Apr 20, 2014 0
In a generation after the first Easter, Christianity had spread to the far corners of the known world. There were churches in the future lands of England and Ireland; after a century, church settlements in “barbarian” northern Europe; and around 300, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the formerly pagan Roman empire.
The Bishop Eusebius wrote remarkable histories during the reign of Constantine that traced the lifelines of the church: communities; outposts; heresies; theological and leadership rivalries; miracles; persecution (for instance in Gaul, which made Rome’s look like child’s play) and martyrs. Christianity spread, subsuming the cultures and arts… as, it seems to me, any movement fostered by the Creator of the Universe, was proper to do.
“Gospel” means “Good News.” The early church fathers, in the manner of Mary at the tomb, were Newsboys in a very real sense; so were the rising corps of evangelists, missionaries, and pastors.
But have you ever stopped to think of what enabled the Gospel to spread so rapidly? There is a temptation to think it was the witnessing of Christ’s miracles. Eusebius, for instance, had spoken to people who had spoken to people who knew Jesus, heard Him preach; seen His miracles, encountered His resurrected self.
I think it was different; I think it was more. After the Ascension of Jesus, it was as if the scales fell from peoples’ eyes. Gentiles had the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament explained to them. Jews, multitudes of them, remembered those prophecies anew, and recognized how Jesus fulfilled them to the smallest detail. As the Roman centurion said, in a sudden moment of clarity, “This Man indeed is the Son of God.”
Additionally, what happened was the miracle of Pentecost. On that feast day, the frightened Disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Christ had promised to them – to us – and told them to wait. After it comes, as on that day, believers share their head-knowledge with heart-knowledge. They becomes doers of the Word, not hearers only. They supernaturally gain wisdom and knowledge… and boldness.
So: my view was that the sudden spread of Christianity, even despite (and maybe because of) persecution, was due less to the MIRACULOUS elements of Christ’s ministry, and more to the LOGIC of His incarnation. Some people were late to the party – oh, what a party! – but their minds were clear, in those first centuries. It became the most natural thing on earth (and beyond) to live (and die) for the God-with-us, Jesus.
Among the logical evidence that Gentiles learned, and Jewish believers recalled, were the words of Isaiah, written an amazing 700 years BEFORE Jesus was born. Without verse numbers and footnotes, it is a startling narrative:
“Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? … He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. … He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
What does this tell us? That after Jesus rose to Heaven, His followers shared the Good News – the Gospel message. It was indeed good; humankind’s best. But it was not “news.” It, and uncountable other details about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, had been planned and written before the foundation of the world.
Not “breaking news,” but Good News indeed.
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It took “breaking through the clutter” to hear, for the first time, or thousandth time, the STORY of Jesus. Then, as now, the simple logic overwhelms our minds and hearts and souls. The supernatural becomes natural. This ordinary paradigm has been summed up touchingly by songs of two female poets of the 1800s. I implore you to click this short video, watch, listen, and learn… or re-learn. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” is a beautiful plaint by “America’s Blind Poetess.” Fanny Crosby was blinded at birth, began to write poems in her 40s, and before she died in her 90s had written nearly 9000 hymn-poems, many beloved today. “I Love to Tell the Story” was written by Katherine Hankey, a well-to-do British girl who shared the gospel with factory workers and street people until she became too sick to leave her deathbed. But, she wrote, “I Love To Tell the Story.”