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.
Explore the Text: From discouragement to an abundant life with Jesus.
Trained by the Best: Volume 2’s 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
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
No False Starts: Ready. Get Set. Wait! On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do 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.” Acts 1:4-5
Stay Focused on the Mission. The Problem of Distractions: Jesus Refocuses His Curious Disciples: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It 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.” Acts 1:6-8
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 that’s 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 Keller’s 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 Belief—October 12, 2003
The reading for today is taken from the book of Acts 1:1–11.
It’s very typical today to hear people say, “Christianity once was plausible to the great breadth of people in society, but it’s not the case now. We’ve changed as a society. For example, we are much more skeptical about claims of miracles. Even more than that, we’re much more skeptical about claims that one religion has the truth. We’ve changed, and there was a time in which Christianity was more plausible to people in the world, but that’s not the case today.”
The problem with that statement is it’s 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, “Years ago people believed things. It fit in more with their view, but today we …” 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 that’s 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 study’s 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. “In my former book, Theophilus, I [that’s Luke] wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach …”
Who’s Theophilus? We know a few things. He might have been wealthy. He might have been a person of nobility, because in Luke 1 he’s called, “… most excellent Theophilus …” 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 … 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 it’s really a preamble to the whole two books, he says, “Theophilus, I want you to be convinced. I want you to be absolutely sure in your mind that these things are true.”
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 we’re always struggling to try to understand why we believe it and how we know it’s 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 don’t believe at all and are at least not sure it’s true at all. We’re not totally sure ourselves and commentators aren’t sure whether Theophilus is a person who hasn’t believed yet or whether he’s a person who has believed but he’s still trying to figure out how to articulate it and how to understand it.
Fine. We don’t 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 that’s intellectually and culturally completely hostile to the basic claims of Christianity …? Whatever occurs to those kinds of people to make them believe Christianity?
The basic answer in a nutshell is it was the resurrection. That’s 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.
What do I mean by that? If you read Luke 24 and Acts 1, I think they’re 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 Jesus’ 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. That’s not good enough for the men. They need to see him themselves, which raises a lot of issues which we’ll 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, “At last! We’ve been waiting.” Nobody ever says, “Oh, you predicted over and over again you were going to rise from the dead, and we’re just so excited. We’re so happy to see you.” They never believe it, over and over.
Even when he appears in the upper room and he says, “Peace be unto you,” and all that, what do they do? They’re scared, so he says, “Give me a fish.” “A fish?” “Yes, give me a fish.” He eats the fish. He says, “Now can a ghost do that? I’m really here.” 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 women’s 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 couldn’t believe it. They didn’t believe it. They didn’t believe it when they were told about it before he died, and they don’t believe it when they see him unless it’s 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. That’s 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.
What’s a worldview? When we came in a Western society to the place where we started to say things like, “We can’t believe in miracles anymore. Yes, we used to, but we don’t believe in miracles anymore,” that’s a worldview change. When we started to say, “Well, we can’t believe any one religion is the true religion. As a society, we just don’t like that. We can’t believe that anymore,” that’s a worldview change.
What’s a worldview? A worldview is a mental map of answers to the big questions, like, “What 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?” Those are the big questions. Everybody, especially every culture or every society, has a kind of mental map.
This mental map is something that’s extremely stable and very, very difficult to change. In fact, it’s a stabilizing feature. In Thomas Kuhn’s 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 didn’t fit the worldview, didn’t 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 don’t fit your worldview, sometimes you don’t even know you’ve seen them. You just screen them right out. You just won’t 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. That’s what happened in the first century. Here’s 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 didn’t 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 …? 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. That’s 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 it’s very important to understand what I’m telling you is because it’s extremely common … In fact, the average New Yorker has a defense mechanism that is part of their worldview.
It goes like, “Yes, yes, I know the traditional, Christian doctrine of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus, but of course, we don’t believe that. That couldn’t 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, ‘Why don’t we just tell everybody he has been raised from the dead to keep our movement going?’ Maybe it was a combination of both.”
That’s 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 I’ve 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 that’s 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 that’s 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. Here’s the reason.
He says if you here in the twenty-first century think, “Oh, it’s possible,” some people would say, “Well, I’ll just make believe he’s raised from the dead. People will follow the movement,” or else some people would say, “Oh, I just wish he was raised from the dead so much,” they felt he was, you’re forgetting the worldview thing. You don’t really understand first-century history.
Whether you were Greek or whether you were Jewish, that is impossible, so no matter how much you’re longing, no matter how much stress you’re experiencing as a bereaved disciple of Jesus Christ, no matter how much duress you’re under, you wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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, “Oh yeah? Raised from the dead, huh? I notice disease continuing. I notice death continuing. I notice the Romans are still in power. The resurrection … Jump in a lake!” Nobody would believe it. That’s 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, “Our 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.”
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 … 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 don’t 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 didn’t change overnight. My children believe some things that are quite a bit different than my grandparents. The worldviews have changed, but it didn’t happen overnight. When worldviews change, there’s debate. There are parties. There is a spectrum of belief, and gradually, bit by bit more and more people move into it.
Here’s 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 … 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 … It wasn’t debated. It wasn’t the normal way worldviews change, bit by bit by bit, a little bit of data, a little bit of data. Finally, we say, “Let’s try this out.” 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? Here’s what they said: “We saw him.” There was no debate. Nobody wrote a book saying, “Let’s think about it like this.” The belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a kind of an extension of some worldview that was already taking place. It didn’t fit any of the worldviews at all. How do you account for that? They said, “There’s only one way to account for it. We saw him.”
That’s the reason why you see over and over again … He appears again and again, and they never say, “Wow! Jesus, we were waiting for you.” Never, because they were having a worldview encounter. He was meeting them at their worldview level and shattering their very mental map of reality. Let’s move to today. Yes, it’s 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.
“The truth is out there.” 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, “Truth is out there, and it’s my job to conform to it.”
Today’s contemporary culture is we’re expressive individuals, to which we say, “Everyone 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.”
What if the resurrection is true? What if Jesus actually physically rose from the dead saying, “I am the Savior of the world”? Then it doesn’t matter what you feel inside. It doesn’t 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, “I don’t believe in the resurrection.” 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, “We saw him,” people dying for it. You explain it. Do you have a better one?
N.T. Wright puts it rather devastatingly something like, “It 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, Jesus’ 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 Jesus’ resurrection as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. This has initial, apparent psychological plausibility to modern people who don’t know first-century history, but it’s 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.”
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, “I’d like to try it. I need some help,” they go to church, they read the Bible, they start to try Christianity out, but they don’t 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 don’t let it actually shatter your worldview. You don’t let Jesus actually come in and encounter you at the worldview level and change you. What do I mean? Our worldview says, “This is true if it works for me. It may not be true for you, but if it works for me, it’s true.”
The gospel is, “It won’t work for you if it’s not true.” In fact, the gospel is, “It won’t work for you if you believe it because it works for you and not because it’s true.” Do you hear that? It will never work for you if you believe it because it works for you and not because it’s true. Do you remember? We talked about this last week.
It’s 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? I’m going to read you something here in a second. The answer is they weren’t afraid of death.
Why weren’t they afraid of death? Because, first of all, their Savior died to save them. Secondly, because he rose again, they’re not afraid of the future. They’re 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. I’m sorry. At that point Christianity wasn’t working for them. Christianity was killing them.
It was because of their belief they were willing to go to the death. It wasn’t working for them, but it was transforming them. You are naïve if you think adopting something because it’s emotionally satisfying and, “kind of works for me right now,” is going to get you to the end of your life. You’re naïve if you think anything that’s just emotionally satisfying and, “kind of fits for me now,” 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. It’s just not going to happen.
Luke does not say to Theophilus, “Theophilus, I want you to know this has worked for me, and I think it might work for you.” No. In fact, you go into the book of Acts, and there’s this great place in Acts 26, a terrific place where Paul is in prison, and it doesn’t look good for Paul. Of course, eventually he is executed, but he’s in prison.
He’s 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, “Tell us your spiel. We hear you’re this incredible, spiritual salesman. We want to hear about it.” There they are, all the royals and Paul in chains, but you’d never know it. He’s so bold. He’s so poised. He’s so happy.
He goes after them, and he says, “The resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, you must believe in it.” At one point, King Agrippa says, “Hold on. Are you trying to convert us? You’re trying to convert me in one sitting, make me a Christian.” What does Paul say? He says, “Well, King, it worked for me.” It didn’t work for him. He’s in chains. He couldn’t have possibly said, “It worked for me. You’re on the throne. I’m in chains. It worked for me. It’ll work for you.”
King Agrippa says, “Oh great. I’ll have to become a Christian, then I’ll be off my throne in chains. That’ll make a great deal of sense.” Here’s what he said: “I am convinced, Oh King, these things have not escaped your notice because they did not happen in a corner.” Christianity is a public thing. Christianity is a historic thing.
He says, “You know these things happened. You know about the witnesses. You know the tomb was empty. You know those things. I’m pressing you because it’s not because this will work for you. No, the reason I have this boldness is because it was true. It works for me because it’s true. It works for me because I didn’t believe it because it worked for me, because it’s true.”
If you simply say, “Let’s come on into Christianity and see if it works,” it won’t work all the time. Sometimes Christianity will ask you to do something that’s terribly hard. What are you going to do? Get rid of it? You’re 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, “We can’t believe in the resurrection anymore.” They couldn’t believe in it either. That was no reason. They let it challenge them. Why don’t 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 can’t. If someone says, “It couldn’t have been a resurrection because resurrections can’t happen,” he says, “Okay, but now you’re doing philosophy. I’m doing history.” What you’re really doing is you’re holding onto your faith, and your faith is, “I don’t want the truth to be out there. I want it to be in here. I don’t want to lose control of my life.” 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.
What do I mean by that? The second thing we learn here is it’s not just the fact of the resurrection that changed those early Christians’ 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, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach …”
There is a big difference. Do you know what the resurrection means? It means at least, if you’re a Buddhist, you’re 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. That’s how you’re saved.
It’s not that Buddha and Muhammad didn’t do a lot of wonderful things, but it doesn’t help us directly. They just validate the teaching, and it’s through the teaching we’re saved. It’s not the teaching of Christ that saves us. It’s Christ who saves us. It’s what Jesus did. “I’ve told you everything Jesus did.” 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 should’ve died, now he has been raised, he has ascended to the Father, and we’re accepted in him. God doesn’t accept us through our record and our worthiness. Jesus’ own record and Jesus’ worthiness and Jesus’ righteousness is before the Father, and we’re 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.
Here’s what he says, talking about Christians: “These 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 …”
Did you hear what he said? First, because of the resurrection they’re not afraid of death. You say, “Well, now didn’t some of the Greeks and Romans believe in an afterlife?” Yeah, some did; some didn’t, but think. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then death is terrifying because it’s the end of love, the one thing that makes life meaningful.
If there’s nothing after death, then everyone you love is going to become dead, fertilizer, and then you will. So if there’s no afterlife, you’re terrified, but if there is an afterlife, in all other religions you’re still kind of afraid because you’re never sure you’ve been good enough. If you’re not saved by Jesus’ 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 doesn’t only change us psychologically. It changes us socially.
The resurrection is God is someday going to come back, and he’s going to renew the world. The resurrection of Jesus means God didn’t just save the spirit, but he’s going to save the body. He’s not just redeeming us spiritually; he’s going to redeem the material world. That means God is against disease, he’s against death, he’s against poverty, he’s against injustice, he’s against mental illness, and he’s against violence.
The people who know the resurrection start working against them now, because we have all this incredible hope because we know eventually they’re 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; it’s up there.
“… you will receive power …” What does that mean? Augustine sums up the end of this passage very nicely when he says, “Oh Lord, you ascended before our eyes, and we turned back grieving only to find you in our hearts.” Here’s what we mean by that. What Jesus is actually saying is, “I’m going to ascend, but you still need the Holy Spirit. See me ascend, and you’ll get power.”
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. It’s 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, there’s no better place than Stephen, the great church leader who was about to be executed in Acts 7. It’s a fascinating place where he’s about to be stoned to death for preaching Christ.
Suddenly, it says, full of the Holy Spirit … very significant … he looks to heaven, and he says, “… I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” When the people heard that, they just stopped their ears, they rushed forward, and they began stoning him. As he was dying, he said, “Father, forgive them.”
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? Here’s 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. It’s not that he didn’t already know Jesus Christ was his ascended Representative, that Jesus was standing before the Father on his behalf. It’s not that he didn’t know that, but the Holy Spirit made it existentially real to him.
The power is not just a naked, abstract thing. It’s 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 it’s true, not, “Because it works for me.” Stephen would’ve said, “I don’t think this is working for me,” and you never would’ve heard of him. He wouldn’t have inspired millions and millions of people.
He died smiling because he knew it was true, and he knew, “If I have the smile of God, all other frowns are inconsequential. If I have the commendation of God, all other condemnations are inconsequential.” Don’t you want to have that kind of boldness? Don’t you want to have that kind of power? Believe the resurrection happened. Ask the Holy Spirit to make it real to your heart.
Don’t you see what the men and women, the early Christians, are basically saying to you through the Scriptures? They’re saying, “We didn’t believe it either. We didn’t think it was possible either, but we saw him. So don’t trivialize what we are telling you. This is not true because it works. It works because it’s true.” Let the resurrection challenge you at the deepest level of your life, and it’ll 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. It’s in his name we pray, amen.