One of the amazing miracles of the world is the effect of one small development in the first century AD that has become such a mighty force for good in the last 2000 years. Yesterday, I saw a brief presentation by Joe Stowell, president of Cornerstone University and affiliate with Radio Bible Class on Day Of Discovery in a program called, The Dawning. He was speaking on the extent and power of the Roman Empire of the time. The strength and vastness of that empire is difficult for us to comprehend because of how great it must have been. It stretched from north Africa in the south to northern Europe in the north, to what is today Spain and France in the west, and to eastern Russia and the Middle East in the east.
In the midst of this vast Empire, another “ruler” emerged who was of the humblest beginnings in the little town of Bethlehem, Israel. Though his origins were hidden from the larger society of the time, it soon became clear that a force was developing that would eventually engulf the whole world. Jesus Christ came as Immanuel — the Son of God from heaven — in the humblest of circumstances. He was born in a miraculous way to a young woman of humble means and station in life. Though his birth was announced to shepherds by angels who came to worship him, and in a most unusual way to some “students of the stars” in Persia who likewise came for that purpose, the general population mostly had no idea about the huge power that was developing in their midst.
After he grew to adulthood, God made Jesus known through his baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Shortly after, he called a group of prayerfully chosen men to become his followers. They spent most of their time with him for three years while he taught them about the nature of the kingdom of God, built upon the foundation of Jewish history and divine revelation. He said he came in fulfillment of prophecy and proved it by the amazing things he said and by his powerful miracles that often overcame suffering and death, as well as arresting the ordinary laws of nature. But the greatest act of all was his undeserved death on a Roman cross in which he willingly laid down his life for the sin of the world and then, three days later, proved the truth of his claims by a bodily resurrection.
Jesus showed himself to his unbelieving followers in a variety of ways after his resurrection before ascending to heaven in a cloud with the promise that he would return again to finally establish his kingdom’s rule and bring about the fulfillment of all that was promised. Some days after he ascended, he sent his Spirit to his followers while they were waiting for him in a prayer meeting. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ followers with power as evidenced in their miraculous ability to speak in different languages about the wonders of God, in their ability to powerfully communicate the message of his cross and resurrection with deep conviction (so that multitudes soon turned to faith and trust in God), and in their ability to heal the sick and free people from suffering of every kind.
It wasn’t long before the Christians of the time became an entity within the Jewish community and beyond. Despite the naysayers and overt persecutions against them from those who were jealous of their victories and blessings, this little group of believers soon became a multitude of Christ-followers throughout the Roman Empire. A quiet revolution was beginning to occur. But it didn’t come by sword and human power. Rather it came through the humble witness to God’s love and truth by the mouths and hands of those who had become believers in Jesus and who had taken on something of his same character and personality.
As time went by, the faithful work of this humble group of people, despite many mistakes and set-backs, became a force that overcame powerful opposition. Today, Christians don’t belong to a particular country or possess a political entity. But they have come to permeate almost every culture and country of the world. Through the church, the large contingent of Christ-followers has been the salt of the earth. True to Jesus’ prediction, that which was a small mustard seed has grown to become a large tree, greater than all the other herbs of the field, so that the birds of the air can come and nest in its branches (Matthew 13:31 – 32).
Today however, at least in the western world, it seems the church is going through a time of subtle persecution and marginalization. Some of this may be due to a reaction to the large place it has enjoyed for so long in this part of the world. Sometimes to us who live here, it looks like its strength and influence is receding.
Yet, in the grand scheme of things, nothing could be further from the truth. Even as I write today, the church is growing at a greater pace than ever in China, in Africa, in South America, and in Southeast Asia including India and Indonesia. The western development of the church is currently in decline — no doubt also largely due to worldly distraction and living ease. Sadly, the Gospel and authority of the Bible, doesn’t seem to have the prominence it once had in Canada and America. Christian life and ministry is often rather boring and benign. The Gospel has lost something of the edge and bite it once had. Overall, the church of the west is in need of a Holy Spirit inspired revival that will once again cause the Gospel to have the power it deserves.
The good news in all of this is that the Gospel will ultimately prevail despite the set-backs of our time. Because that is what Jesus’ promised would happen. It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture of what God has done and is doing through this Gospel. Again and again we need to be drawn back to appreciate its uniqueness and power. May God help me to be revived in my own need to keep the Gospel central and to do what I can to uphold it’s nature and cause.