What is the first emblem that comes to mind when you think of Christianity? Think about it for a moment and we will come back to it.
Discovered in 1578 under the outskirts of Rome, hidden for more than 500 years, a series of tunnels connecting entire communities together designed around more than forty underground cemeteries we call Catacombs.
Thousands upon thousands are buried there some dating all the way back to the 1st century. Many of the buried were Christians who were under extreme pressure, enduring harsh slavery and intense persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Theirs was the time of the Coliseum, Nero’s rage, empaling Christians on poles and lighting their bodies so to give light to the roads of Rome and Nero’s garden as he hosted parties for societies elite. Theirs were the days of Claudius, Domitian, Trajanurelius, Diocletian to name just a few of the emperors of Rome whose ambitions were to stomp out the Gospel of Christ.
Yet, the Gospel of Christ was not wiped out. The spread of the Good News of Jesus wasn’t even slowed, in fact, the persecution only fanned the flame of hope that the message of Christ gives. It’s estimated by the end of the 3rd century that more than seven million people had surrendered their life to following Christ.
How did these early believers inspire one another and spread the message of Jesus? When the catacombs were rediscovered, a fascinating detail came to light. These early Christ-followers painted or engraved emblems of their faith upon the walls called galleries and on the tombs. Each burial spot had a marker with the name of the buried believer, their age, date of death and one or more symbols – emblems of their faith and message for those passing by to see. These cemeteries were not places of despair for the passer-by, but places of HOPE.
This was a grim and heavy statement Jesus made to those who wanted to follow Him. For these 1st century believers, this was not a statement of hope but of complete surrender. In essence, Jesus was saying that to be a true disciple you must be willing to suffer shame, persecution even death for Him. The cross was not something they would wear upon their necks, but something they would wear on their heart!
It’s interesting that in the catacombs, except where a cross was hidden within another emblem, crosses didn’t show up on tombs until around the 5th century.
What were some of the other emblems found on the tombs and galleries in the Catacombs?
1. The Cross – a symbol of Victory over Sin and Surrender.
2. The Peacock – a symbol of Eternal Life
3. A Ship – a symbol of Security in the Grace of God
4. Palm Branches – a symbol of Victory
5. Grapes / Vines – a symbol of Unity with Jesus
6. The Dove – a symbol of Peace and the Holy Spirit
7. The Shepherd – a symbol of the Care of Jesus
8. The Fish – a symbol of our life’s mission to evangelize…
9. The Chi Rho – a symbol for the Name of Christ.
10. The Anchor – a symbol for Hope!
The anchor was the emblem that embodied the entire Gospel message of Christ. The other emblems spoke of a part of the Gospel message. The cross spoke of victory over sin and surrender….the peacock about eternal life….the fish about our mission to be fishers of men. Yet, the emblem most dominant on the earliest of tombs, those dating back to the 1st and 2nd century was the anchor, an emblem that speaks of a hope that is sure and steadfast, unmoveable!
The anchor was the symbol believers used to inspire hope! The anchor embodied the entirety of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus died for our sins, but He did not stay upon the cross. Jesus was buried. In the tomb, He buried our sin, our shame, our regrets. But Jesus did not stay buried! On the third day from His crucifixion, Jesus Christ came out of the grave. Hope Lives!
Women came to the tomb that morning fully expecting to see that the dead were still dead. However, that morning they became the first messengers of the Good News.
Matthew records the eye witness account in his gospel letter.
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb…Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead… So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” ~Matthew 28: 1, 5- 8.
Our hope is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Because Jesus came out of the grave, you can trust that God will forgive your sin when you confess them to Him and trust Christ with your salvation. Because Jesus came out of that tomb, you can have confidence that your sins were buried with Christ and He will not remember your sin against you. Because Jesus came out of that tomb, you have a hope secure that no struggle, no storm, so pain, no pressure, not even death can defeat the hope God gives to you!