One month after my 16th birthday my father died. He was 53 years old. It was two o'clock in the morning and my mother woke me up saying that she thought my dad was really sick. I wasn't too worried cause my dad had never been really sick or in the hospital much --- but this night he suffered a major heart attack that neither he, nor my mother or I were ready for.
- I remember standing the doorway of his room as he lay in bed without breathing.
- I remember, first the police arriving, then the ambulance taking him away covered with a white sheet.
- I remember the rush of events taking place in the next few days as my mother made phone calls and funeral arrangements.
- And I remember the strangest thing of all --- and that was sitting on the floor of his room a few days later shinning his shoes, getting them ready for the funeral where the undertaker was going to dress him in his best suit and tie and he was going to wear these shoes in the coffin.
Years later I realized that shining his shoes was a sign of the denial that I was in over his death. It was my way of holding off, for one more minute the terrible reality that my father would never need shoes again, he was dead. With time I managed to let go of this denial and finally accept the difficult and painful truth, that my dad was gone and I would never have to shine his shoes, or run his errands, or watch the "Friday Night Fights", with him again.
This truth was so great, so hard to get my mind around, so difficult to acknowledge, that it took me almost 15 years --- not to know it (I knew what had happened) but rather to accept it as final.
Great truth, hard truth, challenging truth, painful truth is like that --- it takes a long time and great effort to accept.
The Truth in Acts
The theme running through the entire book of Acts is how different people come to grips with a new and devastating truth in their lives. This "truth" was, and remains amazing. That God, the creator of the universe and everyone and everything in it appeared on earth as a human being; was killed; resurrected from the dead; and then ascended back into the spiritual world of heaven.
You know, we get excited about the possibility of UFO's (unidentified flying objects). Imagine the newspaper and T.V. coverage if an alien spaceship with actual beings from another planet landed in Times Square in New York City and came out of their spaceship to make contact with us? Could you just imagine the news coverage? Every T.V. network, every newspaper, magazine, radio station would be represented. It would be front page, round the clock reporting for who knows how long? But even if every media outlet were there taking pictures, filming, interviewing these strange beings and their spaceship and mission --- you know what? I guarantee you that there would be people who would doubt that this would be true. They would claim it was a hoax, a fraud, a plot by the CIA or the Republicans to scare people. Even if all the leaders at the United Nations would examine the spaceship; communicate with the creepy looking aliens and certify that there were indeed creatures from another planet --- these would still be some who would not believe.
They could not accept a great new truth --- that there are other beings that have come to earth in their spaceship to visit us. They would invent any other theory or explanation rather than accept a new truth that challenges what they think is normal or real or true. Let's face it, we've seen this happen in our own time haven't we?
In July of 1969 the Apollo XI spacecraft commanded by the astronaut, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and sent pictures of this incredible mission to earth. At that time there were many who claimed it wasn't true, it was all done in a studio, there was no moon landing. This is after we saw the rocket ship take off, and land after the mission.
In more recent history we all witnessed the two planes slammed into the world-trade towers in NYC and the awful tragedy that took place as a result. And even though we have the identity of all the hijackers; the plan they used; the equipment they carried out their plot with and with an acknowledgment by Osama Bin Laden that he carried out this attack and glad of it. There are millions of Muslims around the world refusing to believe that their countrymen did this, saying that the American CIA did it or Jewish spies did it --- why? The obvious truth is too hard to accept.
For the moon launch, it was more than some people could imagine --- that a man could walk on the moon. They would rather believe it was a joke, a hoax than accept that something impossible for so long was now a reality.
For the 9/11 attacks, it was more than some people could accept --- that people professing Muslim faith would carry out such mind-numbing murders. They would rather believe that their enemies would do this and blame them than one of their own could do it.
Now see, people have trouble with a new truth, a new reality --- whether it be good or bad. Before I gave you the example of aliens landing in New York City. As great and strange as this might be, these creatures would still be part of our universe --- like discovering a new species of plant or animal. Aliens landing here would be like finding a new species of human life. But what happened in Israel 2000 years ago was more mind-boggling than this. Not an alien landing on some kind of vehicle.
- But God Himself coming to earth as a human being through the miraculous pregnancy of a woman!
- God Himself demonstrating His divinity and identity through powerful, unmatched signs and miracles.
- God Himself allowing Himself to be killed physically and then resurrecting from the dead to prove that as God He could do anything.
- God Himself appearing to both men and women before returning to heaven before their very eyes.
- God Himself promising that humans could also resurrect from the dead and live eternally.
Talk about a new reality, a mind-expanding truth, a difficult idea to completely grasp. Talk about denial! Big - time denial!
Here was something so great, so impossible, so beyond normal, so incredibly life altering, that to accept it was to accept a completely new view of reality and drastic change in lifestyle ... and to deny it required a major rejection of obvious events and realities that had taken place right before their very eyes. In the end, everyone had to judge for themselves --- and they did.
Judge for Yourselves.
God's appearance in Jesus Christ challenged every group that witnessed His life, death, and resurrection:
1. The Pagans Responded With Pride.
Pontus Pilate questioned Jesus and even though he was impressed by his poise and presence could not bring himself to believe that there could not be any presence or power greater than Caesar. And even though Jesus had boxed him in in their discussion about what is real and true, he haughtily dismissed Jesus with the disbeliever's final defense asking, "What is truth". The pagan mind could not fathom a power or god any greater than he himself could create, could not see the one who was the source of the little power he did wield.
2. The Jews Responded With Fear
The Priest, the Pharisees, the Scribes and those who followed them had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. If Jesus was God then their control over religion and their position as arbitrators over the religion of the people was over. They had long ago lost the vision of who and what the true God was and wanted so that when He actually appeared among and before them they saw only a powerful threat to their position and not the power that actually supported their position as spiritual leaders. They couldn't accept or believe in this new and great truth because they were too afraid to do so and too fearful of what believing would demand of them.
3. The Apostles and Disciples Responded With Joy.
Let me explain their reaction. When you're a condemned man imprisoned in a dungeon and an earthquake knocks the prison down to set you free --- how do you respond?
- Do you doubt the reality of the new situation?
- Do you say to yourself "There are no earthquakes in this part of the country so this must not be happening."
- Do you think, "Earthquakes can't knock down walls without killing the people inside."
- No, you say, "Hallelujah, I'm free", and you run for it!
This is how the Apostles and early disciples responded to Jesus Christ. God had never appeared as a man. They had never seen such signs and miracles and teachings. Everything He taught was true, and everything He said that would happen did. In addition to this, Jesus:
- Fed them miraculously
- Healed them miraculously
- Appeared to them miraculously
- He even empowered some of them to also perform miracles.
This all was not supposed to be, was out of the normal, was a tremendous new truth that overwhelmed any doubt or reservations they may have had. They ate the multiplied bread and fish; they walked and saw with healed legs and eyes; they tasted first-hand this new spiritual power given them by Christ and said, "Hallelujah, this may be weird --- but I can't deny that it's real and true." This is why when the Apostles began to preach and proclaim this wonderful new truth (that God had come among men to save them) the religious leaders of the day wanted to silence them. They were beaten and threatened with the same kind of death that Jesus endured if they didn't keep quiet about this new and incredible truth they had seen and experienced. And when faced with keeping quiet or bursting out with the incredible news that God had become a man and died to save all mankind, here's what Peter and John said,
Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.
- Acts 4:19b-20
They couldn't deny what they saw. They had to acknowledge the new reality even if it meant suffering or death. "Beat me, kill me, do what you will --- I saw what I saw, I know the truth."
Nothing has changed in 2,000 years or will it for 10,000 more or until Jesus returns. In this world, in our society, there is a great denial of the obvious truth because of ignorance, or pride, or fear. But there are those - but there are those, who see, who know, who believe, and who say, "Offer me whatever you want, promise me anything, threaten me, torture me, kill me if that's your desire. But I've seen what I've seen and I know what I know I believe the truth and I will never deny that Jesus is God and that one day I will be with Him forever." God bless all those here who see it, who get it, who will never let it go.