The Big Story #6: God's Church
The book of Acts gives an account of how the first disciples testified to their witnessing the risen Jesus. The resurrection was the clincher, it proved Jesus was who he said he was. Although killed, God had vindicated him and raised him up; he was exalted as Lord. Peter and John defended themselves before the council “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Therefore the resurrection was central to their early preaching, they were utterly convinced of its importance. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
But following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples didn’t fly out the blocks, they waited. Jesus told them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And so when the day of Pentecost arrived they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They received that power and boldness they were promised, speaking in many different languages, enabling Peter to preach the first Christian sermon into the melting pot of nations in Jerusalem.
God at Babel (Genesis 11) had confused their languages, but here the Holy Spirit was enabling understanding for all nations. Jesus’ task for his disciples included a recommissioning of the first command “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) and further actioned the promise to Abraham that through him all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Acts tells the story of how the Church spread from Jerusalem throughout a significant part of the Eastern Roman Empire, finishing with Paul’s arrival in Rome. In many ways it’s an unsatisfactory conclusion. The story is far from over. Paul is recorded as saying he hoped to go to Spain (Romans 15:28), ‘the ends of the earth’ is still to be reached, what happens to Paul next?
Tom Wright describes the story of the Bible as an unfinished play, you have 4 acts and the 5th act is not complete. He suggests that rather than getting a good playwright to finish it, the actors by immersing themselves in the narrative of the first four acts should be encouraged to improvise the rest of the story up until where they know they need to get. Improvising here doesn’t mean just making it up, but like a jazz musician it requires creatively playing within the setting given, understanding the context and working within its parameters.
The commission Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28 is for us too. This story, God’s story, is our story, and we have a part to play. We may not know all the details but we know how it’s going to end and we find that in Revelation 21 and 22.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
God would dwell with his people, his chosen people. In an echo of Exodus 19:5-6, Peter writes to the Church “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
That’s us, God’s Church, God’s people. The more we read the Bible, the more we pray, the more we worship with God’s people, the more we immerse ourselves in God’s big story we find out more and more what it looks like to play our part. It’s more than a good career or happy family, more than our grades, our friends, our make-up, phones or clothes – we are invited to live for something bigger than ourselves. We are invited to be play a part in God’s big story, the story of scripture, Genesis to Revelation.