The city of Rome was plagued by over crowding. To give you an idea of how over crowded Rome was here are a few numbers to consider: Chicago has about 21 people per square acre. New York is considered over crowded at 37 people per square acre. Rome was extremely overcrowded at 200 people per square acre. This is without the benefit of high rise apartment buildings and with 30% of the city’s space being used for public spaces such as temples, fountains, and markets. Rome as a city in which people were, quite literally, living on top of each other.
With so much over crowding you can imagine that Rome was a place of extreme poverty, and this poverty led to an enormous crime problem. Rome was a crowded and dangerous place to live. In order to keep the people’s minds off their condition the Caesars arranged cheap entertainment for people to watch.
The favorite place of Rome was called the Circus Maximus. This was a horse-chariot racing track of enormous proportions. Around 250,000 people gathered around to watch men in wicker-work chariots race round the track. It was a deadly thing to do, but the crowds loved it: the speed, the crashes, and the death.
The Circus Maximus was also a place of illicit sex. The poet Ovid in his poem on love advised men to go to the Circus Maximus to find a mistress. In such a crowded place with people’s attention on the races who would notice two lovers?
Not only were there races, but the Circus Maximus also held staged animal hunts. Romans loved to see exotic animals killing each other and being killed. These people loved to see death, for no matter how miserable their lives might be, they were still alive.
This meant that the Circus Maximus was also a place of execution. Now many people don’t realize it, but there isn’t any evidence that an Christians were executed in that most famous of Roman structures, the Coliseum, but there is much evidence that Christians by the scores were executed at the Circus Maximus. Here they would be thrown to the lions during the animal hunts, right before the lions were hunted and killed. A deadly evil place.
The Coliseum is probably the most famous place of Roman entertainment. It held between 70 and 50,000 people. The morning began with animal hunts. After the hunts were the executions: murderers, rapists, and other criminals. They would be mauled by animals, burned at the stake, or chopped to pieces by the gladiators as they warmed up for battle. Early afternoon, sometime after 1 as people came after getting done with work, is when the gladiators took stage. These fights were dangerous and often led to the death of one of the opponents. The crowd cheered at the sight of blood and yelled for more. Life was spilled for the simple entertainment of the mob.
Rome was plagued by sexual immorality. Homosexuality was rampant. Many of the high ranking male officials had a teenage boy in their lives. It was also said that a man should have three women in his life: a wife to bear him honorable children, a prostitute to care for his “physical needs,” and a mistress who was witty and fun and could be taken to parties. It was a culture where marriage was not honored.
Abortion was also part of this culture. Women aborted their babies for the simple reason to avoid stretch marks. When unwanted children were born they were left on the streets to be picked up by slave traders.
It was a culture in which women were looked on as property. They were abused and mistreated. A woman’s life in this culture was worth very little outside the value a man found in her.
Into this terrible situation came Christianity. Followers of Jesus refused to support the blood sport entertainment of the Romans. They did not attend the chariot races of the Circus Maximus or the games of the Coliseum. Christians valued life and did not want to see it spilled on the ground for the entertainment of the crowd.
Christians refused to live sexually immoral lives. They honored marriage as being between one man and one woman. They valued women and raised a woman’s position in life. Part of the reason that so many women became Christians was because to be a Christian was so much better than being a pagan.
Christians picked up the unwanted children. At great sacrifice to themselves they clothed and educated these children, often little girls, and gave them a life better than being a slave. Followers of Jesus were committed to living differently than the rest of the world (information taken from Mark Moore’s Encounter messages for 2004 CIY Summer Conference).
What do we, as a Church of Jesus Christ, have to offer the world? We can’t offer riches, fame, or anything else people are desperately giving their lives to. All we have to offer is life. A life that is less complicated and more hopeful than anything the world has to offer. By living differently we become beacons of light in a very dark world.
The Apostle Paul understood this to be true. That is why he spent so much time in the middle portion of Ephesians writing about how we should live. Ephesians 4:17 reads: So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do. (NIV). We are to live differently from the people of this world. The Apostle expects the lives of those following Jesus to be different from the culture around them. How different is your life?
- Point to Ponder: By living differently we become beacons of light in a very dark world.
- Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:17
- Question to Consider: How different is your life?
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 5
God's Holy People: Part 6