Sunday, September 2, 2012

Introduction to Romans

Introducing Romans: As we begin our study in Romans, take a moment to picture what it was like to be an early Roman Christian. Imagine the scene below:
You are a Roman convert to Christianity in AD 57. Jesus ascended to heaven about 20 years earlier, and the message of his life, death, and resurrection has been sweeping the Roman Empire.

First, you heard about a crazy Jewish rebel named Jesus from a small outpost of the Roman empire,  Nazareth, the middle-of-nowhere. Then, you heard that this uprising had been squelched because he was executed by Roman guards. Maybe after hearing that the uprising was over you were thankful that another barbarian  was not disrupting the "Pax Romana" - the prosperity and peace of Roman rule.

Days and weeks later, however, you began to hear rumors. Some kind of miracle had happened and this "Jesus" rebel had somehow come back from the dead, appeared to hundreds of people, and then flown up to heaven. Maybe it was a tabloid rumor but perhaps you wandered, "what is going on out there on the outskirts of the empire?"

Soon enough, some of Jesus' followers appear in Rome, arriving from Corinth. They claimed to have heard the message of Jesus from a Jew named Paul, who was a Roman citizen. Paul himself had seen Jesus in a vision and he and his followers had a strange magnetism about them. They appeared in synagogues and marketplaces, preaching about Jesus, performing miracles, and serving the poor. They were always threatend with prison and sometimes death, but this didn't seem to bother them.

As they preached, something happened in your heart and you began to follow Jesus, eventually becoming one of the "Christians," a derogatory term being used for those that thought they were "little Christs." You were filled withe the power of God and stood boldly in the midst of persecution. There were rumors that the Roman emperor, Nero, was about to start arresting Christians.

With little contact outside of Rome, you waited in this large metropolis, an ancient New York City, Dubai, or London, for news from Paul or some of the other leaders appointed by Jesus, hoping for encouragement and direction in an uncertain season...
The situation above describes the setting for the book of Romans. Paul wrote the Epistle (an ancient word meaning letter) from Corinth in AD 57. He wrote it to the new Christians in Rome whom he had never met. Paul had heard of the great faith of the Roman Christians (1:8) and chose to wrote this letter because he was unable to visit (1:10).

The church in Rome was established by some of Paul's disciples, who traveled to Rome to help plant churches (Romans 16:3).The original audience of Romans was these early Roman Christians.

The letter is to "all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (1:7). Unlike some early churches, the early Roman church was composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers. At the time, Jewish synagogues were common around Rome.

This is the scene in which early Roman Christians lived. A few years later many were expelled from Rome, burned at the stake, or martyred in the Colosseum. Eventually Christians would go into hiding by worshipping underground in the Catacombs.

Now that we have established the setting and the audience for the Book of Romans, we'll be exploring the truth of this incredible letter, section-by-section, for the next 32 days. Paul spoke in a direct manner to these new Christians in order to prepare them for what was to come.

A study of Romans will be impacting, challenging and even... uncomfortable. But in the end, pray that God uses this incredible portion of Scripture to "renew your mind" (Romans 12:1-2) so that you can live and think like Jesus.

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