Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.12—“on the third day he rose again”

In Eugene Peterson’s book, Living the Resurrection, he passes on a charming and thought-provoking story about wise words from a little girl.

Some time ago, my friend Brenda flew to Chicago for a visit with her daughter’s family, and especially with her granddaughter, Charity. Charity is five years old—a plump, cute, highly verbal little girl. Charity’s paternal grandmother had been visiting the previous week. She is a devout woman who takes her spiritual grandmothering duties very seriously, and she had just left.

The morning after Brenda’s arrival, Charity came into her grandmother’s bedroom at five o’clock, crawled into bed, and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any Godtalk, okay? I believe God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life.”

I like Charity. I think she is on to something.

Peterson explains what he likes about Charity’s comment.

It’s not that the Godtalk is untrue, but when it is disconnected from the ordinary behavior and conversation that make up the fabric of our lives, the truth leaks out. A phrase from Psalm 116:9—“I walk before the LORD in the land of the living”—clears the ground and gives some perspective on Charity and “let’s just get on with life.”[1]

And again:

I’m interpreting Charity’s five o’clock greeting to her grandmother as a diagnostic response to a way of life that somehow gets God and life disconnected and separated into two different categories. She missed something in the way her first grandmother talked about God, and she was hoping her second grandmother wouldn’t also miss it. I’m guessing that what she missed was life—the Life. Let’s get on with life.[2]

I share Peterson’s response to Charity’s (likely) meaning: our Godtalk should move seamlessly alongside, with, and throughout our lives. It should feel organic and not likely periodic lectures delivered in the cul-de-sacs of life. And I say this as a big fan of “Godtalk”! In fact, Godtalk is almost a literal rendering of theology, from theos, God, and logos, word. But that disconnect that Charity sensed is indeed a problem, that chasm between our Godtalk and our lives.

Easter is a great time for us to examine the problem of that disconnect, for our Godtalk about “resurrection,” if disconnected from the movements of our lives, undermines what we say. In fact, I would like to offer a thesis concerning this. But, first, I need to define two words:

ecclesiology: the doctrine of the church

apologetics: the defense of the faith

Here, then, is my thesis:

Thesis: The church is an ecclesiological apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And that thesis itself rests on a foundational premise.

Premise: The best evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is neither intellectual argument nor a once-a-year resurrection extravaganza, but rather the consistent demonstration of resurrection power in our lives through acts of Jesus-shaped non-conformity and contrast to the fallen world order.

In other words, while the resurrection does indeed call for proclamation, for Godtalk, for preaching, its true power and significance is demonstrated in and through our lives. This thesis is no mere theory. Rather, it is born out of the witness of the New Testament. We will consider Acts 4:32–35 in this regard.

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

My argument is that the church is the best evidence for the resurrection and that a text like this shows how this works. Specifically, the verse that sits at the very heart of this text, verse 13—And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”—is the animating core of what precedes and follows it. In other words, the living witness of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus led to certain fruits in the early Christian community that proved the apostolic witness.

In what ways does this text depict the church itself as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?

The church is evidence of the resurrection of Jesus when we show shocking unity and solidarity.

Our text begins with an amazing statement of unity.

32a-b Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul

Let us first note that this is as good a definition of the church as you will find anywhere: “the full number of those who believe.” Baptist Christians have historically insisted on what is called “regenerate church membership,” or the idea that the church consists of all believers everywhere in the world, or “the full number of those who believe.”

Let us also note the quality of their unity: they “were of one heart and soul.” This is no mere cosmetic unity, no mere appearance of unity. This is one heartbeat, one soul. This is a unity that only Christ could create.

I recall a wonderful gentleman named Willie Birdsong who lived in South Georgia. I was privileged to be his pastor. He was quite a character! But I recall the sad occasion when his beloved wife died. She was in the nursing home and Willie and the family had been called in. I went by to see them. After a while, the rest of the family went home and Willie sat there by his beloved’s bed while she slept. And soon Willie himself fell asleep. And there I was, in the nursing home room, watching this dear elderly married couple: her asleep in the bed, him asleep in the chair right beside here. And I watched them for a while in the silence before leaving. After a while I noticed something there in the dim light of that room: their breath had become synchronized. They were breathing with the same rhythm, inhaling and exhaling together. And it struck me as a sacred moment. It struck me as a picture of marriage. And it strikes me again as a picture of church. This is what it means to be “of one heart and soul.”

Church, we must have this kind of unity…and it is only the risen Christ who can create it. And as He creates it, we become a living ecclesiological apology for the resurrection of Jesus. Our unity becomes the proof. The resurrection creates this unity.

Consider Luke 24 and the picture of what happened when only part of the church believed in the resurrection.

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Do you see? These women announce that Christ has risen. The disciples do not initially believe them. Incidentally, many apologists note that the testimony of these women is inadvertently evidence that the resurrection actually happened. Why? Because the voices of women in first century Judaism had no weight and they could not even legally be witnesses. So, if you think about it, if you are a first century Jew and you want to make up a story and get other first century Jews to believe it, the last thing on earth you are going to do is have the first witnesses to the event you want people to believe to be women. Furthermore, you are sure not going to show the men disbelieving the women only have the women proven right and the men wrong. There is only one reason why this is in the story of the resurrection: because it actually happened! The women discovered the empty tomb! And the men did not initially believe them…but then they did!

But notice what resulted from the disciples not believing the women’s testimony: disunity, suspicion, and division. This early band of Jesus followers were divided in this moment, suspicious of each other, and the disciples were dismissive of the women. That is what happens when the resurrection of Jesus is not a shared reality at the heart of the church. But hear our text again:

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

When the church embraced the reality of the risen Lord, of the resurrection of Jesus, they were united, they were of one heart and soul. How does this work? Because when the church embraces the resurrection as its very heartbeat then that living reality makes any divisive element seem silly and paltry.

Imagine two people being at odds in this early community. They are irritated with each other. Division is creeping into the body. Then Peter steps up and says, “Brothers, sisters, let me tell you the story once again of how the Jesus who was dead…suddenly was alive!” All of a sudden the divisions seem absurd and obscene.

The resurrection is an orienting, perspective-bringing reality that results in radical unity!

The church is evidence of the resurrection when we demonstrate transformed priorities and radical generosity.

What is more, notice the changed and countercultural priorities of the early church.

32c-d Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Because of the risen Christ and the apostolic witness to it, the early believers were able to be set free from the kind of rank materialism that plagues so much of American Christianity. “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” is an unbelievable thought! As modern Americans it might even seem blasphemous. And such was the generosity of the church that “there was not a needy person among them.”

Too often verses like this become fodder for unnecessary debates. Let us set aside the questions for just a moment and marvel at this indisputable fact: the early church set aside greed and materialism and loved one another with what they had! Our failure to do the same is a genuine condemnation of us. Frederic D. Huntington wrote:

It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.[3]

Indeed. If our children and grandchildren saw that the risen Christ had freed us from the core impulse of our society for more, more, more, they might just stop and take note of our Godtalk. And here we are back to Charity’s complaint to her grandmother: should not our Godtalk grow organically out of our lives? But the question remains of whether or not we really want to be set free from our materialism and greed.

A few years ago, the theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart (whose later work has indeed taken some very strange turns), raised some eyebrows by writing the following in his article, “Christ’s Rabble”:

I think it reasonable to ask not whether we are Christians (by that standard, all fall short), but whether in our wildest imaginings we could ever desire to be the kind of persons that the New Testament describes as fitting the pattern of life in Christ. And I think the fairly obvious answer is that we could not. I do not mean merely that most of us find the moral requirements laid out in Christian scripture a little onerous, though of course we do…Rather, I mean that most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.[4]

Hart is, to put it mildly, a provocative thinker and writer. Reject this as hyperbole if you want, but he likely does have a solid core point here: if you took a modern American Christian and dropped him or her into the church described in our text with its radical unity, its shared life, its communalism, its shared goods, it is very possible that he or she would find the early Christians somewhat unsettling if not downright terrifying. Perhaps especially in the area of how they treated their goods. Perhaps Hart is right that deep down we would consider their behavior “economically destructive.” Their approach was certainly very, very different from our own. But then these were people whose lives had been turned upside down by an empty tomb! What about our lives?

Maybe Hart is speaking too strongly here. Maybe not. But where does the burden lie? Clearly on us to ask ourselves whether not the risen Christ is real enough to us to set us free from our obsessive desires to have more stuff and to advance our own interests. To be fair, I have seen genuine and shocking generosity here in our very church, and I praise God for it! I am not suggesting that we do not seem amazing examples of this. But let us commit to seeing this become our very lives, this kind of reprioritizing or our values, this kind of shocking generosity that says, among other things, Christ is alive and He is our greatest treasure!

The church is evidence of the resurrection when we are a community of power and of grace.

At the heart of our text is the amazing thirty-third verse.

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

Power. Grace.

The powerful testimony of the apostles.

The “great grace” that “was upon them all.”

When the church gathers around the resurrected Christ, the power of the Kingdom, indeed, the power of Christ, characterizes our lives together…and then grace upon grace, the knowledge and outworking of the mercies and love of God.

Carl F.H. Henry wrote:

The church approximates God’s kingdom in miniature, mirroring to each generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.[5]

Indeed! And the church must do this, must “mirror to each generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.” The generations are watching and wanting to see the power of the risen Christ at work among the people of God.

Alan Hirsch has written something truly heartbreaking about his earlier life as a new pastor.

I can remember coming out of theological college in England in the early 1980s and moving into my first parish job where I was to be the local vicar. I had an endless number of ideas and aspirations of how this local expression of the body of Christ could, with God’s Spirit, push the kingdom forward. There were places of great darkness, and we would bring the light of Jesus. The kingdom would advance and heaven would be brought to earth.

We would do things that were beyond out of the box, that were beyond the hallowed halls of the Sunday worship service. We would continue worshiping on Sunday, of course, but we would innovate vehicles of mission and discipleship to push forward the destiny of God’s sent people. Much to my surprise, this was met by a less-than-tepid response by my parishioners: “That’s not your job. Your job is to care for us [as a pastor would] and teach and preach from the Bible on Sunday and Wednesday nights [as a teacher would]. We give our tithe to pay missionaries in other countries [and your salary]. You’re the pastor. Don’t forget that.”

Now I had not grown up in the church. At sixteen I picked up the Bible, read it cover to cover, and became a Christian. I was under the impression that what I had read in the Gospels and in the book of Acts was how the church actually functioned. It was a bit jarring to walk into the local church for the first time and see that it was only a shadow of what I’d read in scripture.[6]

Yes, sometimes there is a radical disconnect between the church’s Godtalk and the church’s walk. Sometimes, yes, the church is “only a shadow” of what we see in a text like ours. But, church, hear me now: it need not be. It need not be! For if Christ is truly risen and if we are truly His people then the same power and grace that characterized and fueled the early church can characterize and fuel our own! The generations can still see a community on fire with gospel power, a church set ablaze with the goodness and greatness of our crucified-but-risen King!

And it can start here…and now…with you…and with me.

Is He still risen, church? Is He? Then live in the shadow of the empty tomb and let that shocking and transforming fact change you and then us. Let our lives reflect the fact that He is risen. Let our Godtalk arise naturally from transformed hearts, and let the nations know this: that King Jesus still lives and we are His people and we will be about His business until He returns.


[1] Peterson, Eugene H. Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (pp. 43-44). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., 44–45.

[3] Frederic D. Huntington quoted in Francis Chan, Crazy Love (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2008), p.65.


[5] Thornbury, Gregory Alan. Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry (p. 151). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[6] Hirsch, Alan; Catchim, Tim (2012-01-06). The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 6830-6841). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

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