Many Convincing Proofs – Acts 1:3

  • Jul 29, 2013
  • Series: President's Bible Study

(Part 2 of a study of Acts 1.)

 

The Christian faith is a matter of faith. There is no getting away from that, and for some people a faith like ours will always seem ridiculous.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” His message was that the world’s intellectual snobs will never come to terms with the idea of a dying Messiah (1 Cor. 1:18-31). From a cynic’s point of view, our faith does seem strange. Christians trust in a God they have never seen, believe the death of his Son two thousand years ago removes their sin today, listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice to guide them with words that cannot be recorded, and aim to spend eternity in a heaven whose location cannot be plotted.

They think our faith is foolishness. “Blind faith!” they say.

But it’s not blind faith. What we believe may not be a product of reason but it is reasonable. It is a matter of faith but of reasonable faith. That is a key point in what Luke writes next in Acts.

Acts 1:3

3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 

In this verse Luke describes what the disciples saw and what the disciples learned.

 

1.       The disciples saw the risen Jesus.

We are so familiar with the message of the resurrection, we don’t realize how remarkable Luke’s sentence is: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them.” In other words, after he hung on the cross, after he died, after he was buried in the tomb, Jesus presented himself to them. That sounds crazy – it was crazy two thousand years ago and crazy today. Luke and the people of his day were not stupid. They knew dead people were dead. They did not turn up several days after the funeral and hold conversations or share meals. But, Luke says, Jesus did.

And Luke makes it very clear this was no momentary hallucination. Jesus appeared to them over many weeks and therefore many times, and “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.”

Some of those convincing proofs Luke listed in his gospel. In chapter 24 Luke describes several:

  • The announcement by angels to the women at the tomb that Jesus had risen from the dead (Luke 24:1-8).
  • Jesus’ walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how they eventually recognized him (Luke 24:13-32).
  • That Jesus had appeared specifically to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34).
  • How Jesus came right into the middle of the disciples, talking with them, eating with them, showing them his hands and his feet, allowing them to touch his body so they knew he was physically there with them (Luke 24:36-49).

It’s not just Luke who recorded these things. Others did too.

Paul gives strong evidences for the resurrection. He lists them in 1 Corinthians 15:

  • The appearance to Peter (1 Cor. 15:5).
  • The appearance to the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5).
  • The appearance to five hundred men and women all at the same time (1 Cor. 15:6).
  • The appearance to James (1 Cor. 15:7).
  • The appearance to all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7).
  • Lastly, the appearance to Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:8).

These are the kinds of things Luke calls “convincing proofs.” The word he uses for “proof” is the Greek tekmērion. It was used for something demonstrably true, for incontrovertible logic or evidence. So, the resurrection was not wishful thinking, mass hallucination, one person’s opinion, or something based on a single experience. There was solid evidence that it happened.

But down through the centuries there have always been people who have doubted the resurrection of Jesus. Some have argued he couldn’t really have died and perhaps just swooned, then later on in the cool of the tomb he recovered, showed himself a few times, and afterwards kept out of public view. Some have said the disciples or someone else stole the body.

‘Explanations’ like these create more problems than they solve. All skeptics, however, have one overwhelming difficulty, one fact for which they have no answer: disciples who were terrified they would be next to hang on a Roman cross and had therefore gone into hiding, became changed, deeply changed. They were soon preaching in the streets, healing the sick, and testifying about Jesus before Jewish leaders; and the mission to take the gospel to the world had begun. How did this happen? Why do timid people suddenly become bold? They had denied they even knew Jesus, so how were they changed into people fearlessly telling everyone he was the Savior?

There is one answer. After his suffering, after watching him die on the cross, after knowing his dead body was laid in the grave, they saw Jesus alive. Not just once but many times. The person they knew well, the one they had been with for three years, the one who had died on a cross, he was now alive again. He had risen. They were sure, one hundred per cent sure. And that transformed them. Instead of hiding away, frightened for their wellbeing, they went out into the streets preaching about Jesus. They would suffer for doing that, but they knew Jesus was alive so they were not backing down. Their faith was based on very solid evidence.

One of the treasured books in my personal library is Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Morison’s real name was Albert Ross, and he was a journalist. Ross deeply admired Christ. It was admiration and nothing more, for Ross was a skeptic about things of faith. But he started to research the last seven days of the story of Christ with no thought other than “to see this supremely great Person as He really was.”

That study changed him, especially as he examined the evidence for the resurrection. The book he planned to write never got written. “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.” The full title of his book is Who Moved the Stone?: A Skeptic Looks at the Death and Resurrection of Christ.[1] It is a remarkable book, which was published first in 1930 and is still in print today. That skeptical man looked with a journalist’s keen eye at the account of Jesus’ resurrection, and it changed his thinking completely.

Our faith is faith, but it is very reasonable faith.

 

2.      The disciples learned about the kingdom of God

Luke says Jesus “appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Luke mentions the time frame to emphasize how often Jesus met with the disciples. It wasn’t one appearance. Over and over again he met with them.

Why? Why not be raised back to life, show himself to the disciples, and then immediately go to heaven? That would seem sensible and simple. Why not?

Part of the reason had to do with the “many convincing proofs that he was alive.” To be seen only once would not be thought either “convincing” or “proof.” So Jesus was seen many times and by many people after his resurrection.

But there was another reason for the less-than-hasty return to heaven. Jesus had to teach the disciples and, in particular, to teach them “about the kingdom of God.”

What does that mean? The kingdom of God is mentioned often in the Old Testament and the New Testament. At rock bottom the kingdom of God is about the kingship of God, the sovereignty of God, the rulership of God.

In the biggest sense, God of course rules over everything. Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” In other words, no place, no land, no nation is absent from God’s work. No person is greater than God. No ruler is above God and no sinner is beyond his reach. Nothing, nothing at all, is outside of God’s sovereign power.

The disciples Jesus was teaching after his resurrection already knew that, of course. They were Jewish, and they had been taught about the greatness of God from their childhood. Their difficulty was that they thought of the kingdom as centered on Israel. In Acts 1:6 Luke records one of the questions they asked Jesus during these days: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They saw their nation at the center of where God ruled; for many Jews it was the only place where God ruled.

Jesus spent those days teaching them. He was broadening their vision, showing that the kingdom was not about an earthly Messiah reigning over a revitalized Israel but about a Messiah who died and rose again so every man, every woman, and every child could have forgiveness of sins, and that meant the gospel would be taken to all people everywhere.[2]

The kingdom of God would be present wherever people believed the good news and surrendered their lives to him. They would be people over whom God ruled. The kingship – the kingdom – of God would be real in their lives.

Later in Acts it becomes clear the disciples found it hard to understand that the kingdom of God really was open to all people. Peter struggled before he would go the house of the non-Jew Cornelius to preach the gospel, and he was heavily criticized by other church leaders after he did (Acts 10:1 – 11:18). Later a whole council was convened at Jerusalem to decide if non-Jewish believers in Jesus must also become Jews, in other words be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (Acts 15). In the end that wasn’t required, but it was a debate that resurfaced many times for the first Christians.

Thankfully Jesus had laid a foundation about the kingdom of God right at the start. The senior figures in the life of the church knew that teaching. It proved important. What was learned during those relatively peaceful forty days with Jesus was crucial for the complex and divisive issues which developed as the gospel spread to people of all nations. For those very first apostles, training mattered.

  • Would you get on a plane if the pilot was not trained to fly? Or if the pilot had done only the course on takeoff but never got round to the lesson on how to land?
  • Would you consult a doctor who looked good in a lab coat, had all the right text books on the shelves, was an expert at listening to your problem, but had never been to medical school?
  • Would you let your neighbor service your car’s brakes even though he admitted he knew nothing of car mechanics? “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll open it all up, take everything out and give it a bit of a clean and I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Would that be okay?

Not one of us would ever allow any of these things! We want someone trained to do work that matters.

Christian work matters. How can we think it acceptable that people who do Christian work have no training or inadequate training? Those who share the gospel, those who teach in Sunday School, those who counsel others, those who preach from pulpits, those who visit the sick, those who lead worship services are all people dealing with the things of eternity. Their ministries touch the deepest and most important areas of people’s lives. Paul told Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Get prepared, get it right. Be a worker of whom God would be proud.

Jesus did not rush back to heaven. He took time with the disciples and he taught them. What they were about to do was critical for the gospel, and he prepared them well.

They saw Jesus. They learned from Jesus. Very soon they would be telling about Jesus. We stand in a direct line of descent from these Christians. Without their experience of seeing the risen Savior, without their time in preparation, and then without them going out with the good news, we would never have heard.  “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” What a critical time this was.



[1] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?: A Skeptic Looks at the Death and Resurrection of Christ, 1987: Zondervan. Quotations are from the first chapter, “The Book That Refused to be Written.” “Frank Morison” was the literary pseudonym for Albert Henry Ross (1881-1950), a journalist and novelist who grew up in Stratford-on-Avon, England.

[2] In his gospel, that is exactly how Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching after his resurrection (Luke 24:46-48), and it is the message behind the words of Jesus Luke writes a few verses later in Acts 1: that the day was soon coming when they would take the news of the gospel beyond Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and right to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).