Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Vibe of Romans

Romans has the vibe of a mission statement. ‘Jesus has spoken, now what?’ It’s a letter written by Paul to the Christians in Rome. These people aren’t Jews so they haven’t got a huge amount of background about God, and Paul is explaining the Christian vibe to them.

Paul believes that Jesus is for everyone, as long as they have faith – if we believe Jesus died and came back to life because of all the bad things we’ve done, we get on the right side of God. Being on the right side of God brings with it all kinds of positive vibes not least of which is that believers are more peaceful. That’s because they have been forgiven their unsavoury pasts and have been assured that they’ll be with God forever.

Romans also has a ‘this isn’t good enough’ vibe – Paul is cross that in general, the Gentiles are more open to Jesus than the Jews. By rights, the Jews should know better seeing as they’ve had the benefit of hundreds of years of Old Testament prophets telling them Jesus will come and make everything right for them.

The vibe then turns to some basic housekeeping tips for the early church – love everyone, respect authority, don’t judge each other and help the weak. A practical, straight down the line, ‘this is how it’s done’ vibe.

General vibe: How to be a Christian.

Factvibe: Despite living in a male dominated culture, one third of the 21 Christians Paul greets in his letter to the Romans are women.

How to live - vibes for a peaceful life enclosed

How to live – vibes for a peaceful life enclosed

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The Vibe of Rome

Rome overruns Jerusalem in 64BC and Judea becomes part of the Roman Empire. Emperor Julius Caesar orders the country to be run by proconsuls and although Judea is right at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire, the locals find themselves at the mercy of a military superpower. The vibe is weak. Roman soldiers patrol the streets and taxes must be paid to Caesar.

Unsurprisingly, everyone hates the Romans and the people long for a deliverer who will raise up an army to liberate them. By the time Jesus begins his teaching, the Roman vibe has been going on for almost a century. Herod is Judea’s king in name only and is really just a puppet in the hands of the Romans. Pontius Pilate is Rome’s man in Jerusalem and has indifferent vibes towards internal Jewish affairs, such as Jesus calling himself King of the Jews. Still, he puts on a show to execute Jesus, giving him a full-blown Roman Crucifixion rather than a more ‘humane’ stoning that the Jews might have put together themselves.

The vibe of Rome continues to be brutal after the death of Jesus. Emperor Nero has a pathological hatred of Christians and Paul and several of the Disciples meet a grisly end as Rome attempts to shut down Christianity once and for all. Fortunately the vibe of Jesus is stronger than the vibe of the Roman Empire and Rome is now the most important centre of Christianity in the world. The vibe of justice is strong.

General vibe: We’re in charge now.

Factvibe: The Roman historians Josephus, Tacitus, Seutonius and Pliny the Younger all mention a Jewish leader called ‘Christus.’

Rome - fun for Romans, not much of a laugh for everyone else

Rome – fun for Romans, not much of a laugh for everyone else

The Vibe of the Gentiles

The Gentiles have a pretty un-Jewish vibe, probably because they aren’t Jews. The New Testament splits people into two camps – the Jews who should really believe that Jesus is the Son of God but who often don’t, and the Gentiles who have no reason to believe that Jesus is the Son of God yet sometimes do. Paul gets pretty shirty as it is the Gentiles who seem more open to believing the Jesus story than the Jews who’ve supposedly been waiting for this moment all their lives.

The Gentiles referred to in the New Testament generally hang out in Greece, Rome and Turkey and their willingness to be part of Team Jesus shows that they are open to fresh ideas as long as those ideas make sense. In fact, without the Gentiles, there probably would be no Christianity. Powerful, open minded, suck-it-and-see vibes.

General vibe: They’re not Jews.

Factvibe: Despite being a direct ancestor of Jesus, Ruth was a Gentile.

Gentiles: a 'suck-it-and-see' vibe

Gentiles: a ‘suck-it-and-see’ vibe

The Vibe of the Churches

Almost as soon as Paul gets his teeth into the Christianity vibe he hits the road and starts setting up churches. And almost as soon the churches are up they start getting things wrong which means Paul has to write letters to them like a stern dad.

All the cities where he starts churches have slightly different vibes: Rome is the mother ship of the Empire – the rich, glittering ideas and business centre of the world. Corinth is a cosmopolitan seaport with an anything goes vibe. Galatia is at the mercy of Jews who want Christianity to be more Jewish. Ephesus is another major port with a giant temple to the Greek goddess Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Philippi is very loyal to Rome, Colossae likes to ‘mix in’ other philosophies with its Christianity and Thessalonica is full of angry Jews who aren’t happy that people are becoming Christians.

The general vibe of the churches is that they all start out with good intentions but they try and mix up the vibes too much, throwing in new ideas and trying to change the original vibe of Jesus. To survive, they need to stick to the script. Still, they don’t have the benefit of the New Testament to tell them how to do it, just an occasional visit from Paul, Peter or others in their team. And some cross letters when they get it wrong.

General vibe: If it aint broke…

Factvibe: The first churches didn’t have pews or steeples, everyone just met in each other’s houses.

Fact: Churches back in Paul's day looked absolutely nothing like this

Fact: Churches back in Paul’s day looked absolutely nothing like this

 

The Vibe of Greece

There is a vibrant buzz about Greece when it appears in the New Testament. Jesus never makes it this far but Paul travels to Corinth, Thessalonica and Philippi and sets up churches there.

Despite their golden age being over and the Romans now being in charge, Greece is modern, urban and forward thinking. As a result, the Greeks still maintain a thinking, philosophical vibe and enjoy a good argument. Some of them can’t help taking the story of Jesus and modifying, embellishing or otherwise trying to improve it which gets Paul’s back up. A kind of brainy kid in school who gets bored easily and keeps asking ‘why?’ vibe.

General vibe: New ideas welcome.

Factvibe: Greece is the only European territory that gets a name check in the Old Testament.

The Greeks: brainboxes, but not always right.

The Greeks: brainboxes, but not always right.

 

The Vibe of Paul

Paul is a baddie turned good. After racking up what ought to have been a lifetime of bad vibes by hunting down the first Christians for his Roman overlords, Paul is stopped in his tracks by a vision of Jesus which strikes him blind. Fortunately his disability is only temporary and once he has recovered, God sends him on the mother of all missions.

Despite being paid by Rome to shut down Christianity, Paul jumps ship emphatically and travels far afield within the Roman Empire, telling Jews, Gentiles and anyone else who will listen about how good Jesus is.

As Paul travels he sets up the first churches and writes letters to these churches with vibes ranging from anger and frustration to joy and encouragement. Paul often meets with hostile, even violent vibes and is banged up in a Roman jail as a result of his preaching. Still, he is determined that true Christianity should shine through and not get corrupted or amended by any new teaching.

He keeps writing and preaching to the end of his life which is a grisly one – he is executed by the Roman Emperor Nero who has no time for Christians. Paul’s vibe dominates the New Testament – he lays down the blueprint that most Christian churches now follow and it’s hard to imagine there being a Church at all had it not been for Paul.

General vibe: Tell everyone.

Factvibe: Before getting zapped by a vision of Jesus on his way to Damascus, Paul was a tent maker.

While the Jews stoned Stephen, Paul manned the cloakroom.

While the Jews stoned Stephen, Paul manned the cloakroom.


 

The Vibe of Pentecost

Before becoming synonymous with the birth of the Christian Church, Pentecost was a Jewish Harvest Festival. However, the first Pentecost after the execution of Jesus is the vibe everyone still talks about. Jerusalem is filled with Jews from all over the known world who have come to join in the vibe when, suddenly, flames appear above the heads of Jesus’ Disciples and they find they can all speak foreign languages fluently.

The visiting Jews are amazed to hear rustic Galilean country boys hold fort in their own tongues, but the vibe gets frosty when some wise-crackers suggest the men are just drunk. Peter points out that this is unlikely as it’s only 9am, and goes on to tell them bluntly that they are the reason that Jesus died – it was the Jews, not the Romans who wanted Jesus dead. However, Peter continues, they can get back in God’s good books by asking him to forgive them.

It’s a successful vibe and an international crowd of 3000 people get baptized before running home to their own countries to tell everyone about Jesus. The church is born.

General vibe: the first church

Factvibe: Pentecost is also known as Whitsun, meaning ‘White Sunday’ after the white robes worn by newly baptised believers.

Pentecost - the first churches get their groove on

Pentecost – the first churches get their groove on

The Vibe of Acts

Acts is where the vibe of Jesus bursts onto the international scene. The vibe is so good that it can’t be kept down. Finally the Disciples get it together with the help of the Holy Spirit and are empowered to spread the message of God’s love to all people. They are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised to them by the prophets and who will save humanity from itself.

The message of Jesus is an attractive one – he can forgive us for breaking God’s laws, he makes us clean again and he gives us a second chance. And not only is there forgiveness but there is also the promise of eternal bliss in the company of God.

Acts mainly involves the Disciple, Peter and the convert, Paul, travelling with their entourage through the northern Mediterranean spreading the news about Jesus. They teach in temples, on the street, in prison and in houses, wherever the vibe takes them. Almost everywhere they go, groups of supporters spring up and though the vibe is never easy, it can’t be kept down. Church starts here and Acts describes the deeds of the brave men and women who make the vibe happen.

General vibe: God goes international.

Factvibe: It is in Acts that the Jews who follow Jesus are told that pork is officially back on the menu.

The book of Acts sees shellfish enjoy a 'welcome back to the table' vibe

The book of Acts sees shellfish enjoy a ‘welcome back to the table’ vibe