The earliest record of the fabled Roman legion tells us that it consisted of about 1,000 men, organized in groups of about 100 who fought in a phalanx formation. It’s a fact: the Roman fighting forces were superior to anything else that existed in ancient days.
The legionnaires were hated, feared, and respected—all at the same time. By the first century, their presence was well established in almost all of Europe and much of Asia. In Jesus’ day, the Roman garrison was stationed at the Antonium in Jerusalem. Key outposts were scattered in places such as Caesarea on the coast, and in the Galilee area on the trade route. As Roman soldiers marched by, boys would stop and gawk and their mothers would jerk them by the arms and say, “Come, we hate those terrorists who have enslaved our country.”
Surprising as it may be to you, the Roman soldier and what he represented left an appreciable impact on the writers of the New Testament, who drew largely from the image of the soldier to explain what the Christian life is about. The expression “worth your salt” referred to the fact that Roman soldiers were paid in the currency of salt, and when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), it conveyed something lowly but of great value.
Paul, writing to the Ephesians, talked of the armor of the Roman soldier, giving us a picture of how the believer is to equip himself for the battle. He’s to take the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the Spirit, and have his feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Simply put, he’s to be equipped and ready for the fight.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Writing to the Philippians he said that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” would “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The Greek word “to guard” means “to garrison” as a group of Roman soldiers would do.
It’s interesting that something so hated and repugnant would provide such rich analogies for us today. So what’s the point? Here it is, simply put: While everything has changed, nothing really has changed. Life is still a battle, and if you are God’s child, let’s face it, you are still the target of dislike, cynicism, and prejudice equally as much as the fishermen who walked away from their nets, or pushed away from the customs table on the trade route in Capernaum long ago, to follow Jesus.
Don’t be lulled into the belief that the Christian life is simply “peaceful pastures” when it is a battlefield where scars are more common than flowers
Today, though, we seldom are reminded that the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). The image of the Christian life we are confronted with more often is that of the shepherd gently leading his sheep beside the still waters to greener pastures, which is translated health, wealth, and happiness—of course, be sure to include the reward of feeling good about yourself and your little world.
There’s still good news, friend. Jesus came into a world filled with hostilities and battles, and He triumphed over them, giving us Someone to follow, Someone who understands the battles we fight.
Part of that good news is that God has provided the resources which we need to face the fight and to win. As the words of the old hymn go: “Sure I must fight if I would win. Increase my courage, Lord. I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by thy Word.”
Don’t be lulled into the belief that the Christian life is simply “peaceful pastures” when it is a battlefield where scars are more common than flowers, but knowing that God will see you through the battle helps keep our feet moving towards heaven.
Resource reading: 1 Peter 5:1-14
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