Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Day of Little Note

The prophet Zechariah said “For who hath despised the day of small things?”  In November of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln traveled to a small town in southern Pennsylvania named Gettysburg.  His purpose was a small thing, to make a speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg national Cemetery. Edward Everett gave a large speech speaking for two hours during the dedication.  Lincoln gave a small speech speaking for two minutes.  The world today remembers nothing of what Everett said, but all recall the great words of Lincoln. Even Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day: “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”[1]
In July of 1996 I had the privilege to visit Gettysburg. I will never forget standing at the top of Cemetery Ridge.  As I stood there I could picture the lines of Union artillery pointing down the hill.  I could almost smell the smoke and hear the roar of their firing at George Pickets almost 15,000 confederate troops, who were advancing up the hill.  At the end of the day the Confederates were in retreat after three days of battle having lost 25,000 men. 10,000 had fallen that very afternoon.
The world did not notice the events of that day.  But it was a day that changed the course of the American Civil War.  The war transformed our nation by riding us of the scourge of slavery and cementing a national union that even today is the envy of the world.
In his address Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”  The same could be said of a day almost two thousand years ago when a little known Jewish Rabbi was executed by the occupying Roman authorities.  The world did not note that day.  But that day changed history.
The world took no notice of Jesus’ life.  Jesus came from a common working family.  The people from his hometown of Nazareth commented “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary,…?”[2] Jesus began as a humble carpenter in a small town in an out of the way part of the world.  He was a common working man who had become a preacher. Nothing in the life of Jesus would cause the world to take note.
At the age of thirty Jesus became an ordinary Jewish Rabbi.  A rabbi was a teacher. Today He would be an itinerant revival preacher like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, and Dwight Moody. There was nothing out of the ordinary in Jesus’ ministry, aside from his miracles, that would have set him apart. Even Jesus own disciples saw nothing more when Jesus first began his ministry. Scripture records that “Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"”[3]. Jesus did not have any wealth or financial empire. Jesus even said of himself “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”[4]. 
Living in a small corner of the Roman Empire Jesus life and work went almost totally unnoticed around the world.  Judaism was a very small religion that was considered odd by most people, and generally despised by the Romans.
Palestine was a small province of the great Roman Empire. The Roman Empire stretched from Great Britain to Persia, from Norway to Egypt. There were many places that had greater importance to Rome than Palestine.  Palestine had no great natural resources. Neither did they have great wealth, fine educational institutions, remarkable architecture, nor anything else that the world would see as great and valuable. More than 400 years before Jesus the enemies of the Jewish people had noted “that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces.”[5]
Nazareth, the town that Jesus was from, was known as a town with little going for it.  Nathaniel, one of Jesus own disciples, commented, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[6]  As a simple preacher Jesus received no attention from the scholarly establishment of his day.  Jesus wrote no books, and made no great scientific discoveries. There was nothing in the teachings of Jesus that caused the great teachers of Judaism much less the Roman world to take note of Jesus. In fact the enemies of his disciples noted “that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.“[7]
It can truly be said that Jesus was a man of little note in His day. There was nothing in His life that caused the world to take serious consideration of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet his life, death and resurrection have transformed the world. The great Easter event that we celebrate each spring, Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, was at that time an event of little note.  During Passover, a Jewish holiday that the world cared little about, the Romans carried on their business as usual. When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Jesus was sentenced to death simply as a way of placating some troublesome people. Pilate even said in John 19:6 “Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.”[8] To Pilate Jesus’ execution was only one of thousands.
The day that Jesus died there were two common criminals that died with him.  Jesus didn’t even rate a special execution.  The Jewish leadership was glad to be rid of Jesus and to the Romans it was just another day’s work.  The Romans routinely crucified criminals, slaves and rebellion leaders, sometimes thousands at a time.  The death of Jesus was worthy only of note in official records.  The only reason a guard was posted at his grave was at the insistence of the Jewish leaders. Jesus body would have even just been tossed into the trash had it not been for the kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus.  Moreover, even according to today’s standards, Jesus trial and death received little or no publicity.
There were no reporters or news crews at Calvary.  There were no live satellite feeds, no capital punishment protesters, not even a single talk show was devoted to the event.  No one except his friends and family took note of this execution.  There were no reports spread across the empire that Jesus had died.  No kings or emperors were notified.
Even Jesus closest friends had fled.  Only John and Jesus mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene dared to follow Jesus to Calvary, to watch nails being driven into the hands and feet of Jesus, and to watch Jesus life ebb away over six hours time.  Few took note, or even really cared.  Most saw it as just another day in the Roman Empire.  It was another day of cruelty, another day to beware.  The Jewish leadership was glad to be rid a trouble maker.  Jesus was a threat to be removed, and the less said and remembered the better.
Jesus existence was barely noted in secular history.  There are records in secular history of the life and death of Jesus, but their numbers are few.  History records much of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Nero and other Roman Emperors.  We know of Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and Alexander the Great.  We even know of Genghis Khan and Egyptian Pharaohs.  But little is said of Jesus of Nazareth.  The world little noted the events in Jerusalem that day. The world has in fact little remembered.  Today many people seem bent on wiping from society and culture the mention of Jesus name, and the events of his life and death. Even many of the followers of Jesus today take little note on Good Friday and Easter of those events so long ago.  They instead choose parties, Easter eggs, and vacations instead of worship, remembering Jesus sacrifice and miraculous resurrection.
However Just like Gettysburg the results of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus have far outreached the meager notice the world paid to the events.  Just like Gettysburg we cannot ignore what was done during those three days two thousand years ago. The life and death of Christ are today seen as a pivotal time of human history.  The measurement of time is centered in the life of Christ; A. D. means Anno Domini or the year of our Lord and until revision B. C. stood for Before Christ.
It was the quiet revolution of people transformed by the power of the raised Christ that brought down the corrupt Roman Empire.  The last two thousand years of western history have been centered on the Christian Faith.  The Eastern world has not been left untouched by the Christian Faith.  Ethiopia has had a Christian presence since the first century and was home to the powerful Christian kingdom of Aksum in the first centuries AD and became a Christian empire in the 15th century.  Both India and China have records of Christian Communities throughout the last two thousand years.  Today only Judaism and Islam rival Christianity in the world.
Christ has become a pivotal person in human history and Christianity has transformed every society it has touched.  When history is examined, it is clear that modern day democracy takes roots and flourishes in nations which are predominately Christian.  Nations that espouse other religions struggle constantly to maintain any personal liberty.
It is Christianity that has promoted the equality of women.  Only in Christian societies do women ever find equal opportunity or general respect.  In the State of Saudi Arabia, a nation that is reported to be a progressive Islamic nation, women are not allowed to drive, are essentially owned by their husbands or fathers, and may be only one of many wives of their husbands.  Under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, women were not allowed to receive education or to show more than their eyes in public.  Iran is not much better.
True followers of Christ have fought for the liberation of people from slavery. It was Christian concern and commitment that eventually brought an end to Slavery in the United States and around the world.  People following the teachings of Christ have brought economic hope to the masses of people, by creating fairness and justice.  Christian societies protect the lives and futures of children as no others do.  Christianity brings hope in the midst of despair.
This change upon societies does not occur because of war, or revolution, or law.  This change occurs because every person who meets the resurrected Christ is transformed.  The Apostle Paul said “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”[9]  This is possible because to be in Christ is to be born again. Jesus said “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[10]  and “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”[11]  This has been proven in the lives of countless people throughout the centuries.
Chuck Colsen who upon finding Christ left a life of power and influence that ended in prison and found a life of meaning working with the imprisoned of America.  Billy Graham was a simple North Carolina farm boy who through Christ has become the prophet and confidant of world leaders throughout the latter 20th century.  It was a young shoe cobbler named William Carey who under the leadership of Christ opened India to the hope of Christ.  The life of each believer can testify to the life changing power of the risen Christ. As lives have changed so have families, and communities.
The world little noted the man Jesus of Nazareth.  The world little noted his life, his death and his resurrection, the world today still tries to ignore the raised Christ.  But it is undeniable that Christ has changed the world one person at a time. He was seen as a small person, in a small place 2000 years ago.  Take Zachariah’s advice, don’t despise the small things. Has he changed you? If not will you allow him to change you today?  If you have pulled back from Christ and find yourself at a distance from the one who died for you, I want to invite you to renew your commitment to Christ.

[1] [1]"Gettysburg Address," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
[2] Mark 6:3
[3] John 1:38
[4] Luke 9:58
[5] Ezra 4:15
[6] John 1:46
[7] Acts 4:13
[8] John 19:6
[9] 1 Cor 5:17
[10] John 3:3
[11] John 10:10