The book Quo Vadis is considered one of the best-selling novels in all of world-history. It’s strange that most of us have never even heard of it. And that’s a shame, because it’s a book designed for every bravehearted soul.
Let me set the scene:
It’s first century Rome and Nero is blaming all his problems on the poor measly Christians – rounding them up like cattle and, for the pure satanic thrill of it, subjecting them to cruel and unthinkable tortures. We enter the arena where lions, tigers, and yes, even bears are feasting on Christian bodies. We enter Nero’s gardens where thousands of naked Christians (including children) have been put on crosses, covered with oil, and lit on fire as living tiki torches for the amusement of guests. It’s nauseating, grotesque, revolting. Plain and simple, Nero is a mad man.
The beauty and love of Jesus shines forth throughout the book, but I was deeply grieved over the fresh realization of how truly sinful, sinful man can be. The author, Henryk Sienkiewicz, is merely giving a fictional account of early Christianity, but shockingly such events did in fact take place near two thousand years ago. Countless Christians were martyred in these precise ways for their unswerving and unrelenting passion for Jesus.
In first century Rome there were basically two kinds of people, Christians and all the others. Christians stood out because they weren’t anything like the other Romans. In fact, they were so different that it polarized the known world against them. These Christians exposed the onlooking world’s sinfulness, they awakened their guilt and shame – and this was deemed a crime against humanity.
And in the end, Christians died horrible deaths because they refused to be like the world. They chose rather to be like Jesus, and therefore, they shared in His sufferings. These Christians were so transfixed with the person of Jesus, that even the threat of personal suffering wasn’t enough to jar their love and devotion loose. Their gaze was locked on the face of their Beloved.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this “Quo Vadis” version of Christianity seem somewhat different than what we know and understand Christianity to be in our modern age?
We, especially those of us Christians who live in America, appear to be dazzled and wooed by everything but Jesus. The sparkle, sheen, and shimmer of the world seem to have us transfixed. And no longer are we different than this world, but frighteningly, we seem to be just like it.
According to the polls (Barna, Gallup, etc), the moral and ethical differentiation between Christians and the world is almost wholly non-existent these days. We watch the same stuff as the world, dress in the same skimpy outfits, talk with same profane jargon, applaud the same heroes, and attempt to emulate the very same world-makers. Just think of the latest “Christian” concert where young adults are throwing themselves at the stage in hope to get a mere touch or glance from their favorite superstar. Yes, it may be the Christian version of pubescent idiocy, but it’s the very same idolatry. It’s the world’s behavior penetrating the sanctuary of the Holy. And this isn’t just true amongst the young, it’s also true amongst the old. It’s transcending every sphere of the modern Church. And THIS MUST NOT BE SO!
As Christians, our call is to be set apart from the world (which is the definition of “saint” and “holiness”). Jesus, and Jesus alone, is to consume our lives. It’s not supposed to be about the latest movie, the hip fashions, American Idol, and pandering for the acceptance of more Facebook friends – it’s supposed to be all about Him. And I am not talking about a fifteen minute devotional or prayer time in the morning – I’m talking about so much more!
Christianity is supposed to be a moment-by-moment infusion of Jesus within our lives, a radical take-over of the human body by the Almighty, and thusly a mighty demonstration of His Life to this world. We are meant to become a vessel through which He pours forth His life, spilling Himself out to the world around us. He desires to ooze out of every pore of our being, every moment of the day. In other words, the aroma or “scent” of God is to be so pungent upon us that everywhere we go His aroma fills our world. A moment within our presence should cause an individual to be moved by the scent. “What’s that smell?” It’s Jesus!! And as the Bible makes crystal clear – the smell of Jesus will cause either people to love us or hate us – it’s a smell that forces an issue.
In seventy years, the early church had turned the world upside down – but it was not because they went home at night to the comfort of their big screen TVs with their TiVo’s ready and waiting. The world was turned upside down because the only focus, drive, and desire they had was Jesus. They lived and breathed for nothing but His goodness, grace, glory, and grandeur to be realized and showcased through their lives. They had turned their eyes solely and squarely on the King of kings so that the “things of this world grew strangely dim.” Anything and everything within their lives that did not further the Kingdom and glory of Jesus was cut off and destroyed.
Leonard Ravenhill use to say that the world’s entertainment was the devil’s substitute for joy. Do you have joy in the purest quality or is it a fake and sorry substitute for the real thing? What dazzles you? Where do you lay your focus throughout the day? What consumes your mind and thoughts? What holds your attention? Jesus (and He alone) is to be so grand in your soul’s gaze that you literally cannot see anything else. 1st John says it well: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father, is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (2.15-16).
The time of Nero may yet again visit the Church. And may such a destiny find a bravehearted band of believers ready to take their stand for the glory of Jesus, our great Champion.
May our focus and gaze never turn, even for moment, from the King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone is worthy of our total and complete abandonment, focus, and life. May there be no other. And if such unswerving and unrelenting passion for Jesus leads us to the floor of an arena or to a splintery cross, then may we too sing with joy unspeakable and full of glory.