9) Messages of Love & Truth

The story of Israel takes a dramatic turn after Jesus’ resurrection. For those who believe, their worldview shifts from centripetal (Israel at the centre) to centrifugal (spreading the message outward to the world). Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the power of God, the truth of Jesus’ message of salvation, and validated the claims of his identity: Messiah, Saviour, Son of God. His ascension sent the Holy Spirit to create a ‘new people of God’, empowered by love, held together by faith in Christ. Their mission was to take this message outward – to everyone, everywhere!

But how? How could such amazing news (the gospel) get broadcast outward to the nations (without television, radio, or social media)? And who would believe it? The book of Acts begins to answer that question. Persecution forced the believers to flee – and everywhere they went they shared the good news. Others were specially called by God to spread the message of love & truth to Samaria, to Ethiopia, to Tyre and Sidon – and to the Gentiles! Tradition tells us that the Apostles went in all directions, to India, China, Africa, Asia minor. But the Biblical record tells us of one towering figure – Paul. Paul’s conversion from persecutor to evangelist paved the way for the most extraordinary missionary endeavour – all through the Roman empire. Paul made three missionary journeys starting from Antioch (Syria) – around Galatia (Turkey), then to Macedonia and Greece (twice), ending in Jerusalem. Finally arrested and taken to Rome (via Crete, Malta, Sicily), he may even have reached Spain before being re-arrested and executed in Rome.

During his journeys (and imprisonment), Paul sent messages back to the Christian congregations he had formed: messages of truth, love, salvation, hope – the explanation of the gospel to peoples who had no historical connection to Judaism. These were written as letters (epistles) addressed to the saints (believers) of Galatia, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi… or to his associates, Timothy and Titus. These letters form the backbone of the New Testament – interpreting the story of Israel, the person of Jesus, and the message of the salvation – into completely new cultural contexts (which is why they seem so relevant today).

Paul’s letters divide into explanation (teaching) and exhortation (how to live as Christians), but also include prayers, hymns, and greetings. Whether gospel epistles, prison epistles, or pastoral epistles, Paul’s letters wove the rich tapestry of Christian doctrine that grew the church from infancy to maturity.

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