Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Epistle to the Romans - Introduction Part 1

Paul, even though inspired by the Holy Spirit, really THOUGHT about what he was writing.  His systematic and precise approach to the faith shows his intensity everywhere one may look in Romans.  His focus is overpowering at times.  With these thoughts in mind, one must approach and study this book with a passion and emotion that may not be required of other books.  Such passion and emotion, like Romans, are found in the searing questions of Job, the near death experience of Daniel as he hears of his nation’s future, the Jonathan and David friendship, John’s very personal writing about Christ in his gospel, and the near death experiences of this same John as he receives the Revelation from Christ Himself. 
These reasons, and more, make Romans compelling.  As to why we should undertake this task, there are a number of reasons.
First of all, Romans like Revelation, is a book few preachers in the brotherhood want to tackle.  There are three reasons for this. 
First of all, Romans is the “territory” of the Calvinist and we would just rather stay away.  (They agree to stay away from Acts and James, don’t they?) 
Secondly, we shy away from Romans because it requires far more exegesis and exposition than many a brotherhood preacher is prepared to give.  Romans does not lend itself to superficial topical sermons so popular today.  Paul doesn’t address any subject in Romans “generally!” 
Finally, we don’t typically like Romans for Paul deals with two subjects far too frankly for our contemporary “tastes;” sin and obedience.  Paul takes no prisoners!
There are several other reasons that compel us to embrace this book.  Number one, because of what Paul has to say about deviance in chapter one, Romans has become the most “politically incorrect” book in the world!  Whatever portion of Scripture that the world opposes at any given point in time with the most enthusiasm is just that portion we should preach from the roof tops.  (Paraphrasing what Luther once said)   
A second reason, and perhaps the most urgent, is that the apostates among us after having surrendered to Satan on the instrument and female leadership, are in the process of “studying away” biblical baptism.  (Max Lucado et. al.)  The former “Otter Creek church of Christ” in Nashville has now become “Otter Creek – A Church of Christ” that is fully Calvinist and has rejected the New Testament teaching on salvation.  From their own website their apostasy is readily apparent; “Salvation is by God’s grace, through Christ’s cross, and a result of the Spirit’s active work. It is received through faith. It is sealed in confession and baptism. It is demonstrated in a life lived under the lordship of Jesus.”  They are, in effect, adopting a Calvinist approach to Romans.  Every spirit must be tested.
Thirdly, the misinterpretation of Romans is the citadel and high ground of the so-called “sinners prayer” salvation experience.  A proper understanding of Romans…as written…will crash their fortress to the ground.
And now, let’s board the theological rollercoaster that is ROMANS!

I  Introduction – 1.1 – 1.2
     a. The name of Paul and it's meaning
     b. Paul's slavery
     c. Paul's calling
     d. Paul's apostleship
     e. Paul's severance for the gospel of God
          1. Promised beforehand by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures
The rock and roll band, "The Who," had a popular 1978 song with the lyrics; "Who are you?  Who? Who?"  (1)  The church of Christ at Rome must have had that same question!  "Who is this Paul?"  "We never met him!"  "Who does he think he is writing to us, total strangers, an epistle?!"  The Holy Spirit, driving Paul along, anticipates this potential reaction and Paul answers the question before it can be asked by the recipients. 
Paul - Paul is an interesting name.  It's Latin and it means "little or small" according to Thayer's Greek Definitions (TGD). (2)  This is in sharp contrast to what he was once known as to his Jewish compatriots, Saul.   Saul was Hebrew for Paul and it meant "desired."  (TGD)  Even his name describes who this man Paul is, the man who’s gone from "first to worst."  He's traveled from "desired to small," a "somebody," now a "nobody."

Paul does not leave anything to assumption.  Right off the bat he lets his Roman audience know who he is at his core.  He's a slave.  He's called.  He's an apostle.  He's been severed expressly for the gospel of God.  The raw rendition of this verse in the Textus Receptus reads thusly, "Paul, slave of Jesus Christ, called, apostle, severed into well-message of God."  (3)  Paul knows who he is!
First of all, he's a slave.  Not a very good way to start off a typical letter, however, this is no typical letter!  It is a letter to the beachhead congregation of the church of Christ.  It is the church of Christ at Rome, the epicenter of the entire known world at the time.  It is the church of Christ that meets all around the city, perhaps even just blocks away from Nero's palace!  It is a string of congregations that likely consisted of a number of slaves.  Up to 35% of the population of Rome may have been in slavery.  By the time of Nero the slave population of the empire had swelled to some 60 million persons. (4)  These congregations in Rome also may have included some masters as well, some perhaps even under the authority of elders who, in the outside world, were slaves!  There were Jews, Gentiles of all kinds and many former pagans.  Paul identifies with the lowest of the low.  This is the way of Christ.  [Matt. 10.39; 16.25, Mark 8.35, Luke 9.24; 17.33]   As he states later in 6.22, "...But now having been set free from sin, and having been enslaved to God..." (5)  The faithful church identifies herself with enslavement to God.  Rome was faithful!  [See 1.8]
Next, in describing himself to the Roman church he states that he was "called."  Of course we are all called by God, as it were, by the gospel.  However, Paul had a very unique, special and one of a kind call never duplicated to any other person...EVER!  In Acts 9 and in Acts 22, Paul relates his calling.  A number of things make his calling totally unique.
1. Unlike all the other apostles, Paul was called by Christ in His glorified state as He is in present tense "...ruler over the kings of the earth..."  (Revelation 1.5)
2. Unlike all the other apostles, Paul was called by Christ while he was in open rebellion, outrageous blasphemy and violent persecution of Christ Himself.  (Acts 9.5)
3. Unlike all the other apostles, Paul was required to repent and be baptized to wash away his sins in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and be added to the church of Christ.  (Acts 22.16)
4. Unlike all the other apostles, the words of salvation were spoken to him by a reluctant third party preacher.  (Acts 9.13 - 14)
5. Unlike all the other apostles, he was commanded to take the gospel to the Gentiles, the kings of the earth and to the Israelites as well.  (Acts 9.15)
6. Unlike all the other apostles, "uber-suffering" was promised to him on the front end by Christ Himself.  (Acts 9.16)
7.  Unlike all the other apostles, his calling included a three fold promise from Christ Himself; a) that he would "know His will,"  b) "..see the Just One," and  c) "hear the voice of His mouth."  (Acts 22.14)
Not only was Paul a slave and had a unique calling, Paul was no ordinary messenger, preacher or evangelist...Paul was an APOSTLE!  He was chosen by Christ to be part of His eternal "inter sanctum."  He was added to the twelve.  He had apostolic authority.  He spoke on behalf of Christ Himself.  His words were to be obeyed and not ignored. 
(1) Source: wikepedia.com
(2) via e-sword.net
(5) Quoted from Jay P. Green's Literal Translation Version of the Bible (LITV).  Currently out of print, Green translates from the Textus Receptus.  (TR) The LITV is available for free on the website: http://www.e-sword.net/ 

 To be continued...


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Revelation! - "Written To Us, About Us or For Us?" - Lesson 9 - The Letter to Smyrna - 06.10.15

Ruins of the Athena Temple in Smyrna - Image Courtesy Wikipedia
1.      Smyrna was ______ miles north of Ephesus on the west coast of Asia. She was founded ca. 1,000 B.C. as a G__________ colony.  Destroyed in 600 B.C., she was magnificently rebuilt in _________ B.C.  She was described as “the O___________, the C___________ and the F___________ of Asia.”  Lucian referred to her F_____________ as the streets were laid out to carry the prevailing W__________ winds.  It is said that these winds made Smyrna “as fresh as a grove of T__________.”  She was blessed with a D___________ port which served the end of the main T_______  route that ran through all of Lydia and Phrygia.  Smyrna was a F_________ city without any Roman army presence.  They had always S_____________ Rome regardless.  Smyrna was the very first place where Rome itself was W____________ as a G______________.  She was called Roma.  A temple to her honor was erected in Smyrna in ________ B.C.  This became during the reign of A_____________ the epicenter of E______________ worship.  There was here one of the largest of all T____________, seating ____________.  It was here that a mob of both P __________ and J________ burnt P______________ at the stake in 195.  Smyrna was a great Roman city but the P____________________ of the church of Christ.  This is why that she is forever known as the “S_____________ Church.” – Source: J. T. Marlin, The Seven Churches of Asia
2.      According to Hailey in Revelation – An Introduction and Commentary, Mt. Pagas sits in the city and the A___________ sat on top, giving the illusion of a C__________ from the magnificent harbor.  Smyrna exported more goods than any city in Asia save E____________.  A temple to the dead Emperor T____________ was built in Smyrna.  Smyrna claimed to the “The First.”  “First in B___________, First in L______________ and First in L___________.”  Jesus, however, asserts that HE, not Smyrna is F_____________!
3.      This statement in 2.8 is also stated in ____________.
4.      The W___________ of Smyrna is contrasted by the P____________ of the church.
5.      The L____________ of Smyrna to R____________ is contrasted by the L___________ of this church to C________________.
6.      The worship of the R_____________ and L____________ Christ is contrasted with the worship of D____________ E_________________.
7.      Jesus is now coming along this persecuted church to offer C______________
a.      Hebrews 2.18 _________________________________________________
b.      Hebrews 4.15 _________________________________________________
c.       Romans 15.4 __________________________________________________
d.      II Corinthians 1.3 – 4 __________________________________________
8.      What does Jesus say He knows about the church of Christ at Smyrna?
9.      In addition to the persecution of the Romans, what other group threatened the church?
10.  Per Webster 1828, blasphemy means: “An indignity offered to God by words or writing; reproachful, contemptuous or irreverent words uttered impiously against Jehovah.  Blasphemy is an injury offered to God, by denying that which is due and belonging to him, or attributing to him that which is not agreeable to his nature.”
11.  Strong says that blasphemy is “…a railing, vilification, evil speaking (against God).”
12.  This word is often rendered in the TR by a no longer used word, calumny.  Webster 1828 defines calumny as: “Slander; false accusation of a crime or offense, knowingly or maliciously made or reported, to the injury of another; false representation of facts reproachful to another, made by design, and with knowledge of its falsehood; sometimes followed by on.”
13.  The TR also defines this word often as “harm – averment.”  This averment is an archaic legal term meaning to “assert or verify in court.”  Blasphemy, therefore is literally “swearing harm to God.”
14.  According to our text, what is the consequence of Jewish blasphemy?  Who, therefore, is the real Jew and who is not?
a.      John 8.44 ______________________________________________________
b.      Romans 2.28 – 29 ________________________________________________

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jesus is Calling Today!

Newly discovered ancient fishing boat from the Sea of Galilee.  Image courtesy of livescience.com via Bing Images

It may have seemed to be just another day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He may have looked like any other man walking along the waterside that day.  There were3 people all around.  Fishermen, boat carpenters, net repairmen, fish processors, sail fabricators and others, like him, were out looking that day.  The man looking turned out to be no ordinary man, HE is the Incarnate Son of God!  He's looking for fishermen.  No, not ordinary fishermen, "fishers of men!|"

On this occasion, he discovers four men of usual talent for their current jobs.  Unknown to them at the time, he also sees what they don't.  He sees faith, he sees love, he sees perseverance, he sees bravery, he sees loyalty, he sees dedication, he sees men who are ready, willing and able to become...disciples, apostles, evangelists, elders and martyrs.  He not only sees what these men are in 27 A.D., he sees what these men will be in 60, 70, 80 and 90 A.D.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

One of the men Jesus is calling that day to "follow Him," is Simon Peter.  Many years later Peter recalls the events of that day to one John Mark who is by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writing one of four gospels.  We know that book today simply as "Mark."  Mark records the events of this day in chapter 1, verses 16 through 20.  The "call" has an immediate and permanent result.  It is 100% effective, all four men answer the call.  No sales pitch, no "features and benefits" presentation, no negotiation...all four men abandon their fishing business and follow Christ.   The world has never been the same since.

Looking at these four men, one sees some qualities we need to have when Jesus calls us.  More on THAT shortly.  On that day as the waves washed ashore the four fishermen who answered the call had these characteristics:

1. They were PRESENT to hear a call.  It has been said that "90% of life is just showing up!"  In order to answer the call of Jesus, they were "present and accounted for."

2. They were OPEN to hear a call.  Their minds were not closed to new ideas.  In order to answer the call of Jesus, their minds were pliable.

3. They actually HEARD the call.  Jesus is continually saying; "He who has ears, let him hear!" In order to answer the call of Jesus, their ears had to remain open.

4. They UNDERSTOOD the call.  Words mean things.  Jesus spoke as plain as anyone ever spoke.  In order to answer the call of Jesus, they had to understand what was said.

5. They ACCEPTED the call.  It was simple; "yes or no?"  In order to answer the call of Jesus they had to accept the premise of the call.

6. They AGREED to the price of the call.  The call was expensive....everything or nothing.  In order to answer the call of Jesus they had to agree to the price of the call.

7. They PAID the price of the call!  Jesus gave them the price, they accepted the price and they paid the price.  In order to answer the call of Jesus, they had to pony up with the price...and they did!

8. They had to STAY FAITHFUL to the call.  No turning back, no second thoughts, no "but I thought..." double mindedness.  In order to answer the call of Jesus, they had to permanently attach themselves to the call.

The four fishermen left everything, everyone and every other ambition in life that they may have had just a few minutes before.  Before the call, they had jobs, they had families, they had hopes and aspirations for a "better tomorrow."  After the call, they had nothing at all except...JESUS!  Ultimately these men heard the call of Jesus that day because they "loved the Lord their God with all their heart, mind and soul...and...they loved their neighbor as themselves."  The call of Jesus defined them for all time and eternity from that moment on!

Now, you may be reading this and ask; "This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with me 21 centuries later?"  Frankly, it has EVERYTHING to do with you!  JESUS IS CALLING YOU RIGHT NOW AS YOUR EYES ROLL ACROSS THE SCREEN OF YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE.  The inspired writer of Hebrews in chapter 4 and verse 12 asserts that the Word of God is ALIVE!  It is as if the ink on the Bible in your hands is still wet and the scribe is dipping his quill in the ink for the next few words.  Jesus is the Word, the Word is Jesus.  The two cannot be separated.  Jesus is calling YOU.  Jesus is calling ME.  Jesus is calling us all continuously until the moment when we draw our last breath.  Jesus is either calling us to COME to Him, to RETURN to Him or to STAY with Him.

Matthew 11.25 - 30 - Jesus is continuously calling the unsaved sinner to set down his weary load of sin, a burden that he can never bear.  Jesus wants to exchange His burden, which is light, with ours that is so heavy as to eventually drag us into hell.  Answer this call by "calling on the Name of the Lord" in repentance and baptism as did the Pentecostians and the apostle Paul.  (Acts 2.38; Acts 22.16)

Revelation 3.20 - 21 - Jesus is continuously calling the backsliding Christian to return to his "first love" by simply opening the door of his heart and letting Jesus once again be the Lord of his life.  Answer this call by repenting and "confessing your sins one to another."  (I John 1.9)

Revelation 2.10 - Jesus is continuously calling the faithful to remain so, "unto death" if necessary.  Answer this call by focusing on this verse daily!

Now, friend, here we are.  Back in the day the TV tire commercial spoke of "where the rubber meets the road."  What will you do?  Jesus is calling YOU!  What will you do?  Will you get back in your boat of sin or jump out, run to shore and follow Jesus?  He's calling!

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