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The Table That Turned The World Upside Down

Matthew 26:20-30

It was such a simple ordinary event, and yet it wound up having earth-shaking, world-changing implications. ..

I am referring to the meal shared one evening by a little-known, traveling preacher and a small band of his friends and compatriots. As they gathered about the table that evening, there was nothing to indicate that what was about to happen would alter the course of human history. During the meal this traveling preacher, Jesus, offered His friends bread and a cup, and then He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”—and no one could have guessed that some 2,000 years later millions upon millions of people all over the globe would do just that—take the bread and the cup remembering Him. You see, it’s true that Table and the message which that Table delivered quite literally turned the world upside down!

Nowhere, I think, is that truth more vividly portrayed than in what we know as the Colosseum in Rome. The Colosseum is regarded as the finest surviving example of the ancient Roman skill in architecture and construction. The Colosseum is four stories high, and it is shaped like a present-day football stadium. It could seat up to 50,000 spectators. It was built in eight years, between 72 and 80 A.D. It featured a system of overhead awnings which could be rolled out to protect the spectators from both the sun and the rain—a first century version of the retractable roof. Originally the floor of the arena could be sand covered for certain kinds of shows or it could be flooded for water spectaculars. Beneath the floor of the arena, connected by a labyrinth of narrow, tunnel-like hallways were cages or holding pens for both men and animals who would be the participants in the show. Entertainment staged in the Colosseum included fights between gladiators, fights between men and wild beasts, and, of course, the slaughter of Christians. People gathered by the thousands in that Colosseum stimulated by the sight of human violence, drunk on the taste of human blood, screaming for more and more savagery. The more they screamed, the more they got. But when you stand in the Colosseum today, the most obvious thing you notice is that they don’t do that anymore! No more gladiator fights. No more men being torn apart by wild animals. No more killing of Christians. No more savage games. You see, ever since one day near the end of the fourth century, the Colosseum in Rome has stood empty and unused. One day and one man changed it all.

That day — January 1, 391 A.D. — 50,000 people jammed into the Colosseum to roar with blood-lust as gladiators fought to the death on the sand floor of the arena. Only this particular day was to be different from any other because in the crowd that day was a holy man named Telemachus. Telemachus was a devout Christian—a monk who some years before had retreated to the desert to spend his days in prayer and meditation. But as Telemachus prayed, he began to sense that the Lord was calling him to serve the people who lived in the city of Rome. So Telemachus headed for Rome, the greatest city in the world at that time. When he arrived, he saw these thousands of people crowding into the Colosseum. Curious, he followed them in. As he took a seat, he noticed a wave of excitement and anticipation sweeping over the crowd as the gladiators came out and prepared to fight. As they marched on to the arena floor, each saluted the emperor by crying out, “Hail, Caesar! We, who are about to die, salute you!” Soon the fight was on. Telemachus was appalled. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Men for whom Christ had died were here killing each other for the amusement of the blood-thirsty crowds. Telemachus couldn’t stand it. Suddenly, he vaulted over the barrier, dropped to the arena floor, and proceeded to position himself between the gladiators. At first, the crowd laughed at the sight of this little holy man, still in his monk’s robe, standing between these two powerful gladiators. But then the crowd grew impatient and began to chant, “Let the games go on! Let the games go on!” The gladiators turned to look at the emperor. Caesar gave the thumbs-down sign. The gladiators raised their swords. Telemachus, in a voice that echoed throughout the vast stadium, prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The swords flashed in the sun. Telemachus fell dead, and the sand ran red with his blood. The crowd fell silent — 50,000 people and you could have heard a pin drop, for suddenly there was a mass realization of how horrible and how wrong this killing really was. And then in that embarrassed and embarrassing silence, one man, disgusted, got up and walked out, followed by another, and another, and another. Then Caesar, sensing a sudden shift in the political winds, got up and left, and when Caesar left everybody else left, as well. The games ended abruptly that day, and the Colosseum was never used again for such a bloody purpose. One man, Telemachus, by dying ended the gladiator games forever. The spilling of his blood stopped the blood-spilling of others. The giving of his life saved the lives of many others.

Now where did Telemachus learn to give himself sacrificially like that? Where did he find the grace to pray for his executioners like that? Where did he get the strength and the courage to stand and die for what is right like that? You know, don’t you? Of course, you do. He got it from Jesus. He got it from the One who died for us all. He got it from the one whose broken body and spilled blood were offered for the salvation of the world. Yes, Telemachus did what he did in remembrance of Jesus.

So in the Upper Room, Jesus said to His friends, “Do this is remembrance of me.” What did He mean when He said that? Well, obviously, He meant that we are to remember Him by coming to this Table and reenacting what happened on that night so long ago. But also, He meant that we are to remember Him by living every day in His spirit of sacrificial love. If every Christian who gathers at a Table like this today were to do that, well, it would turn the world upside down. Telemachus did it, and if he did it, why can’t we?

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