Summary: God's judgement is according to truth.
I never grow tired of the story of the man who came down from the North Carolina Mountains. He was all dressed up and carrying his Bible. A friend saw him and asked, “Elias, what’s happening? Where are you going all dressed up like that?” Elias said, “I’ve been hearing about New Orleans. I hear that there is a lot of free-runnin’ liquor and a lot of gamblin’ and a lot of real good naughty shows.” The friend looked him over and said, “But Elias, why are you carrying your Bible under your arm?” And Elias replied, “Well, if it’s as good as they say it is, I might stay over until Sunday.”
In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin, the reformer of old, introduces this section of Scripture this way: “This reproof is directed against hypocrites, who dazzle the eyes of men by displays of outward sanctity, and even think themselves to be accepted before God, as though they had given him full satisfaction. Hence Paul, after having stated the grosser vices, that he might prove that none are just before God, now attacks saintlings (sanctulos) of this kind, who could not have been included in the first catalogue.”
The central theme of Romans chapter 2 is that God alone is judge. That is, accordingly, the central theme of this message. God alone is qualified and justified to be the judge of sinful humanity.
Remember I told you last week that the church at Rome was made up of a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers. Throughout the book of Romans we will see that major reason for Paul’s writing this letter to the Romans was to deal with tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers.
There is a great deal of evidence in the text to suggest that there were tensions between these two groups of believers within the church. There is even solid evidence to suggest that there was much of tension within the city of Rome between Christian and non-Christian Jews.
The ancient Roman historian Suetonius writes that Emperor Claudius “expelled all the Jews from Rome because they were constantly rioting at the instigation of Chrestus.” Chrestus is likely a corruption of the word “Christ.” It is most likely that the rioting on the part of the Jews was between Orthodox Jews and Jewish Christians, with perhaps even Gentile Christians involved.
Added to the tension outside of the church between Christian and non-Christian Jews, was the tension which seems to have existed between Gentile and Jewish Christians within the church. The expulsion of the Jews in A.D. 49 is well attested in the Bible as well, as it fits the account found in Acts 18:2.
“There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them.” (Acts 18:2 NIV)
After the Jews, all Jews were forced to leave Rome because of the tensions between Christian and non-Christian Jewish people, they no doubt began to trickle back in after Claudius death in A.D. 54. In the time that they were away it is certain that the Church at Rome had become less and less Jewish in nature.
Upon returning, the tensions begin to grow between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. We see this evidenced throughout the New Testament; even in the debate between Paul and Peter at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
Similar thoughts are expressed in Romans 2 and Acts 15. Speaking to the Peter and the council Paul says, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:10-11 NIV)
Similar thoughts are reflected in Romans 2. After spelling out the “bad news first” for the Gentiles in Romans 1, Paul now reminds the Jewish Christians in the Church that they are in no better shape before the righteous judgment of God.
In Romans 1 Paul says that the pagans and heathen peoples are without excuse. They have the revelation of God which He places in every human heart.
They will be judged fairly and adequately on the basis of that revelation. Surely every Jewish Christian would have applauded the Apostle for his rebuke of the Gentile unbelieving world.
Paul doesn’t stop there, however. He then turns his attention in Chapter 2 of Romans to the Jews, pointing out that their historic lineage as being of Abraham’s seed and God’s chosen people will not, by itself, save them from judgment.
They were God’s chosen people. Indeed this is true. However, they were God’s chosen people through whom God would deliver a savior to the world. They are in as much need of grace and forgiveness and mercy as are any other.