Oh, stop it. I see you rolling your eyes at me. How cliché you say…going through the bible for C-day…what else should it be? Caiaphas? Cain? (oops, did that one already) Church? Caesar? I suppose I could have chosen the Chaldeans, but I’d have to bluff my way thought that one.
Let’s admit it, very few words cause more divisiveness among people than this one. Do you think the original rag-tag band of believers realized the Pandora’s box they were opening with their Gospel message? I doubt it. More about this rag tag bunch next week.
How did this new religious movement spread? And much more importantly, why did it spread? Given the tenacious cultural and political climate surrounding JC’s followers in first century Palestine, it’s amazing it didn’t die with it’s leader. When we look at early believers after that messy crucifixion event, we don’t find people gathering in opulent churches and boasting of their faith in front of reporters. They were scorned and, on occasion, persecuted. Saul was famous for hunting down “traitors” to the faith. Why on earth would someone openly and voluntarily admit they followed a man who was found guilty of treason to both Rome and the Jewish Sanhedrin? What could they possibly gain from this admission except ridicule and possible bodily harm?
Why take the risk of sharing stories about Jesus miracles? After all, there were still plenty of people still alive who could have called them out as liars if the stories never happened. It’s human nature to cover your arse when you might be wrong or blamed for something, and what they were saying ran a huge risk of exposing their arses.
But, incredibly, they did it anyway. They met in homes and clung to the message of hope, especially as the Roman Empire began to crumble. That original rag tag group of fishermen traveled far and wide…and for what? Lucrative book deals? Movie rights? Fame and fortune? Their actions and behavior defied human nature’s tendency to take the fastest road possible in padding that coveted nest egg.
Christianity spread in those early years because, rumor had it, in God’s eyes there wasn’t any difference between rich and poor, royalty and slave, scholar and peasant…all were welcome to join the club. It promised salvation to everyone and excluded no one who wanted to follow the Gospel message. Despite all the glory and excess of the Roman Empire, most of the middle class was excluded from these corporate benefits. During plagues, it was the Christians who cared for the sick and each other when others were frantically running from anything that looked diseased. There was a definite sense of belonging with these strange people.
In a word, it was the L-word…Love that set these strange people apart. This weird, new movement embraced:
1. a close-knit feeling of belonging.
2. a new brand of morality that guided their behavior.
3. a powerful message of hope and grace with a belief that justice will prevail.
They talked about a God who loved his creation so much that he sent his son…a completely odd concept…into the world to serve as the ultimate sacrifice in reconciling mankind back to the Creator. God, who manifested himself in peasant form…totally ordinary and unimpressive…much like the majority of the people at that time. The divine lived among the commoners and said everyone is made in the image of God. No amount of philanthropy or money could buy the grace freely given. There’s no checklist or levels of perfection required to be good enough. In fact, it’s expected for followers have numerous Epic Fails. And when that happens, all that’s needed to start over is a humble, repentant heart and a bended knee. What’s not to love about that?
So what began as an attempt by Rome and the religious authorities to squash this random movement ended up horribly backfiring…resulting now in about one third of the population of the planet claiming to be Christian. But, this number is elusive. Stats can’t tell if a person is a Christian at heart, or if they’re simply paying lip-service during the survey. Only God, who sees the heart, can judge who is an authentic Christian.
Billy Sunday once said, Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.
And Gandhi once said, I’d become a Christian if I’d ever met a real one.
Yes, I imagine those first 12 apostles didn’t have a clue what they were starting. And it’s now up to those who embrace their authenticity to finish what they started.