I am an unapologetic Marvel nerd. I won’t claim to be the biggest fan, but I have definitely put enough money and time into superheroes to make the pragmatist in me blush. Every movie in the MCU (or Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you living under a rock) sells an opening weekend ticket to me. I own comics, clothes and dishes, and I support my son’s habit by buying him Legos and toys. I love superhero stories.
One of the things I like most about superhero stories is their origins. Whether it’s nerdy little Peter Parker getting bitten by a radio-active, genetically engineered spider and becoming Spider-Man, Bruce Banner being inundated with gamma rays to become the Hulk or the X-Men being born different and coming into their power as they hit puberty, I love knowing the back story. When I know where someone’s story began I can relate better and see a little of myself in their story. I can dream about how I would respond to the same circumstances and what I would do with their power. By knowing their stories, I can see their weaknesses, their frailty and their humanity in bold strokes.
As we approach this weekend, I’m thinking about another origin story, the Church’s. Jesus didn’t exactly come to the earth to assemble an all-star team of the best and brightest. If there’s one thing we can say with certainly about the first disciples it is that Jesus didn’t choose by the world’s standards. If he had, Jesus would have chosen Pharisees and Sadducees, members of the religious elite class. He would have chosen the wealthy and influential like Herod or maybe even willing accomplices in the Roman leadership. He would have come and set up an earthly kingdom based on the outward appearances that we use to judge others. But that’s not how God operates.
All throughout Scripture God chooses people that we would glance over. He chose a wandering nomad Abram to be the father of his people. He chose the 11th son as the leader of a family in Joseph. He chose a stuttering, bumbling, hot-tempered coward in Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promise Land. God raised up a left-handed man Ehud to deliver his people from oppression and the 8th son, scrawny little, harp playing shepherd boy David to defeat the mighty giant and be crowned king over Israel. In fact, when Samuel anointed David as king when he was just a boy, God let us in on his secret. He chooses people not based on outward appearances – he looks at the heart.
So when Jesus came to earth (since he is God and all) he chose his followers as God always has, the willing and the worshipful. His little band of first disciples were fishermen or tax collectors, not exactly among the most respected or honored class of people. Soon he gathered prostitutes, Samaritans and every manner of the marginalized in their society. Jesus chose from the back of the line: the last, the least and the lost. In Jesus, they found hope, not just the charisma of a magnetic teacher (though he certainly was magnetic) but a kindling of trust that God was at work to set things right.
Then Jesus was murdered.
Their hopes were shattered. What had looked like a blazing fire just a week before now was just an ash cloud of smoke choking them, suffocating them. Their leader and lord was dead.
But something amazing happened. Just 2 days later, Jesus was seen, alive! He appeared to the women first, then among the disciples locked in a house fearing for their lives. Jesus was back! Where the fire had begun to die, suddenly it was smoldering again. But now it was different. Jesus spent weeks with them, helping them understand that what looks like a good plan from our point of view is based on human standards, not God’s. His plan all along, since the beginning of time, was to come in the flesh himself and suffer and die for his people. Jesus’s triumph was not over Rome but over hell itself. Jesus’s defeat of death was the changing of the tide. The battle was shifting. Where Satan and his plans for the defeat of God’s people had been blossoming and growing, now those plans were uprooted and thrown on the fire that was spreading. The disciples could feel it.
Then Jesus left them.
Again the disciples were in turmoil. They were being hunted by Rome and by the religious elite for “stealing Jesus’s body” and claiming that he was alive. Now Jesus was leaving them again, seemingly defenseless and at the mercy of the powers of the world. As a last instruction before returning to Heaven, Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power he would give them. Then with that power they were to go out and use it to bring others to accept the saving work their Creator had done.
There in an attic of a Jerusalem home, locking out their enemies, the disciples prayed and waited. And then in Acts 2 it happened.
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Then the Church was born.