Darrow Miller, Bob Moffitt, and Scott Allen have put together a series of Bible studies on the Kingdom of God. They are primarily for small groups, but I am perusing them as a reference for my study on Wednesday nights this summer. Here is a passage from their study, God’s Unshakable Kingdom:
In the second century a devastating smallpox epidemic swept through the Roman Empire. The epidemic was so severe that over the next fifteen years a quarter to a third of the Empire’s population died from smallpox, including the famous Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
According to Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, the typical Roman response to the illness was to flee from it. "At the first onset of the disease, [the non-believing Romans] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead. [They] treated unburied corpses as dirt." Even Galen, the famous physician, left Rome quickly once the epidemic began, departing fo rhis country estate in Asia Minor until the danger receded.
In contrast, wrote Dionysius, "Most of our Christian brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ . . . drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and caring for others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.
This perspective is amazing to me and explains why the early church exploded in growth and turned the Roman world upside down. Where did the early believers derive this type of love and self sacrifice? Many Christians today live this way, although it is not exactly something that has become a part of our normal discipleship in American Christianity. But, I’ll save that for another day.
Here’s a thought: Colossians 1:19-20 says, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." These verses are not teaching that everyone and everything will be saved. There are lots of passages that speak against that idea. Rather, this passage is saying that Jesus has made it possible for all things to be reconciled to Himself. Eventually, everyone will bow the knee to Jesus. Eventually, all of creation will be redeemed. But for now, we know that there is no sin too large, no family too estranged, no community too divided, and no nation too evil that Jesus cannot bring back to Himself. The Cross is sufficient to bring all men back to Him. It is also sufficient to restore the entire created order. Somehow, I think that the early church understood this. When they laid their lives down to bring the love of Christ to the sick and the dying, they were just doing the work of the gospel by reconciling the world back to God through the sacrificial love displayed through the Cross.
So, when I see evil, sickness, death, and despair around me, I should not run away in fear. When I see people enslaved to sin and living in wickedness, I should not pull back and condemn them. Instead, I should go into those situations in the confidence that Jesus has already won the victory and everyone and everything can bow before Jesus because of what He has done on the Cross and through the Resurrection. Jesus is our hope. Somehow, I think that the early church understood this. That is why they were able to lay their lives down and care for the sick, even at great danger to themselves. They were compelled by love. They did not look at people from a worldly point of view. They knew that they were given the message of reconciliation because God was reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus. How could they do any different as His ambassadors? (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
How could we?