“It is Difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
– Robert H. Schuller
“Who were the first Christians?” I remember Dr. Richard Vinson asking this in the middle of class one day. I was thinking, how silly. This isn’t profound. That should be an easy answer, but it’s not.
At first some of us raised our hands and said “Jesus” as if we were in Sunday School. The teacher politely told us good try and reminded us that Jesus lived and died as a follower of the Jewish faith. Others got creative and began talking about Mary and Joseph and the Christmas story. Still others went after Fishermen and Tax Collectors – Peter, Andrew, Matthew. One person even brought Doubting Thomas into the conversation, while another felt that maybe Judas Iscariot was the first one to really understand Jesus and the plan.
Eventually an debate began about what exactly would be the definition of a Christian. That’s when the teacher brought us all back together and congratulated us for finally getting to the point. While he never answered the question, he gave us a short list of characteristics for the first Christians.
They are a people who follow the teachings of Jesus.
They saw or believe in the empty tomb.
They shared this good news of resurrection and salvation with others.
We follow the teachings of Jesus. Yes, Christians care called to do weird stuff. Instead of being all about revenge and “my individual rights,” we turn the other cheek. When someone asks us to walk a mile with them, we go two. We love our God and everyone we encounter in our lives – even those we can’t stand and consider enemies. We forgive even when it isn’t deserved. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus.
We saw or believe in the empty tomb. One of the things I love about taking our confirmation class up to the Greek Orthodox church in Richmond is that they get to see a replica of the empty tomb. As Christians, we believe that God did the impossible. God brought a man back from the dead. No, Jesus wasn’t sleeping. No, Jesus wasn’t half-dead. Jesus was dead-dead and rose from the grave as someone who had the answers to life’s problems, brokenness, and hurts. To be a Christian is to believe in an empty grave.
We share this good news of resurrection and salvation with others. I think this is the hardest part for us in the United States. We’ve become so scared of rejection, of offending, and ashamed. It’s easy to see Christians in places like Iraq because they are being beheaded, but here in the comfortable USA, we are hard to find because we don’t let folks know we are doing what we do because of Jesus. To be a Christian is to share that you do something good because of what Jesus has done for you. To be a Christian is to share the good life of resurrection and hope.
So, have you figured out who were the first Christians? It might surprise you. Like my professor, I’m not going to tell you the answer, but the verse below will point you in the right direction.
“When they found the tomb empty, they returned and reported all these things to the eleven and all the others.”