I read a lot of history, basically almost every night. Most of it is in relation to the history of Christianity and faith over the last 2000 years. It fascinates me. I’ve already written elsewhere about Saint Patrick, one of the most influential people in the history of Europe and certainly of the Irish and Scottish people that my ancestors come from.
But over and over again I’m struck by how it so often came down to change. Would the (what we now call) “religious people” make spiritual progress, expand and be renewed with what God was trying to do in their lives? Would they change with the new day or hold on to their old ways?
It’s such a hideous trap. Hideous! People of faith think they have to hold on to the basic tenets of their faith, which often is true. “Let that therefor abide in you which you have heard from the beginning.” (I John 2:24) But some of these can be just religious traditions, rather than really make-or-break absolutes of the faith.
This is why Jesus said, “Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, ‘This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from Me; howbeit in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’.” (Mark 7:6 & 7) Some of those folks perhaps originally were, to some degree and measure, genuinely worshiping God. But when Jesus came along, His reality, His warmth, His truth and His miracles were a manifold greater witness of God’s power than the vain traditions they’d come to mostly be holding on to.
What happened? Some people quickly caught on that “No man every spoke like this man.” (John 7:46) They knew that “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 7:29) But some people, the majority, held on to their “old wine”, as Jesus called it.“No man, having drunk old wine immediately desires the new; for he says the old is better”. (Luke 5:39)
And this is such an incredible truth; you can see this repeated down through the centuries and the fate of nations and civilizations hung on it. Some folks were confronted with the “New Wine” of the presence of God in the apostles He sent to the nations. Some pagan kings had the grace and the wisdom to recognize the hand of God and the presence of God in the apostles of their day and they received them and worked with them. The result? Their nations converted from heathen darkness to the God of Light. Read about Boniface and his work to bring Christianity to what we now call Germany. Or the incredible effect Martin Luther had on the history of Europe in the 1500’s. Luther brought change, not with the sword or economics or science, but simply in leading his generation to return to the original truth of the Word of God. And Europe was never the same after so many nations received the truth of God through Luther.
But the sad thing is the times when the people or the rulers were presented with a new message from God, an exposure of their lapses or a call to take a further step in the path of faith and righteousness.
History is full of examples of both leaders and the masses who shunned the voices of God that He sent, rejecting His messengers and His truth that was sent to deliver them from the troubles they were in. This was never more clearly happening than with the people of Israel, before their destruction and subjugation by Babylon around 586 BC. “They mocked the messengers of God, and despised His Word and misused His prophets til the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, and there was no remedy.” (II Chronicles 36:16)
The history of Europe is strewn with examples of these times, some of which went well and many which didn’t. Multitudes of blog articles could be written regarding these things when the subject of the French Revolution comes up. Or the history of Russia, leading up to the fall of the Czar and the overthrow of Orthodox Russia, bringing in the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist Empire of the Soviet Union.
There were opportunities in all these things where a leader could have arisen to courageously lead his people out of their dilemmas by taking the higher ground of God’s will, truth and Word. But so often, this just didn’t happen. It reminds me of the heartbreaking verse in Ezekiel, “I sought for a man among them that might stand in the gap and make up the hedge, that I might not destroy the land, but I found none.” (Ezekiel 22:30) How often in history this has happened! God sought for a man among them to stand up for God and His ways in their desperate times. But He “found none .”
No leader of stature could be found by God to “stand in the gap” of the broken wall of God’s will and protection. No leader or even a commoner, like Joan of Arc was so dramatically for the French in the 1400’s, could be found to lift up the message of God, to rally the people to spiritually higher ground, greater obedience, further truth and to continue in the paths God was leading them. So He could no longer protect them.
“They that wander out of the way of understanding and shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16) God didn’t fail to send them His truth in many forms. When you read history, you can see this over and over. Sometimes it was heeded and the nation was saved from what looked like was doom. Many other times it was rebuffed and mocked. As the martyr Stephen cried to his brethren the Jews in Acts 7, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” (Acts 7:52) And so destruction and even annihilation came.
This is what happened with ancient Israel, so clearly recorded in God’s Word so long ago. And it didn’t just happen with the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 BC. This has happened again and again to societies and nations over the last 2500 years .
Like the old song said, “When will they ever learn?” Well, some do. But the warning to us all is fearful and awesome. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)