On Easter Sunday I will preach from 1 Corinthians chapter 15. This chapter has come to be known as the “resurrection chapter” over the years, and for good reason. In this chapter the apostle Paul takes us through the reality of Christ’s resurrection, the related reality of our resurrection, what that resurrection and the body that accompanies it will consist of, and the mystery that accompanies all of these glorious ideas. We, as Christ-followers, have a great hope that is centered on our great redemption and our future great reward. We would not have this hope, however, had we not come to know Jesus Christ in a saving manner.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he reminds the church that the heavenly dwelling that we look forward to is inextricably tied to our salvation (2 Cor. 5). That text is part of a broader context that speaks about a ministry of reconciliation that God has shared with those who are “in Christ,” making us, as it were, ambassadors for God. I think we often forget what an important role that is. We often do not know who we may be influencing for the kingdom of God, even if we find ourselves and our words to be inconsequential. With very few exceptions, the mightiest men and women of the faith were all led to Christ by someone who was influential in their lives.
One such case is that of a man known as Ambrose of Milan. Ambrose was born into a Roman family in A.D. 339. He was raised to be a poet, speaker, and lawyer, and he was amazingly skilled at all three tasks. He enjoyed a Christian upbringing (he is known as the first Latin Church Father from a Christian family), yet his parents also had social standing, wealth, and influence (all possible only after the Roman Empire “Christianized” after emperor Constantine’s conversion). After practicing law in Rome, he was named governor of a Roman province headquartered in Milan, Italy. The prefect who assigned him as governor reportedly told him: “Go, conduct yourself not as a judge, but as a bishop!” When Ambrose was only thirty-five years old, the bishop of the province suddenly died, leaving the territory in crisis. Ambrose assembled the leaders and tried to calm fears and maintain unity. Suddenly, a child cried out from the crowd: “Let Ambrose be bishop!” The people took up the chant, and the church leaders ordained Ambrose. Ambrose was not a scholarly Christian, but he took up the challenge, studied theology, and became a great champion of the Christian faith. His preaching became renowned, and he was known as the greatest apologist (defender of the faith) in his day. However, that was not his greatest influence.
One Sunday, an openly pagan and hot-blooded young man visited Ambrose’s chapel to hear the now famous bishop preach. Although a profound skeptic, the young man found Ambrose’s words compelling and was attracted to his fidelity to the Scriptures. He sought out Ambrose for counsel, but the bishop was far too busy. So the young man came to his study and simply watched him read. Ambrose took little notice (a bishop’s study in that day was a public format, not a private office). However, over time his preaching and his study habits so impressed the young man that he was converted to Christianity. His name was Augustine, and he himself would become the bishop of Hippo, Africa. He is now acknowledged as one of the greatest theologians and teachers the world has ever known. Perhaps only St. Paul himself has had more influence on Christian orthodoxy since the time of Christ.
Your words and actions matter. Nothing you do is inconsequential, not if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Most people do not know or remember Ambrose of Milan, but without him there may have never been a St. Augustine. Never forget that as a follower of Christ you are God’s ambassador – as if God were making his appeal through you (2 Cor. 5:20).
On Good Friday, April 3, A.D. 397 Ambrose of Milan spoke his final words: “I have so lived among my friends that I am not ashamed to live longer, but neither do I fear to die; for we have a good Lord.” Just past midnight he breathed his last. That same year Augustine began his formal ministry as bishop of Hippo. Although the greatest hope we have in the resurrection is to know the presence of God, it will also be good to get to know Ambrose and Augustine.
Grace and peace,