I was recently in Pretoria, South Africa, participating in the IMPACT South Africa Global Youth Conference. Two themes were promoted: Jesus in the City, the theme of the conference; and The Power of One, the theme of the General Conference Youth Ministries Department.
I came away with the conviction that Jesus truly can be in the city via each of us. That is, if we intentionally exercise initiative and courage to act, we can indeed be “the power of one.” We can make a difference wherever we are by doing something distinct and significant on behalf of Christ.
Telemachus was a bold little Christian who spoke out on behalf of Christ. His story reminded me of all the good we can do if we take the initiative in influencing culture, instead of letting culture influence us.
Telemachus was a Christian monk who lived in Asia Minor about A.D. 400, when gladiatorial games were popular in Rome. Gladiators were often slaves or political prisoners condemned to fight to the death for the amusement of spectators. Telemachus was disturbed that Emperor Honorius (a Christian) sponsored the games and that many who called themselves “Christians” went to see them.
What, Telemachus wondered, could be further from the Spirit of Christ than the cruelty of these gladiatorial games? Bishops and priests spoke against them, but most people were deaf to their message. Telemachus realized that talking about this evil was not enough. But what could he accomplish, one lone voice against the whole Roman Empire?
One day in prayer and meditation, Telemachus sensed the Holy Spirit encouraging him to go to Rome, at the time the center of the world’s greatest empire. In Rome Telemachus was caught up by a celebration of a recent victory over the Goths by Roman legions. The festival featured a circus staged for the jubilant multitudes. Telemachus allowed himself to be swept along by the crowds. Soon he found himself on the way to the coliseum.
He heard the sounds of lions roaring their challenge and gladiators preparing for combat. Telemachus followed the crowd into the coliseum, where, to his horror, he was confronted with callous, gut-wrenching carnage. Gladiators fought one another and slaughtered their hapless foes without pity as entertainment for bloodthirsty crowds.
Telemachus simply couldn’t stand by while human beings were being beheaded and dismembered before his very eyes. He ran down the steps of the stands, leaped into the arena, darting back and forth between the fighters, crying, “Stop, stop! In the name of Christ, I beg you to stop!”
When the crowd saw the scrawny figure running frantically about the arena, ducking and weaving between the combatants, they took Telemachus for a bit of comic relief and roared their approval. But when some in the crowd began to hear what the “mad monk” was saying, they came to realize that Telemachus was trying to spoil their bloody fun. They turned against him, hissing, booing, and bellowing at the top of their voices for his quick dispatch.
Gladiators lunged at the monk with thrusts of their swords, and the audience pelted him with a hailstorm of projectiles and stones. When the furor was over, Telemachus lay dead in the middle of the arena. During the silence that followed, it was as if the monk’s last cry echoed around the arena: “Stop, stop! In the name of Christ, I beg you to stop!”
Telemachus died, but not in vain. The shock of his death changed the hearts of the crowd. They saw the hideous aspects of the vice to which they had surrendered themselves. Emperor Honorius issued an edict shortly thereafter forbidding all future gladiatorial games.
The Telemachus testimony: One voice can make a world of difference.