Romans

The Apostle Paul writes the longest of his letters to a community of Christians in Rome, announcing that he plans to visit them, to be mutually encouraged, and to be sent on by them to Spain. To accomplish the goal of having the support of the Roman Christians, Paul sets forth an account of the gospel that he preaches–particularly about the saving work of God in Christ–and spells out its implications for the Christian life. In addition, he writes concerning the salvation of the Jewish people, discusses some particulars of Christian conduct (life under the Roman government, living together in the midst of disagreements, and fulfilling the law of love). He speaks of his plans for travel as an apostle and sends greetings by name to some twenty-six persons known to him in Rome.

The book of Titus is a Pastoral Epistle (letter from Paul to a church leader). The author is Paul who wrote it approximately 66 A.D. Key personalities include Paul and Titus. It was written to guide Titus, a Greek believer, in his leadership of the churches on the island of Crete, €For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you€ (1:5). As was the case with the letter of 1st Timothy, Paul writes to encourage and guide young pastors in dealing with opposition from both false teachers and the sinful nature of men.

A pastoral leader in the early church delivers a constructive but firm warning to a community under his care to be prepared and vigilant in confronting false teachers. Selfish in their motivations, distorters of sound doctrine, and immoral in character, these teachers are to be vigorously opposed and resisted, rather than listened to or welcomed. Vivid examples of similar challenges from the past are cited from both canonical and non-canonical literature, with the aim of providing models of constancy, faithfulness, and resilience within the community. The author lifts up the love, mercy, and steadfastness of God as a foundation for hope and celebration.

Beginning with angels announcing the conceptions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, and concluding with the resurrected Jesus being carried up into heaven, the Gospel according to Luke offers an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke presents the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus is Christ, the Lord, the redeemer sent by God to the people of Israel, the one who declares God’s salvation to all people. Jesus proclaims God’s reign, heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out oppressive spirits, restores people to full participation in society, and teaches his followers through vivid parables.

The Gospel of Mark focuses attention on the last week of Jesus’ life and his death in Jerusalem. Frequent appearances of the adverb immediately in this Gospel express the urgency of Jesus’ journey to the cross. This journey begins at the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry, commencing right away with his baptism and testing in the wilderness. As Jesus repeatedly announces his coming suffering, death, and resurrection, the Gospel of Mark draws its readers into the unfolding drama of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus the Messiah whose signal genealogy and miraculous birth are the sign and promise that “God is with us” (1:23). Jesus the Messiah proclaims God’s continuing righteous reign in his words of blessing and deeds of healing. Jesus calls his followers to experience God’s mercy anew, constitutes them as a new community of faith, and then, as crucified and resurrected Messiah, claims all power and authority as he commissions these disciples for mission with the promise that he will be with them until the end of the age (28:18-20).

The book of Philemon is a Prison Epistle (letter written while in prison), which Paul wrote circa 61 A.D. The key personalities of Philemon are Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. It was written to Philemon as a plea to request forgiveness for his runaway servant Onesimus, who was a new believer in Jesus Christ. The book of Philemon consists of only one chapter.

This artfully composed letter centers around two early Christian hymns (or confessions) that proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Around these two centers, the Apostle Paul identifies the reality of life in Christ for the Philippian Christians who will soon experience persecution for the sake of the gospel, just as Paul experiences this reality in his own imprisonment. The letter also emphasizes the joy that life in Christ brings to all believers in spite of the outward circumstances of persecution and life in the world.

The book of Revelation calls Christians to remain faithful to God and Christ and to resist the powers of evil in the conviction that God will prevail and bring salvation in the New Jerusalem. The book consists of six cycles of visions, each of which warns of the dangers arising from sin and evil. Yet each cycle concludes by showing readers the glories of worship in God’s presence, which gives reason for hope. The visions make vivid contrasts between Christ the Lamb and Satan’s agent, the beast. The visions help to alienate readers from powers of idolatry and oppression, while strengthening their faith in the salvation God provides.

Paul writes to the Galatian Christians out of deep concern that they are forsaking the gospel that he has preached and are listening instead to the message of certain Jewish Christian evangelists who are arguing that Gentile Christians must be circumcised according to Jewish law. Paul insists that people are justified by faith in Christ rather than by keeping the requirements of Torah. By faith, they participate in the death and resurrection of Christ and now live as God’s children and heirs of God’s promises. By the Spirit’s leading, this life of faith is no longer marked by sinful works of the flesh but bears fruit in freedom that serves the neighbor through love.