On August 11, 2019, Pastor Jon Maurer’s sermon was:
“A couple of things I wished I had known about reading the Bible.”
The irony of this is, I already knew these things. Simply put, I learned them in the school of hard knocks, and I am not done with my education. At this point in my life, I have been studying and looking at scripture intensely for twelve years. In the process of reading scripture for this time period, is that I wrote about what I perceived and strived to get an accurate picture of who God and Jesus is, that and I asked God a lot of hard questions. All of my questions were answered.
A friend of mine recently asked me, how do you study, and could you lead us in a Bible study? What my Pastor delivered that following Sunday morning, was a plainly worded, concise technique for study, and so I included that information to along with my overview of the first four chapters of Romans. As a side note, isn’t amazing how the Holy Spirit orchestrates events in the background.
By the way – I realize that I could be writing to the theology trained student, as well as, those who may never pick up a Bible, and so I try to keep it intelligent and yet simple.
Notes I took on Pastor Jon’s sermon.
- The Bible was written for us, not to us.
This is a significant statement, as it moves scripture out of the hallowed halls and into our hands.
It removes the sterility that we have imposed on scripture, and it is a unique perspective from which to start any Bible study, as this makes scripture very personal.
- The meaning of the text is embedded in its original, historical context.
Context comes in two forms. One of those is in the passages themselves; for example: In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus is answering questions that the disciples asked. (Remove the idea that at this point there were only twelve. Now, when the context began there have been twelve or fewer, but let’s try to imagine the possibility of more) The context of Jesus’ answer initiates in Matthew 21, where Jesus, in fulfilling prophecy, is about to enter Jerusalem, riding on an unridden donkey – the high-end vehicle of the day. Wow, the disciples were excited; Judas is elated, and the crowd is going crazy. Why? Because they perceived Him as the warring Messiah scripture spoke of. But follow the story, for what did He do? He threw people out of the temple courts and entered into a three day, verbal battle with the same people, that would soon have Him killed not realizing that they were offering Him up as the Passover sacrifice. (You should intently consider the idea and meaning of Jesus, that afternoon, being offered up as the Passover sacrifice. Remember, the Passover was initiated while God’s chosen people are still slaves in Egypt. It was the blood of that lamb, painted on the doorposts of each home, that prevented the death of the those incorporated because they were under the covering of the blood. Note: I used the word incorporated because we got outstanding men like Caleb, who was not a Jew when this process started.)
The other form of context is the historical and cultural side. In the case of Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, the disciples – Jews, were so undone by the last three days, knowing full well that Jesus’ actions could spill over on to them also, had no idea what to say as they walked relatively quietly away to the Mount of Olives. They said to Jesus, look at the mind-blowing construction techniques of the Temple. This thing should stand forever is the implied remark. Jesus responded to that with this:
“Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3 NASB)
The disciples asked two pointed questions; both of which were explicitly Jewish oriented.
So the question you should ask next is, what does that look like for us today?
Perhaps at this point, I should tell you that the Pastor’s overall theme was, understanding the writings of the Apostle Paul, based on his letter to Philemon.
In the study on Romans, that I have included, I cover, to some degree, the historical context on the Book of Romans. A massive piece of evidence comes from Romans 1:1, where Paul begins his typical introduction. Here he says, I Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ. Again, I cover this below. This thought process also works exceptionally well when studying the book of Romans.
- The Bible is a context-rich form of communication.
What does that mean?
It means that everything has an initiating question or point of conversation, and though directed at a specific audience at the moment, it still has implications for us today.
For example, the book of Revelation is charged with context. It is a book written to Jews, using terminology that would have been common to them, and yet it applies primarily to us today. The imagery is nothing new to a Jew and has common ties with the prophecies of Daniel among others – hence, the context. (Naturally, we struggle with multi-headed beasts, although we are more than eager to watch bizarre things like that on the movie screen.)
Context is what links us back to the original thought and intent.
Chuck Missler used to say, “The Bible is an integrated, coded, message system.” That means, that the messages in the scripture, though thousands of years apart are integrally linked by God, into one all-encompassing picture, in which God wins.
Pastor Jon’s tips: (Every week he has tips. These are designed to give you a practical way to put the sermon into action.)
- Get a Bible reading plan – like the You Version app.
In reality, this means be deliberate in your reading. If necessary, force yourself to invest quality time daily.
- Dig into the Bible passages that make your radar go off, and then dig a little deeper.
I have a friend that seems to bounce back and forth in scripture. I understand why he does it, but when he asks questions, they are combinations of multiple thoughts and contexts. Sadly, he is often confused.
No one is telling you to ignore boring passages, however, when you find a passage that speaks to you dismantle the verse; look at the Hebrew or Greek definitions of the simplest of words in a concordance, and find their meanings. Then, look for other examples of the same thing.
A tip – Since much of what we read, is prophecy, then you need to understand that to the Jewish mindset, prophecy is not a one-time event. The Jews looked for, and found acceptance in, patterns and repetition; therefore, when reading something prophetic, look for the parallels. Daniel and Revelation are good examples of such similarities.
- Read for transformation.
Try to understand the author’s original intent; this will be necessary for us to apply the text to our lives today.
Having been raised in the church, I had heard all the stories. There were many things that bothered me, and, as some would say, I felt like I was losing my faith. You see, church/religion built an image in me of an angry God. Read, say, John’s gospel, and you quickly see that Jesus – God’s representation upon the earth, demonstrated and vocalized the fact that God is love. John’s gospel is one which also gave me the direct association and recognization, that Jesus is God. You may not get what I just told you, but this transformed my thinking and life.
Another aspect of my religious education, involved David, the shepherd. Did you catch how I did not refer to him as the shepherd boy? That is because he was not a boy. Sorry if that blows your entire understanding of theology out of the water, but an aspect of our growing into maturity is to comprehend the reality of situations and deal with it. Why am I comfortable saying these things? Because, as you read for transformation, you will become aware that Davids resume, was read to Saul by one of his trusted people, who told Saul that he knew a man, who had killed a bear, and a lion, with his bare hands; and, the man is a skillful guitar player, who can calm your nerves. (Right, they didn’t have guitars back them, they were Lyres.) So, all Saul knows is that David is a man – perhaps a young man, but that is irrelevant. Saul, upon meeting David, hires him and makes him his ARMOR bearer as well. David then traverses back and forth between Saul and his families sheep farm. On one of those missions, his father, Jesse, gives him a care package for David’s brothers. However, on this occasion, Goliath, of the Philistines, is standing on the battle line daily and cursing the God of Israel. Sadly, no one in Israel, even their king, Saul, who scripture tells us was head and shoulders above any man in Israel, dares not to challenge the beast. Has anything physical changed about David since he has met Saul? NO. So why then does Saul refer to David as a youth? Could it be that is because David was a young man and not a seasoned veteran? Did Saul forget about the bear and the lion? And then, there is that malarky about David being four foot tall, and the upper body plate armor merely fell to the ground around him. Got real, if that was a reality, Saul would have never offered for the same young man that was his armor-bearer, to wear his armor. You should know the rest of the story, as David kills Goliath by cutting his head off with the big man’s own sword. I skipped some details, but you can read those aspects on your own.
That being said, let’s look, once again, at Romans, and see how and if it can transform us.
What follows are the notes I made for myself to lead the Bible study.
The letter to the church in Rome opens, and Paul, as he always does, introduces himself. However, this introduction has a slightly different tone to it.
In Romans 1:1, he says, “a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.”
This introduction, especially to what we will learn to be a majority Jewish community of believers, establishes Paul’s attitude, humility, and a touch of arrogance, all at the same time. It should speak to a Jewish understanding of slaves and how the Jews treated the Gentiles (which was right up there with slaves.) Shaul/Paul had every reason to brag about his understanding and Jewishness.
What rights does a slave have?
First off, think about the response of the hearers two thousand years ago, when:
- Slavery was not an issue and the reality was that slavery was a common and accepted way of life.
- Slaves had no standing in the community.
- Slaves had NO voice about anything. There, of course, may have been benevolent slave owners, and in Paul’s writing to Philemon, he plays upon that idea.
- To speak out against slavery was scandalous.
- You no longer had any claim to parental rights.
- And it was almost as if you could not be seen.
This introduction by Paul is crucial because of the audience, as we will soon see.
If the Jews saw the Gentile believers as nothing more than slaves, then how were they treating these new converts?
Where is the love?
In Romans 1:9-12 we see Paul stating one of the reasons for writing this letter,
“that he may impart to them some spiritual gift, for the purpose of establishing them; and that he (Paul) may be encouraged together with them by mutual faith.”
What do you think this passage is trying to say?
At this point, I would be sitting in front of you, able to see your facial expressions as you begin to comprehend the abhorrence of such a mentality; and, I want to hear why you think Paul would have said this.
I have a policy of not asking questions without having an answer, and I think the answer is that he wants to get his Jewish brethren completely submerged in this gospel of mercy and grace; and, to make them understand that God has leveled the playing field, and no one gets priority simply because of heritage. Paul’s wanting to lay hands upon, share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them more fully, and by the laying on of hands, show them love, and actually impart a spiritual gift of understanding, just as he had received.
Having recently sat through at least three weeks of history on Rome and the Roman Church, you would think I would have had enough, and been smarter for it. That did not happen, and I looked at it once again.
- The overview tells us that Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, a place he never visited, around Fall of 57 AD.
- We are told that Paul was writing to a vibrant church body when he wrote this letter. ??
- The Epistle itself gives us scant clues about the Roman believers, except for Paul’s reprimands.
Historically, we have this:
- Rome was under the governance of Nero (37-68AD), but one of the most disturbing leaders Claudius, the adoptive father of Nero, was also alive and ruling.
- Nero, after his father’s death, became the sole Emperor in 54AD.
This immediately gets my attention, for Emperor Claudius had made it known that the Jews regularly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus – a Grecian derivative name for Christ and therefore ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Rome. What these insurrections looked like, I do not know.
Edicts, such as this, apparently only lasted until the death, or incapacitation of the Emperor who had them written. Because documentation indicates that the Jews began returning to Rome in January of 53AD, a full year before Nero is declared Emperor, we must assume some incapacity or the death of Claudius.
Does this mean Nero served in a dual leadership position over Rome? Perhaps.
So by the time Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, they have been actively operating as a thriving church.
What is my take away from this?
Since Christ’s death is the division line for time, this is a relatively short period.
- How did the church spread so rapidly?
Strangely, we have Saul/Paul to thank for that.
“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1 NASB)
What clues do we have that help to define this body of believers?
- Their association with Chrestus, as the Greeks put it.
So they were followers of Christ. And, because we can associate the church with the Jewish expulsion and come back, then we are looking at a church with a mix of Jew and Gentile believers.
- There are statements such as:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NASB)
Why emphasize the Jew and then the Greeks, unless there are Gentiles in your audience?
In Romans 1:19-21 Paul is recapping how God dealt with the Jews in the beginning. This would be wasted energy to a church filled with Gentiles – people that may not have a clue about Jewish history. The remainder of Romans chapter one is ablaze with admonishments about the Jewish patterns of unbelief.
Again, it is evident that there is a strong Jewish influence in this body of believers.
Why emphasize the Jew and then the Greeks, unless there are Gentiles in your audience?
- In chapter two, Paul begins to make a turn, as he is now including Gentiles believers in the conversation.
When he talks about judgment, that can apply to anyone, however, to a body of believers, in which Hebrew (I assume) is the primary language, we could have some horrendous learning curves issues.
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:9-11 NASB)
- In chapters three and four, Paul defines how God levels the playing field.
We assumed for years that this always applied to the world; when in fact, Paul, in chapter four, is still trying to convince the Jews that they are no better off merely because of their heritage.
This relationship we have with God works by faith.
Sadly, the realization that the Gentiles can demonstrate faith and a place in eternity must be alarming to some.