“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17.
As we shared in our last article, Romans 1:16-17 is thematic:
- I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ
- It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes
- For the Jew first and also for the Greek
- For in it (the Gospel of Christ) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith
- The just shall live by faith
We saw that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, “for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” God began with Abram –
“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
God made a solemn promise to Abram: He would make of Abram a great nation, He would bless Abram and make his name great. God also said that Abram would be a blessing. God said He would bless those who blessed Abram and curse those who cursed him. God also promised that in Abram all the families of the earth would be blessed.
We come now in our study of Romans to the full realization of that holy promise made thousands of years ago.
Paul started his letter to the Romans by stating that this Gospel, which is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, was promised through His prophets “in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh ...” The connection to David is powerfully Jewish. Matthew 1:1 reminds us of the direct connection from Jesus to David to Abraham – “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
Jesus, according to the flesh, was “of the seed of David,” which means He was Jewish by birth. So, how did this “gospel of God” go from being shared exclusively to Jews to “also for the Greek”?
All the Families of the Earth
We look to the Book of Acts to see how God expanded the blessing of the Gospel to “all the families of the earth.”
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2
This is the same Saul who consented to the murder of Stephen and headed up a severe persecution of followers of Jesus Christ (Acts 7 & 8). Saul was on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the synagogues of Damascus to arrest followers “of the Way” and bring them bound to Jerusalem.
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:3-6
The men who were traveling with Saul took him into Damascus where he remained blind and didn’t eat or drink for three days. While Saul was waiting to see what he would be told to do next, Jesus spoke to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.
“So the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Acts 9:11-12
Ananias was hesitant because of Saul’s reputation for persecuting followers of Jesus, but the Lord told him to go to Saul because He had a special purpose for him.
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16
Saul was a “chosen vessel” of Jesus Christ to “bear” His name before “Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” This is the first indication that God had something special planned to reach “all families of the earth” with the blessed Gospel. Though Saul (Paul) would always have a special place in his heart for his fellow Jews (e.g. Romans 9:1-5), he understood his special calling from Jesus to be an “apostle to the Gentiles” (e.g. Romans 11:13; 2 Timothy 1:11).
Acts 15 and Galatians 2 are powerful demonstrations of how Jesus used Paul to reach Gentiles with the Gospel of Christ.
“Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.” Acts 15:12
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
The Apostle Peter played a major role in convincing the Jerusalem Council of apostles and elders about the legitimacy of Paul’s calling to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
“Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:6-11
Peter reminded the other apostles and the elders that God had chosen him to preach Christ to a Gentile named Cornelius who was “a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1-2). God first demonstrated to Peter that He was doing something new to prepare Peter to preach to Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:9-16). God then demonstrated that the new outreach to Gentiles was His choice according to His sovereign purpose (Acts 10:44-48). Peter faced opposition to what he had done when he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-3) and explained to them that what had happened was God’s choice (Acts 11:4-18). After the apostles and elders heard Peter’s explanation in Acts 11, “they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).
Paul and Barnabas in Antioch
The next verse (Acts 11:19) begins a new section that follows the Apostle Paul and his ministry to Gentiles. Except for Acts 12 (Peter arrested) and Acts 15 (Peter speaks to Jerusalem Council), Peter is not mentioned again in Acts. Luke’s focus from Acts 13 – 28 is about how the Holy Spirit used Paul to fulfill the calling of Jesus Christ on his life –
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” Acts 13:1-4
That was the start of Paul’s missionary journeys to Gentile nations to begin preaching the Gospel of God to “all the families of the earth.” As we follow Paul and his companions in Acts, we see how the Holy Spirit guided them in reaching new people with the Gospel of God.
“Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Acts 16:6
“After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” Acts 16:7
“When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” Acts 19:21
“And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Acts 20:22-23
“When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Acts 21:11
The Book of Acts ends on a powerful note concerning Paul’s ministry to Gentiles. Soon after arriving in Rome, Paul was permitted to live by himself in a rented house with a soldier who guarded him. Three days after moving in to his new residence, Paul invited the leaders of the Jews in Rome to visit with him. He told them about being arrested and how he had appealed to Caesar. The Jewish leaders said they had not received letters from Judea concerning Paul and that no one had spoken evil about him. They were interested in learning more from him about the “this sect” (Christianity). They appointed a day to hear him and many Jews came to Paul’s house to hear from him. Paul talked from morning until evening about Jesus Christ from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Paul persuaded some of the Jews, but others did not believe him. They left Paul after he said this:
“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying,‘Go to this people and say: ‘Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ ‘Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!'” Acts 28:25-28
The Jews left Paul after he said those words and had a great dispute among themselves. Paul lived in his rented house for two years, “and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31)
In Paul’s own words, “the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” The Book of Acts comes to an end with a powerful demonstration of God’s purpose to save people from “all the families of the earth.”
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.