We’re about to enter into a time historically known as “Passion Week”, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday. It’s a week filled with history and meaning. This is the most important week of the Christian calendar. Centuries of history have revolved around it and believers from all manner of different traditions observe and celebrate it differently. Some people fast, others sing, some have prayer vigils, some read the bible from cover to cover, some even shave their heads. Each tradition has their own way to show worship by sacrificing something special in their lives to focus on God.
In their own ways they are living out what is written in Romans 12:1-2,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Before Jesus came, believers use to present sacrifices of animals or grain to the temple on certain days, but now, because of the work of Jesus, we have moved from presenting our worship and sacrifices in a certain building to living out our lives as sacrifices to him – still trying to make them pure, unblemished, holy and acceptable to God, but knowing that we can only do this through the power of God.
Please open up to Matthew 21:1-11 and we’re going to tie together our series on Stewardship with the sacrifices of worship we see in the account of Palm Sunday.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”
Going Through the Motions
Our theme today is worship, particularly the importance of having a lifestyle of worship, but more than this – that worship in itself, true worship, is sacrificial – it costs us something. I just watched a clip of a sermon recently where Matt Chandler was gently confronting some people in churches in Texas with the understanding that just because you go to church doesn’t make you a Christian. He said,
“In the Bible Belt churches are jam-filled with people who have no mark of being Christians on their lives other than the fact that they attend once a week. No obedience whatsoever, no desire for obedience, no relationship with Christ, no seriousness about God…. You come, you check it, and you call yourself a Christian. And I want to lovingly tell you that if there is no desire for obedience and no obedience then you should not count yourself a Christian. You should consider yourself lost and in danger of damnation.”
That sounds like it could be harsh, but he’s right. He isn’t talking about “salvation by works” but the changed heart that comes when we turn our lives over to Jesus. He’s talking about sacrificial, lifestyle worship. There is no true faith without obedience, there is no true worship without sacrifice.
Most people here understand the concept of sacrifice. Parents know what it means to give up our time and resources for our kids. Military people know what it means to make sacrifices for their country. The disasters that keep coming at the world all have relief organizations that want some of our money to help people. Some people even donate their own blood for the sake of others.
I think we understand the concept well enough, but what we need to see is that to be a worshipper of God demands sacrifice. We see that all through the Bible: there is worship that God accepts and that God rejects, and most often the worship He rejects is the easy, mindless, going through the motions activities of religious people. Sing because it’s time to sing. Talk when it’s time to talk. Bow heads when it’s time to bow heads. Read the words written down because you’re supposed to. Look at the guy talking for as long as he’s talking. That disengaged repetition of mindless, religious activity is worship that God rejects.
But let’s take a look at some of the people involved in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday. We don’t see people dropping money in a plate, reading a script, or doing anything in the temple in this story. What we see is some of the ways Jesus required them to sacrifice to Him as an act of worship.
The Donkey Man
First, let’s look at the man who gave up his donkey. Jesus had told his disciples to go to the village ahead and get a donkey that was tied up. The book of Luke (19:20-34) sheds a bit more light on this situation: Jesus says,
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, `Why are you untying it?’ tell him, `The Lord needs it.’ Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Notice that little difference? The owner is in this one.
Imagine what was going on in this guy’s head. There he is, working on something around the house and some random guys come up try to walk off with two of his animals. The disciples are just being obedient, but what about the owner?
Consider yourself. You’re washing your car in your driveway. The door is open and the key is dinging away. You step into the garage for a moment to get something and a couple of guys walk up, get in the car, and prepare to drive off. You come running out and say, “Where are you going in my car?!” And the people inside respond, “The Lord needs it….”
Now it’s decision time, right? What do you do? Therein lay the sacrifice. The moment he heard that the animals were to be used by the Lord, his argument stopped. He sent his valuables, maybe his most valuable things, on with these strangers. Maybe God prepared this man in advance as he was praying, or maybe he didn’t. All we know is that when the Lord wanted something from him, he gave it up. He didn’t even know what Jesus was going to do with it.
The simple question for us is this: Would you or I have done the same? Would we have let the disciples take our car? We’re presented with this option more often than we think as God gives us the opportunity to sacrifice what we have for others. Someone gets into trouble, someone needs our time, energy, money, resources, and we are presented with the option to give. We feel the impression in our heart to do something. Someone calls us with a need. What do we do? We analyze the situation. We ask questions. We wonder about return on investment. We negotiate how little to give. We try to find other options. But what if the only reason we get is, “The Lord needs it”? Regularly giving up our resources is part of what a lifestyle of Christian worship looks like.
There’s another group that gives of their resources in the story too. Verses 7-8 tell us that there are folks who were spreading their cloaks on the ground. As an act of worship, a way to show their deference to Him, and also a way to acknowledge and declare that He is their promised Messiah and King.
These weren’t their old “Goodwill” or “Salvation Army” clothes either. They didn’t run home and get the jacket they never use anymore. This was whatever they were wearing. But even that doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, right? A couple donkey hoof prints on there. But anyone who has ridden horses or has been to a parade knows that something else happens when animals go for a walk – there’s a reason the street sweepers follow the horses.
The point is that these people, upon seeing Jesus, started to worship Him and that worship required an immediate sacrifice of what they had. Honoring Jesus will require the use of our time and our resources. We cannot grow as a disciple of Jesus if we don’t spend our time and resources on Him. This, what we are doing here at church, is not the pinnacle of Christian experience and I feel sad for anyone who thinks it is. Sure, we have to get up, some people have to serve, but this is perhaps, the easiest sacrifice of our week. The real test of our Christian character, the real opportunities to give sacrificial, lifestyle worship come later in the week as we are presented with opportunities to give of ourselves to do what God wants us to do.
Consider St. Patrick, whose special day was just a few days ago. Despite the day now being about celebrating Ireland, wearing green, and generating green vomit, the story of St. Patrick is one we shouldn’t forget.
Patrick was born in northeast England, not Ireland, in the late fourth century. When he was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave to a tribal chief who put him to work as a cattle herder. He was raised in the church but it wasn’t until he faced this level of suffering that his faith started to take root. Seeing the beauty of the Irish countryside caused him to worship God’s amazing creativity and it was in the total isolation of slavery in a foreign land where he really learned to pray.
He was held captive for 6 years until he escaped, made his way back to England, and joined the priesthood. He trained and served many churches but then, one day, at age 48 God told him that he needed to go and share God’s love with the unreached Irish Celts. This was unprecedented, totally controversial, and he gained little support – but after a time of negotiation the church finally, and reluctantly sent him off to the barbarians, likely to never see him again.
What was unique about the way Patrick did missionary work was that he didn’t go into the land and try to civilize it. He didn’t try to turn the Irish into good, English people, build English churches, and teach them English songs. He knew that wouldn’t work because he knew the people. So he gave up the way he was used to worshipping for their sake. He gave up his own style for their sake. He spoke their language, gave them his time, his prayers, his food and resources to the poor, and most especially his forgiveness. He gave his whole life to them.
It was this heart of sacrifice that enabled thousands of people to meet Jesus for the first time and gave rise to one of the greatest missionary successes of all time. Patrick was a man who knew what it meant to worship God by sacrificially serving others.
The Sacrifice of Reputation
There’s one more sacrifice I want to point out in the account of the Triumphal entry and that is the reaction of the crowds. Calling out “Hosanna!” to Jesus was dangerous. They put their reputation and their safety at stake. It was a thumb in the nose of the Jewish ruling class, the Sanhedrin. It offended the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, it risked reprisal from the Romans who did not take kindly to anyone claiming to be another king, “the Lord”, or “the Highest”. Their worship required risk.
Consider our own societies celebrity worship culture. Society holds them up for all to see, watches them on TV, listens to interviews, seeks them out on YouTube, wears what they wear, eats what they eat, reads what they read, go where they go. People on the sidelines of the award shows often yell things like “I love you!”, and companies make contests of just spending one hour with a certain celebrity, but it’s all with very little risk. We can shout how much we love Jennifer Lawrence or Vin Diesel from the rooftops until we’re blue in the face and no one cares – but have you noticed what happens when someone stands on a rooftop in front of a crowd and shouts that they love Jesus? Doesn’t’ really happen, does it? Why? Because that’s different, isn’t it? That’s got risk.
When the people in Jerusalem that day were yelling “Hosanna” they weren’t yelling “I love you!” They were yelling, “Save me!” Hosanna is literally the word “save”. They were crying out to Jesus for deliverance. This wasn’t about His celebrity status, but about deliverance. Deliverance from their Roman oppressors, their corrupt civic leaders, and the mess that their religion was in. It was a cry for mercy, an acknowledgment that He was the Saviour.
It’s one thing to yell that you love Jesus in public – you might get away with that in North America – but it’s totally something else to yell out that Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord of the Earth.
We have a hard enough time asking for help, don’t we? We’re all about self-help, self-determination, self-esteem, do-it-yourself. For some people, it’s almost agonizing to ask even those closest to them for help. So many people suffer alone, and it requires a massive sacrifice of pride for them to admit they need help.
But when we cry out to Jesus, that’s exactly what we are doing. We are asking for His help, admitting that we are not enough, that we require His intervention. As Christians we first admit that we are sinners, bent away from God, serving ourselves and messing up our lives and the lives of others. Then we ask for forgiveness, something only God can grant. We cannot forgive ourselves. Then we ask to be reborn, remade, changed from the sinner that we were into a new creation that hates sin and wants righteousness. Only God can do that. And then, every day, we admit once more that we are not strong enough, wise enough, good enough, to accomplish even one right thing without God’s help.
Many come to God in prayer but actually refuse to admit they actually need His help. They use God like 911 or like Santa Clause, the last resort or the way to get something they know is a long-shot. Some treat God like a help desk, asking for a minimal amount of help when they get stuck and then telling God that they’ll take it from there. They believe they are 90% strong enough, and that God gives them the other 10%. That’s not how it works.
A Christian recognizes their deep need and falls before Jesus saying, “I don’t have anything to offer. I’m dead inside. Whatever I touch gets worse. Even my supposed good deeds are done selfishly. I am a sinner in need of a Saviour. Hosanna, Jesus. Save me.”
And there are some that will admit this in private – but these people were doing it in public. Listen to Luke 19:37-40:
“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”
The leaders of their city were offended and trying to stop them. Most Christians I know won’t even pray a simple prayer in public – they are too nervous, too ashamed, too worried about what others think. Some refuse to sing even in church because they’re worried what others think. Some go to work and literally no one knows they are a believer. Some won’t even say grace with their own families out of fear. But these people cried out for help right in front of their friends, the priests, the Pharisees, the Roman centurions.
According to Luke 19, as Jesus rode he wasn’t smiling, he was weeping because He knew what was coming. Jesus rode up to the temple, once again drove out those who were selling there, and then began to teach. Listen to what it says in verses 47-48,
“And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.”
The people turning their hearts and attention to Jesus, crying out for his help in public didn’t convert the city – but instead threw it into an upheaval. Their sacrificial worship, their willingness to cry out to Jesus in public, was the catalyst that made the city leaders want to utterly destroy Jesus. And they tried. And that persecution caused all of the believers, even the disciples, to flee.
When you call out to Jesus, people are going to think you’re crazy. There’s a risk. Calling out to the Saviour has risk. Your friends, your family, your fellow church people, may see you as a fanatic, may tell you to calm down, not be so serious, that there are a time and place for that sort of thing. That’s what the Pharisees tried to tell Jesus and his followers.
My conclusion is simply this: the worship God accepts requires sacrifice. It is a reflection of our thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice. He gave up everything, came to a world that would hate Him, reject Him and crucify Him, for our sake. He lived as a servant every day and still lives as a servant to His people. Our response is to do the same to Him by giving our lives to Him. Not just one morning per week, but every moment, every action, every decision of our lives. And that will require sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there is no worship.
Do you live a lifestyle of sacrificial worship? Do you spend your time, resources, and reputation on Jesus? Do you risk your time, resources and reputation to worship Jesus? Or does it only happen in closed rooms and dark corners? Does your worship require sacrifice?
Is there something God has asked you to give, some way He has called you to obey, that you’ve refused because it was too much, too risky? What if “The Lord needs it” from you?
And, finally, ask yourself if you ashamed to call yourself a Christian. Does your lifestyle, your words, your deeds, your conversations, your prayer life reflect that you are a believer? Have you cried out “Hosanna” in the streets? I’m not asking you to get on a rooftop this week or stand on a street corner – but how about this: does everyone in your life know you are a follower of Jesus?
At the very least, will you take the risk of showing your faith in a practical way this week? Pray in public, share your faith, tell someone that you are a Christian.
This week people all over the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. For many it is a time to pretend they are Irish, get drunk on green beer (or Guinness for the purists), take in a parade, and dress like a leprechaun. Ironically, though they celebrate with a passion, most people have long forgotten the actual story of St. Patrick. (For example, most people think he was Irish – but he wasn’t!)
St. Patrick has been one of my heroes for a long while, and what I want to do today is remember this story. St. Patrick was one of the most successful missionary pioneers in history and his story is full of lessons for us to remember and reminds us of the power of depending on God. His impact is still being felt today around the world. And I believe that the secret to his success wasn’t just about the work he did, but in his relationship with Jesus and the attitude of his heart.
Taken as a Slave
Early in the fifth century, a young man and his family walked along the shores of Roman Briton. As they walked together they noticed a fleet of fifty longboats weaving their way toward the shore. He was only 16-years-old, the son of a civil magistrate and tax collector, but even he had heard stories of the Irish raiders who would storm upon the shores capturing slaves to take with them “to the ends of the world”. As his eyes scanned the longboats, there is no doubt that he began imagining the worst.
The Roman legions had long since deserted Britain, so there was no military to protect them – and Patrick knew that his town was woefully unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach with a furious, terrible shout. The braying war horns struck terror into Patrick’s heart, and he started to run toward the uncertain safety of town.
With hardly an effort the warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patrick darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught by one of the men. He struggled, but there was nothing he could do against the huge barbarian who dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.
Faith as a Slave
He was now a slave without any rights or freedoms, able to be sold to the highest bidder. And he was. Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose favourite decoration was his opponents’ heads which sat atop sharp pikes on the fence surrounding his land.
Patrick was to take care of his master’s pigs. There was no comfort in this position or care from his master. He lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Perhaps worst of all, was the loneliness. Not only was he a slave in a foreign land, but he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time.
His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest, but Patrick was, by his own admission, only a nominal Christian. As his situation grew more desperate, the hunger pains worsened, the loneliness grew, and the days wore on, he finally turned to the God of his fathers for comfort.
“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”
Patrick changed in remarkable ways, growing physically and spiritually in his time there, but as God’s love grew in his heart – so did his love of the Irish Celtic people. He learned their language and their culture – and he even came to love his slave masters. He began to identify with them and to hope and pray for their reconciliation with God.
After six years of slavery, Patrick heard a mysterious voice, a supernatural messenger, saying. “You do well to fast. Soon you will return to your homeland.” Patrick obeyed, and fasted and prayed even more fervently. Before long, the voice spoke again saying: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.” Patrick knew that this was his moment to escape and so he fled. He ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor where he saw a ship, probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent. With some difficulty he convinced the traders to take him with them.
They sailed for three-days, Patrick recounting his story and sharing his deep faith with the men. They landed in Gaul (which is modern-day France). When they stepped from the boat they found only devastation. Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in the once fertile area. They walked for days trying to find something to feed themselves, but there was nothing.
“What have you to say for yourself, Christian?” the ship’s captain taunted. “You boast that your God is all powerful. You tell us of his great provision for you! Now we’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.” Patrick answered confidently. “Nothing is impossible to God. Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”
And at that very moment, a herd of pigs appeared and blocked their path. The men shouted, and Patrick instantly became “well regarded in their eyes,” — but to his sadness, his companions offered some of their new-found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods. Patrick, of course, did not partake in the sacrifice.
After a few years wandering the continent, he made his way back home to his family in England, and Patrick set his heart toward becoming a full time minister. He was trained to be a priest, immersed his mind in the scriptures, and grounded himself in theology. He served for some years as a faithful priest to the congregations of England.
It was during this time of faithful service, at age forty-eight, that Patrick had another vision. This one was like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man came to him in a dream and pleaded, “Help us!”
Patrick describes what happened this way: “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut, which is beside the western sea – and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”
When he awoke he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God had called him to take Christianity to Ireland. Now, Ireland was a deeply pagan land. There is only one record of a Christian missionary to Ireland, a man named Palladus, who was unsuccessful in converting anyone and may have been martyred there.
Patrick appealed to the Bishops and to Pope Celestine to send him and a group of priests, seminary teachers and a few others, to Ireland. They affirmed his vision, ordained him as a bishop, and he returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The mission was hard, and Patrick showed himself to be wise, brave and faithful. After beginning his mission he wrote back, “I dwell among gentiles, in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshippers of idols, and of unclean things.” He loved the people, and spoke to them in their own language, but all the time he faced opposition from the druids (priests and magicians of the Celtic religion) who were very well educated and politically connected to the Irish kings. Much of Patrick’s time in Ireland was spent trying not to be killed by the druid priests.
The Celtic warriors were a difficult bunch as well. Before a battle they would strip bare and rush at their enemies wearing only their sandals, carrying a sword and a shield, while howling as possessed by demons! During the battle they would decapitate their enemies and perform human sacrifice to their various gods.
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” wrote Patrick, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.” There is a prayer of protection on the famous “Patrick’s Breastplate” which perfectly expresses the very prayer he may have repeated over and over:
“God… save me from… every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul; against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of paganism, against false laws of heresy, against deceit of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and druids.”
Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts were that the power of the druids was real – but that it was a demonic power – and that the God he served was stronger. At one point Patrick had a powerful confrontation with the druids (though most scholars doubt that it was as magical as the stories recount) which was something like when Elijah contested against the prophets of baal on Mount Carmel, or Moses against the magicians of Egypt. It happened in a place called Tara where each side worked to outdo the wonders that the other was working. Legend says that Patrick “won” as God killed several of the druids and soldiers. The king was greatly enraged because of this, but Patrick said to the king, “If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.”
In that moment “the king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”
Patrick almost seemed to delight in taking risks to spread the gospel. He once wrote, “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.” And what a legacy he has.
From Kingdom to Kingdom
He spent much of his time moving his missionary team around the country’s one hundred or so tribal kingdoms. He knew that if the king became a Christian, the druids would lose power and the people would be more open to the message.
But Patrick didn’t come in as a conquering hero. He came in with humility. He would ask the king for permission to camp near their settlement and then gradually send team members to engage the people in conversation and help them in their daily lives. They would pray for sick people, help the demon possessed, give counselling and mediate conflicts. Patrick would take questions from the people and then speak publicly to give the answers. They would do open-air speaking, telling stories and parables, singing songs, using visual arts, and even drama to capture the Celtic people’s remarkable imaginations.
The most famous of these visual arts is the Shamrock, the three leafed clover, which is said to have been used to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine, with God as the unity of three persons, bound together in love, became a foundational model for the Celtic Christian model. God was a family of persons and invited us to join his family. God in the Trinity, is always a companion, a friend, a partner.
This strategy was a success. As kings and townspeople converted, they would give their sons to Patrick, in an old Irish custom, for educating. They became his disciples. Eventually, many of the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns, priests and missionaries.
Patrick moved from kingdom to kingdom working much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church – not a large, Roman church, but a Celtic one. He was always sensitive to the needs of the people he had grown to love. He wasn’t trying to turn these “terrible barbarians” into “good Romans”, but used their beautiful culture to share the good news of Jesus Christ. His style of ministry almost cost him his position as bishop when some of the British bishops were offended that Patrick was going beyond his “role” and spending most of his time with “pagans”, “sinners” and “barbarians.”
One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge of the new church. If the chieftain was gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station. Before departing, Patrick would give the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons to guide them.
One ancient document called “The Annals of the Four Masters” says that, through Patrick’s team, 30 or 40 of Ireland’s 150 tribes became Christian, 700 churches were planted and 1000 new ministers were ordained.
But no matter how much success he had with the kings, Patrick saw the greatest enemy as one he was intimately familiar with – slavery. He was the first Christian to strongly speak out, and fight against, the practice. But it wasn’t just the Irish who were taking British slaves – but also British who were stealing people from Ireland. Patrick himself wrote a letter excommunicating a man named Coroticus who had carried off some of Patrick’s own Irish converts into slavery.
“Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’ deeds “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.
We don’t know if Coroticus ever did free his slaves, but we know that within his lifetime, Patrick ended the entire Irish slave trade.
Self-Doubt and Great Faith
One thing that comes as a surprise to many is that despite his amazing legacy, success as a missionary, his bravery before the druids and kings, and his deep faith in God, Patrick was terribly self-conscious and never felt adequate to the task – especially regarding his educational background. He once wrote about the frustration he felt when trying to explain things to more educated people, “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open for I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.” But he didn’t let his lack of education, or inability to articulate his thoughts stop him. He gave thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”
Over and over again, Patrick wrote that he was not worthy to be a bishop. And he wasn’t the only one with doubts. Despite how difficult the mission was, and how successful Patrick was being, at one point, his ecclesiastical elders in Britain sent some men to investigate his mission. These men brought up many concerns and accusations – including a rash moment of (unspecified) sin from his youth. These concerns may have even been made public to his missionary team. Patrick reeled from the accusations. But he wrote back about God’s provision during that time, “Indeed he bore me up, though I was trampled underfoot in such a way. For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me.”
These men didn’t have to tell Patrick that he wasn’t fit for the position – he knew that. He never felt that he was truly equipped for the job God had given him. But what he lacked in formal training, he certainly made up for with a strong prayer life, a deep dependence on God, and a real sense of God’s presence in his life. He wrote, “I have known God as my authority, for he knows all things even before they are done. He would frequently forewarn me of many things by his divine response.” His self-doubt kept him closely dependent on God.
In fact, Patrick recorded eight dreams which he saw as personal messages from God. Scattered throughout his writings are tributes to God’s goodness to him during times of trouble, confusion and fear. He would say things like, “Tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the day I was tried, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my soul. He saved me in all dangers and perils….So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God.”
We don’t know for sure where or how he died, but according to the recorded history of Ireland, Patrick’s mission to Ireland ended in his death in 493. He would have been in his seventies. There are three different Monasteries that claim to house his remains. The day we know as St. Patrick’s day, March 17th, has been a day of feasting in his honour since as early as the year 797.
Though it is sometimes to separate fact from fiction in the stories of St. Patrick, everyone agrees that he has an amazing legacy. He was the first great missionary to bring the gospel outside of the boundaries of Romans civilization.
He was the ultimate model for Celtic Christians who would follow him in his work. Hundreds of Irish monks left their homeland, just as Patrick had, to spread the gospel to Scotland, England and Europe. But they didn’t just model his mission – they followed his faith.
Patrick was a man of continuous prayer, enraptured by God and deeply in love with Scripture. That love didn’t stay with the book, but was lived in service to others as a preacher, teacher and practical missionary. He had a rich, poetic imagination, and a special openness to listen to God in dreams and visions. He appreciated and enjoyed nature and creation.
He is most worthy of the title “saint”, which means “set apart”, because certainly had a divine mission and became an inspiring example. Let us take his example, as he ran the race well, following the footsteps of Christ, and become men and women of courageous faith.
Note: My seminary profs would have my hide for this because of the way I adapted and outright copied from the sources below (though I noticed they did the same to each other, so I don’t feel too bad), but if I sited every single part I used then this post would have become an unreadable mess of punctuation. Let’s just assume that I assembled the story, adapted some of the language to make it easier to read, but I will take credit for none of the research.
- “Patrick The Saint – The Story Behind The Legends”; by Mary Cagney – CHRISTIAN HISTORY MAGAZINE
- Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (p. 230). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- George G. Hunter. (2000), The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Abingdon Publishers