A True Story
Their hopes were dashed; they huddled in locked upper rooms and moaned to each other as they walked the roads. They were fear-filled, ashamed of their cowardice and disappointed that the one they’d hoped would fulfil God’s promises to Israel had turned out a loser. In a real sense, more than any others they were unbelievers and that’s what he called them when he walked into the room and rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief (Mark 16:14, see Luke 24:25 and John 20:24-29).
We’ve heard the wise objection that Jesus should have appeared to unbelievers when he rose rather than to his followers. Only wise people who don’t know the text can speak that way because the only kind of people he appeared to was the unbelieving—his disciples didn't believe he was raised.
In any case, had he appeared to Pilate and he had become a believer we wouldn’t have been allowed to use his witness since it would be the testimony of a believer. If you don’t believe that, take a look at what happens when we speak of Jesus appearing to Saul, the unbeliever. To get around his testimony all kinds of explanations are offered, from epilepsy to heat stroke to suppressed guilt and consequent hallucinations.
This much we know from the NT record: something happened after the crucifixion of Jesus broke their hearts and spirits—something that galvanized them into fierce warfare with the powers that be, that made them rejoice and call suffering a privilege; something that enabled them to work miracles and persuade many thousands that God had not abandoned his promises. Their story was that Jesus was gloriously alive again, that they saw and spent time with him and that he was in their midst by his Holy Spirit who was making his presence felt by signs and wonders.
The New Covenant church (see Matthew 16:18) began in fulfilment of God’s promise that he would not abandon faithless Israel and that he would make a new covenant with them unlike the one he’d made with their fathers when he brought them out of Egypt (Luke 22:20, Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:6-13). These were Jews, the descendants of Abraham through Jacob and Jesus came to fulfil the promises God made to their fathers (Romans 15:8) and in Jesus as the critical moment God revealed and continues to reveal his faithfulness. The richness of God’s promises to Israel were greater than they could possibly have known and it was left to people like Peter (Acts), James (Acts 15) and to Paul in particular to reveal that Gentile (non-Jewish) blessing was wrapped up in Israel’s glory (see Romans 11:24 and context and 15:25-27).
To dismiss all this—which is the heart of the NT witness—and reduce the nature of the Church of God in Jesus to a mass of people who admire Jesus and select precious pieces of his teaching as a moral guide is to ignore the biblical witness altogether.
The NT church didn’t rise as a sad group who knew the gentle and kind man and couldn’t let his memory die. Jesus didn’t foresee that he’d be killed before he accomplished anything and so made a last minute attempt to give personal piety something to remember and feed on.
No, his death and resurrection were part of God’s eternal and cosmic purpose and his establishing of his church (as distinct from the Mosaic church of the Wilderness—Acts 7:38) was no ad hoc response to unforeseen events.
Does the description of the Church of God in Ephesians 1:1-14 sound like a spur of the moment thing? Does it read like something built out of the fragments of failure? Does it look to you like a “Plan B”? Does it read like a movement that humans came up with in the face of their disappointment?
As surely as Abraham was chosen of God and as sure as Israel was chosen by him and as sure as Jesus was God’s chosen (Matthew 12:18, 1 Peter 2:4) so the New Covenant people were the chosen of God (1 Peter 1:1; 2:9 and Ephesians 1:3-14) made up of Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 1:11-14 and 2:11—3:6).
To reduce the Church of Jesus Christ to a brotherhood/sisterhood of morally serious people whose primary aim is to grow in moral excellence is a tragedy! The NT is then read as a repository of “Principles to live by”; the kind of thing you can read in a Reader’s Digest or a Humanist Manifesto.
The Church’s business is not to show what nice people it’s made of and how you’d enjoy their company if you became a part of this or that congregation and nor is its business is to talk ceaselessly about how to get saved and go to heaven.
Its business is to be “the body of Jesus Christ,” to bear witness to a person! Jesus! Jesus!—in whom God has begun and will complete the redemption and glorification of his creation in keeping with his eternal purpose.
The Church did not appear by chance or as an after-thought or as a weak substitute for the real thing! The Church is not to determine its own nature but to embrace the truth God has revealed about her as she moves in Christ-imitating witness toward more truth and a greater likeness to her Lord into whose death and resurrection she was baptized and whose return she heralds in her Holy Communion!
Her place and destiny in this world was eternally planned and brought about. The world may smile at that as nonsense but the Church must take an entirely different view. Click here for a little more.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.