WHERE IT ALL BEGAN (Part VIII)
WHEN A MOMENT BECAME A MOVEMENT
If you are a Bible reader, then you know about a man called John the Baptist, who was a relative of Jesus, through Elizabeth, and chosen by God to be a forerunner of the expected Jewish Messiah. He was described as someone who came out of the desert crying out, “Get ready for the Messiah!” But his message was not the only thing preparing the way for the movement that Christ founded to spread all over the civilized world with ease. The unity that existed through the conquests of the Roman Empire must also be taken into account. It was said, “All roads lead to Rome,” and that made it possible for the Gospel to reach Rome in record time.
Some 63 years Before Christ was born, the Roman Empire had reached its apex as a world power and was in charge of the world’s trade routes, shipping lanes, and monetary exchanges. It was governed by a democracy led by the 600 member Roman Senate who were appointed by district governors, and they elected the chief consul who was not only the executive head but also the commander in chief of Rome’s military. But at this juncture it was in trouble politically because of mass corruption in Rome.
Their constitution was also under attack, because some said it had been formed in the small city-state of Athens to govern their affairs, so how could it be expected to meet all the demands of a world super power like Rome. Rome was also ensconced in a war in the Middle East as they tried to expand the empire into what had been the Persian and Babylonian centers of power (now Iraq and Iran), that was draining its resources as well as being undermined their unwillingness to commit all the forces needed to win it.
In the capitol city of Rome political contributions were now controlled by powerful business interests, and no one could get elected to higher office without agreeing to the demands of these big businesses, which then allowed lobbyists from these businesses to dictate policies and regulations passed by the Senate. Not only that, but a huge debt and mortgage crisis hit the Roman Empire at this time. Credit was frozen and people were losing their homes and property. Large debts had been accumulated by individuals and companies to the point where many were considering bankruptcy. And politicians were appealing to the Senate to bailout business supporters who were going under, because they had supported their campaigns.
The Senate was run by two political parties. One, a liberal party that spread money around in order to buy votes, and the other a conservative party that struggled to maintain traditional family values. But most critical, the average Roman citizen had lost all confidence in both the chief consul and the Senate, as well as the bureaucrats to solve the nation’s problems and get them out of this mess.
In the midst of all this, a rather ordinary politician named Julius Caesar had worked his way up into the leadership in the Roman Senate, and with the help of two other powerful senators had been appointed as top general of the Roman Army. His first challenge in 58 B.C. was to overpower and conquer the Gauls (which is now France) to the northwest, who were their most feared enemies. In six years he beat them into complete submission to Roman rule.
So in 51 B.C., after the conquest of Gaul (now France) was completed, Julius Caesar became the defunct ruler over vast provincial territories. He had gained such great fame and fortune that back in Rome the Senate and bureaucrats feared him. So they made it clear to Caesar that if he attempted to extend his influence and power to Rome by returning to run for office, he must leave his position in the Army and dress in civilian clothing. But they also let him know he might be immediately arrested and prosecuted for war crimes in any attempt to gain higher power. Beside that, those who had supported him before, now wanted nothing to do with him.
So, Julius Caesar had a decision to make. Should he stay where he was and continue to build his own empire, or should he march into Rome as a conqueror and take over the capitol city by force. So it was on January 10, 49 B.C., after being pushed to the limit, he crossed the shallow Rubicon River and commenced what would become a civil war. His old friend and supporter Gnaeus Pompeius, better known as “Pompey,” who had become his bitter nemesis, found himself with many of his legions in Spain, so he and the Senate retreated. Caesar quickly advanced to Rome, set up a hastily organized Senate and had himself declared dictator.
So on July 25, 46 B.C., the victorious and now unchallenged Caesar wrote a letter in which he listed his political aims as “tranquility for Italy, peace for the provinces, and security for the Empire.” His program for accomplishing these goals – both what he actually achieved and what he planned but did not have time to complete – was seen as very sound and farsighted by many of Rome’s constituents.
First he had a resolution passed that eliminated all interest payments on debts and gave the debtors time to pay off the principle without penalty. Taxes were lowered to where the average citizen only had to take their wages from two days of work out of the year to pay their taxes. He resettled all military veterans abroad without causing others to lose their jobs as a result. He reformed the Roman calendar. He revised the welfare payout of grain that was imported into the city so that no one could hoard it. He reduced government regulations so that it strengthened the middle class. And because the country had grown so large, he decided to increase the membership of the Senate from 600 to 900 so that everyone had good representation. He issued coins with his likeness, and put the wealth of the empire as a standard behind their value.
But his methods alienated many of the nobles and wealthy patrons. They said that Caesar governed autocratically, more in the manner of a general than a politician, thus he was charged with being a dictator. Although he nominally used the political structure, he often simply announced his executive orders to the Senate and had them entered into the record as senatorial decrees without any debate or vote. This of course led to a revolt within the Senate, and they ambushed him on March 16, 44 B.C., with his friend Brutus, whom he called his son, striking the final fatal blow with a knife.
But let us go back and think about Julius Caesar walking back and forth in deep meditation on the northern banks of the Rubicon River northeast of the Apennines mountain range. Had he decided to stay where he was and not attempt to raise the Roman Empire to greater heights, all signs pointed to an eminent economical, political and military collapse or Rome that would have changed the face of the civilized world at that time. There would have been no single empire tying the world together in a way that promoted the free transportation of goods, travelers, people, and ideas.
So what was it that prompted him at that crucial point to cross the river? Was it his ego, his pride, his sense of conquest? Or was there an inner urging coming from a source he may not have been familiar with; an inner voice that spoke to him and said “go for it.” The same inner urging that caused the heathen despot Nebuchadnezzar to recognize the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego as the Most High God; the same urging that caused the heathen emperor Darius to allow the captured Jews to returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple? Had Julius Caesar failed to follow the impetus there would have been no Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem to decide the fate of the Messiah to die on the cross, nor would a Roman citizen named Saul of Tarsus, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, have been able to travel unhindered in order for the Gospel to the heart of the Roman Empire because of his citizenship and appeal to Caesar. Whatever it was, those standing nearby saw Julius pause, then look across the river in contemplation, and then suddenly declare in Greek with a voice loud enough for all those around him to hear what we would call today, a leap of faith, “Let the die be cast” and then led the army across the river.
Those who believe in chance, happenstance, accidental good luck, or karma may be persuaded to chalk it all up to simply being in the right place at the right time. But those who believe in the preordained and prearranged plan of God to have the message of His Son coming to earth to die as mankind’s Savior to be spread around the world, it is a matter of faith to believe that this was another part of God’s plan which He carried out through Julius Caesar.