Cook Islands Christian Church, Avarua. PHOTO: DESTIMAP/21120621
The disciples would never have come together for a philosophy or mythology after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
They came together because the Christ they had known and loved was alive, writes Reverend Vakaroto Ngaro of Ekalesia Avarua, Cook Islands Christian Church.
“I will be with you always …” (Matthew 28:20). These were the closing words of our Lord, when he sent his disciples out into the world to finish the work that He had started. From the Gospels we learn that Jesus foresaw the geographical and demographic expansion of his movement. But how did there come to be a group of saints loyal to him in Rome itself, the capital of that Empire that dominated the world, subjugated the Jewish people, and authorised Jesus’ execution? Thumbing through Paul’s epistles, we discover that churches (a term used only twice by Jesus in the Gospels) have sprung up in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Achaia, and Crete. Paul seems to have started many of them – what happened to the Eleven who stayed true after Judas’ treachery?
The promised Spirit has arrived: indeed, anyone who lacks the Spirit does not belong to Christ (Rom 8:9), for the Spirit incorporates Jews and Greeks, slave and free, into one body, enabling them to serve each other in love (1 Cor. 12:13).
When did the Spirit come? How did the Spirit come? All of these questions are answered in this great book. People are puzzled by history. Luke does not merely give us a history of the early church; he tells us that there is a plan to history. God is unfolding it. That plan does not have to do with the rise and fall of empires. It does not have to do with one race or people being more influential than another. The Bible does not even look at history as having to do primarily with individual successes or attainments.
The meaning of history is in God’s work: God reaching down into the mass of fallen humanity saving men and women, bringing them into a new fellowship, the church, and beginning to work in them in such a way that glory is brought to Jesus Christ. In the Book of Acts, Luke unfolds these events when history became His Story, embracing the entire church age. At the beginning, we are in contact with the risen Christ and a world of miracles. This is a world we have very little contact with today. But then, as the book progresses, we have the feeling that it becomes increasingly like the kind of world we know. At the end, we find the Christians bearing witness, just as we are called to bear witness, and being persecuted. We find an emphasis on the historical basis of Christianity.
Luke tells Theophilus that he is going to continue the history that he began in his Gospel. In that earlier book he said he had quite carefully investigated the details of the life of Jesus Christ and had written them down only after this investigation. Luke wants to continue that procedure in this volume. The things he wrote in the first book concerned “all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1). These things are going to continue in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Prior to His ascension, Jesus “showed himself to these men and gave many infallible proofs that he was alive”. That is a very important sentence, for it indicates that Jesus did not merely give his disciples certain ideas that they were then to carry into the world. He appeared to them as one who had risen from the dead. They knew he had died. Some of them had stood at the cross. They had heard the blow of the hammers. They had seen the nails driven and then later, when the soldiers came, had seen the spear thrust into Christ’s side. They knew Jesus had died. In fact, so convinced were they of his death that they soon began to scatter and go home, because … well, although it was nice to have known him, he was dead now and to give one’s life to the mere memory of a dead Christ would be foolishness. But then Jesus rose and began appearing to them. His appearances were sufficient to draw them together again.
They would never have come together for a philosophy or mythology. They came together because the Christ they had known and loved was alive. He had conquered death. Thomas was the greatest of the skeptics. Even after the resurrection, when the other disciples had seen Christ and had come to Thomas to proclaim the resurrection, Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). When Jesus appeared to Thomas this alone was sufficient to dispel all this doubter’s doubt. He fell before him with the confession, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28).
This and other similar experiences are what Luke had in mind when he wrote of “infallible proofs”. He was saying, I am going to chart the spread of Christianity, but I want you to know at the very beginning that this is a religion based on historical facts, including even the amazing matter of the resurrection.