Happy St Patrick’s Day! Tis the season for parades, green beer, shamrocks, and articles talking about why St. Patrick’s day isn’t all about parades, green beer, and shamrocks. St. Paddy’s Day started as a religious celebration in the 17th century to commemorate the life of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.
Before all the festivities focused on shamrocks, leprechauns, and good luck wishes, let me tell you about something worth celebrating: a man willing to stand in the gap for Jesus Christ.
This “Feast Day” always took place on the anniversary of Patrick’s death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD. In the early 18th century, Irish immigrants brought the tradition over to the American colonies, and it was there that Saint Patrick started to become the symbol of Irish heritage and culture that he is today. As more Irish came across the Atlantic, the Feast Day celebration slowly grew in popularity. So much so, in fact, the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737.
If you’re wondering why we wear green on St Patrick’s Day, it not just about protection from pinching fingers. It goes back to the Irish Rebellion, when Irish soldiers wore green as they fought off the British in their trademark red. Until then, the color associated with St. Patrick and Feast Day was actually blue.
The reason shamrocks are such a part of St Patrick Day celebrations is that Patrick took a shamrock and pointed out the three leaves on it, as an illustration, to help people understand the Trinity.
The real story of St. Patrick is one of a man on a mission. Not a mission to party, wear funny green hats, or finding leprechauns, but to bring the power of the gospel to his Irish captors. When Patrick was a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his village and abducted him from his home. Patrick was captured, thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland, and sold into slavery to an Irish king, who put him to work as a shepherd. Six years later, he escaped and returned home. Throughout that experience, God captured his attention and prepared him for his mission as a missionary to Ireland the home of his very captors and those who enslaved him.
Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, but he didn’t really believe in God. Patrick wrote, “from an early age, he didn’t have any serious interest in religion and that he was practically an atheist when he was a teenager.” But while in slavery, hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold, Patrick began seeking out a relationship with his Heavenly Father. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.”
Six years after his capture, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “Your hunger is rewarded. You are going home. Look! Your ship is ready.” What a startling command! If he obeyed, Patrick would become a fugitive slave, constantly in danger of capture and punishment. But he did obey, and God protected him. The young slave walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast. There he boarded a waiting ship and traveled back to Britain and his family.
But, as you might expect, Patrick was a different person now, and the restless young man could not settle back into his old life. Finally, thirty years after God had led Patrick away from Ireland, He called him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary. Patrick understood the danger and wrote: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved — whatever may come my way.”
Patrick was determined to return to Ireland as a missionary. God granted him success and the gospel was spread throughout Ireland. Over the next 200 years, Celtic Christians, following Patrick’s example, brought the gospel to Britain, France, and central Europe. Those Irish pirates had no idea that kidnapping a teenager to be their slave would be used by God to bring many thousands to Christ.
Patrick lit a fire in pagan 5th century Ireland, ushering Christianity into the country of Ireland. Ireland was a beautiful island shrouded in terrible darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. The Irish of the fifth century were a pagan, violent, and barbaric people. Human sacrifice was commonplace. They worshipped multiple gods of the sky, earth, and water, but across the sea in Britain, a teenager was poised to bring this nation to God. It was an act of defiance that changed the course of a nation.
Since the warlords and druids ruled Ireland and worshipped multiple gods of the sky, earth, and water overcoming that false belief system became Patrick’s his first challenge: to convince the Irish that there was only one God and that his God really did love them.
Patrick came face to face with the warlord chieftains and their druid priests in a showdown on his first Easter morning in Ireland. Part of the pagan worship in the spring was that a start a fire on the hill of Tara and to prohibit all other lights throughout all of Ireland. Patrick was staying in a monastery on the hill of Slane, and in direct defiance of the high king of Tara, Patrick lit a forbidden fire.
Patrick was summoned before the king, and he explained that he “wasn’t a threat, but he was bringing a new light, the light of Christ, the Savior of the world, the Light of the world.
Patrick brought the hope of the resurrected Christ to Ireland as he trekked across the countryside bringing the Gospel to the pagan Celts. Patrick taught Ireland was that there is a cost to discipleship, but it’s a cost worth paying. Discipleship demands of you, but it’s a cost that Christ will help you to pay. Patrick’s ministry lasted 29 years. He baptized over 120,000 Irishmen and planted 300 churches.
If you wear green this St. Patrick’s Day, consider thinking more about the mission than the party. Many gave their lives to Christ because one teenager refused to let the oppression of a godless culture shape his identity.