Pastor’s Perspective. . .
Consider the aftermath of Easter in a 21st Century world.
When Jesus rose from the dead, the Twelve didn’t quite know what to do. The first problem that they faced was that people didn’t have any real evidence of their story. Peter had live blogged the events of Easter morning, but few outside of those who were true believers actually made direct contact with Jesus Himself. Few of the “witnesses” were credible and they all seemed to be directly linked to Jesus Himself. It seemed that every follower of Jesus had baggage of some type. The worst of the lot were unsavory characters and the best of them seemed to directly owe Jesus their livelihood and in some cases their very lives.
It did not help that the media immediately began to attack those who claimed to have encountered a risen Jesus. Reports quickly circulated that the witnesses to the resurrection had been accused of public drunkenness and disturbing the peace. Gawker found and posted video of Peter denying Jesus. Facebook was filled with unflattering biographies and pictures of the Apostles, each revealing deep sinfulness and undercutting any illusion that these people were better than the typical citizen. Furthermore, rumors were swirling that several prominent politicians were seriously considering filing defamation charges against the entire group.
Matters were made worse by the fact that only forty days after what has now been called “Day One,” Jesus Himself had disappeared. Few could resist concluding that having Jesus do an interview with Bill O’Reilly would have been far more compelling than having Peter tell his story once again to Anderson Cooper. As time went on, the media became even more antagonistic, reaching its nadir when the ladies of The View berated a visibly distraught Mary Magdalene so viciously that Whoopi Goldberg was forced to take a one month leave of absence.
Meanwhile the principles in the show trial and execution of Jesus all remained steadfast in their agreement that while Jesus seemed like a likeable sort of man, His opinions about the authorities and government were both misguided and dangerous. Pontius Pilate seemed to be the most amused by the circus surrounding these events, quipping that He would gladly speak to Jesus again if He would only make an appointment. Instead of going directly to the press, Jesus instead sent surrogates, men and women who claimed to be disciples of Jesus and His witnesses to the world.
The unveiling of the gospel of Jesus Christ did not occur as we would expect it to happen in today’s world. No publicist or media consultant would ever suggest that a political candidate or product be promoted in this way. The gospel message was given to a group of people who, before the events of Pentecost, seemed ill equipped to lead a movement that would transform the world. Yet through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Will of God, the gospel quickly spread. It spread first in Jerusalem, then throughout Judea, into Samaria, and eventually, after a great many people quite literally carried their own cross, became the religion of the Empire itself.
God grew His Church in a manner that few of us would have considered, and God continues to grow the Church in the most unlikely ways and places. The Church is growing at a remarkable rate in places that few of would consider to be hot beds of the Christian faith. Africa, Asian and South America are experiencing explosive growth, without significant celebrity preachers and much of the time in the presence of persecution and tribulation. God does not seem to respect the plans of human beings, nor does God seem to be inclined to view the world through the categories that impress us, like status and wealth.
In the Ancient Roman Empire the easiest way to change the world was to change the emperor. This fact remains fundamentally true today. Jesus, however did not instruct the disciples to grow in that way. He instead sent His followers to share the gospel with their networks, friends, and neighbors. Instead of spending the days following the resurrection making public appearances and speaking in the temple, the Apostles spent the weeks following Easter morning behind closed doors, learning from Jesus, and engaged in corporate prayer in private places. When the world’s rulebook would have instructed us to turn right, the Church always seemed to turn left.
The Church grew not because of a marketing strategy or human innovation, but because they followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus. They grew because, as disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, God led them to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Jesus could have chosen to appear to Caesar in the same way He called Saul of Tarsus. He could have blinded Pilate or rendered Herod mute. He could have withered the hand of Caiaphas or sent a plague upon Rome, yet in God’s wisdom, God directed the Church to take a perilous and sacrificial path in order to bring the Way of Heaven to the people of the Earth. As our earliest appellation (the people of the Way) shows us, the Church continued the Way of Jesus in word and in deed.
This is what the 21st Century Church must do today. Our progressive impulse causes us to believe that somehow we can do it better or easier today than the Church did it in the past. We have become seduced by the idea that we can find an effective new strategy to spread the gospel. We earnestly desire to utilize media and celebrity to convince people that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We pray that we can elect a Christian President or that God will give to us a powerful and popular voice to lead the Church into a new golden age.
These misguided impulses are certainly understandable, but the scriptures clearly instruct us that God has already commissioned a voice for this world. God has already chosen a vehicle for the delivery of His gospel and for the spreading of His Kingdom. Like it or not, it is us. We are His Church. We have been called and commissioned to be the spokespeople of the Kingdom on this planet. We are God’s ambassadors. We are the ones that are to be the salt and the light for a lost and rotting world. We are to be a people who are in this world, but not of this world. We are to have a different understanding of what is important and valuable. We are to place eternal things above temporal desires and concerns. We are to be a loving and grace-filled community who turn the other cheek and love our enemies. We are to love God and our neighbor.
The above listed attributes are all both biblical and Christian. We can add many paragraphs to this list, but each of these attributes would only prove to modify the central command of the Kingdom. We are to be disciples of Jesus Christ. It is only through discipleship that we can become the people of Way that God intends us to be. It is only when we subvert our own desires and adopt the faith of Jesus that we can grow into a Church that once again has the spiritual power to speak truth to power through the voice of the powerless.
God is calling us to a resurrection of the local Church. From the ground up. It starts with you and me. The glory of God will be made known when we do what the disciples of Jesus did so many generations before us. Let us pray for teachable and loving hearts. Let us be living examples of God’s love for the lost. Let us confound the world by doing the unexpected; by forgiving our persecutors and loving our enemies. Let us show the world the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. God is calling us. It is time that we answered.