HAS THE LORD’S SUPPER A MESSAGE FOR THE WORLD OR JUST “US”?

He marched into Palestine in 63 B.C. Pompey, I mean. The famous Roman general, I mean, and that was the beginning of Roman domination of the land through its Herodian kings. Before long Roman governors and consuls and generals made their appearance in the land; many of them thugs and all of them heartless servants of emperors. There were oppressive taxes, humiliations, senseless treatment even of people who were willing to put up with the occupational forces. Oppress too long, push too hard and finally even people who know they can’t win will rebel. In Judea and Galilee there were unarmed protests put down by force and there were those who believed that only armed resistance would make things better. Assassinations and kidnappings by the Sicarii and other fevered revolutionaries became common enough. Roman government and those nationalists who collaborated with the Romans would call it terrorism but since it was a response to oppression and slavery it might well have been called counter-terrorism.
It’s all so reasonable and in the light of devilry that can drive people nearly insane it’s appealing; “it’s the only thing to be done.” Sometimes the difference between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is so clear that we’re sure that this is “a just war.” I can see that! Do we have to prove that when before our eyes obscenely unspeakable and sustained cruelty is perpetrated? Don’t we wish that everything was so simple, so indisputable? Often it’s difficult to know who the “good” and “bad” guys are or if it’s even possible to draw a distinction. “Who started this?” becomes an endless debate and once things get going there’s no time to debate and no desire to do it. And it’s common for the “good” and “bad” to swap places—the oppressed become oppressors. And even one’s own who don’t share the fever of reprisal become our enemies (we see it happen all around us as it happened in Galilee & Judea where locals were plundered and their houses were burned because they didn’t support “the cause”). All this is common knowledge.
There were those, and there was one in particular, whose kingdom was “not of this world.” He didn’t gain His kingdom by wading through blood as Rome did when it “pacified” nations, “creating a desert (‘a solitude’) and calling it peace.” Still, the pain, the poverty, the humiliation and enslavement goes on and “it is inevitable” that in the grip of evil we will be desperate enough to “do what must be done” to gain freedom from oppressive power (or hold on to it).
But while the chaos, the bitterness, the hatred, fear and unbridled anger were everywhere to be seen and felt, the days came around when thousands gathered in various homes and meeting places and celebrated The Passover. This, an act of trusting defiance reminded the occupying forces of other powerful empires that God brought down and delivered a helpless People whose only power was their conviction that God was faithful and was at work now as He had been in days when it would be hard to believe. There had been other days, other years, when the nation’s most powerful enemy, Pharaoh, was protecting, educating, strengthening and admiring the only boy in the world he needed to destroy to gain his purposes—Moses. Passover spoke of all that and more in a world as chaotic and perplexing as ours is now!
Our Passover has already been offered (1 Corinthians 5:7) and tomorrow (the Lord’s Day) thousands will gather to engage together in Holy Communion and what will we be saying? Is the Lord’s Supper an act of such defiance? Will we be saying something about “the world” in which satanic forces exercise such power or will it be the usual individualistic happiness that “at least I am saved”?
Will John 12:31 or Colossians 2:15 come to mind? Or will it again be all about “me,” all about “us”? Will it be about a God who dismantles evil empires and assures the plundered and raped nations that He knows what is happening to them and that He has a quarrel with those empires on behalf of the voiceless and helpless who don’t even know His name? Their only power is His power and faithfulness; their only hope is in the name of Him whose name they don’t yet know because they’ve never heard it; they’ve never been told it!!!!
Have we nothing to say about them, nothing to say that makes a difference? Must we mumble our sadness, say it’s too bad that they must live plundered and raped and then suffer more, everlastingly and ceaselessly more, along with the exulting predators and parasites that fed on them here and now, life-long? That they’re damned now and everlasting damnation lies ahead and there is no hope for them and then go back to thanking God for our forgiveness and hope? That’s it?
                    I will not believe it! It isn’t worthy of the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ!

(Holy Father, raise up for us teachers who will come to know you and who will enable us to come to know you that we might think, speak and do things that are worthy of your greatness. Deliver us from, we pray, from narrow views of you and see you as a GOD indeed who is a Great King who in His righteousness we can trust to end all oppression and deliver the truly helpless. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

McGUIGGAN REFLECTIONS ON YOU TUBE

My daughter Linda and I record some video lessons. Should you be interested in checking them out all you would have to do is Google the title above. If you know a little group that has no teacher and you thought these were useful maybe you could tell them about the video lessons. They’re completely free of course.

Thank you and God bless you.

linda and jim

SATAN: BRIEF & UNFINISHED REFLECTIONS

Satan is not omniscient! Satan isn’t omnipotent! Satan is not omnipresent!  The idea that he can and does read the thoughts of billions of people, that he can and does construct and customize temptations to suit our make-up, that he is everywhere at the same time constructing custom made temptations for every person on the planet is not only false, it is injurious. By the time I hear this (and I hear and read it more often that I care to) I know I’m being “tempted” to think there are two Gods rather than one. I hear that Satan has control of planetary weather conditions like Tornadoes or hurricanes that can blow your house down and kill your children; that he is in control of lightning storms that can burn up crops, that he can gather together marauding armies to steal and devastate  property, that he has get into your body and bend your spine double, gives you disease, ulcers and kill you. The power some of us ascribe to him is limitless.
I hear that if we don’t take such a Satan seriously, a Satan like that, that we don’t take Sin seriously.
I think if we did take such a Satan seriously that we would NOT take our Sin seriously!
I think if he knew everything he wouldn’t have wasted his time tempting Jesus and he would have worked to keep Him from the Cross rather than using Judas to get Him put on it.
And God gave JESUS a name that is above EVERY name…God raised Him and set Him at his own right hand, far above all principalities, powers, might and dominion and above EVERY name that is named, not only in this world but in the world to come.

 

DEMONS: BRIEF & UNFINISHED REFLECTIONS

In what follows, some of what I say I say with conviction but there are proposals that while I think they might well be correct I don’t feel sure about them. I only offer my opinion thinking it might be going in the right direction.
God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him authority over all principalities, powers, might and dominion, and over every name that is named not only in this world but in the world to come! Ephesians 1:19-23.
Whatever is true about Satan or demons, Ephesians 1 and numerous other texts speak the truth about Jesus Christ and that is to be kept at the center of the Christian’s thought and reflections in this area. Even in the days of His creaturely weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4) He dismissed demons with a word and loosed with a touch or a thought what Satan had bound (Matthew 8:16; Acts 10:37-38; Luke 13:12, 16).
Discussion about Satan or demons should never be undertaken without the above truth in mind! Jesus is Lord of All!
I mean no insult or anything that would demean others in what I’m about to say in the next few sentences. If I know my heart I feel sad about it (but not a sadness that denies the above truths about the gracious and glorious God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ).
While it is true that where the Judeo–Christian Scriptures have taken root there is still talk about and fear of the demonic and gods but for the most part the fear and marked awareness (in many forms) of these is seen in parts of the world where the God and Father of Jesus Christ has not been taught or embraced. Faith in Jesus Christ and the God of Holy Scripture sidelines and often completely destroys such fear and a constant thinking of them.
As you’d expect there’s still a mass of material on angels and demons around and much of it is a rehearsal of what ancients believed and wrote. It must all be taken into account because it does (and should) affect how we read the scriptures but most of us don’t have the time, energy, interest or ability to weigh the evidence with any degree of certainty. And while it’s obvious that some of the background is important, in various ways, it’s also clear that much of it is as fatuous as our own modern stuff. (The kind of stuff you see in the rash of television shows about ghosts, demons, angels and the like as well as some religious books that claim to be echoing the biblical witness and aren’t.)
Demons are said to be “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1 and Mark 3:15). Angels are “spirits” also and some of them are said to be allies of Satan (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7). We call angels “angels” not because they’re “made of” a certain kind of “stuff” or substance but because they are messengers and presumably they were all originally servants of God. The word “demon” was used in ancient Greek to speak of what was supernatural, a god or goddess, something divine or the spirit or essence of someone. It could be either good or bad. But when we come to the New Testament the central thrust is this: a demon is an evil spirit that expresses opposition to God and His reign and often shows that opposition (in the Gospels especially) by injuring humans. Angels can be good or evil but in the Old and New Testaments demons are invariably evil.

[I won’t deal with the words “spirit” or “spirits” here but that needs to be done at some point. The use of those words in the Holy Scriptures is not at all simple but how we deal with them affects major issues.]

I will be working on the assumption that demons are objective beings rather than a word used to personify evil events and situations or a word used to “explain” the invisible cause of some disease (mental or physical).
Where do demons get their power? What is true of angels is true of demons. As the crucifixion of Christ is at one and the same time God’s holy work and man’s sinful act so demonic activity is at one and the same time their satanic work and God’s redemptive activity. If you ask me how human hurt carried out by evil beings can be God at work redeeming I’ll do no more than point you to cross of Jesus, the case of Joseph and his brothers and Isaiah 10:5-12 on Assyria. If God can use Nebuchadnezzar, Ashurbanipal and the Pharaohs of Egypt for redemptive purposes he can use Stalin, Hitler and demonic beings. The sinful choice remains with both the humans and demonic forces. That God uses their sin to further His good purposes is no glory to them.
There’s little point about being impatient with statements like this because it’s the truth whether we like it or not. Until we come to terms with the truth that God sustains the existence of evil beings as well as good beings we’ll have no peace. He does that in regard to evil nations and individuals and He does it in regard to being beyond the physical creation.  Evil beings are evil beings because they choose to be and God holds them responsible for their evil but in the meantime He allows them to live and uses them to serve His holy and redemptive purposes. Have you seen the fearful passages like 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 and 1 Kings 22:19-23 where Micaiah describes in a picture the truth he tells in 22:23? Whatever we are to make of those texts it would be a mistake not to take them seriously and it would be a mistake not to allow God to claim He is responsible. God takes overall responsibility for creation and the fact that He “allows” things to go on that He is opposed to. We need to remember that what God allows He wills to allow.
Then there’s that startling text in Psalm 78:49 (Lxx 77:49) where the Greek text has God sending against Egypt a band of “evil angels”  (KJV). This should warn us that an angel may be called “evil” either because he is himself intending to be sinful or that he is called “evil” because he is the bringer of calamity (see the NIV and RSV). A satanic angel would be malicious in intent so that his act from his standpoint is evil. Nevertheless he might be furthering the will of God so that from God’s angle the event is holy and righteous because that’s God’s motive and purpose. See 2 Corinthians 12:7 where a “messenger of Satan” serves  holy purpose by delivering Paul from self-aggrandizing thoughts and actions and so made him a better servant of the Lord.
I think demons are personal beings that are part of the rebellious forces that seek God’s hurt by spreading their malice and error throughout the creation. [This conviction needs to be tested.] I think that at the time when God became incarnate in Jesus Christ God “allowed” (He willed to allow) demons added freedom, public notoriety, to underscore the arrival of God’s reign in Christ.
The tangible entrance of demons into human affairs matched God’s tangible entrance into human affairs. I think God did this to demonstrate in public His reign over the invisible powers that work their evil to humanity’s loss. God at his most vulnerable (in weakness–2 Corinthians 13:4) confronted the unclean and destructive forces at their most powerful and dismissed them with a word (compare Matthew 8:16 and elsewhere).
It’s clear enough that the Old Testament knows nothing quite like “demon possession” as it’s seen in the Gospels. There is little talk of demon worship as it is seen in the worship of gods and idols (Deuteronomy 32:17; Leviticus 17:7; Psalm 96:5 (LXX, 95:5 and “demons”). While demons are still a force to be reckoned with after the personal ministry of Christ two things need to be said about it.
One, there is not the same intensity about the subject, that is, it doesn’t jump out at you from everywhere as it does in the Gospels. Two, the miraculous and healing activity of the apostles and early church was seen as an immediate continuation of the ministry of the risen and glorified Lord (compare Acts 1:1; 2:33; 3:6 and see particularly 9:34). I say that to make the point that the public confrontation between the vulnerable Lord and the powerful demons was still being seen in the vulnerable Church which is the form the exalted Lord takes in making His presence known in the world today. And I say that to say that “demonic possession” was less visible and less “in your face” as time passed.
And what was demon “possession”? Demon possession was a starker exhibition of the influence of demonic beings/forces in human affairs. Apparently they’ve always been around but they haven’t always been as visibly oppressive as they were during the personal ministry of Jesus. Paul insisted there was only one God and that gods are non-existent but he did say that to worship idols and non-existent gods was to fall in line with “demons” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 and 10:19-21). To do that was to eat at a table with demons, though he isn’t suggesting that demons became visible there or that the worshipers consciously meant to eat with demons. Lies and unholiness brought them into contact with a “world” in which the demonic had its home but it wasn’t marked and visible as it was in the Gospel records.
So what was demon possession? It might mean that demons actually entered into the bodies of the victims or it might mean that so powerful was their influence on them that they took over their bodies and minds without actually getting inside their bodies. Satan entered Judas but there’s no compelling reason—none at all— to think he took up spatial residence in him or entered into his body the way we would enter a room. We don’t think that strange; not when we give it some thought. Many of us might have experienced it but I suppose the most of us have heard of cases where a wicked person had such influence over another that the dominated one did exactly what their “lord” wanted them to do or think or say. There was no need for them to morph and get inside their bodies; they “owned them” from outside by gaining control of their minds.
Is demon possession possible today? If we mean do demons literally enter the bodies of people today and live in them I don’t know they ever did; but I don’t think the answer matters a lot. If evil beings can influence us to do evil things while literally outside us then it doesn’t matter if they can get inside our skin.
I think the stark and visible manifestation of demonic forces was a passing phase of their activity confined to the period when God visibly showed Himself in weakness. Has Christ defeated demons? Utterly and eternally! See Colossians 2:15 and numerous other texts on the defeat of the powers.
But are there not texts that seem to plainly say that demons actually became embodied inside people (see especially Mark 5:8-13 and the use of words like “in” and “out”)? Yes, there are texts that look that way and it may be that we are to understand them literally but words like “in” or “under” or “into” often function not as spatial realities but relational or effect realities. We hear in Scripture of people being “filled” with or “full” of anger or compassion or love and we don’t think about these as “volume/capacity” terms. We daily speak of people being “driven” by this or that or people “carried away “by/with” this or that. We speak of people being “in” our hearts or “coming into” our thoughts or lives. Bible language works in the same way. The Holy Spirit is said to be “poured out” (Acts 2:33 and elsewhere) and people are said to be “baptized in the Spirit” but no one thinks of the Spirit as a liquid that persons are immersed in. There’s talk of a “baptism of suffering” or a “baptism of fire” (see Matthew 3:11 and elsewhere).
Christ’s followers are said to be “in” God and God “in” them. God is said to “dwell in” them, but I don’t believe that we’re supposed to think that the triune God has literally taken up spatial bodily residence inside their bodies somewhere. Penitent believers are said to be baptized “into” Christ (Romans 6:3-7; Galatians 3:26-27) but I’m sure we aren’t to think they literally take up bodily residence inside Him. (I’m acquainted with the truth about a “corporate” Christ but that’s another discussion and another area.) The Corinthians are said to have been “bought” 1 Corinthians 6:15, 19-20) and are “parts of Christ” and have been made “temples”. None of these phrases are supposed to be taken literally/physically. They tell of relational realities (expressed in images) that have consequences and that identify the Corinthians.
Here’s what I think though there’s plenty of speculation here. At some time in the past there was a sinful rebellion against God in the world beyond the human (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6, and note “where” the rebels ended up). Spirit beings revolted against the Holy God and so at that point we had angelic beings and demons headed up by Satan. We then have to assume that some spirit rebels were not incarcerated. That moral/spiritual infection which permeated them was brought to humans and they eagerly embraced it and have been spreading it ever since. This human rebellion has the same quality as the supra-natural rebellion and finds its inspiration and model there; hence it is demonic and satanic. Their demonic models trigger the hurt and loss that humans experience (though the guilt is ours and ours alone because we choose to follow—demons and wicked angels have their own problems).
When humans reject God and follow evil they are esteeming Satan and demons above and against God (compare 1 Corinthians 10:18-21 and note the profound  meaning  of Lord’s Supper as it witnesses against demonism and the gods—that’s the Lord’s Supper that we often hurry through so we can get on with other things). When people reject profound truth and embrace palatable error they embrace doctrines of demons (see 1 Timothy 4:1 and compare 1 John 4:1-6).
Once more, I think that a very marked entrance of demons into human affairs matched God’s very marked entrance into human affairs. I think God allowed this to demonstrate in public His reign over the invisible powers that work their evil to humanity’s loss. I don’t believe that the demons came and went simply on their own accord and I think their visibility in the Gospels was a God-allowed and stark manifestation to signal the arrival of God’s reign in Jesus Christ. That’s what I think!
The Bible discussion (but the NT in particular) about what is anti-God, anti-life and anti-human serves the purpose of branding evil thought and conduct by humans with cosmic significance. We’re being told that evil is evil beyond what is visible and acknowledged by us. We’re being told that there are WORLDS IN COLLISION! Do see Ephesians 6:10-20!
There are invisible forces and powers, influences, philosophies, religions that shape individuals and institutions and governments and schools and cultures and nations in destructive thoughts and deeds. That’s their nature and so they are branded in Holy Scripture as satanic & demonic. I have no problem holding Satan and demons as actual beings but I do have a problem with our building a theology about them that makes them (and particularly Satan) into a being who knows all, can do all and is everywhere.
I think that those who take it on themselves to speak like oracles about the presence of demons in people need to realize what a very serious injury they may be doing to very sensitive people already drowning in the moral struggle. Already vulnerable people can be driven over the moral edge if they think they are controlled by demons. And sinners can be led to despair and then there are others of a different disposition who can be encouraged to place the blame for their sin where it doesn’t belong. “The Devil made me do it.”

(Holy Father, whoever and whatever Satan and demons be in Holy Scripture or in life, we by your grace oppose them because they are enemies of yours and since they are enemies of yours they are the enemies of our fellow-humans, enemies of our beloved ones and enemies to us. Our happy we are that the Lord Jesus in whose name we pray is Conqueror of all the forces that are anti-God, anti-life and anti-human.)

REFLECTIONS ON ROMANS (3)

                             Human Faithlessness Chapter 1:18-3:20

Bearing in mind that he’s writing to a congregation of Christians made up of Jews and Gentiles and knowing that he wants these brothers and sisters to help him in his missionary work (15:14-24) Paul wants to let them know his understanding of God’s gospel that would work unity among them (14:1—15:13; Acts 28:17-31). In 1:1-17 he makes it clear that “the gospel of God” has Jewish roots but embraces the Gentiles as part of His intention (1:1-4, 16-17 in particular—a truth he keeps in mind throughout Romans).
In 1:16 he speaks of God’s “righteousness” by which he has in mind God’s faithfulness, that is, God doing what “is right” in the matter of keeping His commitment to Abraham’s physical children and through them to the nations (see Acts 15:13-21 where James sees Gentile conversions as part of God’s faithfulness in keeping with Amos 9:11-12). The word Dikaiosune has a wider semantic domain than faithfulness but context determines what aspect of a big rich word is on a writer’s mind when he uses it. In Romans 1:16 Paul says that God’s gospel about His Son (1:1-3; 15:16, 19) reveals His keeping faith with Himself and His commitment to saving anyone that wants Him.

                        The faithless human family from Adam until Moses

In 1:18—3:20 Paul begins to stress the unfaithfulness of the human family. It knew the nature and will of God (1:18, 21) and suppressed that truth “in unrighteousness”—note what they knew in 1:21-32. Paul isn’t doing “natural theology”—he is painting a picture of a faithless human family (from the creation until Moses) hat suppressed the truth they knew and corrupted themselves and all around them. They made gods out of the creation and fools out of themselves and despised life by choosing death (1:32). They were created in God’s image to rejoice in life, reflecting Him, and they corrupted themselves.
(In that human rebellion the non-human creation became an unwitting instrument and servant of Sin. See Romans 8:18-22 and texts such as Leviticus 18:24-30; Numbers 35:33-34; Isaiah 62:4-6; Ezekiel 33:29 and context with a careful reading of 36 in its entirety which addresses the land and how it became (as it is to this day) an occasion for many to jeer at God. In addition it was perverted and was treated as if it were God instead of the creature (Romans 1:18-23). Note the Pantheists like Einstein and Kaku, Spinoza, Tillich and others who call the creation “God”.) Paul stamps FAITHLESS (unrighteous) across the “Gentile” world.
From there he moves to Sinai, the creation of Israel (compare Isaiah 43:1,7; 44:2,21,24; 49:5 and elsewhere) and Israel’s apostasy (Romans 2:1-3:19) and stamps FAITHLESS (unrighteousness) across Israel’s history. The whole world is under God’s judgment and whether it had a specially enacted covenantal Law as Israel did or had the moral truth not in covenant form as Gentiles did (see Ephesians 2:11-12) the human family as a family proved faithless (Romans 3:19-20).
(He will later summarize humanity as non-redeemed and “in Adam”, the old man—5:12-14, 20-21 with 6:6.)
                                                            The Faithful God

From history and Holy Scripture Paul has shown human faithlessness and now in 3:21—5:11 the shows God’s faithfulness. God had not abandoned his eternal purpose and the proof of that was the witness of the Old Testament scriptures that culminated in the person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ (3:21-26).

He reminds the Jewish element that their own confession (the Shema) is that there is one God and if that’s true there is only one Creator and so there is only one human family and God cares for it in its entirety as its Father Creator (3:27-31). And since that human family (Jew & non-Jew) has no claim based either on its response to God’s manifest will or its fleshly link to Abraham, salvation and glory is sourced in a gracious God (Romans 11:32) and not in fleshly connection, circumcision as a mark of a covenant. In fact, with Israel having been especially gifted they were the more responsible for their faithless response (Romans 3:1-2, 9 and see Ezekiel 16:48-52 as illustrating greater accountability due to greater blessing).
Why is a message about God’s faithfulness such good news? Part of the answer is implied in 1:18—3:20 where Paul charts the sinful course of human history. In light of humanity’s treacherous betrayal of God and our crass abuse of the dominion he gave to us (Genesis 1:26-27 with Genesis 3) it might be thought that God would obliterate us.
And in some ways the biblical record could be seen as proof that God had abandoned humanity. The expulsion of Adam, Eve and Cain from God’s presence, Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah could be used as proof that God had turned from humanity and was bent only on destroying them in outbursts of His anger. If such expressions of His anger were typical of His full feelings toward the human race our situation would be hopeless and lead to utter despair. But Paul’s good news is that God is righteous (faithful to His commitments)  even in the face of our faithlessness. This means that however we understand the wrath of God it is to be seen as part of his faithfulness toward us.
                                 God’s faithfulness through Abraham is for All

Romans 4 develops the history of God’s faithfulness and how it moves through Abraham and culminates in Jesus in 5:12-21. Od’s choice of Abraham as His instrument of blessing was all about God’s holy generosity and not Abraham’s pedigree or his behavior. (Glance at Joshua 24:2-3 & Abraham’s dealings with Pharaoh, Abimelech and Sarah when he feared contrary to God’s promise and how he engaged with Hagar to gain an heir through her). Sarah’s inability to conceive and Abraham’s own aged body that wasn’t old (Romans 4:13-25) said that the initiative was always of the gracious God. The man himself was not special—God was and Abraham trusted God to be faithful and was faithful to God and all that was prior to circumcision & Sinai the covenant. The entire Abrahamic history was about faith in God to bring life out of death and that is the point Paul makes in 4:19-25. The consequences and implications flowing from that are mentioned in 5:1-11.
Then he summarizes human death and loss in father Adam, as a fit representative of a fallen humanity and the last Adam (5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45 with Romans 6:6 and 7:4-6).

REFLECTIONS ON ROMANS (2)

                          The Lord’s Commissioned witness tells his Story

Paul introduces his good news of God’s righteousness (faithfulness) in 1:1-17, which is good news for the whole of humanity (1:5, 13b-17).
Note that the word “gospel” occurs six times in these opening verses. Paul certainly used texts to explain and present his message but he preached “the gospel” rather than a host of verses.
The centrality of the “good news”

Why did Paul write the book of Romans? Scholars continue to debate that question and they come up with differing answers. Perhaps there is no one single reason for Romans. There certainly isn’t one that stands out so plainly that scholars can agree on it. That’s the trouble with and the beauty of rich literature. It carries our minds in so many directions that we find it hard to stay with one profound insight. This is especially true when the writer himself hasn’t offered a single purpose for writing. And even if a writer has a single purpose in mind, if the material is very rich he or she will be saying more than they consciously mean to say. This is because truths exist in a network of truth rather than standing in complete isolation from one another; so one truth leads to another. Humans, though individuals are not solitary beings; they are shaped by the community and culture they live in and experience life within the network of shared convictions and thought and speech patterns. I say a word that has many related uses and you experience one that I am not consciously thinking of.
In any case, it’s always helpful and sometimes critically important to discover the overall reason for the book. Just the same, sometimes we can understand how some of the pieces work together even if we can’t determine where it is going as a whole. Something like a jigsaw puzzle I suppose. We can piece together some of the sections and still not know what the whole is about. But if we can piece a significant number of pieces together we can get a sense of the kind of scene we’ll find in the end. We may adjust our educated “guess” but we’ll not be simply groping in sheer ignorance.

Paul introduces his good news of God’s righteousness (faithfulness) in 1:1-17, which is good news for the whole of humanity (1:5, 13b-17). He uses the word “gospel” 4 times in these opening verses that act as an introduction to the entire letter; that should affect how we view the book as a whole. However somber some of the parts of Romans are we need to remember that Paul sees himself as a preacher and teacher of “the gospel of God” (1:1) and it’s that good news he wants to bring to the Romans.

                               The truth and authority of the “good news”

An inscription discovered in Priene in northern Turkey is dated 9 B.C. and it gives us an insight into what the word “gospel” means. Here’s a piece of what it says.

“Whereas the Providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a saviour for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere and whereas the birthday of the God [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the glad tidings that have come to men through him. Paulus Fabius Maximus, the proconsul of the province has devised a way of honoring Augustus.”

From this it’s clear that the “gospel” is glad tidings. It’s also clear that the gospel is an announcement, a proclamation rather than just an invitation to share the joy inherent in the good news. This inscription isn’t saying that Augustus is lord if only the people would let him into their hearts. It claims that the power that governs the universe had established Augustus as lord of the world and he is its instrument to bring peace and security to that world.
Individualism is such a part of our culture and religious decision is so stressed that we forget this aspect of the gospel.
When Paul preached Jesus as King he wasn’t inviting people to faith in a new religion, he was proclaiming a change in the entire creation because a new King had risen! Nothing is now to be seen in the same way. So he warns them as he approaches the gates of Rome, the world’s center of Caesar power, that he is coming with a gospel that is God’s power to save anyone who believes it!
Even the Roman historian Tacitus, quotes Calgacus, saying that Rome by force of arms created a desert and called it peace; but Paul insists that he was not on a destroying mission; he was coming with a gospel of salvation and life. It is this gospel he wants to lay before the Romans and see it bear fruit among them.

                                           Aspects of the gospel

He says it is the “gospel of God” (1:1). This phrase may mean it is a gospel that comes from God, a gospel that God himself makes known. It may also mean it is a gospel “about” God. There is no need to choose between these two because Paul might have had both in mind. Both are certainly true and it is important in the book of Romans to see that both are true.
The gospel isn’t about less) important things like the weather, or the economy of the Greco-Roman world or how to get along with our neighbors. The gospel is about God Himself and how He relates to His sinful creation as He works to bless a human family that still resists Him.. And the gospel comes from God Himself.

It isn’t good advice or a philosophy that Paul or others have dreamed up—it comes from God. All this means that the Romans (and we) should pay close attention to his message.
He says the gospel concerns God’s Son (1:1-4, 9) who is Jesus the Messiah (Christ). Paul insisted that God had made Himself and His purposes known in and as Jesus Christ in a way that never happened before.
When we think of the Son of God Paul insists that He had come to the world as a son of David’s line but that He was also marked out as God’s unique Son by His resurrection out from among the dead. The phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” suggests that there was more to Jesus than His “fleshly” (human) nature. Viewed from His “fleshly” side he is David’s son and viewed from His “spiritual” side He is God’s Son. Many scholars think we should understand that Christ was David’s son according to the flesh but that he was shown to be God’s Son by the Holy Spirit (“the spirit of holiness”).
That is, they think, and they may be correct, that here Paul isn’t speaking about the Godhood of Jesus but is particularly interested in His resurrection and glorification via the Holy Spirit.
He says the gospel is God’s power to save (1:16). We’re tempted to think of God’s “power” as merely “divine muscle” but it’s a mistake to think of it like that in this context and most others. Even when speaking about human power we know the difference between the power to move a huge stone and the power to “move” a person. A person “saved” in Paul’s sense means God brought that person back into relationship with himself and so saved him/her from sin and loss. This kind of “saving” isn’t done with “divine muscle.” Since God saves us in and by the crucified Christ it’s clear that he doesn’t bully us into life and doesn’t save us by force. To be saved by God’s “power” means God set himself the task and was able to complete it. The gospel, or good news, is the message that a faithful God did that very thing and that he did it through the crucified (and resurrected) Jesus Christ. There are some places naked powers or force can’t enter and one of them is the human heart. Paul comes to the most powerful city of the world armed with nothing but a GOSPEL about God.
He says the gospel is God’s power to save all who believe because in the gospel God’s righteousness (faithfulness) continues to be revealed (1:16-17). God’s righteousness is God’s covenant faithfulness. He keeps His commitments and when He created humanity He made a commitment to humanity. Despite our rebellion against Him He didn’t utterly destroy us He was faithful to his word and that’s part of what we mean when we say God is “righteous”. His faithfulness is to all people and not only those who are Jews. The gospel message that proclaims God’s faithfulness draws people to God in response to that faithfulness and they put their trust in Him. So the gospel is “from” faith (God’s faithfulness) “unto” faith (the faith of those who hear). The relationship between the righteous God and those who are declared righteous by faith is a dynamic one if salvation is to be experienced finally in glory. It isn’t just God keeping faith with man; it is man trusting himself to that God who keeps faith.
He says the gospel of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ was promised in the Old Testament scriptures (1:2). Paul will make the point repeatedly that the Old Testament scriptures (including the covenant Torah itself) pointed to the gospel he was preaching about Jesus Christ, God’s Son (see also 3:21 with Acts 26:22-23).
So, in some senses Paul’s message might be surprising but the truth is, Israel had been given fair warning of how the good news would be worked out in Jesus the Messiah (see Luke 24:25-27,44-47). Many in Israel, eager to establish their own national connection with God missed what the Old Testament taught about God’s righteousness toward and for the whole human race (see Romans 9:30 -10:4 in light of 1:16). GENTILES were and are to take note.
In addition, the OT scriptures spoke of these glorious coming things as promises to Israel. Paul stresses again and again that the good news had special significance for Israel and then through them to Gentiles. But it’s “to the Jew first” [Romans 1:16; Acts 3:26; 13:46 and elsewhere].

EVEN DYING IS LIVING

Yes! He died 2,000 years ago and He hasn’t been dead since and because of Him our beloved ones in the Lord live with Him happily and patiently waiting for the redemption of their bodies.
We have so much invested in that “place” where those who died in Him experience a new mode of being in His nearer presence that is even “far better” than now even though now for so many of us life’s not at all bad, with blessings galore, beloved family members and friends. We win either way.

Psalm 119:46 
is one of our texts. I DO understand that it can be tricky and we need to be wise in our approach but dear God, with our gospel of RESURRECTION that says it doesn’t end with the death of Christ but with His immortal life, surely we have something to say worth saying. And despite the complexities of the Story even His dying is living!
And in His rising He says, “Did you think it ends with Death? Never! I was sharing what you, my beloved human family, have and will share but I died to let you know that Death and Sin are losers! I did it for you. You have questions? Of course you do! You wonder about all the brutalized who know nothing about Me and are kept in hopelessness? Trust Me! If you in the midst of your own troubles can sometimes feel anguish for them who suffer in despair, with no reason to hope—if you can feel for them, trust Me, I do and I died and rose for them also. Feel what you feel, do what you can, but trust Me. Think noble thoughts of my Holy Father whose will I love to do.”
Paul closes out 1 Corinthians 15 shouting! Jeering at the grave and Death and then says, “So, don’t grow weary in well-doing; what you do, how you live, what you say, the hymns you sing, the prayers you pray, the tears you shed, the illnesses you endure, the kindness you engage in, the forgiveness you offer—all that while you trust in Him—it isn’t empty! It’s not in vain!  Unending joy comes in the morning! However painful, and at times it will be excruciating—you’re vulnerable little humans right now living in a world that has experienced and is experiencing a moral wreck of cosmic proportions and life can’t be otherwise than it is right now, but see it as part of the adventure. There’s a day coming when countless glorified, deathless, happy, and united lovers of warm righteousness will dance on the graves of Sin and Death and LIVE in unending astonishment at who they have become. Right now you’re doing what He did, you’re taking your share of hurt and loneliness and death.”
He tells us even now, “I’m doing it again in you, you are My Body, you are parts of Me, I’m showing in you that suffering and death in Me is the path to unimaginable glory. There’s a new day and a new world of living coming. TRUST ME! If it were not so I would have told you! Wouldn’t I?
Wouldn’t I? Come! LIVE with Me! Die with Me and LIVE forever with Me!”