From cowards to revolutionaries.
Alexander Maclaren on the transformation of the doubting apostles into the church’s heroes.
I’ve often been amazed at the glimpse we get of the apostles in the testimony of the Gospels contrasted against the apostolic verve we see in the Acts of the Apostles. Read Mark’s Gospel and the first few chapters of Acts, and you’ll soon be struck dumb by the mere fact that the same motley crew of tradesmen who flew the coop when their beloved Teacher was masqueraded through the trappings of a phony trial and wretched execution are the same council of leaders who zealously and willingly sacrifice their reputations and their lives for the sake of the message that Jesus of Nazareth was/is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. The apostles are off-base for the majority of Gospel accounts, making assumptions about Jesus’s intentions and motivations. They, like the Pharisees who look down on them, are repeatedly caught off guard when as their common Messianic expectations are constantly subverted.
And yet, early on in the narrative of Acts, the apostles were found “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame” for the sake of Jesus’s name (Acts 5:41). It was he who they preached and made known with every fiber of their being. “Daily in the temple,” Dr. Luke recounts, “and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42). It almost appears too contrived to be real. How could these guys be the same lot that would eventually “turn the world upside down”? (Acts 17:6). Well, in this case, the short answer is the only answer: the resurrection. Watch as Rev. Alexander Maclaren brings this beloved thought to bear in the following excerpt:
I do not need to remind you, I suppose, of the value, as a piece of evidence of the historical veracity of the Gospel story, of this sudden change and complete revolution in the sentiments and emotions of that handful of disciples. What was it that lifted them out of the pit? What was it that revolutionised in a moment their notions of the Cross and its bearing upon them? What was it that changed downhearted, despondent, and all but apostate, disciples into heroes and martyrs? It was the one fact which Christendom commemorates today: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That was the element, added to the dark potion, which changed it all in a moment into golden flashing light. The resurrection was what made the death of Christ no longer the occasion for the dispersion of His disciples, but bound them to Him with a closer bond. And I venture to say that, unless the first disciples were lunatics, there is no explanation of the changes through which they passed in some eight-and-forty hours, except the supernatural and miraculous fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That set a light to the thick column of smoke, and made it blaze up a “pillar of fire.” That changed sorrow into joy. The same death which, before the resurrection, drew a pall of darkness over the heavens, and draped the earth in mourning, by reason of that resurrection which swept away the cloud and brought out the sunshine, became the source of joy. A dead Christ was the Church’s despair; a dead and risen Christ is the Church’s triumph, because He is “the Christ that died . . . and is alive forevermore.” (11:133–34)
I love this thought. The resurrection changed everything, including these motley Twelve. It was only after the resurrected Christ visited them and opened their eyes to the truth of his revolutionary Word (Luke 24:45) that these cowardly apostles were steeled into the pillars of the early church. And, I’d say, the resurrection is still in the business of changing lives today. The message of the resurrected Word, in whose veins streams the remission of sins, is the same message that continues to transform feckless sinners into faithful saints. The revolution hasn’t ended. And neither has his love. Nor will it ever.
Grace and peace to you.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944).