Last month I watched Gladiator for the first time. Although I don’t usually do well with gore, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
Some of my favourite stories are those set during the Roman Empire (The Eagle, Ben Hur, The Robe, Risen, The Silver Chalice etc.) because they open my eyes to the general situation Jesus and the early Christians (who wrote the New Testament portion of the Bible) faced. You read that right. After watching Channing Tatum as a centurion I feel passionate about the Bible. Strange, I know.
In the film “Gladiator”, an honoured and accomplished Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius (to discover your Roman name just add “us”) is betrayed, and becomes a disgraced gladiator. After a lot of blood-shed Maximus eventually kills (and is killed by) the evil emperor, sparking political reform and revolution across the known world. #spoilers
The movie reminded me of another man who lived in the same empire about 150 years earlier. He was also betrayed, disgraced and died a death that led to a revolution across the known world. A revolution that continues today.
Jesus died the death of a criminal, killed to prevent a possible political rebellion. Killed so politicians could keep the peace in the tumultuous “Siberia” of the Roman Empire.
But after his death, Jesus’ followers claimed that he came back to life. That his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven made possible the healing and restoration of the world. They proclaimed a new kingdom above Rome, a new king above Caesar and a new gospel (good news) above world domination.
This reminds me of Justin Bieber.
Justin Bieber was once a regular teenager from a small city in the province of Canada I grew up in. His mom posted some videos on YouTube of him singing, music producer Scooter Braun stumbled across said videos and the rest is history. He went viral. You Beliebers may now let out a cheer of gratefulness.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised if you heard about a video of a dancing flamingo that accrued over 5 million views. Whether your Grandmother knows it or not, we live in the digital age.
Videos, hashtags, articles, ideas, news headlines, philosophies and ideas come and go through our various social media platforms at a break neck speed. There is always something going viral. Always a new idea to understand, a new meme to enjoy, a new video to watch and new controversy to have an opinion about. It doesn’t surprise us when a musician goes “mainstream” and gets big. We expect it. I typed this in Cape Town, South Africa and somehow the ideas I am communicating have reached your mind wherever in the world you may be.
Let’s race back to the Roman Empire. No internet, no cell phones, no books, no telegraph lines, no telephones, no newspapers, no magazines, no google translate, no air planes, no railroads, no high-speed ships, no movies, no blogs, no cars, not even a bicycle. Ideas probably had a hard time spreading past your street much less the entire known world! Change didn’t just happen overnight via someone’s post. Silly memes probably would have lost their charm (and gotten wet and dusty) after a long, dangerous journey across the empire. People probably didn’t expect many ideas to spread unless they came from the other side of a sword or a government decree.
Yet somehow within mere months and years of Jesus’ public crucifixion, people from all over the Roman Empire were professing his message. This diverse group of people testified that their lives were changed by the living person of Jesus. A Jewish carpenter turned rabbi turned victim of a politically motivated execution somehow turned the world upside down. People from vastly different cultures, speaking different dialects, coming from incredibly different walks of life (slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor, influential men and exploited women) accepted the person of Jesus as truth. Did not merely accept, but risked everything for this truth. Died for this truth.
It sounds strange. Even suspicious. Mysterious. Why?!
Despite almost 300 years of systemized persecution from one of the most powerful empires the world had ever seen, the revolution of Jesus did not die out. It actually grew!
In the past 3 years I have met men and women from every continent. People who speak languages I didn’t know existed. People who look, act, think, sing and dance differently than I do. Despite incredible external differences, all of these people claim to have experienced the love of God and the person of Jesus. In one way or another, the person of Jesus changed their lives. People from all walks of life. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female, young, old, stellar students, successful business men, “failures”, musicians, drug addicts, porn addicts, former Muslims, former Satanists, former Atheists. You name it.
These people do not cling to a series of beliefs because their parents and their culture told them to or because they needed somewhere to go on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday.
Much like how the revolution of Jesus spread against all odds, it would appear that something deeper has taken place.
I have almost literally nothing in common with people I now call family because of Jesus.
Because of a revolution that began almost 2000 years before Facebook.
Because Jesus went viral before the internet.