Summary: Shows how God put the hope of a universal Savior and the disgust with idolatry and cruelty into the hearts of Gentiles to get the world ready for Jesus
HOW GOD PREPARED THE WORLD FOR JESUS PERSONALLY
“And the Lord opened up her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:14
Lydia was a Jewish business woman and she became the first recorded convert in Europe. In that town God saved a demented slave girl and a Roman jailor. They represent the upper class, the middle class and the lower class of Roman society. The word was ready for the gospel because the God who prepared it geographically and historically also prepared it in the hearts of men and women spiritually;
1. Spiritual Preparation
It is a miraculous fact of history that a religion born among a despised people, the Jews, in 200 Years (312-332 AD), had such an impact on Roman society that it was chosen by Rome as its religion to help cement its crumbling Empire. It is almost unbelievable that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, still looked down on by almost all nations, could be so universally held in reverence as He is today. This universal appeal began in the first century.
By the end of the first century the Bible says the gospel had been “preached to the whole world” and was bringing blessings (Col. 1:6). After one century the name of Christ was being sounded as Savior throughout all the world.
In the second and third centuries it burst the bonds of the Roman Empire and extended all the way from what is Russia all the way down to the Persian Gulf.
Why this rapid growth? How could an obscure Jewish sect rise in three centuries to become the official religion? How could the name of Jesus, a Jew, become a name of hope and salvation for people of every nation, every tribe and every language?
Ioffer the answer in a word - God. God worked it and God accomplished it. This was a 300 year revival and revivals are always God’s sovereign gifts to the church.
God had prepared the hearts of men to receive the gospel. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father Who sent me, draws him” (John 6:44).
The gospel is powerless to save without the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit. It is like seed scattered on the pavement or a match thrown into a river. But when the Christian gospel fell on to the first century world it fell like seed into rich, dark soil in hearts plowed by God.
God used Satan’s work against him. He let him drag people so low that they woke up to what they were and what they were doing. It was when the Prodigal really saw the hog pen that he longed for the Father’s house (Lk. 15).
The first century world was rotten to the core with all kinds of cruelty and violence and deviant sexuality – the very reasons God destroyed the world in Noah’s day and Sodom in Abraham’s day.
There was unparalleled luxury combined with abject poverty. One Emperor spent millions of dollars on food alone; even though he ruled for only eight months.
On the other end of the ladder were the sixty million slaves. To many people a slave was not a person but only a thing. A master, by law could torture, mutilate or kill his slave. Close to the slaves were the “rabble” - the lower class people for whom moral restraint was an unknown.
Unwanted children were thrown into the streets to starve and die, or be picked up and made slaves.
The low moral condition on every level of society was shocking. Pagan worship was characterized by three things: Sexual vice, drunkenness and gluttony.
In the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth a thousand priestesses devoted themselves to prostitution. One Emperor, talked about on the History Channel had a steady stream of slave children brought to him for his sexual pleasures. When he finished with him his servants threw them off the cliff near his palace to their deaths.
The cruelty was unbelievable. Loads and loads of sand were hauled constantly to the amp-theatres throughout the Empire to replace the sand stained with blood. People reveled in bloodshed. Crucifixions were common. The Greek philosophers saw and spoke of this. Virgil wrote: “Right and wrong are confounded.”
Tacitus in his history of the period wrote:
“I am entering upon the history of a period, rich in disasters, gloomy with wars, rent with sedition, savage in its very hours of peace ... All was one delirium of hate and terror.”
Matthew Arnold wrote,
“ On that hard pagan world, disgust and secret loathing fell / Deep weariness and sated lust, Made human life a hell.
(Quoted by William Barclay,“Paul- The Adventurer)”
Paul summed it up Romans 1:18-32:
“God has given them over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and to do shameful things with each other ... God has given them over to shameful passions ... to corrupted minds ... they are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice ... they speak evil of one another, they are hateful to God, insolent, proud and boastful ... they think of more ways to do evil.”