, he opened the door to Gentiles and in Rome it's primarily a Gentile audience. People heard the gospel and they came to faith in Christ. Now it's interesting that Paul, by the way, when he writes the book of Romans, is not trying to just write a nice letter. Believe it or not, this is a fund-raising letter. Oddly enough, the apostle Paul is on a missionary journey and what he's trying to do is to get from where he is to Spain and, well, Rome's on the way, and so he's just gonna make a journey and he going to stop at Rome and he's gonna raise some money from the church at Rome and then he's going to head on over to Spain where he can preach the gospel. But it begins to just give you a sense of how strongly Paul feels about preaching, how it has so radically changed his life that it has given him absolute purpose and direction. If you read the first chapter and the fifteenth chapter, you would hear that language of travel and preaching. In fact in chapter 15, he's gonna say this, I want to go to Spain and preach the gospel because they've never heard it before. There's no sense staying around here where you've already heard the gospel. I'm gonna go some place where it's never been heard before. That was his driving purpose in life and the gospel had given him that kind of purpose. It strikes me that that is fundamentally important to everyone of us that we understand that God has given us purpose in life through the gospel of Jesus, that he has somehow placed us in unique relationships where what he is desiring is for us to live out the gospel in such a way that it has an impact on the world around us like it did through the apostle Paul himself.

However, he would never want you to misunderstand that this is about purpose, not about position. This is about having meaning in your life not about being meaningful yourself. It's really fascinating, the noun and the verb for good news is used 125 times, ballpark. There is another noun built on this same word that we often translate evangelist, the person who brings the good news. Fifty-four times the verb announce the good news occurs. You want to know how many times the word for evangelist, the one who announces it occurs? You can count them from where you are. Three. It's interesting to me that there is another word for announce. It's used 68 times, the verb is, to announce the gospel. The one who does the announcing? Three times. In this subtle use of language, it is very clear that God is saying it is the gospel that it important, not you. And yet, at the same time, we have to come to understand that without us God doesn't have a way to get this job done because he decided this was the way to do it. He would put it in our hands. He would make us to be a kingdom of priests who would represent him in this world, and he didn't have a second plan. If we don't get the job done, it just simply doesn't get done. Now if the gospel is the power of God to salvation, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, if it offers not only a reliable word that we can speak to our friends, it will in fact change their lives but also gives us meaning and purpose in our life, driving us to want to share that then we should expect the gospel to get results when we preach it. And it does.

But you want to be careful what you're anticipating here in the way of results. When you read Acts 2, the first time the gospel is every preached, Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost, he says you think this is a bunch of drunks just prattling about stuff? It's not. This is God doing his work like he said he would do it. In Joel 2 he preached about Jesus. He closed his sermon with this really positive statement. This Jesus whom you crucified God has made to be both Lord and Christ. And 3,000 people lined up at the baptistry steps. Now I haven't forewarned Bruce, but if 3,000 of you want to get through here, we're gonna have to really get at it. Five chapters later in Acts 7, Stephen, a man full of wisdom and the spirit, stood up and preached to a very similar audience a very similar message and he got results also. They took him outside of the city and they stoned him to death. The gospel always gets results. The only question is which kind of result it might happen to get in someone's life. This is a word from God that has power to change people and to give people purpose. Did you read with as much fascination as I did this Brian Nichols' story down in Atlanta. This fellow that went around shooting people and killing people and he grabbed a woman and he put her in her apartment, Alissa Smith I think was her name. For awhile he had her duct taped with her hands behind her and finally he let her talk and they got into a conversation and she pulled out Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life book and she began to read to him from chapter 33. I don't know what's in chapter 33 but boy, it must have been providential that God grabbed that one. And the next thing you know, he's turning her loose and testifying that it was the power of that that caused him to let her go. Isn't it fascinating how God sometimes works in those really strange ways when you're committed to his purpose? By the way, mark on your calendar September and October because we're going to do 40 Days of Purpose here, and we're going to read that book together and see if it will have the same kind of changing power in our lives as it did in her and his life. But it just reinforces that this gospel gives us a purpose, a message worth telling to people, that has the power to transform people's lives. My question this morning is really a very simply question. To whom do you need to announce this good news? With whom has God linked you in such a way that they have been placed in your hands, they have strategically been put together with you, that God desires for you to live out the gospel in such a way that it impacts them?

Here's a word from God. The gospel is the power of God to salvation to those who believe, first to the Jew and then to the Greeks, and then he goes on to say for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that comes by faith. See, this gospel not only gives us purpose and not only is a reliable word from God, but it is a word that reveals to us what it is that God is in the process of doing. He is in the process of revealing his righteousness to us and in us and through us and it's important in Romans to understand that this righteousness is not something that you have inherent in you. The very structure of Romans reminds us that God is a God of grace and that man is just frankly a mess. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the book of Romans are all about the fact that men are sinners. Romans 3 comes back, you can't get away from it. Chapter 3:10, is there anybody righteous? No, nobody. Chapter 3:23, we've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are a hopeless lot, we are. Chapters 4 and 5 talk about Abraham and Adam and Christ coming in their likeness to bring us grace from God. In fact, the chapter closes on grace. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 all about how God's grace enables us to live this righteous life effectively. Chapters 9, 10, and 11 all about God's grace in bringing Gentiles into the fold of God which, by the way, is most of you. Chapters 12 through 16, all about how grace looks in the life of a believer. But he starts with nothing. That's the fascinating thing. Romans 4:17 says that he brought something from nothing. It's fascinating when you talk about righteousness being produced in the life of a believer. It's not like he looks down inside your being and he finds all the little bits of righteousness that you have not quite lost and he pulls it together to make a righteous person. He looks at you and says there is nothing there. And then he imputes, that's the word, he imputes righteousness to you. This same word in Romans 4:17 is the word that's used in Genesis 1. Remember Genesis 1:1? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void. There was nothing there to start with and God just gave us the earth. And he took a look at your life and he looked for some righteousness and frankly, he couldn't find any, so he decided he'd just create some and give it to you. It's a marvelous act of God's grace to simply impute to us righteousness and Paul says that through the gospel God reveals to us this righteousness which we cannot earn, we cannot create, we cannot muster it through our effort. All we can do is allow God to give it to us and then turn around and live it out the best way we know how. And so Paul reaches back to the book of Habakkuk, this little three-chapter book in the Old Testament, this minor prophet, and he grabs one verse out of Habakkuk 2:4, the righteous shall live by faith and three times in the New Testament that one little verse gets quoted. It occurs here, in Galatians and in Hebrews. The just shall live by faith. See, you can't live by merit, you can't live because you don't have anything to offer. So the only thing you can do is accept the fact that God has given you righteousness and then live as if that's true. That is the nature of what it means to be a Christian to live by faith by faith in a God you can't see. To live by faith in a Savior who went to a cross which is like going to the gallows as a criminal. To live by faith in a world that at best misunderstands us and at worst opposes us.

Paul says I'm not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile, and it reveals to us a righteousness that comes from God. And he says the just, the righteous, the ones who've been justified by God live by faith. By faith in a gospel that transforms the lives of those who commit themselves to do it. And frankly, the key to that is just your own faithful attempt to be the person that God desires you to be. To come within listening distance of God and give him a chance to work in your life. To accept by faith a righteousness that can only be yours because God decides to give it to you and you choose in return to accept it. To make a decision that what you want from your life is nothing more than to live passionately for Jesus in such a way that the world recognizes in you something different than they see in anybody else. To just simply make the decision that you as God's person are going to live out this purpose in his life and you're going to let Christ be seen in you. And it's going to impact the world around you and it won't be because you necessarily choose to, it'll just be because of who you are. It will be that Christ is working in you and you will be thinking about how you can live out this faith and people will notice and they'll want to know what do you have that I don't have and it'll open up doors like you cannot imagine. So we're inviting you to live by faith, by faith in a God you may have never seen, by faith in a Christ that was a criminal by every standard of the world, by faith in a salvation that is an act of God's absolute free gift to you, and to make a decision to live that out as faithfully as you know how in a world that may not understand. We invite you to commit yourself passionately to Jesus. Would you stand with me?

[Transcribed by PU4]