But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24). – The Apostle Peter, preaching publicly for the first time on the day of Pentecost.
Have you ever considered the incredible audacity of those first followers of Jesus? The odds against them were enormous. Honestly, their prospects looked absolutely dismal! They were a tiny minority made up of nobodies, facing powerful people who wanted them silenced. Some wanted them dead. Nonetheless, they persisted, and the church grew! How in the world did that happen? As today’s Great Commission Christians in a society increasingly antagonistic toward the church and its mission, we’d like to know.
We realize, of course, that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that such things were and are accomplished. The mission is, after all, the Lord’s! But some other very important factors came into play, and one of them, I believe, is Easter. Yes, that glorious day, that alleluia morning, that miracle of miracles – it truly empowered the Apostles and the early Church for mission in a hostile world. It was a centerpiece of their preaching, for it had changed their lives. Indeed, it changes everything! If we, by faith, also fully embrace the reality of our Lord’s resurrection, it will do the same for us.
I want to share with you five truths that Easter powerfully placed into the hearts and minds of the first Christians, truths that I believe energized them for mission, even against all odds.
1. Salvation is sealed! Simply put, the doubts of the disciples were erased by Jesus rising from the dead. His victory over death unequivocally showed Jesus to be who he said he was. This was his concluding step in redeeming them. God’s plan was proven and completed! The natural and necessary next step was fulfilling the great commission of the One who reigns over life and death. May God empower us to similarly count on and respond to the certainty of our Savior!
2. The “impossible” is possible for our God. Anyone would have been astonished by the events of Easter Sunday and the disciples certainly were. Can you imagine the kind of peace and assurance this placed in them? If God says he can, he can! If he says he will, he will! Indeed, nothing – nothing – is impossible for him. They needed such unshakable confidence in God as they pursued a mission that would have them stand against hostile and overwhelming forces both human and spiritual (John 16:33). Will we so believe and therefore obey? May the Lord give us such faith that will surpass our doubts and fears!
3. The promise is greater than the pain. The Apostles had experienced such disappointment, guilt and sorrow the week before, but on Easter morning they were gifted with alleluias! The pain of the past faded away in the glory of the risen Lord Jesus. Neither their failings nor their grief could prevent what God had promised. As these servants of Christ began to serve his mission they saw yet more trouble and anguish, but they were able to face the pain knowing that the promise of Jesus is greater. Even chained in prison they praised him! They suffered willingly for Jesus because he had won for them all of God’s grace and mercy. May we be so convinced of the surpassing greatness of God’s promises that we would consider the Lord’s mission before our own comfort and desires.
4. There’s more to life than this life. What enabled the first missionaries to embrace the risks of going into unknown and dangerous places? Why were they willing to sacrifice even their lives for the cause of the gospel? Surely the Easter experience influenced them in a powerful way, moving them to live not merely for life here and now, but for the new and eternal life that Jesus secured for them by rising from the dead. More than a doctrine they confessed, living forever with Jesus, beyond the grave, became their way of considering their time on this earth. Their mindset was heavenly, their values eternal. What if we also lived daily with this perspective? May the Lord gift us to glimpse beyond this world and so invest our earthly lives for eternal gains.
5. The message is for everyone, everywhere. If the first Christians had thought that their mission was to “establish a new religion,” or even to “invite people to come to church,” I wonder if they would have been so committed. I doubt they would have persevered. What moved them to go to the “ends of the earth” and “against all odds” with the gospel? They didn’t go to push a new spiritual practice or organization. They had something far more powerful. Easter had given them the answer to the most universal of human problems. Death comes to all. Easter, therefore, is for all people. The witnesses of the risen Jesus knew that they had the solution that everyone, everywhere needed. How could they keep it to themselves?
My friends, Christ is risen! Against all odds and even against death itself, this empowers us for mission!