So how did Jesus original band of followers turn their uncertainty into a world-changing movement?
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to “tour” the battlefield at Yorktown–the site where American revolutionaries secured Cornwallis’ surrender and the autonomy America enjoys to this day. I use the term “tour” quite loosely for the site is little more than a field, with a small gazebo marking the spot.
In that moment as I stood where warriors had apparently stood before me, I was overwhelmed with the question, “How did they know what to do?” I found myself mesmerized by the wonder that they could walk from that battlefield and build a nation as great as this one.
It’s with that same, or maybe even increased, amazement that I watch the disciples. Clearly unclear about next steps, and yet here we sit more some two millennia later, basking in the success of their mission. How did they know what to do? Their own faith seems a bit new, likely more the product of the resurrection and some significant connecting of the dots between what Jesus said and what they have now experienced. What did they know?
We could start with what Jesus had told them about His plans for them. He called it His “Church.” The word in Greek ecclesia is a compound of two ideas–ek or “out of” and kaleo which means “called.” His “Church” would be the “called out ones”–an interesting identity, but hardly descriptive of what they were to do.
Elsewhere Jesus said that His Church would be founded on revelation (Matt. 16:18). When Peter seemed to miraculously get the right answer concerning Jesus’ true identity–the Christ, Son of the living God–Jesus told the fisherman and his friends that the Father alone could have revealed that to him and that it was on this revelation that His Church would be built.
He went on to tell them that hell itself wouldn’t be able to stop His Church, likely meaning that hell would sure try. But this “Church” would be unstoppable, quite a statement to those of a lower class, among a people currently under the thumb of a foreign empire.
He later described them as powered by the Spirit (Ac. 1:5) and heading to far-reaching places (Ac. 1:8). It’s hard to imagine how that originally sounded in the ears of those who knew little beyond their own borders.
Ultimately, he told them that they would be driven by love. No kingdom had ever been driven by love before. Religious ideals were spread by warfare. People captured territory and subjugated others in the name of their gods. The battle had proven “our God is bigger than yours” and the result would be slavery, often in service of the gods who had apparently given victory. No, a kingdom or even a religious ideal spread by love, by inviting others to faith in a God they hadn’t known, that was a radical new thought.
It’s not much to go on…and yet they did. Stay tuned, because we will soon reach the moment when they discover and ultimately show us how to be His Church.