I recently started a series of posts which asks the question why the church worked and how it got so big. I believe there are a lot of answers to this question, but I wanted to take the time to look at a few I noticed in the chapters of Acts.
You should read part one and part two at some point.
What they Saw and Heard
Acts 4:20 is an interesting verse. Peter and John had just healed a lame man and proceeded to run all over town telling everyone Jesus of Nazareth had given them the power to do it. Well, the governing Jewish bodies of the day were trying to put down this Jesus talk so they arrested Peter and John and threw them in the local slammer.
The next day, they brought them before the religious leaders and asked them how and why are they doing all of this. Peter, being his brash self-said, “If we are being accused of being kind and thrown in jail for our superior niceness, then know this: It was Jesus the Christ from Nazareth who gives us the power and authority. You know, the guy you had killed? The guy who no one can find his body because he got up walked out of the tomb after three days? You know? Yeah, that guy.”
Of course, this made everyone really mad but they couldn’t really condemn them or kill them because they were being nice to people. So, they just commanded them to not speak in the name of Jesus any longer.
But, Peter and John responded with, “We cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard.”
We should stop and give pause here. These apostles, standing defiantly in the face of the governing bodies of the day had good reason to be afraid. They had to have known they were eventually going to be punished severely or even killed for what they were saying.
But how could they not say it?
They saw something with their eyes.
They heard something with their ears.
For Peter and John, Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t just a nice story they were telling, it was an actual event they witnessed.
They saw Jesus get arrested, they saw him put in the tomb, and they saw him after he got up and walked out if it. They had breakfast with him and they put their hands in the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet.
It wasn’t just some fanatical story they were telling to try and cause a revolt. Why else would these ordinary men stare down the sword if they had not witnessed something that changed everything?
They could not help speaking about what they had seen and heard. You see, the church grew because the story was true.
How often do we talk about the resurrection of Jesus like it was a literal, actual event that occurred on the pages of history?
I have noticed recently a growing group of people denying the existence of Jesus claiming things like he never wrote his own gospel, all 4 canonical gospels were all copied from Mark which wasn’t even written down until well after Jesus time, and Paul doesn’t even quote Jesus directly. While a quick study break easily solves these issues, most people don’t even take the time to do that. A Google search on “Did Jesus exist” leads to some interesting articles, a lot of which claim he never did.
Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? makes the statement that, “of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity… none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts Jesus existed.” He goes on to write the entire book proving there was a historical Jesus. But, he stops there. Jesus was a person, but he was not divine.
He walks through the Pauline letters and shows us where Paul clearly believed Jesus was a man. Paul makes the claim Jesus was born of a woman, ate the last meal, was of the lineage of King David, had 12 apostles, was crucified and buried. Clearly, Paul believed in the Jesus of history.
But Paul also bases his entire theology on the one thing where Ehrman and other historians stop short of. Paul says in his letter to Corinth that if Jesus was not raised from the dead then our faith is useless and we are all lost (1 Corinthians 15:12-16). More than that, we should be embarrassed.
How can we lay claim to Paul’s writings to prove the historical Jesus only to ignore the very foundation they were written on in the first place? Seems like cherry picking to me.
In Acts 5 we find an interesting conversation that takes place between Peter and the ruling Jewish authorities.
Peter and John are arrested for healing a cripple in the name of Jesus right outside of the temple. They are thrown in jail, beaten, and ridiculed. Then they are brought before the Sanhedrin where Peter gives a First Century Emmy Award Winning Speech. He points to the Old Testament screaming the name of Jesus on every page. He tells how all of history has pointed to Jesus, the one true King, and the long-awaited Messiah.
Then he looks right at the Sanhedrin and calls them stubborn and stiff-necked (a rebuke from God to idolatrous Israel in the Old Testament.)
At this point, they start picking up the biggest rocks they can find. But, Gamaliel stops them. He sends Peter and John out and says this, “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Today there is still a church and community of believers who believe Jesus was who he says he was and will do what he said he was going to do.
The story was true.