Were They Really Different?
Our Christian connection to the first-century church
I stare into his lifeless eyes, sizing up his clothes I shift my gaze down to his feet and notice his sandals bound tightly around his ankles and feet. I know nothing about this man’s life except that he’s separated by nearly 2,000 years and more than twice as many miles of ocean and land. Was he wealthy? Did he have a family? Was he the kind of guy that would throw you a warm smile if you passed him on the way into the market? Was he a Jesus follower?
As I stand in a museum gallery near the ancient city of Ephesus these questions come pouring out of my head. All I have is a little information on a plastic plaque glued to the wall next to him. A date when the statue was finished, the name of the person (if I’m lucky), and a location where the statue was unearthed. Still, having survived for so long I’m amazed by the amount of detail (marble has a long shelf life!). The gallery is full of statues, like this one, all staring back at me silently asking to tell their story. Each one – created to mirror a person who lived in that city during a very different time in world history.
Every trip I’ve taken overseas whether personal or for work has changed me. That’s part of the beauty of travel, if done right you should be a different human being when you return home, having a little more appreciation for another part of the world.
In an episode of the Digging Deeper podcast, Barry & Dan talked with Rebekah Dutton, an archeologist who has worked on several excavations in Israel. When talking about a discovery she made one day she said this:
“I dug up a Philistine bead and stood there and held that in my hand and thought ‘this doesn’t look all that different from the beads in my own jewelry.’ Maybe these people were like me, maybe they had hands like mine; goals, dreams, fears. That really made the human connection of archeology come alive at that moment.”
When we open up the pages of the Bible do we find that same human connection with our study? Do I look into the eyes of Peter and find the same passion for Jesus, in my everyday life, as he did? Can we look at a widow giving everything she has to the worship of God and relate to her? Living in a country with immense amounts of freedom and the ability to worship openly and without constraint am I able to sympathize with the family in first-century Smyrna who is suffering from tribulation and poverty and risking everything to stay faithful to Jesus?
I hope the answer is yes. These were humans like me, putting on their sandals and going to their jobs, the market, and to worship with other saints. They had goals, dreams, and fears just like I do and they faced internal temptation and external threat, just like I do.
I would absolutely love to sit down and have a conversation with a Christian from 75 AD and hear more about how their week was going. Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what that would look like!
In John 17 we have the apostle’s account of a prayer Jesus makes before his arrest. It’s such a beautiful, humble expression of our Lord’s heart and I can only imagine John recounting that moment as he’s writing his gospel. Two verses stand out to me in particular:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus is praying for his disciples but he’s also praying for those who will hear this testimony from his disciples. He’s praying for that person who will become a part of the Lord’s church in 75 AD and 2020 AD. To me, that is the most beautiful human connection of all.
History is an interesting topic. It can be hard to explain. Often I don’t fully appreciate history until confronted with it, forced to re-live it. It can be hard to make a connection, however, staring face-to-face with someone who might dress differently, look different, or may even have different views helps me appreciate better our diverse world. History involves reading, research, and truth-seeking. In our hectic (dare I say chaotic) lives we are left with a quick Google search or skim of a Wikipedia page to get the information needed for concluding.
May I insist that instead of skimming through another post, article, or video that we take the time to dig a little deeper into the past and learn something about others that will help make a deeper connection? We are all connected, we are all human, we all need a savior no matter when and where we’re from. The Bible is our window, let’s open it and bring in some fresh air!