It’s one of the most powerful images of courage that we will ever see. In June of 1989, during a six week pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as the Chinese government began to send in its military to enforce martial law, a line of onrushing tanks was briefly brought to a standstill by one lone protester. As the tanks turned to go around him, he simply repositioned himself to remain in front, defying them to move forward.
No one knows for sure what became of Tank Man, but hundreds of arrests and deaths followed the crackdown, and his fate can surely be counted among them. For in the eyes of the government, if ever there were a “dangerous” person, it was he.
These would be good days for followers of Christ to remember Tank Man. And as you do so, to read, or re-read, the book of Acts, the story of the first generation of Christians who took to the streets of the Roman empire and proclaimed Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Talk about your dangerous people.
We live in a day when great cultural powers have marshaled against biblical values, and those who hold them. We find ourselves defending truths and values that were accepted as commonplace just a generation ago, and now are under full assault.
The first Christians had it worse though. They weren’t struggling to defend values already in place that were eroding. They were trying to present those values to a morally corrupt culture where those values didn’t even exist at all.
The Roman empire had no concept of life’s sacredness. Abortion and infanticide were commonplace. They had no doctrine that said humans bear the image of God, and so they dredged the nations they conquered to find slaves to serve them and gladiators to entertain them. The idea of sexual purity was unheard of. Whatever sexual proclivity you entertained was fine. The “gods” they worshipped were often more debased than they were. Power and pleasure were their chief virtues, while Christians insisted that humility and service should be our aim.
It’s always tougher to be the pioneer. I’ve taken some difficult hikes over the years which have had me grumbling, cursing and vowing never to touch my foot on a trail again. But at least I had a trail. I’ve often thought what it must have been like to be the first ones who actually cut through the forest, and pushed out the boulders, and laid the trail down.
That’s what we find the first Christians doing in the book of Acts. Which is why we need to revisit this story. In the face of unrelenting opposition, these faithful men and women simply could not be slowed down. They refused to be discouraged. These were dangerous. Not because they were out to blow up buildings or harm people. Quite the opposite. They were dangerous because they didn’t back off from their convictions or water-down their message in any way, even if it meant – like Tank Man – laying down their lives in the process.
Threatened by the authorities, they said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Whipped, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. Oppressed, they prayed. Imprisoned, they sang hymns. Driven from their homes, they planted churches in the new places they came to. They could not be stopped.
It causes a person to wonder, “Wow, how could they do this?! They’re either the most courageous people who ever lived, or the most foolish.”
In the next few Sparks we’ll unpack three ideas that gripped the hearts of these believers which kept them from buckling when threats and hostility were hurled at them. God is looking for dangerous men and women to serve his kingdom in this generation. Are you willing to be one of them?