November 15, 2020
Jason Meyer (Downtown Campus) | Acts 1:3
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.—Acts 1:3
Conclusion: Saturday’s Children versus Sunday’s Children
Last week, we saw the main point of the whole book of Acts: “What King Jesus continued to do and teach by his Spirit through his apostles.”
I am continuously emphasizing this point because this is what Luke wants us to see. It is so relevant today because people are confused about Christianity. After our recent election cycle, it can be even more tempting to equate Christianity with moral or political positions on abortion or homosexuality or other positions. But Christianity is all about Christ. Not a political or moral position, but a person. His life. His death. His resurrection. His ascension. His rule and reign and return.
But this morning we ask a question. What if it is all a hoax? What if it never really happened? What if it was all a hallucination? What if the disciples only saw Jesus in a visionary experience or as a spirit? Verse 3 is here to put all of those questions to rest. The main point should be fairly obvious from this verse: Jesus is alive and he proved it to his disciples many times.
Jesus presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs. Once again, we see that the Book of Acts is the Acts of King Jesus himself. Jesus took the initiative. The disciples never searched for him and found him. He bends to meet them in their weakness. He presented himself alive to them.
They saw him suffer. They had no doubts about his death. It was easy to see and irrefutable. But they had a hard time believing that he was really alive. So Jesus presented himself alive with many convincing proofs.
This word for “proofs” is very important. It means a compelling sign or strict proof. We might call it a tangible proof or irrefutable evidence. One commentator makes the observation that “many proofs” is an expression that occurs almost exclusively in Greek works of historiography (Ben Witherington, Acts, 1998, p. 108). This word occurs only here in the New Testament. Luke is a historian and he is insisting on the historicity of the resurrection. It is hard to imagine how Luke could have chosen a stronger word to communicate the compelling sense of the reality of the resurrection beyond a doubt. The disciples saw Jesus—not in a visionary or spiritual experience, but in an irrefutably physical way: they saw him and touched him.
Think of the way the apostle John makes this point crystal clear:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.—1 John 1:1–3
These proofs were an essential part of the disciples’ preparation for ministry. It is hard to overstate the importance of the resurrection for them. It was the key to the history of Acts. Historians always study the tangible effects of history and they try to postulate a probable cause that could explain the effect.
Here we see the answer in black and white. Jesus did not give the disciples mere ideas to take into the world. He gave them himself. Proof that he is alive. Yes, he died. They saw him at the cross. They heard the nails driven by hammers into his flesh. Some saw the spear thrust into his side. They were so convinced of his death that some of them scattered and others cowered in fear with doors locked for fear that they would be next.
But something changed everything. Jesus conquered death. He appeared to them. That is the only explanation to all the effects that follow. They never would have gone forth based on a fable or a fairy tale or wishful thinking or an elaborate philosophy. No! They gathered together in Jerusalem because the Jesus they knew and loved was alive again. How did Jesus prove it to them?
A) He Appeared to Them: Visible
We learn he presented himself alive to them with many proofs. Jesus presented himself alive to them by appearing to them.
The Gospel of Luke ends with three appearances of Jesus: Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24:13–33), Simon Peter (Luke 24:34), and the Eleven and those with them (Luke 24:36–51).
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.—Luke 24:36–43
Notice that these proofs were not just for the eyes, but for the hands as well. They thought he was a ghost. So he showed them his hands and feet. He asked them to touch him. He was not a ghost because he had flesh and bones.
They still struggled to believe because of their joy and marveling so he went further. He ate a piece of broiled fish in front of them.
This was a defining moment for the disciples and Peter even mentions it in his sermon to the Gentiles in Acts 10.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.—Acts 10:38–41
Acts 1 now tells us that there were many more appearances and that they took place over a period of 40 days. First Corinthians 15 also emphasizes that there were many appearances to many different people.
And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.—1 Corinthians 15:5–8
Why did he appear so many times? Two reasons: (1) so they could be certain, and (2) so they could be prepared for what was coming.
First, these disciples were not hard-wired to believe his resurrection, but to doubt it. Each appearance was another nail in the coffin of their doubts. He really is alive. The tomb really is empty. Jesus really did just eat that fish! Take the fact that he appeared to 500 at one time. It would be the only mass hallucination in history that happened to so many people over such a long period of time. It is irrefutable proof.
But second, Jesus was mercifully preparing them for what was to come. Jesus appeared and then disappeared so many times over such a long time period to prepare them for the days when he would no longer be physically with them. He was with them all the time in Luke. At the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, he came and went many times. His departure would not be sudden and instantaneous. Here one day and then gone forever the next day. Jesus remained with them from his resurrection to his ascension. Surely these appearances would gradually help them come to terms with the fact that he was really going to go away and not return again until he splits the skies and every eye will see him coming on the clouds.
B) He Spoke to Them: Audible
Jesus was “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The Kingdom of God refers to the rule or reign of God. The book begins with a reference to the kingdom (1:3) and ends with a reference to the kingdom (28:31). There are many references to the kingdom that occur in strategic places in Acts (1:3, 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 28:31).
He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.—Acts 28:30–31
What is the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the reality of God’s reign that invades this present evil age. Listen to the proof that Jesus gave the Pharisees that the kingdom had actually come in his ministry:
But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.—Luke 11:20
What in the world does the casting out of demons have to do with the coming of the kingdom? Perhaps the reason we struggle so much to understand this basic point is because of how we have come to define what is normal as what is natural.
Here is what I mean. Many people define miracles as the disruption of the natural order. Here is nature and then God suddenly breaks in and does something supernatural—which we almost interpret as unnatural. But we have it the wrong way around. Miracles are not interruptions of the natural order; they are the restoration of the natural order. We have lived so long with this fallen world that we think the normal is natural. We think sickness, disease, pain, and death are natural. They are not. They are unnatural. They were not there from the beginning. Those unnatural things broke into God’s good world that he made.
And when Jesus comes into this world, he comes to bring creation back to its original and natural order. The fall invaded this world, but now the kingdom invades this fallen world and brings reconciliation and restoration.
So when Jesus drives out demons, what is he doing? He drives out of creation these powers of darkness and destruction. When Jesus heals the sick, what is he doing? He is driving out of creation the powers of debilitation and bodily destruction. Wherever Jesus goes we see him restoring not just people to health, but creation to health. Each miracle is a foreshadowing of the future. The new heavens and new earth will be when the natural fully replaces sin’s unnatural dark reign of terror.
Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that he has defeated death, that dreadful enemy that invaded his good world. He has vanquished death and opened the door to the world to come. But it is the prophecy of something better than even the beginning. Jesus’ resurrection body was a transformed, glorified body that could eat and drink and talk, but could also do more. He could appear and disappear and even go through locked doors. Jesus’ body was not less than a natural body, just more. And his transformed body is the beginning of God’s new creation rule and reign, the firstfruits guaranteeing our resurrection.
The kingdom of God has broken into this fallen world. All around us we see signs of beauty and signs of decay. We see joy and we see challenge. If you are an unbeliever, the haunting truth is that earth’s joys are the closest you will get to heaven. Do not settle for temporary joy. Jesus came so that your sins could be forgiven and you could belong to him forever.
If you are a believer, earth’s sorrows are as close as you will get to hell. This is not the time to throw in the towel or call it quits with discouragement for all of the reasons to lose heart in this fallen world. Jesus is alive. He is coming soon.
The resurrection is the proof that Jesus defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:45–57). It is proof that he is God (Romans 1:4; John 20:28). They are the stamp of authenticity from the Father upon everything that Jesus said and did: This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. The work is finished; the sacrifice was given and it has been accepted fully so that God’s wrath is fully satisfied and our sins are completely forgiven.
Just feel with me what each appearance said. Each appearance said: the debt is paid in full. Each appearance says the death has been swallowed up in victory. Each appearance says, “Even the grave cannot separate us from God.”
Conclusion: Saturday’s Children Versus Sunday’s Children
Ray Stedman calls people living today “Saturday’s children.” So many people today live in despair and darkness like the people on that dark Saturday between Jesus’ death and resurrection. They don’t know about the bright victory of Easter Sunday. But there are some who are different. They are “Sunday’s children.” Sunday’s children know how to look at the empty tomb and say “O death, where is your victory?” They know how to speak to the sorrows that surround you in the dark valley.
Dear friends, we are not Saturday’s children. We are not those who throw in the towel and call it quits. We are not those who cynically say, “Nothing really matters.” We are not children of this pandemic.
We are Sunday’s children. We are not the people of pandemic gloom, but the people of resurrection hope. We are in a season of uncertainty right now. We do not know how long this pandemic season will be upon us. We do not know if we need another lockdown. We do not know how long we have to wear masks. We do not know if our COVID-19 numbers will go up, we do not know if the stock market will trend up, we don’t know if the weather will warm up or if our circumstances will look up, but we know he is raised up. We know the tomb is empty. A Christian is someone who is uncertain about the immediate, but certain about the ultimate. We must distinguish between the important and the ultimate. May the resurrection be always trending in our hearts, not the latest news report or the latest fear that rises in our hearts. We are Sunday’s children. We have a living hope.
Pray for a grace to see the risen Lord Jesus at work in your life so that you are a witness of his resurrection life.