Back in the 70s I made a fun but meager living as a professional singer/songwriter/guitarist. In ’77 I happened to be in a very talented rock & roll band with loads of quality original material in its portfolio. Wisely, the group relocated to the west coast to pursue a record contract. We knew there’d be stiff competition out there but we were supremely confident in our abilities. We worked our shaggy tails off in L.A. for over two years. Alas, we failed to land a deal. What we came to realize was that it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d been the most talented group of musicians ever to pound the pavement of southern California. The fact was we never were in the right place at the right time. Our brand of music, regardless of how good it was, just wasn’t what was “happening.” Many of the more tactful record company honchos told us we were simply five years too late arriving on the scene and there was nothing we or they could do about it. The public’s taste in music had changed. Our timing? Lousy. Looking back, that experience makes me appreciate God’s perfect plan for rescuing souls even more. The Heavenly Father arranged for His only begotten Son to be born in precisely the right place at precisely the right time. And it made all the difference.
Inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher there’s a special location designated as being “the center of the world.” While that’s questionable in the literal sense, it’s certainly not questionable if one considers the claim a figurative one because the whole region where that church sits is a strong candidate for being the geographical center of the planet. On a globe it’s easy to identify the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Right in the middle of them, where they merge, there’s a slender land bridge on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s Israel. If one was to initiate a movement with the intent of spreading it via word of mouth to all corners of the earth in a relatively short period one couldn’t pick a better spot. Thus it’s no stretch to deem the Holy Land and its surrounding territories as truly being the 1st century nucleus of civilization. God, in His omniscient wisdom (and before time began), made Bethlehem, Nazareth and Calvary Hill be the cradle of the Christian faith. No other area of the planet was more suited to His purpose. Therefore we can all agree the place was right. Yet even more importantly, the same was true about the time. “But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights” (Galatians 4:4). When all relevant factors are taken into account it’s obvious that particular timeframe was ideal for God to personally and dramatically intervene in the affairs of mankind. From every standpoint – in politics, in economics, in moral standards as well as the realm of religious thought – earth was ripe for a new era to dawn.
Let’s delve into some of those crucial factors. Politically and socially speaking, God’s timing was immaculate. The civilized world was more united than ever before because of Caesar’s Roman Empire. Frontiers previously closed for ages had been opened. Bordering countries that had constantly been at war with each other were cooperating. From the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea, from Brittan to Egypt and from the Rhine River to the Euphrates, millions of people lived and worked in relative stability. Brutal as they frequently were in maintaining it, the Romans had nevertheless ushered in an epoch of calm. It was into this rare period of peace that Jesus was born. Had He entered history a century earlier His gospel of hope would’ve been severely restricted from being disseminated abroad due to the presence of heavily-guarded, hard-to-penetrate national borders all over the place. A hundred years later His life-enhancing teachings would’ve had to contend with the ever-increasing threat posed by the barbarian hordes that were invading from northern Europe. No, Christ came to the right place at the right time when amity was widespread and regular folks could afford the luxury of listening to, absorbing and contemplating the unflinching truth our Lord taught. One can’t discount the vital part the Empire’s impressive network of roads played, as well. While Rome thought they were building highways to develop new and profitable trade routes, God was planning on using them to more efficiently and quickly disseminate the Good News. Because of those thoroughfares the early evangelists of the church were able to travel about freely to preach to tens of thousands about the resurrected King of kings who offered eternal life.
Then there’s the proliferation of Greek as the universally-accepted language. Not since the Tower of Babel had communication obstacles been easier to overcome. While each region and race continued to retain their own vernacular, the vast majority had acquired a fundamental understanding of the Roman tongue. I can’t overstate the huge role a common language played in the spread of Christianity. This has modern connotations, too. When His disciples peppered Him for signs that’d herald His second coming and the tumultuous end of the current age Jesus listed several for them, including “First the gospel must be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:10). When one considers the extensive cultural saturation achieved by television and radio broadcasts, internet access and cellular phones these days it gets more difficult to imagine a sector of terra firma Christ’s message has yet to penetrate. Is the end near? I don’t know but what I do know is this: we’re nudging closer to it with each passing hour. As Curtis Mayfield sang, “People get ready, there’s a train a’ comin’.”
We must also take into consideration the unstable and grossly unfair economic conditions of that era. While the gaudy opulence of the Roman elite’s lifestyles and the ornate buildings they’d constructed for themselves were hard to miss, abject poverty and festering dissatisfaction among the underprivileged masses was forming poisonous gas bubbles under the glossy surface of society. Two out of every three people were slaves and they resented the hell out of it. And, in the far-flung provinces (Israel, for example) unrelenting economic oppression was steadily choking the life out of the populace. The violent takeover and occupation by the cruel Roman army, the demeaning extravagances Herod the Great indulged in while his overtaxed subjects starved in the streets and the unchecked population explosion that was gradually depleting the country’s limited food supply were creating desperate conditions for the Jewish people in particular. They’d lost hope that better days lay ahead. Their stiff-necked religion and its out-of-touch leaders had let them down. James S. Stewart wrote, “It was then at the blackest hour that a Voice of Hope rang out in Galilee; and men’s hearts leapt up and listened, for the fullness of the time had come.” I ask you, was there ever an audience that would be more receptive to receiving Jesus’ wonderful Beatitudes? Doubtful.
Then there’s the moral angle. Some are adamant that the ancient world under the rule of Roman domination was characterized for the most part by an atmosphere of general contentment, innocence and artistic freedom that uninterrupted peace had provided on a wide scale. It’s an unsubstantiated myth, though. It’s a lie. For a more authentic description you need only read Paul’s unflinching observations found in Romans 1:18-32. He doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The ethical tide had turned and runaway immorality was taking its ugly toll. The Nobel-winning 19th century Roman historian Christian Mommsen commented, “The world was growing old and not even Caesar could make it young again.” When a nation loses its way, foolishly adopts the slogan of “anything goes” in the name of progressiveness and systematically removes the word “sacred” from its vocabulary, moral decline results. It was true back then and it’s true today. Yet this situation made the teachings of Christ appear radically refreshing in contrast. I’ll quote Stewart again. “When the experiment of slackening morality and tampering with codes of honor has been carried to a certain point, inevitably there comes a reaction. Inevitably that something of God which lurks beneath the surface of men’s hearts stands up and records its protest. The glamor of the sensationalist creed and the lure of the modern gospel of un-control have the living Christ to reckon with. Men will not be satisfied with the ethics of the dust always.” Jesus introduced a new way of living to the thoroughly-disgusted common folk who longed for decency to be restored.
Religion is yet another arena to look into. In Rome the persnickety, dysfunctional gods previously on the A-list were either deceased or on their death bed. The younger generations had tried two solutions to replace them. The first was importing a collection of exotic gods from the Far East but they proved to be even more immature and outlandish in nature than Zeus’ neurotic clan ever was. The second idea was to instigate the worship of Caesar, elevating him to being the unrivaled head of the “god chain.” As expected, that silly notion collapsed under the weight of its own preposterousness. None of those false deities could comfort them when they grieved, embrace them when their hearts were breaking or forgive them when their sins smashed their life to pieces. Nothing permanently quenched their thirst for meaning or sated their hunger to possess a clear conscience. In other words, it wasn’t just the Hebrews who were aching for a Messiah, a deliverer, a redeemer who’d present an inviting spiritual alternative to what was being offered. Gentiles ached, too. The God-shaped hole in their gut was an affliction all human beings were bothered by. However, because of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jewish race was more anxious for divine relief than any other. Thus when someone like John the Baptist showed up even vaguely resembling what the prophet had forecast when he wrote, “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness clear a way for the LORD; construct in the desert a road for our God” (Isaiah 40:3), he stirred up a palpable air of hope that permeated the entire region. But this time that hope wasn’t a wispy pipe dream. The time was right for the Savior of the world to stroll forward onto the world’s stage and change everything.
I have a feeling something miraculous yet disruptive is going to happen soon. Now, I’m no “chicken little” who thinks every news item’s a genuine portent of the apocalypse. It’s my opinion “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” In the political, economic and moral realms uncertainty and lack of direction is running amok. However, it’s in the sphere of religious thought and trends where the waters seem murkiest. As it did in the Roman culture, the intense interest in Eastern religion (that so entranced and influenced baby boomers for decades) has ebbed to almost nothing. Not only that but the inaccurate view of the great I AM as a vindictive score-keeper is on the wane. Even the phony gods of materialism and secularism are slipping out of favor. On the other hand, even though it appears it’s flying beneath society’s radar, there’s a healthy Jesus-praising youth movement under way as evidenced by the expanding Hillsong Church out of Australia that has satellite congregations springing up all over the planet. Christianity continues to grow exponentially in countries where it’s still either discouraged or even outlawed by the government because the people’s craving to know the liberating truth about the real Creator of the Universe is stronger than their fear of persecution. Mao Zedong, the cruel atheist dictator of China who brutally murdered his own people over three decades, once promised to eliminate all traces of Christianity from the land. Despite his immense power and iron-fisted tyrannical control he failed miserably. Even conservative polls estimate the number of born again followers of Jesus in China is currently over 18 million and climbing steadily. Mao? He’s dead as a doornail while God Almighty is most assuredly alive and “on the move” in the world today.
It’s impossible to disprove with any credibility that the incarnation of the Son of God occurred on earth in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time. All Christians know He’s coming back again when the perfect place and time arrives once more. Is it just around the corner? Perhaps. I wouldn’t bet against it. In 1978 the respected British journalist/satirist Malcom Muggeridge adroitly said, “The world’s way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government. On the other, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing. Capitalism will break down. Fuel will run out. Plutonium will lay us low. Atomic waste will kill us off. Overpopulation will suffocate us, or alternatively, a declining birth rate will put us more surely at the mercy of our enemies. In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a king men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work, to concern themselves with the things that are unseen, for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I agree. We must always revert back to and rely solely on our faith.
Stewart summed up this subject succinctly when he wrote, “So the redeemer came. Somewhere in the mind and heart of God from the very foundation of the earth the Christ had been waiting, hidden in the counsels of eternity until the great bell of the ages should strike; and when at last everything in the world and in the souls of men was ready and prepared, He came, the Word of God made flesh, not a moment early and not a moment late, but exactly on the stroke of the hour. It was the Day of the Lord. It is still the Day of the Lord, whenever another soul enthrones Him. ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’” I’m ready to meet Christ. Are you? There’s no better time for preparing than now.