March 17th is the birthday of the Roman Catholic patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, who drove the snakes out of the Emerald Isle. Some people may even be carrying Shamrocks, as he taught us about the Trinity. It is a wonderful day for Irishmen all over the world.
However, before the celebration, there are a few things we probably ought to get straight about St. Patrick. First of all, he was not Irish… he was English! Now that is enough to freeze the heart of any Irishman.
He was born at Bannavem, south of Dumbarton, Scotland, in the northwestern part of England in 389 A.D.
Not only was he not Irish, but he was not born on March 17. And if that is not bad enough, he was not a saint—at least he has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. But he was a saint in the sense in which God makes every true believer a saint. Furthermore, he did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. One son of Erin said to me, “What happened to them?” Well, there weren’t any snakes!
Beyond that, he was not a Roman Catholic. Now that will come as a surprise to many. He had no connection with the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the Celtic Church resisted the Roman Catholic domination until 700 years after Patrick. In his preaching there is no mention of any single doctrine that is peculiar to the Roman Catholic Church.
Most of what you have heard is a myth. So let’s examine the real St. Patrick.
As a youth, he lived near the beach on the western coast of England. At age 16, he and two of his friends were captured by a band of Irish pirates.
They were bound and dragged aboard a ship with several hundred other English boys and girls and taken to Hibernia, where they were forced to march 200 miles inland.
There, Patrick and the others were sold into slavery. With nakedness freezing his skin and hunger gnawing at his stomach, Patrick endured the most miserable form of servitude.
While there, he remembered what his father, a pastor of the Celtic Church had said to him, “Patrick, there is a God who is able to deliver you.” His father talked about how God had loved the world and had sent His only Son to die on a Cross for our sins.
In his Confession, Patrick tells how God opened his blinded eyes and gave enlightenment to his confused mind. He committed his life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Obviously, in those several years, he made a tremendous impact upon those he met. They thought of him as that “holy youth.”
One night he had a dream in which he heard a voice that said, “Behold, your ship is ready.” Escaping through 200 miles of frigid forest, he finally burst out onto the beach. There, he saw a ship.
When he returned home, he tried to put the terrible experience out of his memory, but the people of Ireland kept coming back to his mind. He took that to be the call of God upon his life.
The Encyclopedia Britannica states that Patrick personally converted and baptized 120,000 people. He found Ireland totally pagan and left it resoundingly Christian. His life text was Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
St. Patrick, a hero far greater than the myth, and one who challenges every one of us to have an impact for Jesus Christ.
From a sermon delivered by Dr. D. James Kennedy, March 14, 1999, at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.