February 3/4, 2018
Micah B. | Romans 15:8-13
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.—Romans 15:8–13
It is such a joy to be invited to speak at Bethlehem. Over the last four years, Bethlehem has truly become family. My wife and I recently finished the Nurture Program (Bethlehem’s program for equipping and affirming the Holy Spirit’s call to become global partners), and in May I will graduate from Bethlehem Seminary. Lord willing, we will move to the Himalayas soon after graduation to work toward church planting among Unengaged peoples.
During our first visit to Bethlehem, someone was commissioned to spend a few months in Thailand. I still remember what he said, “I am going in total weakness, I cannot do it on my own, please pray for me.” Four years later we are about to be sent out and we feel the exact same way. We are going in total weakness. We are so thankful to be part of a body that ...
There are two primary purposes of this sermon:
God, thank you that hundreds of thousands of people are coming to our city for the Super Bowl! Cause people to attend the outreach and speak your gospel message through Richie. Lord, let the people come for football and leave treasuring God above all else. Please, continue to work both here in Minneapolis, through Bethlehem, and around the world. Thank you that you have burdened Bethlehem with this goal to see worshipers of God raised up from all over the world, particularly to places with no access to the gospel. Spirit, come in power. Speak through me and help us delight in your word today. Help us to see more clearly your love for the nations. Continue to raise up your Church to go and make disciples. Thank you that we are not the end goal of missions! You alone deserve all glory among the nations. Amen.
Before explaining our goal of engaging 25 unengaged people groups by the year 2025 I want to define some of the terms.
Nation or People Group: In the Bible, people groups or nations are divided by a combination of territory, language, religion, and ethnicity.1 “Nation” or “people” group is not synonymous with “country.” For example, there are 260 different people groups in the country of Cameroon.2 Typically, for the purpose of missions, nations are defined as groups of people with ethnic, linguistic, or cultural differences that do not allow the gospel to spread.
Unreached: Less than 2% Christian. Not enough Christians to adequately share the gospel with the majority of the people (many of the people in these groups have never heard the gospel).
Unengaged: “These are groups where, as far as is known to researchers at present, there are no full-time Christian workers attempting to do evangelism and church planting.”
A helpful way to explain “unengaged” is “no person and no plan.”
25 x ’25 Unengaged
A little over one year ago we lifted up cards with the names of unengaged people groups to pray for. Where has Bethlehem gone from there?
From the start we knew this goal would be extremely difficult—impossible—on our own. Although we haven’t officially engaged any people groups, we are seeing many exciting outcomes. Since the kick-off of this goal, four exciting outcomes have been …
Plan of Engagement
There are two ways that we, Bethlehem, consider engagement:
The work is extremely difficult. These places are unengaged for a reason. The places are challenging, the people often stubborn and confined to demon worship (in one form or another), and Satan is vehemently opposed to light of the gospel.
One thing we know is that we cannot do this on our own. We can do nothing apart from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit must work to open doors and send laborers into this field and open blind eyes and awaken deaf ears to the gospel. We must continue to pray earnestly that God would send more workers.
My wife and I recently took a trip to the Himalayas in South Asia to scope out a place to work as global partners. While we were there, we took a two-day trek into the mountains to visit different villages. Many of these villages have never heard the gospel.
These places are not easy to get to. After a 25-hour flight to South Asia and another flight into the remote city, we met with several of the missionaries and the local pastor. So there we were, beginning a trek into the mountains, and we had no idea what to expect. After several hours of driving around narrow, steep roads that clung to the side of the mountains (and a wife battling morning sickness), they pulled to the side of the road. And we were off! We started trekking for a while through these little paths in the mountains. Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, we came across a group of little houses with people scattered all around.
When the team we were with arrived, we found one of the older men of the village and began a conversation. In the language, someone would ask, “May we share the good news with you?” Intrigued by this strange conglomeration of westerners and natives, they would gladly accept the opportunity to listen.
We watched as my friend began to share with this man. Within two minutes, people began to come out of their houses. Soon there were 30 people standing around to hear this message. We stood amazed that many of these people were hearing the gospel for the first time.
The people in the village responded politely, but what must they have been thinking?!? To hear for the first time that, as the pastor said, “The one God of the universe, creator of all, became human so that we could know him.” … What kind of God is this?!? He took our curse and shame that we deserve because of our sin and died in our place, and then he rose from the dead defeating our sin and shame in order to bring us to God?!?
The people listened and smiled and were willing to add this Jesus to their pantheon of gods. These people had no idea of the supremacy of this God we shared with them about. They had no idea of the beauty of the storyline of the Bible.
On this journey, we visited just four villages in this area. Further into the mountains, there are whole people groups where there is no person and no plan.
Like several of these groups in the mountains, more than 1,000 unengaged people groups around the world have no access to the good news—whole people groups that have never heard the name of Jesus. People are dying without even hearing the gospel.
These few matter to Jesus, which is one of the reasons Bethlehem has included a focus on the unengaged people groups.
The Apostle Paul felt this burden and that God has a plan for these nations. Let’s look at Romans 15:8–13.
In Romans 15:8, we pick up from the context that Paul exhorts the church to unity. He pleads for unity between the weak and the strong brother, and now addresses division between Jews and Gentiles (Gentiles in this context refers to every nation or people group that are distinct from Israel). A tension existed between the Jews and Gentiles. In 15:7, Paul exhorts the Jews and Gentiles within the church to welcome one another. In 15:7, Paul exhorts, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
So we come to our passage from a context where Paul is urging unity and mutual love.
We pick up in Romans 15:8 with the conjunction “for.” Paul gives the reason to strive for unity among believers in verse 8. Live in unity “for/because Christ has become a servant to the circumcised,” (a reference to the Jews). Christ came to the earth as a servant for two reasons (the two main points of our sermon) Here is the main point of the text: Christ became a servant to the Jewish people ...
God’s glory is at the center of this text, book, and whole Bible!
A. Implications of Christ as Servant
The first time I read this, I skipped right over the first part that Christ became a servant. Christ became a servant?!? The one whom Paul writes about in Colossians 1:15–19 as ...
The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. The one by whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. The one who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together. Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, the preeminent one. In whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
He has become a servant to the Jews?!? He entered this world as a little Jewish baby boy. He did this in order to bless both Jews and all the nations of the world. By becoming a servant, he made a way for us to know and have a relationship with God.
B. He Shows God’s Truthfulness to the Patriarchs (Covenant Promises)
Christ became a servant to show God’s truthfulness to the Patriarchs. What were the promises given to the patriarchs that Paul is recalling? I am glad you asked :) In Romans 4:16, Paul specifically recalls God’s promises to the patriarch Abraham that he gave in Genesis. And in this context of Gentiles being blessed through Israel, Paul is alluding back to the same promise. God promised that Abraham and his offspring would be blessed and that they would be a blessing to all the families (Genesis 12) and all of the nations (Genesis 18). Understand that this blessing applies today through Jesus, from the nations in the Himalayas, to the peoples of Cameroon and Indonesia, to those in America—even us; we are some of the Gentiles that are glorifying God for his mercy. We are entering a mission that has been going on since Abraham.
Christ became a servant to the Jews to show that God would keep his promise to bless Abraham’s descendants (Israel) and the nations.
2. Christ became a servant, so that the nations would glorify God for his mercy.
Paul spends the majority of his time on this point.
God gets glory when the nations repent from sin and believe in Jesus. The nations will turn to worship this God and glorify him for his mercy.
This is the climax of the passage. God chose to use the special relationship he had with the Jews to bring the nations (the Gentiles) to worship. Since the beginning of redemptive history God has always intended to save the nations through Christ and welcome them into the church.
Testimony of Scripture (Romans 15: 9b–12)
Paul cites four different OT passages that emphasize that the Gentiles (nations outside of Israel) will worship Christ along with Israel. Notice that Paul quotes from three key writers of the OT (King David, Moses, and Isaiah), the three divisions of the OT (law, prophets, and writings) to show the centrality of this message throughout all of redemptive history. This is not an afterthought but a central theme that runs through the “big story” of the Bible!
Each OT declaration deserves its own sermon, but I am going to fly through them and show Paul’s argument. (I commend them for your further study).
Each quote helps support Paul’s assertion that the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy.
Quote 1 (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50)
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”—Romans 15:9b
David praises God among (in the midst of) the Gentiles (David worships among Gentiles).
Quote 2 (Deuteronomy 32:43)
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”—Romans 15:10
Gentiles are commanded to rejoice/worship YHWH along with the Jews. (Command)
Quote 3 (Psalm 117:1)
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”—Romans 15:11
Command for all the nations (panta ta ethne) to worship the Lord. (Command)
Quote 4 (Isaiah 11:10)
“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”—Romans 15:12
Christ is specifically identified as the hope of the nations. (Nations will worship)
These OT quotations are building to this final verse in Isaiah. Isaiah prophecies about Jesus the “the root of Jesse” and the “one who rises,” who will rule over the nations.
Gospel Implications of Hope in Christ
What does it mean that the “root of Jesse” is the hope of the nations?
Our hope is in the sinless “root of Jesse,” that is Jesus Christ, who took on flesh (became human) and dwelt among (hung out with) humans. We have hope because Jesus took the punishment for our sins (the wrath of God) upon himself and died the death we should have. BUT Jesus was raised from the dead as the “one who rises”3 so that we can know (have relationship with) God. This is why the nations in the Himalayas can have hope, this is why we can have hope. Jesus is the object of the hope for the nations.
Paul concludes the section with a prayer.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.—Romans 15:13
Hope is a key theme in this text. Look at Paul’s emphasis on hope throughout this chapter. Earlier, in Romans 15:4, Paul explains that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Hope here is not a blind sense of trust. Like, I hope I win the lottery or I hope the Vikings win. Hope here refers to “looking forward to something with a reason for confidence of fulfillment.”4 The object of hope is crucial. If we hope that we win the lottery, we have or we should have an extremely small hope. If you hope in the Vikings, well … you will be disappointed, but when we hope in God, we find full assurance, confident hope, mature hope, knowing that he has and will always fulfill his promises.
Paul’s Application: Paul goes to the Gentiles (Romans 15:20–21)
Paul lays the foundation that Christ is the hope of all nations and out of this foundation, seven verses later, he explains his missionary call. He says in Romans 15:20–21 …
And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
‘Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.’”
Since Christ is the hope of the nations, Paul is able to say that one of his main objectives in ministry is to preach Christ “where he has not been named.” This does not mean that Paul neglects teaching or discipling (he is doing this with the church in Rome that he is writing to), but a central aspect of his calling is to proclaim the gospel where there is no person and no plan to see the growth of the church.
This is not an indictment of those who have a different ministry focus (theological education, counseling, or community development) but a call for the church to have a specific concern to go to places where Christ has not been named.
Paul’s pioneer church planting ministry is fulfilling this OT prophecy that the Gentiles would see and understand the message about the suffering Servant.
Paul did not finish the mission. There are still nations that have never heard and whole peoples who have not seen.
To conclude, rather than a plea to go and do … let’s rejoice in God’s promises. God will fulfill the promises given to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through him—this includes nations today! We are a part of a winning mission!
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.—Psalm 86:9
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”—Revelation 5:9
Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”—Matthew 16:18
We, Bethlehem, are not sending people to unengaged peoples because to ease feelings of guilt, or because we want to “feel special,” or because it is the popular thing to do (it’s not). We are sending families for the glory of God! There are whole nations that are not glorifying God for his mercy. They cannot, because they have never heard.
John Stott wrote, “The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.”5
God will get all the glory!
Oh that Bethlehem would continue to be a part of God’s mission of going and making disciples from all the nations. Engaging the unengaged will not be easy. This is a call for parents to disciple and encourage their children to go, families to implore God to see if he would send them, whole small groups to consider the call together. This is also a call for the church to continue to partner with global partners in prayer, finances, care, and sending them in a manner worthy of God.
Christ has certainly not called everyone from Bethlehem to go to an unengaged people group. He has not even called every global partner to work among unengaged people groups. This is not a higher calling! But we are all called to listen to God and be willing. We must never say, “I would never do that” before asking God where he wants us. Some are not able to go. Some are called to minister and work here, but all must be a part of God’s plan through the church to make disciples of all nations. Even if you aren’t called to live among the unengaged, you can have an impact and partner with those working with the unengaged. Here are five ways to get involved:
What motivates us to go? God will fulfill his promises to the Patriarchs. The nations will glorify God for his mercy. Christ is the hope of the nations! Let us join God’s mission to make disciples for his glory and our joy!
God, you are the majestic King of the universe! You spoke, and the earth was formed. Your Spirit illuminates truth to your children. Thank you that we have access to the gospel, that we can be united to Christ—oh what a glorious mystery. Thank you for adopting us as children. Save those who do not know or delight in you. Bring glory to yourself by raising up more individuals to proclaim the Good News around the world (specifically to places where your name has not been heard). God, would you call people today who have never considered going? Would you allow us to be part of your mission of making your name known all around the world for your glory and our joy? Thank you that you will save someone from every tribe, tongue, and nation! Amen.
1. Daniel Block notes that people groups are biblically divided by “ethnicity, territory, religion, politics and linguistics (Block, “Nations.” ISBE, pp. 492–494).
2. See details on Cameroon at peoplegroups.org.
3. Paul uses this verb five times throughout his writings, three clearly refer to resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 2 Thessalonians, one references someone rising to play (1 Corinthians 10:7), and our text, which Moo and others suggest references Jesus as the one who rises from the dead.
4. Hope: The looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation: esp. pert. To matters spoken of in God’s promises (BDAG).
5. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today; Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), p. 53.