We had what appeared to be a troll visit our Facebook page this week. Love hopes all things, but when people make derogatory comments, you have to wonder why they take the trouble to grind the axes they do. It reminded me again as to how the story of Jesus can’t help but polarise people. A man who loved and cared for all those around him, still attracts vitriol.
I would have thought that for a man who never profited from anyone, but only ever gave of himself, then if his claims were false, sure, pity might be an appropriate reaction, but not anger. On the other hand, if his claims are true, then the kind of response we saw at Pentecost is surely the correct response. Your average internet troll is not interested in reason, they are just seeking a response. A genuine searcher for the truth is willing to listen to reason and arguments as to why they should change their mind.
When we read the historical account of Pentecost and, while granted, it is recounted for us by a sympathetic witness, it does give us a rational explanation as to why a few disillusioned disciples were transformed into powerful proclaimers of the Lordship of Jesus: they actually believed in the resurrection of Jesus. We might take their transformation with a grain of salt and propose a range of reasons for their testimony. However, the fact remains that those who listened to them didn’t discount their claims, but thousands responded in taking up the Christian faith, despite the potential they faced for persecution and opposition.
Something extraordinary happened at that time of Pentecost. Mass hysteria? Mass hypnotism? The apostle Paul claims there were over 500 witnesses who’d seen the risen Jesus. So, we can discount such claims, but what we can’t discount is the outbreak of Christianity upon a pagan world, despite the opposition against it.
There are those who would simply categorise the growth of Christianity as people being gullible and just believing what they are told. Such an attitude fails to recognise core aspects of human nature. However superstitious people are, however needful people are, they are not going to place their own life or livelihood at risk without good reason to do so.
The naysayers of Christianity need to explain: why the about turn? Firstly, for the disciples who were so worried about their own skins pre-Pentecost. And secondly, for those who responded to their testimony. Paul appeals to the 500 eyewitnesses to substantiate his claims of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:6. It would be a pretty poor argument if those 500 then said Paul was mistaken, and to be sure, a quick fizzle of the new movement.
I suggest that the very reason Christianity exploded across the empire was because the evidence was there for the claims of the disciples, and the claims of Jesus.
Today we celebrate not only the preaching of Jesus on Pentecost Sunday, but also the giving of God’s Spirit that we might know God personally. While there are those in this world who may doubt our confidence, we continue to do what we can to encourage them to examine the evidence for themselves, as those first believers did on Pentecost Sunday.