Aug. 3, 2016:  The Power of God

As part of our recent family vacation we visited the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, not far from the modern city of Naples in Italy. Pompeii was founded in about the seventh century B.C. and was occupied by the Romans 200 years later. In 79 A.D. its 800-year existence was smothered, first in volcanic ash that spewed from Mount Vesuvius and then, a day later, by lava that flowed at a rate of 100 miles an hour. The site was lost for about 1,500 years, the only clue to its existence being found in a letter from Pliny the Younger, who, from a neighboring town, witnessed the volcanic eruption and wrote about it. Excavation work began in the 1700s and continues to this day. The city has been preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture, and the buildings and artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a very sophisticated, educated and cultured society.

There were some surprising finds. Pompeii had a complex sanitation and fresh water system. The city was laid out with high sidewalks with stone roads two feet beneath that were deliberately flooded each day to cleanse the city. Large stepping-stones were at every intersection so that pedestrians could cross the road and the width between these stepping-stones was uniform (taking into consideration standard axle width) so that your Roman chariot could be driven unimpeded. There were three theaters, a gymnasium and public bathhouses. They set crushed marble in the sidewalks so that its iridescent quality would catch the moonlight and make it possible to walk the streets after dark. There were “fast food joints” on every street corner. Pompeii was also a port city and the kind of “entertainment” you might expect to find in any maritime destination was very freely available, with at least 40 such establishments vying for trade.

Today it is difficult to go anywhere in Italy without finding evidence of a deep Christian faith and heritage; churches and crosses are on street corners and mountaintops everywhere. Yet in all of the remarkably preserved city of Pompeii, there was absolutely no sign of Jesus. This was a little bit disconcerting to me—even depressing—until a thought struck me right at the end of our day. How extraordinary that God had preserved in Pompeii, to its last detail, the Roman world that the Apostle Paul walked in and was writing to. It is likely that Paul’s letter to the Romans would have been in circulation in Rome when Mount Vesuvius erupted 150 miles away.

Out of the pagan Roman culture came a move of God that changed the face of the world forever. Let me give you some numbers. In 100 A.D., 70 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Roman Empire had a population of 40 million and 25,000 of those were Christians. By 200 A.D. the Roman Empire had expanded to 60 million and there were now 27 million Christians. In a mere 100 years, and under intense persecution, the number of Christians exploded from 25,000 to 27 million!

This is more than the spread of the idea of God. This rate of growth was only possible because of the power of God. Paul tells us, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20) and of the church’s growth Paul wrote to the small but growing church in Rome and told them, “…by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:19)

Are there are times when we wonder if the world is just too sophisticated, too complex, too developed for the person of Jesus? Are there parts of our lives that we think are somehow beyond His help? Do we ever feel overpowered by the world or by events going on around us? The power of God has not diminished. The same power in Jesus is available to us. To the people of Rome and to us, Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

So in every seemingly insurmountable challenge that we face today, as Paul told his Roman brothers and sisters in Christ, God would reassure us: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)