Summary: A sermon on the importance of confession and belief
So last time we spoke I told you that I would explain to you why these verses of
Scripture in Romans 1 where Paul tells believers to not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and today’s passage where Paul tells us in no uncertain terms how we can be made right with God were so shocking and jaw dropping to the Church at Rome. So let’s take a journey back in time to the City of Rome in about 64 AD. At this time Rome is the absolute center of commerce, thinking, trade, culture and extravagance in the entire known world. It is an absolutely jaw-dropping city. The Romans controlled much of the world, they were the undeniable superpower of their day. Things for Christians in Rome were going fairly well. They had an uprising a few years earlier where they clashed with the Jews. As a result the emporer Claudius had ordered all of the Jews to get out of town. But things after that had calmed down considerably until 64 AD. Specifically the night of June 18, a hot summer night in the bustling city of Rome. Now there was a new Emporer, you’ve no doubt heard of him, his name is Nero. He’s crazy as a loon. That’s what he’s most famous for anyway. Well on June 18 a huge fire broke out in Rome, Nero was several miles away at a summer palace and he rushed back to Rome upon hearing of the fire and marshaled all of his resources to put out the fire. Well, despite his best efforts the fire lasted 6 days and 7 nights and then flared up off and on for 3 more days. ¾ of the great city of Rome was destroyed. That’s hard to even comprehend. Imagine is ¾ of New York City was destroyed in a week. Unimaginable suffering followed for the people. Rumors started surfacing that Nero himself had started the fire and that he sat atop a tower, dressed as an actor, playing his lyre and singing while the city of Rome burned to the ground.
Well, Nero has to put to bed these terrible rumors so he looks around for someone to blame for the fire to take the heat off himself. Well, the historian Tacitus picks up our story, he says “In spite of every human effort, of the emporer’s largesse, and of the sacrifices made to the Gods, nothing sufficed to allay suspicion nor to destroy the opinion that the fire had been ordered. Therefore, in order to destroy this rumor, Nero blamed the Christians, who are hated for their abominations, and punished them with refined cruelty. Christ, from whom they take their name, was executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Stopped for a moment, this evil superstition reappeared, not only in Judea, where was the root of the evil, but also in Rome, where all things sordid and abominable from every corner of the world come together. Thus, first those who confessed were arrested, and on the basis of their testimony a great number were condemned, although not so much for the fire itself as for their hatred of humankind.” Did you catch that ? First those who confessed were arrested, and a great number condemned. What did Paul say, Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved. Here Paul is telling the Christians in the Church at Rome to Confess with their mouth Jesus is Lord. In Rome, in the heart of the persecution. In the city where the emporer himself lives. Friends, that is a death sentence.