The “Alexamenos Graffito” is the earliest surviving pictorial representation of a crucifixion. Created in the late 1st to mid 2nd century A.D., it portrays a Roman soldier worshiping the crucified Christ. But the image has a twist. As Jesus dies on the cross, he features the head of an ass instead of a human. The Greek caption, which is difficult to decipher, roughly reads, “Alexander worships his god.”
The purpose of the political cartoon is to mock Christians for their nonsensical worship of a crucified deity. In this case, Alexander is portrayed as especially ridiculous because he—a Roman citizen—is worshiping a dying criminal. The idea is absurd to the Roman mind, and the message is clear enough: “Your messiah is an ass, and anyone who worships him is an ass, too.”
The blasphemous picture provides a look at the kind of pressure the early followers of Christ faced throughout the Roman Empire. It also gives us an indication of why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
It can be discouraging when everyone around you belittles your Christian faith. It was no doubt dispiriting to Timothy in Ephesus, which is why Paul seeks to light a fire under his protégé. Paul’s message to Timothy in this passage contains the same message for us today: Never be ashamed of the Christ who took your shame. Jesus hung on the cross, naked and alone, bearing our sin and shame. Therefore, we can endure a measure of social pressure and hostility for him. The gospel is worth it.
Paul tells Timothy—and he tells us us—to stand firm as a follower of Christ because God has given us the power to do so. Specifically, God the Father started our salvation, God the Son secured our salvation, and God the Holy Spirit sustains our salvation. Therefore, we have a God-given capacity to face all things, including persecution for our Christian faith. That’s because Jesus was not only crucified; he is also risen from the dead. His followers will be, too.
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