It is common knowledge that so many people today don't know about God and Jesus, and that our churches seem to be emptying of those who do, a sad and troubling picture if our gaze is riveted upon it long. It took my thoughts to the first century, for I imagine that the early Christians, a small minority within the vast, pagan population of the Roman Empire, may have felt at times that they were looking at a similarly bleak picture.
Many first-century people in the Roman Empire didn't want the early Christians around: they didn't worship the same gods as everyone else; they didn't carouse and hang out at the arena like "normal" people did; they worshipped differently. Today, many people in Canada and throughout the world find Christians to be offensive: we worship a God Who does not benignly condone the gods of other religions or the worship of self, wealth, or power; we (should!) stand apart in the way we live our lives — not judgmentally, but reflecting Christ's love and light in a dark world. Those who have seen a church only from the outside will indeed wonder what goes on Sunday morning during their golf or kids' sports time.
The early Christians began to stand out more visibly as they "turned the other cheek" during frequent times of persecution, responding in love rather than hatred, and as they cared for those who became untouchable — the dead and dying victims of the plague — showing real love to "one of the least of these" as Jesus would have done. While it is true that most people today are not drawn into our church buildings by the presence or stately appearance of the structure, those same people may be touched by God's Spirit as Christians — you and I — reach out to them in their time of need, reflecting Jesus' love and light on their personal darkness.
Those first-century Christians were so few amongst the diverse peoples of the Roman Empire. However, they didn't focus their gaze on their small numbers in contrast to the crowds around them. Instead, they focused their attention on their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 12:2 – We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. (GNT)
Interestingly, to many of the people who saw their love, those Christians started to look beautiful, and many were drawn to them to learn why they were different, and their numbers grew. Within 300 years, they had Christianized the entire Roman Empire.
Whether we worship corporately in a large downtown building, or in a small house church group as we do here in the Cariboo, or somewhere in between, those people who don't know Christ will first find Him, in most cases, when they meet us — if and as we humbly and faithfully seek to serve them in Jesus' name.
Prayer: Our Father, God, discouragement can come to us all too easily in this world. Help us, we pray, to focus our eyes of faith upon Jesus, our Saviour and Lord, and help us to remember that this world is Your field. Give us the strength, the faithfulness, and the humility to be living testimonies of Your love. In Jesus' name, we ask. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne" (Lyrics)