Jesus and the Spirit 8
Text: Read both Acts 1:1-9 and Lk. 24:36-53 together.
Watch on YouTube HERE
Introduction: Many of us has had the experience of completing an intense period of education & training only to have the realization that we are just beginning to understand what we thought we had learned.
A Summary Observation: The Holy Spirit is essential for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
- The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in Acts 1:1-8.
- Jesus gave instructions (ordersâan authority in the term) Acts 1:2
- Acts 1:4-5 clarifies âwhat my Father has promisedâ in Lk. 24
- Jesus will baptize (immerse) them with the Holy Spirit.
- The outpouring of the Spirit will empower them to be witnesses. 1:8
Explore the Text: From discouragement to an abundant life with Jesus.
Trained by the Best: Volume 2âs Summary of Volume 1: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Acts 1:1-2
- Luke reminds us of what he wrote in Volume 1, the Gospel of Luke.
- During his time with them, Jesus taught & trained his disciples in the power of the HS about the reality of a new life with God where Godâs will is done on earth as in heaven.
- He taught a way of knowing truth: put my teaching into practice.
- He trained them to be sent into the world after his ascension, to continue the work he began through his ministry.
- What Jesus began with them, he will continue through them.
Intensive Graduate Training: Forty Mind-Changing Days with the Risen Jesus: After his suffering, he presented himself to them & gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days & spoke about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3
- He trained them for 3 yrs, but they are not ready to begin their work!
- The risen Jesus spends 40 days presenting himself to the apostles and giving them convincing proofs (experience and scripture), and he teaches them more about the kingdom of God. Why?
- Letâs go back to understand. Luke 24:36-53
- The crucified Jesus had left his disciples broken and discouraged.
- The risen Jesus startles and frightens his disciples
- Startled & frightened (a ghost); troubled & doubting minds; Unbelieving because of joy and amazement.
- The risen Jesus with them must now open their minds to understand scripture. Lk 24:44-47
- He must clarify who He is and His purpose for them.
- They struggle with doubt as Jesus confronts them with a reality that shatters their stable worldview: 28:17; Lk. 24:37-42; Jn. 20:24-29.
- Keller, using NT Wright, argues that the disciples were confronted with a living, embodied truth that challenged and changed their fundamental worldview beliefs and commitments about God and reality.
- The unexpected event of the resurrection revolutionized their most fundamental way of thinking about reality!
- Their doubts & resistance must be addressed & resolved.
- He convinces his disciplesâ minds and hearts that his risen presence is neither temporary nor an illusion.
- The reality of the Resurrection is something completely new.
- In Greek thought: the idea of a resurrection was a horror. The longing for escape from the physical limits. (see Acts 17)
- In Jewish thought: Some rejected the idea of resurrection; others accepted it as something expected at the end of time.
- In Jesus, the resurrection is not an idea but the beginning of the new creation breaking into the middle of the story!
- See 1 Cor. 15 as Paul talks about the resurrection witnesses and attempts to talk about this new reality.
- The risen Jesus is a part of the new creation entering life now!
- The reality of the Resurrection is something completely new.
No False Starts: Ready. Get Set. Wait! On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: âDo not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.â Acts 1:4-5
- Jesus trained them to continue his work of the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus told them, âYou are witnesses to these things.â
- They are to witness to Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture.
- They are to proclaim the crucified Jesus as the risen King.
- They are to call people to repent of their willful rebellion against God and receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus.
- See Paulâs theology of this in 1 Cor. 2.
- Jesus tells them, wait for the outpouring of the Spirit. Acts 1:4; Lk. 24:49
- He will send them what the Father has promised.
- They will be clothed with power from on high.
- Jesus blesses them and is taken up into heaven.
Stay Focused on the Mission. The Problem of Distractions: Jesus Refocuses His Curious Disciples: Then they gathered around him and asked him, âLord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?â He said to them: âIt is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.â Acts 1:6-8
- They have expectations & unanswered questions about the kingdom
- They are not to focus on politics, military power & conquest.
- They are not to focus on resolving end-times debates.
- Jesus focuses their attention on the reality of the Kingdom now!
- The Kingdom of God with us now in the power of the Holy Spirit
- see Paulâs prayer in Eph. 3:14-21.
- What did their waiting look like? Luke 24:52-53; Acts 1:12-14.
- After the ascension, they wait ten days before the outpouring of the Spirit.
- The disciples worshiped him. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy, & continually blessed God in the temple courts. 24
- Their hearts are full of worship, praise, & blessing expressed daily at the temple, a dangerous place for Jesus.
- At times they gathered in private to pray with a larger group of followers of Jesus.Acts 1:12-14.
- A Community of Disciples Maturing.
- Together, their hearts & minds are centered on the crucified & risen Jesusâa community of faithful followers.
- The Kingdom of God with us now in the power of the Holy Spirit
- To be an effective witness to Jesus and the kingdom of God, I must:
- Be convinced in my thinking at the deepest level that he died to reconcile us to the Father, that he was raised from the dead, and that he now reigns and will return in glory.
- Be empowered by the Holy Spirit to experience this new, abundant life with Jesus.
- Be alive with Christ in the world through worship, praise, prayer, and love.
- Fanner bees and praying Christians. Glenn Clarkâs parable of the âFanner Bees,â in The Lordâs Prayer as quoted by Frank Laubach in Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World, p. 23.
Poem by C. S. Lewis
Among the hills a meteorite
Lies huge; and moss has overgrown,
And wind and rain with touches light
Made soft, the contours of the stone.
Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make her translunary guest
The native of an English shire.
Nor is it strange these wanderers
Find in her lap their fitting place,
For every particle thatâs hers
Came at the first from outer space.
All that is Earth has once been sky;
Down from the sun of old she came,
Or from some star that travelled by
Too close to his entangling flame.
Hence, if belated drops yet fall
From heaven, on these her plastic power
Still works as once it worked on all
The glad rush of the golden shower.
Reprinted by permission of Time and Tide
A Transcription of a Sermon by Timothy Keller.
Note: I found this sermon late in my preparation, but as is often the case, I found Timothy Kellerâs thoughts in challenging and encouraging. I hope you will find this helpful in your thinking. When Keller preaches, he is also teaching his audience to think deeply about the truth of scripture as it bears witness to Jesus.
MANY CONVINCING PROOFS
The Necessity of BeliefâOctober 12, 2003
The reading for today is taken from the book of Acts 1:1â11.
Itâs very typical today to hear people say, âChristianity once was plausible to the great breadth of people in society, but itâs not the case now. Weâve changed as a society. For example, we are much more skeptical about claims of miracles. Even more than that, weâre much more skeptical about claims that one religion has the truth. Weâve changed, and there was a time in which Christianity was more plausible to people in the world, but thatâs not the case today.â
The problem with that statement is itâs a simple fact that in the Greco-Roman world where Christianity was really born the claims of Christianity were found by that older society every bit as impossible, every bit as implausible, every bit as inconceivable, if not more, than people find them now.
The idea that somehow, âYears ago people believed things. It fit in more with their view, but today we âŠâ is just not true. The old world was at least as hostile to Christianity as we are. It found Christianity at least as implausible as we do. If thatâs the case, why then did people believe? Why did so many people believe and Christianity begin to get spread? Fortunately, we have a case study of how they did it, and the case studyâs name is Theophilus.
At the beginning of the book of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts, this guy is mentioned because Luke wrote a two-volume work. The gospel of Luke, which we looked at last year, was the life of Jesus, and the Acts of the Apostles was, of course, the account of the early church. Both these works were addressed to this guy Theophilus. âIn my former book, Theophilus, I [thatâs Luke] wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach âŠâ
Whoâs Theophilus? We know a few things. He might have been wealthy. He might have been a person of nobility, because in Luke 1 heâs called, ââŠ most excellent Theophilus âŠâ which is a title. One thing we almost certainly know is he was a cultured man. He was intellectually sophisticated because, unlike the other books of the New Testament and the other Gospels, Luke begins both Luke and Acts âŠ His preamble is almost identical to the preamble of other works of literature in history at that time.
He completely follows the conventions of the time, which means Theophilus almost certainly was a learned man. He was someone who read history and who read literature. Luke is actually making a case to him about why Christianity is true, because in Luke 1, the first four verses, which you almost have to read in order to get started with Acts because itâs really a preamble to the whole two books, he says, âTheophilus, I want you to be convinced. I want you to be absolutely sure in your mind that these things are true.â
Most of the people in this room fall into one of two categories, not everybody. Because we live in a place like New York, we live in a culture in which, yes, absolutely, the views of our culture are antithetical to the claims of Christianity. Therefore, some of us believe, but weâre always struggling to try to understand why we believe it and how we know itâs true because our friends want to know. Very often we have trouble articulating to our friends who are very often intellectually sophisticated and cultured people.
There are some people like that in this room, and there are some people who actually donât believe at all and are at least not sure itâs true at all. Weâre not totally sure ourselves and commentators arenât sure whether Theophilus is a person who hasnât believed yet or whether heâs a person who has believed but heâs still trying to figure out how to articulate it and how to understand it.
Fine. We donât know, but the full range of people is in here. We all need to know this. How does a cultured, intellectually sophisticated person living in a culture thatâs intellectually and culturally completely hostile to the basic claims of Christianity âŠ? Whatever occurs to those kinds of people to make them believe Christianity?
The basic answer in a nutshell is it was the resurrection. Thatâs how it happened. Because of the resurrection we know three things which we see in this text. Because of the resurrection we know the truth is out there, the truth is up there, and the truth is in there. Keep those prepositions in mind as we move on through.
- The truth is out there
What do I mean by that? If you read Luke 24 and Acts 1, I think theyâre supposed to be read together. Sometimes they correct misconceptions you can have if you only read one of them. Luke 24 and Acts 1 are both accounts of Jesusâ post-resurrection appearances, how after he was raised from the dead he appeared to people.
The one thing you know if you put them back to back and you read them through as I was doing, one thing that strikes you almost immediately is how redundant Jesus is and how many appearances there are. For example, in Luke 24, first Jesus appears to the women disciples. This is a whole other sermon if it went off in this direction. Thatâs not good enough for the men. They need to see him themselves, which raises a lot of issues which weâll just ignore at this point.
Jesus begins to appear to them too. He appears to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He appears to his apostles in the upper room. One of the things you begin to recognize is once is not enough. Jesus appears, and nobody ever says, âAt last! Weâve been waiting.â Nobody ever says, âOh, you predicted over and over again you were going to rise from the dead, and weâre just so excited. Weâre so happy to see you.â They never believe it, over and over.
Even when he appears in the upper room and he says, âPeace be unto you,â and all that, what do they do? Theyâre scared, so he says, âGive me a fish.â âA fish?â âYes, give me a fish.â He eats the fish. He says, âNow can a ghost do that? Iâm really here.â Over and over. Here, of course, in chapter 1 of Acts we see for 40 days Jesus appeared to them over and over and over.
Why? Because, as we said in the introduction, there was absolutely nothing about these men and womenâs worldviews, there was nothing about what they had been taught, nothing about what they believed, there was absolutely nothing that prepared them to see the physically, bodily resurrected Jesus Christ. They couldnât believe it. They didnât believe it. They didnât believe it when they were told about it before he died, and they donât believe it when they see him unless itâs over and over and over again.
What do we see here? What Luke is telling us is the early Christians believed because they encountered Jesus Christ at a worldview level, that he shattered their existing worldview. Thatâs the reason why it had to happen over and over and over again. They encountered him at the worldview level. What in the world do I mean by that? Thank you for asking. That gives me a reason to preach the rest of the sermon.
Whatâs a worldview? When we came in a Western society to the place where we started to say things like, âWe canât believe in miracles anymore. Yes, we used to, but we donât believe in miracles anymore,â thatâs a worldview change. When we started to say, âWell, we canât believe any one religion is the true religion. As a society, we just donât like that. We canât believe that anymore,â thatâs a worldview change.
Whatâs a worldview? A worldview is a mental map of answers to the big questions, like, âWhat is real? Is there a God? How do we decide what is right and wrong? How do we decide good and evil? How do we know things?â Those are the big questions. Everybody, especially every culture or every society, has a kind of mental map.
This mental map is something thatâs extremely stable and very, very difficult to change. In fact, itâs a stabilizing feature. In Thomas Kuhnâs famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he talks about the fact that in the Middle Ages, in the Western world, people believed the earth was the fixed point and the sun, the moon, the stars, and all other bodies revolved around the earth.
Kuhn points out the fact that for years and years and years they were doing astronomy, they were trying to study the motions up there, and there was all kinds of information, data they gathered, that didnât fit the worldview, didnât fit their basic construction, their basic mental map of reality.
For years they just screened it out because a worldview is a stabilizing feature, and things you see that donât fit your worldview, sometimes you donât even know youâve seen them. You just screen them right out. You just wonât admit them, you just discard them, you just shrug them off, or you just laugh at them.
It is very hard to change a worldview. Thatâs what happened in the first century. Hereâs why: the resurrection. Think. You had two basic worldviews among the people there in this story, in this narrative, in this account. Who were the early believers? There were two basic worldviews they had their feet in, to one degree or another.
First of all, you have the Greco-Roman worldview. The Greco-Roman worldview didnât believe material reality was the good thing. They thought the spirit was the good thing. Therefore, to them the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection was absolutely impossible and absurd. When you died, if your spirit left its body behind, that was great.
That was good riddance. Why in the world âŠ? The idea of a bodily resurrection being a good thing was not only impossible. It was absurd. It was a contradiction. So the Greco-Roman worldview completely found the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection to be impossible, silly, ludicrous.
The Jewish worldview was a bit different, of course. Because the Jewish worldview in a very fundamental way was quite different; it believed the material world was good. It was created by God. They also believed somehow in the future God was going to redeem the world, that God was going to renovate it, that he was going to heal it of its brokenness and of its disease and decay.
Somehow God was going to put it straight. Thatâs the reason why Jews, as time went on, especially by the time of Jesus, quite a few Jews believed when God renewed the world there would be a bodily, general resurrection, that we would get our new bodies along with the rest of the world.
There was some belief in that, but one thing no one conceived of was the idea that an individual could be physically raised from the dead in the middle of history, not at the end of history with everybody else, but in the middle of history all by himself. It would never have occurred to anybody in that worldview. The reason itâs very important to understand what Iâm telling you is because itâs extremely common âŠ In fact, the average New Yorker has a defense mechanism that is part of their worldview.
It goes like, âYes, yes, I know the traditional, Christian doctrine of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus, but of course, we donât believe that. That couldnât have happened. What must have happened is some of the followers just so wanted to believe he was raised from the dead they felt he was, or maybe some of the followers were so unscrupulous that they said, âWhy donât we just tell everybody he has been raised from the dead to keep our movement going?â Maybe it was a combination of both.â
Thatâs the way the average person today defends themselves from the claim Jesus was raised from the dead. A book I read this summer, which is the biggest, best book Iâve ever read on the resurrection and that just made my year is a book by N.T. Wright called The Resurrection of the Son of God. By the way, if you want to read 800 or 900 pages of philosophy, history, and religion, be my guest. It is the best thing.
In that book, which is an amazing book, he points out something thatâs pretty important for those of you who take the view I just gave. He points out for 50 years before Jesus and after Jesus there was a whole slew of Jewish, messianic movements. There was a whole series of movements in which a figure was put forward as the Messiah who was going to liberate us. There were quite a few of them.
We know about them in history. We also know most of them were put to death by the authorities because they were politically dangerous. One thing thatâs pretty intriguing is not a single one of them ever even imagined, even hinted, even breathed the possibility that their messiah, now having died, was raised from the dead. Nobody. Why not? N.T. Wright points out nobody would do that. Hereâs the reason.
He says if you here in the twenty-first century think, âOh, itâs possible,â some people would say, âWell, Iâll just make believe heâs raised from the dead. People will follow the movement,â or else some people would say, âOh, I just wish he was raised from the dead so much,â they felt he was, youâre forgetting the worldview thing. You donât really understand first-century history.
Whether you were Greek or whether you were Jewish, that is impossible, so no matter how much youâre longing, no matter how much stress youâre experiencing as a bereaved disciple of Jesus Christ, no matter how much duress youâre under, you wouldnât imagine or hope for something you thought was ludicrous and absurd and impossible.
No matter how unscrupulous you are, no matter how much you would love to keep your movement going, you wouldnât possibly spread the word that he was physically raised from the dead when you knew absolutely nobody in the world would believe it. Not only would no Greeks believe.
The average Jew would say, âOh yeah? Raised from the dead, huh? I notice disease continuing. I notice death continuing. I notice the Romans are still in power. The resurrection âŠ Jump in a lake!â Nobody would believe it. Thatâs the reason why you must realize the worldviews kept anybody from ever thinking about this.
This is really intriguing to me. Immediately after the death of Jesus, unanimously, across the board, all the Christians suddenly began to say, âOur Leader has been raised from the dead, not resuscitated, but has a physical body, a kind of transphysical body, a body really no worldview had ever even come up with, that can go through walls and locked doors and yet eat a fish, that can eat with the disciples and yet go up into heaven in a cloud.â
In other words, this is unprecedented. Yet it happened, and it happened immediately. There is not the slightest hint in any of the earliest writings âŠ The earliest writings we have of Christianity are like 1 Thessalonians by Paul 15 years afterwards and his other letters 20 years afterwards. There is no indication anywhere of any debate. There is no spectrum of belief.
Worldviews donât change like that, friends. You know there has been a big change in the worldviews of Americans, say from 100 years ago to today, but the worldview didnât change overnight. My children believe some things that are quite a bit different than my grandparents. The worldviews have changed, but it didnât happen overnight. When worldviews change, thereâs debate. There are parties. There is a spectrum of belief, and gradually, bit by bit more and more people move into it.
Hereâs what we have. The belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was absolutely unprecedented anywhere. It did not grow out of any particular worldview. It was unanimous. It was sudden. It happened overnight virtually. Hundreds and hundreds of people âŠ Paul says 500 people saw him at one time in 1 Corinthians 15, said they saw Jesus Christ bodily raised from the dead. Their lives were changed, and they were willing to die for it.
How do you account for that? The answer is a worldview-shattering thing must have happened. The only possible way âŠ It wasnât debated. It wasnât the normal way worldviews change, bit by bit by bit, a little bit of data, a little bit of data. Finally, we say, âLetâs try this out.â No, all these people suddenly had their worldviews changed, shattered. There was nothing in their background that would lead them to believe this.
Why do they believe this? Hereâs what they said: âWe saw him.â There was no debate. Nobody wrote a book saying, âLetâs think about it like this.â The belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a kind of an extension of some worldview that was already taking place. It didnât fit any of the worldviews at all. How do you account for that? They said, âThereâs only one way to account for it. We saw him.â
Thatâs the reason why you see over and over again âŠ He appears again and again, and they never say, âWow! Jesus, we were waiting for you.â Never, because they were having a worldview encounter. He was meeting them at their worldview level and shattering their very mental map of reality. Letâs move to today. Yes, itâs true our worldview today is every bit as antithetical to the claim of the resurrection, but not for the same reason.
What is our worldview? We talked about this a few weeks ago. Robert Bellah, the sociologist who wrote Habits of the Heart, puts it like we are marked by the worldview of expressive individualism. That means almost every other culture in the history of the world has always believed truth is out there.
âThe truth is out there.â What does that mean? Almost every other culture has always said the job of the heart is to discover the truth which is either from God or from the community or from natural law. Every culture is different, but every culture basically said, âTruth is out there, and itâs my job to conform to it.â
Todayâs contemporary culture is weâre expressive individuals, to which we say, âEveryone has to determine what is true for himself or herself. Everyone has to discover truth in their own consciousness. The truth is not out there. The truth is in here. I have to decide what is right or wrong for me, and I have to decide what is true or false for me. No one can tell me what is true for me.â
What if the resurrection is true? What if Jesus actually physically rose from the dead saying, âI am the Savior of the worldâ? Then it doesnât matter what you feel inside. It doesnât matter what your self-consciousness tells you. This shatters that worldview. This utterly shatters the contemporary worldview just like it shattered the ancient worldviews.
You say, âI donât believe in the resurrection.â Fine, but you should have, therefore, a historically possible alternative explanation for the birth of the Christian church. This is something that happened in history, overnight worldview total change, unanimous, absolutely unprecedented, no spectrum of opinion, hundreds of cogent, rational people claiming, âWe saw him,â people dying for it. You explain it. Do you have a better one?
N.T. Wright puts it rather devastatingly something like, âIt cannot be stressed too strongly that first-century Jews were not expecting people to rise from the dead as isolated individuals. Resurrection for them was something that would happen to all only on the great future occasion when God brought history to an end and a whole new world order.
It will not do, therefore, to say, Jesusâ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesusâ resurrection as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. This has initial, apparent psychological plausibility to modern people who donât know first-century history, but itâs not serious first-century history.
We know a lot of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better.
Resurrection was not a private event in that Jewish worldview. Jewish revolutionaries whose leaders had been executed by the authorities had only two options. You either give up the revolution, or you find another leader. Claiming the original leader was alive again was absolutely no option unless, of course, he was alive again.â
Why do I press this on you? I press it on you for this reason. When the average person today in Western culture, not just in New York, finds Christianity interesting and they start looking at Christianity and they say, âIâd like to try it. I need some help,â they go to church, they read the Bible, they start to try Christianity out, but they donât let Christianity challenge them at the worldview level.
In fact, many people even sort of embrace Christianity, sort of come on into Christianity and you donât let it actually shatter your worldview. You donât let Jesus actually come in and encounter you at the worldview level and change you. What do I mean? Our worldview says, âThis is true if it works for me. It may not be true for you, but if it works for me, itâs true.â
The gospel is, âIt wonât work for you if itâs not true.â In fact, the gospel is, âIt wonât work for you if you believe it because it works for you and not because itâs true.â Do you hear that? It will never work for you if you believe it because it works for you and not because itâs true. Do you remember? We talked about this last week.
Itâs historic fact that when the great plagues swept through the cities of the Greco-Roman world in the first and second centuries AD, Christians stayed in the cities and took care of the sick people even though there was great fear of contagion and everyone else was running for the hills. All the other healthy people were running. Why did Christians do that? Iâm going to read you something here in a second. The answer is they werenât afraid of death.
Why werenât they afraid of death? Because, first of all, their Savior died to save them. Secondly, because he rose again, theyâre not afraid of the future. Theyâre not afraid of what happens. Think about this. Why was it those Christians were capable of that kind of boldness, that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice, that kind of nobility, that kind of greatness? Do you know why they were capable of it? Not because Christianity was working for them. Iâm sorry. At that point Christianity wasnât working for them. Christianity was killing them.
It was because of their belief they were willing to go to the death. It wasnât working for them, but it was transforming them. You are naĂŻve if you think adopting something because itâs emotionally satisfying and, âkind of works for me right now,â is going to get you to the end of your life. Youâre naĂŻve if you think anything thatâs just emotionally satisfying and, âkind of fits for me now,â is going to get you to the end of your life and help you face your own death or face the death of the persons you love the most. Itâs just not going to happen.
Luke does not say to Theophilus, âTheophilus, I want you to know this has worked for me, and I think it might work for you.â No. In fact, you go into the book of Acts, and thereâs this great place in Acts 26, a terrific place where Paul is in prison, and it doesnât look good for Paul. Of course, eventually he is executed, but heâs in prison.
Heâs a curiosity, and the royals come to see him. King Agrippa and his wife, there are these two royal couples, and they come in. They ask Paul to come out to kind of preach to them and, âTell us your spiel. We hear youâre this incredible, spiritual salesman. We want to hear about it.â There they are, all the royals and Paul in chains, but youâd never know it. Heâs so bold. Heâs so poised. Heâs so happy.
He goes after them, and he says, âThe resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, you must believe in it.â At one point, King Agrippa says, âHold on. Are you trying to convert us? Youâre trying to convert me in one sitting, make me a Christian.â What does Paul say? He says, âWell, King, it worked for me.â It didnât work for him. Heâs in chains. He couldnât have possibly said, âIt worked for me. Youâre on the throne. Iâm in chains. It worked for me. Itâll work for you.â
King Agrippa says, âOh great. Iâll have to become a Christian, then Iâll be off my throne in chains. Thatâll make a great deal of sense.â Hereâs what he said: âI am convinced, Oh King, these things have not escaped your notice because they did not happen in a corner.â Christianity is a public thing. Christianity is a historic thing.
He says, âYou know these things happened. You know about the witnesses. You know the tomb was empty. You know those things. Iâm pressing you because itâs not because this will work for you. No, the reason I have this boldness is because it was true. It works for me because itâs true. It works for me because I didnât believe it because it worked for me, because itâs true.â
If you simply say, âLetâs come on into Christianity and see if it works,â it wonât work all the time. Sometimes Christianity will ask you to do something thatâs terribly hard. What are you going to do? Get rid of it? Youâre going to spend all of your life putting on and taking off things you think are going to help. Nothing will get you to the end unless this is true. Is it true?
You say, âWe canât believe in the resurrection anymore.â They couldnât believe in it either. That was no reason. They let it challenge them. Why donât you let it challenge you? Just try to come up with a historically possible alterative explanation for the birth of Christianity, one that fits the evidence. Go ahead.
N.T. Wright says go ahead. Try. He says you canât. If someone says, âIt couldnât have been a resurrection because resurrections canât happen,â he says, âOkay, but now youâre doing philosophy. Iâm doing history.â What youâre really doing is youâre holding onto your faith, and your faith is, âI donât want the truth to be out there. I want it to be in here. I donât want to lose control of my life.â Fine. Admit you are in a leap of faith against all the evidence for how Christianity started. The truth is out there, whether you like it or not.
- The truth is up there
What do I mean by that? The second thing we learn here is itâs not just the fact of the resurrection that changed those early Christiansâ worldviews, but it was the content of the doctrine of the resurrection. What is the doctrine of the resurrection? There are two things. First of all, notice it says, âIn my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach âŠâ
There is a big difference. Do you know what the resurrection means? It means at least, if youâre a Buddhist, youâre only saved, not by what he did, but by what he taught. In other words, if you want enlightenment, you follow the teaching of Buddha. Muhammad did not save us by what he did but by what he taught. You follow the teaching. Thatâs how youâre saved.
Itâs not that Buddha and Muhammad didnât do a lot of wonderful things, but it doesnât help us directly. They just validate the teaching, and itâs through the teaching weâre saved. Itâs not the teaching of Christ that saves us. Itâs Christ who saves us. Itâs what Jesus did. âIâve told you everything Jesus did.â He died in our place. He lived and died in our stead. Now he rose and he ascends.
This is the gospel. The gospel is not you give God a record, then he saves you. In Jesus Christ he has come, he has died the death we shouldâve died, now he has been raised, he has ascended to the Father, and weâre accepted in him. God doesnât accept us through our record and our worthiness. Jesusâ own record and Jesusâ worthiness and Jesusâ righteousness is before the Father, and weâre a beauty in him.
This is the reason why Lucian of Samosata, who hated Christians, basically explains how people were utterly changed by the doctrine of the resurrection. Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist. He wrote a bunch of plays. He was always making fun of Christians. He lived during the early decades of Christianity.
Hereâs what he says, talking about Christians: âThese deluded creatures, you see, have persuaded themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, which explains the contempt of death and willing self-sacrifice so common among them. It was impressed on them too by their lawgiver that from the moment they are converted, deny the gods of Greece, worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws, they are all brothers.
They take his instructions completely on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods and hold them in common ownership. So any adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who knows the world, has only to get among these simple souls and his fortune is quickly made âŠâ
Did you hear what he said? First, because of the resurrection theyâre not afraid of death. You say, âWell, now didnât some of the Greeks and Romans believe in an afterlife?â Yeah, some did; some didnât, but think. If you donât believe in an afterlife, then death is terrifying because itâs the end of love, the one thing that makes life meaningful.
If thereâs nothing after death, then everyone you love is going to become dead, fertilizer, and then you will. So if thereâs no afterlife, youâre terrified, but if there is an afterlife, in all other religions youâre still kind of afraid because youâre never sure youâve been good enough. If youâre not saved by Jesusâ teaching but by what he did and the resurrection proves what he did satisfies all the requirements, then you live life with greatness.
Not only do you live life psychologically with greatness, did you notice what Lucian said? They also are incredibly generous with one another. They just give to each other. They just give of their money to each other. Do you know why? Because the resurrection doesnât only change us psychologically. It changes us socially.
The resurrection is God is someday going to come back, and heâs going to renew the world. The resurrection of Jesus means God didnât just save the spirit, but heâs going to save the body. Heâs not just redeeming us spiritually; heâs going to redeem the material world. That means God is against disease, heâs against death, heâs against poverty, heâs against injustice, heâs against mental illness, and heâs against violence.
The people who know the resurrection start working against them now, because we have all this incredible hope because we know eventually theyâre going to go away, and we know God is going to do it. The resurrection changes you psychologically. It changes you socially. Why? Because of the resurrection, Jesus Christ is now ascended to the Father. The truth is not just out there; itâs up there.
- The truth is in there
ââŠ you will receive power âŠâ What does that mean? Augustine sums up the end of this passage very nicely when he says, âOh Lord, you ascended before our eyes, and we turned back grieving only to find you in our hearts.â Hereâs what we mean by that. What Jesus is actually saying is, âIâm going to ascend, but you still need the Holy Spirit. See me ascend, and youâll get power.â
Elisha saw Elijah ascend, and down came a double portion of his spirit. Now these folks see Jesus ascend, and down comes a double portion of the Spirit. Itâs not just a kind of naked zap. If you want to see how the Spirit is connected to the resurrected and ascended Christ in the book of Acts, thereâs no better place than Stephen, the great church leader who was about to be executed in Acts 7. Itâs a fascinating place where heâs about to be stoned to death for preaching Christ.
Suddenly, it says, full of the Holy Spirit âŠ very significant âŠ he looks to heaven, and he says, ââŠ I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.â When the people heard that, they just stopped their ears, they rushed forward, and they began stoning him. As he was dying, he said, âFather, forgive them.â
Do you know why he had the power? The text says his face was like the face of an angel. Do you know why he had the power to die with calmness, to die with joy, to actually worship and rejoice in the middle of being executed? Hereâs why. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God took something he knew intellectually and made it existentially real.
At the very moment an earthly court was condemning him, he gets an existential grasp of how in the heavenly court he is loved and commended. Itâs not that he didnât already know Jesus Christ was his ascended Representative, that Jesus was standing before the Father on his behalf. Itâs not that he didnât know that, but the Holy Spirit made it existentially real to him.
The power is not just a naked, abstract thing. Itâs connected to the truth. If and only if you know the truth is out there and up there will it be in here. The power will be in here only if you know itâs true, not, âBecause it works for me.â Stephen wouldâve said, âI donât think this is working for me,â and you never wouldâve heard of him. He wouldnât have inspired millions and millions of people.
He died smiling because he knew it was true, and he knew, âIf I have the smile of God, all other frowns are inconsequential. If I have the commendation of God, all other condemnations are inconsequential.â Donât you want to have that kind of boldness? Donât you want to have that kind of power? Believe the resurrection happened. Ask the Holy Spirit to make it real to your heart.
Donât you see what the men and women, the early Christians, are basically saying to you through the Scriptures? Theyâre saying, âWe didnât believe it either. We didnât think it was possible either, but we saw him. So donât trivialize what we are telling you. This is not true because it works. It works because itâs true.â Let the resurrection challenge you at the deepest level of your life, and itâll make you people who maybe a thousand years from now people will know about you too. Let us pray.
Father, we ask that you would help us to let the resurrection not just comfort us, not just inspire us, but change us from bottom to top. We ask that you would help us to do that because we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Spirit, which you promised to give us to help us understand the meaning of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Itâs in his name we pray, amen.