HOW MANY OF YOU EITHER RECEIVED OR SENT SOME SORT OF MAIL THIS WEEK?
That can include letter writing, paying bills, receiving advertisements, etc. And now we have that nearly ubiquitous e-mail. We take letter writing almost for granted. It is very easy to do and there are fairly efficient services that will take care of their delivery.
Before the Roman period in history, it was not so efficient. And there were many bandits and pirates on both land and sea that could intercept the delivery of letters and parcels. But correspondence was made possible during the Roman period for several reasons.
o The construction of a large system of roads.
o Safe passage was made possible by the Roman Legion.
o The Roman navy ran the pirates away.
Travel became a new freedom - people could travel with confidence. We marvel at the hundreds - even possibly thousands - of miles Paul and others walked. But this was very common during the early Christian era.
This environment not only made safe travel possible, on both land and sea, but made it safe to send letters and parcels. How different it would have been for the disciples and early Christians to take the gospel, had the political situations been different. The timing couldn't have been better. And this is exactly what the Bible says.
Let's look at Galatians 4:4 NKJV
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,...
In the fullness of time, it came to pass. That phrase suggests at least 3 things:
o that there is a right moment for things to happen
o that it's not ours to plan that moment but to recognize it,
o and that we are not the primary agents of what happens in the world.
God's intervention into human history changed the world. Guided by a sovereign God, historical events worked in harmony to prepare for the precise moment of Jesus' arrival on earth.
WITH REGARD TO THE BIRTH OF CHRIST, WHAT DOES THE PHRASE "FULLNESS OF TIME" MEAN TO YOU?
In part, it means that in the divine scheme of things, this was the perfect moment to send the Messiah. It was perfect because God brought a broad variety of circumstances into place at that moment. Several factors aided in this time being the "fullness of time."
1. First of all, the time was right religiously.
WHAT CHANGED IN ISRAEL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH JEHOVAH FROM THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY TO THE TIME OF CHRIST?
Let me give you a brief lesson on part of biblical history. Here you see a time bar that extends from David's reign through the life of Christ. Two week ago I presented a brief history of the Church. I started by going back to creation. I mentioned that after Solomon died, civil war broke out - north against south. I continued by saying that the northern kingdom was invaded by the Assyrian army. This occurred in 721 B.C. I then told you that the Babylonian army from the east came and took away the southern kingdom and would last for 70 long years. Those 70 years span from 606 B.C. to 536 B.C..
The reign of Babylon ends in 538 B.C., when the Medes and Persians defeat them. This is 2-years before the end of the 70 years arrives. The Greek empire, under Alexander the Great takes over about 340 B.C., and continues until 27 B.C., when the Romans take over most of the known world.
Now, back to the Babylonian captivity.
WHAT DID GOD SAY WERE THE REASONS FOR THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY?
The Bible gives us two reasons for this captivity.
1. First, they had gone after "strange gods."
1. Jeremiah 5:19 KJV - They had gone after strange gods.
19 And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the LORD our God all these things unto us? then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours.
The second reason for God causing the Israelites to go into captivity also determines the length of the time they are in captivity.
2. Secondly, they had not let the land have its sabbaths
2 Chronicles 36:21(NKJV)-disobeyed to command to let the fields be idle every 7th year.
They were taken into captivity... "to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years."
The verse written by Jeremiah to which 2 Chronicles refers is Jeremiah 25:11 NIV
11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
During and after the Babylonian captivity, Israel once and for all forsook the idolatry into which she had so often fallen. You never again see them clamoring after false gods. Jeremiah 5:19 is the last time you read the phrase "strange gods" or anything similar to it. Despite their many other sins and failures, including the national rejection of their own Messiah, no significant number of Jews has ever again turned to idolatry.
Additionally, it was also during the Exile in Babylon that the Jews developed synagogues, which they used as places of worship, as schools, and as courts. In addition to that, they at last had the completed Old Testament, assembled by Ezra and others after the return from Babylon.
Those features facilitated the proclaiming of the Messiah's gospel among the people of Israel. So, first, the time was right religiously in Israel.
2. Second, the time was right culturally.
Alexander the Great thoroughly established Greek culture and language throughout most of the known world, and this continued its dominating influence long after Rome succeeded Greece as world ruler. The New Testament part of our Bible could now be written in a language that all would know. The apostles and the early Christians who propagated the gospel during the first several centuries had a common language with those to whom they witnessed and with whom they worshiped. And the qualities found in the Greek language was the most precise instrument for the conveyance of human thought the world had ever known.
3. Third, the time was right politically.
Rome had instituted what is called the Pax Romana (Roman peace), which provided economic and political stability.
WHO WAS THE ROMAN CAESAR AT THE TIME OF CHRIST'S BIRTH?
Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Augustus began reigning over the Roman Empire in 27 B.C. His coming to power as the Emperor sets the date for the beginning of the Roman Empire. Even though Julius Caesar was in power before Augustus, he did not rule over a large kingdom. In the decades before Augustus becomes emperor, there were many long battles between many factions in the Middle East. Political unity was not achieved until Augustus became emperor.
Although Alexander the Great was considered a world ruler, neither he nor the Greek rulers that followed him ruled the complete shores of Mediterranean Sea. Under Caesar Augustus and his successors, land travel was quicker and safer than ever before.
One of the Roman Empire's greatest contribution to the world was it vast system of roads. It is estimated there were some 53,000 miles of main military roads, and approximately 200,000 miles of secondary roads. They also published a large collection of travel maps.
It is estimated that a traveler on foot could travel some 15 to 17 miles per day when not on a marked route. But a foot traveler could walk about 20 - 25 miles per day on an established Road.
Let me give you some biblical examples. In Acts 10:23-24, we are told that Peter travels 40 miles from Joppa to Caesarea to see Cornelius. It says he arrived at his destination on the second day. Six verses later, we are told it took 4 days to make a round-trip from Joppa to Caesarea.
The apostles and other early teachers could travel freely and safely throughout the empire and could do so on the magnificent system of roads built by the Romans. Here are some pictures of the ancient Roman Road near Kavala, which is the modern name of the biblical city of Neapolis. Paul would have walked up an over these mountains from Neapolis to Philippi. I was standing on another major Roman Road while taking this picture of ancient Philippi. Here is a picture in Philippi showing the Via Egnatia. As you can see, those first century Roman roads are still in good conditions in many places.
It was no accident or happenstance when Jesus came the first time. God's timing is always perfect. He is never too early or too late. God is not a God of approximation - but a God of exactness.
Romans 5:6 NIV
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
We need to trust His perfect timing in our lives. We can be "anxious for nothing" because God will provide just what we need just when we need it. I've heard it said that we are the "microwave generation." When we want something, we usually want it now. We have lost the ability to be patient in many things.
David had it correct in Psalms 31:14-15 NKJV
14 But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, "You are my God."
15 My times are in Your hand;...
God's timing is perfect - even when it is different than mine.
God knew exactly what he was doing in sending Christ to the earth when He did. We can take comfort in knowing that the same power of timing that affected the events of Christ's birth also operates in the circumstances of our individual lives. Just as God brought Jesus to earth in the fullness of time, he brings about important events in our lives in the fullness of time for those circumstances.
We see only the faintest portion of all that God is doing. Yet God takes a vast number of factors into account in providing for our needs, fitting his blessings into the broader context of his plan for our life. It is also worth noting, that Christ will come to this world again when the time is ready.
The first century was also a better time than ever before for sending and receiving letters. It was better than it had ever been for John to send his letters to the seven churches.
HOW MANY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS ARE LETTERS WRITTEN TO EITHER AN INDIVIDUAL OR A COMMUNITY?
An argument could be made for saying all 27 books are written as letters. I think you could safely say that at least 24 are letters. All except Matthew, Mark and John has a person or group of people who are identified to be the recipient of the book.
At this time there was no governmental postal system. Postage stamps would not come into existence anywhere for a long time. Each trading company had a staff of letter-carriers which could be contracted to carry personal correspondence. As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, letter carriers were most often slaves. They were called "Tabellari," and they had earned increased degrees of freedom where they could be trusted alone on the road.
"In the fullness of time:" God's Word came to a world prepared to transmit it. And these epistle - letters - became the life-blood of the church.