Summary: It is genuine Christianity which turned the world upside down and it is genuine Christ-like love which transforms lives.
Contagious Christianity, Acts 2:42-47
A number of years ago a Johns Hopkins University professor asked his graduate students to locate 200 boys, ages 12-16, and then to research their family backgrounds. The assignment was then to predict their future. The students were sent to the slum area of the city to find the boys. The conclusion reached by the graduate students was that 90 percent of those researched would spend time in jail. The final chapter of this study would not be completed until 25 years later.
When the 200 original students were sought after, some 25 years later, John Hopkins sent the researchers into the slum area again. Some of the group still remained in the slums; others had moved away, a few had died. In all they were able to locate 180 of the original 200. What they found amazed them. Only four had ever been to jail (remember the prediction had been 90 percent of 200)!
What caused this figure to be so low when all indications pointed to a larger number? When the researchers began to ask this question they found that they were getting the same answer, “Well, there was this teacher….” Pressed further, the researchers found that the teacher in all cases was one and the same. The boys had all been influenced by the same teacher.
The graduate students traced down the teacher, now living in a retirement home, and inquired about her remarkable influence over a group of boys who were headed for a life of crime.
She really could not think of any reason why she would have this kind of influence. She did mention that “I truly loved my students.”
The teacher who had made such a difference in the lives of these inner city boys had made that difference because of her genuine love for them. She could not remember any profound lecture that she had given. She could not remember any great and outstanding curriculum of learning that she had developed or used.
Love was the instrument that she used to change the lives of these young men just as love was the instrument which Jesus used to change the lives of the disciples and it is still love which is the primary tool in the hands of the Church to revolutionize the world for Jesus Christ.
It was the love and uniqueness of Jesus message that caused a certain Scribe to say to Jesus in Matthew 8:19, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” (NKJV)
It was the uniqueness of the words of Jesus which caused Peter to say in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (NKJV)
This morning, we will examine what it is that gave the early Church its power, its vigor, and its vitality within the context of ancient society.
Jesus was born into a world that was prepared for his coming more than at any time prior. There is a saying which says that “all roads lead to Rome.” In the days of the height of the Roman Empire this was literally true as all of the vast roads that the Romans built radiated from the center of power – the city of Rome.
In fact, the influence that the Roman Empire had on the spreading of the Gospel message can not be overlooked. The Romans had developed a culture like non other the world had ever seen. They had developed within their citizens a deep sense of the solidarity of mankind.
Philosophically minded Romans explained this unity of mankind by borrowing from the Greek concept of an unwritten and unseen “universal law” which are written into the nature of humanity and can be discovered through rational investigation and philosophical pursuit.
This worldview was incredibly fertile soil to plant the seeds of the Gospel message that all humanity is in a fallen and sinful state and in need of a savior. The Romans developed a system of law that was daily pressed upon all of its citizens through the impartial justice of Romans courts.
In the fifth century before Christ these laws were codified into the Twelve Tablets and Roman citizens were educated in their nature and contents as children. That means that every person living in the Roman Empire was at a place in their thinking where the concepts of the unity of humanity and the nature of God’s Law were able to be grasped and understood.
In the Roman Empire there were two types of citizenship; full Roman Citizenship and then something called the Latin Right – which was a class of Roman Citizenship which was extended to free (non-slave) foreigners living in Roman controlled lands.
The reason that all of this is so significant is that this means that in essence the entire known western world was for the first time unified under one code of law with a common worldview in an empire which had roads stretching literally thousands of miles in nearly every direction upon which news – the gospel – could travel.