Good News!

Reading: Romans 1.1-17

There is an old story about two men who met in town one day.

Pat said, “I went up in an aeroplane yesterday, Mick.”

To which Mick replied, “Ah, that’s good, Pat, that’s very, very good!”

“But it wasn’t that good, Mick, ’cause when we were ’way up there the engine cut out and I had to jump out.”

“Ah, that’s bad, Pat, that’s very, very bad!”

“But it wasn’t that bad either, Mick, ’cause I was wearin’ me parachute.”

“Ah, that’s good, Pat, that’s very, very good!”

“But I wouldn’t say it was good either, Mick, ’cause when I pulled the cord the wretched thing didn’t open.”

“Ah, that’s bad, Pat, that’s very, very bad!”

“But it wasn’t that bad either, Mick, ’cause I landed in the middle of a haystack.”

“Ah, that’s good, Pat, that’s very, very good!”

“But it wasn’t that good, Mick, ’cause the farmer’s pitchfork was pokin’ up just where I landed.”

Good news?! Bad news?! “How are you going today?” “Terrific! Wait till I tell you about it!” “Rotten! Why did you have to ask?” “Well ... Just so so – things could be a lot better’!’

News is important to most of us. We buy the daily newspaper, tune in to the news broadcasts or watch that most popular of TV programmes − The News.

We can react to The News in a number of different ways. Some people just don’t listen to it. They maintain their personal happiness by shutting it out, by refusing to know what is happening about them. Others are satisfied that the bad things that happen are at a distance from them or their loved ones. Some people feed on it, the way they also feed their minds on fiction. Others allow it to nourish depression, to justify pessimism.

The news was not so good

Things were pretty grim in the Roman empire in Paul’s time. Perhaps it was as well for them that they didn’t have today’s news media!

I suspect the official “criers” of the day did their job well enough – letting people know what the imperial armies were doing, what the Senate in Rome was doing about taxes, what disease or pestilence was spreading, what natural disasters had occurred...

But for all the pomp and grandeur of Rome, the social gossips of the time brought another message – with thoroughness and accuracy! – a message about corruption in society. No royal commission to comment on the Emperor or the senators or the army commander! For everyone knew – knew in their hearts – that it was in them all!

That doesn’t mean they were worried by the news. Perhaps they even felt justified that it was so widespread! In fact, for many it had become their religion. After all, don’t the gods behave the very way we do?

So they gave themselves to a liberated sexual lifestyle. Fidelity in marriage was regarded as optional. Homosexuality – male and female – was accepted and common. Wickedness, evil, greed and depravity were everywhere – envy too, and murder, strife, deceit and malice. They were all too ready to slander others and arrogantly justify their own behaviour. They seemed to invent new ways of doing evil ...

That report comes from the apostle Paul in the latter part of Romans chapter 1. And, just in case his self-righteous Jewish readers got the wrong message, he went on to make sure that they understood that this corruption was in them too – “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God;  if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” (2.17-21a).

Paul, in fact, concludes that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3.23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (6.23a)! That’s bad news! And it’s not something to be smug or complacent about!

But there is good news

We sometimes feel that the person who believes in good news today must be ignorant or malicious or mad. Of course, you’ve got to keep up hope – or perhaps you will go mad! We console ourselves that things can’t get much worse, that good times are just around the corner!

Paul the apostle believed there is good news – believed it in full awareness of human evil and acknowledging that “it’s not just them, but me too!”

Just listen to him – “I am 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” (1.16). (That last bit about Jew and Gentile, by the way, wasn’t added to make the Jews feel good! They were rather slow to acknowledge their need of salvation! God had been trying for centuries to get them to see their need alongside the rest of the world.)

This good news focuses on Jesus, who was not just “another good guy”, but the very Son of God (1.2-4), come into this world because of the incredible love of God and the dire need of the human race! God desires to draw us back into a positive relationship, desires so much that he has sent his own Son – the second Person of the Trinity – to live our life, to die our death – the wages of our sin – so that we can receive the gift of his love – eternal life (6.23b)!

From time to time we read in the papers that a car manufacturer is recalling all of a particular model – a potentially serious fault has shown up and needs to be corrected.

And here we have the Maker himself stepping in to take action over a fatal fault in human nature – ours not his! And he lives our life the way it always ought to have been lived. Then he dies the death that ought to happen to us because of the disaster we have been. That wasn’t the end of him – as it would have been for us – and it wasn’t the end of the matter either, because he now says, “You can be forgiven. You can be a new person. I am offering you the gift of eternal life!”

So what do you do with a gift?

According to the old saying, you should “never look a gift horse in the mouth” – to check its age. We shouldn’t be finding fault with something freely given.

God’s gift, however, will stand “looking in the mouth”! The Gospel record passes careful scrutiny and thought. The person and work of Jesus Christ prove to be authentic.

But the question remains – what do you do with a gift? More specifically, what do you do with “the gift of God” which “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6.23)?

One day the disciples of Jesus were arguing about which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus took a child and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3). Change – or repent – and become like little children! How do our children respond to a gift? They receive it and open it and use it!

And Jesus calls us to repent – to change the direction of our lives from ourselves and our way to God and his way – to receive the gift of forgiveness that he died to make possible and to allow this gift to transform us into what we were always meant to be.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . .”

Let’s receive this gift ourselves! And let’s share it with others!

Lord Jesus, I need you. You see all my rebellion and sinfulness. You know me and love me. You took the penalty for my sins on the cross. I trust you as my Saviour and desire to obey you as my Lord. Come into my life, Lord Jesus! Teach me how to live. Help me to share your good news with others. Thank you for all that you are and all that you have done! Amen.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Halifax & Ingham, 12 July 2009
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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