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Sermon Illustrations on Rome

Background

Christ’s Name

What shall I say of the Romans themselves, who fortify their own empire with garrisons of their own legions, nor can extend the might of their kingdom beyond these nations? But Christ’s name is extending everywhere, believed everywhere, worshipped by all the above enumerated nations, reigning everywhere, adored everywhere, conferred equally everywhere upon all. No king, with Him, finds greater favor, no barbarian lesser joy; no dignities or pedigrees enjoy distinctions of merit; to all He is equal, to all King, to all Judge, to all God and Lord.

Taken from The Sacred Writings of Tertullian; An Answer to the Jews, Chapter VII: The Question of Whether Christ Be Come Taken Up.

A Reminder of the Paradox of Christian Power and Authority

When you go into one of the great basilicas of the late Roman empire and you see a mosaic of Christ enthroned at the far end, you’re looking at the place where the emperor would sit. And the emperor would be sitting there either dressed in his armour or in cloth of gold with a diadem around his head.

So you’re looking to the throne, but who’s on it? This rather curious and disreputable wandering teacher. So you have a bit of a paradox in visual form there. The person who holds the emperor’s authority in cosmic terms isn’t just another soldier or administrator in uniform, but a philosopher, a sage.

So something’s being said there that is on the edge of paradox. It’s been suggested, quite credibly, that some of that tradition of representing Jesus borrows from the ways in which late Classical art used to depict Plato the philosopher or Homer the poet. So it’s a poet, a philosopher, it’s a wordsmith who’s sitting on the throne.

Article: “Rowan Williams & Neil MacGregor Discuss Faith and Visual Imagination,” The Telegraph, 2013.

These Impious Galileans

A passage often referred to in order to describe the sacrificial, countercultural quality of the early church comes to us interestingly enough, from one of its strongest critics, known later to history as Julian the Apostate, the last non-Christian (or pagan) Roman emperor (serving from 361-363 AD).

Julian had begrudgingly acknowledged that the Christians, or the “Galileans” as he referred to them, took care of the needy far more so than its pagan counterparts, which led to many new converts. This concerned the emperor because it threatened Julian’s attempt to restore the supremacy of the Roman pantheon. Most importantly, the passage describes just how powerful the Church can be when it models the sacrificial love of Christ to its neighbors:

These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes….Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors.

Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests). Those in the early church lived in a conflicted but beloved covenant community in peaceful opposition to the militaristic, materialistic, racist, and sexualized culture of the Roman Empire. The church was distinct, noticeable, and uncompromising. This type of prayerful resistance and faithful witness is needed today.

Introduction by Stuart Strachan, Source Material from Julian the Apostate, quoted in Michael Craven, “The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome,” Crosswalk.com, November 8, 2010.

The Three Options

With a certain oversimplification we can trace easily enough the three options open to Jews in Jesus’ day. … First, the quietist and ultimately dualist option, taken by the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran: separate yourself from the wicked world and wait for God to do whatever God is going to do. 

Second, the compromise option taken by Herod: build yourself fortresses and palaces, get along with your political bosses as well as you can, do as well out of it as you can and hope that God will validate it somehow. 

Third, the zealot option, that of the Sicarii who took over Herod’s old palace/fortress of Masada during the Roman-Jewish war: say your prayers, sharpen your swords, make yourselves holy to fight a holy war, and God will give you a military victory that will also be the theological victory of good over evil, of God over the hordes of darkness, of the Son of Man over the monsters.

Only when we put Jesus into this context do we realize how striking, how dramatic, was his own vocation and agenda.  He was neither a quietist nor a compromiser nor a zealot.

Taken from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright Copyright (c) 2015 by N. T. Wright. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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Related Themes

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The Ancient World

The Early Church

Israel

Martyrdom

Western Culture

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