ROMANS 1 – CAESAR OR NO CAESAR!
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son who, as to His earthly life, was a descendant of David and who, through the Spirit of holiness, was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ the Lord.” Romans 1:1-4.
Jesus had come and gone. He had lived for thirty three years, spent three years teaching, preaching and doing miracles, was executed as a blasphemer and a threat to Rome, rose again and returned to the Father. The disciples were left blinking. What was that all about? How on earth were they to make sense of it all?
Ten days after He left them, the Holy Spirit came, just as Jesus had promised. The light came on and their Old Testament Scriptures began to pulsate with new meaning. Words Jesus had spoken, things He had done, and things that were done to Him began to fall into place.
On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit invaded the lives of those who were waiting for Him, Peter — the one who had denied Him, the one who had hidden behind closed doors with the other eleven — stood up in the temple packed with worshippers from all over the Roman Empire, as well as the Jewish leaders who had led the charge against Jesus, and shot from the hip.
“Jesus was God’s Son. He proved it by His life and miracles. He died, but He came back to life by the power of God. You did it! You killed Him! But it was God’s plan, and now He has sent the Holy Spirit as He promised.” The crowd was horrified, appalled. Many in the group were there when they demanded His death and they were terrified. “What can we do?” they wailed.
“Repent!” said Peter, “and hand yourselves over to God’s mercy. Join Him, and us, and you will receive the same Spirit as we have.” And many of them did just that — three thousand on that day.
A few years before, in the vicinity of Israel’s “red light” district, Caesarea Philippi, where terrible things were going on in the name of pagan religion, Jesus gave them a commission. “Take my yoke, my disposition of compassion and mercy because of God’s mercy to you and give it to people like these, (referring to the pagans who were having intercourse in public with goats, in the name of their god, Pan). It will transform them and shut down places like this that are spawned by hell.”
Jesus’ yoke, which He placed on His disciples, would have serious repercussions for them in the Jewish and pagan Roman world to whom they were sent. They would clash with Roman and Jewish authorities because Jesus’ radical claims would be an in-your-face challenge to their authority and beliefs. It was the role of the apostles (the sent ones) to interpret Jesus’ life and death, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, according to the Scriptures, and to invite their hearers to believe and to accept His yoke of discipleship for themselves.
In a shocking moment of revelation, one of the most vehement defenders of Judaism, Saul of Tarsus, met this risen Jesus and defected to “the Way” as the followers of Jesus were called. Jesus called him to interpret and proclaim the very message he was trying to stamp out by destroying as many believers as he could.
Paul, who was once Saul, became as ardent a protagonist of the faith he once persecuted as he had been an antagonist. Commissioned by the Holy Spirit, he and his companion, Barnabas, criss-crossed the provinces of Asia Minor and Europe with the message of Jesus. Paul longed to go to Rome, but he had to wait until he was taken there, compliments of the Roman government, to face trial for his “crimes” against the Jews.
In the meantime, a church had sprung up in Rome, thanks to the many unnamed believers who lived the message wherever they went. Paul was anxious that they in Rome understand the gospel because false teachers were everywhere, corrupting the truth with their misinterpretations. These false teachers did not understand Jesus’ yoke and they did not have the authority to interpret it to their hearers as did the apostles. And so, Paul wrote a letter.
With masterful strokes, Paul gave his credentials and painted a picture of the Jesus he was sent to proclaim. Against the backdrop of the arrogant claims of Caesar, Paul presented Jesus’ credentials for being worshipped as “Lord”. Jesus came in fulfilment of prophecy; He was descended from David, a true human; He died but was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit, truly God; authentically the Son of God and declared to be Lord. His full title: Jesus Christ the Lord — fully man, fully God and absolutely supreme, Caesar or no Caesar!
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