There are a few scriptures in the bible that succinctly and clearly sum up key or critical messages of the gospel of Christianity.
These few verses are one of those examples and thy tell us much in a very few words.
In these few words we see what the function of the gospel is, what it's purpose is, the foundations upon which it is built and the outcomes of following the gospel. It is a clear message and is a fantastic summary of the journey we take when we come to Jesus Christ and follow in His ways.
So let us look at these words and take in what they have to say.
Today we commence looking at the letter of Paul to the Romans and even in the introductory sentences we see some insights that help us to understand what this letter was about and why it was written the way it was.
For some reason I often thought that this letter was written after Paul had visited Rome. This is probably because the letter to the Romans follows on immediately after the book of Acts, which ends with Paul spending two years in Rome teaching and preaching the word.
But that perception is incorrect when you look at the first few paragraphs of the letter to the Romans for Paul did not address the letter to the church in Rome, as he does with a number of his other letters as if he had already so been there. Instead we see in verse 10 he asks The Lord in the hope he may be able to come to Rome, in verse 11 he is longing to go to Rome and in verse 13 he says he has often intended to come to Rome but, “…thus far have been prevented…” And finally in verse 15 Paul writes, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Had Paul already been to Rome he would not have written his introduction in this manner. Thus it is clear he had not yet visited Rome to preach to the people when he wrote this letter. This is important for it explains why the letter was written the way it was, as we shall see.
As the book of Acts comes to a close we see Paul finally arrive in Rome. After a harrowing journey in danger from the Jewish leaders seeking his life to shipwreck, being bitten by a venomous snake to being lost at sea in storms that lasted many days, his journey comes to an end.
In the closing scriptures of Acts 28 we see a few insights into how Paul was treated as a prisoner and Los his ongoing impact as a preacher and teacher of the gospel. We see too that his fame had spread as Christianity had spread for in a number of the ports the ship called into, there were Christians who heard he had come and came to see him.
He probably did not know it at the time, but the work he was to do and the letters he wrote would lay the foundations of much of what we now know as the New Testament. It is in the words of Paul that we under stand the mechanics of the gospel. It is in Paul's writings that we begin to understand not just what the gospel is, but how it works. And we will see the beginnings of the teachings of the fulness of truth in the gospel explained in the next letter of Paul to the Romans.
There are six foundational teachings that underpin the practice of Christianity as taught in the bible. These are found in Hebrews 6:1-2 which says,
1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
These are important for all Christians to enable us to walk in the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us in many places about the importance of having a firm and solid foundation on which He will build His church. And in the scripture quoted above we are told what that foundation is.
Returning then to the verses in Acts 19:1-6 we see the application of these foundational teachings and how Paul ensured the foundations were correct and solidly in place for the Ephesian church. The first four of the foundation teachings are clearly seen and applied in this short section so let us look at those teachings and what Paul taught this fledgling church.
As Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica they went into the synagogue and over a period of several weeks they presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were quite a number of those who heard, both Jews and Gentiles who listened to them and believed the truth of the gospel.
But this annoyed and upset the Jewish leaders of the synagogue so much that they became jealous. They incited a mob led by some wicked men and set the city in uproar. They sought Paul and Silas but could not find them, so they took another man, Jason, and dragged him before the city authorities.
However what they said to the authorities as they made their accusations is an apt and accurate description of the truth of the gospel. They said in verse 6, “These men who have turned the world upside down…”
This is true in a number of ways. How did they turn the world upside down? What is the message that turns the world upside down? We will look at these things now.
Throughout the development of the early Christian church the needs of the church were met by the giving of money or other things by the members of the church. All of the needs of those who had little or nothing were met by sharing from those who had an abundance.
We see discussions of Christian giving in various places in the New Testament and this section of Acts 11 gives us an insight into the state of mind of those who gave their goods, services and financial resources for the benefit of the church.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line these original concepts were lost in some churches (not all) and were replaced with a process of taxation in the church rather than voluntary giving. Tithing as it is practiced in the church today is NOT the true method of giving as practiced in the early Christian church because it is an exaction, not a gift. But the truth of raising funds for the benefit of the church and as it was practiced in the beginning was based on the principle of giving that The Lord taught.
These were the early days of the Christian church and they were going through great periods of growth and change. Any time there is such a fluid process of change there are bound to be situations arise where questions are asked and people need to be convinced of some matter or other.
It was no different in Peter’s time, for when he returned to Jerusalem after spending time proclaiming the gospel to the household of Cornelius and the people in Caesarea, he was questioned as to what he had done. Word had reached the church in Jerusalem that Peter had spoken and eaten with the Gentiles, and they wanted to know why.
If you read my previous few posts you would understand that the Jews in that time believed they were the chosen people of God and that the Gentiles were less than second rate citizens. Such prejudice was a form of racism and a great generalisation and to do or think that way is wrong.
In my last post we looked at the way The Lord was preparing to unlock the secrets of the gospel and the promises for the Gentiles that were promised. Jesus was spoken of as being a light to the Gentiles and in Him the Gentiles would have hope.
In this section we now see there is a preparation needed for Peter who was to speak the words of the gospel to the Gentiles. The flood gates were about to be opened bringing the Gentile nations into God’s kingdom, but first Jesus had to prepare the Jews and open their eyes to understand that this was the way forward.
This we see Peter praying on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa when he fell into a trance and saw a vision from The Lord. Three times The Lord let down a great sheet with all kinds of unclean animals, birds and reptiles telling Peter to rise, kill and eat. Peter was about to learn several valuable lessons which we can also learn today as well.
The time had now come in this section of the scripture where the next set of old prophecies concerning the new covenant were about to commence being fulfilled.
While Simon Peter was lodging with Simon the tanner in Joppa, the roman centurion Cornelius was having a vision. An angel appeared to him at about 3:00 pm telling him to send to Joppa and bring Peter. At the time he was unaware why but like all good mysteries, all would be revealed! So Cornelius related all that the angel had spoken to him to the rest of his,household and then sent servants with a devout soldier, that is, a soldier who was a believer, to go and fetch Peter.
In the mean time Peter too was having visions from The Lord about the arrival of these servants and he too did not know what was about to happen either. But it was about to be a momentous occasion and a cause for great rejoicing among all Christianity both then and now. For The Lord was about to throw open the floodgates and call all of mankind to himself by unlocking the promises of God to the Gentiles.
After the Damascus road experience Saul who became Paul was a changed man. Turned around 180 degrees from being the greatest opponent of Christianity to become one of the most fervent proponents of the faith.
Those who saw him in those early days after his conversion were astounded. His fame had already spread far and wide amongst the early church and he was much feared because of the havoc he was wreaking amongst the early Christian community. But now those he sought to bind and imprison he was actively seeking and supporting as he grew in faith with The Lord.
And you could see the plan and the hand of God in Paul’s conversion for here was a man steeped in the religion of the Jews, one who understood the prophecies pointing to the coming Messiah and one who could teach, preach and proclaim the truth of the gospel without fear or favour. As he grew in strength in his understanding of the New Covenant and as he was led by the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of the new way in Jesus, he greatly helped the infant church to develop in Damascus.
And he went from being a friend of the Jews to an enemy whom they sought to kill as he bore witness to Christ. Let us look now at some of those early events.