One aspect that is common in life is that someone, somewhere is feeling down. In fact, it is more than someone, it is many someones (i.e., people). People are down. They are hurting. They are frustrated with life. Of course, that is true over the past 20+ months since COVID turned the world upside down in many ways, but it has always been true, and always will be.
The reasons for people feeling this way vary widely, but most all of us have experienced this type of feeling at some point. Maybe the issue is a loss of hope. Maybe it is feeling weak. Maybe it is not seeing a way out. Whatever it is, these types of feelings can be overwhelming to most anyone at some time, and to some people all the time.
Thankfully, God not only has an answer; He is the answer.
God can and does provide strength. That is evident in our passage today, but I don’t want that statement to sound trite. Someone who is hurting may hear something like, “Well, just trust God to get you through.” Sure, God can do that, but in that moment, that person may need practical help – and God may have sent you to provide that help.
But for that person in need, the answers are lacking. The choices seem restrictive. The possibilities are few. But, and I do not say this lightly, I say it with the full force of the gospel – But God!
God can and does provide strength. And God does provide answers…He just does not always do it when we want or how we expect Him to do so. But our passage today, the final verses of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, provides us with the truth that even when we cannot see the answer, God is working His plan. Again, I know that may sound like an answer derived from a simplistic view of faith, but let’s look at these last verses of Romans 16. As we do, I think you will find that the view is based upon faith, but it is faith based upon a Gospel that has always been a part of God’s plan. And knowing that should give us strength.
The Answer to the Mystery (v. 25)
Just as a reminder, the word gospel means good news. In ancient times, it was often used in reference to a battle, or even war, being won. When Greece, or later Rome, won a battle, the people shared the gospel (the good news) of victory. They wanted others to know the good news.
Over time, the idea of the gospel was applied to a man. Consider the following:
Providence…created…the most perfect good for our lives…filling him [Augustus] with virtue for the benefit of mankind, sending us those after a saviour who put an end to war and established all things…and whereas the birthday of the god [i.e., Augustus] marked for the world the beginning of good tidings [euangelion] through his coming… (1)
The word euangelion is the word for good news. In the English it looks very similar to evangelism, which is the sharing of good news. BUT…that quote was not about Jesus. It was written a few years before Jesus was born (about 9 BC), and it was about Caesar Augustus (who is mentioned twice in that paragraph).
Of course, Augustus was dead by the time Paul was writing, but the people of Rome would remember the idea of a savior and the gospel being tied well together. Only Paul was not just writing about a man, he was writing about the God-man, Jesus. And Paul began this letter the same he ended it.
Read Romans 1.1-4.
The gospel is good news. But it is not news that is about a military victory. It is about the ultimate victory that our Commander, our Lord, Jesus has won. And it is in Jesus that we can overcome – that we can have strength. That is good news indeed.
Verse 25 states that God is the one who gives strength according to the gospel of Jesus. (I will mention Paul’s use of my gospel in the Monday Discipleship Video.) Jesus came to make known to us, not only the promise of God, but the strength of God. The Old Testament contains a couple of stories of someone coming back from the dead, but in Jesus, we are promised new life, now and forever. The people of the Old Testament knew of something God would do, but they did not know what or how. To them, it was a mystery. Jesus is the answer to the mystery. And because of the good news of gospel of Jesus, we can find strength knowing that whatever may be hidden from us now, will be revealed by God at the proper time. Jesus is THE good news, but knowing that God has more for us, is its own form of good news as well.
The Cause of the Mystery (v. 26)
As I just mentioned, the Old Testament has references to God doing something in the future. Of course, the Israelites (and Jews as they were called later) believed in a coming messiah that would conquer other kingdoms and be a ruler, much like David had been. That idea brought hope for a future. But it was also challenging when not only year after year passed, but decade after decade, and century after century. The promise given to David about a ruler who would reign forever was given over 1000 years before Jesus was born. But Jesus did not reign as the people had expected messiah to reign. In fact, He still is not reigning in that way – yet. But a day is coming. Again, that is good news.
But the promise of a coming deliverer wasn’t just David. The reason for the mystery is that God had promised many people over many years that a new day, and a new way, was coming. The promise was given to Eve in Genesis 3. A promise was given to Abram in Genesis 12. The prophets wrote about this coming promise – this good news (i.e., the gospel) that would come. And the people waited. And waited. And waited. And…
Do you know what waiting does? It brings doubt. And when we doubt, we lose strength. We lose confidence which is strength in what will happen or the confidence to make it happen. We lose courage, which is the strength (or desire) to try to make something happen. We lose will, which is the strength of purpose to make something happen.
As I said, waiting causes us to lose strength. And the people of God waited and waited and waited some more. They waited not only for this mighty messiah, but even for anyone to deliver them from their everyday doubts and concerns. And the promised One of God did not come for generation after generation. And then when He did come, the Romans killed Him.
Again, God’s plan was a mystery. But the mystery was not just in what Jesus would do in overcoming death. The real mystery that Paul means is what God would do and when would it be done. And like I mentioned in the point above, Paul is repeating what he stated earlier (Romans 1.2).
For us, we should be thankful that we get to look back and see how the mystery was fulfilled. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own challenges…our own waiting…our own doubts. Thankfully, however, if we know God, and if we trust that what He said in the past will come to fruition, we can learn from the forefathers of our faith to wait just a little longer. Why?
The Outcome of the Mystery (vv. 26-27)
The reason we can wait is because the gospel is for everyone. The Gospel is about Jesus. It was promised long beforehand, but the Old Testament people of God (the Israelites/Jews) thought it was for them. But that kind of news is limited in its goodness. Good news that is truly good is news that can help anyone.
And the true outcome of the gospel about Jesus is that His death paid for sin. His resurrection means life after death is real. And His ascension means we can be with Him forever – in a place He is preparing for us.
That is the real outcome of the mystery. Jesus did not come for a select group of people. He came for all people. He came that we can all have a choice – we can choose ourselves, or we can choose Him.
Once again, we return to the beginning of this letter. Notice that Paul states in Romans 1.5-7 that this outcome, this gospel, this Jesus, is for everyone – all nations, and all who choose Him.
It is because of this mystery being revealed in the right way in the right place at the right time by the right person that Paul calls God the only one who is wise. It was God’s plan. It was God’s promise. And it was God’s purpose to make this mystery known that we might know Him.
I thought about entitling this message, The Mystery of How, Revealed Now. It may have been a catchy title, but the title is not the main thing. Jesus is. Jesus came to reveal God’s mystery that we might be obedient in faith (verse 26, cf. Rom 1.5).
In other words, when are waiting, or hurting, or struggling in some way, the revelation of Jesus is to allow us to be obedient in faith.
When we are down, when we have doubts, when we are losing hope, when we are losing strength, we are to remember that it is God that can strengthen us because we have faith in Jesus (verse 25).
The reality is that we can’t see what the future holds, but God can. You might be waiting. You might be losing strength. You might have many doubts. But God has a plan. God has a purpose. And in His time,
God will work it out for good – His good, not ours, but what God wants for us is better than we want for ourselves.
How do I know? Because He keeps His promises. Always.
I haven’t mentioned it until now, but notice Paul uses the words “according to” three times in this short passage.
- We are strengthened according to the gospel of God in Jesus. (v. 25)
- We know of the gospel according to what God revealed which had been a mystery. (v. 25)
- We are all welcome according to His command, if we will just choose Jesus. (v. 26)
But now, the real question is what will we do about it?
For those who have strength, we need to share that strength with others. For those who have their doubts about certain matters today, oftentimes the best way forward is to stop thinking for a bit and focus your attention on someone else.
Today, we are going to strengthen others, continuing the exercise that we began last week. We are signing cards (and writing a little note if you wish) and praying for each resident and staff member at the nursing homes in Rock Port and Tarkio. We will do this for another week or so until all are done, and then we will do something similar for another group.
As you sign, I do encourage you to say a short prayer for each recipient. We may have our own challenges and struggles, but taking this time to serve this group can remind us that the gospel is truly for everyone, and any one of these cards may make an eternal difference in the life of the person who receives it.
(1) Lewis, Naphtali, and Meyer Reinhold, eds. Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, 2 vols. New York: Harper & Row, 1955-1966, 2.64.