Good News from a Distant Land

Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

[Acts 18:5]

I have been fascinated with the Empire State Building since I first went to the top of that building when I was six years old. For many years, it was the tallest building in the world. Awhile back, I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel that talked about the construction of that great building. How is such a massive structure able to stand under its own weight, to withstand the high winds that beat against it, and even to survive the occasional airplane strikes against it–and yet it remains strong? The secret of the Empire State Building, the documentary said, is its foundation. The documentary showed some 1920s newsreel footage of workers pouring thousands of pounds of concrete and steel beams into the hole beneath the building. The secret of the Empire State Building’s greatness is its foundation.

How can you make sure that your faith remains strong in spite of the adversity, the attacks, and even the doubts that beat against your faith? The secret is making sure that you have a strong foundation. And that is what the book of Romans is all about. The book of Romans is the strong foundation for the Christian faith.

Romans was a letter written to a particular group of Christians in a particular setting, yet the content in the letter applies to all of us. Because it is a letter, it follows the form of a letter. We do not write that many letters anymore, do we? We usually communicate through email, Facebook, texting, or Twitter. But if you have something really important to send somebody, you will send it in a letter. And today’s letters have a form to them. At the top, you put the date. Then you put the address. Next is the salutation, then the body of the letter, and so on. In Paul’s day when you wrote a letter, you also followed a particular form, but it was different than ours. Letters in that time started with the name of the writer, followed by the name of the recipient. Then you would include a word of greeting, followed by the body of the letter. The writer, recipient, and greeting are what we find in the first seven verses of Romans 1. But far from being a simple formality, these introductory words from Paul to the Roman Christians are packed with significant truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Romans 1:1, the sender of the letter identifies himself with one word: “Paul.” Some people think that God changed his name from Saul to Paul after his conversion. But that is not true; Paul always had two names. Saul was his Jewish name that was given to him by his Jewish father. But because he was born in Tarsus and was a Roman citizen, he was also given the Roman name Paul. He was both Saul and Paul from the beginning. Interestingly, the word “Paul” means “small.” We know from extrabiblical information that he was small in stature even though, as we will see in the book of Romans, he was mighty in faith.

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