After the stoning of Stephen (the first Christian martyr), Acts 8:1 goes on to explain that “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”. When persecution (v.4) broke out, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went“. It seems like the first century Christians talked about Jesus and the Gospel like some people talk about the weather today. Talking about Jesus naturally exuded from them.
“Preached” here does not mean a Sunday morning pastoral sermon, but the telling and retelling of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The mystery of the Gospel that God loved us so much that he sent His only Son to earth to be sacrificed for our sin to bring us salvation from our sin (John 3:16). This is evangelism. It’s about YOU and ME talking with others about our faith. The impact of our salvation on our lives. How it has changed us. We naturally talk about what excites us. Why do we get so afraid of talking about Jesus to others?
The first-century Christians had a very different kind of foundation for their faith than many of us have. What they based their faith on was an event; specifically the resurrection of Jesus (which many of them witnessed personally), and this should be the reason we choose to follow as well. It is said that once upon a time, members of a Jewish cult called The Way, against all odds, captured the attention and, ultimately, the dedication of the pagan world, both inside and outside the Roman Empire.
The first century church was a communal oriented community that was very dedicated to the teaching of the word, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. It was this norm that kept the church strong spiritually, socially and economically throughout its formation.
The testimonies of Peter, Luke, James, Paul, and others provide ample explanation for why the Jesus movement not only survived the first century, but eventually overcame the very political and religious machines intent on destroying it. The apostles all died for their faith, some of them very violently (see below).
- Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
- Andrew went to the “land of the man-eaters,” in what is now the Soviet Union. Christians there claim him as the first to bring the gospel to their land. He is said to have been crucified.
- Thomas was probably most active in the area east of Syria. He died there when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
- Philip possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.
- Matthew the writer of a Gospel ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Reports say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
- Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.
- James the son of Alpheus is believed to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
- Simon the Zealot so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
- Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
- John, the only one of the apostles generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. During Domitian’s persecution in the middle ’90s, he was exiled to the island of Patmos.
No one is willing to die for a lie. The early Christians in Rome did not have it easy. They were persecuted, blamed for crimes they didn’t commit and even fed to lions.
- Is our version of Christianity worth that?
- Is our version of Christianity worth dying for?
- Is the way we live worth the price they paid?
- Have we watered the cross down to jewelry?
- Will our version of church/Christianity today carry Christianity forward 2000 years from now?