This week I was in Atlanta for a conference at North Point Church , led by Pastor Andy Stanley. I traveled with a few of our staff, including Lisa Scata our Children’s Director, and Brian Crook our Weekend Director, who had never been there before.
We have never made a secret of our eagerness to learn from some of the more successful churches in the country on what they know about “doing church” these days. And one of the most successful is North Point. I especially like to go there because the community it serves, north of Atlanta, is amazingly similar to our own north Baltimore community.
Andy is a great communicator and leader and provided two days of insight and wisdom. Interestingly, he took as his point of departure the very topic we have been discussing since Easter, the growth of the early church after Easter. He described his own experience of visiting the Coliseum in Rome, the symbol of Roman power and the site of such savage brutality and oppression, especially against Christians.
The main entrance to the Coliseum was called the Emperor’s Gate and was usually reserved for the Emperor. Visiting there today one is immediately struck by something unexpected. Exactly where the Emperor himself would have stood, where he would have been greeted as a hero and god, precisely where the most powerful person in the world would have presided over the very celebration of everything that is wrong with the world…there is a cross. Nothing could be more unlikely from the perspective of history or the experience of the first Christians.
There is a cross hanging over the Emperor’s gate at the Roman Coliseum.
The story from the Acts of the Apostles is a primer into what the Church is in the world. It is an introduction to the rest of the story. Following the Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, history has entered its final and definitive period, this is the period of the Church. And we are a part of it. And the Church of Christ is present in the world only to do what he told us to do: make disciples and love God and one another while we’re doing it. This exercise will be fruitful with us or without us, but we do have an awesome opportunity to participate, to be a part of what God is doing in the world right now. We can get in on how the kingdom of Jesus Christ is coming and triumphing over every other power and kingdom in the world…or not, but that’s what’s happening right now.
We now know how the story ends, we know which side has already won, we know which kingdom prevails and which king reigns. Why would we do anything else besides serve this kingdom?
After all, there is a cross hanging over the Emperor’s gate at the Roman Coliseum.