As you skim over this magazine or online post, pause for a moment and ask: “Why do I exist?”
It is essentially impossible to get through life without asking this. But our reaction to this question can vary from person to person. Perhaps this is a question we hardly ever think about, a vague shadowy concept tiptoeing around the corners of a life that is far too busy to pause and think about.
Or maybe we are more familiar with it; possibly from time to time it jumps out at us like a stranger in the shadows that leaves us fearing, with heart pounding and a knot in the pit of our stomach, that maybe we are on the wrong road.
It might be more like the buzzing fly in our brains that just won’t leave us, but is still too fast for us to catch. Maybe it’s a familiar friend that keeps us company as we plan our day. It is such an important question that, when properly considered and answered, it becomes a guiding light that keeps pulling us back to what really matters.
As crucial as this question is to consider individually, it is an indispensable question for us to consider collectively as a church.
Christianity is best defined as a movement of people following Jesus. But why do we follow Him? That must have been a question similar to what Peter, John, and the other disciples asked themselves that Sabbath after Jesus’ death. They spent three and a half years following this Man. Like the two on the Emmaus Road the next day, the feeling of their heart was “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
But now Jesus had joined the ranks of all of the other would-be messiahs who had come before: a burst of hope and a promise dashed on a Roman cross.
Worse, they had all abandoned Him. Even Peter, that self-confident, combative, and vocal disciple, had denied his Lord, not once but three times, at the most crucial time.
For these followers of Christ there was no going back; all that was left was an empty world filled with regrets as they huddled in fear in a room, hoping that the next moment would not bring the sound of soldiers pounding at the door.
But their whole world was completely changed the next day. Impossibly, but just as He had promised, Jesus came to life again! Something new had happened: death was swallowed up in victory!
Once again, Jesus filled their nets with fish, ate with them, forgave them, filled their hearts with His words.
But He was different now. He came and went without warning; locked doors had no effect on Him; He could be anywhere He chose. Their hearts reverberated with Thomas’ awestruck declaration: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
For 40 days they walked with the resurrected Jesus. More than 500 others saw Him at some time (1 Cor. 15:6). Finally, they gathered together on the Mount of Olives. Listen to what the apostles heard as the resurrected Christ declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20).
The command to go and make disciples electrified them because it came from their living Friend and Lord. They had a purpose, a reason to exist; no other reason could even come close in importance.
Then as they watched, He rose into the air, returning to heaven. Two heavenly messengers appeared with the promise: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus was coming back again!
Though He left physically, Christ did not leave them alone.
Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would provide the power and presence of Christ in their lives (John 16:7; 14:17, 18). The disciples knew about the Holy Spirit; they had seen His power demonstrated in Christ’s ministry. But the Holy Spirit had not yet permeated their being; they needed the power of God in them.
As the disciples waited in the upper room the promise was fulfilled on Pentecost: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4).
God in them changed everything, and they could not help sharing. Jesus made it clear that when the Holy Spirit came, He would bring the presence of Christ with Him.
Only the Holy Spirit can “prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). And He did, with thousands being drawn to Christ and converted on that day alone, and unnumbered thousands more in the days and years to come. The disciples, too, were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus led His people through the Holy Spirit (mentioned 56 times in Acts), and He had much to teach them. Prayer became the centerpiece of their lives. In the 28 chapters of Acts prayer is mentioned 30 times, more than in any of the Gospels. The followers of Christ did it all the time, individually and corporately.
Their characters were different too. People were changed; self-reliance died. Peter was transformed from a self-sufficient and (paradoxically) cowardly fisherman into a man who could stand before the very people who condemned Christ to death and declare with certainty, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).
Raging persecutors like Saul of Tarsus became passionate servants of Jesus. New believers no longer lived for self (Gal. 2:20); no longer attached to their possessions, they shared with anyone in need (Acts 4:32). Believers became witnesses for Jesus, no matter where they were, whether house to house, on the run for their lives, or in whatever they did (Acts 2:46; 8:4; etc.).
This doesn’t mean there were no challenges. Christ led them to face the work He had to do in them, to grow them beyond their own fears (Acts 9:10-18) and prejudices (Acts 10; 11), and in the midst of conflicts, whether domestic (Acts 6), doctrinal (Acts 15), or external (Acts 5:17, 18, etc.). Their hard experience only fueled their desire for more of Him. Whatever it took, they wanted Jesus. In Paul’s words: “I consider everything a loss” “that I may gain Christ and be found in him. . . . I want to know Christ . . . [and] the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:8-10). No other life was worth living.
That same resurrection experience with Christ is His invitation to us. “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13, 14).
Until Christ lives in our hearts, every word we speak, though true, is still secondhand. When the living, transforming presence of Christ rules in our hearts through faith, that turns us into witnesses. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
This is the purpose of Christianity. Only this can motivate and compel us. This is why we exist. Shall we not seek the power of His resurrection in our lives today?
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9, 10).
Jonathan Burt lives in Abilene, Kansas, and pastors the Junction City, Enterprise, and Salina Seventh-day Adventist churches. His passion is the transforming power of Christ in the life and witness of those represented in Scripture, church history, and today.