Acts 1:8 (ESV)
“But 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.”
The Greek word that’s translated as “witnesses” here is “martures”—martyrs. That’s important.
The first Christians lived and died in poverty and torture without recanting. They weren’t just witnesses to the people of their generation; they were witnesses to us. Their martyrdom is the key to establishing the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection. They saw it. They testified to it. They died for it.
And you don’t learn about the Christians in the Coliseum with lions in Sunday School; you learn it in High School. Most of the evidence of Christian martyrdom isn’t in the Bible; it’s in the history books. Christians were persecuted mercilessly. Their refusal to recant, even under pain of death, certifies their sincerity. This wasn’t a game to them. It wasn’t a money-making scam. It wasn’t a quaint philosophy.
It was faith. The first Christians were persecuted for their faith, and their faith rested on the resurrection.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. — 1 Corinthians 15:14–19 (ESV)
If Jesus isn’t raised, then all the sacrifice, all the persecution, all the suffering, is for naught. Everything is just one big waste. That is, indeed, most pitiful. We’re the world’s biggest suckers.
When the first Christians confessed Jesus as Lord, and refused to bow down to Caesar as God, they were testifying that they were (to use the military analogy) “willing to die on this hill.”
They knew something and they wouldn’t back down, no matter the cost.
Experiencing the presence of God and studying the historicity of the resurrection aren’t alternative strategies for strengthening your faith. They’re complementary. Knowing that you have ground through the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead sets a baseline below which you cannot fall. In your darkest hour, when your faith is failing and you are doubting everything you thought you knew, you’ll still have that.
Conversely, each experience of the presence of God takes your faith to a new and higher level. You may not have seen what the first Christians saw but you saw something, and you know what that was. Eventually your faith becomes so robust that it cannot fall all the way back to the baseline.
More on this in the next devotional.
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