From The Pastor's Desk
I wonder if you have heard it said or thought yourself “Easter is over for another year and what an unusual season it has been!” But is that thought really appropriate? For the disciples, the events that we remember at Easter had huge fall out. In this sense, Easter is never over. It is a bit like that song that children sing that “goes on and on my friend.” In what way is Easter ongoing?
Well, Jesus after his resurrection called his disciples to him and commanded them to be his witnesses. They were to take the good news of Easter from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth. The impact of the events of Easter must be spread and in that sense, Easter is an ongoing event. That is just what the disciples did. Though they did not have the science of “marketing” to guide them, they became effective communicators of this wonderful news. What marked their witness that humanly speaking made it effective?
First, it was focused. They distilled their message to the central truths of the gospel, that Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, died on Calvary's cruel cross, that he was buried and that, after three days, he rose again! When we encounter the disciples after Pentecost, preaching to the crowd that came to see what was happening, Peter arose and proclaimed Christ: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-23). It would be the same message that he gave again after healing the lame man at the temple gate (Acts 3:13-15) and again to Cornelius the Roman centurion when he addressed his household (Acts 10:36-43).
Nor was this message historically conditioned by the time in which it was given or the people who heard it. Paul declared that the message he was called to proclaim in all of his missionary endeavors was the same: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-4). The essence of the gospel is that Jesus, who was God incarnate, lived among us a life of perfect obedience, died for our sins, was buried, and after three days, rose again.
Second, their message was faithful to the truth. Over and over again these witnesses insisted upon the truthfulness and historical accuracy of what they were proclaiming. In Peter's speech at the time of the healing of the lame man, he recites the facts of the gospel and then follows up by saying, “To this we are witnesses.” The same is true when he speaks to the crowd assembled at the home of Cornelius where he says, “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:39). The gospel narratives about the death and resurrection of Jesus all emphasize that witnesses came to the tomb and found it empty, and that witnesses encountered the resurrected Christ and told others.
In their writings the disciples maintained this certainty as well. Paul cites the different witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ in his letter to the Corinthian church, pointing not just to Peter and the rest of the disciples but to a great multitude of over five hundred who encountered the risen Christ. Peter in his second epistle insists that the disciples did not “follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16) and similarly John declared that “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands . . . . we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1,3). It was important to them that people understand that they were not peddling myths or even talking about ideas. They were presenting facts that were true and could be attested and affirmed. It was a faithful message.
Finally their message was effective. It brought real change to people's lives! The disciples spoke of that from personal experience. They had changed from being fearful and bewildered to be confident and bold preachers of Jesus, all because of the resurrection truth that they had experienced. The apostle Paul was also radically transformed by encountering the risen Christ! The one who had persecuted the church became an evangelist for its Lord. In his defense before King Agrippa, Paul recounts this radical transformation upon meeting the risen Christ (Acts 26:12-20).
Not only were they transformed by it but the message the apostles taught changed others lives as well. The Ethiopian official on his way home from Jerusalem met Phillip and heard from him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35) and he became a follower. In Philippi where Paul proclaimed the good news of Jesus, a business woman by the name of Lydia was transformed by the message as was the jailer who was responsible for Paul in the prison there. Paul spoke of how the word of God preached affected the Thessalonians. He said, “Our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction. . . . . you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess 1:5,9). That is why Paul affirmed that he was “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
Just as Easter was not done for the disciples neither is it finished for us! We who are followers of Jesus are still called with those first disciples to be witnesses to the gospel message in our own day. We need to be sure our message is centered on Christ, who lived among us, died for us, and after being buried, rose again from the tomb. We must be convinced of its historical truthfulness. We are not just competing in the realm of ideas for people's loyalty. We are calling them to follow the living Lord who died for our sins and who rose again triumphant over sin and death. The faithfulness of the message is crucial. And so is its effectiveness. We proclaim this good news as those who have been deeply transformed by it. Therefore we can speak with deep conviction and confidence. Such witness to the events of Easter will still bring transformation as the Spirit of God uses it in people's lives.
May God enable KEECC and all his followers to be focused, faithful witnesses to the Lord Jesus who has changed each of our lives!