Today I decided I was going to start Acts. With morning commitments hanging over my head, I asked God that something in this passage I had read so many times would yield new insight or at least encouragement. So, hopeful if not particularly expectant, I dove into Acts—and almost drowned on the very first verse:
“In my first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…”
“Began.” Jesus has just turned the world on its head and accomplished the central work in the history of the universe—the work by which alone all else makes sense. He has already declared, “It is finished” as He bore the penalty of our sin on the cross. And at this point in the narrative, he has just been visibly vindicated by His resurrection to indestructible life and is about to be taken up into Heaven. A glorious end to the story. But Luke says “began.”
It is one thing to say there is some more to the story. But in light of something this enormous, this majestic, this all-defining, this eucatastrophic (as Prof. Tolkien might say), what could possibly follow that would be anything more than an afterthought? What could possibly warrant Luke’s saying that all that Jesus has done thus far is a beginning? But in fact Luke tells us: Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching to his disciples dwells on “the kingdom of God” (verse 3), the great hope of the future.
Now it goes without saying that our culture has a rather etiolated view of what constitutes this future: we get to sit on a cloud (maybe I’ll even get one to myself!), and then we get a harp that will probably never go out of tune no matter how many times we repeat the same twenty songs over the course of eternity. No wonder the little red man with tights and a pitchfork seems the preferable alternative to many.
But what is sad is that even within the church our view of heaven is sometimes nearly as pallid as the world’s: it has to be, if we find ourselves surprised by Luke’s statement. After all, heaven is often presented as a vague alternative to hell (which, I duly note, is typically presented somewhat less vaguely than heaven). And the good news being offered is that if you trust Jesus to save you from the fires of hell, then you’ll be taken away to spend eternity in this non-hell place.
But Jesus isn’t talking about distant clouds and harps that just won’t break. Nor is he talking about something vague or even less real than the wages of sin. Far from it: He is the reality, the meaning, the Logos by virtue of which brokenness is in fact brokenness rather than mere meaningless absurdity; and thus His kingdom has a life and substance that Hell can only envy. And as to the scope and content of this kingdom: what is in view is nothing short of a new creation of which the greatest aspects of the old were but a shadow; a new creation brought into infinitely rich conformity to the ordinance of the loving Logos—the meaning of life Himself—who sits enthroned as King; a new creation that does not flatly discard the old but redeems it: a cosmic rebirth to an existence in which the brokenness of the old age is somehow woven into a redemptive tapestry that radiates an undreamt-of glory.
And Jesus tells his disciples to witness (verse 8). Especially for Christians who have heard the language of “witnessing” all their lives, it’s easy to take this for granted. But it is really quite staggering that God should call us to be the body of Christ, to make visible the Agent of this new creation just as He in His incarnation has made visible the invisible God. Yet that is what he calls us to. Teaching facts and doctrine is certainly a critically important element of this witnessing, as are good works. We don’t dare underplay either of those. But we run the risk of misrepresenting the Creator and His new creation if we overlook the deeply spiritual role of artistry. God is profoundly artistic and has created humans with a fundamental need for artistry, as both active creator and passive partaker: if this is omitted from our collective witness, we fail to make the promise of God’s new creation sufficiently visible.
This is why human creativity and artistry are not merely acceptable or even appropriate but actually vital. Tolkien was quite right to point out that creativity is entailed in our being made in the image of God. But we miss the point entirely if we assume (as we often do) that “the image of God” merely denotes a certain likeness to God, which makes “the image of God” something purely internal to the individual.
By definition, “image” refers to something visible, and the idea of visibility immediately entails the external world that can view the image. The image of God is a far cry from being purely internal: it is in fact largely defined by our role as representing God to the world. Witnessing is not just something we do—it’s something we are. Everything we do implicitly makes a statement about the world and its Creator. The question is not, “Will we witness?” but rather, “What will our witness convey?”
 Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; Revelation 21:1, 5; II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Matthew 26:29, etc.
 Hebrews 8:5, etc.
 I Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:23, etc.
 Colossians 1:15