Nearly two thousand years ago, a Jewish man was executed on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem.
There’s nothing all that unusual about this: thousands of Jews were crucified by Rome back then. What’s different about this man, however, is that within two months of his ignominious death there were a few dozen people who claimed to have seen him alive again, and several hundred people who acclaimed him the Messiah of Israel and Lord over all.
The man, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee, a craftsman from a nothing village in a nowhere part of the world, but one who was said to have done remarkable things.
He was a teacher, they said, a teacher of the Jewish Torah who called on people to love God, neighbours, and enemies in anticipation of the coming reign of God. He was a miracle-worker, they said, a healer of the sick and raiser of the dead, who cared more for mercy than letter-of-the-law in these miraculous works. He pronounced judgment on the judges, they said. He forgave the sins of sinners, they said. He was the Messiah, they said, the long awaited son of David who would usher in God’s kingdom on earth.
And now, they said, this crucified Christ was alive, and reigning over all the earth at God’s right hand.
Over the coming years this Jesus-belief, this Jesus-movement, spread outward from Jerusalem, outward throughout the Jewish diaspora, outward to Rome and beyond. Slowly, surely, small pockets of Jesus-followers sprang up. They gathered in homes and rented buildings to break bread and pray and learn and worship together. They told the story of this Jesus as good news for the world, and lived out this good news by freely giving all that they had freely received.
Other people called them “Christians”—devotees of the Christ—a name that stuck. But the Jesus-followers called themselves people of “the Way”—following the way of Jesus, following the Way who is Jesus.
Nearly two thousand years later, we live in a world that is very different, but in some ways very much the same. As a human race we know a whole lot more, but that doesn’t mean we’re any wiser. We are much more aware of human diversity, but that doesn’t mean we’re any more compassionate or caring. We have access to more and better resources, but that doesn’t mean we’re any more generous or just. We think we’re more civilized, but underneath that veneer of gentility we’re still just as driven by greed and fear, we’re still just as prone to cruelty and violence.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. And so the message of Jesus, the story of Jesus, the life and teachings of Jesus—the Way of Jesus—is still just as needed today as it was back then.
What was it that characterized those first followers of Jesus, these people of the Way—that should still characterize us today? What was it that God called them to be and to do—that God still calls us as the Church to be and to do today?
Throughout the fall we will focus on eight of these characteristics of the earliest Church that God still calls us as the Church to nurture and put into practice. We live in a different world, so these will look different today than they did back in the first century. But they are still just as relevant, just as necessary, in the twenty-first century as they were in the first.
Here are the eight characteristics we will look at—I will update these with links to my online summaries as they are posted through the fall:
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to devotion to the apostolic teaching, to the community of believers, to fellowship and worship together (Acts 2:32-42).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to generosity as the practical expression of love for one another (Acts 2:44-47; cf. 4:32-37).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to boldness in speaking and living out the truth of Jesus in the gospel (Acts 4:13-31).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to allegiance to God and God’s kingdom above the kingdoms of this world (Acts 5:17-32).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to inclusiveness of those on the outside, those on the margins (Acts 8:26-40; cf. 10).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to risk-taking, a willingness to try new things in a new world (Acts 13).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to adaptability, adjusting to our changing world and the new things God is doing among us and around us (Acts 15).
- As people of the Way of Jesus, we are called to expansive vision to see God’s work beyond our Mennonite or even Christian borders (Acts 17:22-34).
All are welcome to join us at Morden Mennonite, Sundays at 10:40 am, as we explore what it means for us to be people of the Way of Jesus the Messiah, our Lord.