Growing up, I loved reading historical fiction books because of the way they grabbed my imagination and transported me back in time. In fact, one of my favorites was about a boy who was literally transported back in time through a baseball card to experience the remarkable life of Jackie Robinson.
Not only do times far different than ours rev up the imagination, but looking back on the great figures of history also has a strong power of motivation and encouragement.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to be working on my seminary degree while serving at Grace, and this semester I am studying the History of Christianity. I am only two weeks in, but it has already been a great encouragement to read about the resilience of the Early Church to stand up to persecution and spread the Gospel.
As much as I enjoy having my imagination transported back to a prior era, I can sometimes fall into the trap of distancing myself from the people and events of history, thinking that times are "just so different now" or "what they did would never work these days." Thankfully, as I have read about the Early Church movement in the first- and second centuries, God has brought to mind two major encouragements that have direct parallels in our Christian lives today.
First, stand firm in the face of societal pressure.
The first Christians were persecuted because of their unwillingness to bend to societal pressure and worship the Roman gods. The torture would stop and the government would leave them alone if they would simply bow down to the idols. However, many of these faithful believers - knowing the consequences - boldly stood firm, knowing that Christ's resurrection meant any earthly pain a believer experiences is only temporary.
We may not have anyone asking us to bow down to a physical statue, but we absolutely face societal pressure to bow to idols - money, career, sex, people-pleasing…
May we have the resilience of the early Christians to stand firm under the weight of the cultural pressures we face and say, as the early martyr Polycarp said, "For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil. How could I curse my king, who saved me?"
Second, we all have the influence necessary to spread the Gospel.
When reading the book of Acts it is so easy to marvel at the vast ministries of the apostles and think, 'wow, Paul reached so many people with the Gospel.'
Or, if you are anything like me, it is so easy to look at the famous preachers of today and think, 'man, I'm never going to be able to share Jesus as well as he does.'
The most encouraging thing I have read in my studies so far is that it was not the apostles and the early church fathers who had the greatest influence; it was the "countless, nameless Christians" who were truly responsible for the Gospel spreading throughout the world.
You see, the apostles were limited by their numbers, by only being able to travel so far, and by the available technology for communication. Paul could only be in one place at one time, but a group of ten of Paul's tentmaking buddies could go to ten different towns and each tell ten more people about Jesus while they built their tents.
Gospel ministry is not limited to famous preachers, or even to those paid to minister. Our combined reach and influence is far greater than any one person could have, no matter how funny and engaging his sermons are.
This Sunday, Pastor Jack is going to be preaching Matthew 9 and exploring what it looks like for all of us to lead non-believers to love God and love people. So come ready to be challenged and equipped!
You are the Church. So as you go into your neighborhood, workplace, and school, be the Church.
I love you, Church!