Crossing the Rubicon

The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy that flows from the Apennine Mountains into the Adriatic Sea. It also once marked the northern border between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper. Roman law forbade any general from leading a legion across that border. Following the victories of Julius Caesar in Gaul and his rise to popularity and power among many in Rome, the Senate ordered him to disband his army and return to stand before the Senate. Caesar decided instead to return to Rome with his army and become, well, Caesar. When he took his army across the Rubicon River, it was his point of no return. The expression “crossing the Rubicon” is stilled used as an expression today when someone reaches a point of no return. Actually, Caesar gave us another expression at the crossing of the Rubicon. He is reported to have said, “The die is cast” as he went across the river.

The fledgling church of Jesus crossed a Rubicon of sorts in our reading today from Acts 8:1-3. Stephen was killed by mob violence at the end of Acts 7. The days of “enjoying the favor of all the people” in Acts 2 has passed. Now the unofficial opposition by Jewish people has become an official persecution by Jewish leaders. Christians have reached the point where they must decide HOW MUCH they believe in Jesus.

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:1–3, TNIV)

Saul of Tarsus (who I believe is brought up later in Acts) leads the effort to round up and imprison believers in Jesus. There will be no more gathers of thousands in the open to worship God in the name of Jesus. Now that name puts a price on their heads. Christians could give up the name of Jesus and go on with their lives or they could risk their lives for the name. What most decided was to take the name of Jesus on the road, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). The Rubicon was crossed, the decision was made and the church grew throughout the world.

When we accept, confess and act on the name of Jesus, we cross the Rubicon and reach the point of no return. To be honest, we would like to have it both ways—to be have the favor of all the people AND be faithful to Jesus. The world doesn’t let us do that, at least, not for long. We have to decide who is Lord. But then, if we are Christians, we have already decided that!