Isn’t it amazing that – without a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Snapchat account, a LinkedIn profile, a Pinterest page or things like that – that here we are after over 2000 years still talking about Jesus Christ, and in many cases still arguing about him. We have lived to see the truth that he has brought division into the world, because people are divided about Jesus (Luke 12:49-56). Is he just a good man? Is he just a prophet? Is he the Son of God? Is he something else?
Isn’t it amazing that such division can still be engendered at the mere mention of a name, of the name of Jesus Christ? The truth does that, though; the truth encounters opposition and creates division. And maybe also it’s not so amazing when you consider that he also rose from the dead. What I mean is that his death and resurrection is his baptism he was baptized with. And therefore Christian baptisms are connected with his baptism, Christians have died and rose in Baptism just as Jesus died and rose. So, all who are “baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Therefore, Christians also encounter the opposition of those who oppose God’s Word of truth as revealed in Christ. There is division in the world on account of Christ and the Church, as Christ’s people, bear the brunt of this opposition against God’s Word.
And there are a lot of people who oppose God’s Word, from many different angles. It began with Satan in Genesis who perverted God’s Word, continued with Cain who neglected God’s Word, and continues down to our own time.
Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, was a prophet sent by God to warn the people of Judah that God’s judgement was coming upon them for their sins (cf. Jeremiah 23:16-29). The people didn’t like his message. They had other prophets of their own that were saying that everything was fine and said things which were more to the people’s liking. These false prophets were not sent by God and did not speak His word to the people. Instead, they spoke the words of fallen humans and preached feel-good messages that didn’t call the people to repentance. They said that God was fine with everything that was going on, even though He wasn’t. Similar things have occurred right down to our own day.
Jeremiah, however, was sent by God and he did speak the Word of the Lord. So, he wasn’t very popular. In fact, he was arrested and thrown in prison for sedition. Since he was telling people that the Lord’s judgement was coming upon Judah, he was accused of being against Judah and thrown in prison for his message. He was trying to warn people, and the thanks he got was being accused of being a traitor to his country and he was imprisoned for it.
Sadly, this has happened throughout history. The Romans accused Christians of being seditious because Christians wouldn’t worship the false Roman gods nor the emperor as a god. So, Christians contended for their faith, even writing to the emperors to explain that we have been taught to obey secular authority as instituted by God, and that we pray for our governmental leaders, and that we are therefore the best of citizens, but that we can not go against the convictions of our consciences.
The Christian apologist Justin Martyr wrote two letters to the Roman emperors in the mid second century, and he was killed for his faith. The German Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi regime in Germany and was ultimately imprisoned and executed at the end of World War II. Christians today in the Middle East are persecuted and killed for being Christians. And this is creeping into Europe and North America. There is division on account of Christ.
In our own country, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has stood with the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and many others in opposing government mandates that go against Christian consciences. We are entering into a new world where we will once again have to contend for our faith, argue for it, and remind government of its proper God-given role in the world.
The fact is that the Christian faith often brings division and conflict. Jesus sas it himself: he is a dividing figure (Luke 12:49-56). Some people say he is a good man, others that he is a prophet, others that he is a fake. There is nothing so polarizing as to where you stand with Jesus. A person is either for or against him. A person either believes that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the Living God” as Peter confessed, or that Jesus is no one of eternal importance.
There have been many books written which attack the faith by regurgitating old, false arguments against Christianity. Attacks such as the contention that the Gospels were written much later and were not eyewitness accounts of Jesus, that Jesus was just a man, and that the Bible is full of errors. These accusations have been made against Jesus and against Christianity since the very beginning.
The Jews said that Jesus was born of an adulterous relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier. The Romans and the Jews said that someone stole Jesus’ body. But, within these two lies is buried a recognition of the truth. The Jews claimed that Mary had an adulterous relationship, because they knew that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father; this is an oblique recognition of the virgin birth. Likewise, the claim that someone stole Jesus’ body is a recognition that his body was not in the tomb on the third day.
So, what you see in all these attacks on Christianity, either from people or from governments, is a recognition that Jesus is someone worth attacking. A person only spends the effort on attacking something or someone that is important. The world knows that Jesus is important, so the prince of this world, Satan, tries to divide people from him. This attempt at division comes through accusations of falsehood, through derision, or even through outright persecution. The world opposes Jesus, because it does not want to recognize that we are all accountable to God. This is why tyrannical governments oppose the Church, because they want everyone to be accountable to it as the final authority, rather than to God.
So, in the midst of all this division and opposition, the Church is called to continue to contend for the faith in the tradition of those who have gone before us. The Church has always engaged non-believers to explain what we believe, teach, and confess – as well as to pray for their repentance and conversion to the faith. That is needed as much today as it always has been.
There are many great examples of confessions provided by the people of the Church throughout history:
Justin Martyr = In the mid second century, wrote his first and second apologies to the Roman emperors Antoninus Pius, Lucius, and Marcus Aurelius.
Tertullian = In the late second century, wrote “Against Praxeas” to defend the faith from false accusations, and wrote his “Apology” to the Roman emperor to explain Christian beliefs.
Irenaeus = In the late second century, wrote “Proof of the Apostolic Teaching” and “Against the Heresies” in order to defend the Christian faith.
Athenagoras = In the late second century, wrote “Embassy for the Christians,” which was addressed to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus in an effort to explain and defend the faith.
Origen = In the third century, wrote “On First Principles” where he explained the Christian faith
Firmicus Maternus = Was a Roman Christian of the senatorial class who, in the early fourth century, wrote “The Error of the Pagan Religions” addressed to the Roman emperors Constantius and Constans in order to demonstrate the truth of the Christian faith.
St. Augustine = In the fourth century, wrote “City of God” to show how the pagan gods were false and explain the Lord’s plans for His people.
These are just a few examples from the early New Testament Church. As a Lutheran, I would also mention the Augsburg Confession which was presented by the Lutheran princes of Germany, under the threat of death, to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1530 in order to defend their faith, the faith of our spiritual ancestors going back to the early New Testament Church.
The truth is that these sorts of confessions and defenses are being given every day by Christians throughout the world. I get emails from a group called “Voice of the Martyrs” that chronicles the persecution that Christians are facing throughout the world and the witness that Christians are giving in the face of this persecution. People are being jailed and killed for their faith, even as they give the good confession to it.
We are all called to confess our faith before others and, in the words of St. Peter, “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are entering an age where we once again must explain to people and to the government what Christianity is and be prepared to confess our faith in Christ in the face of opposition and in the midst of division.
In order to fulfill this calling, we need to read the Bible and get familiar with God’s Word. If and when you have doubts about the truth of God’s Word, investigate deeper. Read more of the Bible, read the writers of the early Church, look for yourself at the supposed “errors” and “contradictions” that people content are there. I promise you will find two things. One is that these “errors” and “contradictions” are not there; they are the product of minds who do not understand God’s Word, because they do not have the key of Christ to properly interpret the Word. The other is that division on account of Christ will continue, because it is only by God’s Word that a person can come to faith.
So, continue to delve deeper into the Bible and you will continue to see greater and greater connections between Old Testament and New Testament as God continues to reveal more to you through Christ. You’ll see the web of interconnectivity among the books of the Bible. Contend for the faith, always being able and ready to provide answers to those who have questions, in the great tradition of Christian apology that has been going on since the beginning. Be prepared to speak to other people about your faith. Write to your governmental representatives on topics important to you, so that the government is reminded that in Christians it has loyal citizens who will remind it of its proper role and duty.
And know that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are with you in this effort (cf. Hebrews 12:1). There may be division on the earth, but in Christ there is unity in the Church and in him you have eternal brothers and sisters. Amen.
(Image of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. By Orf3us – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11585071