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T-2 Days to the Anniversary of the Biggest Life Changing Event in History

April 22, 2011

Life change is tough, even when you want to change. Consider how many people make New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, eat right, be self-disciplined, or become financially responsible. And how many of those resolutions fall by the wayside in 2-3 months? Most of them.

Most people just get comfortable in whatever present circumstances they’re in and they just stay there. People are naturally resistant to change, especially when they like the way things are going, or even if they’re just comfortable. And most people wouldn’t be willing to give up or change deep personal convictions overnight, especially not in a radical way. Yet that is exactly what happened in the early church. Literally overnight, deeply rooted religious convictions were overturned, new religious observances began, long-time skeptics changed their minds, and enemies of the church became its loudest heralds. And the resurrection of Jesus is the key turning point in history that radically altered the course of humanity forever.

In this post, we’ll look at 4 radical changes that took place in the early church as a direct result of Jesus’ resurrection: the overturning of traditionally held religious beliefs, the character change in Peter, the conversion of the skeptic James, and the conversion of Christianity’s number one enemy at the time, Saul of Tarsus.

1. The overturning of traditionally held religious beliefs (and the creation of new religious rituals):

Judaism was the religion of the day for nearly all of the main players in the Bible. The Old Testament was the Scripture containing the law, prophecies about the Messiah, and everything else that was religiously relevant. Jesus knew the Scriptures inside and out and taught from them. His disciples also probably studied the Scriptures – at least with Jesus, and probably also on their own – good Jews would need to do so, to avoid breaking commandments and remain within God’s law. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious people of the day, so had probably not only studied the Scriptures, but memorized large portions of them in the original Hebrew language. Saul was one of these, and an extremely zealous Jew by his own admission: “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14).

The ten commandments are the most well known portion of Old Testament law and were the most strictly adhered to by good Jews. They knew that to break the ten commandments would be to condemn themselves before God. Yet, after the resurrection of Jesus, at least two of these commandments were widely broken and even seemingly ignored by the emerging Christian church.

Commandment ONE: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Was completely broken when the disciples started preaching salvation and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Commandment FOUR: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

Was completely broken when the church stopped honoring the seventh day of the week (Saturday), and started meeting on the first day of the week (Sunday): “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” (Acts 20:7). This switch was to honor Jesus as God, who was raised to life on the first day of the week: “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)

Additionally, although the Jews did believe in the resurrection because it was prophecied in Daniel: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2), they thought the resurrection was coming at the end of days: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:23-24). But Jesus declared he was the resurrection and the life: “Jesus said to her,  of the dead.” (Acts 4:2). “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;” (John 11:25), and the early church proclaimed the resurrection through Christ: “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the

In addition to these things, two new traditions formed in the early church that have carried over until today. These are communion, which remembers Jesus’ body and blood spilt for our sins, and baptism, which remembers Jesus’ resurrection and is symbolic of our own death to sin and resurrection in Jesus when we have faith in him.

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, Communion: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,

into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)Baptism: “We were therefore buried with him through

Now what could cause such a drastic change in religious beliefs in such a short amount of time? Only something as significant as the resurrection.

2. The character change in Peter

Peter is probably the most famous of Jesus’ disciples because he was stubborn, hard-headed, and weak. Peter even rebuked Jesus! “[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mark 8:31-32). He denied Jesus three times in Jesus’ most difficult hours – even to a servant girl (“Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.” Matthew 26:69-70), then wept like a baby: “Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75).

Yet Jesus told Peter that he would build his church on him: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18). And Jesus delivered on this promise: “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” (Galatians 2:9). And Peter became incredibly bold – no longer the weak denier – for the gospel of Christ: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14). Peter was arrested numerous times, and was martyred upside-down on a cross for his beliefs.

Talk about a change of character. What could make such a weak, self-preserving man endure such hardship for his beliefs? Only the truth of the resurrection.

3. The conversion of the skeptic, James.

James was the brother of Jesus. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55). Yet he didn’t believe in Jesus as Lord, and neither did any of the rest of his family (ha, try convincing your family you are the Son of God and see what they say): “Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:3-5).

Yet we see later that James becomes a pillar of the early church: “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” (Galatians 2:9); one who was respected by the other early leaders: “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me.” (Acts 15:12-13); and one who wrote an epistle to the early church: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” (James 1:1).

We can even see that Jude, the brother of James, and therefore another of Jesus’ half-brothers also became a Christian and wrote an epistle to the early church: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:” (Jude 1:1).

Additionally, Jesus’ own mother Mary was counted among the believers before the Day of Pentecost when the fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon them: “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:13-14).

What would convince a man’s whole family to radically alter their minds to begin to pray to him and worship him as God? Only his resurrection.

4. The conversion of Christianity’s number one enemy at the time, Saul of Tarsus.

Saul is probably the most unlikely convert. By his own admission, he was a very zealous Jew (“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14)) – strongly opposed to Christianity, witnessing the first Christian martyring (“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58)), and began actively seeking to destroy the new religion that was upending his beloved Judaism (“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)).

He was still breathing out murderous threats against Christians clear up until the point of his conversion: ”

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2).

The amazing thing about Paul’s conversion, is that unlike usual converts to a new religion, he did not come by his belief through word of mouth instruction and convincing by the Christians. He converted to Christianity solely based on his personal encouter with the risen Christ: “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6). Yet, immediately after his encounter with the risen Christ, he flipped his views on Christianity 180 degrees and began preaching loudly what he had only days earlier set out to destroy: “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:20-22). Even those who had once strongly supported his cause began to plot to kill him: “After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,” (Acts 9:23), and the other Christians initially refused to accept him as one of them – thinking he was only trying to trick them to put them into prison or kill them: “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26).

Paul then went on to pen the most famous writings of Christianity which make up about 25% of the entire New Testament. He was thrown into prison, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked for the gospel he preached. He was put under house arrest in Rome for two years, and was pursued by many who were as he once had been – stark opposers of Christianity, and he was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero in the mid-60s A.D.

What on earth could ever convince the strongest enemy of the religion to become its strongest advocate and even willingly suffer and die for its cause? Only his own personal encounter with the resurrected Son of God.

The Christian’s own life change

All of these things occurred within a very short time after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These were radical changes, not things that occurred over an extended period of time. And even today, Christians the world over have their own personal stories of radical life change – some saved from drugs, gangs, death, habitual sin, pride, unfaithfulness, and selfishness. It is as the prophet Ezekiel prophecied twice in the Old Testament: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart ofstone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19) and “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). This is a radical life change that is experienced by every Christian when they put their full trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. The deepest desires of their hearts will be for the things of God, and not for their own selfish devices. But only something as dramatic and life-altering as the resurrection can have this kind of impact on a person’s life and even human history.


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