A brief look at the Acts of the Apostles shows us that the first disciples did indeed go out and build the Church that the Holy Spirit began on Pentecost.
Working together, they built it on the foundation of Jesus’ triumph over death. They fashioned it into the family of God. And together as a Church, they experienced Jesus’ promise that he would be with them always.
In this article, we want to look at these three key characteristics of the apostles’ experience. We’ll see how each of these truths guided them in their mission and how we can experience the very same truths in our lives. We’ll see that nothing can give us more confidence and comfort than knowing that Jesus’ resurrection means the beginning of a whole new life for each one of us.
From Death to Life. This is one of the most common themes in the Book of Acts. On Pentecost, Peter spoke of how God had raised Jesus from the dead and how Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Speaking to the crowd after he and John had healed a lame man, Peter also said, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead” (3:15). Preaching in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, Paul announced, “We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our ancestors he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (13:32-33). Just about everywhere you look, you see the apostles talking about Jesus’ resurrection! That shows how excited they were about it and how dedicated they were to sharing this great good news.
We live in a world that has reduced religion to a series of “do this” and “don’t do that” commands. But the heart of our lives is not morality. It’s the very same resurrection that transformed the apostles! It’s new life. Of course, we must strive to obey God’s laws, but the message that the apostles and the saints dedicated themselves to is this: God loves us so much that he endured the pain of the cross so that we could be filled with his love and come to live a new life with him both now and in heaven. This is the message that has endured from generation to generation.
We can experience this new life as we decide each day to fix our eyes on the risen Lord. It comes as we give our lives to Christ each day, ask him for his grace, and then try our best to please him in all that we do. And whenever we fall, we can find this new life again just as soon as we confess our sins and ask for the grace to start over. So if you want to enjoy Jesus’ victory over death, place his resurrection at the center of your life.
The Family of God. Immediately after telling the story of Pentecost, St. Luke tells us that the first believers “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They didn’t just receive the Holy Spirit and then move on with their lives as before. They became a Church. They joined together as brothers and sisters, sharing Jesus’ love and encouraging each other in their newfound faith. They began to celebrate the Eucharist as well, finding strength, grace, and joy as they praised the Lord together and received him in Communion.
No matter what they did, the first believers did it with each other. Paul never traveled alone on his missionary journeys (Acts 13:2; 17:15; 18:18). Peter never preached the gospel without urging people to band together and love each other (1 Peter 1:22). When faced with the crucial question of how Gentiles should be welcomed into the Church, the apostles made the decision together (Acts 15:1-3). They prayed in each others’ homes and even ate together (12:11-13; 6:1-2)!
Rather than looking at the Church primarily as an institution led by bishops and cardinals, and rather than seeing it as primarily the guardian of all truth, we should look at it as a family—our family! This is our home; we belong here. This is where we can find brothers and sisters who believe what we believe and whose faith and love can inspire us.
Jesus never meant for us to be alone. He knows we need each other if we’re going to become the people he has called us to be—and if we’re going to be a light to the people around us. The next time you walk into your parish church, whether it is a magnificent cathedral or an old, simple chapel, imagine yourself coming home after a long day. Imagine all your brothers and sisters gathering for the family meal, ready to share stories and enjoy being together under their Father’s roof. Imagine the support, the encouragement, and the wisdom you can gain from them. And then thank the Lord for calling you into his family!
“I Am with You Always.” On Christmas Day, Jesus entered our world, and most people ignored him. Only a few shepherds and some wise men came to honor him. Herod tried to kill him when he was only a child. His townsfolk took offense at him. Even his disciples were slow to believe in him. Then on Good Friday, we crucified him. Considering the way he was treated, Jesus could have walked away from us at any time. But he didn’t. He kept preaching, forgiving, healing, and loving.
When Easter Sunday arrived, Jesus told his disciples, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Imagine how joyful that must have made them! No matter how poorly they had treated him, Jesus would never abandon them. No matter how many times they had lost their faith or their courage, he would not give up on them. No wonder they were so confident after Pentecost!
Jesus speaks these same words to us, and he proves them to be true every day. He places himself in our hands every day, literally, in the form of bread and wine. He never stops offering us a share of his divine life in Holy Communion. He never stops speaking to us in his word, patiently offering us his wisdom and comfort. He is always ready for us to come to him in Confession, no matter how many times we have to repent. And best of all, he lives in our hearts. He is closer to us than our best friend, closer even than our husband or wife.
St. Paul tells us that nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). These aren’t just comforting words that he wrote to help us feel good. They came from his own experience and from the experience of all his brothers and sisters in the Church. In the midst of persecution from without and the threat of division from within, they always found Jesus to be with them, strengthening them and guiding them.
So every day this Easter season, make it a point to tell Jesus that you believe he is with you. Every day, on good days and bad days, whether you are feeling peaceful or anxious, tell yourself, “Christ lives in me.” Then turn to the Lord, and say, “Thank you, Jesus, for being with me right now. Come and pour your grace on me. Let me know your presence. Guide my steps and guard my heart. Jesus, I trust in you and your love.”
Propelled by the Spirit. Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus predicted that when the Spirit came, the disciples would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” and that’s exactly what happened (Acts 1:8). In page after page, the Book of Acts paints the picture of a dynamic Church, a Church that kept moving forward in the power of the Spirit, drawing more and more people to the Lord.
Now we know why. When the Spirit came on the first disciples, he showed them all the grace and blessings that were theirs because Jesus had risen. He showed them that death had been conquered, that they were not alone, and that Jesus would never abandon them. These wonderful truths, made real by the Holy Spirit, lit a fire in their hearts and sent them into the world with confidence and joy. This was all such good news, and they simply had to share it with everyone they could!
If you want to know the same joy and confidence, then spend time every day praying about Jesus’ resurrection. Picture yourself with the disciples on Easter Sunday as they meet Jesus and learn that he has defeated death and all its allies. See the joy on Jesus’ face as he says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Let his joy—the joy of the resurrection—become your joy. Let his victory become your victory. Commit yourself to him, and let him fill you with his joy.