Romans Lesson 148 - Decorated With Stars
The Apostle Paul doesn't give us black and white answers when it comes to issues of Christian liberty. But how could he? There was no such thing as internet and movies and alternative music back in those days! Instead, he supplies us with Biblical principles that transcend every social context generation. He doesn't tell us how to act . . . he tells us how to think.
“Decorated With Stars”
In April of 1940, German tanks rumbled across the borders of yet another peaceful European country. Hitler’s voracious appetite had created a feeding frenzy as the German forces attempted to both conquer all of Europe and also kill all the Jews.
He already possessed control of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Now they rumbled into Denmark, a relatively small nation which could never stand up against the war machine of Germany.
As part of their systematic method of intimidation and oppression, the Germans announced that every Dane of Jewish descent would be required to wear a yellow Star of David. Any Jew who failed to comply would be executed on the spot.
The Star of David, a symbol of their faith, would be used to mark them so they could be robbed of their possessions, their dignity, and even their lives.
The Danish government and its people were in no position to do battle, but their leader, King Christian the 10th, made a bold request to prevent the Nazis from persecuting the Jewish people among them; a request that would risk his own life, and everyone who went along with him. The Danish king called for every one of his subjects to begin wearing the Star of David.
Every one of them were asked to pin a Star on their shirts and blouses and jackets. Can you imagine such a request?
They knew of the concentration camps. They knew that the Germans were intoxicated by national arrogance and demonically inspired hatred for the Jew.
They had heard of the lyrics Hitler’s troops changed as they went from city to city – searching for Jews to rob and rape and carry away.
The lyrics, translated into English, went roughly like this:
Sharpen the long knives on the pavement stone.
Sink the knives into Jewish flesh and bone.
Let the blood flow freely.
What would the Danish subjects do?
What would you do, if you lived in Denmark, during 1940.
What would they do?
There is a legend that in spite of the tremendous fear that would have gripped their hearts to take such a stand, on the morning they were to venture from their homes and be accounted for, what the German troops saw was almost too hard to believe. There were Stars of David everywhere. Brown headed Gentiles and red-headed alike all wore Stars on their clothing. They all claimed to be of Jewish origin.
The Jews among them wept when they saw this incredible, life-risking act of love and support.
I have read accounts that this act by the Danes is only a legend, and I have read accounts that it actually happened.
We do have this amazing statistic. As a result of the resistance of the Danish citizens to the German army, and their insistence that Jews were equal to Gentiles, while 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, only 51 of them were from the country of Denmark.
Adapted from several internet sites on the Holocaust as well as John Maxwell, The Power of Partnership in the Church quoted in preachingtoday.com, 2006
All because the Danish citizens stood that day decorated with stars.
In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is making an appeal – like King Christian the 10th – for the church to be bound into one people.
That everyone should stand, decorated with the emblems of unity and love and truth.
For the enemy is on the move. Marching from church to church – from home to home – seeking someone to devour. His appetite is insatiable. His hatred for the people of God has no limit.
One of the greatest defenses against the enemy of the church is the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.
The declaration of our mouths and the demonstration with our lives, that the ground, at the foot of the cross, is level. We are together in this.
As hard as it is to imagine for us, the first century would have been a difficult place for Jew to stand next to the Gentile; for the Gentile to worship with the Jew.
No wonder, in the center of these 36 verses we have been studying, there is the cry of the Apostle, who represents the cry of the Holy Spirit – “Accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)
To make matters even worse, you have the clash of culture – between the Jewish way of life and the Gentile way of life.
How do you treat those within the church who are different, and who have different opinions, than you do?
Live by the principle of:
Finally, the last of the principles I find in this text as we wrap up our study of Grey Matters, the Principle of Reception.
Webster defined receive (or reception) as: to take into one’s possession . . . to accept.
Webster’s New World Dictionary (Southwestern Company, 1964), p. 619
As we take one final look at this text and its theme, Paul will encourage Christians in any century to receive – to take into one’s possession . . . you could even say, to embrace three things.
First of all, if we want to know how to get along – even when we disagree, we have to;
Embrace the Scriptures
And when you embrace the scriptures, you will discover that your life is not hopeless!
Notice Romans 15:4. For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
For Paul’s audience, this would have primarily referred to the Old Testament. It was all they had.
Paul has already made clear that the ceremonial requirements and festivals and Sabbaths of the Old Covenant are no longer requirements for the believer in the New Covenant – Romans 14:5 through 6. However, all of God’s revelation – Paul wrote, is profitable to equip the believer for every good work – literally, to provide the supplies you’re gonna need for life – 2 Timothy 3:17.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers that the Israelite experience in their exodus from Egypt was written down and so that we would have their example and not follow it. He wrote, “Now these things happened to as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they craved (I Corinthians 10:6) and further in verse 11, Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction.
You want to know how to live?
- Study the exodus of the Israelites.
- Read the challenges of Daniel.
- Feel the loss of Job.
- Watch Hosea respond to the unfaithfulness of his wife.
- Stand by as Gideon steps out in faith.
- Join in as the Israelites sing their song of faith as they walk around Jericho.
- Feel the agony in the heart of Nehemiah for his beloved homeland.
- Listen as Joseph refuses his employer’s wife.
Has it ever occurred to you that the Living Word – the Lord Jesus quoted the written word three times as He faced the devil, himself. And to all three temptations Christ responded to Satan with 3 verses – all 3 of them from the Book of Deuteronomy.
I had a radio listener recently write me complaining that I was preaching out of the Old Testament. He said, “I thought you were a Christian and a Baptist – what are you doing preaching out of the Old Testament?” I thought – if he only knew.
The message of Paul to the Romans and us is clear – both Old and New Testament are the words of God – together they offer hope to the student of the word.
David sang in the Psalms of Old Testament scripture with these lyrics:
- My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Thy word (119:25).
- My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Thy word (119:28)
In other words, embrace the scriptures – for in them you discover hope.
You want hope? Take scripture to heart.
David wrote further in his 119th hymn,
- I will speak of Thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be ashamed; and I shall delight in Thy commandments, which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments, which I love . . . remember the word to Thy servant, in which Thou has made me hope. (119:46-49)
You want to know how to live and how to walk – here is the manual for life.
Is it any wonder that the enemy so attacks the word of God.
Rich Tatum told the story of the faith of one little girl in the word of God, in spite of her pastor who was feeling a little mischievous one Sunday. He saw her standing outside the preschool Sunday school classroom between Sunday school and worship, waiting for her parents to come and pick her up for “big church.” The pastor noticed that she was clutching a big storybook under her arm. He knelt beside here and asked, “What’s that you have in your hand?”
She answered, “This is my storybook about Jonah and the whale.”
“Tell me something – do you really believe that story about Jonah and the whale?”
I sure do.
He went on, “you mean to tell me you believe a man can be swallowed by a big whale, stay inside him all that time and come out alive?”
She declared, “Yes sir! This story is in the Bible and we talked about it in Sunday school today.”
The pastor said, “Can you prove to me this story is true?”
She thought for a moment and bit her lip and then said, “Well, when I get to heaven, I’ll ask Jonah for myself.”
The Pastor asked, “And what if Jonah’s not in heaven?”
She said, “Then you can ask him.”
Adapted form Rich Tatum, Carol Stream Illinois: cited in preachingtoday.com
Embrace the Bible. It is God’s instruction manual for life.
I typically share with my GreenHouse class about the summer of my freshman year of college. My parents were building a modest ranch on a couple of acres and moving from the home where I had lived my entire life. Every day we would go out to the site and note the progress. It seems painfully slow, much like the building project we are now beginning to see take place on our church property.
Every day this week, I have driven past the field out front, to see if that hole is any bigger. I am convinced they are moving the dirt with a spoon. Not nearly fast enough.
I remember when the framing of my parent’s home was all finished and work on the inside was beginning to take shape.
One day as my father and I walked into the house and we noticed they had begun laying the brick for the fireplace in the family room. They had laid the brick up to about waist high. We both stopped and stared at it and then said, “Does it seem crooked to you?” We called the contractor who came in and took one look at it and said, “It’s crooked.” And he ordered his crew to tear it down to the hearth.
The next afternoon we returned to check on the progress and, of course, walked right in through the kitchen door and looked across the room, into the family room and the fireplace. It had been rebuilt to about 4 feet. We stood and stared – and once again, said, “Doesn’t it seem crooked.” We called the contractor again and he drove over to take a look and immediately said, “I can’t believe it, they are building it crooked again.”
He called the crew and told them to tear it down – all the way down to the flooring and start over.
A couple of days later we returned and marched in and immediately sized up the fireplace, which by this time was all the way to the ceiling.
And it was perfectly straight.
My father asked the contractor what made the difference, the third time.
He said these intriguing words that I’ve never forgotten. He informed us that this particular crew was young – and on this third attempt, he had stayed behind to personally work with them.
That contractor illustrates the role of scripture. We are inexperienced in life.
So much of what happens to us happens for the first time.
There are no summa cum lauds’ in the faith.
In fact, there is no such thing as a graduation for believers from the school of pain and difficulty and growth . . . this side of heaven; and it is impossible to audit any of the classes while you are on your way there.
The word of God has been given to help you construct meaning and hope out of life.
It is intended by God to instruct you – the Greek word Paul uses in verse 4, translated “instruction” is didaskalia – which means that the scriptures are the teaching instrument which reveal both act and content for holy living.
Readers Greek New Testament, (Zondervan, 2003), p. 356
This is what you believe. But don’t stop there - this is how you are to behave.
You need to remember that the proof of Christianity is not what you believe, but how you behave. The world couldn’t care any less about what you believe. Your Bible is only one of many supposed sacred writings. The convincing testimony of Christianity is not this Book, it is this Book applied in your life.
It isn’t a creed . . . it is your character!
Adapted from Leadership Magazine, William Woodfin, Volume 8, no. 1.
So embrace the scriptures.
Secondly, not only are we to embrace the scriptures, we are to embrace the saints.
And discover our hearts are never homeless.
Notice verse 5. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
When you embrace the scriptures you discover that your life will never be hopeless.
When you embrace the saints you discover that your heart will never be homeless.
Paul is not calling here for us to simply accept new believers into our church fellowship, although that would certainly be included in this admonition. He is calling on all Christians to accept one another in the fullest and deepest sense; to treat each other with love and understanding, just as Christ also accepted us.
John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 318
In this immediate context, the Jew and the Gentile were to move past their prejudice – even though it was rooted in centuries of discrimination and bigotry and partiality.
But this is our nature – in any century.
We not only pander to be part of a group, but what we really like is when we’re part of an exclusive group.
When we’re it!
The Jews believed they were it!
The Gentiles argued that they were not it – in this new era of grace.
Have you ever flown first-class? How do you feel when they announce, “Now boarding all first class passengers.”
You’re part of an exclusive group of people.
My wife and I flew with a missions team from Colonial to France several years ago to visit a mission station and a church that we supported.
Cramped quarters . . . I ate more peanuts than an elephant would ever want.
Well, we discovered at the counter that the airlines had somehow separated Marsha and I on the flight home – they told us to wait while they found two seats together and then, to our surprise, they said, “We’re going to seat you both in first class.” Oh my, this wasn’t a short flight to Charlotte – this was from France to Raleigh.
I never knew the difference between first class and the cattle car where they feed you peanuts like you’re an elephant.
That’s ‘cause they always shut that curtain. Now I know why – we would have mutinied if we’d known.
We were presented with warm towels to wipe our hands before the meal . Even before lift-off we were sipping Sprite. Our meal was served on china and crystal. I couldn’t help but think of the people in the back eating cold sandwiches. We had a menu . . . then chocolate mousse for dessert . . . magazine and newspaper selections . . . leather seats that reclined.
I felt so bad for the rest of our missions team – it’s true, I even went back to see if some of them wanted to switch places. Course they’d have been kicked out of the church if they did.
We felt elite. We had special treatment that everyone else around us had to pay a small fortune to receive.
It was fun.
James says, “You’re holding a church service and a man walks into the assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing.” Human nature says, ‘treat that man differently’ . . . he deserves to sit in the first class section – which in church means the back row. You gotta come early to get the best seats in the house.
And a poor man walks in and you say to him, ‘have a seat on the floor.’ James then asks, “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves?” (James 2:2-4)
That’s our nature.
No wonder we need a new one. Where we discover that the ground is level at the cross of Christ. Where we discover our brotherhood in the saving gospel of grace.
A unity based, not on Adam’s blood, but Christ’s.
Not of flesh, but of faith. A unity not by our first birth, but by our second.
Ralph Lauren, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel, 1948), p. 476
If you went back through just the first 8 verses of Romans 15, you could easily develop a profile of a healthy church:
- It’s a place that offers refuge and strength for needy people (v. 1)
- It’s a place of instruction, where our lives are built up (v. 2)
- It’s a place focused on the glory and sacrifice of Christ on our behalf (v. 3)
- It’s a place of encouragement where the scriptures are taught (v. 4)
- It’s a place of unity where the ground is level among us (v. 5)
- It’s a place of worship where we glorify God in unison (v. 6)
- It’s a place of acceptance where the pattern of Christ becomes of model (v. 7)
- And a place of humility where the servant spirit of our Lord becomes our goal (v. 8).
If that sounds like work! It is!
That’s why if you’re looking for the ideal church, you need to keep visiting around.
Anybody can embrace the ideal church; the challenge here is to embrace the real church.
You could paraphrase verse 7 to read, Embrace one another as Christ has embraced you.
As if to remind us, “Do you think Christ embraced you because you deserved it?” That’s not grace! That’s compensation.
Grace is undeserved kindness.
Grace is wearing a star and risking your life for nothing in return.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
What could we offer Christ in return? Even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags compared to His glory and His purity and his righteousness.
But that’s the point of grace. Paul wrote, this is how God demonstrated His love toward us – while we were in the act of continually sinning – Christ died for us.
Part of our problem with not willingly embracing other saints is because we have a higher opinion of ourselves than we ought to have.
Mark McMinn makes the following analogy in his book, Why Sin Matters, as he writes, each of us is like a light bulb. One shines with 50 watts of holiness, another has only 25 watts. The most stellar Christians are 200 watts. But these foolish comparisons become meaningless in the presence of the sun.
Paul is making one last appeal here . . . if God, the glorious Son, has shown His grace to needy, polluted, self-seeking, self-interested, self-centered, depraved, egotistic, arrogant, perverted, wandering, wretched sinners like us – did I make the list long enough – how can we not show grace to one another who are now united by . . . “precious blood, a second birth and one belief?” John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969), p. 250
Embrace the scriptures – Embrace the saints.
Third, Embrace the Sovereign
And discover you are not helpless!
If the church is to be a unified body – if we all are to decorate our clothing with stars, as it were, to indicate we are all indeed one new race (I Peter 2:9) – if there really isn’t first-class and coach in the church – if we really can embrace the Savior by faith as our Sovereign, is the scripture clear on this?
It is no surprise that Paul will support these claims by quoting from each of the three major divisions of the Old Testament – he will quote from the Law; the Prophets and the Psalms.
The first quote is in verse 9. Therefore, I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles.
This is from 2 Samuel 22:50 where David sings of his deliverance from King Saul and the fact that his rejoicing will be heard among the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
The second quote, in verse 10, where Paul writes, Rejoice O Gentiles, with His people.
This quote is from Deuteronomy 32:43 where Moses calls on the Gentiles to praise God with the Jews.
The third quote is delivered in verse 11 – notice there where Paul writes, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.”
This is from Psalm 117 where the Jews and Gentiles are embracing their Lord in praise together.
And the final quote is from Isaiah. Paul writes in verse 12, There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.
In other words, the Messiah will come from Jesse – the family line of King David.
- So, in the first quote you have Jews praising God among the Gentiles.
- In the second quote you have Gentiles praising God along with the Jews.
- In the third quote you have Jews and Gentiles together praising their sovereign Lord,
- And in the final quote you have the Sovereign Christ reigning over all Jews and Gentiles who have embraced Him by faith.
Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Right (Victor, 1997), p. 166
What tremendous hope this engendered – can you imagine this news in the first century church. Hey, there is room for the Gentile in the royal family of the Messiah – in the coming kingdom; and for those of Jewish origin, there is room for you in the bride of Christ – which is the church.
Is it true? Today, here in this place, 2000 years later, both Jews and Gentiles are worshipping God together, side by side.
No wonder Paul ends this section with the benediction of verse 13, Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is this blessing within this wonderful benediction! Paul just ends this section by bursting into this exuberant prayer:
You are not hopeless! For the God of hope has filled you with joy and peace;
You are not homeless! For in believing, you have entered the everlasting family of God.
You are not helpless! For you abound in hope, not by your power, but notice, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Embrace the scriptures – and your life will not be hopeless.
- Embrace the saints – and your heart will never be homeless.
- Embrace the Sovereign Savior – and in the strength of His spirit you will never be helpless.
Well, there we have it. It’s been quite a journey for us through grey matters – it pretty much ended where it began – with more choices.
In fact, the most important kind – that make getting along with one another, even in matters where we disagree, possible.
Will we choose to embrace the scriptures?
Will we choose to embrace the saints?
Will we choose to embrace the Savior as our Sovereign?
This is the way to build our lives together . . . building together, on the solid foundation of the grace of God
And let’s not forget while we shine our puny little lights with as much enthusiasm as we can . . . we belong to our glorious Lord – the brilliant, resplendent Son – of God who embraced us by His grace – He has made His choice . . . and He will never let us go.
My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives sway,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
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