The answer to that question is the same as the number of days in a year.
That’s right 365 Churches in Malta, scattered ubiquitously over this small island nation. Since Malta is steeped in a rich history of Roman Catholicism, then obviously I refer to Roman Catholic Churches; a fact that I learnt on a recent trip there. Consequently, it was inevitable that we’d visit some of them, and thank goodness not all of them.
The reoccurring iconography (ie the statues and paintings) conveyed a motif, which was both confronting and disturbing, to someone like myself who’s spent a lifetime within the Protestant (iconoclastic) tradition.
I was lead to muse upon, how a non-believer with no experience of Church would receive the repetition of these melancholy images of Jesus hanging helplessly nailed to a cross, bloodied and bruised?
It would seem from an outsiders’ viewpoint that there is little to celebrate over a Jesus portrayed as a forlorn figure, which elicits pity, rather than admiration and allegiance.
It was okay for me, I knew the backstory. The weight of the sin of the world borne by the Son of God, vicariously suffering on my behalf, so that I could be acquitted from the penalty of my failure to live as God, demands.
But what of those unaware of the meaning? How would they process these images?
Why would anyone want to become a follower of Jesus who was brutally killed by the Romans, two millennia ago?
Victory Clutched from the Jaws of Defeat
There’s a remarkable parallel, like an echo from the past. For this problem is similar to that faced by Christians in the first century. A milieu which lauded victory in battle, and military conquest not defeat. And yet the message of what appears to be defeat (Christ crucified) was ultimately victorious despite the seemly impossible odds against success.
The Roman Empire became Christian starting around 321 AD under the Emperor Constantine, and we, Western civilization have enjoyed the unrivalled benefits of it, until recent times, before the world went insane, when the Marxists took over.
St Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, succinctly and accurately reveals the prevailing attitude of the day, towards a victim of Roman crucifixion.
“For God was pleased through the foolishness of what is preached, to save those who believe. Jews demand a sign and the Greeks look for wisdom, But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Greeks”
It would have been so much easier, if success were the objective, to bring a message which avoided the offense of the cross.
So How Did a Message of Offense, Convert so many People to Christ?
The answer is simply the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s consider the activity of the Holy Spirit within the wider context of Salvation History.
All this time before Christ, God had been working through his chosen people the nation of Israel. But it would not be unreasonable to say that Judaism (I use the term loosely) had failed to gain any traction in the ancient world. It was too self-focused, too exclusive and had lost its way.
Neither Israel, nor Judaism (the contemporary version of the Jewish religion at the time of Christ) had been able to challenge or change the ancient world held in the stranglehold of paganism, with the universal message of God’s reign and salvation to a lost world.
That all changed at Pentecost onwards. Signs and wonders (miracles) now accompanied the preaching of the apostles and the followers of Jesus. The same wonders and miracles that once accompanied the people of Israel were now transferred to the early Christians.
Just read through the book of Acts, on almost every page there’s a miracle of some sort or a live demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.
While ancient historiography lauded the victories of their Emperors in battle, the subjugation of their enemies, their military prowess and alike. And although this mindset prevailed.
There was a greater power at work, the power of the Holy Spirit, who could cure the lame and raise the dead. Something no Roman military general had ever done. The message of Christ crucified seemed folly on the surface, but there was no denying the miracles and the same power behind those miracles, which raised Jesus to life.
We should consider this when we speak to our unbelieving friends, it seems folly to talk about a dead person on a cross, but we can be certain that the power of the Holy Spirit, works through this message. So let’s be embolden.
Vic Matthews, has three degrees B.Optom, B.Arts & B. Christian Studies. He is a kiteboard tragic, who now works as a Christian Copywriter. He can be found at http://trustworthycopywriter.com/writing-services/christian-copywriter/
Vic Matthews' previous articles may be viewed http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/vic-matthews.html