Talk shows, or the program, ‘Who do you think you are?’ are popular because most people are interested in other people’s life stories. And the interest is not limited to the present. Biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, for example, continue to sell in the thousands.
However, sometimes people of the past fall out of favour, because their lives are not in sync with current opinion. Ironically, this is true of one man who not only made a significant impact during the course of his three years of public life in the Middle-East, but who continues to influence an ever-increasing number of lives all over the world.
When we turn to the four best and authentic records of the life of Jesus Christ, we find that by the closing chapters it appeared that the Roman and Jewish authorities had won the day. They had felt threatened by this outsider who wielded superhuman powers and who had attracted vast crowds. Then there came the day when they put him to death, by crucifixion.
But the Jesus story didn’t end there. All four records tell us that the seemingly impossible happened. He was seen alive again by more than 500 of his followers.
Authentic. You may have difficulty grasping the notion of Jesus’ resurrection, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or couldn’t happen. We need to ask, for example, ‘How would those first followers of Jesus have gotten away with telling the people of Jerusalem that they’d seen him alive and well, if it wasn’t true?’ The first sermons they preached about Jesus being raised from the dead, were preached only six weeks after the crucifixion, and less than three miles from the tomb.
Suppose I’d said to people when I was living in New York, that the Statue of Liberty had come to life and that I had seen Lady Liberty walking in Battery Park. I might just get away with the claim somewhere without connectivity. But I certainly wouldn’t get away with it in New York City. New Yorkers would be down at Battery Park in a moment to check it out. The example is not perfect, but it illustrates my point that there is excellent reason to be confident that Jesus’ tomb was empty on the first Easter Day. When Peter preached the first recorded sermon, there weren’t 3,000 cynics, but rather 3,000 converts.
To return to the Jesus story. We might think that his victorious resurrection and his physical departure marked the end, but we find that this was just the beginning. Dr. Luke wrote two volumes about Jesus. In the opening lines of his second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, we read: In my first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning…
A future? As we press on in Acts 1, we read in verse 6: So when the disciples had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus had been telling them that the new age of God’s messiah had dawned, and clearly the disciples were excited. But the questions they put to Jesus reveal that their thinking was political, nationalistic, and immediate.
Jesus however, had a very different agenda: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. His agenda is spiritual in its focus, global in its scope, and timeless in its outcome.
With his words, “You shall be my witnesses …,” he was commissioning the disciples to tell the world what they had seen and what they had heard him teach. Indeed, Jesus wants you and me to know that what his followers preached is the truth. This is so important because Christianity is about relationships – with God, and with one another, through Jesus Christ. Without truth in relationships there can be no trust.
Hope. One of the frightening realities of the global coronavirus today is that it is highly infectious and deadly. It is snuffing out the lives of hundreds of thousands. Where do we turn for hope? Jesus Christ offers us a future, and with it he gives our life meaning and hope.
The Bible reveals that God is not only good and just but is also amazingly compassionate. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God himself has removed the sting of death. So, when we turn to Jesus in genuine repentance and heartfelt faith, our mortal death will open the door to life with God and his people, forever.
Our broken relationship with God can be healed – God holds out to us the offer of complete forgiveness and hope, new life and deep joy. This is the truth that needs to reach the ends of the earth.
Following his words commissioning his disciples, Jesus was taken up into the clouds. As those disciples watched his departure, two supernatural figures spoke: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The disciples were right in thinking that the reign of Jesus would now begin, but they were mistaken in thinking that his reign would be from earth. Jesus would reign over all things from heaven, until his physical return and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth.
In the meantime there is work to be done by God’s people – taking the good news of the living God to the world, calling on everyone to turn back to him. Isn’t this the news our fretful and anxious world needs to hear?