Luke 1:5 – The Days of Herod Pt 2

I want to take just a moment to examine very briefly another important dynamic of the Gospel’s setting – the religious context through which Jesus walked and taught.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were at theological odds with one another. Whereas the Pharisees rejected Hellenism and Roman rule, wishing only to be faithful to the Law and its application to every day Jewish life, the Sadducees belonged to Jewish aristocracy and centered their concern on the Temple. Because of their more conservative methods (both religious and political), it was the Sadducees that found support from Rome. The Sadducess stood opposed to the Pharisees in matters of theology, the Sadducees claiming that much of the Pharisees’ beliefs were mere inventions. The Sadducess didn’t believe in angels or a final resurrection (thus their question to Jesus concerning marriage and the resurrection).

As much as the two parties hated each other, it is interesting to see how they joined forces when it came time to see Christ crucified. Jesus was their common enemy, a threat to both establishments, and they laid aside their differences and hatred long enough to see Jesus hanging, crucified from a tree.

There were also the Zealots roaming about, the Jewish patriots forever rebellious to their Roman occupiers. They were looking for a military Messiah that might help them cast off the Imperial yoke and restore Israel to its former glory. There were different brands of Zealots, like the Sicarii. Whereas the Zealots focused their aim against the Romans, the Sicarii acted as terrorist to their own people, assassinating those who either supported Rome or even conceded to their rule. It was the Sicarii and other Zealot groups that found themselves holding out in the fortress Masada in AD 74, four years after their guerrilla tactics led Rome to invade Israel and burn Jerusalem to the ground. Here’s a link to some more Sicarii information:   http://terrorism.about.com/od/groupsleader1/p/Sicarii.htm

There were the Essenes who tried obeying the Law by withdrawing from the rest of society, confident that the end was near. The Essenes rejected Herod’s Temple and its priesthood, believing that it was destined for destruction and judgment. They were looking for Ezekiel’s prophesied Temple, and they clearly saw that the current Temple did not meet the prophetic requirements needed to be such. It was not the Messianic Temple they were waiting and hoping for.

There was also a difference in opinion among all the different groups as to how they should be waiting for the Messiah. Some groups believed that they needed to do whatever was necessary in order to provoke His coming, while others viewed such human manipulation as a sin. This difference of view still resides within present-day Israel, Zionism believing that God wants His people to fight for what was once promised to them, doing whatever is necessary in order to erect a Temple, while more orthodox views condemn such actions, believing that Israel must first return to God and that God will take care of these matters Himself once they have returned their hearts to Him. They believe, like the Essenes, that any Temple built by human hands cannot be the prophesied Messianic Temple and so any subsequent Temple would be destined for God’s judgment.

On top of all the different things going on in Israel, you also had the Roman policy that sought religious uniformity through the mixing of different elements of all religions and emperor worship. Keep in mind that these “mystery religions” were the objects of God’s judgment throughout the Old Testament. Israel had been the sword that God used to rid the land of such demonology. And now it was being imposed, to some degree at least, through the  occupying arm of Rome (this was one of the things that kept getting Pilate in trouble, his attempt to honor the emperor while at the same time trying to prevent any type of complaint from Israel, but we’ll explore that incredible element of the crucifixion story when we get there).

There are many more elements that play into the early church that existed at this time, but they don’t become of major importance until the birth of the church and so we’ll leave them off until then.

So, we have a very brief view of the world Jesus was born into, the society in which He grew, the political warring engaged all around Him even as He walked on water, the religious disputing whirling like a storm across the landscape of His people… I think we tend to read the Gospels by supplementing our own context into the story, which is natural to a certain degree for any type of application, but if that application is to be truly accurate, we need to know the world in which Jesus’ words were spoken. As I said before, in western society it is likely that our flat tire might have us running to the Scriptures and being comforted by Jesus’ words, “Stop worrying about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink…” And while that would certainly put things into perspective, a flat tire cannot be compared to all the different elements facing the people to whom Jesus spoke those words (forty years later, Jerusalem would be destroyed). When we see what Jesus was addressing, what fear and worry His words were meant to dispel, a whole new dimension is presented for us here in our day. When we observe how Jesus lived, what He taught in the midst of what was boiling beneath the surface all around Him, I think there are numerous lessons for us now. I think we’ll see that if Jesus truly wanted His church engaged in certain matters, as she is today, He had every opportunity to make it known. As we move forward, acknowledging the challenges facing His country, His people, His faith…we’ll begin to better appreciate His words, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

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Luke 1:5 – In the Days of Herod

“There arose in the days of Herod, king of Judaea…”

This is one of those parts of Scripture that we tend to glance over on our way to the point. There arose what? Who? Well, we quickly find out that it was Zacharias who arose. But it would be so unfortunate to leave this very important detail in the dust while diving headlong into Zacharias’ story. In the days of Herod. Those five words just presented our story with context, and we would do very well to appreciate it. Luke’s readers would no doubt understand perfectly well what this meant. It would be like me saying, “In the days of George W. Bush…” to you. Well, anyone reading this now would automatically understand all the things that I might be inferring, but think of someone in some other part of the world reading it 2,000 years from now (that doesn’t have the benefit of modern technology by which to educate him or herself). If I were to write down an account of something, or to tell a story, and base the story “in the days of George W. Bush,” it would be essential to the proper understanding of the story that the reader understand just what that means – sociologically, politically, religiously, economically… This would be the very fabric intertwining the characters and playing on their psyches, and everything my characters did and said would somehow be relevant to that description. Imagine reading a story about a boy who’s father was away fighting in WWII, and the reader, thousands of years from now, had no idea what was meant by, “in the days of WWII.” How then could he/she understand what the boy was going through? What his country was going through? How could the reader sympathize or empathize or properly relate to the story, if he/she didn’t understand the very context the story was written in? Sure, they might enjoy the story about a boy, but they could never fully hope to understand the boy. They wouldn’t be able to properly interpret his feelings and words. And neither would we be able to fully appreciate Jesus’ words without knowing the cultural, political, economic, sociological, and religious context in which such words were spoken. “In the days of Herod…”

Let’s take a quick glance backward, before this moment in time, and see just what the setting is for Luke’s account. I believe that adding this context to the Gospel story will only enrich the teachings of Christ, perhaps even revolutionize our interpretation and application of them. Note: this is just a brief setup. There is much more historical significance that should be used to set up the NT, but we’ll backtrack when we have to once we get there. For now, this will be sufficient.

Palestine was always an area known for strife, mostly due to its location betwixt popular trade routes. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and became master of Palestine. Alexander didn’t wish to simply conquer the world but to also convert its way of thinking to Greek. The result was Hellenism, and those conquered found themselves adopting certain Greek traits. There were always those Jews, however, that rejected Hellenism and its ideology, because they saw it as a threat to Israel’s faith in the one true and living God (Hellenism sought to blend and equate the gods of different regions). After Alexander died, the region was again fought over between Egypt and Syria.

In the 2nd century BC, a Jewish rebellion was led by the Maccabees, and for a while they were able to attain some level of independence. Their successors, however, caved to the Hellenizing pressures of the Seleucids (Syria’s ruling successors after Alexander). Some Jews protested this and were persecuted for it. Finally, in 63 BC, Rome intervened, and Pompey conquered the land and rid it of the Maccabees.

Rome’s policies toward their conquered were relatively lax, in that they allowed their new subjects a degree of self-governing powers and were tolerant of their religions and customs. Rome handed a measure of authority to the Maccabees’ descendents, giving them the titles, High Priest and Ethnarch. In 40 BC, Herod the Great was appointed as king over Judea by the Romans (he had married a woman of Maccabean lineage). Herod made an effort to Hellenize the land he ruled over, building pagan temples in Samaria and Caesarea. The Jews were always on the brink of rebellion, and when Herod placed a Roman eagle at the entrance of the Temple, there was an uprising that had to be quenched by force.

Herod’s son, Archelaus, had to call in the Roman army to put down another uprising. The army destroyed a city in Galilee and crucified 2,000 Jews (Gamaliel makes reference to it in Acts 5:37  as being a useless revolt). This happened while Jesus was a boy. This is the world He grew up in. A puppet-king ruling over an occupied Promise Land. The Zealots were also a key ingredient to our context. They were violently opposed to Roman law of any kind, and, from Rome’s point of view, were a band of terrorists (though from certain Jewish eyes, they were no doubt seen as patriots).

The background of the Gospels and the NT record is one that should be realized in order to fully grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ words. I think that if we acknowledged what was going on around Jesus, then we would better be able to apply His words to our own situations. For example, “Turn the other cheek” takes on a whole new element when you realize who Jesus was talking to and what His words meant to those living under the imperial hand of Rome.

In the next post, we’ll slip the Pharisees and Sadducees into the contextual relevance of the NT. Again, this is painfully brief, but I only want to broaden my gaze, to see who Jesus is talking to…what His words meant to them. And in order to do that, we must discover the world they lived in. In the days of Herod…these are the days, the times, that led to the birth of the Church. These are the times that set the stage for Christianity, and Christ’s message was preached from atop it. The land Jesus walked was a hornet’s nest of political turmoil, civil unrest, and religious jousting. The people of Israel were looking for a Messiah, one that would cast Rome aside and rule in a unified Jerusalem. What they got was Jesus, and even John the Baptist had to ask, “Are you the one, or do we seek for another?” The humility of Christ was a mystery to the Jews who had been waiting for a King to show up with sword in hand. Instead, their King said to the Roman centurion, “In all of Israel, I have not found so great a faith.” And to the Jews He said, “When a Roman officer orders you to carry their gear for a mile, take it two.” Ah…the story blooms with new meaning! Jesus’ words reach a new depth!

Next time, we’ll peak at the religious dispute that marked Israel.

In the meantime, I found a few things extremely useful in my attempt to appreciate the world in which Jesus walked. Understanding the role that Rome played in the story was eye-opening. Any movie that you can get that depicts that time period will help appreciate what life was like back in those times. Also, books on church history, Roman history, Jewish history… Novels about the same… If you haven’t read The Robe or Pontius Pilate, those are two novels that I recommend whole-hardheartedly and need to revisit myself!

Luke 1:1-4

The Gospel of Luke was written in AD 60-61. The first NT document was Galatians, written in AD 49. However, to give myself a framework of Christ’s work and ministry (on which the church is built), I will still begin my journey in the book of Luke. From there, I will jump into Galatians. We will, however, construct some of the historical background from Luke and Acts as we do so. After all, just because we need an historical background by which to understand Paul’s letters, the recipients of those letters needed no such enlightenment – they were living it. And the whole point is to understand the letters as they did, which means filling in the historical gaps while still reading the letters in the order they were received so as to compliment the chronological history they would have known by default. Once we reach AD 60, we will again revisit Luke’s Gospel in order to appreciate it within its proper historical place and context. But for now, let us walk with Christ for a while…

Luke 1:1-4

“Since it is well known and a fact of importance that many have undertaken to draw up in its historical sequence a narrative of events concerning which there has been a wide diffusion of knowledge among us…”

Remember, this is AD 60-61 that Luke is writing this. Much has already happened in the history of the first church.

“…it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things from the beginning in the minutest detail, to write to you in a consecutive order, Your Excellency, Theophilus…”

Luke’s Gospel was one of two volumes (Luke-Acts) and so his “tracing all things from the beginning” should be understood to encompass his account of the early church in the book of Acts as well (written in AD 63). Theophilus is apparently a patron who financed the publication of Luke’s two volumes.

“…in order that you may come to have a full and accurate experiential knowledge concerning the undoubted truth of the matters in which you were instructed.”

The Greek, according to Wuest, suggests that the knowledge Luke wishes to impart is an experiential one. This is a side note, but most devotional applications are side notes so I imagine I’ll be doing this as often as something stands out to me. There is quite a difference between knowledge and experiential knowledge, and I would argue that, for the believer in Christ, the latter is of the utmost importance. For the book of James indicates that knowledge itself is useless in the realm of faith without it producing something. The Devil knows more of theology than we ever will in this life and he certainly is not saved because of it. Many people may know a thing in their heads, but if it does not influence their heart and thus their actions, it is not “experienced.” And that “experience” is the exclusive proof that a believer has of Christ’s indwelling power. It may sound strange to some, that I’m putting so much emphasis on “experience,” but I do not mean it in a pentecostal sense. A believer, a person that has Christ dwelling in his or her heart experiences a relationship with Him. Relationships are things that are experienced in one way or another, correct? So how can we have a relationship with Christ and not experience Him? When I see Christians on TV arguing with atheists, trying to convince them of God’s reality, of the proof that exists…I always end up coming back to the same conclusion: what the atheist is missing, what any person who denies Christianity is missing, is an experience with God. If they were to experience the reality of God, to experience the knowledge of God, then all of their intellectual arguments, all of their philosophies, would crumble beneath the weight of that intimate experience. That’s what happened to Paul, isn’t it? The experience of seeing Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything he believed about Christianity. Apologetics may have its place, may even be used to lead people to Christ in some instances, but what apologetics fails to do is to introduce the Christian experience, the overall conviction of a person’s salvation, namely the “relationship” one has with Christ, the experienced power of His Gospel, of a transformed life, of God’s still small voice, of communion, the supernatural element that is alive through the Body of Christ via the working of His Spirit… These are all the things that, no matter what doubts, questions, arguments, concerns a believer may have about Christianity, carry us by faith. We don’t have faith in a fact sheet alone, but the fact that the sheet is backed by a living God who communes with us on a daily basis, the experienced Christian life. And that is something that no amount of arguing can magically infuse into a skeptic’s heart. Only Christ can provide that experience, reveal that power to a person’s heart and mind. Faith isn’t born of knowledge, it’s born of the power of God. Is someone saved because they believe Christ died for their sins, or are they saved because Christ made them a new creation? And does one automatically mean the other? The Bible says that many who think themselves to be saved will be in for a rude awakening when they instead hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” What is a Christian life without experience? It’s like being married to a philosophy or a list of attributes that you believe about your husband/wife, but never get to experience. Marriage is an experience, and so is the Christian faith. Without it, how can one truly be saved? The Spirit transforming a person into the image and likeness of Christ is an experience that produces change. If your faith doesn’t manifest itself in works, what good is your faith? Even the demons believe in God. Faith without works is dead (see James 2:14-26). I find it interesting all the places in the Greek NT where “experience” is implied into the word “knowledge.” I think it us of the utmost importance that we realize the Christian faith is to be experienced not just believed. Too many in the church just go through the motions, convinced they are saved because they said a prayer and the pastor assured them that they should never question their salvation hence forth (despite the Word of God insisting that a man examine himself to see if he be in the faith…). They see no change in their lives, have no “experience” with Christ, all they have is a static knowledge of something they hope will save them. That’s not the faith the NT describes. That’s not Christianity. Christianity is an experience with Christ, the Shepard and His sheep. Communion.

“In which you were instructed…”

This gets into the heart of the things the early church believed and practiced. There is much we do today “in church” that can be considered “extra-curricular” and, unfortunately, many of these things end up forming the overall image of Christianity today. We are majoring in the minors so to speak. We attach the body of Christ to all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the things the early church was instructed with. I wish we could get back to the basics of our faith and rediscover its power… I believe that all these other things the church has become involved with here in the west weakens the Body as a whole, distracts from our true purpose as alien ambassadors. I think that’s why in our “blessed” nation, we see a country that has not experience revival in hundreds of years while the people in China and other “non-blessed” (for that is the implication, is it not?) countries are experiencing the power of God in a way that we only dream about. In fact, I would even venture to say that our Christianity “looks” entirely different than theirs in an experiential way. Why is that? I think we have lost sight of those basic things the first church was instructed with and have put too much emphasis on things that have been added by man. But that is for another time. Once we get to the actual instructions Luke refers to.

A New Testament Primer

Before I hop into studying the NT again, I want to apply a primer to my old understanding of the NT in order that the new coat of paint will be its own vibrant color. What does that mean? It means that I want to approach the teachings of Christ and the early church anew, without all the years of preconceived ideas that might hurl my new reading back into old ruts of thinking. That’s not necessarily to say that my old thinking is off, but how will I ever know if I’m unable to reevaluate my thoughts and beliefs against anything unchanging (for the Word of God does not change, but my understanding of it is ever changing)? I’ve been a Christian long enough to recognize that certain thought patterns I once thought to be scriptural are actually the furthest thing from the heart of Christ. I think it’s important to every once in a while set aside all we think we know and go to the Scriptures with a clean page and let God write His Word on open hearts, not hearts crowded with philosophies, beliefs, and convictions of men and their many brands of institution. I’ve done this once before, and the result was incredible. Once I stripped away all that I’d been “taught” over the years and just let Scripture say what Scripture says…it was a sort of liberation. It was the stripping away of so much that I never knew influenced the interpretation of Scripture.Certain politics, experiences, personality, and so many other things can influence a person’s view of what the NT is teaching. It’s important that people let the Spirit teach them what His Word says and not to only rely on what some teacher teaching it says. Otherwise, how are the people to hold the teacher accountable, to test the spirits, to know if what he is preaching is true? We would all do well to have our own intimate study of the Bible in order to help counter and compliment the teachings of the men we tend to trust so well. Why do we believe what we believe? Because some guy standing behind a pulpit told us to believe it, or because the Bible says it (I’ve discovered that there is often a difference between those two things)?

So, here’s the first primer over all my presuppositions. It’s a view of the original New Testament and how it was written. I believe that seeing and interpreting the NT how it was originally meant to be received will add so much clarifying grace to my understanding of the NT.

Chapter and verse breaks.

In the 1590s, Protestant scholastics took the teachings of the Reformation and systematized them according to Aristotelian logic, holding that every part of Scripture is independently inspired apart from all the rest of Scripture…apart from the context it was written in. There need be no “whole” idea or central theme or context of any sort. Every word is inspired in such a way that it needs no other modifiers to be applied, understood, and revelatory as the Word of God. And this is now the common method that Christians today approach Bible interpretation, allowing them to approach the Word of God with a pair of scissors and glue through which they can transform the letters of Paul into a series of isolated and disjointed sentences able to be lifted apart from one another and glued together to enforce any belief they wish for God’s Word to endorse.

Two-thirds of  the New Testament was written by Paul, whose thirteen letters were written in about a twenty-year time span. Nine of those letters were written to different churches in different cultures, at different times, experiencing different problems. Four letters were written to individual believers, each at different times and addressing different issues.

I often forget that Paul’s letters actually have a historical context, and that to understand his letters we need to understand that context. How can we rightly apply his words if we don’t know why he wrote them? Reading Paul’s letters is like listening to one side of a conversation. Most of us have no idea what the other side of the conversation was, and thus why Paul was writing the things he was writing. And if we don’t understand why he was writing, to whom he was writing and when, how can we with any confidence take his words and make them into a blanket doctrine for the rest of church history? I’m not saying that Paul’s letters aren’t appropriate for doctrine, I’m saying that we can’t trust a doctrine that is lifted out of its context and pasted with some other letter written ten years earlier to a different body of believers and addressing an entirely different circumstance. It just doesn’t make sense. I think we often forget that Paul actually wrote these as letters to real, physical people. And those people read his letters and interpreted those letters as letters addressing their specific orientations and issues. They didn’t hold every word under a magnifying glass and try to squeeze some secret application out of them. We do today, in a sense, because we lack the full understanding of what Paul was really saying…because we are 2,000 years removed from the language, tradition, culture, writings, circumstances, and politics that made up the world Paul was writing in. But I think, even despite out trying to discover what Paul meant (and the Holy Spirit means), we need to keep in mind that the people who received these letters, the people for whom these letters were written, didn’t know that they would end up canonized. They would read them very naturally as letters instructing them, through the Holy Spirit, on the specific issues they were facing. They didn’t get together in their church buildings (that didn’t exist until Constantine converted pagan temples into “churches”) and brainstorm on what Paul’s letter could mean, why he might have chosen that specific tense, that specific word, that particular reference, and how the future generations of the church might interpret it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t, we have to if we want to understand the letters simply because we weren’t there. But again, we should keep in mind how the letters were intended to be received by the people they were written for almost 2,000 years ago.

In the early second century, Paul’s letters were compiled into a “canon.” At that time, no one knew the dates the letters were composed, but it mattered not. For in the Greco-Roman world at that time, literature was arranged according to length. So Paul’s first letter (as we have it in our Bibles) is Romans – the longest. And his last is Philemon – the shortest. In the late 1800s, the belief that this process was “divinely inspired” became widely held by the church and so our arrangement of Paul’s letters are still set in this manner. But according to the best historical records, if we arrange Paul’s letters according to the dates they were written, the list should actually be more like this: Galatians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, Philemon, First Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy.

I’m excited to read the letters in the order they were penned and studying the compiling issues that provoked Paul’s responses over the years. How else can I properly understand the NT?

In 1227, a professor at the University of Paris added chapters to all the books of the Bible. In 1551, a printer decided to number the sentences in the NT while riding horseback from Paris to Lyons (one scholar remarked that it would have better been done on knees in a closet). The Hebrew Bible was versified in 1571.

Ever since the NT letters were divided into chapters and verses, people have been approaching the text as if each chapter and verse is somehow independent of the others. But that is like taking a novel, numbering each sentence and then referring to those sentences as if they’re not related to the overall story. And, as a result, many Christians are ignorant of the Story, concentrating merely on certain details that can’t possibly be understood apart from the story those verses work together to tell. The way we come to the Bible now is very individualistic, searching for that promise, command, correction, proof, and inspiration as it relates to ourselves (I’m not saying the Bible can’t be applied by the Spirit to confront a person’s specific issue, but that is something far different than a doctrine or blanket truth for the whole church for all of time or even the true meaning of the text). Most of the NT, however, was written to groups of people, to churches, and not to individuals. There is a corporate understanding that is meant to be applied, not an individual one specific to each and every person.

If you want some really good examples of how we cut and paste certain Scriptures together in order to create doctrines the church follows and teaches today, check out Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity, chapter eleven: The Bible is not a Jigsaw Puzzle. It’s rather exposing.

So that’s the first primer to coat over what I already “know.” So now as I jump into Luke’s Gospel and seek out the context through which it was written, hopefully I will learn to lay aside the “cut and paste” method of interpreting the Bible. And in so doing, hopefully I come to appreciate my NT in a way I’ve never imagined before, understanding it as it was originally meant to be understood, reading it as a series of letters written to specific groups and people in different cultures and addressing different issues. I have a feeling, as is the testimony of those familiar with this “lost” interpretation, that the revelation will be a sweet one. After all, the Bible experience we have no is still relatively new. For 1500 years, Believers around the world read their Bibles (if they were allowed and had them in their own language, that is) without the verse breaks. If you want to know what it is like, to get a feel for the natural reading of the letters, one Bible that I recommend is Kenneth Wuest’s The New Testament – An Expanded Translation.

The Sanctus Legacy: “I am a Christian!” pt. 5

I wanted to share some more of that particular letter and give some more names recognition. This, to me, is what Christianity comes down to. Maybe not martyrdom, but the willingness to sacrifice this world for His glory, no matter what the cost. True faith, powerful and real. As ambassadors of an eternal Kingdom, in which all our everlasting possessions (and the glory of God, itself) awaits us. So here is more of that day. May our hearts be strengthened, blessed, convicted, and edified by our true Founding Fathers, the people of our Faith that have gone before us in ways worthy of our remembrance. They were the first, as it were, and the their blood (and the blood of all the saints) was the mortar used to construct the expanding body of Christ across the world. May that body, made up of individual sheep, know the Shepherd’s voice and follow it wherever it may lead. May we, in these days, be considered a worthy capstone to all the ages of Christians that have sacrificed so much before us and on whose shoulders we now rest. May we reflect their heart for Christ, their self-sacrifice, their compassion, their commitment and love. May we reflect Christ.

To see the entire letter, check out http://www.bartleby.com/210/6/021.html.

 

“…The devil thought himself secure of Biblis, one of the unhappy persons who had renounced the faith; and desirous to enhance her guilt and punishment by a false impeachment, caused her to be arraigned, believing it would be no hard matter to bring one so weak and timorous to accuse us of impieties. But the force of the torments had a very different effect upon her; they awakened her, as it were, out of a profound sleep; and those transitory pains turned her thoughts upon the everlasting torments of hell. So that, contrary to what was expected of her, she broke out into the following expostulation: “How can it be imagined that they should feed upon children, whose religion forbids them even to taste the blood of beasts?” 6 From that moment she publicly confessed herself a Christian, and was ranked amongst the martyrs. The most violent torments being thus rendered ineffectual by the patience of the martyrs, and the power of Jesus Christ, the devil had recourse to other devices. They were thrown into a dark and loathsome dungeon, had their feet cramped in wooden stocks, and extended to the fifth, or last hole; and all those severities exercised upon them, which are commonly practised by the enraged ministers of darkness upon their prisoners; so great, that numbers of them died of the hardships they endured there. Others, after having been so inhumanly tortured, that one would have thought all the care imaginable could not have recovered them, lay there destitute of all human succour; but so strongly supported from above, both in mind and body, that they comforted and encouraged the rest: whilst others but lately apprehended, and who had as yet undergone no torments, soon died, unable to bear the loathsomeness of the prison.   4
  Among the persons who suffered for their faith on this occasion was the blessed Pothinus, bishop of Lyons. He was then above ninety years old; and so weak and infirm, that he could hardly breathe. But his ardent desire of laying down his life for Jesus Christ, gave him fresh strength and vigour. He was dragged before the tribunal; for, though his body was worn out with age and infirmity, his life was preserved till that time, that Jesus Christ might triumph in him. He was brought thither by the soldiers and magistrates of the city, the whole multitude hallooing after, and reviling him with as much eagerness and rage as if he had been Christ himself. Being asked by the governor, who was the God of the Christians? Pothinus told him, to prevent his blaspheming, he should know, when he was worthy of that satisfaction. Upon which he was dragged about unmercifully, and inhumanly abused. Those who were near him, kicked and struck him without any regard to his venerable age; and those who were at some distance, pelted him with what first came to hand; imagining the least tenderness or regard for him would have been an enormous crime, when the honour of their gods was so nearly concerned, which they endeavoured to assert by insulting the martyr. He was scarcely alive when he was carried off, and thrown into prison, where he expired after two days’ confinement.   5
  Those who had denied their faith when first taken, were imprisoned too, and shared the same sufferings with the martyrs, for their apostacy at that time did them no service. But then there was this difference between their condition, that those who had generously owned their religion, were confined only as Christians, and no other crime alleged against them; but the perfidious wretches were imprisoned like murderers and criminals, and thus suffered much more than the martyrs, who were comforted with the joyful prospect of laying down their lives in that glorious cause, and supported by the divine promises, the love of Jesus Christ, and the spirit of their heavenly Father; while the apostates were tortured with the remorse of conscience. They were distinguished from the others by their very looks: when the martyrs appeared, it was easy to discover a lovely mixture of cheerfulness and majesty in their faces: their very chains appeared graceful, and seemed more like the ornaments of a bride than the marks of malefactors: and their bodies sent forth such an agreeable and pleasant savour, as gave occasion to think that they used perfumes. But those who had basely deserted the cause of Christ, appeared melancholy, dejected, and completely disagreeable. The very pagans reproached them with faint-heartedness and effeminacy, for renouncing their principle, (the honourable, glorious, and salutary name of Christian,) their former profession whereof had ranked them with murderers, an imputation they, by their apostacy, had justly incurred. This sight had a happy influence on several, strengthened them in their profession, and defeated all the attempts the devil could make on their constancy and courage. After this, great variety of torments was allotted to the martyrs; and thus they offered to the eternal Father a sort of chaplet, or crown, composed of every kind of flowers of different colours; for it was fit that these courageous champions, who gained such glorious victories in so great variety of engagements, should receive the crown of immortality. A day was set when the public was to be entertained at the expense of their lives, and Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were brought out in order to be thrown to the beasts for the barbarous diversion of the heathens. Maturus and Sanctus being conducted into the amphitheatre, were made to pass through the same torments, as if they had not before felt the force of them, and looked like champions, who had worsted the adversary several times, and were just entering on the last trial of their skill and courage…

 Attalus was called for next, as a noted person, and the people were very loud in their demands to see him suffer: who, being one that had always borne a glorious character among us for his excellent life and courage in asserting the truth, boldly entered the field of battle. He was led round the amphitheatre, and this inscription in Latin carried before him: “This is Attalus, the Christian.” The whole company was ready to discharge their rage on the martyr, when the governor, understanding he was a Roman citizen, remanded him to prison, and wrote to the emperor to know his pleasure concerning him and the rest of the prisoners. During their reprieve, they gave extraordinary proofs of charity and humility. Notwithstanding such a variety of sufferings for the faith, they would by no means allow us to call them martyrs; and severely reprimanded any of us, who, in writing or speaking, gave them that title; which, according to their humble way of reasoning, was due only to Jesus Christ, the faithful and true martyr, or witness—the first-born of the dead, and the guide to eternal life; or, at most, could only be extended to such as were freed from the prison of the body. These, indeed, said they, may be termed martyrs, because Christ has sealed them by a glorious death; but we are yet no more than confessors of a mean rank. They then besought the brethren, with tears, to offer up assiduous prayers for their persevering to the end. But, though they refused the title of martyr, yet every action of theirs was expressive of the power of martyrdom; particularly their meekness, their patience, and the intrepid freedom with which they spoke to the heathens, and which showed them to be void of fear, and in a readiness to suffer anything it was in the power of their enemies to inflict. They humbled themselves at the same time under the powerful hand of God, who hath since raised them to the highest glory; excusing every body, accusing none; and, like that great protomartyr, St. Stephen, praying for their persecutors. But their chief concern, on the motive of sincere charity, was how to rescue those unhappy persons from the jaws of the devil, whom that infernal serpent reckoned he had as good as swallowed up. Far from insulting over the lapsed, or valuing themselves upon the comparison, they freely administered to their spiritual wants, out of their abundance, the rich graces with which God had favoured and distinguished them; expressing the tenderness of a mother for them, and shedding floods of tears before their heavenly Father for their salvation. Thus they asked for life, and it was granted them, so that their brethren partook of it. For their endeavours were so successful, and their discourse and behaviour so persuasive, that the church had the pleasure of seeing several of her children recover new life, ready to make a generous confession of the sacred name they had renounced, and even offer themselves to the trial…”

 

 

The Sanctus Legacy: “I am a Christian!” pt.4

And here I promised that I would finally get to Brother Sanctus. I never intended this to be a four-part blog entry, but I was so moved by the example and faith of Blandina that I had to include her as well.

I’ll just post the letter as it tells of Sanctus. Then, my next post will be another snapshot into this specific day, covering a couple more people and their stories.

“The deacon Sanctus, too, endured most exquisite torments, with more than human patience. The heathens, indeed, hoped these severities would at last force some unbecoming expressions from him; but he bore up against their attacks, with such resolution and strength of mind, that he would not so much as tell them his name, his country, or station in the world; and to every question they put to him, he answered in Latin: “I am a Christian:” nor could they get any other answer from him. The governor, and the persons employed in tormenting the martyr, were highly incensed at this; and, having already tried all other arts of cruelty, they applied hot plates of brass to the tenderest parts of his body: but, supported by the powerful grace of God, he still persisted in the profession of his faith. His body was so covered with wounds and bruises, that the very figure of it was lost. Christ, who suffered in him, made him a glorious instrument for conquering the adversary, and a standing proof to others, that there is no grounds for fear, where the love of the Father dwells; nor is there anything that deserves the name of pain, where the glory of Christ is concerned. Some days after, the martyr was brought on the stage again; for the pagans imagined, that his whole body being so sore and inflamed that he could not bear to be touched, it would now be an easy matter to overcome him by a repetition of the same cruelties; or, at least, that he must expire under their hands, and thus strike a horror into the other Christians. But they succeeded in neither of these views; for, to the amazement of all, his body under the latter torments recovered its former strength and shape, and the exact use of all his limbs was restored: so that by this miracle of the grace of Jesus Christ, what was designed as an additional pain, proved an absolute and effectual cure…

A day was set when the public was to be entertained at the expense of their lives, and Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were brought out in order to be thrown to the beasts for the barbarous diversion of the heathens. Maturus and Sanctus being conducted into the amphitheatre, were made to pass through the same torments, as if they had not before felt the force of them, and looked like champions, who had worsted the adversary several times, and were just entering on the last trial of their skill and courage. Again they felt the scourges, and were dragged about by the beasts as before; and in a word, they suffered every torment the incensed multitude were pleased to call for; who all joined at last in requiring they should be put into the red-hot iron chair, which was granted; nor did the noisome smell of their roasted flesh, offensive as it was, any way abate, but seemed rather to enhance their rage. They could extort nothing more from Sanctus than his former confession: and he and Maturus, after a long struggle, had their throats cut; and this their victory was the only entertainment that day.”

…He did not even say what his name was, or his race or native city, or whether he was a slave or free. To every question he gave only one answer, in Latin, “I am a Christian!” No other sound did the pagans hear from his lips…

I’m reminded of those movies where a pursued American in a foreign country is trying to get through the Embassy gates and to safety. As they sprint to the stationed guards, they cry out, “I’m an American! I’m an American! Let me in!” And I can’t help but to think of Sanctus about to enter through the gates of Heaven with only one thing to say, “I’m a Christian! I’m a Christian!” Nothing else mattered to him, the alien ambassador whose mission was about to be fulfilled. It didn’t matter where he was from, what his earthly name was, whether or not he was free, what his race was…none of that mattered…and never can matter in the face of eternity. And yet, when we think of the world today, those are the very things that we put so much emphasis on. Which flag do you pledge your allegiance to? Are you white or black or Asian or… Are you free? What’s your name? All these things mean nothing in the end. The only thing that matters is that, when standing before Heaven’s gates, you can cry out, “I’m a Christian!” I have a hard time believing that God will ask any other question of us. “Well, you say you are a Christian…let’s see. Were you a Republican or a Democrat? Did you buy American? What did you do to spread democracy? Did you invest your money wisely? What college degree did you get?” Of course the list could go on and on and I’m only being facetious, but you get the point.

The only thing that mattered to Sanctus, even as his flesh was frying, was who he was in Christ. That was his entire identity. And that convicts me to the core.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“Where you from?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“Are you free?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“What’s your race?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a Christian.”

Unfortunately, I think many (myself included) are more than likely to answer all sorts of questions without ever getting close to acknowledging the most important one. Who we REALLY are. Where we REALLY come from. What we REALLY believe. We’ll talk sports and politics until (forgive the expression) the cows come home…but how comfortable are we with showing the world who we are in Christ?

Nothing else should matter. Or at least not in comparison to this confession. We, as the body of Christ, are His followers. Christians. Period. We’re in the world but not of it. We adhere to a set of rules that are seen as upside-down to this present world. The things that our King Jesus commands of us don’t even make sense from a purely “moral” perspective. Which is why the cross is foolishness to the unbelieving. Why the world’s wisdom is foolishness to God.

In the end, Sanctus was asked before the world, his life hanging in the balance, a series of questions. Depending on how he answered those questions, he would either be granted freedom, a quick and painless death, or the ultimate savagery. He chose the truth. He chose to reveal to the world his true identity. His true King and Country. And he showed how powerful a King and Country it was by enduring the worst fate imaginable for God’s honor. This is the legacy that Sanctus left us. This was his story. Would it be ours?

As I journey through the NT, I want to make sure that I keep this legacy in mind. That as I read the life and ministry of Jesus and His apostles, I will be ever aware of what matters. Nothing this world has to offer truly matters. Wealth, comfort, security, plenty, and all types of other things we tend to worship here in the west don’t matter. They only prolong the inevitable (if not corrupt the journey to it). What matters is the legacy we leave. Who we were. And so here’s my challenge to myself:

Am I just another American Christian failing to be all things to all men by aligning myself with silly political agendas? Am I just another flag-waving idolator failing to realize the love Christ has for the whole world? Do I sit back in lazy fashion, content on expressing my “Christian” values in the voting booth alone, wishing the government would legislate Christian “principals” so that I don’t have to get my hands dirty myself? Do I have a deep and sincere heart for the lost, the hurting, the needy? Am I expressing Christ’s love for them? Is there any bitterness or hatred in my heart toward any people? Do I understand who I am in Christ and that nothing else really matters? Am I functioning as the alien ambassador God wants me to be? Can I, like Sanctus, answer every question with the cry, “I am a Christian!”?

This testimony that we have from Sanctus just puts everything back in proper perspective for me. It helps separate the wheat from the chaff. Helps clarify why I’m here on this planet. And once I realize that (and accept it), all the trappings of the earthly life lose their allure and I become an empty vessel ready to be filled with a love not of this world…a love toward those who hate me, who mock my true King and Country, who need to know Jesus the way I do. A love for the broken and the downtrodden, a love for those who Christ loves. Who Christ died for.

Here’s a test that we should take to see how close to Christ’s heart we really are. I’ve spent most of my time around a very specific group of Christians and so many of my challenges may seem more one-sided. Sorry about that. But here it goes.

When’s the last time you prayed with ALL sincerity for the salvation and blessing of whatever political person it is you can’t stand the most?

When’s the last time you saw a morally bankrupt person and your heart broke for them (rather than condemned them)?

When’s the last time you shut off some talking head spewing venom in the name of Christianity and said, “That’s not Christ’s heart for the lost.”

When’s the last time we humbled ourselves and washed a person’s feet (figuratively if not physically, for Jesus specifically made that an example His followers were to emulate).

When’s the last time we felt the power of God in our lives, when our faith didn’t feel like a stale piece of ritual?

When’s the last time we met the needs of someone in the name of Christ?

When’s the last time we were overwhelmed by Christ’s love for us?

Again, I guess I could go on and on…but when I see Sanctus standing there before all those lost people cheering for his blood…I want that faith. The faith that endures, that believes I am blessed when I’m persecuted for Christ’s sake. That knows beyond the shadow of a doubt what glory awaits us. I want the faith to walk after Jesus, to stop explaining away his hard sayings, and to get over my own self-interests and die to self. To obey. It’s too easy to fall into the spiritual rut carved by so many luke-warm institutions, to go through life avoiding things, to keep our hands clean. To be a pointless ambassador. To live in a spiritual bubble that protects us from the world, rather than sending us out into it with the power of Christ to save.

“I am a Christian.”

And would that we still understood what that actually means.

 

Us versus Them…or Us “for” Them?

Just a common thought I’ve had over the past few years, especially around election time…

I heard a pastor say something once that has stuck in my head ever since, for it seemed to be something of a revelation to me and confronts an important issue within the church. He said, “The church is the only institution that exists for its non-members.” The thought was so foreign to me and yet immediately struck a chord that resonated all the way through my spirit. I found myself saying yes and amen, realizing that so much of Christianity has the exact opposite mentality toward our “non-members.”

I had a conversation this morning about the coming election, and, as always, the Right Wing, Conservative-Republican-Christian began expressing their desires for the nation. They went on to tell me the reasons they would be voting for the Republican nominee…mostly for social/moral reasons, ie. homosexuality, etc. But as they were talking, and as is so common in my own experience, they started using those words… You know, “They” and “We.” For some reason, much of the church has become politicized and…in complete contrast to our mission, has turned the church into an instrument to be used against “Them.”

Let me explain. How often have you heard (or even expressed yourself) a Christian communicate the desire to see gay marriage outlawed? I hear it all the time. “I don’t want to see this, that, or the other thing, so I’m voting against it.” Or, “Such and such a thing is immoral and I can’t stand that they flaunt it in our faces! I’m voting for the other guy!” Or, “These liberals are destroying our country! We need to run them out of office!” You get the point. We want to pass laws that will transform our society into one we are more agreeable with. We want to vote people into office that we think will help bring that change about (in seeming contrast to the idea of pure freedom). We want “Them” to be out of our faces. We want society to reflect our values (why Christians are so concerned with gay marriage but honor the “god-given right” for people to attend the church of Satan, I’ll never understand). We want to change “Them” through political muscle, through voting booths and our crusade against the public practice of immorality.

Let me tell you why I think this attitude is a perversion of God’s grace and love. First, we as Christians aren’t here to save the world or society. We’re here to save souls. “Their” souls. That’s right, the “people” that disgust us with their liberal worldviews are the very people we should be loving into the real Kingdom. The church is the only institution that exists for its non-members. We aren’t here in spite of them…we are here for them. And hardly ever have I heard that mentality expressed from fellow Christians when talking politics or elections or society or the world in general. Instead, the impression that I’m always left with is that Christians would be more than happy to send all these people to Antarctica where they would truly be “free” to engage in whatever abominations they want…so long as we don’t have to see it. It’s Us versus Them. Our rights versus Theirs. But how can we be all things to all men when we’re screaming at them, accusing them of destroying the country?

The same pastor said this, “It doesn’t matter who is in the White House. You can put Billy Graham in the White House and nothing will change. Why? Because the Bible says that judgment begins in the house of God, because the church is the salt of the earth, because God said, ‘When MY people repent, I will heal their land,’ and because as go the children of God so goes the world.” If society is sinking into an immoral abyss, it isn’t the fault of the liberals or MSNBC, it’s the fault of the church, of Christians not being the salt we’re called to be. If the church would only remember that we are here for the lost, not to reject the lost, if we would love them instead of rail against them, then perhaps we would inadvertently see society change. But society will never be changed due to who is in office or who Christians vote for. Society is made up of individuals, and if you want individuals to change, their hearts have to change. And only Jesus Christ can do that. We can maybe get a law passed that bans gay marriage, but that isn’t going to make people not be gay. It isn’t going to get more people into heaven. And so what’s the point in the end?

When the idol shops in Ephesus went out of business, it wasn’t due to a government decree, to Christians begging Rome to outlaw idol worship. They went out of business because Christians were spreading the Gospel and people were being saved from their sin. Here’s a novel idea: the more people that are saved, the more society will reflect righteousness. So instead of repeating the absurd and completely irrational, “Hey, pal, love it or leave it!” Maybe we should be thanking God that He has brought the mission field to us! He has put all these lost souls right in our own back yard and has said, “The harvest is plentiful, get at it!” We should be watching CNN and MSNBC (if I have to mention FOX, I’d probably say that’s where Jesus would’ve spent His time flipping tables while He’d be intermingling and expressing his love at Occupy and Union strikes) and seeing our mission field. We should be praying for the lost and loving them as Christ loved us, dying for us “while we were yet still sinners.” Instead of screaming at the TV, maybe we should get on our knees and ask God to use us in a way that would bring the lost into an everlasting relationship with Him. That’s what we’ve been commissioned to do, isn’t it?

So may God give us more concern for the sinner than for our political and moral high ground. May we learn to be compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, loving, merciful, and Christlike toward the sinner, knowing that Christ spilled His blood for them just the same as He did us, and that He loves “Them” just the same as He loves “Us.” When looking at Jesus walk through the NT, you won’t see Him berate anyone other than the religious leaders that were perverting His message and driving people from God. In our haste to side with political pundits and talking heads, perhaps we should take a long look in the mirror and consider what Jesus would say to us if He were walking among us today. Are we driving people from the love of Christ, or are we following the example Christ set by loving the lost with a passionate desire to see them enter Heaven?

I’ll just share one little experience with you. I used to have that “Us” vs “Them” mentality. I used to be prideful and arrogant and would often think to myself, “God’s gonna show them one day. They won’t be laughing in the end. Every knee will bow and they’ll have all of eternity to know just how wrong they were. Praise God.” Well, I was on a mission trip once, and we were all in a circle and worshiping right there in the middle of the street. People were coming over, curious and wondering what was going on. Some would stay, others would walk away. But I remember seeing two lesbians holding hands walk by us. They looked at us with such bitterness and anger in their eyes, and I could tell they were mocking us. I was instantly filled with “righteous” anger, and had all those thoughts come streaming through my head, “Yeah, you laugh and mock now…” And as I was watching them walk away, furious that they were mocking us, I had a vision. Not a literal vision, but an image formed in my mind that was so real, it shocked me to the core. As they were walking away from us, I envisioned them walking straight into the fires of hell, laughing, jeering…and my heart instantly broke. Replaced was my anger and my intolerance with a love for those two girls who didn’t know where they were heading. Tears welled up in my eyes and just like that I went from seeing things through an arrogant, self-righteous viewpoint to seeing the heart of God for the lost. I repented of my Jonah pride and ever since have tried to envision the lost through the eyes of Christ who begged God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In all this political warfare going on, may we as Christians not lose sight of why we’re here. We are here for the lost. And God is never fond of being misrepresented by His own. Ask Moses. I don’t think being a Republican or a Democrat is going to matter much in eternity. There will be both in heaven and there will be plenty of both in hell. May the Body of Christ get back to carrying out the Father’s business, and leave the dead to bury the dead.

Love “Them” in a way that makes them wonder. We are here for “Them.” Christ died for “Them.” And “They” need Him more than freedom, more than democracy, more than safety, and more than a simple need to “act” like “Us.”