ROMANS 1: THE RATE OF EXCHANGE
For those following my Breadcrumbs – a trail of morsels to chew on, while we journey together through the Creator God’s Epic Play – we’re now up to the bit where we had a 400-year intermission, then started Part Two in HIStory. During September, we opened the curtains on the Creator’s “Stage of LIFE” with two Acts that were narrated by a guy called Luke, a 1st Century doctor. He was an investigative journalist who wrote two extensive reports for a Roman Governor. We now have his reports in the form of the Book of Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – or shortened simply to Acts.
In this way, we’ve been introduced to a number of characters: the 12 disciples (Jesus’ closest friends /followers/learners) who became the 12 Apostles (leaders). You may remember that one guy died (Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus) but another man, a Jewish academic called Paul, became a key player. Together, these Jewish leaders became the “Story Keepers” – men used by the Creator God to make His Global Masterplan known, both to Jews and non-Jews, by keeping the stories of Jesus alive.
The rest of the New Testament (new agreement/contract) that the Creator God drew up between Himself and His image-bearers (those created in His own image to be like Him), and beginning now with the Book of Romans, are actually a series of letters. We’ll be dipping into these letters in my Daily Breadcrumbs, right through to the end of the year. These take us to the end of the Creator God’s Epic Play, and they explain what on earth just happened to Jesus, and why his death was the critical intersecting point not just in HIStory, but in world history.
Anyone who was anyone – particularly in Jewish circles – in the 1st Century AD were probably left thinking: “Wait… did I just miss something? What just happened?!” Enter stage right, Saul of Tarsus: clever guy, steeped in Jewish religious education and top of his class for self-righteous zeal.[a] He was renamed Paul by Jesus – who, bizarrely enough, had been dead for some time and yet had appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul probably remained single all his life. My guess is that no woman (not even a 1st Century one) could put up with traipsing around the Roman Empire, and following behind his ‘black and white’ mind-set with 100% dedication to his Maker, at whatever cost!
Paul takes Center Stage but he’s caught up in his own life-storm. It seems that, from the get-go, coming face-to-face with the risen Lord Jesus had begun what could only be described as a tough white-water raft-ride down a rocky river in a thin rubber dingy! And, those awes that he had all his life, were lost upstream somewhere when he lost his sight for three days. Now he’s at the mercy of the Creator God, called to move HIStory out from under the umbrella of a purely Jewish audience to take in non-Jews. And, if he wasn’t before, he certainly is now, totally dependent on FAITH.
The Letter to the Romans seems to have been written towards the end of Paul’s third trip around the eastern half of the Roman Empire, having been specifically commissioned to bring God’s Message to the known world. This unfortunately included a night time escape in a basket down a city wall; being beaten and chased by people throwing stones at him; being imprisoned in Philippi; a riot in Ephesus and several more interesting moments. Paul does, however, have an outstanding task that his vision of Jesus included: to take the message of the Creator God’s Global Masterplan right to the top of world government.[b]
But with life so precariously hanging in the balance, it may be a good idea to write a letter to Jesus Followers (who were living in Rome) in the meantime. And so, with the narrative part to the New Testament now over, the first chapter of Romans begins with some incredibly solid teaching. It’s the difference between milk and meat; enjoying pureed soup or chewing through a tough steak. Every bite, from now until the New Year, will need to be carefully chewed and digested. Every day, for the rest of my life, I need to get rid of one currency (which buys me my current lifestyle) and, with the remaining letters in the New Testament, exchange one thing after another each day from my old paradigm and old way of life, in order to buy and store up for myself NEW LIFE in Christ.
So, as soon as I begin to read today’s chapter in the Book of Romans, I notice that Paul’s introduction of himself holds important information for me. [v1] “Bond servant”, “called to be an Apostle”, “set apart for the Gospel”, are all relevant terms for the Jesus Follower today. All Believers everywhere, belong to one Holy, “catholic” (universal) and “apostolic church”. We’re all “servants of Jesus” and called to be leaders – people who take charge and rule of their environments[c] to bring about eternal change in the lives of those around them. And, just as God’s people in the Old Testament were set apart[d], the New Testament books show that I too have to be ‘set apart’ and different[e], as a Follower and Carrier of the Creator God’s “gospel” – His Good News message.
There’s a lot in the rest of the intro down to v6 and I feel tempted to gloss over it. But it’s all hugely significant. So, for example, the gospel (the Good News about the Creator’s Global Masterplan) was promised beforehand. [v2] This isn’t a new religion, nor the start of a new story. This is the old story continuing on, and now being fulfilled. We’re sitting in Part 2 of the Creator’s Ancient Play. And, now that it’s all getting explained to us, we’ll be without excuse [v20] when it comes time to leave the Play House of Planet Earth, and meet our Maker.
Paul explains Jesus in a way that I hope is easy enough for anyone on the planet to understand. [v3-4] He was fully human when his DNA was implanted into one of Mary’s human eggs.[f] But since ‘the sperm’ determines everything significantly fundamental about us (right down to our sex and eye colour), so too has everything about Jesus been determined from the DNA implanted by God’s Holy Spirit – making Him both eternal and fully God.[g] Outside of that, it’s a miracle that I’ll not fully understand, and will have to just believe, this side of Eternity.
At this stage, and by the time this Jewish scholar named Paul writes his letter to the Believers in Rome, God’s Family have had at least 800+/- years of preparations and predictions. So they’re not relying on “blind faith”. When Paul starts talking about “for His Name’s sake” [v5], this isn’t just a phrase or saying. It goes right back to the first book in the Bible when “the Angel of the Lord” appeared to Abraham. And, after predicting that, “In the mountain of the Lord it (that sort-after/needed sacrifice) will (be seen to) be provided…” The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said:
“By Myself I have sworn… In your seed (descendants) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” [Genesis 22:11-18]
Then, as far back as the Book of Exodus, God tells His family that God’s own Name was in His “Angel” i.e. a person that was commissioned to lead them to their final destination. And that they were specifically told to obey His voice.[h] All these are clues and “hidden treasure” woven carefully and systematically into the Creator God’s ancient storyline.[i] Followers of Jesus – people who follow “the human voice” of the Creator God because God’s Name is in Him[j] – are now called “beloved in God” and “saints”. [v7] This is not because it’s a new thing, but because we’re now added to Israel – a Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation.[k]
Clearly, Paul has wanted for some time to go to Rome in order to unpack these things in person. [v8-15] Having been brought up in the Jewish faith and studying from childhood, God’s story has finally clicked into place and he’s bursting with information to transfer. In the meantime, he’s happy to see just how open to learn, the Believers are in Rome. In the years after Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, many will have come to faith through either going to Jerusalem (and hearing about how Jesus fitted into the Creator’s prophecies), or else heard through word-of-mouth from those returning from Jerusalem.[l]
Using words from the Ancient prophet Habakkuk[m], Paul explains again that this “gospel” (Good News Message) is the power of God for salvation because a righteousness from God has been revealed. For the first time in the history of world religions, this finally is a righteousness that is uniquely by FAITH from first to last. [v16-17] In other words, it’s not a new religion cooked up by men, but initiated and executed entirely by Father God Himself. This is because, in one way or another since time began, we’ve kept screwing up His pipedream for the world He made.[n]
It’s a “divine exchange” and the rate of exchange is free.[o] So then, regardless of the hardships that Paul’s faced since his conversion, as a die-hard religious zealot previously chained to rules and regulations, he’s now not ashamed of this wonderful “good news” gospel…
But in order the explain what “right-ness by faith in God” looks like, Paul uses the rest of this chapter to demonstrate what right-ness isn’t. If we fully understand even a fraction of the components of what it is NOT to be right with our Creator, then maybe we’ll understand and see what Paul could see…
“Although what may be known about God is plainly seen [v19] … they knew God but they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him [v21]… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie [v25]… they exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones [v26]… they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [v28]… Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” [v32]
It’s a solid lump that sits in my stomach at the start of a new day. I could choose to spit it out (or exchange it for ‘Sugar Puffs’ next time), instead of tackling this “steak” at this hour in the morning. But while I sit here chewing on what I’ve just read (and wondering what ‘rate of exchange’ I’ll try using today in response to my Creator’s Handbook for LIFE), I can’t help being reminded of what I read in my Daily Breadcrumbs seven days ago: “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.”[p]
CLICK to return to today’s “Daily Breadcrumbs”
[a] Acts 8:1-3 and Acts 9:1-16
[b] Acts 9:15
[c] Genesis 1:26a
[d] Leviticus 20:26
[e] 1 Peter 2:9-10
[f] Isaiah 9:6-7
[g] John 1:1-4&v14 and John 8:58
[h] Exodus 23:20-22a
[i] Isaiah 45:3
[j] Isaiah 7:13-14
[k] Exodus 19:5-6
[l] Acts 2:5-37
[m] Habakkuk 2:4
[n] Matthew 21:33-44
[o] Isaiah 53:6,11b,12b and Isaiah 55:1-3 (Context: whole chapter)
[p] Acts 17:30