Have you ever written a letter to someone you never met?
A small group of men stood on the Mount of Olives, half a mile from the gates of Jerusalem. Their mouths were open. They squinted upwards at the impossible brightness of the puffy clouds and blue sky. It wasn’t just an ordinary afternoon. The Master had disappeared. His multiple appearances in the past forty days convinced them that He was ALIVE! They were transformed, ready to pour out their lives, ready to DIE for this reality.
The walk back to the city was downhill, surprisingly short. They gathered in the upper room, broke bread together, prayed, and waited.
Pentecost was ten days later. Jerusalem was packed, jammed with people from all over the world. The city was barely cleaned up from one feast before it was filled with messy throngs to celebrate the next.
It’s hard to overstate what happened that day. It was like a hurricane with no rain, like a forest fire with no burns. The awareness that we are on the edge of infinity was palpable. There is so much MORE in the universe than we see, measure and understand. Thousands heard the preaching, repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus.
Jews from Rome were in the audience that day. They witnessed the power of the Spirit. They heard Peter preach the truth. They believed, received and were baptized. You can imagine their conversations on the three-month walk home. The Messiah came! We just missed seeing Him. What if the rabbi at home doesn’t believe us? Can we convince him with scriptures from the Psalms, Isaiah and Joel?
The gathering of Jesus followers in Rome grew. We don’t know for sure if it’s genesis was a few Jewish Christians, returning from Pentecost, AD 33. It’s certainly possible.
In AD 49 Claudius expelled Jews from Rome. This included Aquila and Priscilla, the host family for a house church. The pair traveled to Corinth and started a life there, integrating with Jesus followers in their new city. They met a well-traveled man in his fifties who shared not only a common faith, but also a common profession – tent maker. Paul, Aquila and Priscilla worked together for “a season”, as long as eighteen months.
Paul was a seasoned writer and church planter. He had heart for cities, the most populated and sinful places. He longed to go to Rome, to see the name of Jesus proclaimed in the center of the world. Through Aquila and Priscilla, Paul heard the insider account of Jesus followers in Rome. What did they understand about the gospel? What questions remained unanswered? What struggles did they face?
Inspired by the Spirit and filled with love for people he had never met, Paul wrote a letter, his longest letter. He dictated it, Tertius put the quill on the parchment. The finished letter was wrapped carefully and carried to Rome by a trusted friend, Phoebe.
The core of this letter to Roman Christians is a detailed presentation of the gospel. We are Jesus followers in a time and place that Paul could not have imagined, much less visited. He writes to us as well.
With Resurrection Sunday behind us, we are digging into the letter Paul wrote to Jesus followers in an urban, secular setting. I hope you’ll join us as we start the series “Foundations”, the book of Romans.