After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders could reasonably have expected the whole following to collapse, never to be heard of again. Such had been the fate of other such movements in the past. Imagine their consternation and confusion then, when the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb. But they would convince themselves that since this could not possibly have been the work of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, the body must have been stolen by the disciples. And this was the story they encouraged to be spread around.
Imagine their further consternation and utter confusion, when the disciples themselves began to preach with power and authority, and to heal in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But they had gone so far down the road of opposition that there was no turning back. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, the missing body, the power and confidence of the disciples, the healing of the man crippled from birth, they could not accept it. “What are we going to do with these men”, they asked themselves. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
But just as King Canute had no power to keep back the tide, so they could do nothing to prevent the preaching of the gospel in word and action. In the same power across the centuries, that gospel has been, and is being preached throughout the world, as Christians go out in faith and obedience to their Lord and Saviour’s command. The Church in the former Soviet Union, prospered under persecution and could not be stopped. In Africa today, in all the turmoil and trouble of that great continent, the Church is growing fast. Here in the UK the Church has been in decline, but Christians are responding to the call to evangelism through ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Once we were a missionary nation, but now the Church has changed from pastoral care to mission on home territory. Children are growing up relatively ignorant of our Christian heritage, without knowledge of basic Christian teaching and understanding. No wonder there is a moral wilderness, lack of direction, with crime on the increase, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and the rest.
We need that same power and confidence today if we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil which lie behind the moral malaise. We need that same conviction which the Apostles had that salvation is found in no one else. It is in that name of Jesus, and that name alone that we go out, and by which people are brought to God, and healed of all their sins. The Church is still heroic in its mission to preach the gospel, but it seems in many ways, we have settled for the lie that what was seen in the early Church cannot happen any more. We speak the words of faith, but where is the evidence that it makes much difference? Where is the evidence that will convince others that Jesus Christ is Lord?
It can only happen when the power of the Holy Spirit is released among God’s people, and it can only happen according to our faith. There are great and wonderful promises in the Scriptures, but if we don’t really believe them then they are like blank cheques waiting to be filled in and cashed. We believe a legal document when it is signed and sealed, and would pursue it to the highest court in the land. But do we believe the word of God which cannot lie? Do we avail ourselves fully of the means of grace by which we grow and come to maturity in Christ? Preachers should be conscious that when God speaks through them, He first must speak to them. The chief means of grace are the breaking of bread, study of the word and prayer. If we neglect any of these we are so much poorer and less likely to respond to God’s leading in our lives, to reach our full potential as Christians, and therefore less effective in mission and evangelism. Studying the Scriptures in a group is far more beneficial and rewarding than doing it alone. Similarly, learning to pray in a group helps us to tune in to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the whole church, not just to individuals. We can share the mind of Christ. Otherwise to a certain extent we are just play acting, going through the motions, and not fully engaged in the fight.
There is great need in the world today, it hardly needs to be said. The Church of Christ alone can supply the need. During the first world war there was a famous poster of Lord Kitchener with his finger pointing “Britain needs you”, and the finger seemed to follow you as you passed by; you couldn’t get away from it. We are called to tell others that they need Christ who alone can satisfy all their deepest needs and longings. Let us commit all that we have and are, to Him, to truly be His faithful soldiers and servants to the end of our lives, to the end that His name will be glorified and His kingdom extended.