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Who Was St. Patrick?

This week, Pastor John hands over the TAGD keyboard to Taylor Mendoza, Northpoint’s Junior High Ministry Intern.

Who Was St. Patrick?

For those who don’t know me, I was born on March 17, 1994—St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, my birthday has been full of both birthday wishes and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. So over the last 21 years, Patrick has become for me—as he has for so many worldwide—more of a legend than a historical figure. The sheer volume of legends associated with Patrick—there are scores, even hundreds of them—is evidence of just how beloved he has been through the centuries.

This year I decided I would do a little research to find out who St. Patrick really was—beyond just an excuse to wear green clothing, drink, and eat corn beef and cabbage. Wearing my own green t-shirt (I couldn’t help it!), sipping my shamrock shake from McDonalds, and listening to my iTunes essentials (The Irish Experience), I read a biography on St. Patrick by Jonathan Rodgers, a noteworthy church historian, to find out the truth.

The Truth

Truth is, Patrick did not run the snakes out of Ireland. There is no record of Patrick using the shamrock to teach the Irish about the Trinity. Neither did he have any dealings with leprechauns. Everything we can truthfully know about Patrick comes from two documents he wrote, that together, are fewer than 20 pages in length.

Patrick was a Roman Briton, in what is now modern-day England, born toward the end of the Roman Empire—within a decade or two of AD 400. The son of a landowner who was a pastor and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, Patrick heard the gospel many times, but never allowed it to transform him. When he was about 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland.

In the sheep pastures of his Irish owner, Patrick began for the first time to take ownership of the Christian faith in which he was raised. After six years of slavery he escaped, eventually making it back to Britain. He received theological training and soon was convinced that God was calling him back to Ireland to take the gospel to its people. Against the wishes of his family, Patrick became “the first Christian missionary to take the gospel to barbarians beyond the borders of the Roman Empire.”

A Gospel-Centered Missionary

Considered a “missionary bishop,” Patrick demonstrated that Christianity was bigger than the Roman Empire. Preaching the gospel outside of the Roman Empire was not easy, Rodgers writes, “Ireland was a violent place, where brother fought brother … as a way of life. Patrick brought to the Irish a whole new way of living, of seeing the world and their fellow men.”

In light of this barbaric land, Patrick preached no shallow gospel, in one of his documents he wrote, “He (Christ) was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. … For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him.”

A Mirror of God’s Love

Above all, Patrick demonstrated a humble heart rooted in the love of God. Both documents we have from him start with this humbling sentence: “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful.” With a right view of himself, he had an even bigger view of his role in the gospel: “I dwell in the midst of barbarians, a stranger and an exile for the love of God.” This heart rooted in the love of God gave Patrick the boldness to defend his ministry to those who didn’t share his same vision: “Before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty. No reason but the gospel. Jesus told his disciples, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

Patrick was a man after God’s own heart, a man who wanted to see sinners saved by grace, and a man who suffered immense hardship in the name of Christ. Through Patrick’s witness, forgiveness was possible for the Irish people, and because of that, the hardship he endured did not make him a bitter man. Patrick believed with all his heart that “the meek just might inherit the earth after all.”

So, who was St. Patrick? A man of truth, a gospel-centered missionary, and a mirror of God’s love. And what should we learn from him? Be people of truth rooted in God’s Word, become missionary-minded and gospel-centered people, and finally mirror the love of Christ in everything we do.

For the Kingdom,