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Lessons From History--"Witness"

"Good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden."
1 Timothy 5:25


He was one of the greatest doctors in history, second only to Hippocrates. Among his patients were the Roman Emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, and Septimius Severus. His research became the foundation of medicine. His name was Galen, and his work was an undisputed authority for 1,500 years.

In 161 A.D., a terrible plague broke out in the Roman Empire. Some speculate it was the first western outbreak of smallpox. Close to one-third of the Roman citizenry died, possibly including Emperor Marcus Aurelius. And what did Galen, personal physician to the Emperor and great medical expert, do during this time? He ran for the hills. Literally. He left Rome for the country, hoping not to be infected.

It was a terrible time for the Roman Empire. They did not know how to treat this disease, and so their response was to entirely shun those who were infected. Victims were thrust from homes. The healthy abandoned friends and family members. And yet in the midst of this, there was one small group who took it upon themselves to care for the disenfranchised: the Christians. Risking, and indeed sometimes sacrificing, personal health and life, the early Church took it upon themselves to care for the sick.

An odd thing happened. In an Empire experiencing a thirty-percent mortality rate, the Christians experienced far less--only ten percent. Was this a miracle? Possibly, although modern doctors tell us that what Christians provided undoubtedly saved the lives of countless many: basic nursing care. It is possible that these simple acts of kindness substantially lowered the mortality rate of the Christian community, and those under their care. You'd think a great doctor like Galen would have known this, but in Rome it was every person for themselves--except for the Christians.

And people took notice. Many decades later, Emperor Julian, an enemy of Christianity, expressed his frustration: "It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them."

In 1 Peter 2:12, we find a suggestion that the Christians of those times seemed to intimately understand: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." And glorify God they did--Christianity spread at a phenomenal rate. No doubt it was in large part because of the powerful witness these people provided.

How's your witness? When people look at you, and the things you do, do they see something incredible? Do they see something that might cause them to reexamine the very nature of their lives? When the world looks at you, will they glorify God?


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan 


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June 5, 2004