Our family felt both excitement and anxiety. In June 2008, we were flying halfway around the world for our son’s Make–A–Wish trip to Germany. We were overjoyed to be going to a place we’d never been. And yet, the fact we’d never been to Germany caused our nerves to erupt. How would we get our train tickets to go on our various outings? Would there be restaurants within walking distance of our hotel in Berlin? So many other questions popped up even before we boarded our flight for Germany. We were going into uncharted territory. Would we be okay getting around to the various landmarks and highlights?
That was a similar spirit I imagined pulsing through the people who made up the early church. After Jesus ascended into heaven (see Acts 1), his disciples were now given the baton of leadership for this new movement. How would they accomplish what Jesus beckoned them to do (especially since they had struggled to understand Jesus’ teaching while he was on earth)? So many questions! They were going into uncharted territory!
That reality grabbed me as I wrote about the Church in ancient times. The Holy Spirit was working within the lives of key people along the way to make sure Jesus’ good news and saving grace covered a lot of real estate. The apostles Peter and Paul were made into bold proclaimers of God’s truth. When persecution, torture, and death rose up against those who professed Jesus as their Lord, bishops such as Ignatius, Polycarp, and Cyprian stood tall and would not back down from their hope in Christ, all the way to the end. When the emperor Constantine gave freedom to Christian worship, that freedom also brought the possibility of different doctrines and political pressure into the Church. To confront the moments when these matters became abusive, Athanasius, Ambrose, and John Chrysostom rose up in determined fashion. When the Roman Empire fractured and fragmented, Jerome and Augustine gave wisdom and counsel to the days ahead. And when it was obvious that other lands and difficult people needed the gospel of Jesus, Patrick went courageously back to Ireland armed with Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
None of these people truly knew what lay in front of them. None of them were certain of the consequences of following Jesus. But that didn’t stop them from living out redeemed lives and offering the grace of Jesus to others, no matter how hostile or hopeful the situation might be.
You see, Jesus told his people, “You will be my witnesses.” He blessed us for what we should do. Following Jesus can sometimes mean going through uncertainty or danger. We don’t know what situations we may encounter. But we can always go forward knowing Jesus is with us. He was with people in the Church in ancient times. And that happened to be the most exciting part of writing Redemption: The Church in Ancient Times, knowing that in their stories, we can find strength for living as Jesus’ followers today.