We are in the Church Stream and we commence on the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul explains so many details to the believers in Rome. We are reading from the World English Bible this week.
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Commentary by Dr. Drake Travis
Paul’s assignment in history is to provide a clear explanation of the gospel that would be shared to all the Believers in Rome. Remember that when Jesus died and rose, people weren’t prancing and celebrating, “oh goodie, goodie. Now we are saved. The perfect sacrifice has been made, my sins have been cancelled by Christ Jesus on the Cross, yippee, now I know God really loves me … ” No, they were devastated by His death, and shocked by His coming back from the dead. WE, on the other hand, understand Jesus’ death because Paul explained what it all meant. That is why the Church of the first century were so enamored with Paul, eager beyond description; eager as school kids at an ice cream shop to welcome him and sobbing sad tears when he departed. It was melodrama with meaning. Keep this in mind: explain the gospel to people and you will be revered in a way that perhaps, in many ways, only missionaries understand being revered.
Paul wrote Romans from Corinth late in his 3rd Missionary Journey. The year is 57-58 A.D. [not for nothin’ the Olympics were held in Corinth a few years prior so Paul is using suitable words throughout his books, “run the race, finish the course, I buffet my body, I don’t box like I’m just punching the air…]. Imagine the ominous sentiment when Paul finished his “Book to The Romans”, rolls it up, hands it to Phoebe [“FEE-bee”] of Cenchreae and says, “here, take this to the Believers Rome … !” Do we realize what hung upon this journey, of a lady traversing through a world that was not altogether safe for anyone to be traveling through; foreign places, encountering pagans, scungy cultic people were everywhere, there were bandits, warriors, brothels, taverns, ad infinitum? She arrived in Rome at least three years ahead of Paul. These are much of the same three+ years he is being held under guard in Caesarea. This gave plenty of time for his letter to the Romans to circulate. In God’s timing, Paul was being held for a purpose. This delay is why Paul arrives to such a hero’s homecoming welcome in Acts 28:14-17. They had read his letter and were thrilled to know what he told them. Plus he told them he was ‘on his way’ to see them.
Almost 1,960 years later, the Book of Romans has been published in nearly 3,000 languages, 50.000.000 more copies of it get published in the USA alone EACH year! Billions and billions of copies of Romans have been published. Perhaps Phoebe was [while carrying this letter on rolled up leather] was thinking, “wow, I hope they read this. They really need to read this!” [She did now know the immensity of what was in her hands.] We need to read it too.
Another peculiar fact comes to us about Romans from the entire enterprise of smuggling Bibles and those involved. When Bibles were smuggled into the old Soviet Union the stakes were high. Penalty of execution loomed over those who were caught with Scripture. So when things became more dicey, only the New Testament was snuck in. When the intensity rose yet further, the cargo was reduced to take in only The Book of Romans. When certain life or death was on the line, they only brought in Romans ch. 3. The Communists knew that they would never succeed in their plans if the population understood that they were justified and saved by grace in Jesus Christ. [not the State] So today we read/”red” Romans 1-3:20. I think the Devil himself shudders over such truth. Listen again if you need to.
WE say all that to say this: do not read Romans and shrug, “ok, we’re saved, cool, whatever.” Our destinies – ALL of our destinies hang upon our understanding of the Book of Romans! Read Romans again and again. And read it to the whole world.
An encouraging projection is that “if the gospel can ‘fly’ in Rome, it will fly in any city.
Romans 1 – opens with a single long sentence that covers seven verses. All that is to say: It’s from Paul. It’s about Jesus Christ. It’s to Rome. THAT is what this letter is about. And it would change the capitol of the world. The whole chapter asserts that sin is everywhere and everyone is involved in sin. If there was ever dark activity going on in the world at the time, it was going on in Rome. The verses speak to a dark world and a dark leadership careening the world into ever horrendous behavior. Even today, governments and lurid interest groups are offended by Paul’s assertions in chapter one. It’s because they are true. The “not ashamed of the gospel” verse in the middle is added because people were questioning him about Jesus’ crucifixion. It was a shameful thing to them. No one follows a leader who was a criminal that was executed. Only false Messiahs and leaders die as crooks. False movements were revealed by leaders who turned out to be false, got discovered and were executed. Paul should be ashamed of this (in some people’s minds). Paul wasn’t. Thus we have the famous Romans 1:16 in the middle of the opening chapter.
2 – The new ethic under Jesus applies to everyone. People of Jewish Heritage included. Many in Rome who were Jews that had come there thought they had inside track with God, and thought they had a say in who is saved and who is not. Paul was telling them, along with the rest, “uh, you need this grace in Christ too! Quit acting like you’re better than the newcomers.” Think that God justified Abraham simply for believing and worshiping. That is it. And Abraham is justified 600 years before Moses wrote up any law. This is a reality check. Paul doesn’t explain that here but it certainly applies to the assumptions the “old guard” in the new church are living by as they are looking down on new comers who are justified by Christ alone. Perhaps they were scoffing that it shouldn’t be this easy for them. Judgment is coming. No one will be excused. All secrets will be laid open before God. And only this who are IN CHRIST will be justified.
3 – the significance of the Jews is a beautiful picture here. God needed to come to us via a race. He couldn’t have just splattered his gospel to all 6000 cultures at once. It would have been interpreted as diversely as the gods of India where there are millions of them. A people needed to be shouldered with the responsibility of maintaining the Scriptures. The Jewish people embraced this assignment and became “the people of The Book.” There assignment was something to be revered – it was not something to be haughty about. For they had practiced the Law for 1450 years only to prove that the Law cannot be humanly upheld. A Savior and an ultimate one at that was needed for all. For no one is righteous, no one. And no one is justified by The Law. The Law only proves there is a problem to be solved.
The theme for this week distills out to be “things have changed. now, what are you going to do?” Jacob and then Joseph die at the end of Genesis, years pass, The friendly Egyptians pass, invaders come in, New Egyptians arise who are mean, who enslave and kill. Are you going to be whipped forever? what are you going to do? David in I Sam. 17ff faces a killer of a giant. Will he be a giant-killer? -or run away? Then King Saul wants him dead, then the whole army is looking for him. He is the anointed King, for heaven’s sake and has to play the fugitive. Really? Now what!? Later, David writes Psalm 18 and the following praises right after he is crowned king (the seven years running from Saul had ended). And he is praising God. Not a word of complaint or whining, no “hey God what was that all about? Y’Trying to scare me?!” He’s completely in charge and his attitude is, basically, “with malice toward none. With charity for all…” Isaiah talks of and walks them through some very serious matters. It’s what is coming for them. So what are they going to do? Amid this Isaiah talks of a suffering servant Savior … will they reject Him too? What will they do ??! Hosea is in pain. He approaches his adulterous wife who’s in another man’s home. Will she come home? Hosea’s heart is broken. Will she do this to him forever? [will we break God’s heart forever?]. Matthew walks us through the arrest, trial and crucifixion. Our teacher/leader/Messiah is dead. Now what? Woo, he’s back and wants us to go to all the world …. and associate with pagans? all our life? really? Oh, you are going to be WITH US?! My oh my things are changing. The Romans receive the best explanation of the gospel in the world. It has some rattling parts to it, though. You are justified by what Jesus has done – not what you have done; bragging is overwith. To the Jews, you are still the chosen, not the favorite, but still the chosen and the first. Will you help others grow in God?
Lord, we can count on you and you only. Thank you for salvation and for your faithfulness. Amen.