“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
There is a place in Rome, actually underneath the city, where there are approximately 600 miles of subterranean passages containing millions of Christian graves. These catacombs served as tombs from the second to the fifth centuries and were also used as safe places of worship during times of persecution.
These catacombs are filled with art work and epitaphs that testify to the deep faith of Christians in the capital city of the Roman empire. One of the most common inscriptions was the figure of a fish, often containing the Greek word for fish, “ichthus.” These letters form an acrostic for “Iesous Christos, Theou Uios, Soter,” translated “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” If you are ever in Rome, you can visit these catacombs and see them for yourself.
Even though the original purpose of the catacombs was for burial of the dead, they became places of gathering for Christians to worship and depict through art their faith during times of persecution. The thought comes to me of how we, as Christians, no longer need to fear death, and how this place for the dead became a safe place for God’s people in those perilous times.
There is an inspiring irony to this fact that through the very death Rome was forcing on Christians, God created a blessing of safety for his people in the catacombs in that time of need. During those dangerous times, they depicted their faith symbolically on the very rocks intended to entomb their bodies, and we have their pictorial history preserved to strengthen our faith even today! God truly turns all things to good for his faithful people!
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
There is another death scene that God turned into a blessing for his people. The scene was a stark hill known as Calvary, the place where Jesus, the Son of God, the son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, was crucified. He was an innocent man condemned by the rulers, who were supposed to be righteous judges, out of fear and jealousy for their own power and prestige. Three days later, the truth was revealed in the stunning news that Jesus had risen from the tomb that housed his dead body. That rock fortress could not hold Jesus, Messiah and Lord, his sacrifice on the cross conquered death and brings life, so as his followers we no longer have to fear death.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”. (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Jesus came to the world to save people from death (John 3:16-18) and we invite you to come take a closer look at his amazing grace that can save the world, and more personally, you and me!
Photograph – Bearded Christ, from catacombs of Commodilla – Public Domain