Drinking Green Beer & Missing the Point
Just to be clear ... I'm not drinking Green Beer ... but lots of people are in celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. Sadly, however, most know nothing about the man they celebrate.
For instance, he wasn’t even from Ireland! He was from Britain. As far as we know he didn’t wear a green hat, didn’t have a red beard, wasn’t short, and didn’t drink green beer!
He’s not even an official Saint according to the Catholic church. They didn’t start recognizing saints until hundreds of years after Patrick. He just kind of got swept up as an unofficial saint with a lot of other early church leaders.
But Patrick was a powerful man of God. His dad was a government official, sat on the town council, and was a deacon. His grandfather was a clergyman in the ancient church of Britain. So Patrick grew up in a Christian home, and his folks dragged him along to church. He heard the scriptures there. He heard Scriptures that later in his life he would obey and fulfill.
The Message of Patrick’s Life is this: The power of forgiveness can change a nation.
Patrick had to practice forgiveness before he preached it.
Why is Patrick is considered Irish when he was British? At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by pirates and sold as a slave to a Druid chieftain who reigned in the north of Ireland. He remained this man's slave for 6 years. One of the most reliable historical sources on Patrick is his own words. In his "Confession" he tells us: "When I was a youth, I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire or seek, or what I ought to shun."
Then Patrick was sold to a man who kept the heads of his enemies on poles around his palace yard! During parts of this time Patrick lived like an animal, endured long seasons of hunger and thirst. Even worse, he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time.
That would make a lot of people bitter and hateful, but it was during this time Patrick came to a knowledge of Christ as his own personal Savior. "Frequently in the night I prayed and the love of God and His fear increased more and more in me... I would pray constantly during the daylight hours… The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less."
When he wrote his testimony, his “Confession”, he began with the words, "I, Patrick, a sinner." He started letters with the same words. This is the way Patrick speaks: "I knew not the true God . . . The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief . . . I was not worthy . . . Love of God and fear of Him increased more and more . . . Because of His indwelling Spirit who hath worked in me until this day . . ."
He tells the story of how, after six years, he managed to run away and escape from his master and after a tortuous journey over sea and land, returned to his people in Britain.
After Patrick practiced forgiveness, he was called to preach forgiveness.
Patrick also received a clear and personal call from the Lord to preach the Good News of God's forgiveness through Jesus where he was once enslaved. Patrick described his call in these words: "Again, I was in Britain with my parents, who received me as their son, and besought me to promise that, after the many afflictions I had endured, I would never leave them again. And then, truly, in the bosom of the night I saw a man as if coming from Ireland … with numerous letters, one of which he gave me, and I read the beginning of the epistle, containing the Voice of the Irish.
"And while I was reading the beginning of the epistle I thought in my mind that I heard the voice of those who were near the wood Focluti, which is near the western sea. And they shouted thus: 'We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and live amongst us.' And I was greatly pained in my heart…"
When he got there, the depth of paganism was incredible – He wrote: "I dwell among gentiles," he wrote, "in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things."
Patrick paid a price to preach forgiveness.
To pay for his voyage he took his inheritance, every bit of his land, everything he owned, and sold it. On the day he sailed, in his family's eyes, he was a disgrace.
Once he arrived, he bought a chariot and began traveling in the north and west of Ireland, preaching wherever he could. Did they ever need the light of Christ! Over time, he paid the price of 15 slaves—out of his own pocket—just to buy protection from various chieftains, so he could pass through their territory to evangelize without getting mugged, captured, or killed.
Ireland at the time was wild and primitive. The people who inhabited those forests worshiped trees, stones and wells. They believed that spirits dwelt in these idols. They sacrificed their children on altars to appease these gods and to secure, so they thought, better harvests.
About a year after his arrival in Ireland, Patrick did something that called much attention to his ministry. The Encyclopedia Brittanica tells us that he challenged the "royal authority by lighting a fire on a hill on the night before Easter.” What’s so bad about that? Easter was a pagan festival and no one was supposed to light a fire until the royal fire had been lit.
What Patrick was doing was challenging demonic forces that reigned over that area. He did not just light a flame on a hillside, he ignited a blazing bonfire that would burn throughout the land. All the people were stunned. The King was amazed and said: "If we do not extinguish this flame it will sweep over all Ireland." That’s exactly what happened. From that act of boldness it seemed that a fire fell from heaven and for years there was great repentance in Ireland!
The King sent for Patrick. The druid priests were infuriated and declared they would destroy the preacher by sorcery if he dared to come.
But that Easter morn, about the year 428 A.D., Patrick and his associates marched boldly into the presence of the king and told him that Christ was the light of the world. They preached Jesus crucified and risen from the dead with such persuasive power that the king accepted faith in Christ.
Every danger he faced he thought was well worth it, because it gave him the opportunity to tell the Irish about Christ.
This was Patrick – a little more than green beer. The reason we celebrate him is not about anything that goes on today, but he is a man whose life is worth imitation.
He said, “The Lord is mighty to grant to me afterward to be myself spent for your souls... Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere."
Indeed, Patrick almost delighted in taking risks for the gospel. "I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God's name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children."
Patrick saw a nation receive forgiveness.
The King was convicted and believed the message. After the king believed, Patrick won and baptized multiplied thousands of converts. He ministered for 33 more years and when he was finished, all Ireland was evangelized.
He focused on the tribal kings, as they believed their people would believe. It worked. Then he built a church, ordained a leader, and moved on. Still a great missionary strategy today.
More churches than could be counted dotted the hills and valleys. Irish missionaries went out to proclaim the message of redemption with incomparable passion to the pagan tribes of Scotland, England, Germany and Gaul (France).
This was the beginning of the golden age of Ireland. When God's Word is taught and accepted, chains are broken.
The real Patrick was a Bible-reading, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching missionary and it was the pure message of the forgiveness of the Son of God that lifted the Irish out of the darkness of paganism into the light of Truth.
The heathen stone idols that once marked their graves gave way to the cross of Jesus. Druid paganism was crushed and the "buffer state of Europe" became known as the "Isle of Saints."
Patrick wrote, "Let who will laugh and insult . . . Though I be rude in all things . . . I baptize so many thousands of men . . . the Lord ordained clergy everywhere by means of my mediocrity."
Patrick wrote a song of sorts, maybe a chant. We are told that Patrick and his fellow believers marched toward the king, dressed in white, and carrying crosses and singing or chanting these words – he called it his Breastplate:
I bind to myself today
The strong power of the invocation of the Trinity;
The faith of the Trinity in unity;
The Creator of the elements.
I bind to myself today,
The power of the incarnation of Christ
With that of His baptism;
The power of His crucifixion
With that of His burial;
The power of the resurrection
With (that of) the ascension;
The power of His coming
To the sentence of judgment . . .
I bind to myself today,
The power of God to guide me,
The might of God to uphold me,
The wisdom of God to teach me,
The eye of God to watch over me
The ear of God to hear me,
The Word of God to give me speech,
The hand of God to protect me,
The way of God to prevent me,
The shield of God to shelter me,
The host of God to defend me,
Against the snares of demons
Against the temptations of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who would injure me
Whether far or near;
Whether few or many.
I have set around me all these powers,
Against every hostile, savage power
Directed against my body and my soul;
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and Druids.
Against all knowledge that blinds the soul of man.
Christ protect me today,
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort (when I am at home),
Christ in the chariot-seat (when I travel),
Christ in the ship (when I sail).
Of the Lord is salvation;
Christ is salvation;
With us ever be
Thy salvation, O Lord!
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me;
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me."
Thomas Cahill said, "The Patrick who came back to Ireland with the gospel was a real tough guy. He couldn't have been anything else—only a very tough man could have hoped to survive those people. I don't mean to say he wasn't a saint—he was a great saint—but he was a very rough, vigorous man...
"I know that Paul is referred to as the first missionary," Cahill says, "but Paul never got out of the Greco-Roman world, nor did any of the apostles. And here we are, five centuries after Jesus, who had urged his disciples to preach to all nations. They just didn't do that. And the reason they didn't is because they did not consider the barbarians to be human."
As a result of his enslavement, Cahill says, "Patrick grew into a man that he truly would not otherwise have become. So you would have to say that Patrick's kidnapping was a great grace, not just for the people of Ireland, but for all of Western history."
By the time of his death, or shortly thereafter, "the Irish stopped slave trading and they never took it up again." Human sacrifice had become unthinkable.
Because Patrick was able to forgive those who mistreated him, God was able to use Patrick to tell a whole country about Jesus.
Sources: St. Patrick was a Baptist Rev. John Summerfield Wimbish, D.D. Published in the Reformed Reader
Meet Saint Patrick - Written by Kevin A. Miller, editor of Leadership Journal
Patrick the Saint
Behind the fanciful legends of the fifth-century British missionary stands a man worthy of embellishment.
Mary Cagney Thursday, October 1, 1998