Witnesses to These Things (Second Sunday of Easter)

[This post is part of an Easter series: President [fill in the blank] and King Jesus.]

When we were around ten my cousin and I witnessed a murder. We were playing in the parking lot of his grandfather’s car dealership in our small hometown. We heard a loud “Pop!” There was a bus depot next door, so we thought it was probably just a bus backfiring. Then we heard two more pops, and we knew it wasn’t a backfire. We ran the twenty yards or so to the corner and saw a man lying facedown in front of the gas station across the street, a pool of blood widening around him. We also saw another man quickly get into a car in the alley and take off. We ran back to the dealership to get help. Very soon we heard the ambulance coming. We stood across the street and watched the paramedic—our family friend who always had a new joke to tell—attend to the man lying on the ground. I will never forget the image of that paramedic looking at his partner and shaking his head. That was my first real exposure to violence and humanity’s capacity for brutality. The police did their work, including questioning my cousin and me. We were witnesses. Later we witnessed the gas station owner hosing the blood off his lot.

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, after you had laid violent hands on him and hanged him on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

The big-picture result of the coming of the Holy Spirit is power, power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). And this witnessing unites us. But witness to what? This sentence sums it up, a summary given by chief witnesses, Peter and the apostles, and taken up and shared by all Christians.

First, “you laid violent hands on Jesus and hanged him on a tree.” This is basically the description of a lynching, perpetrated by a collusion of official corruption and nationalistic vigilantism. But we must be clear: God did not kill his Son. Many Christians get confused about this. Did Jesus know this would happen? Yes. He knew his message of a kingdom of love, mercy, peace, and inclusion—and his power and authority within and over that kingdom—would be a threat to worldly powers that would result in his public execution. And he submitted himself to that death as an act of faith in God and God’s kingdom rather than capitulate to the kingdom of the world, of evil, and of human power. Did God allow this killing? Yes. Not only did God not stop it, God used the corrupt killing of his innocent, only-begotten Son to condemn the powers of evil, sin, and death and to open the way of salvation to all who will follow that Son. But does this mean God killed Jesus? Absolutely not. Jesus’ suffering and death were the focal point of satanic, natural, and human evil. We don’t look at the cross and say, “This is what God did to Jesus.” We look at the cross and say, “This is what our evil did to God.”

Next, “God raised Jesus.” We don’t look at the cross and say this is what God did to Jesus. But we do look at the empty tomb and say this is what God did to Jesus. If anyone looks at that clash of kingdoms that resulted in Jesus’ execution and is tempted to think, “Maybe Jesus’ way of love, mercy, peace, and inclusion is wrong. After all, look at what happened to him,” then God raising Jesus from the dead is the final verdict on that clash. Yes, look at what happened to Jesus. He was the suffering servant, faithful to the Father and God’s kingdom to the point of death. And God attested to Jesus and his way by delivering him from that death—and through him delivering all humanity and creation—and exalting him to power and authority. Turns out the way of Jesus is right. And what is that way? To answer that one has to ask, “Who is this Jesus?”

Finally, “God exalted Jesus to his right hand as leader and savior” (5:31). This is the shocking revelation of God in Jesus, perfectly articulated in the contrasts of that sentence: God raised the one you violently killed. You kill, but God raises. The corrupt Jewish leaders were threatened by Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom, backed up by his works of power. The people were nationalistic and materialistic, disillusioned by Jesus’ humility, his focus on God’s kingdom, and his sacrificial kind of love. So they all “killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead” (3:15).

Peter and many others were there—they were actual “witnesses to these things” only a short time before. But the same Spirit still gives us power to witness to the same things. The way of the world is dominance, destruction, and death. We still kill. The way of God is surrender, service, and sacrifice. God still raises. And the embodiment of both of these truths is still Jesus—crucified, risen, and exalted.

That is the reality to which we are witnesses, and which is what unites us: Jesus is the world’s exalted leader (lord) and savior. He is the one who brought all things into being. He is the one who exposed the evil of our way of death. And he is the one who offers a better way, the way of life. There are certainly big ways we witness to these things—in our worldview and politics and the powers with which we align ourselves. But Jesus would also bring it right into our neighborhoods, into our living rooms, and into our hearts and minds. Each day we are called and empowered to bear witness to Jesus—the Author of Life.