Searching for an Easter message: How did the first church gatherings prove Jesus was raised from the dead?
How did the first church gatherings prove that Jesus was raised from the death?
At supper-tables, in homes and workshops across the empire, where believers, men, women, children, slaves (free and bound) from multi-ethnic and multi-demographic and multi-economic backgrounds (aka, strangers and unequals) ate together and lifted a cup to the resurrected traitor Jesus Christ, listened to apostolic teaching, and joined in a weak, yet unconquerable fellowship in the face of danger behind every social interaction with those outside that table fellowship.
This is how they proved Jesus was resurrected and now sat at the right of God.
This was their apologetics.
Extra: How did the early church succeed in outlasting many Caesars and an Empire?
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:8-10).
Recently I was in a conversation regarding Jesus’ temptation in the desert. I have always found it rather remarkable that Satan offered to Jesus what already belonged to Him, namely “all the kingdoms of the world.” The temptation wasn’t to possess the kingdoms—Jesus already possessed them—but in how Jesus would respond to the offer.
You and I would have responded, “These are already mine.” Jesus could have responded this way and it would have been all true. Jesus’ response could have been founded on privilege, His status with the Father. But yet, He did not respond in this way.
Satan was attempting to get Jesus to act, to respond from His position as God’s Son. We can see this with the first temptation: “If you are really God’s Son, turn these stones into bread.” In the second, the same: “If you are the Son of God, jump—and God will catch you. Prove it.” In each case, however, Jesus did not respond from the privilege of His status as God’s Son. If He would have, that would have been the end of it—the end of it for all of us. No cross. No salvation. You see, Jesus did not give in to the temptation to assert His special status. No. Not at all. Jesus responded with the only thing that mattered (albeit in different ways, but still each time the same): “I will keep God’s word; I remain faithful to God’s covenant.”
You and I—as I have heard so often—like to boast in our special status with God. For some reason (pride, most likely) we think we impress the non-Christian world with this stand. This is not the way.
While this is true in that a Christian is a son of God, an adopted child of God, the temptation is to prop ourself up in front of others with this position rather than do what is necessary and the only thing that matters: will I keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Sure, you say you are God’s child, you say you are a king (or queen as it may be). I get the royalty you claim. I know the proof-texts. But what we need to know is: will you keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
The temptation was not in possessing all the kingdoms of the world, but in humbling Himself—even to the point of death on the cross (e.g., Philippians 2:5-11).
This is a real temptation for the Christian: To assert one’s privileged status with God before a watching world. I see this all the time on social media and in conversation among Christians (and in the presence of non-Christians). I even hear this in sermons, instructing Christians to assert their privileged status with God. While most certainly true, this is not the way of discipleship, not the way of following Jesus. All that matters is one thing: God wants to know, the watching world wants to know, even Satan wants to know, will you (will I) keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Some quotes of importance from my reading this morning. As we approach Easter, we reminisce the empty tomb, and rightly so, but we should also reimagine that the local church is the reality of the resurrection . . . the gathered church in a local place, in the flesh of the community, are sites of the resurrection presence of Jesus in the here and now. Yet, the way in which a church demonstrates the power of the resurrection is by living out a cruciformed (cross-oriented) life among its congregation and in the midst of the community that surrounds it.
“. . . these [church] communities gathered as sites of resurrection presence.”
“Resurrection presence can only be enjoyed and inhabited by grace through cruciform postures of self-giving love, service, and celebration.”
“. . . resurrection presence is encountered wherever people gather in the name of Jesus and adopt a cruciform identity.”
“It is no less countercultural in our day where a variety of pressures force churches to attract increasing numbers of people by appealing to cultural desires that are subtly shaped by the present evil age . . . The redeeming presence of heaven is brought to earth in cruciform communities, transforming our imaginations so that we see the world as God sees it. It is not a world of limited goods where we all must hoard and protect our stuff and pursue our own selfish desires.”
“Churches enjoy the superabundant realities of heaven by enacting cross-oriented community behaviors that we find throughout the Gospels and Paul’s letters: confession of sin and forgiveness, service to one another, self-giving love embodied through meeting one another’s needs and offering hospitality to one another—especially to those on the margins of our communities.”
~Timothy Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul's Transformed Vision for Ministry (p. 52–54)
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.