One of the neat things I learned at seminary was how the writers of the New Testament began to proclaim Jesus as Lord. While we, sitting some 2,000 years hence tend to simply accept the title in a manner that we would accept any other title, i.e., Doctor, etc., this was not so simple in 1st century Rome. Then there was one lord and his name was Caesar. To dispute this was a one-way ticket to crucifixion. Read the gospels. Jesus was convicted of claiming to be a king. Not something one wanted to do if one had hopes of living a long time.
Another thing that came from the idea of Jesus' lordship was that worship was directed to Yahweh through Jesus alone. In a pantheistic culture this was somewhat of an anomaly. To add to this, one of the deities to be worshiped and sacrificed to was none other than the lord Caesar. For the apostles and the early church, then, worshiping One God and proclaiming Jesus the Messiah as Lord created a double-whammy of perceived apostasy and treachery. Paul, Peter and James encouraged the churches that they wrote to with a message of perseverance in the face of cultural pressures to 'return to the fold.' The gospel writers, also, seemed to present their narratives with encouragements to the respective audiences they wrote for.
The people who chose to follow The Way were persecuted for being contrary to the accepted system. The Pax Romana was a big part of that system. Of course, it was peace at the tip of a sword, but it worked. We can read how Paul got in trouble because he 'made waves' that could have brought the weight of the Pax down on the heads of the locals. He taught things that were unlawful for Roman citizens. Things like a God other than the accepted gods; a Lord other than Caesar. No more idols.
And the result? A world turned upside down. Culture changing acts of political defiance.
What does any of this mean for us today? I think more than can be discussed in a blog post. But, we can take a moment to reflect on what idols and gods we have accepted. Perhaps, that green guy George? What about American exceptionalism? For sure the triune god of our age; "Me, Myself and I."
The message that the apostles proclaimed directly confronted the gods of their age. It proceeded with power. Power to transform lives and culture. Does the message we bring have that power? Do our attempts to argue and explain things like justification and sanctification make any real difference to those who are pressed down and broken by the gods of our time? Where is the power that goes along with the proclamation? I think that we have become disconnected from our Source. In order to see the light of the Gospel chase the darkness of culture that light needs to shine into the deep darkness of our souls and our churches. It's hard work. It's dangerous work, just ask Jesus. But, it''s necessary work.