One day Brendan and Bishop Erc were going along the road, when a man happened to join them. There happened, moreover, to meet them seven warriors who were enemies of his. He was greatly terrified at seeing them... “Go under the shadow of yonder standing stone,” said Brendan, “and stretch thyself in its shadow.”
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani, Irish, 16th century from an earlier ms.
But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. So when the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.”
- Acts 28.3, 4
Paul, as we all know, simply shook off the snake, completely unfazed, and wholly unconcerned about pagan myths of “justice” (a reference here to the Roman deity). The islanders might have urged him to make an offering to the god, to save his life. But Paul simply went on with the good work of building that fire.
The unbelieving world has its myths and foolish beliefs, and corresponding protocols, but these must not dictate our conduct nor keep us from our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God.
The same with Brendan. The “standing stone” was a pagan religious artifact (think: Stonehenge), but Brendan used it to hide an innocent man from pagan brigands. He didn’t care if those pagans regarded it as “sacred ground.” He would use it for Christ’s purposes, come what may.
As it turns out, when the man’s enemies arrived, they whacked off the top of the stone, thinking it to be the man’s head, thus desecrating their own religious shrine. Whereupon our good evangelists preached the Gospel to the warriors, leading them to repentance and faith.
Just so Paul, following his good work of helping with the fire, did many good works on that island, thus continuing His Kingdom agenda, even in the midst of adversity and unbelief.
Two stories with similar motifs, both designed to show that they who cling to the Gospel have nothing to fear from, and no need to defer to, unbelieving worldviews or ways. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and when it is proclaimed by those who live its precepts faithfully, pagan myths can’t stand up.
So whether that myth is about poetic justice, standing stones, which ideas are appropriate for deliberating in the public square, or when it’s OK to talk about our faith and when it’s not, the Gospel doesn’t recognize pagan agendas or priorities, and neither should we.
The Gospel is its own agenda, and it is always appropriate to be lived and shared and talked about, regardless of what “polite society” (or PC society) thinks about its proper place.
The Church today is captive to a spiral of silence, in which our unwillingness to talk publicly about the Gospel is reinforced by what we perceive to be the world’s posture of hostility to the Gospel. We need to shake off the objections of our unbelieving friends and colleagues, whose secular beliefs insist we ought to keep our religion to ourselves. Talk with them long enough, and ask them enough questions, and soon enough the contradictions and inconsistencies of their own poorly-thought-out views will become apparent. Keep asking your unbelieving friends to explain their worldview, and soon enough they’ll cut off the heads of their own cherished positions and leave the way clear for you to tell them the Good News about Jesus.
We don’t operate on the world’s agenda. We hold the Lord’s agenda in the earthen vessels of our frail flesh, and all the power of God emanates from us to turn the world rightside-up for Jesus (2 Cor. 4.7; Acts 17.1-9).
When it comes to the Gospel, are you on the right agenda? Are you seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or just to make nice and lay low below the beliefs of your unbelieving coworkers, neighbors, or fellow students?
We have nothing to fear from this unbelieving age. Fear God, and nurture sincere love for Him, so that you live out the reality of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18). And when your unbelieving friends ask a reason for the hope that is within you, you’ll be ready (1 Pet. 3.15).
1. Whom will you see today? Are you preparing even now to share the love of Jesus with them?
2. What is the Gospel? That is, if asked to give a reason for the hope that is within you, what would you say?
Psalm 146.1-4, 10 (Hallelujah! What a Savior!: Man of Sorrows)
Praise the Lord, my soul give praise!
While I live His Name I’ll raise!
and exalt Him all my days –
God forever reigns in Zion!
Trust we not in prince or man;
no salvation’s in their hand.
Death shall take them, breath and plans –
God forever reigns in Zion!
Lord, am I deferring to any “pagan myths” foisted on me by others? Am I living on the Gospel’s agenda, or that of the world? Help me today to…
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Plummer, pp. 46, 47.