40 Amazing Days: The Original Founders Week
February 1, 1998
If you are a regular listener to Moody radio, you know that the annual Founder’s Week Bible Conference begins tomorrow night. What you may not know is that this historic conference started in the 1890s when D.L. Moody asked that the students at the Institute be dismissed from class on his birthday (February 5). after his death in 1899 the leaders of MBI began holding a yearly Bible conference during the first week of February In honor of his birthday. Back then it was one of many such Bible conferences; today it is almost the only one left in America. Without question Founder’s Week has become America’s premier Bible conference.
But it wasn’t the first. That honor must be given to the meeting Jesus held on Easter Sunday afternoon with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). What a message that would have been. you might say that the first Bible conference lasted 40 days and had only one speaker: The Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of listening to many people teach on many topics, the disciples listened to the Lord give his final instructions before ascending to heaven.
By the way Acts 1:3 is the only place that tells us that the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension was precisely 40 days. The number 40 seems to have special significance in Scripture:
The rains fell for 40 days and 40 nights before Noah’s flood (Genesis 7:4).
Moses spent 40 days in God’s presence on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18).
The 12 spies spent 40 days exploring the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:25).
A Generation wandered in the wilderness 40 years (Numbers 14:32).
Jonah warned Nineveh of coming judgment in 40 days (Jonah 4:4).
Jesus was tempted the wilderness for 40 days (Luke 4:2)
Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).
The New Bible Dictionary suggests the following meaning for the number forty:
Forty is associated with almost each new development in the history of God’s mighty acts, especially of salvation, e.g. the Flood, redemption from Egypt, Elijah and the prophetic era, the advent of Christ and the birth of the church.
You might say it this way: When you see the number forty, pay attention because it usually means that God is about to do something significant in the world. Christ was tempted for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry and appeared to the disciples for 40 days at the end of his ministry.
And so we come to the last days of Jesus Christ on the earth. For 33 years He has made the earth his home. Now the time draws near to leave. We’re beyond the cross, past the suffering, the torture, the mocking, and even beyond the resurrection. We’re in that mysterious forty day period that we’d like to know more about.
Christ is leaving soon, not to return for at least 2000 years. No longer does he speak to thousands but now to only a few. To them is entrusted the responsibility to take the message around the world. To them is given the Gospel–the good news–the best news in history.
Soon enough the incredible burden will fall on their shoulders alone. If they fail, the Christian movement will disappear before it ever begins. In human terms the future of the gospel is in their hands.
Knowing all this, what does Christ talk about? The weather, sports, the latest gossip from Rome? Hardly. He tells that little band of men what they need to know to make it after He’s gone. During the 40 days between the resurrection and his ascension into heaven, he accomplished two important goals:
He proved that he was alive.
He prepared them for the future.
We may sum the lessons from those days in three simple statements.
I. Jesus Christ is really alive
Luke tells us that he showed himself alive by “many convincing proofs.” The phrase “convincing proofs” comes from a Greek word found only in Acts 1:3 in the New Testament. We know from other instances in ancient Greek that this word means to present a case so logically compelling that it may be considered as completely proved. In a court of law this word referred to an argument so overwhelming that no other conclusion could possibly be considered.
The King James translation of this verse is tremendous. It says he showed himself alive by “many infallible proofs”. That phrase “infallible proofs” means that the proof of the resurrection is certain and sure, unquestioned and beyond any doubt. It is testimony that could stand up in any court of law–Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead
This is the most stupendous claim in history. Christians believe that a man has come back from the dead. I think we sometimes forget what an astounding claim this is. Our familiarity with the New Testament has dulled our senses to the enormity of what we believe.
If My Father Came Back
Perhaps an illustration would help. My father passed away twenty-four years ago at the age of 57. Somehow he contracted a bacterial infection that eventually killed him. I was thinking recently about what it would take to convince me that my father had come back to life.
Suppose he came walking in the doors of this church this morning, wearing the same suit we buried him in. Would I believe it? I’m sure I’d come closer to take a good look. I’d touch him to see if he felt alive. I’d listen to him speak, watch him walk, and wait for him to say something that only my father would know. And then I probably still would doubt it. Why? Because people just don’t rise from the dead.
But Luke says we have “infallible proof”, something more certain than hearsay, something better than a rumor. We have incontrovertible evidence that Jesus is alive today.
For 2000 years some people have attacked the resurrection on the grounds that such a thing simply is not possible. Various theories have been proposed to explain what happened on that first Easter Sunday. Some skeptics suggest that Jesus died and is still dead and that the early disciples suffered from a mass hallucination. That is, they thought he rose from the dead, but it was a dream or a vision or just wishful thinking.
They “Eyeballed” Jesus
Luke offers three proofs that Jesus rose from the dead. First, he says that Jesus appeared to them. The Greek word for “appeared” is ophthalmia—which means the eye or the eyeball. (We get the modern word Ophthalmology—the study of the eye and the treatment of eye diseases–from this Greek word). In modern terminology, Luke is telling us that the disciples “eyeballed” Jesus. They looked him over in great detail, examined his wounds, and satisfied themselves that it was the same Jesus they had known and loved.
Second, Jesus spoke with them. He talked with them about the kingdom of God and prepared them for his departure. Third, he ate with them. Luke 24 tells us that when he appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, they were frightened and thought he was a ghost. He invited them to examine his wounds and see for themselves that he was real. What happens next has always seemed a bit humorous to me. How do you prove to someone that you have come back from the dead? If you ever find yourself in that situation, here’s a tip. Ask people to give you something to eat.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘‘Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence (Luke 24:40-43).
A ghost can do many things, but no ghost can eat a Big Mac. By eating with them, Jesus proved beyond question that he was alive.
Over the centuries many have claimed to be the Messiah. Several years ago there was a rabbi in Brooklyn–Rabbi Schneerson—whose followers thought he might be the Messiah (he never made that claim himself). After he died some of his followers moved to Israel and began suggesting that he might rise from the dead. When I heard about that, I said to myself, “Right idea—Wrong man.” The real Messiah rose from the dead 2000 years ago.
Here are three truths to remember about the Resurrection. It is the …
Bedrock of our faith.
Answer to our doubts.
Reason for our hope.
All that we believe is wrapped up in the empty tomb. In the words of William Barclay: “Jesus is still alive. He is not the one who was; he is the one who is.
Because Jesus is alive, we have a message worth sharing. We go to a home that is breaking up—to a man caught in the grind between pressures at home and pressures on the job. To a woman bored with life who thinks an affair is the only way to grab a little gusto. To a student who feels pushed by her friends to lower her standards. To the lonely, the confused, the guilty, the hurting, the rebellious. We’ve got the message they need. We go with confidence because we have a living Christ.
II. Death is not the end
For just a moment let’s stand back and take the 4 gospels plus Acts and examine these 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Take one scene and add it to another until a composite picture is formed.
1. He restored fallen Peter
2. He encouraged weeping Mary
3. He welcomed doubting Thomas
4. He instructed the two disciples on the to Emmaus
5. He met the discouraged disciples and ate with them.
6. He met the disciples on a mountain in Galilee
7. He cooked breakfast for the disciples by the Sea of Galilee.
Each episode carries its own message, but take them together and a portrait appears. It is the same Jesus. He has the same heart, the same tenderness. Death has not destroyed his personality or rendered him somehow unrecognizable. It is the same Jesus they had known during all the days and months and years they spent together. Not some other person, and not the same person somehow changed. But the same person they had known and loved, the same Lord to whom they had committed themselves.
Perhaps we underestimate the value of this point because we have never met someone who has come back from the dead. But it would not be impossible to imagine that such a person would be so changed by his experience as to be a totally different person. There are in fact stories of some people who have been revived on the operating table whose brain lost so much oxygen that they were never able to function normally again. But when Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were persuaded to believe it was really him in part because he exhibited the same personality they had known so intimately.
We Will Live Beyond the Grave
What does this teach us? Alexander MacLaren suggests three answers: First, it teaches us the impotence of death to separate us from Jesus. Though we die, we will live with him forever. Death itself cannot break the bond between Jesus and his people. Second, it teaches us the perpetuity of his love. Romans 8:38-39 assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In the list of specific things Paul mentions “neither death nor life,” which means that when we cross the swelling Jordan we need have no fear for the same love of Jesus that saved us will see us safely to the other side.
Third, we learn from this that human personality survives the grave. He remembered Mary and Peter, he will remember us too. Not only does his personality survive, so does ours. We shall be then what we are now—only vastly improved by the grace of God. You will be you and I will be me—but freed forever from sin, selfishness, pettiness, bitterness, ungodly ambition, unholy thoughts, and every other ugly accretion that makes us hard to live with now. But the “real you” will survive the grave. Death can do many things but it cannot destroy the personality.
In 1855 Carolina Sandell Berg wrote the beloved Swedish hymn Children of the Heavenly Father. The third verse expresses this truth in a delightful way:
Neither life not death shall ever from the Lord his children sever.
Unto them his grace he showeth and their sorrows all he knoweth.
Death is not the end. He showed himself alive after his death. We too shall show ourselves alive after we have passed through the waters of death.
III. God’s kingdom must be our highest priority
Acts 1:3 tells us that during his last days on the earth Christ “spoke about the kingdom of God.” This was the topic closest to his heart. In the gospels Jesus referred to the kingdom in one way or another about eighty times. It was clearly the central theme of His teaching. He says in Luke 4:43 that He was sent for the purpose of preaching the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is a vast topic, but it refers to God’s sovereign right to rule over the universe. It specifically refers to God’s right to establish his rule over this rebel planet we call earth.
The concept is rooted deeply in the Old Testament. From the very earliest promises made to Abraham, the kingdom of God was the focal point of all history. God promised Abraham that many descendants would come forth from him—the Jews in particular, a land for that people–Israel, and a great blessing for the whole world–universal redemption through Jesus Christ. Those promises were repeated and amplified through Moses, David, the kings and the prophets.
The Old Testament ends with the great kingdom not yet established on the earth. But as Christ is born, Luke records that God will give to Jesus “the throne of His Father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
Jesus Himself preached this truth when he said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom was near because the King had come from heaven to the earth. Later he remarked that the kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21).
But then came the end of the story. The King had been crucified. The crown jewel of heaven suffered the ignominious death of common criminals. Surely this changed God’s plans–surely no kingdom can come of such catastrophe.
That catastrophe turned to triumph three days later when Jesus rose from the dead. Forty days later he ascended into heaven. He promised before he left that one day he would return to the earth and set up his kingdom. It is no coincidence that the closing pages of the New Testament record that when Jesus comes back “He will rule them with an iron scepter” (Rev 19:15). At the end of this age Jesus Christ will return and will reign on the earth in fulfillment of all the promises made in the Bible. Then and only then will the kingdom of God be fully established.
Thy Kingdom Come
Meanwhile we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Each time we pray that we’re asking God to establish his rule in our own hearts—and then to establish it spiritually in the hearts of others around us. In a sense every time we share Christ we’re inviting people to become citizens of God’s kingdom on the earth.
No, the kingdom hasn’t literally come and won’t come until the King himself returns to the earth. Yet, in another sense the kingdom comes each time we submit our hearts to the will of God. That’s why Jesus encouraged us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
What does it mean to “seek God’s kingdom?” To put it in simple terms, we all live in the kingdom of this world. The “world” in this sense refers to the organized system that leaves God out. It’s not just that we live on this ball of dirt we call planet earth. Ever since the Fall, all of us have lived in a spiritually hostile environment where the values of the Bible are constantly at odds with the values of society at large. And things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. Seeking God’s kingdom means consciously rejecting the materialism and selfishness of the world in favor of self-sacrifice and compassion. It means choosing to follow in the steps of Jesus even when those steps lead to a cross. It means picking up that cross every day and following the Master into the crowded streets of a hurting world. It means setting aside a career in favor of a mission. It means deciding that sexual restraint must take precedence over your idle fantasies. It means using your resources to help others instead of storing up silver and gold. It means living as if heaven is the goal of life—not a big salary and a happy retirement.
In short, seeking God’s kingdom means putting God first on a daily and making your decisions on the basis of God’s agenda—not yours.
Yesterday it was my privilege to officiate at the funeral for Scott Hoy. Most of you wouldn’t have known him because he didn’t live near Oak Park and he didn’t attend Calvary until the last several years, and then only for a few weeks. Scott’s story is not unusual. Although he was raised in a Christian home, during his teens and early twenties he went through a period of rebellion and spiritual searching. About three and a half years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent very delicate surgery in New York City and seemed to be in remission for about a year. Then the cancer returned in force. The doctors did what they could but this time there would be no happy ending.
I first met Scott a little over a year ago when he attended one of our services. I could tell that the Lord was working in his life—softening his heart and giving him a hunger to know God. As the months passed, his faith increased even as his physical condition worsened. He began to seek the Lord as he had never done before. The Word of God became sweet to him. He became bold in his witness, especially to his many friends. A few weeks ago David Hoy, Wayne Kuna and I drove to his home in Schaumburg where we prayed with him and anointed him with oil. By that time it was obvious that he was in the final stages of his struggle. The pain was so intense that he survived only with a morphine drip—and even at that, the slightest movement was extremely painful.
But this much was clear. He knew the Lord Jesus Christ. His faith was firm. And his great desire was to see his friends know the Lord. He told us that he had asked God to use him to reach others so that he could point people to Christ no matter how long he lived. I left profoundly moved by his faith in the face of approaching death.
The Only Thing That Matters is God
Scott died early Thursday morning. He was only 26 years old. Yesterday a large crowd of family and friends gathered for his service. His younger sister Carrie shared one of the most powerful statements I have ever heard at a funeral. She began by talking about how much she loved Scott, how as a young girl she wanted to be like him, and how aggravating he could be at times. he had been to live with in the years before his illness, but she loved him even when she found him hard to be around.
Then the cancer came. And she saw a difference so profound that it changed everything. Scott, she said, had figured out what life was all about. Then she said this sentence: The only thing that matters is God. Scott had shown her that it doesn’t matter how long you live or how much money you have or even how well you do in your career. His faith at the end spoke one simple message: The only thing that matters is God. She repeated it over and over again: The only thing that matters is God. She marveled that someone so young—her brother—had figured out the meaning of life. And she thanked him for leaving her with that all-important truth: The only thing that matters is God.
When I stood up to deliver the message a few minutes later, I didn’t have to say very much. Carrie had said it all. I simply repeated what she said one more time: The only thing that matters is God.
I then made this simple application. If you live for 80 years but don’t discover that truth, you’ve missed the very reason for your own existence. If you should rise to the height of your profession but don’t learn what Scott Hoy discovered, you’ve wasted your life. If you should earn a million dollars—or 10 million dollars—and have hundreds of friends and the praise of your contemporaries, if you have all that but don’t figure out that basic truth, you’re still in spiritual kindergarten.
The only thing that matters is God. Everything else is just details. Your career, your education, your degrees, your money, your fame, your accomplishments, your long-range goals, your dreams, your possessions, your friendship—it’s all just details. The only thing that matters is God. Figure that out and you’ve got life figured out. Miss that and you’ll spend 75 years mired in endless details.
That brings me back to Jesus and his final few days on the earth. He talked about God’s kingdom because in the end God is the only thing that matters. He knew the human tendency to skip the central truth and waste years fiddling with the details.
Have you figured out what life is all about? Until you do, you’re wasting your days on things that don’t matter. Scott Hoy died young by the standards of the world, but in the end he was smarter than most people who live 75 years.
The only thing that matters is God. Everything else is just details.