It was the preaching of Christ’s resurrection that turned the first century world upside down.
by Gillian Bethel
It’s 9:00 in the morning in Jerusalem. The narrow streets near the temple are crowded with Jews from exotic destinations like Persia, Asia, Africa, Thrace, and Crete, as well as Jews from Palestine. Beginning with the Passover, they’re celebrating the last of four spring temple feasts—Pentecost.
Suddenly, a group of Galileans burst out into the street, all talking loudly. They seem so animated and inspired that people stop to listen, and quickly the street scene is transformed. A Jew from Persia points in surprise to one of them, “He’s talking in my language!”
A Jew from Thrace exclaims in amazement, “That Galilean sounds just like people in my country.”
“They must be drunk,” concludes a Jew from Ethiopia. “No Galilean knows my language!”
“These men and women are not drunk!” Every eye is riveted on a large Galilean named Peter as they each hear him explain in their mother tongue: “They are fulfilling Joel’s prophecy, ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’” Acts 2:16–21; Joel 2:28–32. Then he reminds them that these events happen right before “the day of the Lord,” which all Jews believe is a day of judgment.
Next Peter tells them that they’re guilty of God’s judgment because they’ve crucified Jesus of Nazareth, “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.…” Acts 2:22, 23. Quoting their beloved King David, Peter shows that Jesus was God’s Messiah; and after they slew Him, God raised Jesus from the dead and honored Him with the highest throne of the universe. Compare Acts 2:25–32 with Psalm 16:8–10.
This is a huge challenge for Peter’s audience. Jews have been focused on the hope of a messiah-king who would restore national greatness. But now reality hits: they’ve put their long-hoped-for Messiah to death, and now He has been resurrected and is seated on God’s throne. They’ve committed a dreadful sin against God!
Yet Peter offers hope: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38. Three thousand are convicted and accept the resurrected Messiah as their Savior on the spot—and that’s just the beginning of the excitement that the news of Christ’s resurrection created throughout the world.
RESURRECTING THE RESURRECTION
Christ’s followers couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus’ resurrection. Most of the sermons in the book of Acts are about it. It was the source of their “lively hope” as Peter called it, and they were excited about its implications. Both Luke and Paul imply that the resurrection was preached to “every creature which is under heaven” in one generation. Acts 17:6; Colossians 1:23. Are Christians today still excited about what the resurrection means, or has it become a theological relic?
Let’s see if we can find the excitement and importance of the resurrection again. The apostle Paul can help. When the Corinthian believers began teaching that there was no resurrection, Paul showed them what they wouldn’t have without it.
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised,” he pointed out in 1 Corinthians 15:16. That means no sympathizing High Priest at the throne of God, no Mediator who knows what it’s like to be tempted, no Friend to give us grace to help in time of need, and ultimately, no effective sacrifice for sin. That leads to Paul’s next point: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Verse 17. The forgiveness, peace, and power to overcome temptation would be missing. Unimaginable! And the final blow to the Christian’s hope would be this: “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Verse 18. Jesus would not be the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in Him would perish because of their sins. They would have no hope of everlasting life with Jesus. Paul summed it up very pointedly in verse 19: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” meaning most to be pitied. Indeed!
Without the resurrection, Jesus would be a wonderful historical figure with inspiring teachings, who set us a good example. Many people think that’s all Jesus was anyway. Poor souls! They need to hear about His resurrection!
Fortunately, the Corinthians were wrong. The resurrection is real, Jesus is alive, and we can know Him personally and one day live with Him forever!
ARE YOU EXCITED YET?
And that’s not all! Jesus’ resurrection means more to us than merely a future hope. It’s the root of a transformation available right now. Peter says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3. To paraphrase, we are born again into a living hope by means of Jesus’ resurrection. The new birth, which transforms the Christian’s life, depends on Jesus’ resurrection. Paul explains, “Buried with Him [Christ] in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” Colossians 2:12, emphasis added. When we trust in Christ, turn from our sins, and give our lives to Him, we share in His resurrection. The wonderful new birth takes place, a resurrection to a new life with Christ—an immediate new start.
Before He died, Jesus promised His disciples: “I go to prepare a place for you [Christ’s resurrection and ascension]. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also [our resurrection and ascension]. John 14:2, 3. He tells us how close a union He can have with each believer because of His resurrection:
“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me: because I live, ye shall live also.” John 14:16–19.
He will come to each believer individually through the Holy Spirit. He’ll give eternal life at the end—“because I live, you will live too.” And then He promises to be a friend at the throne, “If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.” Verse 14. He promises that the one who believes in Him will do the same kind of righteous works He does, and He promises His own peace, “not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Verse 27. That’s peace under all circumstances, not just when things are going well.
The reality of the resurrection fills us with the spiritual power to live lives of hope and godliness on this side of eternity. And just as Christ has been raised into Heaven, the resurrection assures us that we, too, have a certain hope of eternal life.
Gillian Bethel teaches English and Bible at Hartland College.
Taken from Last Generation, Vol. 24, No. 3. Last Generation is a vibrant 32-page soul-winning magazine published six times a year. To subscribe, call (540) 672-1996, Ext. 283.