Atheists are more militant, aggressive, outspoken and insulting than ever before. The debate about homosexual marriage is heated and personal. And Christians are often ridiculed as ignorant, bigoted and outdated.
Q and A on the ABC this week featured Peter Jensen defending the biblical position on gay marriage. And he’s been ridiculed by the press, the gay lobby, everyday Aussies, and even so-called Christians.
The latest round of federal government grants for Christian school chaplains has been under threat by a high court challenge.
School Scripture in NSW has been challenged by the introduction of Ethics classes for non-Scripture kids.
Is Christianity under threat? Are we a dying breed? An endangered species? Do we just need to fit in, fade away, update, modernise, negotiate, or compromise?
It must have been the sort of thing Jesus’ disciples were thinking after his death.
They’d scattered like seagulls when he’d been arrested. And Peter, the only one to hang around, was so scared he denied he even KNEW Jesus. THREE TIMES.
The rest of them had all watched from a distance as things went from bad to worse.
Everyone was out to get them. The Jewish leaders wanted them dead. Even the Jewish PEOPLE had turned on them. The Romans were vicious and deadly.
The disciples were too scared to make a peep, otherwise what was happening to JESUS might happen to THEM. Judged, sentenced, beaten, abandoned, whipped, stripped and crucified.
And then Jesus had DIED. The cruellest of deaths. And the hopes of the disciples died WITH him. Their hopes of VICTORY. Their hopes of GOD’S KINGDOM coming through Jesus.
And they’d spent Friday night and Saturday licking their wounds. Feeling sorry for themselves. Puzzled. Confused. Defeated. Wondering what to do next. Wondering what had happened to all God’s promises.
Feeling, very much, under attack. As if the whole world was against them.
Then Sunday morning things started to get WEIRD. Strange rumours circulated among the women and some of the disciples. Surely, they’re just tired, emotional, scared, under pressure.
That night (John 20) they all meet behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.
When all of a sudden (v19) Jesus comes and stands among them. They can’t believe their eyes. He tells them not to be scared. That he’s alive again. Just like he’d PROMISED. And that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!
And he was RIGHT!
Jump ahead a few pages. And Luke takes up the story in the book of Acts. Acts 1:3.
3 After his suffering, he SHOWED himself to these men and gave MANY CONVINCING PROOFS THAT HE WAS ALIVE.
Sure, it was hard to understand. And their world was turned on its head. AGAIN. But Jesus SHOWED himself to them. Put their fingers into the holes in his side and in his wrists. He ATE AND DRANK with them. It was really him. Not a vision. Not a ghost. Not grief-induced wishful thinking. Not group hysteria.
Rock solid certainty. Raised from death. Defeated it. Destroyed its power.
But not just PROOFS. He had stuff to TEACH them TOO.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and SPOKE ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
The same topic Jesus had preached BEFORE his death. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. God’s people in God’s place under God’s RULE. The theme of the WHOLE BIBLE – as we’ve been discovering over the last nine weeks.
But NOW it takes on a whole new clarity. A whole new COMPLEXITY. And Jesus has to explain it all. But this time including the crucial turning point. That God had raised him from the dead.
It meant everything had CHANGED. It meant everything God had promised in the Old Testament about his kingdom is BEGINNING! The starting gun has fired!
He’s gathering his people, and washing them clean, and pouring out his Holy Spirit. And he’s giving them a new heart to obey his laws. And raising a banner for the nations to gather around. Just like he’d PROMISED through prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and Joel.
And it’s all beginning through Jesus’ resurrection. God’s ultimate BIG STATEMENT.
Artists are known for making BIG STATEMENTS. In Oxford we saw the bases of some huge rainforest trees. Perhaps 10 m around. They’d been brought all the way back from South America. A huge logistical task. And then an artist had sculpted them and displayed them. A statement about deforestation and global warming. Quite striking!
But there’s perhaps no bigger statement than that made by Christo Javacheff. He wraps up whole buildings. Or surrounds islands with pink wrapping. Or coverings mountain sides with yellow umbrellas. It takes years of planning and organisation. And WEEKS of work (show photos)
I’m not sure WHAT he’s saying, but he’s saying it IN BOLD LETTERS.
And that’s what GOD’s doing in raising Jesus. Making A BIG STATEMENT. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was
DECLARED WITH POWER TO BE THE SON OF GOD by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
The resurrection is God’s BIG BILLBOARD advertising Jesus. His performance art. God’s the proud parent. The resurrection is him saying, “This is MY SON. This is Jesus – the SON OF GOD.”
And in Peter’s sermon we just read, he says God raised Jesus to life. And exalted him to his right hand. And (v36) he’s MADE him LORD and CHRIST. DECLARED him to be KING. God’s making all his enemies – nations and kings and sin and death – a footstool for his feet.
He’s bringing his kingdom in by bringing in his king.
It’s what he’s been promising to do through the whole Bible. Ever since Adam and Eve first stepped OUT from God’s kingdom. And now it’s beginning!
And the disciples finally begin to work it out. V4 of Acts 1 Jesus tells them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the disciples see Old Testament promises fulfilled. V6.
“Lord, are you AT THIS TIME going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
In other words, is it all about to begin? The day of the LORD? The Kingdom of God? Is it NOW?
But God’s plans are bigger than what the disciples can imagine. And the TIMING’S going to be different, too. V7
7 Jesus said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In other words, “My people are much bigger than just ISRAEL.” Jesus is saying. “I’ve got to BRING THE NATIONS IN. God’s promised THAT TOO. And it’s going to TAKE a while. And that’s going to be YOUR job. With the help of my Spirit.
And that’s what the disciples begin to do. The Holy Spirit falls on them. And they begin speaking in all sorts of different languages. So that every nationality of Jew in Jerusalem hears them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own tongue.
Because God’s gathering his people from all over the world. Building his kingdom.
And the Holy Spirit gives these timid, under-attack, locked-room-hiding, running-away disciples a new found confidence. They grow a spine. Because their king Jesus HAS WON. And that means EVERYTHING’S CHANGED.
Ch 2 v14. Peter, together with the other disciples, proclaim that the kingdom is arriving. V17 Just like God promised through Joel.
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
The last days are beginning. The kingdom is arriving. And amazing things will happen. Just like you’re seeing.
And while he goes on to speak many OTHER words that day. There’s a number of SINGLE words I want to FOCUS on. Single words that will strengthen and encourage and embolden YOU as you feel under attack from all sides.
FIVE words about Jesus. And ONE word about US. Here they are: ACCREDITED, PURPOSE, PROMISED, RAISED, EXALTED. And finally, ASSURED.
First up. ACCREDITED. Look there in v22.
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.
Accredited. Authorised. Certified. And by GOD HIMSELF. That means you can RELY on him.
The grammar of the word suggests that it STANDS COMPLETED. The accreditation was stamped as valid. It happened at a particular point in time. But it DOESN’T EXPIRE. It’s just as relevant TODAY as it was when God first DID it.
Jesus doesn’t go out of date. Terminate. He’s STILL authorised. He’s not old-fashioned. An archaeological RELIC. He’s culturally relevant, powerful, and solidly historical.
And God accredited him by MIRACLES, WONDERS AND SIGNS. Jesus didn’t just SAY he could forgive sins. He healed the lame man to SHOW HE HAD THE AUTHORITY to forgive sins (Mark 2). He SHOWED the nature of the kingdom by restoring health and relationship. By bringing cleansing and life.
And the stories about Jesus – they’re no FABLES. FAIRY STORIES. Peter said, “He did them AMONG YOU, as YOU YOURSELVES KNOW.” They’re historical facts. As solid as ANY historical claim CAN be.
Jesus was accredited. Peter goes on. V23. The SECOND word – PURPOSE.
23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
It had seemed unthinkable at the time. But now Peter realises it was ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN.
The Jewish leaders thought they were scheming on their own. But God was using them for HIS purposes. Pilate and Herod thought they were making politically expedient decisions all on their own. But God knew beforehand what they would choose.
Satan was laughing – he thought he’d WON. He was laughing right up until the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus stormed out. Satan thought all HIS plans were coming to pass. But they were God’s plans ALL ALONG.
And that means the stuff YOU’RE going through is all part of God’s purpose TOO. No matter HOW dark it seems. God IS in control. And he WILL work all things for good. For those He’s called according to his PURPOSE. That’s the promise in Romans 8:28.
And with Jesus’ death, we know it’s part of God’s PURPOSE because he PROMISED it. That’s word THREE. God was keeping his PROMISE. He’d promised King David a descendent who would rule FOREVER. And whose KINGDOM would never end. We’ve seen how THAT’S been worked out through the Bible in the last few weeks.
And since God ALWAYS keeps his promises, he crowned JESUS. The greatest son of great King David. And gave him an ETERNAL kingdom.
And that’s one of the reasons to read the Old Testament. Because it shows that God KEEPS HIS PROMISES. That he’s reliable. And if he keeps his promises THEN. That means he’ll STILL keep his promises. And that you can depend on them NOW.
But for Jesus, God kept his promise to David by RAISING Jesus from the dead. Our FOURTH word. There in v32. Peter’s quoting from Ps 16, where David rejoices that God won’t abandon him to the grave.
And Peter’s point is that David DID die, so David’s words must have had ANOTHER meaning. A meaning for David’s DESCENDENT. The SECOND King David. And that HE was the one David was prophesying about. There in v31.
31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHRIST, that HE was not abandoned to the grave, nor did HIS body see decay.
And just like David prophesied, that’s what happened. V32.
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and WE ARE ALL WITNESSES OF THE FACT.
An observable, verifiable reality. Hard as it is to understand. A dead heart starting pumping again. Dead nerves started firing again. Dead lungs started inflating again. Dead limbs started moving. The clock was turned backward. And Peter and the others SAW IT ALL.
And it wasn’t just JESUS. They also OTHER STUFF. Backups. Supporting evidence. They saw the sun turning dark, They saw the temple curtain torn in two. They saw earthquakes and tombs broken open. They saw angels. They saw OTHER people raised from their graves.
All by God’s power. Because he wouldn’t let his Holy One see decay.
And that’s incredible news for our world TODAY. Everyone’s got so much to say when it comes to bashing Christians’ outdated views on society. But they become very silent in the face of DEATH. Because no political or lifestyle or ethical choice can do ANYTHING about the certainty and finality of DEATH. Except for Christianity. Because Jesus DEFEATED it, and promises that it’s got no hold on all those connected to him. And that’s GREAT NEWS. News we can be BOLD about.
But that’s not all. Peter and the other disciples also saw what God did NEXT. He EXALTED him (v33). God took him up before their eyes, until a cloud hid him from their sight. That’s Acts 1:9.
And God restored him to his heavenly throne at his right hand. But MORE THAN just RESTORED. (Back to where he was BEFORE). GLORIFIED. Now with MORE glory because of his obedience to death. Phil 2:9 puts it like this
(he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!) 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
BEFORE, he was God the Son. But NOW, he’s God’s OBEDIENT, GIVING-UP-TO-DEATH Son. And that’s the Jesus we follow.
He’s there NOW. Seated on the throne. And he’s DESERVING of the honour and submission and recognition of every authority and institution and society and government and media outlet and ignorant comedian or outspoken journalist.
He RULES. That’s the FACT. It’s just not being RECOGNISED by everyone. Yet.
Which is what the disciples are setting about FIXING. Peter comes to his NEXT word. The MONEY word. What it means for his hearers. And for US. ASSURED. V36.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be ASSURED of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Let all Israel KNOW WITH CERTAINTY. Be CONFIDENT in it. Establish your LIFE on it. In the resurrection, God has MADE – set, established – Jesus as LORD and CHRIST.
It’s way more than just HEAD KNOWLEDGE. You can’t know it and your life not change. Knowing that Jesus is Lord and Christ because he’s beaten death changes EVERYTHING.
And that’s something Peter’s hearers realise TOO. V37.
37 When the people heard this, they were CUT TO THE HEART and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And YOU will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When you know with certainty that God has raised Jesus from the dead. Declared him to be Lord and Christ. Then that means your life needs to CONFORM to that truth. Your knee needs to BOW before that Lord. Recognising your rebellion, your impending death and judgment. And repenting of it.
And Peter passes on God’s promise. The same promise he’s made all the way through the Bible. That repentance will lead to FORGIVENESS. And that they’ll now receive THE HOLY SPIRIT. God’s presence and power. The down payment for ALL in God’s kingdom.
And then be BAPTISED as a sign of the washing of God’s forgiveness. And the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
Peter goes on. He’s caught the vision of the enormity of God’s kingdom. V39.
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
And that now includes US. The call has come to US. How have you RESPONDED? Have you recognised Jesus as King? As Lord and Christ? Have you repented of your rebellion? Received God’s washing of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit? Have you been BAPTISED?
See me if you KNOW THE CERTAINTY of God’s declaration in Jesus’ resurrection. And if you want to DO something about that.
Because it DOES change everything. The victory of Jesus’ resurrection can’t leave you unaffected. Unmoved.
How has it changed YOU?
If it’s only Sunday mornings that are different. Then that’s a PITIFUL RESPONSE to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s not just Lord of Sunday mornings. He’s Lord of ALL. 247.
If your Christianity is “just a private thing.” Something you don’t talk about. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s Lord of ALL. Lord of your relationships, and your conversations. Of your actions and your holidays and your wallet.
If it’s only your FAMILY LIFE that’s different. But not your WORK life. Or your SOCIAL life. Or your PRIVATE life. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection.
If you know the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection, but you’re still FEARFUL. If you still WORRY. If you’re still scared to be disliked or rejected for Jesus’ sake. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He is Lord and Christ. He ALONE deserves your honour and loyalty and fear and love and submission.
Knowing the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection should change EVERYTHING. It should change your schedule. Your priorities. What you fit into your day. What you do FIRST. And what you move to LAST.
It changes your hopes for the future. It changes your dreams for your children. It changes what you spend your money on. It changes how you pray.
It changes who you let influence you. Whose words discourage you. And who you ignore.
It changes who you WORK for. And whose approval your LONG for.
And it changes who you bow before. And who you REFUSE to submit to. No matter HOW culturally inappropriate, or politically incorrect, or socially out-of-date you seem.
Is that how it’s working for YOU?
Are you CUT TO THE HEART? God has MADE Jesus both LORD and Christ. And it’s changed EVERYTHING. How’s it changing YOU?