1 Corinthians 15:58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (NLT)
A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit a museum exhibit about Pompeii. As you can imagine, it was all about the volcano Vesuvius erupting and those infamous casts of figures caught in the last moments of their life. The exhibit used an array of technology to make the information feel real and relevant, but what caught and held my attention was the very evident technology of A.D. 79...and the realization that Jesus didn’t live in a flannel-graph world.
Let me say right at the outset, that I love flannel-graph. I loved it as a sandwich cookie eating Sunday School kid, and I loved it as a nursery worker in the toddler room. It’s amazing how a few pieces of colored felt can capture the attention of 3 year-olds! But sometimes our Sunday School version of Jesus, which was so appropriate and fitting for our young minds, doesn’t seem relevant in our grown-up world. The flannel-graph Jesus is too tame, too safe, and, well, too flat. A book has even been written on the topic. And it took a museum exhibit to reveal to me that Jesus’ world also wasn’t flannel-graph, that he and those who followed him lived in a time just as complex as ours.
On display was a medical kit that looked familiar with its syringe, scapel, and lances. There were finely made glass vials and perfume bottles, and the jewelry was something that could have been sold in any department store today: stone and glass on delicate metalwork chains. There were huge lampstands, excavated from a noble’s home, with multiple tiers of lamps, suspended from the most intricately formed serpentine chains. The ornamentation on the lampstands would rival anything from our era in terms of craftsmanship. The list could go on, but what captivated my attention was the scale model of a building crane, circa 79 A.D. In case museum goers missed the scope of the machine’s impact, there was a video to further impress with the crane’s size and capability in building multi-story edifices.
And here’s what dawned on me as I wound my way through the displays: these artifacts could be the same sorts of things Jesus (or Paul, or John, or Peter) saw as they moved about their 1st century world. Certainly, the objects were things they knew about. Had they passed such a crane in the big city of Jerusalem? When Jesus’ ministry was supported by women, did they exchange just such a necklace or earrings for money? The woman who broke open a container of perfume - did it look like the highly crafted one displayed behind glass?
I find myself reassured and comforted by those ancient objects, because they are evidence that life was just as three-dimensional as it is now, and that can combat the misconception that Jesus’ time is irrelvant to our modern life. He and his followers lived in and moved through bustling towns and cities where many forces were at work. And yet, Jesus and those who came after him stayed strong and immovable as they maintained their focus on what was most valuable, most edifying, most beautiful - the good news that mankind could be friends with God.