|Volume 21 Number 1 January 2019||
The religious leaders had worked very hard to have Jesus executed by the Roman government. He was finally in the tomb, and they were determined to keep Him there. With the permission of the Roman governor Pilate, the enemies of Jesus sealed His tomb and placed soldiers there to guard it.
However, early on the first day of the week, some of those soldiers came to the religious leaders and disturbed them with the “bad news” that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The leaders quickly decided to try to cover up the truth by giving the soldiers a bribe. They “…gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.” And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (Matthew 28:12-15).
The religious leaders could not keep the tomb of Jesus sealed and occupied. So, they tried to seal the lips of the soldiers. Notice how ridiculous their “cover-up story” was.
There was no dispute at all concerning the fact that Jesus of Nazareth actually lived, that He died on the cross and that His tomb became empty. Even the bitter enemies of Jesus did not deny these facts. Instead, those enemies tried to explain how His tomb became empty. Their ridiculous “cover-up story” serves as testimony from His enemies that the tomb of Jesus did indeed become empty! It is not surprising that thousands of people believed the testimony of the witnesses who saw the risen Lord, rather than believing the “cover-up story” (Acts 2:32-41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7).
The Way It Was
Ronald D. Reeves
The apostle Paul related to the past in a two-fold manner. He said, “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13b). He also said “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). With respect to his old Jewish prerogatives and attainments, he was constantly disregarding and discarding them, putting them out of his mind. With respect to his past sinful opposition to Christ, Christianity and faithful children of God, he was ever mindful of his grave though conscientious course of error. In one instance, he grew beyond the past while in the other instance the past was ever with him.
The history of specific congregations of the Lord’s church and the history of individual members therein may be approached similarly. As we look to the past, either individually or congregationally, there are some things beyond which we must grow as we maintain a realistic hope of spiritual and practical growth in Christian endeavors. There are also some things of the past onto which we must maintain a firm hold and keep ever with us if we realistically hope to fulfill our golden cup of service in the vineyard of the Lord. This latter point is of special interest presently.
Many congregations have been established with humble beginnings, including limited financial resources, facilities and personnel. In time, some congregations have truly grown so that a large congregation assembles regularly in very adequate facilities as they are led by quality and numerous brethren. This spiritual, numerical and financial growth occurred as a consequence of specific positive factors that characterized the congregation, not for a brief period of time but permeated the congregations over a larger span of time. I fear that some congregations have reached and maintained a plateau in their ongoing efforts to prosper spiritually and numerically. Perhaps other congregations actually have been diminished both in size and spirituality as the years have passed by. I, for one, do not believe that such a cycle is a necessary one. Why has this and why does this occur? Can it be avoided? I honestly believe we can understand why such occurs and can therefore make a stronger effort in avoiding what may be an unnecessary decline in congregations of the Lord’s church.
Unto what, then, may we attribute past numerical and spiritual growth? I suggest the following for your review and consideration: 1. Faithfulness in daily Christian living. Congregations that have grown have a membership largely characterized as living an influential life in Christ. The members are known for their everyday stand for good as they lead their families in godly service. 2. Strong dedication to the cause of Christ. Congregations that have grown exhibit a real, personal commitment in efforts to cause the local congregation to prosper. Members take seriously the charge to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. 3. Energetic activity in the kingdom of God. Congregations that have grown have a membership which is not content to passively sit by while a few do the needed work. The congregation has a clear majority that speak as Isaiah and say, “Here am I, send me.” 4. Genuine personal spiritual growth. Congregations that have grown do so because members are making concrete efforts to be more knowledgeable and spiritually-minded. The members have an abiding hunger and thirst for righteousness. 5. Sacrificial Christian living. Congregations that have grown have a membership that does not hesitate to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the church. Such includes the sacrifice of time, money, use of talents and sometimes even personal relationships. 6. Love of the New Testament church. Congregations that have grown have genuine love for the church. The members care for the church similarly as they care for their personal families. The members draw closer in fellowship as they grow in the grace and love of Christ. 7. Love for the souls of men. Congregations that have grown have genuine love for each and every lost soul within their reach. Social and ethnic concerns are not allowed as barriers to seeking and saving the lost. The world is truly the scope of their evangelism.
The characteristics listed above have been an historical part of many congregations. These are the things onto which we must maintain a firm hold and keep ever with us if we realistically hope to fulfill our duties and potential in the kingdom of God. May we have a balanced view of the past. Let us grow beyond the errors of the past while we ever hold close to us what has served the body of Christ so well. May we be able to say, as Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).