(fyi - this contains subject matter of a sexual nature)
What was the world like for the people of the early church?
People worshiped Dionysius…
His statues show him having long curly hair and dreamy eyes…the women loved him. He was the god of wine, life and ecstasy. In late February when the new wine was ready, festivals were held in celebration. Wine drinking contests were held until entire cities were completely intoxicated. His symbols were grapevines and the male sex organ and he promised life after death. In his fall festival, a parade would be formed to move through the town escorting a giant statue of the male sex organ. The worshipers would eat raw meat during these orgies (what text refers to as gluttony).
The animal, usually a bull, represented Dionysus, and eating it created a sense of identity with the god. It was eaten raw with the blood in it, guaranteeing a happy life after death. The men loved him…he stirred up their lust and the women loved him too. Every year married and unmarried women would drink, get drunk, eat raw bloody meat and then run and dance ecstatically through the mountains to be united with the god…and then they had orgies.It got so bad the Romans outlawed it. . (Bacchanalia - Festival of Bacchus)
In the early church there were followers of Jesus who had been followers of Dionysius. What did it mean to be a follower of Jesus after following this false god? It meant that true intimacy and life was found in a relationship with Jesus.
It meant that people were filled with the Holy Spirit and not drunkenness…that Joy came from God…not from a grape. There wasn’t a hang over…there was an after glow/ Everywhere a follower of Jesus went they were reminded of their old life. A new follower of Jesus walked out of the house and started down the street. There it was…on the corner....The statue of the male sex organ...and there was another statue on another corner…as a matter of fact they knew where every statue in the city was. Every time the wind blew…they heard the phallic wind chimes.
“God help me – I’m not going to look
“The parade is starting…God help me…not going to join in.”
“I want to drink…I want to forget my troubles…I want the sex!”
“God help me…give me your spirt!”
And God did help them. He gave them his Spirit and with his love they changed the world.
People also worshipped Pan.
Pan was the goat god…top half man, bottom half goat…ugly as can be. His temple was at the bottom of a large rock cliff…right at the mouth of a cave and people believed it was the Gate of Hades (at Caesarea Philippi - the setting for Jesus' words to Peter.) Pan’s followers would gather there and they would get worked up into a frenzy…that’s where we get the word panic, and pandemonium. They would then engage in prostitution and orgies with people and with goats. Yet, Jesus stood near the area of Pan and told Peter, “You are Peter, and on this
rock I will build my church, and the Gates of Hell
will not overcome it.”
Then Jesus turned to the crowd and shouted,
“"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
I can just imagine someone down in the mud with a goat looking up to the hill and wondering who that strange man was. In the early church there were followers of Jesus that used to be followers of Pan. What did it mean to them to be a follower of Jesus after following this false god? It meant they no longer went to bed at night with a sick knot in their stomach…they no longer had to wash mud and goat manure out of their hair.
God help me. It’s time for the festival. I’m not going to go. Draw near to me.
Friends coming up and asking, “Are you coming to Caesarea Phillipi with us? “
No…I follow Jesus now…not Pan.
Come on…Everyone is there.
God help me…give me Your Spirit.
And he did . He gave them his Spirit and with his love they changed the world.
People also worshipped Artemis….
It was believed she protected women during childbirth. The Artemis festival was on May 25 when the entire city and thousands of pilgrims came to seek the blessing of the goddess.
At this festival, a ceremonial parade would leave the great temple and wind throughout the city.
The priests gave their fertility to her…they were castrated. Young women saved their virginity to then offer it as prostitute priestesses. With dancing and music they would end the parade at the theater and place her statue on a pedestal. There would be erotic ceremonies and priestess prostitutes, Artemis’ birth would be reenacted with eunuch priests screaming and dancing.
In the early church there were followers of Jesus that had been followers of Artemis.
What did it mean to them to be a follower of Jesus after following this false goddess?
It meant the followers of Jesus would no longer have sons that grew up to be castrated priests… and they no longer presented their daughters as virgin prostitutes.
They looked to God to protect them during childbirth…not Artemis.
Imagine a young women who became a follower of Jesus giving birth to her baby.
“Offer sacrifices to Artemis…she will protect you!”
“No, I follow Jesus now. Paul wrote us a letter and it told us that we will be saved during childbirth. I can’t live that life anymore.”
“I’m scared. God help me! I want to offer incense but I won’t! It’s not right!”
“God give me your Spirit!”
And he did…He gave them his Spirit and with his love they changed the world.
Men used boys
In the world Paul was writing to…men would participate in orgies and sexual activities with adolescent boys. It was thought of as a “coming of age” experience. The men would often continue their sexual activity with the boys until it was time for the boys to marry. Then the older men would sometimes help the younger men find wives.
In the early church there were followers of Jesus that had participated in sexual activity with boys.
What did it mean to them to be a follower of Jesus after having lived a life like that? It meant the boys of the community got their childhood back. It meant the men no longer used children as sex objects. The men became faithful to their wives…their wives alone.
“God help me! My sexual craving is all I can think about!
I don’t want to put all the work into my relationship with my wife!
I don’t want to give in…help me to set my mind on you.
Feed the craving of my heart with your presence and love.
Teach me who you are!
God help me! I don’t want to go back to that life!
God give me Your Spirit.
And he did…he gave them his Spirit with his love they changed the world.
Listen to what Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus...the Gentiles...former pagans...that were now followers of Jesus.
1 Cor 6:9-11 NLT
9 Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Have you ever had a knot in your stomach as you lay in bed getting read y to go to sleep at night.
Have you ever said to yourself…I will not do that thing…you fill in the blank…only to find yourself on the other side of sin…with waves of regret washing over you? There is hope! If there was hope for them…there is hope for us.