Lesson 52 –
Romans 16:25-27 NRSV
25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans is a letter written to a sprawled-out community. Rome was the nucleus of the Empire that ruled the day and was a city like Washington D.C. In the letter itself, the writer (we assume Paul) says that the intended audience is to “all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” In this chapter Paul names a deacon, a woman named Phoebe. He also names Prisca and Aquila, as well as a host of other people who are “workers in the Lord.” This chapter includes a list of people who are involved in the “work of the Lord” and a doxology. In your own devotional period, consider why the writer might end the passage this way. What does it make you feel? For more, check out the resource at Blue Letter Bible included at the end of this lesson plan.
Today’s lesson will focus on the power of Christ as a revealing force. Read the scripture out loud together. Discuss with someone in your home. What has 2020 revealed to you? What do you know this year that you never knew before?
What’s happening during this passage?
This is just a few short verses, but each word is packed with power! Paul writes that God is able to strengthen the people according to the gospel and proclamation of Jesus. He mentions that the “revelation of the mystery” has been a secret for a long time, but now the cat is out of the bag! The mystery has been made known through writing to all the Gentiles. The passage ends with a reminder that this is all done through faith “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ.”
What is “revealing?”
The word for “revelation” in this passage is apokalypsis. What word does that look like? Apocalypse! This word appears several times in the New Testament, often with the connotation of “laying bare” or “making naked.” It is often used to describe a “disclosure of truth” about things that have been previously unknown. Of course, in our modern context, people use the word “apocalypse” to mean “the end of the world.” When we first started to shut down as a city, for example, news reporters spoke of grocery store lines and hospital testimonies as “apocalyptic” as in “this is the end!” It was absolutely terrifying at first, wasn’t it?
But perhaps this was apocalyptic in the sense that these images revealed something.
When we imagine that the apocalypse is the “end of the world,” we can be traumatized into inaction. No one can stop the end of the world, after all. We can be scared and worried about things we cannot control. But when we think about “apocalypse” as revealing, we get an invitation into seeing things we have been trying to hide for years. As writer adrienne maree brown writes, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
What is the mood of this passage?
Considering that the first part of this passage was about introducing people to each other based on the shared work they had in Christ, this doxology has a similar mood to the song we sing at the end of worship.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. Amen. Amen!
This closing helps to seal the promise of the work that happened earlier. Given all the holy work that the people will have to do, they need something that will encourage and empower them to continue moving forward. Consider the feeling we have when we hold hands at the end of the doxology and raise hands upwards. This closing is meant to affirm the people to do the work and remain in community with one another.
What do we mean when we say, “the only wise God?”
Remember that this letter goes out to house churches in the Roman Empire. This is not a tract given out in 2020 at the train station. People who followed the Way of Christ were persecuted and targeted. When the people referred to “the only wise God through Jesus Christ,” this was a reminder that the earthly rulers were not the ultimate powers. As Christians, it’s important to remember this context. As we live in a beautifully diverse world (and city!) we should never impose our religious beliefs on others. There are so many ways to be faithful. Even in our own families, we are in intimate communities with Muslims, Jews, practitioners of West African traditions, Buddhists, and so many others. Let us remember to make “the only wise God” a statement about the futility of the State, and never a slight to other people’s religious practice.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
Connection to Today’s World
The Black Press was more than just a collection of Black owned magazines and newspapers. It was a social and political powerhouse. Sadly, many Black-owned magazines are out of print or have been sold to others. For example, the Chicago Defender ended print publication in 2019 and switched to a solely digital format. This might be the way a lot of publications are heading. But as we have learned in the last few months, nothing beats the feeling of a real newspaper in your hand.
In many newspapers at the turn of the 20th century, for example, there were phonics lessons in the back of the paper. The hope was that whoever was reading the paper would share a lesson with someone in their community. After all, Black people faced consequences for reading or teaching others to read during slavery.
In a different way, these letters (like Romans) did not always find people who could read. The tradition of the letters was often that someone would read it out loud for those gathered. Personal devotion is a very recent phenomenon. Originally, reading these letters and instructions was something that happened in the community. No revelation happens to one person at a time.
Journal: What do you see that no one else can witness? What is obvious to you that many others might not know?
Closing: Listen to “Miracle,” written by The Clark Sisters.
Looking for a miracle
Expect the impossible
Feel the intangible
See the invisible
I’m looking for a miracle
Expect the impossible
Feel the intangible
See the invisible…
We can see you in the snow. We feel you in the quiet breeze. We hear you in the wind.
We thank you for revealing yourself and your hopes for us. It is often hard to see and witness what you’re trying to tell us, but we know that you are still speaking. We know that you have a word for us. We know that you are still here, that you love us, that you desire good things for us.
As we come to the end of this calendar year, help us to see more clearly. Help us to see each other and ourselves with a clearer set of glasses. We know that in doing so, we will also experience you.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.