“The Church’s Witness” (Acts 4:32-35)
The Second Sunday of Easter (April 11, 2021)
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
How great is it to continue to greet one another with that phenomenal news. You won’t hear it anywhere else but from the lips of true believers in Jesus Christ. Oh, you might hear some people say, “Happy Easter!” or “Happy Spring!” but the good news that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified dead and buried, is alive again from the dead would never come from their lips.
In fact, for all too many people in our world such news is nothing but nonsense. They insist: “Dead people don’t come alive again. If you’re dead you’re dead. Anyone with even half a brain, knows such a resurrection is impossible, unreasonable, even against science!” Even people who claim to believe in a god or practice some religion might possibly talk about new life, or a rebirth, as we see all around us in nature every Spring. Some might even speak of people being reincarnated; that is, their souls going on to live in another bodily forms. But none believe or preach a resurrection of the dead body to life again. That resurrection proclamation is unique to the Christian Church.
As it happens, in our reading from the fourth chapter of Acts, the holy evangelist Luke paints a wonderful picture of Christ’s Church by relating the goings on of the infant Christian Church in those first century days following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. Like the message of “Christ is risen!” this picture of the community of people you won’t see anywhere else outside those who believe in and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.
Allow me to read it to you once again:
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Wow! In this description we are brought to total awe. What a sight to see in this world. It is so unlike anything else. No country, nation, community, even fellowship of people, religious or nonreligious, even comes close to this picture of the Church of Christ on earth. It is the “Mona Lisa” by which all other fellowships, groups, can be measured and judged.
Where does one even begin to understand and appreciate the unique beauty, structure, and character of this fellowship of believers? I believe we must begin at its very center, its heart. The beating, throbbing, heart of the Church has to be her proclamation that Jesus Christ crucified is raised from the dead. As we are taught elsewhere in Holy Scripture, Jesus is the Head of the Church and all those baptized and believing in Him are members of His body. But what gives life to believers, sets them apart from every other so called religious entity, provides them with truth, fills them with hope and equips them with purpose is the good news that He Who was dead is now alive!
This is the reason why, as Luke describes, the apostles “with great power… were giving their testimony (witness) to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the church’s very heart. Without it the Church would die and so, I’m afraid would the whole world with her.
Even the day of the week the body of believers in Jesus Christ regularly assemble points us to this pulsing, life-giving, organ of the Church. From the beginning Christians began meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday. It is the day Jesus, keeping the promise He had made, rose from the dead. Every Sunday is the Day of our Lord’s Resurrection.
This is why even during the season of Lent, a time set aside for repentance and reflection upon the need for the death of Jesus, the Sundays are not counted in Lent’s 40 days. Instead, each Sunday is considered a mini-resurrection day!
If Christians ever give up Sunday as the day of their Sabbath, their day of holy convocation,” I believe we will also see the complete erosion of its unique message as well as its whole purpose for existence in this world, to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19, 20). In other words it will lose its heart… its relevance!
You see, it is good and right that we believers in Christ make it our aim to teach and preach all that Christ has taught us in His Word, just as He commands us (Matt. 28:20). We and the world need to hear the Law so that we are brought to see our sin and our grave need for a Savior. It is also important that we preach and teach the history of God’s dealings with the world and His people under both the Old and New Covenants. From it we learn of God’s power and grace that not only created us, but sustains us and provides for all that we need. We need to teach the incarnation of the Son of God, lest we fail to comprehend that our Savior is not just a man but He is God in human flesh come to save us. But most of all, it is crucial that we boldly and manifestly proclaim the crucifixion of this God/Man, Jesus Christ, for there on His cross He finished His mission and work to redeem us from sin, death and hell. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:23,24).
However, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the “Amen” to every promise God has given us…to every truth He has taught us… and to every sacrificial act Jesus has endured to redeem us. Again, we hear from St. Paul, “He was put to death for our transgressions, He was raised to life for our justification”(Ro. 4:25 ) And quite soberly he states, “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
One of our Lutheran theologians has put it all so nicely, “The resurrection is the crowning work of God accomplishing our redemption. It was the final proof of the deity and of the Messiahship of Jesus. It attested the full efficacy of his life, his suffering, and his death in removing the barrier that separated us from God by satisfying every claim of his holiness and righteousness. It showed also that the glorified Savior lived and ruled as the Head of the Church to keep and to bless it to eternity” (Lenski, p.189).
Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there would be no living body of Jesus in the world… no Church. There might still be some dedicated well-wishers like there are in a whole laundry list of faiths and religions in the world. But like them, without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no validation for the church’s message and proclamation of the Christ either. All that the Church taught and preached would be just unverified speculations and proclamations, void of any true hope, veracity, and eternal comfort.
But Jesus did in fact raise from the dead. The testimony of the manifold eye witnesses of this fact are recorded in the pages of the New Testament Scriptures. In fact, there is more, written, eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ resurrection than to any other event in the ancient world. No other religion can point to such verifiable substantiation for its claims. In fact, no other religion can nor even offers the hope of redemption and resurrection from the dead.
You and I in the body of believers in Jesus Christ alone have this life-giving hope and alone have been given the exclusive rights to proclaim it in our world through the very testimony of His eyewitnesses as recorded in the New Testament of The Holy Scriptures. Together we are the Resurrected Jesus’ body in the world.
It is this witness of the resurrected Jesus then that also binds us believers into one body to the extent that, as Luke observes of the first century Christians, conforms us to be of “one heart and soul.” The resurrection of Jesus pulls all of the doctrine of the church together and validates it. This doctrine, the teaching of Christ crucified and resurrected, is what truly unifies us. Manmade agreements or arrangements can only give us at most outward unity. Our love for God or for others is too fickle to unite us. This is why, as Paul instructs the church at Ephesus, God gave apostles, pastors and teachers to the church so that we all might attain to the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:11-13).
Something truly beautiful results in the church, therefore, where the Resurrection of Jesus is boldly proclaimed. Luke observes, “… great grace was upon them all…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but…” literally, “they were common to all.” In other words, Luke goes on to explain, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
A word of caution is in order here. These verses do not describe nor imply that these first century brothers and sisters of ours in the Church were lead by the resurrection of Jesus to practice some form of Marxism or communism. The word translated “common” is the Greek word koina, the root of which denotes joining together and is also the root of the word koinonea; that is in English “fellowship” or “communion.”
Here common does not denote collective ownership. In other words these Christians graciously revived in faith and hope by Jesus’ resurrection were moved by this grace of God to look at even their personal property in a whole different light. It moved them to be charitable with it. Their homes and property remained theirs to do with what they wanted. No one was confiscating it and giving it to someone else as part of some “redistribution of wealth” program. (Acts 5:4) They were simply being moved to no longer view their property and goods as something with which to use exclusively for their own personal or selfish purposes and desires but instead as that which they had been given to use for the benefit of the whole body.
How beautiful and wonderful this fellowship is! It is the living body of the Risen Jesus on earth. It is comprised of all those like you and me who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ro. 6) and cling to Him in faith. It is alive in the living hope brought about by the crucified and risen Jesus. It pulsates with the bold witness to the resurrected Jesus even to a world that rejects such saving truth. It lives and breathes in charity, as each member sees his/her earthly possessions as gifts of the Resurrected Head to be used for the benefit of the whole body.
God grace us that this be the picture of our fellowship here at Trinity! Christ is risen!