The Cup Just for YouMay 21, 2014
The Christian Church is a miracle.
Not many people in the world fully grasp the dark, toxic environment in which the first believers stepped into to share the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Not many people today understand just how many people died for the faith in the first three centuries of the faith, so that we can worship the one who died and rose again to set us free.
But the historical truth is that the first followers of Jesus shocked the Mediterranean world with their crazy notions of kindness, and purity, and truth, and sacrifice.
Acts 2 tells us that “All the believers were together and had everything in common…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Many embraced these new loving ideas, and pockets of Christianity began to pop up first near Jerusalem, then into Galatia and Antioch, Thessaly, Greece, and into Rome herself. But others found the new followers’ views troubling, vexing, and made it their life’s purpose to exterminate this new Christian sect.
The leaders were the first to be attacked—Stephen, James, Paul, Peter, Luke--and these Disciples and Apostles suffered too often from religious leaders threatened by the challenge of Christianity, and political leaders irritated by any social disorder that might interfere with the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace that brought so much wealth and power to the Empire.
Sadly, the Christians had little friends in political circles, and whatever money that they had was frequently distributed to the poor—“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Thus, while others could buy or bribe their way out of trouble, the first followers could only suffer for their faith, just like Jesus.
In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul states, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Remarkably, the Jesus movement grew despite this intense hostility and persecution. The first Christians’ message of love and hope echoed in the hearts of needy men, women, and children oppressed by the greediness and violence of Roman tyranny. And they saw in Jesus Christ a leader with whom they admired and respected—unlike the Emperors who operated mainly on terror, vanity, and too often insanity.
The entire New Testament was composed and recorded during this fiery, bloody era of martyrdom and executions of the faithful. Reading through the epistles, it is easy to hear about standing strong despite turmoil, holding fast to the faith, remembering the reward in store for those who hunger after righteousness, and courageously refuse to abandon Him who saved them from the “rewards” of the World--neglect, immorality, paganism, and even death.
The author of Jude writes,
“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
The message rings strong throughout the New Testament—God sees you. God wants to call you friend. God has made a way just for you. He doesn’t care about your social status. He doesn’t care about your gender. He opens His arms of forgiveness to you, no matter what their transgressions or sins. He wants to walk with you once again. Because you matter to God. He loves you, ultimately and unconditionally.
Affirming this, Galatians 3 states, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Mediterranean was a dry desert--religiously and morally—and the people had been dying of thirst for so long, so very long. The first group of Christians should have been too small to change the world, logically. But these believers opened the floodgates of living water to all they encountered, and the people drank deep the loving waters of redemption and renewal, and they felt the fullness of Christ fill their hearts and souls, which had been so empty before.
The Prophet Zephaniah spoke of this human need centuries earlier:
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.?He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor?in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth?when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes, says the Lord.”
That promise, that miracle is still available today for all who are thirsty and hungry for healing and wholeness, for those craving an eternal relationship that they can count on despite the turmoil in their lives.
Wonderfully, 2,000 years later, God still reaches out His holy hands and says, “Come and drink the living water, my friends.
I have poured out a cup just for you.”
-John S. Knox, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Apologetics