Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 10/22/06
"God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all" (Rom. 11:32).
For weeks now, the Lord has been impressing me with the hardships the Apostle Paul endured in order to preach the gospel of Christ. I've enjoyed researching the various cities where he ministered and then sharing it in these writings. Lenny asked, "Are you getting into the historical rather than the spiritual?" My answer was "A little of both." Knowing something of the culture, customs, and socioeconomic conditions in the areas where Paul introduced the gospel helps me to understand the New Testament, and causes me realize even more why we must depend on the Holy Spirit to make what was written for them, relevant for us today. My sources are the NIV Study Bible, the www.wikkipedia.org encyclopedia, and various History Channel presentations, all woven together with help from the Holy Spirit.
The Wikkipedia article offers this information: "The city of Rome, located on seven hills, had a vast number of monumental structures like the Colosseum, the Forum of Trajan and the Pantheon. It had fountains with fresh drinking-water supplied by hundreds of miles of aqueducts, theaters, gymnasiums, bath complexes complete with libraries and shops, marketplaces, and functional sewers. The imperial city of Rome was the largest urban center of its time, with a population well in excess of one million people"
Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, in the spring of A.D. 57, probably from Corinth. He told them of his desire to visit them on his way to Spain (Rom. 15:23-24). Before he came to them, however, he had to deliver the offering from the Gentile churches for poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-27). As you may recall, on his journey to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus, where he had asked the Ephesian elders to meet with him one last time. His address to them always touches my heart because he reminds them that he has withheld nothing that would profit them from the first day he set foot in Asia, concluding, "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more" (Acts 20:22-25).
When they reached Caesarea, the Lord sent Paul still another warning about what awaited him in Jerusalem: "a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us he took Paul's girdle and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, we and the people there begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, "The will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:10-14).
It has always intrigued me that God sent prophets to tell him what would happen to him, as though perhaps Paul could have decided not to go, but I make my peace with the fact, that had he not gone to Jerusalem where he was falsely accused by the Jews, making it imperative that he appeal to Caesar in Rome, we may not have had the beautiful letters he wrote while imprisoned there. In any event, Paul was an indomitable force, a willing vessel, and next to Christ Himself, the most important messenger God sent to the early church and to us today as well.
I can't imagine what my own life would be without Paul's writings, and the book of Romans is especially important to me, for in it, he expounds the purpose of creation, the explicit ramifications of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the will of God for all mankind laid out before the foundation of the world. In his letter to the Galatian Christians, he affirmed, "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12). Paul was feisty, fierce, passionate, and original. God gave him truth to expound which no other New Testament writer proclaims. When I think about that, I will occasionally say, "Father, please give Paul a hug from me and tell him how very much I appreciate his service to the church and to me." I'll give him a hug when I see him, for he is one of our "cloud of witnesses," urging us onward from the realm of Spirit, letting us know that whatever we may suffer today is but a momentary affliction which cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us in Christ.
Rome was a tough place to preach in Paul's day. My study Bible makes this observation: "Alternatively described as the glorious crowing achievement of mankind and as the sewer of the universe where all the scum from every corner of the empire gathered, Rome had reasons for both civic pride in its architecture and shame for staggering urban social problems not unlike those of cities today." Paul came into this complex environment, not as a tourist, but as a prisoner.
After a perilous journey fraught with violent storms at sea, a shipwreck, snake bite, and a very long travel time, Paul arrived at the capitol city of the Roman Empire. He "was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him" (Acts. 28:16). (See also Eph. 6:20; Phip. 1:13-14,17; Col. 4:3,18; Phm. 10,13). Even though it was false accusations by the Jews in Judea, which put him there, Paul called together the leaders of the Jews in Rome and explained to them that he was a prisoner because he had been forced to appeal to Caesar. He said, "For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:20). On another pre agreed upon day, Paul expounded the kingdom of God to them from morning to evening, "and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets" (Acts 28:23). Some were convinced, but others were not. They began to leave after Paul quoted Isaiah's assessment of their forefathers: "Go to this people and say, 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.' For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them'" (Acts 28:26-27). It was for this reason, Paul said that God sent him to the Gentiles.
It explains why many today still refuse to accept the glorious gospel of inclusion preached by Paul. He said of those who rejected his message, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day" (Rom. 11:7-8.
Understanding that God is keeping some from seeing the truth at this time, makes it easier to be patient with Christians who don't see what we see. He has His reasons for doing everything, and we can but wait on His timing. If we run ahead of the Spirit, our mission will not be successful and we'll pay the price in frustration, disappointment and rejection.
It struck me as I was researching this writing that Rome was a powerful symbol of self effort, excelling in military prowess, architecture, education, and engineering marvels. "Roman engineering constituted a large portion of Rome's technological superiority and legacy, and contributed to the construction of hundreds of roads, bridges, aqueducts, baths, theaters and arenas. Many monuments, such as the Colosseum, and Pantheon, still remain as testaments to Roman engineering and culture." And yet, the empire fell, even as Daniel prophesied it would to Nebuchadnezzar. There have been many books written about the Roman Empire, with as many speculative hypotheses as to why the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen was brought down.
It is obvious, that as He does with everything that rises against Him, God struck it down (Acts 12:21-24). From the tower of Babel to Herod the Great's temple in Jerusalem, any attempt by man to do an end run around God's will and purpose (steal His glory), will end in disaster and defeat.
Many Christians wring their hands and lament the sin which is depicted and glamorized in novels and movies, on TV and video, as though we have a corner on the market of sordid behavior. Even a brief study of the cities in which Paul preached, shows that sin was rampant from Ephesus to Corinth to Rome and beyond. There's nothing new under the sun, someone has said, and it's probably true. The only difference between then and now is that if disaster strikes at noon today, the whole world knows about it immediately on the Internet and CNN.
To a sin stained, cruel world, Paul brought the gospel of salvation and reconciliation of all men to God. He suffered physically and psychologically to deliver the good news to those in desperate need of it. He was a trail blazer, a one man delivery system, who turned the Mediterranean world upside down. Roman roads and the prevalence of the Greek language helped him accomplish his mission, as he traveled through the Roman Empire (built on soul power), to tell those with ears to hear about the superiority of the Kingdom of God (Life in the Spirit).
My high school civics teacher scared me spitless by saying that the United States was like the Roman Empire, and would suffer the same fate. Now, I take my stand on Isaiah's prophecy: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:6-7).
The revelation of the gospel made explicit by Paul reveals that the church has seen the New Testament through the lens of law, not grace. By reading every statement as a commandment, rather than as a statement of fact of who we are in Christ, Christians have exchanged the Law of Moses for the Law of Christ. We have been brainwashed by bad translations and church dogma, to believe that we are responsible for everything to do with our spiritual growth. God is now in the process of shouting from the roof tops what has been hidden for almost two thousand years, that HE is in charge of EVERYTHING in our lives! This will eradicate the low self esteem and poor self images so prevalent among Christians who think they just don't measure up to God's high standards. Of course, WE can't measure up, but Christ in us can and does.
When I awoke this morning, I saw why it pleased the Lord for me to research Rome. The Roman Empire offers many lessons for us today, including the inherent flaws of hierarchical rule where there is no separation between church and state. In ancient Rome, the Emperor was the "Lord High Everything Else." The Senate merely served in an advisory capacity, with no real legislative power. It was the original "good old boys club," whose members were drawn from the Patrician class, the elite of society. The Emperor was often considered a god who ruled as a supreme authority. Some were not deified until after their death, but others were worshipped during their life time, which brought about persecution of Christians who refused to bow down and worship a man.
There are many similarities between the Roman Empire, and religious institutions today, where the hierarchical authority resides in a man or group of men, rather than in the Holy Spirit, and where the individual member has little or no voice in the institution. Nebuchadnezzar was the "Lord High Everything Else" in Babylon, as was Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great of Greece, and Julius Caesar of Rome. All were brought down by the stone not made with hands, by the "kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan. 2:44). Jeremiah foretold the end of all these earthly governments who persecuted the people of God: "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them" (Jer. 25:15-16). Likewise, any religious institution which sets itself up as a government on earth, and purports to speak for God, will not prevail.
All religions today are organizations, but the church of Jesus Christ Paul described is a living organism, as Lenny puts it, whose builder and head is Christ, and all the members derive direction and sustenance from the head, not from the neck or shoulders. This is not an indictment on the church per se, but merely an observation based on a very brief overview of Rome.
And yet, in spite of the political problems inherent in Rome, capitol of the Empire, Paul's letter to the church there is one of the treasures of all time. Like Paul, "I stand amazed at the fathomless wealth of God's wisdom and God's knowledge. How could man ever understand his reasons for action, or explain his methods of working? For: Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For everything began with him, continues its existence because of him, and ends in him. To him be the glory for ever, amen" (Rom. 11:33-34, Phillips). Amen and amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
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This page was uploaded to the web on 10/17/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/09/08.