It is truly remarkable that through hell and high water, the good news of Jesus has arrived to me, today, in 2018, in Canada. This is a miracle of God.
Through persecution, the gospel has persisted. Despite the frequent destructive misuse of the message for coercion and power, the good news has carried on. Not only has it reached me here, today, but it has spread throughout the nations of the earth. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said the harvest would be great. He wasn’t kidding when he said he would build the church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Thanks be to God that he has been faithful, and that Jesus has not been overcome!
It’s interesting to think of those very first bearers of the message. Ten of Jesus’ first twelve disciples were martyred for the gospel message they proclaimed. These followers were so utterly convinced that everyone, everywhere, needed to confess Jesus as Lord, that they marched toward their death in order to spread the word. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome. Thomas was speared by local religious authorities in India. Matthew was run through by a swordsman sent by an Ethiopian king.
These people believed wholeheartedly in this story, the reality of who Jesus is. They believed he was the king of the universe. They believed he had taught them to live and love in a new radical way. They believed he had forgiven sin and defeated the power of evil through his death and resurrection. And they believed that all people must be invited to confess him as the one true king. Had it not been for these passionate convictions, the good news of Jesus would never have made it beyond Palestine. It never would have escaped the first century. It most certainly would not have made it to me in the 21st century!
Does our faith today look like the faith of those who got the ball of Christian history rolling? Had Jesus merely been a good moral teacher, or a character in an esoteric story with spiritual meaning, those first disciples would not have carried that message to the point of their death. Had he not actually risen from the dead or merely been one of a buffet of spiritual options, they would not have scattered as deliberately as they did. The gospel would not have spread throughout the nations.
As we navigate the often pluralistic society we find ourselves in, it can be tricky. We’re tempted to conform or shift our views in order to be as peaceful and accommodating as possible. If at all possible, we’d rather not ruffle any feathers or proclaim that we have something the world might be missing. However, we need to ask ourselves the following question: If the earliest disciples believed in the version of Jesus that I believe in, would the good news of Jesus have ever made it out of the first century?
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.