WASHINGTON – Logic would suggest Christianity shouldn't have survived its earliest years. It was persecuted from the beginning, with thousands of its earliest disciples killed or jailed. So what made it so compelling that converts would risk their lives for it?
In his book Jesus Is Risen: Paul and the Early Church, David Limbaugh highlights reasons. One is the early disciples preached Christ's resurrection non-stop right from the start. Another is that Christianity's worst persecutor – Paul – became its most fiery advocate. And that this new religion opened its path to salvation to all mankind – no exceptions.
Some say the idea of Jesus' resurrection and divinity wasn't introduced into Christianity until decades after Jesus' crucifixion.
"That's absurd on its face," Limbaugh told CBN News. "Paul wrote in one of his letters, 'If Jesus Christ wasn't crucified, dead and buried, and then resurrected in His body, then Christians are the most to be pitied.' Because we've lived all our lives devoted to Christ and it's all a myth."
The Resurrection of Jesus is Central to Christianity
Limbaugh continued, "His bodily resurrection is central to Christianity; His coming in history, His intervening in history as God and human and dying and then being resurrected. And of course, they believed it from the very first, which is why there was so much controversy, one of the main reasons there was controversy. The truth is the Gospel was always as the Gospel is today."
At first, Christianity appeared to be exclusively for Jews – like Jesus and all his earliest disciples. But that all changed with the events surrounding Peter's sudden encounter with his first Gentile convert.
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First Gentile Convert Changes Everything
"Cornelius was a Roman centurion who wasn't steeped in the Jewish law," Limbaugh said of the Gentile at the center of this encounter with Peter. "It was a cold call, so to speak. God gave Peter a vision with a carpet coming down with unclean animals and 'Eat these!,' God said in the vision. And Peter said, 'I can't eat those. They're unclean!' So then God arranges for Cornelius who also had a vision to meet – to make a long story short – and Peter ends up converting Cornelius and his family through faith in Jesus Christ."
So what does all this mean – Peter's vision and the conversion of these Gentiles?
The Heart of the Christian Message: All Are the Same Under Christ
"There's no one different. All are the same under Christ," Limbaugh explained. "No Jew. No Gentile. No Greek. No slave. No free person. We're all one in Christianity. And that vision of those unclean animals was to let Peter know God makes nothing unclean. This is a new covenant now. We're all able to come together and be saved through Jesus Christ."
Limbaugh's Jesus is Risen is about the Bible's New Testament Book of Acts and the first six letters that Paul wrote to some of the earliest churches.
No One is Beyond God's Reach
Paul was preaching that salvation came from faith in Jesus Christ. But wasn't there anyone so evil and so unreachable in any of these biblical writings that they were beyond salvation?
"No," Limbaugh said emphatically, and then discussed Paul himself, for awhile the most ardent persecutor of the early Christians.
Paul, the Most Unlikely Convert
"Paul was an orthodox Jew and he was the most unlikely person to be saved. But he was confronted by Christ on the Damascus Road, and converted personally by Christ: 'why are you persecuting Me?' Not 'why are you persecuting the Church?' Persecution of the Church was persecution of Jesus Christ. And He personalized it for Paul," Limbaugh explained.
He added, "So He converted Paul to be the lead evangelist to the Gentiles. But He chose Paul because he was so passionate, and such an ardent, sincere person and so relentless. And so he spread the Gospel, planting all these churches. But, no, no one is beyond the love of Jesus Christ unless they place themselves away from Him, unless they outright rebel and reject Him. But that's a matter of volition. I believe in free will. But He has opened Himself up to anyone. 'Knock and I will open the door. Seek and you shall find.'"
Paul Didn't Sweat the Small Stuff
Limbaugh believes Paul was such an effective evangelist because he took people as he found them.
"He would not sweat the small stuff," Limbaugh said. "Around Jews, he would adopt Jewish practices. But he would never betray his faith. Whatever made people comfortable so he could evangelize. ...Try to relate to them on their own terms and then give them the truth about the God of the universe, the Savior Jesus Christ, because that's a universal language we can all understand regardless of our cultures."
* This story was first published in 2018