Shapers of Nations and Humblers of Empires

Written by Dr. Michael Wilcox

There is no trip one can experience in the world as spiritually refreshing as the Holy Land. There is something wonderfully unique in walking, as we say, in the footsteps of Jesus. Galilee, the Garden Tomb, Gethsemane and Bethlehem will always warm the heart with renewed faith and understanding of the love of God for all his children as that love was manifested in the life, teachings, and sacrifices of His Son. There is perpetual homesickness within me when I think of these places. Yet the great story of Christ did not end when Jesus softly called Mary’s name by the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. It spread forth to distant horizons where searching men and women waited for the good news of God’s divine intervention in the affairs of men. That is a story in and of itself, written on the stones of Ephesus, Cappadocia, Athens, Galatia, Patmos, and Rome. These “holy” places also awaken the divine homesickness within.

The story of the apostles spreading the gospel throughout the Mediterranean, lifting Christianity onto the landscape of the Roman world is a compelling one. In the travels of Paul, Peter, John and the rest of the heroes and heroines of Acts and the Epistles we learn of the impact of Jesus’ life on those who loved Him. I have thought of the trials, the character, the visions, and wisdom of these men and women while reading Paul’s words among the wildflowers and fallen pillars of Corinth; or cooling myself in the shaded classical perfection of the Parthenon in Athens; or sitting in the rain on the stone seats of the theatre in Ephesus which once heard the cries of a pagan world rocked by the teachings of the carpenter from Nazareth. I listened to the sea rise and the winds pick up velocity in the Aegean while reading Luke’s account recorded in Acts of a storm he survived in that same sea. And, perhaps, because the sheer creative power of the images, truths and symbols of Revelation have always grasped my mind, eternal gratitude is ever awakened on the slopes of the tiny island called Patmos where John saw the panoramic sweep of world history while the blue waters of the bay lay fluid and calm below.

These men bore the seal and mark of the Son of God. Faith in Him was the fire that purged the mortal dross and poured forth the precious metal of enduring humanity, molded in the shape of the Creator, a lasting testimony that we all are made in the image of God. Then fishermen, tax collectors and former persecutors became the shapers of nations and the humblers of empires. The Savior’s imprint left His apostles with a boldness of testimony, a shunning of worldly pursuits and pleasures in the refinement of their walk among men, an expansion of mind and intellect equaling and surpassing in many ways that of Greek and Roman sages, a height of spiritual vision that lifts all our eyes to brighter glories. They asked, they sought, and they knocked on heavenly doors and heard the celestial hinges turn.

Though I will never tire of retracing the footsteps of our Savior in the green grass of Galilee, neither will the ruins, the pathways, and sea lanes of the apostles fail to stir and lift my spirit. These too are holy lands and the great drama of the Atoning sacrifice is not complete without understanding the lives, labors and eventual martyrdom of those to whom He said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They called Israel their home, but the world opened its gates to them and those cities they preached in, and the roads they wandered down, and the waters they sailed upon carry the weight of their sacrifices, a weight sufficient to pull faith and testimony deeper into our hearts. These lands remember what took place upon their soil and gladly impart their memory to the searching mind. Here the Father’s presence also abides. Here apostles and saints draw us with the earnestness of their convictions more fully into the arms of God.