Sunday, April 5, 2015

a thought experiment

{I wrote this last July. It seemed fitting to post shortly after Easter.}

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight.

Acts 1:1-9

The apostles were euphoric and a little dazed. Their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel had been shattered by His brutal crucifixion, but then the impossible had happened: He rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath. They had given up trying to figure that one out. Jesus had done other astonishing things (like raising Lazarus from the dead), but He had always been the subject of the action - doing something to someone - not having something done to Him. The Resurrection was different. No one had gone to the tomb of Jesus and commanded “Jesus, come out!” It wouldn’t have worked. No one had that kind of power – except Jesus, and He was lying in a tomb wrapped in seventy-five pounds of myrrh and spices. But then unbelievable things began to happen.

It started when the women went to the tomb and found it empty. The disciples thought they were seeing things, because after all there was Roman guard and the stone to be considered. No way could the tomb be empty. But John and Peter ran to it anyway, just to see for themselves. And it was empty. Stranger than that, even, was the fact that the graveclothes were folded in the tomb. That was what tipped them off to the fact that this was more than a case of grave-robbery. First of all, they knew that none of the disciples had taken the body, and who else would want it? But even if someone else had stolen the body for some unknown reason, no thief in his right mind would make it past the Roman guard and then sit there in the tomb unwrapping the linens and spices and myrrh from the dead body. It just didn’t make sense. John and Peter weren’t sure what was going on, but they had an inkling that maybe the story of Jesus wasn’t over after all.

And then He started appearing to them. First to Mary Magdalene. Then to two disciples on the Road to Emmaeus. Then to all of them together. And then to up to five hundred people. And He was no ghost. True, He walked through walls, but He also embraced them and talked with them and ate with them. This was Jesus, alive and well. Trying to explain it gave Peter a headache. It just wasn’t possible. At all. But He was there. And Thomas, who had been the most cynical, had put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side. Jesus was alive. No doubt about it. Eventually they gave up trying to explain it and just accepted it. What else could they do?

And then they started thinking about what this meant. Before Jesus was crucified, they had believed that He was the Messiah. No one had ever spoken with the authority His words contained. No one had ever done the things He did. But He had been arrested, the disciples had scattered, and He had ultimately died on a Roman cross. But now, after He accomplished the unthinkable and rose from the dead, they were absolutely certain that He was the Messiah. All their faith was pinned on Him. He would restore the kingdom to Israel. He would vanquish the hated Romans and rule His kingdom with the wisdom of Solomon and the dedication of David. And they, His disciples, would be right there with Him. They could not be more excited. After all, hadn’t He told them that He would baptize them with the Holy Spirit? They thought of all the heroes of the Old Testament who had been vessels for the Holy Spirit – Moses, Sampson, David … These men had been servants of God who did mighty things for God. And now God Himself was with them, the disciples, in the flesh, and they too would do mighty things for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

No wonder they were excited.

During the time He spent with them before His ascension, Jesus of course knew the thoughts and hopes and dreams of the disciples. These people, with their penchant for getting His plans and purposes for them totally wrong, were so precious to Him. How gentle He was with them, and how stern when the occasion required. He chuckled inwardly at their absurdity. They thought they were expecting big things from Him: the wrenching of Israel from the hand of Rome, the restoration of the kingdom, the glory of the golden days of David and Solomon. To them, these accomplishments would be titanic, bigger-than-life, and what their people had desperately wanted for hundreds – no, thousands – of years. But their expectations were so small. They were so limited. Even after His death and resurrection, which had achieved restoration of relationship with God for any sinner that would accept the gift, His disciples fixated on the temporal salvation of Israel. They still could not fathom that His purpose was the eternal salvation of the world – everyone in it, that is, who would believe in His Name.

So, after a few weeks, the disciples finally got up the nerve to ask Him the big question. It took a lot of guts, and of course Peter was the one to ask. “Jesus, Lord, isn’t it about time for you to start doing what the Messiah is supposed to do? How much longer are you going to wait before you restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He smiled. How He loved them. “Peter, you are missing the whole point. It isn’t your business to know the times My Father had appointed for things. It isn’t for you to worry about the restoration of Israel. I will take care of that. Your job, and the job of each and every one of you, is to go into the world and spread the news of My life, death, and resurrection. This is why you will need the power of the Holy Spirit, not to work beside me in an earthly revolution, but in a spiritual one. You are witnesses to the greatest restoration ever known to mankind – not the restoration of Israel to its former glory, but the restoration of fallen humanity to their God.”

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