"When our time was up, they escorted us out of the city to the docks. Everyone came along -- men, women, children. They made a farewell party of the occasion! We all kneeled down together on the beach and prayed. Then, after another round of saying goodbye, we climbed aboard the ship while they drifted back to their homes.
"A short run from Tyre to Ptolemais completed the voyage. We greeted our Christian friends there and stayed with them a day. In the morning, we went on to Caesarea and stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of the "Seven". Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied." Acts 21:5-9 (The Message).
It amazes me that there were Christian communities in every city and town along Paul's route to Jerusalem. In the space of some thirty years, the message of Jesus had seeped into every nook and cranny of the Roman Empire, so it seems, and that in the face of serious opposition from both Jews and Romans. What was it in the message and in the circumstances that caused the gospel to take root so firmly in the hostile soil of pagan Rome and Jewish fanaticism?
Because of the Pax Romana, the relative peace that prevailed in the empire, there was freedom of movement between countries and provinces all around the Mediterranean Sea. There was no such thing as passports and visas to hinder free travel between countries. The Roman government kept a tight rein on the people through its army, quelling any signs of rebellion before it spread.
There was one common language spoken throughout the empire. Thanks to the conquest of Alexander the Great and the spread of Greek culture and language, Greek was the lingua franca of the empire, making verbal communication easy wherever the believers went.
Roman roads on the main routes were paved, enabling Paul and his associates to journey in relative ease and safety along the main highways, avoiding danger from gangs of robbers on the way.
Wherever Rome ruled, it created colonies which were microcosms of Rome itself. Through its governors and their subordinates, who were Rome's ambassadors, everything that Rome stood for was represented in the farthest corners of the empire. This model was the basis for understanding how the church was to function in the world.
Just as Caesar ruled the empire through his ekklesia, a group of chosen men he gathered around him, who had an intimate relationship with him and who carried out his instructions through his representatives, so the church (Jesus' ekklesia) was a group of people who had an intimate relationship with Him and through whom He implemented His will on earth.
Although these factors made the spread of the gospel easy, they do not give us the reason for the rapid spread of Christianity in a hostile environment. The real power lay in the effect Jesus had on the people who believed in Him. Paganism and idolatry were common everywhere, but false religions did not have the power to transform lives.
Jesus had promised His disciples that He would build His church in a place like Caesarea Philippi, where people engaged in sexual orgies with goats in public as part of the worship of the goat-god, Pan. In that kind of environment, the worst that pagan beliefs could produce, it happened and it was happening everywhere.
Take Ephesus, for example. The power of Jesus had broken and nullified the hold of the goddess, Artemis, over the city. Witchcraft was exposed, occultic books burned and a whole industry based on idolatry ruined. The power of the Holy Spirit, working in the lives of those who believed the message of Jesus, so changed lives, transforming selfish and greedy people into loving, caring and generous followers of Jesus that whole communities were changed and the message was carried everywhere wherever the believers went.
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