When I consider biblical history, it oftentimes feels like a land far, far away in a time long, long ago. And in fact, because of how cultures change over time and space, both of those statements are very true.
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans from the ancient city of Corinth, in south central Greece. For perspective’s sake, it would take 3 flights, totaling 18+ hours of flight time just to get there from Louisville, KY. No wonder it feels like a land far, far away.
When you also consider the cultural differences, not only does it seem like a land far, far away, it also has all the feels of a medieval movie (think Russell Crowe in Gladiator), with coliseums full of people cheering on great warrior battles while chariots take great war heroes to and fro.
When considering who Jesus was to Paul during the time of the Roman empire, and who Jesus is during our time in America, let us consider these three truths:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
In other words, Jesus is the same person, the same God in both ancient Rome as He is in modern America. His work, His mission transcends human time, space, or circumstances. The reason for that is simple: His Kingdom is working above and outside of our kingdoms. He’s moving toward reconciling His creation to Himself regardless of the cultural kingdoms that are in play. So whether it’s Roman Emperor Nero or President Trump, there is King Jesus. His Kingdom never ends and His Lordship never expires. Ever.
The Gospel of Jesus is not the Gospel of Rome or America. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).
The Gospel of Jesus is a gospel of good news about a different kind of Kingdom. A Kingdom that is rooted in sacrificial love, not selfish ambitions. And that truth rises above all human initiatives. Try as we may, we as human are unable to maintain the steadfast line of sacrificial love that Jesus maintains. The Romans were not immune to the desires of the flesh any more or less than we as Americans are. Inside of that reality, is the manifestation that both cultures fell short. In Rome, there was a false ideology that there were gods living in the clouds above Mt. Olympus who supposedly helped to maintain aspects of the natural world, which in turn affected how they did religion and politics. In America, there are the false gods of you should “have it your way” and “the bigger the better.” Bigger trucks, bigger houses, bigger bank accounts. These are the false Gods that we believe in that dictate how we operate in our religion and politics. The Gospel of Jesus says die to self for the sake of your neighbor.
Obedience got the Gospel got to Kentucky. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, His disciples began to carry His message and the Gospel began to spread and local churches continued to be birthed and developed. As the Gospel message moved across Europe and north Africa (around 400 AD), it began to spread to most of Western Europe (600 AD). After the first crusades took place around 1000 AD, the Gospel spread to the Americas around 1500 AD. The North American colonists moved westward across America in the 1700’s and the Gospel went with them. While this is a broad stroke picture of “how” the Gospel spread, the details and the lives of the many men and women who were committed to that spreading explain the “why”. In short, they believed that it was the truth and that God had spoken His love into this world through His Son Jesus. From those who came before, the gospel spread to us in America. It now spreads through us that also believe as we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.
Rome is indeed a land far, far away. The Roman empire that Paul was writing into was indeed during a vastly different time and culture than we are accustomed to. But Jesus is the One who holds and brings all things together because all things were made by Him, through Him, and for Him.
- Bobby Carnes is the Lead Pastor at Christ Community's Midland location.