For only the second time in the history of the Roman Empire, the doors of the Temple of Janus (the god of war) in Rome were closed, meaning that the Empire was not at war anywhere. The great Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was in force which meant that the whole Mediterranean world was united under one government. No doubt you've heard it said that "all roads lead to Rome." That statement was literally true. The Romans had built a road system that stretched from Rome in all directions. That enabled the gospel message to quickly spread to all parts of the known world....
Across the empire the mystery religions were in decline. There were so many gods in ancient Greece that the one writer called Greece one large altar. And Judaism was ripe for the Messiah to come. During those 400 "silent years" the Jews had migrated to every corner of the ancient world. Judaism flourished as the Jews built synagogues wherever they went. And where did Christianity begin? It emerged from the womb of Judaism. Early church worship was modeled after synagogue worship. Where did the Apostle Paul start when he went to a new city? Always he started in the local synagogue, preaching the gospel to his own people. By the time of Christ there were Jews at every level of society in the Roman Empire. And many Gentiles knew of the God of Israel. Looking back, we can see clearly that God had placed his chosen people, the Jews, in strategic positions to help advance the gospel.
Athens was in the late afternoon of its glory. The gods of Greece and Rome no longer could command the blind allegiance of the masses. Education, philosophy, and great art created desires they could not fill. In the end the verdict was clear. Athens could produce Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Rome produced Seneca, Cicero, Juvenal, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Julius Caesar. But the best man could do was not enough. Nothing could fill the "God-shaped vacuum" inside the human heart. Art, literature, poetry, music, architecture, and the greatest military machine the world had ever known, all of it taken together could not provide meaning to life, or point the way to lasting forgiveness, or offer any answer to three questions we all must answer: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Excerpted from "The First Christmas Miracle" by Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).