Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…
Compared to the New World (America, Australia, etc), the Old World is brimming full of incredible and amazing history, and to walk its streets is to go back into ancient times. There is nothing like touring a city such as Rome to be reminded of all this.
And right now Rome is buzzing. With a population of three million, it may well double that number, if not triple it, in the next few days. That is because a number of things are all coalescing in a very short period of time. As I write this from a tiny Rome apartment, it is Good Friday. The Easter weekend of course brings plenty of Christian pilgrims into the city from all around the world.
And then on April 21 there is Rome’s foundation anniversary. I am also told that this will be Rome’s 2767th birthday celebration! Also, there will be a canonisation day on April 27, when Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints.
So it is all happening here, and as a result, this city is and will be, bulging with people from all over the globe. In that case, perhaps it is a good thing we leave tomorrow. But it has been an incredible experience here, not just mingling with the Romans, but with people from all over the planet.
I am reminded of how God has worked in human history, also on special religious days when folks from all over converged on a specific place. For example, Passover celebrations in Jerusalem in first century Palestine saw the city also greatly expand in numbers.
The Jewish historian Josephus claimed that as many as a million pilgrims would pour into Jerusalem during Passover. Even if these numbers are a bit exaggerated, we know that the city would have mushroomed considerably during such an important religious festival.
It was during such a time that Jesus entered Jerusalem for his final week, leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. It has been said that the four gospels are basically passion narratives with long introductions. This is mostly true, with so much of the gospels devoted to the final days of Jesus on earth.
And of course the important significance and symbolism of Passover was extremely fitting, given the work of Christ on the Cross. Here was the New Exodus, the New Passover, the New Israel, all rolled up in the person and work of Jesus.
Everything that something like the Exodus prefigured was so gloriously fulfilled and realised in what Christ did centuries later. So a city already abuzz with religious emotion and celebration was heightened even further by some divine timing.
But it had always been that way. God’s perfect timing is always at work. Human history is really His Story as we know. Even his incarnation was perfectly timed. As Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5, Jesus’ birth came “in the fullness of time”.
When things seem the darkest, God is always there, right on time. He is working out his plans and purposes, and no mere human or spiritual powers will stand in his way. And while for the early Christians it looked like that Passover time was terribly dark and horrible, it of course turned out to be the most glorious weekend of all.
The long awaited Messiah had come, and liberation, exodus, redemption and freedom were now being offered on a much bigger and grander scale than ancient Israel had ever known. This was at once the most terrible time on earth, but also the most beautiful.
That of course in the centre point of human history. Everything before it looked up to that day, while everything following it looks back to that time. It is the event that forever changed the world, and has forever changed the lives of millions upon millions of individuals.
While things like Roman anniversaries or canonisations may seem full of greatness and grandeur, an even more magnificent event – indeed, the greatest event of all human history – was that weekend two thousand years ago when the Lamb of God was slain, but then rose again to bring liberation to all mankind.
And this was not the end of the matter. What occurred two millennia ago is leading up to the grand climax of history. Indeed, this is where it is all headed:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)