Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 1

Acts 1 3

Over the next few days, I have been given free reign to focus on any portion of scripture. However, I am going to hop around a bit, focusing on a theme: evidence for the risen Jesus.   (And on Sunday our devotions will continue our chapter-by-chapter walk through the New Testament with the book of 1st Corinthians.)
We just celebrated Easter/Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important, most key and most crucial story to what it means to be a believer in Jesus. If Jesus is not raised from the dead: Christmas is little more than a nice story, his teachings are little more than nice words, and his death is little more than a sad story of injustice. BUT, if Jesus was raised to life, never more to die, it means that God put his seal of approval on Christ. Christmas becomes the birth of the Savior, his teachings are divinely given mandates from the best of all possible prophets, and his death is a sacrifice for sin and a ransom from evil/Evil.
Many people in our world today doubt all sorts of miracles. They question the Exodus story due to the “outlandish” claims about the Nile turning to blood or the parting of the sea. They question the stories of creation: was the Earth created in six literal 24 hour days six thousand years ago or through a gradual process involving billions of years? Did Jesus REALLY feed 5,000 people with some fish and some bread, or did they share with one another and no one was left hungry? All of these are interesting questions, and different theological beliefs and convictions lead to various answers.* However, as noted above, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION  is not incidental to the story of the Bible; the Bible IS THE STORY OF THE LIFE, DEATH AND NEW LIFE OF CHRIST. That is God’s Central theme in the pages of Scripture. It gets us to Jesus or points back to him. Jesus, then, connects us to God. Therefore, whatever we believe about other miracles, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is essential.
Which is why Acts 1 was included in Scripture.
READ ACTS 1!
What is so interesting about it is that Christ doesn’t appear to one guy in a room with the door closed (we could chalk that up to lying or insanity). He doesn’t even appear to just the twelve. There are anywhere from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected, walking around preaching and teaching and convincing them that He was real and not a figment of their imagination.
Were the disciples crazy? Scripture shows their flaws but none of them would have been delusional.
Were the disciples lying? That could have been refuted easily and wouldn’t they have quickly given up the story and admitted the lie. (We are getting ahead of ourselves, stay tuned.)
The important point to make is pretty clear. Jesus began a movement. The movement didn’t end with his death, but continued on far afterwards, presumably with him coming back to life. Over and over, this has been confirmed in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of believers. When I ask, “Do you believe Jesus is alive?” I am really asking three question.
Is scripture trustworthy about its claims? If yes, then we must believe Jesus is alive.
Are believers trustworthy about their claims? If yes, then we should trust scripture, and should believe that Jesus is alive.
Have you experienced Jesus? If yes, then tell others that Jesus is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
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*For my part, I think when the Bible tells a narrative, we should trust the narrative to be historically accurate, and when it tells poetry and myths, we don’t hold poetry and myths to that same standard. That discussion takes a lot to unpack… if you are intrigued, be on the lookout for a Young Adult Class coming to FUEL this Summer!
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The Cliffhanger

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Acts 28

Starting with the arrest of Paul in chapter 21, Luke has been steering his readers to a grand finale, where Paul will finally stand in front of the most powerful man in the world to give his testimony. The Apostle endured conspiracies against his life, corruption in government, and finally storms at sea to make it to Rome. Paul was willing to go through all this because he had a clear vision and purpose for his life and knew Rome was where God wanted him to be and the Emperor was who God wanted him to see.

But the conclusion Luke had been building towards is suddenly cut short with Paul under house arrest. We’re not told if he ever got the chance to defend his case before the Emperor, but we can be confident that he did since God said he would. Though exactly how it came about or what happened after is a mystery. There are traditions that say he was acquitted and then brought the Gospel to Spain, but Luke doesn’t confirm or deny it. He just closes his book with a cliffhanger.
So what are we to take away from this saga with the abrupt and unresolved ending and why would Luke decide to leave it the way he did?
Luke began the Book of Acts by reporting the last interactions Jesus had with his disciples before he ascended. He told them that they would be his witnesses in their local regions and then throughout the world. Luke then proceeded to show his readers how the disciples went about doing this. But he left his story open-ended, and he did all this for a reason.
The Acts of the Apostles is about how the disciples carried out the Great Commission and it is left unresolved because the story wasn’t supposed to end with Paul in Rome, it was supposed to progress with disciples continuing to fulfill the final instructions of Jesus. And it did. The reason you’re reading this now is that the witnessing has endured to this day. And it will continue so long as people like you and me keep spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
So don’t worry about this cliffhanger. The final resolution will come when Jesus himself returns to see the fruit of his disciples’ labor and to establish the Kingdom they represent. Until then, we must maintain the work that was started in Christ and continued with his disciples. May the perseverance and commitment of Paul and the rest of the Apostles act as an example for you on your journey and encourage you to remain faithful in the advancement of the Great Commission.
-Joel Fletcher

The Long Journey to Rome

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Acts 27

Today it only takes a few hours to travel from the Holy Land to Rome. A non-stop plane ticket costs just a few hundred bucks. For a couple of hundred more, you can get upgraded to first class. That sounds rather nice–flying over the beautiful Mediterranean sea, being waited on hand and foot, heading to the former center of the Roman empire to take in the sights and sounds of this majestic ancient city.
For Paul, though, the journey was not so short…or luxurious. And it certainly wasn’t non-stop. The trek to Rome included a slew of problems for this man from Tarsus and his companions, such as a snakebite, a shipwreck, and a plan to slaughter prisoners. What happened during this voyage would have tested the most experienced seafarer. But throughout the storms and chaos, Paul remained calm and determined. When others had lost hope and were filled with fear, the Apostle took charge and restored order.
Paul was able to remain composed and didn’t cave to fear because of where he placed his trust. He had been informed by the Lord that he would make it to Rome to testify there and he believed this wholeheartedly. God had been faithful thus far and Paul knew this would continue. After all, he did write the words of Romans 8:28.
“We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (CEV)
God has a plan. From the Bible, we can gain a general understanding of it. We can see how He has worked in history and what He intends to do in the future. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult for us to see where we fit in the grand scheme of things or how God can work in us. God used Paul as an instrument for His glorious plan. It wasn’t because he was special that God chose to employ Paul as His messenger to the Gentiles; he was special only because he was chosen. We don’t have to be special for God to use us either (which is a good thing…because we’re not).
Paul found himself on that arduous adventure because he was doing work for God. If we are going to be active followers of Christ and productive promoters of his Good News, sometimes we’re going to find ourselves in difficult situations as well. But we, like Paul, can have courage knowing the plan God has for the future and confidence because we are doing His will.
-Joel Fletcher

Paul Speaks Freely

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Acts 26

Because of his appeal to Caesar in chapter 25, Paul was guaranteed his next trial would take place in Rome. So when Paul stood before King Agrippa and other dignitaries, he wasn’t required to defend himself or give testimony. Having said that, Paul wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to witness about the works God had performed in his life–this was one of his life’s missions. So Paul, being able to speak freely, gave his most passionate testimony yet.
There are three things we should learn about apologetics (defending the Christian faith) from Paul’s final defense before he headed to Rome.

1. Know Your Stuff.

Although Festus called Paul crazy, he recognized him as a man of great understanding. Going back to his days as a Pharisee, Paul demonstrated his great zeal for truth and reason. He didn’t lose this enthusiasm when he became a follower of Jesus, he refocused it. Paul knew the Hebrew sacred writings better than anyone and was a master at reconciling the long-held truths of Scripture with his new-found recognition of Jesus as Messiah. Paul was also well learned in the other philosophies and religions of the day. This is most clearly seen in his visit to Mars Hill.
If we are going to be able to defend our faith, we must be knowledgable of both the ideas of Scripture and those contrary to them.

2. Live Above Reproach.

One of the most common critiques leveled against Christianity today is that its adherents are hypocrites. Nothing ruins credibility more effectively than saying one thing then doing the opposite. The Jews had quite a difficult time trying to get charges against Paul to stick. As has been mentioned before, Paul strived to live life with a clear conscience. So in order to discredit and disgrace Paul, the religious leaders had to contrive charges against him.
To be an effective witness and apologist for the Christian faith, we must also strive to live with a clear conscience.

3. Be Positive.

Another issue some have with Christians is that they can be too harsh when talking about their faith. Street preachers and picketers are tuned out and labeled as unfriendly fanatics (or worse) by passersby. Sadly, they are the only representatives of Christ some people every meet.
When Jesus was harsh it was with those who should known better (the religious elite). When Paul was trying to convince unbelievers of the wonderful nature of the Good News, he would do so in a positive way–highlighting things like the resurrection, the power of God, and the mercy He extends to sinners.
The truth is that there are certain tenets of Christianity that non-believers don’t like. When witnessing we should focus on the recognized positives of the faith that appeal to most people–mercy, justice, eternal life, etc. Once people start understanding things like the nature of God and morality, then we can start discussing the perceived negative doctrines of Christianity.
Paul was knowledgeable, had a clear conscience, and was positive when defending his faith and promoting the Good News. The power of the Gospel message is amazing and life-changing. If we want to further its reach and be better able to defend it, we must follow these three principles from Paul.
-Joel Fletcher

Paul Exercised His Privilege And So Can You

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Acts 25

In chapter 16, we found out that Paul was a Roman citizen. Being a citizen of this vast empire was a great privilege. There were only two ways to gain Roman citizenship; you could either purchase it (something only the rich could afford to do), or be lucky enough to inherit it from your parents when you were born. Paul was born a Roman citizen.
The reason why you would want to be a Roman citizen in the first century is that they were given rights others were not guaranteed. The rights to marry another Roman citizen, to sue and to be sued, to have a legal trial, and to not be crucified were just some of the benefits offered to those privileged enough be Roman citizens.
As we saw in chapter 21, Paul had already used his citizenship to get out of being flogged (Romans, legally, could not be tortured or whipped). In chapter 25 Paul exercised another of his rights–the right to appeal to Caesar. Paul knew that if he was brought back to Jerusalem, the men that had pledged to kill him would probably succeed. He also knew that he had to get to Rome to testify there. Thus Paul used his privilege to get to where he needed to go, so he could do what he was required to do (though, as we shall see in the coming chapters, this journey would not be an easy one).
If you were born in the West (especially the United States), you, like Paul, are privileged. You have rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. But there are many parts of the world today where these rights that are taken for granted are only the ideals of dreamers. There are Christians throughout the world who have to look over their shoulder as they travel to church (if a public place of worship is even allowed) and others who are worshiping with the knowledge that every gathering may easily be their last.
There is another privilege you share with Paul: you are a citizen of Heaven. This citizenship cannot be purchased or inherited. It is not exclusive. The Kingdom of Heaven (or, Kingdom of God) is open to anyone. The poor and the rich, the weak and the strong, the lost and the found are all welcome. The cost of this privilege was paid for by God with the blood of His Son. It is offered to any who will receive it.
Paul was first and foremost a citizen of Heaven. He lived his life devoted to advancing the Kingdom and the One who will establish it in its fullness. The rights his Roman citizenship granted him were nothing compared to those his Lord did. That being said, Paul exercised his privilege as a Roman in order to promote God’s Kingdom as a Christian. He wanted to make sure as many people as possible would become citizens of the Kingdom. You also can use your rights as a citizen of your country to further the cause of the Kingdom. Exercise your earthly privileges in a way that leads others to receive heavenly ones.
-Joel Fletcher

Paul Faces Felix

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Acts 24
When the Roman Empire conquered the Holy Land in the middle of the first century BC, it established its own rulers to ensure peace and cooperation throughout the region. The Jews have had a long history of revolting against their rulers (especially when they weren’t monotheists), so it makes sense that one of the main jobs of the regional Roman rulers was to keep Zealots (Jews who vocally, and sometimes violently, opposed Roman rule in their homeland) from causing too much trouble. Whenever any of these Zealots caused an uprising in a Jewish city, there were major consequences–sometimes death.
 So when in chapter 24, the attorney for the Jewish elders accused Paul of being a trouble maker who stirred up riots among the Jews, he was saying that Paul was not such a great guy and should perhaps be killed. He also claimed that Paul desecrated the temple–a capital offense. These religious leaders wanted Paul taken out.
As Paul stood to defend himself before Felix, the first of several Roman rulers who would hear his case, he was up against some serious allegations. But Paul was unfazed. He had just been assured by his Master that his journey would not end here. Paul spoke boldly in both the defense of his character and his faith. I think Paul would have done this even without that assurance because of where he had his focus. Paul’s eyes were fixed firmly on his savior and the future hope of the resurrection. This allowed Paul to operate without fear of death or retribution–to be at peace.
You may not live in a society where you must defend yourself or your faith in front of corrupt rulers. But perhaps someday you will face charges because of your beliefs. If that time ever comes, you, like Paul, can have a peace that passes understanding. Trust in God, rely on His promises, focus on His Son and the hope of the resurrection, and pray.
-Joel Fletcher

Jesus and Paul, Paralleled

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Acts 23

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to persecution. He saw it from both sides. He was at times the persecutor and the persecuted. While he was a zealous Pharisee in Jerusalem, he targeted Jews who joined the sect of followers of Jesus called the Way. When he became a follower himself and preached the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia, he was imprisoned multiple times and warned by friends not to return to Jerusalem, because if he did, he would likely be killed. Yet in chapter 23, we see Paul is not only in Jerusalem but in the custody of the Romans, facing the Sanhedrin.

About a quarter century earlier, another Jewish preacher stood in front of the same group of religious leaders. The name of that preacher was Jesus, and it was because of him that Paul found himself in an identical position. Like Paul, Jesus had also returned to Jerusalem that final time knowing it could mean death. And both times, each was the target of a treacherous plot. But neither Paul nor Jesus were moved from their mission because of this threat. They were both willing to die for the cause.
But there are several important differences between Paul and Jesus during their final days in the Jewish Holy City. Unlike Paul, Jesus put up no defense while in front of the Sanhedrin and Roman rulers. The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 puts it this way: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Paul, on the other hand, started his remarks to the Sanhedrin by stating that he has lived his life with a clear conscience. Then, after inadvertently insulting the High Priest, he cleverly changed the subject from himself to a disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The ensuing bruhaha allowed Paul to get out of there without facing any penalties.
The following night Paul was told by the Lord that he would not die in Jerusalem but would make it to Rome to testify there also. Despite the fears of his friends, Jerusalem would not be the end of the road for Paul. And this is the other difference between Paul and Jesus. Because Jesus would not defend himself when he had the opportunity, the intimate Passover meal he shared with his twelve disciples would be their last together; the following day he was beaten and crucified.
Paul and Jesus both went to Jerusalem to save lives. The latter accomplished this goal by taking on the sins of the world and offering his life as a sacrifice for all. The former did this by telling any who would listen about that sacrifice and how to receive the salvation offered as a result of it.
Usually, I would say that we should follow the example of Christ. But when it comes to facing charges that are unfounded, we should look to Paul as the model. Yes, Paul was willing to die for what he believed in, but he didn’t intend to because of false accusations. Paul defended himself so he could advance the Gospel; Jesus didn’t so he could guarantee it. We must be willing to die for the cause of the Kingdom, yet always seeking to put ourselves in the best position to champion it.
-Joel Fletcher