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Location: Nags Head, NC

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Story of St. Patrick

Saint Patrick was one of the most influential Christians in the history of the Christian church. However, his life is surrounded by mystery, superstition, and myth. He is best known as the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the trinity. He was a humble missionary who was personally responsible for baptizing over 100,000 people, driving paganism from the shores of Ireland, and starting a movement in Ireland that helped preserve Christianity during the Middle Ages. It is important for us to revisit the life and ministry of Saint Patrick in order to see the great influence that he made upon Christianity and the world.
Patricius, better known as Patrick, was born in 389 a.d. in a Christian home in Britain during a time when England was undefended by the Roman Empire. Irish raiders captured people in Britain and brought them back to Ireland as slaves. At the age of sixteen, Irish barbarians demolished Patrick’s village and captured him. They brought him to the East coast of Ireland and sold him into slavery. During this time Patrick would spend many hours in prayer.
Six years later he received a message from the Lord saying, “Soon you will return to your homeland.” Again he heard a voice saying, “Come and see your ship is waiting for you.” He escaped from his master and fled 200 miles and boarded a ship of traders who set sail for France. After a period of time Patrick wandered back into Britain and was again with his family. It was at this time that he received his call to evangelize Ireland. He explained his call in the following way:“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The voice of the Irish…We appeal to you holy servant boy, to come home and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”
This vision had a profound effect on Patrick. It was very similar to the Apostle Paul’s Macedonian call. He had just returned to his homeland and been reunited with his family. However, his devotion to the Lord was greater than ever and he immediately made plans to return to Ireland, the land of his previous captivity.
Apostle to the Irish
Tradition has it that Patrick was appointed bishop and apostle to the Irish in 432. Patrick traveled the Irish country preaching the gospel. Paganism was the dominant religion when Patrick arrived. He faced most of his opposition from the druids who were highly educated and also practiced magic. They constantly tried to kill Patrick. He writes, “daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promise of heaven.”
Many of the myths that surround Patrick come from his spiritual clashes with the pagans who opposed him. According to a legend, King Loiguire, set an ambush to kill Patrick, but when he came near, all the king could see was a deer. Patrick challenged the power of the druid’s black magic because he believed that God’s power was greater. He believed that signs and wonders verified God’s supreme superiority over the spells of the pagans. He was a bold preacher who was not afraid of magic, demons or the devil. The story that he drove the snakes out of Ireland is symbolic of the fact that he helped transform pagan Ireland into a Christian country.
Patrick’s writings tell a great deal about the man, his ministry, and his love for Ireland. He mentions several times that his education was disrupted when he was taken captive at the age of sixteen. His writings tell us that he was very self-conscious about his lack of education. He said, “I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.” Although he didn’t receive the same education as other bishops, he did receive his call from the Lord. Perhaps it was his lack of education that made him so successful in Ireland. He was able to relate to common people in a real and relative way. He had a great love for people and the Lord, which was manifested in every area of his life and ministry.
Part of Patrick’s ministry was focused on Ireland’s tribal kings. Patrick knew that if a king converted, his people would follow. When kings would become converted they would often give their sons to Patrick to educate and train in the ways of the Lord. Thus, he persuaded many of them to enter into the ministry. He established many churches throughout Ireland. Like the Apostle Paul, Patrick would train new converts to become pastors to the local churches.
As bishop of Ireland, he was instrumental in the conversion of thousands, ordaining hundreds of clergy, and establishing many churches and monasteries. As a result of his ministry, Christianity spread like wild fire through Ireland and into other parts of the British Isles. The churches and monasteries that he was responsible for establishing became some of the most influential missionary centers in all of Europe. Missionaries went out from Ireland to spread the gospel throughout the world. St. Columba (597) established the famous monastery on the Isle of Iona. It was the Irish monasteries that helped preserve the Christian faith during the dark ages.
Lessons for Today
Patrick is an example of how an individual can overcome tremendous obstacles with the Lord’s help. Patrick went back to the very land where he had been a slave to evangelize. It is like the story of Joseph who ended up saving his brothers who had sold him into slavery. What a powerful example of how God can use our past to minister to others. Many times the Lord will give you a burden to help bring salvation and healing to people from your past.
Patrick was also a humble man. Even though he didn’t have a good education he didn’t let that stop him from letting God use him. We see that he was able to do great things for God despite his lack of worldly education. His calling came from God and that’s all that really mattered. When the Lord is in your life He will make a way for you. Patrick was used mightily by God to deliver the people of Ireland from paganism, slavery, and sin. He helped bring revival to a nation and to a continent. He stands as one of the great men of the Christian faith.

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