Thursday, October 11, 2007

KoG IV--For Free or Via Caesar?

Hello, PDX!

Lately the high temperature in Baltimore where our daughter lives has rivaled the high temperature in Baghdad. Here we've been abnormally cool and much wetter than we've been accustomed after a very dry summer. We live in different worlds that yet are one.

Circa AD 33: Saul was a "young Turk" although he didn't know it at the time. The city of Tarsus, today located about 25 miles WSW from the vital U.S. airbase at Adana, Turkey, already existed before the time of Christ. Talk about centennials! They've probably been able to observe over 25 of them. Two millennia ago the region around Tarsus was known as Cilicia. Today it's a part of the Republic of Turkey, the Middle East's oldest democracy. 2K years ago, this area produced a young Jew named Saul who took his faith and traditions very seriously. That's why he traveled to Jerusalem for further study at the epicenter of his people and his faith.

We don't know that Saul ever heard Jesus of Nazareth preach or teach, but he was determined to eliminate followers of this Jesus whom they confessed to be "Xristos" or Christ, the one anointed to be Israel's Messiah. Saul was a consenting eyewitness at the lynching and stoning of Stephen, the first Christ-follower known to be martyred. Saul became a bounty hunter, intending to make a career of rounding up others like Stephen. On the way to Damascus with arrest warrants in his backpack, Saul was encountered by a blinding light and a voice calling him to repentance and service. Saul was met by the very Christ, the risen and glorified Christ, whose followers he was set to arrest and eliminate. Instructed and baptized in Damascus by a Christ follower name Ananias, Saul eventually returned to Jerusalem, his own life now in danger, to meet with the very wary leaders of the community of his former enemies.

After an apparent period of self-imposed exile, this transformed Saul adopted the Hellenized name "Paulos", traveling widely in the known Mediterranean world as a missionary to Jews, Gentiles and people on the fringe. Paul's letters and epistles to various communities of Christ followers predate the written gospels in our New Testament Bibles. He took the title "apostle" (one who is sent) because he had been called and sent directly by Christ, not by fledgling church leaders in Jerusalem--although he did come to an accomodation with them.

Paul's message went far beyond any sort of Judaism vs. Christianity debate. Paul's message set him on a direct collision course with the very organizing principle of the civilized world in which he and his hearers lived. Rome was the power. Rome said peace in the empire would come through military victory that would crush opposition. Prosperity would come by turning the imperial authority of Rome into a state religion. Personal piety and loyalty to the emperor would ensure the favor of the gods. This would bring economic growth. Roman emperors sealed the deal by being declared divine by the Roman senate. Sons of emperors thus became known as "son of (a) god" and "savior of the world." Prosperity would result from a sort of trickle-down economics so long as the Roman state maintained its hold on the world by military victory. This order would be maintained at all costs. Rome tolerated other religions only so long as they supported the existing order.

Paul knew a different Son of God, a different Savior of the world: Jesus, the Christ. Following this Christ led to a different kind of peace, a peace that came not through military victory of Rome or through keeping the Jewish law but through the grace of God in Christ. And this grace was received through the oxymoronic "law of faith" as Paul sometimes put it. The peace that Christ offered came not through military victory but through the justice of God. God had things right. God could therefore make things right. God had done so and was doing so through his Son Jesus. God's justice was God's right-making.

For Paul this was the best news he had ever heard because it turned the world upside-down and right-side-up at the same time. Paul opposed the kingdom of Rome with the kingdom of God (KoG). One kingdom sought to seize the world and then forever freeze it through imperial rule. The other kingdom sought to free the world. One came at a very high price and was good news for some but very bad news for others. The other kingdom came free-of-charge as good news for all willing to receive it. One kingdom was patently unsustainable. The other lasts an eternity.

The two kingdoms could not be more different. What's your pick?

Next time: Does any of this make sense today?


Pastor Roger

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