Jesus and Change
Apart from the unfortunate incident with Ananias and Sapphira, and a few pieces of brutal persecution from the outside world, the early church community is often pictured as idyllic. Rapid growth, open acceptance, a communal lifestyle evidenced by dynamic Gospel focused times of gatherings.
There are no doubt elements of the above, and it was certainly a time of great joy and excitement. But to stop the description of the early church at the above is to ignore some of the fundamental shifts in influence and focus that went on, in a very short space of time. From the time of Jesus’ resurrection to the time of Paul’s death (around 35–40 years) the church underwent a seismic shift in influence, focus and make–up. While this might not seem like a particularly short space of time to us, in a world where a letter could take up to a year to arrive, the changes that went on must have felt like the equivalent of the technological revolution.
For 2,000 years the Jews had been told – by God – that they were His chosen people. And He’d laid out very clear boundaries as to what that looked like, and who that was and who that wasn’t. And in their society (even under occupation) it was clear what role people played in that society. That is, who had authority, who had influence, how you were accepted and how you navigated all those things. It was easy to understand your place in community because the structures of your community were so well defined.
And then along came a Jew, who claimed to be the Messiah, who began to change the rules of engagement. He questioned the place of the food laws, the place of the Sabbath, undermined those in authority and what authority looked like, and indicated he was also going to change the parameters for what it meant to be God’s people – parameters that had stood since the inception of the nation of Israel.
No society, as clearly defined (entrenched?) as the Jewish nation could face that type of challenge without there being complications. We are creatures of habit. And Jewish habits had been formed and refined over hundreds of years of persecution from the outside world, and a need to hold on to what was important. And Jesus was undoing it all.