A few years ago, my daughter and I were playing Battleship, and she shot misses on spaces C 8,9, and 10. Or that’s how I remember it and had it marked. But later she said “C9,” and I said, “you already tried that one, sweetie.” She said “No I didn’t. I shot J 8,9, and 10.” And I said, “No, I marked them; you said C 8,9, and 10.” She insisted just as vehemently, “No, Dad. I said J 8,9, and 10.” Now, of course, there’s a true answer to that question, but we’ll never recover it, because we were the only two people there, and we just flat out are both sure—even to this day!—that we were right.

That’s a bit of a parable, you might say—a silly example of a big problem in our world these days. Any truth seems to immediately get challenged by a flood of false claims. We live in the middle of an infodemic, as Ed Yost at The Atlantic termed it a couple of years back, and that infodemic wasn’t just about COVID and vaccines. It seems to be about everything—the environment, the government, foreign policy, race—you name it. A society awash in information has no way anymore to control and debunk false information. Now add in the power of AI and deepfakes, and, well…

And in a few things—a VERY few things—I’m an expert; I know a lot. But in most things, I hardly know this or that for sure for myself. It depends on who you read and where you get your news. How can you possibly know what’s true anymore? It’s easy to despair of knowing the truth on much anything, to just throw up your hands, say “Who knows?” and then go on with life as a cynic.

But here’s the thing—there’s no doubt that my daughter and I did play Battleship. Even if we can’t be certain of every detail of the past, we can be certain of some things—and here’s the important point—certain enough to act.

To switch the example, if you want to drive from Washington, DC down to Charlottesville, VA, you can get out a map and figure out the route. Now are you truly, 100%, no matter what, certain you read the map correctly? Is it truly impossible that you misread the map? Of course not. But you still get on the road and start driving.

Or maybe you get directions these days more by trust. You let the Waze lady, or the Apple Maps voice, or the Google Maps Voice direct—you just do what she says. Now do you absolutely, no matter what, know that the GPS hasn’t made an error? That the programmers didn’t mess up, or that the phone didn’t get north and south backwards? No, you can’t know it in that sense. But you DO get in the car and trust that voice and start driving.

Even if you don’t have true, undeniable, perfect epistemic certainty, you can live your life, you act on what you know to be true.

In our education system, we teach people to question assumptions, to overturn ideas, to test if what they think is really true. The ancient philosopher Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

BUT the purpose of that questioning is to find out what really is true and correct and good, not to wallow in uncertainty forever!

And the biblical historian Luke wrote to make sure we realize that we can be certain of the gospel, certain enough to stake our lives on it.

Luke’s history is a two-part narrative, starting with the Gospel of Luke, which bears his name. That got us to Easter. Now he brings us further with the book of Acts. Starting with the beginning of the book, v.1-3, Luke tells what we know about Jesus:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Luke packs a lot in here, first that we are reading the sequel, or maybe better put, we’re reading volume 2. Luke had always planned this to be a 2-book series, so to speak, and he makes it clear right at the start. Look at his first words: “In my first book”—that this is the continuation of the story he has been telling since chapter 1 of the gospel that bears his name.

In fact, if we look at the way he addresses this in v.1—“O Theophilus”—he’s meaning to tie this book tightly to what he had already written. In antiquity, if you wrote a multivolume work, you added a preface to the first volume that was supposed to apply to the entire series. And Luke is widely recognized as a detailed and accurate historian. What he writes comports very well with what we know of the Roman world of the time and his style matches that of other historical authors.

So, the purpose statement for both books is really verse 4 of chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke. There Luke writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke had spent years with the apostle Paul, and he had also spent years researching what he wrote. Later in Acts, he begins saying, “we” as in “We did this; we went here; etc.,” meaning that later he becomes an eyewitness, but he carefully researched everything before he became part of the events himself. In fact, by chapter 24 of Acts, Paul will end up in prison in Caesarea for two full years, and Luke—who was still free—most probably used that time to travel Palestine, to research, to visit the places, to talk to the people involved. And he says, Luke 1:4, that he writes so “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have taught.”

Luke is a good historian. And the historian and theologian need not be in opposition to each other—in fact, in Luke they are the same person. And if we pull them apart, Christianity is gutted. Christianity rises or falls on a claim that certain things really happened. And if those things did occur, then those things change us. Because if you know something is true, then you believe it, you act on it; it changes things.

And that brings us to the second thing the prologue to Acts teaches—these things really happened. Luke summarizes it at the end of v.1, “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Do and teach. That quite effectively sums up what the gospels show—what Jesus did and what he taught. That he was not only a great teacher, but that he did miracles that accredited his claim, that proved he wasn’t making it up when he claimed to be the son of God, that he really would—and did—rise from the grave after being crucified.

And certainty and proof matter a lot to Luke. It’s easy for moderns to try to dismiss what the Bible says about Jesus, the gospel narrative. When we hear something that’s counter to our experience, we tend to reject it, much as the body rejects a foreign protein. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t see resurrections very often as I go about my days. Dead people tend to stay dead.

So modern people tend to reject this story for two reasons: first because of ancient Christians, and second because of modern Christians.

Sometimes we engage in a bit of chronological snobbery, assuming the ancients were just superstitious people who didn’t know very much. But that’s hardly true. It’s not true in math—it was still in the 3rd century before Christ that an Alexandrian philosopher computed the diameter of the earth and got it within 50 miles of the accurate measure we know today. The ancients were just as smart as we are. And the ancients weren’t used to seeing dead bodies come back to life either. They weren’t any more predisposed to believe in Jesus’ resurrection than we are.

But Luke has answered that objection already in the last chapter of his gospel. Luke reminds us, if we look back there, that those initial witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were not at all disposed to believe it. It took a lot of proof to convince them it was true. Because ancient people lived in a hard-boiled, practical world, and they wouldn’t expect to believe that someone rose from the dead, unless you proved it to them clearly.

Yet I would say more often these days, people tend to reject the gospel story because of today’s Christians. Christians have shown tremendous gullibility in the past few years. Everybody can fall for conspiracy theories, of course, and it is hardly just Christians who have done so. Conspiracy thinking afflicts both sides of the political spectrum, the ideological spectrum, and the religious spectrum. Yet in the past few years Christians for whom the rallying cry has always been “absolute truth” have quite often gotten hook, line, and sinker into various conspiracies, and nothing seems to be able to debunk them, even though the facts pretty clearly discredit those conspiracy theories for what they are: internet ramblings.

So, rightly or wrongly, the world looks at Christians and says, “Well if so many Christians are gullible on all those things, how do we know you’re not just being gullible in believing in the resurrection?” The world today doesn’t just reject the gospel accounts because of skepticism about ancient Christians; it rejects the gospel because of skepticism about today’s Christians.

But Luke argues both of those approaches are wrong—that we can really know these things happened, with enough certainty to base our lives on them. Look one more time back at Luke 1:1-4. Luke makes it clear that he went back and found the eyewitnesses. He found the people who spent years with Jesus. What Luke is giving is a reliable chain of testimony. Here in Acts, verse 2, he references the apostles, a term that Luke typically restricts to the twelve, those who followed Jesus closely, walked with him for years, touched him, ate with him, drank with him. Luke says, effectively, that the story starts with them, and then you have a reliable chain of testimony all the way until he wrote this book.

And think about it. That’s always how we know history. You and I don’t know history because we can do repeatable experiments like you do in chemistry lab. We know history because there are reliable chains of witnesses to what happened, and we find the testimony of those witnesses trustworthy.

And that is the theme Luke picks up in verse 3 of Acts, chapter 1. Notice that, even as he’s summarizing his whole first book, he mentions a couple key details in v.3: first, he mentions that Jesus gave them many proofs, and second, that he did it over 40 days. Why are those important? Those are key points because they prove this wasn’t a “one off” thing. One of the common non-Christian explanations for the resurrection is that the people who thought Jesus rose were either dreaming or hallucinating, but that’s not something that happens to large groups of people again and again. Luke is clear—Jesus appeared again and again, and he gave many proofs that he was alive.

Even Luke’s vocabulary is carefully chosen here—he uses a specific Greek word, tekmerion, which means “a convincing proof.” Luke is aware that there’s such a thing as a weak proof, and he doubtlessly knows the maxim that the sum of a bunch of weak proofs is still a weak proof—but that’s not what this is!

Lots of people and lots of proofs. In 1 Corinthians 15, the New Testament even listed many of them for contemporaries to go and check it out. As far as Luke is concerned, Christianity rises or falls on history. It isn’t mainly a moral system, nor mainly a culture, nor mainly a worldview—the history is the religion—did Jesus rise or not?

So, to sum it up, we have good reason to believe, with a comfortable certainty, that Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the dead. We should really believe that this happened, and if it really did happen, then things are going to be different.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is an aphorism made popular by Carl Sagan. The rebuttal to that is our actual practice. We do quite extraordinary things, we literally “bet our lives” on things we believe. I do not know my car’s breaks will work, but I trust them enough to drive 70. I do not know the airplane’s wings will hold, but I go up in it anyway. I do not know the rope will hold me, but I climb and trust. The child on the edge of the diving board, with his parent treading water below hears what? “Trust me; I’ll catch you.” The response to belief is trust.

When it comes to the tomb, it was either empty or not—as a question of historical fact. Purposeful uncertainty is not, in the end, an option, because we bet our lives either way. The only question is which side we bet: on the belief that the tomb was empty or on the belief that Jesus never rose.

Luke the historian and the theologian gives this call—we do know these things about Jesus—that he lived, taught, performed miracles, was hung on a cross and died, then rose from the dead, validating his claim to be the son of God, the savior of the world.

When we realize these things about Jesus, we become part of something bigger than ourselves.We become part of this fire that has spread through the entire world.

Consider one more thing from Acts 1:3. Luke says that his first book was about what Jesus began to do. In other words, Jesus isn’t finished at the end of the gospels, nor is he finished when he ascends to heaven. That was just the beginning.

Belief in Jesus means that we become part of his church, founded by his apostles. Christ and his church are just two stages of his one ministry. The Gospel of Luke was his ministry in person; now the book of Acts is his ministry through his church. And Jesus is the one who is still doing it! The gospel of Luke showed us Jesus doing it all; now Acts shows the church being Jesus to the world, and nothing can stop it. The watershed is Jesus’ death and resurrection, with him completing the atonement, but that was only the beginning of what he would do—now working through the apostles and even through us. He lit the fire that roars through the known world.

Acts is the second volume of his series, and there is no third volume. The book of Acts even seems to end without a resolution. Because we are still doing what the Holy Spirit started in Acts. We must still be taking Jesus’ and his name to every end of the earth. As we do, let’s be inspired to live the next chapter together.

An ordained minister and the first professor of Reformed Theological Seminary NYC in Manhattan where he serves as Professor of Old Testament and Dean of Students, Bill earned a Ph.D. in Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America. He completed his M.Div. at RTS Orlando and serves as a pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church.

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