The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
There can be no more urgent question at this present time than just this: What is Christianity? I say that because this Gospel is the only hope in the world today. Everything else has been tried and found wanting. Everything else has failed. You will not find hope with the philosophers or with the statesmen, and you will not find it in the so-called religions of the world. Here is hope, and here alone.
"But," someone may say, "surely you can't claim that there is any hope in the Gospel either, because it has been tried now for 2,000 years and has obviously failed quite as much as the various other things to which you've referred."
The only reply to that is the one that was given so perfectly by the late G. K. Chesterton when he reminded us, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." That is the simple truth. The world, speaking generally, has never tried Christianity. It has talked a lot about it, but it has not really tried it. So I argue that this is still the only hope for the world. Therefore it is urgent that we should ask what Christianity is. Or, to put the question another way, what is the Christian church? What is her business, and what is her message?
It can be put like this: Why am I, or why is anyone else, a preacher of the Gospel? There is only one answer to that question. I am a preacher because I believe I have been called; because in my little way God has given me a burden; because I know by personal experience, by the experience of others, and by experience garnered from the reading of history that there is nothing under heaven that can enable men and women to conquer and to master life and to have a hope that cannot be dimmed except this Gospel. Therefore, the most urgent task in the world today is to make the Gospel known to men and women. And this is the function of the Christian church.
But as we all know, the great tragedy is that there is utter confusion with regard to what the Gospel is, what the church is, and what Christians are supposed to do. I call your attention to this, God knows, not because I am anxious to be controversial but because I have a burden for the souls of men and women. I would not be a preacher were it not for that. That is what originally put me in the ministry and makes me go on. I see the confusion. I see men and women bewildered, asking, "What is Christianity? What is the church?" And I am not surprised that they are bewildered.
Furthermore, this confusion is not confined to men and women outside the church. Indeed, I have an increasing fear that the confusion of those outside has been produced mainly by the so-called Christian church herself. A man who has held the highest position in one of the religious denominations and is well-known as one who speaks in the name of Christianity has recently said that he thinks certain things should be done at once, and the first is that the church must give up the foolish habit of having two services on a Sunday. "One is enough," he says, "and let's have it at nine o'clock in the morning so that having got that out of the way, we can then give ourselves to what we want to do." He also says that if he had the power, he would decree that there should be no reading of the Bible at all for twelve months—this in the name of the church and of Christianity! And then he says that any preaching that is done in the one and only service at nine o'clock in the morning should, for at least a year, be on a political text alone.
I call attention to this because it is so typical of what is being said at the present time. Is it surprising that men and women are in a state of confusion? Speaking generally, the current idea is that the Christian message is, after all, nothing but a kind of teaching with regard to how our affairs should be ordered—that is why it is held that all texts should be political. It is said that the main business of the church is to deal with injustices and to do the work of reform and that in the Sermon on the Mount we have a kind of social charter. People who say this are never interested in the Old Testament; they generally dismiss it in toto, and they have no use for the apostle Paul. Instead, they point to the ethical teaching of Jesus. "There's your political program," they say. "There's your political charter, and all you must do is apply it as best you can. You must not even read the Bible, but pick up these general principles, and try to put them into practice."
Others say that Christianity is mainly an elevated, optimistic view of life, a sort of philosophy. Having found out how life can be lived on a higher plane and having experienced a moral uplift, you try to get others to adopt these principles.
And then there are others who, perhaps nearer to the Christian position, regard Christianity as being mainly a matter of morals and of conduct. They say that what makes people Christians is that they have adopted this ethical teaching and put it into practice. So by living a good life, they have made themselves Christians.
Common to all those teachings is the view that what really matters is the kernel of moral teaching that is to be found in this book that we call the Bible. Unfortunately, the Bible is cluttered up with a lot of unimportant history. Most of it is false, with a lot about miracles that obviously are not true and that no one with any scientific understanding can possibly believe for a moment. We must get rid of all that, they say, and find this kernel that is hidden away in all the husks and straw. Having extracted this kernel, we can ignore the Bible and start with the political or moral situation. Then we must try to persuade people to put these things into practice. That is the common idea of the Christian message and the common notion with respect to the function of the Christian church.
Now I want to deal with all this, and that is why I am calling your attention to the first three verses in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Look at it like this: What is the origin of the Christian church? Surely that is the question to ask. You do not start with the twentieth century. Here is something that can be traced back nearly 2,000 years. So surely, if you want to know what the church is and what Christianity is, your duty is to go back to the very beginning and discover how the church started and what she did.
I think you will agree with me that the question of authority is primary and fundamental. When people think they have the right to announce, "This is what I think Christianity is, and this is what the church should do," then we have the right to ask, "Can that be fitted into what we have here in the book of Acts? What is our authority in these matters? Are we competent to decide what the Christian church is? Can we divorce ourselves from the history of nearly 2,000 years and say that we do not care what happened in the past, this is what we say now?" Of course, you can say that if you like, but the question is: Have you any right to call that Christianity?
Surely, common honesty demands that we say that we have only one authority on the origin of the church, and it is the authority of the Bible. Here in the Acts of the Apostles a man is writing who is undoubtedly Luke, the evangelist. He says, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus." This is a reference to the Gospel of Luke, which has a similar introduction. In Luke 1:1-4 Luke writes:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou might-est know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
That is why these books were written. We do not have exact information concerning Theophilus, but it is generally assumed that he was a man in some prominent position, a man of culture and of learning, who had heard various reports about Christianity and wanted to know more. He found Luke, a doctor and a most competent historian, who had accompanied the apostle Paul and so was in a very good position to know exactly what the story was. They got in touch, and Luke wrote to Theophilus saying in effect, "I will give you an account of exactly what happened. I will tell you why we believe what we believe. I will tell you the story." And he did it in two parts—the first, the Gospel, and the second, this book of the Acts of the Apostles. My argument is that we must go back and consider this story. We are not only honor-bound to do that, but we must, if we want to understand it.
What is the story? Well, there were a handful of people whom the authorities in Jerusalem regarded as ordinary, simple, unlettered, and ignorant men and women. There were just twelve men essentially, and a number of others with them. They had nothing to recommend them, no great names, no degrees, no money, no means of communication or of advertising. They had nothing at all—they were nobodies. And yet what we know to be a fact is that this handful of ignorant and unlettered people "turned the world upside down," to use Luke's phrase in chapter 17:6. Within about two centuries Christianity became the most powerful force in the great Roman Empire. By the beginning of the third century it had become such a powerful force that a Roman emperor named Constantine deemed it a wise move to make the Roman Empire officially Christian.
I am not concerned to consider that fact now. All I want to ask is: How was it that this small group of people ever got into a position in which they could shake the whole Roman Empire so that it became officially Christian within such a short space of time? Was it because they preached politics that these people turned the ancient world upside-down?
Christianity is a phenomenon of history. It is a fact. The Christian church is one of the most vital facts in the total history of the world. We cannot understand that history without bringing in the story of the church. But does this modern idea as to what the church is and what her message is account for what has already happened? My answer is that it does not. So not only do honesty and common sense tell us to come back to Acts, but if we really want to have an understanding of what Christianity means, we are compelled to come back here. Only one thing can account for the phenomenon of the Christian church and this amazing history that has continued through the centuries, in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil and the malignity of men and of hell, and it is the explanation given in this book of Acts.
Therefore I propose to hold the message of Acts before you. I shall not preach systematically through the book, but I shall pick out certain themes that are put before us here. I feel that the modern world is very much in the position of Theophilus. At any rate, anyone considering these things who is not a Christian is in the position of Theophilus. You have become interested. You want to know what Christianity is. Perhaps you are in trouble in your moral life or in your married life. Perhaps you have some running sore of the soul, something that gets you down. And you say, "I've tried this and that—I wonder what the Christian church has to offer."
All right, Theophilus, you want to know, and fortunately we are able to tell you. I am not here to tell you what I think about Christianity. I am not here to tell you what I think the Christian church should do. I am in the position of Charles Wesley, saying, "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise." My own personal opinion is that even two services on a Sunday are not enough. How can people be satisfied with but one statement? The world is dying all around us, and it needs to hear the Word of God. These early Christians went everywhere, and they spoke and they preached, and that is the explanation of this tremendous phenomenon of the church.
So let us see what Acts has to say to us. First, what was the message that these people preached? Luke told Theophilus quite plainly. He said:
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen; to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
That is a summary of the whole of the Gospel of Luke and also of the other Gospels. What does it mean? Here are some of the great principles.
The starting point, the fundamental thing, is that Christianity is about Jesus. "I've written to you already about Him," said Luke in effect, "and I'm going to tell you more about Him." Christianity is not a teaching—it is a person. It is not merely a moral outlook that is to be applied in the realm of politics. You start with a historical person. Luke was a pure historian. He was giving an account of events and of facts.
The Lord Jesus Christ was the theme of the preaching of the early church. He is the theme of the Gospel of Luke. He is the theme of the Acts of the Apostles. This is the tragic thing that has been forgotten at the present time. "What we need," people say, "is the application of His teaching." But it is not. What you need is to know Him and to come into a relationship with Him. You do not start with His teaching—you start with Him. This is the message: "All that Jesus began both to do and teach." Our Lord Himself said to his disciples, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). He was sending these men out to preach. He said, "You are not simply going to preach My teaching. You are going to preach about Me."
As you read the book of Acts, you will find that our Lord's disciples always preached "Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). They went to people and told them about this person. This was the whole of their teaching. You never find them starting with the political or social situations. They said, "Listen, we have something to tell you about a person whose name is Jesus."
And what did the disciples say about Him? The facts are all-important. In the Gospel Luke gave facts, and here in Acts he gives them again. But he does not stop at that; he is equally concerned about the meaning, the significance, of these facts. And he expounds that. He writes not only about all that Jesus did, but also all that He taught. The two must always go together—our Lord's acts and His teaching.
There is also this most extraordinary addition that our Lord himself made: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This is truly staggering. Here was a Jew, born in poverty, one who worked as a carpenter, who began to preach at the age of thirty and after some three years was crucified on a cross, dying in utter weakness, and was laid in a tomb. But here he was, telling these men they would be witnesses to Him "unto the uttermost part of the earth." Here is a message for the whole world.
I emphasize that because there are people who say that the Christian faith is all right if you happen to be interested in religion, but if you do not happen to have a religious mentality and outlook, then it does not matter, you can just take up what you like. But that is shown to be a lie by our Lord's words. Here is a message that is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Why? Because something happened in this person, Jesus, that affects every single individual who ever has been or ever shall be in this world of time.
Now if Christianity were merely a philosophy or a political idea, no one would be bound to believe it. There are rival schools of philosophy; there are rival teachings and theories, and one person believes this and another that. But what we are facing here is not what you and I believe, but facts, and the facts are about this person called Jesus—what He did and what He said and the meaning of His person. So there is nothing more tragic than when men and women say, "Shut your Bibles; the facts don't matter at all. What does it matter whether Jesus was a man, or God as well as man?" They have got it all wrong. It is the person who matters most of all.
So let us go on and follow what Luke says. We have seen that he begins, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach." And that word "began" is emphatic. Luke is saying to Theophilus that all that he has written in the Gospel is nothing but the beginning. This is vital. It is why Luke wrote his Gospel. Here was a man interested in Christianity who wanted to know what it was all about. "I'll tell you," said Luke. And he told the story that is unfolded in the twenty-four chapters of his Gospel. And here he sums it all up in two words—it is all that "Jesus began both to do and teach."
You may say to me that you know about Jesus. Do you? Do you realize what His life means? Do you realize its significance? What did Jesus begin to do? In his Gospel Luke tells us who Jesus was. And the first thing we want to know is how He was born. Was He a man like every other man? Luke's answer is that He was not. Luke tells us how the angel Gabriel went to Mary and told her that she was supremely blessed among women, that she was going to bear the Son of the Highest, and that He would be great. He would occupy the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there would be no end. Read it all in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel. Mary was perplexed and asked how this could be since she was a virgin. Gabriel said:
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
That is what Luke tells us, and this means that Jesus came into the world. He was not just born like everybody else. He came out of eternity into time; he came from heaven to earth. This is Christianity. Whatever may be your moral and political views, the question confronting you is this: How are you related to the fact that the babe of Bethlehem is the eternal Son of God?
But He not only came into the world, He did many other things. He worked miracles. Oh yes, that is an essential part of the gospel message.
"But," you say, "modern men and women don't believe in miracles. They can't. They have a scientific outlook."
Yet Luke refers Theophilus back to his first treatise, the Gospel, where he told him about our Lord's miracles. Our Lord attracted attention. The miracles were signs, and people came and watched. Luke tells us that when certain Pharisees went to see Him one day, "the power of the Lord was present to heal them" (Luke 5:17), and He created a great stir. There is no Christianity apart from these things.
But our Lord also did something else. Though He knew that His enemies in Jerusalem hated Him and were determined to kill Him, and though He knew that Herod the king, who would be in Jerusalem for the Passover, wanted to kill Him, nevertheless, "he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). He went there and was arrested. At His trial He would not speak and was condemned to death. He was forced to carry a cross through Jerusalem until He staggered, and it had to be put on the back of somebody else. Then they nailed Him to the cross, and He died. Two of His friends took down His body and laid it in a tomb. But He burst asunder the bands of death. He arose triumphantly out of that tomb. He appeared to a chosen number of His disciples and other people, as Luke tells us here: "To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). And then, standing with them on the Mount of Olives, He ascended from their midst into heaven.
It is all here. This is history. Luke the physician, Luke the historian, wanted to help this intelligent man, Theophilus. Theophilus had said, "I'd love to know what Christianity is. I'm amazed at you people. I see what has happened to you, and I hear you preaching. I can see the effects. I want to know what this is."
So Luke said in essence, "Theophilus, if you want to know, listen—this is it—it is Jesus. This is what He began to do. He came. He taught. He worked miracles. He gave Himself. He died. He was buried. He rose again, and He ascended into heaven."
Luke emphasizes the Resurrection. There would be no Christian church were it not for the Resurrection. Here in Acts is the history of the church. Here is the account of this amazing institution that turned the world upside-down and has continued throughout the centuries. It is all due to the fact that Jesus who was dead is alive again and has given "many infallible proofs" of it. These are facts.
"Theophilus," says Luke in effect, "you must believe these facts. There is no explanation except Jesus. This is what He began to do."
But Jesus also began to "teach," and again I can do nothing but summarize this teaching for you. It is all in the Gospels. He taught concerning Himself. He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). He called Himself "'the Son of man." He said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time... but I say unto you" (Matt. 5:21-22). He claimed to have unique authority. He claimed, indeed, to be the Son of God. That is what He began to teach.
He went on to tell His followers why He had come into the world. This is the most staggering event that has ever happened. Why did He do it? "The Son of man," he said, "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). He said He had come into the world because it was the only way by which anybody could be saved. He said He was sent by His Father: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
But nobody understood Him. Luke had reminded Theophilus of that in the Gospel. In chapter 24, two people were walking on a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had been with Him and had believed in Him, but now, after His death, they were utterly cast down. Then suddenly, as they were walking along, Jesus, the risen Jesus, joined them and listened to their conversation. Earlier that day certain women who belonged to their company had been in the garden where Jesus had been put in the tomb and had reported to the disciples that the tomb was empty, and this is what we read: "Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not" (Luke 24:11).
The two people walking to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus when He joined them. They told this stranger what had happened and said, "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21). They had thought His teaching was wonderful; they had seen His miracles. They had said that this must be the Messiah. But He could not be, of course, for He had been crucified. He was dead.
And then our Lord began to speak to them:
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Later that evening, in Jerusalem, our Lord came among the disciples. They were terrified; they could not believe it was really Him. He had told them repeatedly that He was going to die and rise again, but they had never taken it in. Yet here He was appearing among them, and He said, "Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (vv. 38-39). And He ate a bit of broiled fish and honey. Then He began to speak again: "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (v. 44).
If you want to understand Christianity, do not shut your Bible—open it, read it! Read the books of Moses, the prophets, the Psalms; they all point to Him. Study your Bible. It is ignorance that blinds men and women of this generation and keeps them outside of Christ. So do not have a hurried service at nine o'clock so you can go out and play golf and bathe in the sea—listen for your life! Here is the only message of hope for you.
Then our Lord went on telling His disciples the meaning of His coming. Luke writes: "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:45-47). There is his own explanation of why He came and why He did all He did. It is the only way anybody can be saved. Every one of us is born in sin. We are born under the wrath of God. We do not know Him, and we are evil by nature. Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God, to have our sins forgiven, to know God as our Father, to be blessed by Him, and to start as a child of God. And Jesus came in order that men and women might know this. This is His message—not that we improve the world but that you and I be redeemed. You may set out with your political program. You may say, "Now, if we can get this onto the statute book this year, then that, then the other..." But you may be dead before tomorrow morning and be in eternity facing God and the judgment.
How can this message be made known? The answer is this: Jesus. In effect He said to the disciples, "I'm going to send you out to preach, and I want you to tell people that repentance and remission of sins is only possible in My name. Preach it among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. I do not care what color, class, or creed people are. The human race is one; humanity is one in sin, one under the wrath of God, one in its destiny in hell. And there is only one Savior. Tell them about Me, and be witnesses to Me."
"That is what Christianity is all about," said Luke to Theophilus in effect. "That is what I told you in my former treatise. But now I want to tell you a little bit more. 'The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.' This is the vital emphasis—'all that Jesus began.'" This means He has not finished! He is going on with it.
Luke said, "Listen, Theophilus, I have a second treatise. I've told you what He began to do; you've got it, you've read it—that's the Gospel. I want to tell you now what He's continuing to do."
This is important because the modern teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, though a very fine moral and political teacher, would have us believe that He was like other teachers—Plato, Socrates, and all the rest. He was in the world, and He died. "Well," people say, "that's all right if you're interested in such people, but the thing that really matters, of course, is the teaching." They may "prove" to you that Plato and Jesus never existed. "But it doesn't matter," they insist, "we've got the teaching. All that remains is for us to apply it."
But the answer to that is that Jesus Christ is still active. It is what He does that matters, not what we do; and the message of the Christian church is not only one of what He has done but of what He is doing. He is going on. He is still working. And the book of Acts tells us about the further acts of Jesus. Some people say it ought to be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. That is quite wrong. It is Jesus who dominates.
How is Christ still active? Well, this book tells us that He is seated at the right hand of God in the glory everlasting. After His resurrection He Himself told us something that is demonstrated so clearly in this book. He said to those men, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matt. 28:18-19). They were to preach the Gospel and to disciple the nations. I know of nothing more comforting and encouraging than that wonderful, blessed statement. This world is not in the hands of the politicians; it is in the hands of this living Jesus, this risen Christ. This is the message: God the eternal Father, the Creator, the Owner of all things, has handed over the business of this world and its redemption to His Son. And He has "all power... in heaven and in earth."
And in this wonderful book of Acts we see Jesus demonstrating some of that power. He sent the Holy Spirit down upon the early church. That was a manifestation of His power. Then He began to give power to His disciples. We will see Peter and John walking up to the temple one afternoon at the hour of prayer and healing a man who lay paralyzed on a mat, so that he went into the temple walking and leaping and praising God. That is Christianity. Not simply a political, moral program, no, no—but the living Jesus who has all power, giving power.
What else did our Lord go on to do? Well, there was a man called Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee and a bitter opponent of the first Christians. Here was a man who hated our Lord and hated His cause and did his best to put it to an end by going out and having believers thrown into prison and even put to death. Saul was so keen on this persecution that he went to the high priest at Jerusalem and asked for authority to go down to Damascus to exterminate the little Christian church there. So they gave him authority, and off he went, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter" (Acts 9:1), confident he would be able to destroy the church.
What happened? Ah, this Jesus revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus. About midday Saul saw a light in the heavens "above the brightness of the sun" (Acts 26:13). Paul said, "Who art thou, Lord?" And the answer came back, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" (Acts 9:5). Jesus was continuing to act. He floored Saul. He humbled him. He cast him down. He led him to repentance. Jesus saved him.
So the story does not end at the Ascension. Jesus Christ continues to act with all power. Nothing is impossible for Him, and here He is, calling out men and women, saving them, building up His kingdom. He instructed them after His resurrection, "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). He said in effect, "This is how it will happen. I am sending you out, just a little handful, but I will be with you. I am with you all the way, even until the end of the ages. Go out and disciple the nations; bear witness to Me."
But thank God, Jesus does not stop even at that. The Bible tells us that in heaven, "he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). He has taken human nature back with Him into heaven, and there He is seated at the right hand of God. He is our representative, our great High Priest. He takes our feeble, unworthy prayers, and He transmutes them with all the glory of His own intercession at the very throne of God. He still remembers our weak and fallible frame. He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). And why? It was in order to "succor them that are tempted"—you and me (Heb. 2:18).
So when you read your New Testament you will find the apostle Paul able to say he was on trial, and all his friends forsook him, but "the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (2 Tim. 4:17). In the court the Lord stood by His servant, and Paul knew He was there. What did it matter that all Paul's helpers had forsaken him, Demas and the rest of them? The Lord stood by him. Paul was able to say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). And our Lord will continue to act "till his enemies be made his footstool" (Heb. 10:13). That is the message.
And when we read the book of Revelation, we see Jesus continuing to act, and we see what He will yet do. His people are persecuted and killed, the whole church seems to be disappearing, but He intervenes, and there is judgment; eventually He will come riding that blessed white horse. He is at the present time saving us as individuals out of this present evil world, putting us into His glorious kingdom, preparing us for the Day that is coming when He will return.
And what then? In Acts 1:10-11 we read: "Two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." If you think that Jesus finished when He died and was buried, listen to the message of Luke, listen to this treatise written to Theophilus—it is written to you. He will come again, even as He went. He will return, in bodily, visible fashion, riding the clouds of heaven, surrounded by the holy angels. And He will judge the world in righteousness and set up His glorious kingdom, to which there shall be no end.
That is the message of Christianity. That is what has made the church what it is. Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problem? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come. This Jesus is active and acting to that end, and He will go on until all the redeemed are gathered in, and then He will return, and the final judgment will take place, and His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore.
That is the message that turned the ancient world upside-down. It is the only message, and I want to ask you a simple question: What does this message mean to you? What is your idea of Christianity? What do you think the business of the church is? Do you say, "I don't want your sermons, I don't want your argumentation—I just want to feel that I've said my prayers and paid my respects, as it were, to God, before I go out and do what I like"? Is that it? Do you think Christianity is something that you can take up and use as a minimum, in the hope that it will somehow put you right? Or is it the most amazing and astounding thing that ever happened or ever will happen? Is it the thing by which you live, the thing that you long to know and to experience more and more? Do you realize that this Jesus came into the world to save you from hell, from the punishment that your sins and mine so richly deserve? Do you realize now that the essence of Christianity is not that it calls you to do something, but rather that it tells you what Jesus came into the world to do for you?