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Christ’s Final Appearance

May 15th, 2017

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, It is hard for you to kick against the goads. (Acts 9:5 NKJV)

The twelfth and final appearance of the resurrected Christ was to Saul the Pharisee, who became Paul the Apostle. Paul himself described his conversion: “Then last of all He [Jesus] was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8 NKJV). John, as he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos also had a vision of the resurrected Christ, but he began his account by saying that he was “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10). So the experience fits the pattern of a vision that conveyed a revelation (Rev. 1:1), and not as a physical resurrection appearance. Paul, however, on the Damascus road, described his experience as similar to those of the other resurrection appearances. He saw and conversed with the resurrected Christ.

Being “out of order” means nothing: we cannot put God in a box: This resurrection appearance speaks to us about Christ being the Head of His church. He saves, He directs, He calls, He enables, He redeems, and leads as He will. We must let Him be Lord. News of Paul’s salvation at first gave rise to doubts, then gave cause for rejoicing, but later, as he rose to positions of influence, we see jealousies came (Phil. 1:15). Paul as a Pharisee had resembled the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who was unforgiving toward those who were less righteous than he was. Yet as a Christian he came to resemble the Prodigal himself, who had opposed Christ and fought against His purposes, but then was elevated by grace to leadership, and some Christians then became to him like the older brother to the Prodigal. Paul learned to live in grace with both of those realities, as we all must in some way or another.

The resurrection appearances all except for this one happened within a forty day period (Acts 1:3). There was then a ten day gap between the Ascension of Christ (Acts 1:9) and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church (Acts 2:1). The appearance to Paul happened, it is estimated, within the first few years of the Church’s experience, between A.D. 31-36, well after the ascension. The church in Jerusalem was established, churches were reported as having sprung up in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31), and a strong Christian community established in Damascus of Syria before Paul came to faith. The Ascension of Christ was well in the past.  But, nevertheless, Christ appeared in His resurrection body for His own purposes, to save Paul and send him into the world as a witness.

This says something of the resurrection body: That the resurrected Christ appeared to Paul after the Ascension tells us that His resurrection body, and our resurrection bodies which we shall receive, is able to travel back and forth between the two realms of heaven and earth. Christ had no further transformation from His resurrection to His Ascension. In fact, the angels were emphatic, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NKJV). This will also be true of our resurrected body. As Paul wrote: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:42 NKJV).

Christ’s intimate interaction with Paul: A consistent aspect of each resurrection appearance is the personal, confidential nature of them. Mary Magdalene, the apostles on the road to Emmaus, Thomas, Peter, John - each recorded a personal and intimate experience with Christ. Christ told Paul that he was like a stubborn farm animal who was kicking against the goads, or the proddings of God. The words put God in the role of Creator and Master of Paul, the Omnipotent One who is able to use every circumstance to communicate His will. He had been directing Paul in a certain direction, leading him to trust in Christ. Paul had fought against these leadings of God.

We know of the martyrdom of Stephen, that Paul was there giving his ascent to the stoning (Acts 7:58 and 8:1 and 22:20). No doubt the manner of Stephen’s death, his boldness in his testimony, his fearlessness and faith in his death, his peace and serenity made their impact on Paul. The anger and the “murderous threats” that Paul was breathing out against the Church (Acts 8:3 and 9:1) reveal the anger and conflict of Paul’s own heart. He described himself as a “blasphemer, persecutor, and a violent man” (1 Tim. 1:13).

Paul’s conversion: Paul cannot explain his conversion in any other terms but that he repented of his sins and trusted in Christ, becoming obedient to Him. His first response to Christ gave a hint of his conversion in that he called out to Christ, “Who are you, Lord” (Acts 9:5). Yet it is inconclusive and the word “Lord,” or kurio in Greek, could just be another form of “Sir” (John 4:19, for example). But somewhere there was genuine faith, trust with an intent to obey. He said to King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

Paul, in describing his conversion emphasized his awareness of his sin, describing himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). He magnified the work and grace of God, saying “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). He gave no formulaic approach to conversion except the simple gospel message: “That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). The formula was in hearing the gospel and, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, believing in Christ - the “hearing of faith” as he described it to the Galatians (Gal 3:1-5). To the Philippian jailer Paul said it succinctly and clearly: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31).

The testimony of the resurrection: Twice more in the book of Acts Christ’s appearance and Paul’s conversion experience were recorded (Acts 22:3-21 and 26:2-23). It was not that Paul’s personal conversion was essential for everyone to hear, rather the significance of it was that he too had seen the resurrected Christ.

And for the church, the experience of Paul was remarkably similar to the experiences of others: intimacy, calling, and commissioning. Paul not only become saved, but he also received his calling and commissioning to go into the Gentiles and proclaim the gospel.

For us the profound message in this appearance is that Christ is Lord of the Church. He will do what He decides to do. We cannot limit Him, rather we may only listen to His voice, and follow as He leads.

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The Ascension Appearance, Part 3

May 12th, 2017

… but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:1-8 NASB)

A witness simply testifies to what he has seen. The word translated “witness” is martus in the Greek, from which we also get the word “martyr”- someone who bears witness by his death. It has a distinct forensic sense, and carries legal weight, as Christ said, “that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16 ESV).

The word was used for God, “For God is my witness,” wrote Paul (Rom. 1:9), “that without ceasing I always mention you in my prayers.” It was used also for Christ, who called Himself “the faithful and true witness” (Rev. 3:14). It was used for those who could witness to the miracles, teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22). In a broader sense it was used in Hebrews 12:1 to describe the faithful throughout the generations who could testify to the faithfulness of God.

To be a witness depends on the presence and power of the Spirit in our lives. It is clear that some aspects of being a witness to the miracles, teachings, and resurrection of Christ could have been carried out by a non-believer. A lost man could say as well as a saved man that they had seen Christ heal someone. There is no record in scripture of Christ ever having appeared before a non-believer in His resurrected body, but many lost people have examined these teachings and the historical record and can at least duplicate its message. According to Matthew 7:22-23, some who will preach the gospel and even see people believe in Christ will not believe themselves. In such cases it is the power of the gospel itself that is demonstrated, along with the convicting presence of the Spirit.

So, what is being taught here? If the gospel alone has power, why must the witness or the proclaimer be personally empowered as well? If the power of an automobile is in the engine, then what does it matter how fast the driver can run?

I believe what is being taught here is the importance of the Christian being filled with the Spirit. The Spirit brings conviction in our lives, matures us in the faith, confronts us with the lies we believe, settled the truth of God in our souls, and leads us in our lives. Sharing the gospel is best done by someone who loves the truth of God, who has experienced the truth of God in his heart and soul. The great trait of the Spirit of God is that He does not abide with those who harbor sin in their hearts.

Can a lost man share the gospel? Of course he can. But can he share it the way it ought to be shared - honestly, genuinely, from a heart touched by its truth, with a will surrendered to God, with a genuine repentant heart, with a true love for the Savior? No, he cannot.

The sharing of the gospel should penetrate the walls that man and devils have erected around hearts to keep the truth of God out, and that is best done by ordinary people who have found the life of God in its truth. The average Christian sharing his testimony as he is filled by the Spirit, how Christ has touched him, how the Word of God has convicted him, how the Spirit of God has led him - shared simply and plainly - is still the most powerful evangelistic tool in the arsenal of God.

This means that our effectiveness does not depend on how clever we are, how well we speak, how emotional and dramatic we are, or even how determined we are. It depends on how spiritual we are, or how closely we walk with God. He is the key to the Christian’s and to the church’s effectiveness in witnessing. If we walk with God in honesty of heart, we will find that He will bless our witness.

World-wide Evangelism and Local Evangelism: Some have questioned where we are to begin to share and to serve. Some have said that we ought to first go to the lost world. Others have said that we should only be concerned about those around us here. Which is correct? The answer is found in this little word translated “both” in English translations - te in Greek. It means that we are to be concerned with both the local witness and the worldwide witness. We cannot and should not choose one over the other, but simply and plainly commit to both.

Some commit by going themselves to the ends of the earth, and then writing back home to share their faith with friends and loved ones. Some commit by sharing the the gospel at home and then supporting by prayer and giving those who go into world missions.

All of this depends on the empowering presence of the Spirit of God. What keeps a missionary on the field for a lifetime? What keeps the church through several generations continuing to support world missions? The presence of the Spirit in their hearts and lives does this. Without Him missionaries would quit going and cease staying, and the church would quit sending, praying, and giving.

In all of these things we learn the clear lesson that we must have the Spirit of God in our hearts and lives to share effectively, to love unceasingly, and to stay at the task of world evangelization unerringly. The greatest thing any of us can do to share with the lost world is to start by surrendering our hearts to His Spirit, and asking Him to fill us with Himself.

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