|Persecution is a strange topic for most of us. To be sure, there are still Christians who face injustice and suffering today. These are direct consequences of their belief in God. The stories are painful to hear, much less endure.|
Pray for the persecuted church! I encourage you to make those prayers a priority in your local congregation.
As you do, it makes it hard to accept many of the cries of persecution coming from our country. As you’ve heard me say many times before, we are not persecuted. You’re right to recognize the Christian faith has lost some of its entitlement. But that’s a loss of privilege, not maltreatment. There are challenges to religious freedom we need to follow and address. But those apply to all religions, not only ours.
Pile on to that another conversation. If we have faced persecution, we haven’t responded all that well to it. It feels like many Christians want to fight fire with infernos. We’ll scorch everything if we sense any potential infringement on our rights. I’ll let you reflect on what that might mean.
Many early Christians responded differently.
We’ve affirmed the widespread, ongoing persecution of Christians is a myth. Persecution was typically localized and sporadic, although there were exceptions. Many Christians embraced persecution. No, they weren’t itching to be murdered. But they understood their circumstance as a way to honor the Lord’s sacrifice. When they suffered as he did, they glorified Jesus even in their death.
Let’s not speculate what we would do if we were in that situation. Instead, let’s pray we would have the strength to hold onto our faith and not deny Jesus.
Other early Christians did not take persecution well. This sparked an early controversy of the church. We created labels for people who confessed Jesus in spite of persecution and for those who did not. Confessors were those who did not offer worship to other gods or the emperor. They confessed Christ and endured the torture that ensued. Others lapsed from the faith when confronted. They did not persevere and were called the lapsi.
The controversy began in a time of peace. How would you receive those who had lapsed if they wanted to return to the church? Would you make them offer certain forms of penance? Be rebaptized? Would you reject them from the fellowship altogether? These were the sides of the controversy.
So, why does this warrant a devotional for us?
Maybe it doesn’t. You’re gracious enough to let me wander from time to time.
But it may also offer a chance to reflect on what expectations we have of one another as the body of Christ. Some of what I hear and read online from Christians does not honor Christ. It does not glorify God. How, then, do I respond? Do I sever ties with people who won’t see the harm they do? Do we act like character and witness don’t matter?
In many ways, Christians still find ways to deny the lordship of Jesus. What should our response be?
|The joke is Jesus went to the restaurant and asked for a table for twenty five. Only the twelve disciples were with him. So, why did he need so many seats? Because they were only going to sit on one side of the table.|
That’s the image Leonardo da Vinci made famous. It’s the depiction of Jesus and his disciples in The Last Supper. The scene details the disciples’ reaction to what Jesus has told them. That one of them will betray him. Some seem shocked and angry. Others look confused and surprised. One clutches the money bag as he spills salt on the table.
The horizontal view of the painting is for us. It was not meant to illustrate the actual seating arrangement. Imagine trying to get a table like that even at Chili’s.
We’ve learned most likely the table was u-shaped. We can’t help but imagine also they sat in chairs at an elevated table. When the gospels tell us the disciples reclined, that suggests something different. The table was much closer to the ground. Jesus and his disciples sat on the floor. The Romans called this a triclinium. They leaned over the table on their left side.
Let’s also consider where the disciples sat. Tradition tells us the places to the right and left of the host were honorable. Jesus was the host and John had the honorable spot. This made it easy for the beloved disciple to lean into Jesus’ chest to ask him a question. In The Last Supper, Judas is away from Jesus. But there is an argument that Judas reclined next to Jesus to his left. The host would serve the person on the left first. Judas received the bread from Jesus himself.
What was Judas doing sitting at a place of honor?
We all know what he is about to do do. We also know Jesus knew what he was about to do. Remember when our Lord taught to not sit in the place of honor when you get invited to a wedding (Luke 14:8)? It could be Judas forgot that teaching. Or, since it wasn’t a wedding, did he think that didn’t apply to him? We’re good at making exceptions for ourselves.
Of course, we should also consider Jesus told him to sit there. That sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? He is the One who rejoices over finding one lost sheep and one coin. I imagine he’s the life of the party when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).
And he’s the One that knows our sin. He knows how unfaithful we are. How fickle we can be. We mentioned the spilled salt in The Last Supper. It’s a small detail that illustrates a breaking of covenant. How often do we do that?
But still, our Lord gives us a place next to him. He doesn’t shoo us away from his presence. Instead, he gives us the freedom to do what we’re going to do. So, what are you going to do with that kind of love and grace?