The One for whom this heart longs and by whom this soul has life. The One who is all to me.
My eyes filled with tears as I stood gazing at a early medieval Byzantine fresco of Jesus. The words of those around me faded as my eyes remained fixed on His. This man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, depicted on the wall of this underground catacomb in Rome. His name, carved into the walls time and time again.
They carved chi rhos (symbol containing the first two letters of the Greek word 'Christ') into the catacomb walls while I pen the English rendering Jesus, but what is so stunning to me is the unity of heart that I felt while looking at those chi rhos. I am amazed by what stirred within me as that chi rho and that ancient fresco arrested my gaze.
Upon seeing Jesus' name engraved in the wall I thought immediately of all the aforementioned times that I have written His name; on my bedroom floorboards, journals, Bibles, class notes, napkins, and countless other places. All that He means to me, everything that I love about Him was handed down by those who went before me. As I saw this connection, the the immense importance of the history of the church astonished me. Jesus is all to me, and there is a depth and beauty that comes with having an awareness of and appreciation for the foundation of our faith.
I am discovering the beauty of the ancient church. The boldness of Paul and so many others to spread the gospel. The faith of those who believed Jesus and acted on what He had revealed to them. The eloquence of Augustine in writing the theological things that he was studying--the things that captured his hearts attention. The fierceness of Ambrose in defending the true doctrine of the trinity. The list of people who loved Jesus and played a role in growing His church is unnumbered. And there is power in understanding that this is from where the faith we call our own came.
I am wresting with the sin within the history of the Roman Catholic church which exalted man almost as much as it exalted God. And as quickly as I see mistakes that those people made, Jesus shows me how I struggle with the same root sin issue, just in a different form. Despite man's fallenness, God in His faithfulness used this church to preserve the truth of the faith. What grace!
I am learning about the reformation. Scripture alone. Christ alone. Faith alone. Grace alone. God's glory alone. I am amazed by the determination of men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others to turn from what they accurately saw as sin in the church and return to the simple truth of Scripture. The gospel. Jesus alone. (To my delight reformers even looked at some of the work of early church fathers whom I have come to love, such as Augustine.)
A study of church history offers so much to delight in. So many examples to learn from, both good and bad. So much to be thankful for. But underneath all the cool stories, beautiful writings, inspiration and revelations, insightful sermons, and Scriptural study lies one reason to study church history. One unifying thread that motivated those from centuries past and will continue to motivate people forever. The One who changed everything--who brought light to a dark world. The One who is our very life--who redeemed us unto Himself. The One whose name is above every other name.
We have such a rich heritage in Christ. From Abraham to Ruth, and from David to Daniel. From Paul and Augustine all the way to Luther. All of the believers in-between and all those since; we all have one thing in common. We love Jesus. And I am realizing that my love for Jesus only intensifies as I study how others have loved Him in the past; as I see the kindness of God to strengthen man in the establishment and growth of the church of the only one for whom my heart longs: