Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Criminal Gospel (part 1 of 3)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel. – 2 Timothy 2:8  (ESV)

This is followed by a very interesting statement.  Paul continues on to write, “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal” (2:9a).  How often do we take a moment to pause and consider the things that Paul says?  How often do we make this consideration in light of the Jesus about which we think, talk, sing, and preach?  Paul says that because of the Gospel that he preaches, he suffers.  For the Gospel that he preaches, he is bound in chains as a criminal.  Isn’t the message of the Gospel simply that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that everybody can live happy lives and go to heaven?  Why would that induce suffering?  Why would that cause someone to be bound as a criminal.  Well, that message would not cause such things to happen, because that is not necessarily the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel, “my Gospel,” as Paul says, is that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The kingly message of the Gospel is that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His Resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3b-4a).  Having been raised, thus being vindicated in everything that He implied that He was in both His message and activities, and everything that the prophets had declared the Messiah to be, He is, as Paul says, “Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:4b).  This statement from the opening verses of Romans is echoed here in the second chapter of Timothy.  Not only is He “our Lord,” but He is Lord of all creation.  He is the King over all kings.  He is the Ruler of all rulers.  All, without exception, are subject to Him and to His kingdom.  This was so, in part as Paul indicates, because He was risen from the dead. 

The Roman cross seemed to have conquered another pretender to glory, but that cross had been overcome, and it no longer held the power that it had once held.  Empires had been raised and razed through the power of death.  They may have fancied themselves as peaceful and enlightened and tolerant, but in the end, a significant portion of emperors ruled through the threat of death.  In His Resurrection, Jesus had conquered death as well, while showing that death held no ultimate power over Him.  It was also being claimed that if one was in union with Him, which entailed recognizing His Lordship and believing in Him as the Son of God and Savior, that neither the threat of death by the cross (the symbol of the world’s powers) nor death itself held any power over the one that believed that either.  In a world in which Caesar reigned supreme, and in which Caesar was king, and ruler, and lord, in which “all the world” was subject to him, and in which it was Caesar that was known and hailed as the divine son of god, this was a startling message. 

This Gospel that Paul was preaching and with which he was charged to carry to the ends of the earth, was a threat to the stability and orderliness of the Roman empire.  The Romans had a practice of adaptation in their conquering, in which, for the sake of peace and unity and harmony, conquered peoples were allowed to hold on to their religions, so long as they were willing to recognize the Roman deities, and more importantly, were willing to recognize Caesar’s claims to divinity, joining in the worship of Caesar as divine. 

The Jewish people were exempted from this requirement, owing to the fresh memories of the Maccabean revolts and the reputation that had been won by the Jewish people.  The early Christ-followers, such as Paul, refused to accede to this.  Not only were they unwilling to accept Caesar’s claims or the claims that were made on his behalf by the denizens of the Caesar cult, but they were going out preaching that there was only one God, and one true King, and that His name was Jesus.  They were preaching that all gods, or all so-called gods, were subservient to this Jesus, and more than that, that all kings and rulers, though they may have had God-ordained responsibilities and functions, were subservient to Him as well.  Naturally, this not only threatened the fragile “peace” of the empire, but it challenged the power of the Caesar and all of Rome.    As we keep these things in mind, it is no wonder that Paul, and indeed, the rest of the Apostles of Jesus and so many early believers in the Christ, suffered as they did and were treated as criminals. 

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