Discipleship is about a way of life, and in what is commonly called "The Sermon on the Mount" (Mt. 5-7), Jesus went up on a high area outside of Capernaum overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in a traditional spot named "The Mount of Beatitudes."
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus is saying that they are blessed, he is saying that they are living the "good life." But who he says is blessed is quite surprising--the poor, the meek, the merciful--all people whom the world often looks down upon or takes advantage of. But Jesus says that those who live like this, in his kingdom, as his disciples, will be blessed. In this, Jesus takes the world's values and turns them upside down. And many of these blessings are in this world. But he acknowledges that his followers may face trouble, and be rewarded in heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Indeed, all of the original disciples except John died for his faith. The Roman Emperor Caligula blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and set Christians on fire. They were thrown to the lions and torn apart. But in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places, Jesus taught them to love their enemies, to forgive those who wronged them. That if a Roman soldier treated them like a slave and forced them to carry their things for a mile, to carry them two miles. He taught them to not take revenge, but to pray for their enemies.
And he taught them to not live cloistered away from the world, but to live in the world but not of the world, and to make it a better place. Jesus said in Mt. 5:13f:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Just as Jesus had brought a great light to the city of Capernaum (Mt. 4:16) through his teachings and miracles, so also his followers, together were to be a collective light to the world.
Note what was written in the "The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus" about the early Christians (2nd Century AD). The word "Mathetes" is not a regular name, but a word which means "disciple." It shows what the early Christians, as his disciples, learned from Jesus.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life . . . .
To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible.
What this letter says is that the early Christians literally became the soul of the Empire. They were a light to the world, sharing with the world Jesus' teaching and living them out.
In his work, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark tells how from the time of Christ until Constantine declared Christianity legal in 313 AD in the Edict of Milan, Christianity rose from a few hundred followers of Jesus to millions of people at the growth rate of 40 percent per decade. He cites a number of things that led to this growth--all related to the ethic taught by Jesus:
“Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their fellow-feeling and humanity by their actions. Day by day some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them . . . Others gather in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the whole city and gave bread to them all. When this became known, people glorified the Christians’ God.”
All of these good deeds done in the name of Christ, imitating Christ, cause Christianity to grow and caused the Roman Empire to eventually gain a soul. And indeed, so many of the blessings that we take for granted today--hospitals, feeding programs, charities, care for the handicapped and mentally ill--were started or greatly magnified by Christians. If Christ had never been born, so much of the world that we value today would not exist.
However, after Constantine legalized Christianity, for a short time, the Roman Emperor Julian came to power. He was a pagan, and he tried to turn the Empire back to paganism. He was suspicious of Christians, but said that the Christian growth had been caused by their "moral character, even if pretended," and that their "benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead." In writing to a pagan priest, he said that they needed to start some pagan charities, saying, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence . . . The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”
This movement to start pagan charities, of course failed. For at the center of pagan charities were the pagan gods, who would sleep with virgins, stir up wars, and cared little for anyone but themselves. At the center of Christianity is Christ, who by his life and death inspired the world and made it a better place.
It took awhile for some pagan practices and values to change, such as the gladatorial games in Rome. Thousands of people and animals were butchered for sport as entertainment at the capital--at one point consuming up to 1/3 of the annual revenue of the Empire. But Theodoret of Cyrus, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria, tells the story of Telemachus, a monk, who by his sacrifice, caused the gladitorial games to stop.
"Chapter XXVI — Of Honorius the emperor and Telemachus the monk.
Honorius, who inherited the empire of Europe, put a stop to the gladiatorial combats which had long been held at Rome. The occasion of his doing so arose from the following circumstance. A certain man of the name of Telemachus had embraced the ascetic life. He had set out from the East and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and, stepping down into the arena, endeavoured to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the mad fury of the demon who delights in those bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable emperor was informed of this he numbered Telemachus in the array of victorious martyrs, and put an end to that impious spectacle."
Christ taught his disciples to be a blessing to others and a light to the world, and through his life and teachings, the world today is a better place.
Which of the above examples of the early Christians most impacts you? What can we learn from this?
You need to be a member of Missional Outreach Network for the Missional Church to add comments!
Join Missional Outreach Network for the Missional Church