In 49 AD, Claudius, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, was upset. His job was to keep the peace. Particularly, keeping peace in the capital city of Rome. So, when a bunch of Jews in the city began to disturb his “peace”, he threw them out. What is interesting is why these Jews were causing a fuss. According to the Roman historian, Suetonious, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, the Emperor Claudius expelled them from Rome.” Most scholars think this “Chrestus” to be Christ.
It is entirely possible, that when Christianity reached Rome in the 40s that the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was the “Chrestus”, the Christ, the Anointed One, their Messiah, caused this uproar. The large Jewish population in Rome were expelled. Claudius threw the whole bunch, those who believed and those who did not, out of town. I suspect this was, for Claudius, a reasonable response. His adopted son and later successor, Nero… had a more direct response to similar problems.
So, in 49 AD, the Jews were out. Interestingly, the Bible connects to this bit of history.
Acts 18:2 And Paul found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them…
The Jews were out in 49 AD. In 54 AD, about 5 years later, Claudius was assassinated; most likely by his wife. The exile ended. The Jews returned to Rome. “Yippee… the Jews are back!” Well, almost “Yippie.” Their return brought problems to the church in Rome.
In the intervening 5 years, while the Jews were gone, including the Jewish Christians, the Roman Christians had done just fine. The church in Rome without the Jews had kept the faith; had grown; had done church without their Jewish brothers. So, when the Jewish Christians came back to church in Rome it brought some problems… almost “Yippie.”
Upon the return of these Jewish Christians, the Gentile Christians were faced with a dilemma…
--How are we going to do church? The Jewish way or the Roman way?
--What about all those goofy Jewish laws? No bacon; circumcision; Sabbath regulations, goofy holidays… Do we do Jewish or do we ignore them?
--More practically, do we do church on Saturday or Sunday? We like Sunday, the Lord’s resurrection Day. They like the Sabbath with 1,500 years of history.
--How can we fellowship? It is worse than having someone with gluten allergies over for lunch. How do we eat together?
This is the setting for Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Yippie, the Jews are back.”
It’s 2020! Wow! In 2020 we are going to explore the amazing letter to the Romans. I have to admit I am excited and a bit intimated. It is going to be great! It could be scary.
--Where are we going to be challenged?
--What might we discover?
--Where are our beliefs going to be confronted?
--Where is our everyday living going to have to change?
It is a big book! We need to put on our big boy pants to study it.
There are, basically, two ways to process Paul’s letter to the Romans. You can choose a soteriological interpretation or an ecclesiastical purpose. Show of hands… all for soteriological. All for ecclesiastical.
Let me explain a bit further.
Is the purpose of the letter the theology of the first half or is the purpose of the letter the practical applications of the last half? The first eight chapters of the letter are this wonderful exploration of amazing Christian doctrines. It is the Gospel. There is sin and faith and the cross and faith and law and faith and righteousness and the Spirit. There is this wonderful ending paragraph of the first half.
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These inspiring words make you want to go slap fight a tree. Because of who Christ is and what he has done and what he continues to do and his infinite love we can know that nothing can separate us from his love. Where is a tree?
The soteriology of the first have is great. Is that the purpose?
But, the ecclesiastical of the 2nd half is where the rubber meets the road!
Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
Wow! That’s what I want. I want to be that living sacrifice. I want to be acceptable to God! I want to be transformed! The way we do church… The way we do love… The way we do our lives... How we treat each other… is crucial! I need a different tree to slap! The purpose is how we live…maybe.
So, is the purpose of Romans head or heart? Is it theology or application? Is it our relationship to God or our relationship to each other? What is the purpose… what is the purpose of the letter to the Romans?
Let me tell you how we are going to resolve this question; this year. In my adult class, which meets at 9 o’clock, upstairs, we are going to focus on the brain part; the theology. We are going to begin in chapter 1 and dig deep into the Gospel; attempting to understand. That’s going to be fun!
In our sermon time, we are going to do Romans backwards… what? We are going to start in chapter 16, then 15, then 14. My sermons will be about where the rubber meets the road; the application; life-changing part. I plan on each sermon ending with the “So, what…” This is reflected in the banner which Lyn and Tanya have made for us… (read some)
Class time… head. Sermon time… heart.
Let’s get started, at the end. Let’s begin going backwards.
Romans 16:1-16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.
Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Next week, I want to explore Phoebe, and the rest of Paul’s posse. But this morning I want to look at these names. Let’s make four observations about these 28 people, which Paul greets I chapter 16.
Observation #1 - Notice house churches. The “church in their house”; the “family of”; all the saints who are “with them”. There appears to be something like 5 to 8 house churches that are mentioned here. It is a bit slippery as to which ones go with which. But Paul is systematically mentioning the different churches that meet across the city of Rome. Most likely, someone in the group had an actual house that was big enough to host a 20-something size church.
Rome at this time was a sprawling metroplex. Most of the people lived in apartments, many were poor or slaves or daily workers. But a few were wealthy enough to own a real house and host a church.
Observation #1 – Don’t picture church buildings with large numbers of people going to church; with pews and preachers and staff, and all the stuff that we associate with church. Rather, picture small groups of Christians being hosted in house-churches.
Observation #2 - Notice Ethnic diversity. There are Jewish people like Prisca and Aquila. There are Romans like Andronicus and Junia. Some of the list have Greek names. This will be important as we move toward understanding the purpose of the letter to the Romans. Paul may be commending some of these Jewish Christians who have recently returned to Rome. Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to realize the Jewish Christians importance.
Note also that 10 of the 28 are women. Women played a vital role in these house-churches. More about this in my next sermon.
Note also that some of these are slaves… “Greet those who belong to the family of…” is a way of saying slaves. Paul’s previous words in Galatians ring true here…
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Observation #2 – There is amazing ethnic diversity in the church at Rome. Picture this hodge-podge of all kinds of people in these house-churches. How can they possibly get along; fellowship; or even love each other?
Observation #3 - Paul knows these individuals. It is likely that seven, on the list, worked directly with Paul during their exile from Rome. Most notably Prisca and Aquila. We normally say Priscilla and Aquila. Prisca is a nick-name for Priscilla. It is a Tim for Timothy kind of thing. Paul calls her Prissy.
The point is Paul knows them or knows their work. Listen to how he commends them…
--fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks
--who has worked hard for you
--who are of note among the apostles
--our fellow worker in Christ
--who has worked hard in the Lord
Paul commends them because they are servants of Jesus! This is another insight into the purpose of Romans. Paul wants them to be able to work together. The Jewish Christians and the Roman Christians need to cooperate for the spread of the Gospel!
Observation #3 - Paul commends this list of people for their service to Christ!
Observation #4 - These are real people! With real names! 28 people have been recorded in God’s Word! These 28 people actually lived in Rome in 57 AD when Paul wrote them this letter. They breathed the stinky air of Rome. They walked by an amphitheater where gladiators fought, or on the Appian way. They drank water from a Roman aqueduct. They heard Nero giving speeches. These are real people. Paul knows their names. Paul values them enough to list their names at the end of his great letter to the Romans.
Observation #4 – Let’s connect to these people who lived their lives in Christ!
This is where I want to end my sermon. Here is where the rubber meets the road.
People have names worth remembering. I am honored when someone remembers my name. When I am introduced to someone, then later, they mention my name in the conversation, I feel good. The next time we meet they remember my name! It makes me feel important enough for them to remember my name. Am I right? It is important for us. Like Paul, we value people by remembering their names.
“I’m bad with names.” I can fix that. Here is what you do.
1) Pay attention. Listen when they first say their name. Focus. Pay attention. It is not about you. It is about them. Pay attention. Go into an encounter making a point to listen for their name. This gives you a 75% chance of remembering.
2) Repeat the name back to them. Make a comment about it being unique or spelling or what their name means or it’s a pretty name. Is that short for. 25% more chance of remembering.
3) In your mind, not out loud, make an association with the name to who they are or what they look like or something. Another 25% chance of remembering.
4) Write it down. Later use your phone… make a note… start a contact… If you do forget, look it up again. 100% chance of remembering if you can look it up.
Let’s Practice… Here is a picture of a woman you are about to meet. “My name is Phoebe.” You say something like… “That’s an unusual name. How is spelled?” You think, “Like Phoenix.” Phoenix is a bird… crow’s feet on her eyes.
Let’s do another… (Another woman) “I’m Junia.” “Like the month.” Not Julia or Julie, but Junia. June is a warm month… warm person.
It’s easy. It just takes intentionality. People are worth the effort to remember their names. Paul in chapter 16 thought so.
I am excited about our study into the letter to the Romans. I suspect, if we let it, it will change our lives. Here is a verse I think might be our theme verse for the year…
Romans 15:5-6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Los Alamos Church of Christ
January 5, 2019