Archaeologists believe they’ve found the site of Jesus’ trial. Good for them. Now we have a place to visit in Israel along with the Upper Room and the home of Saint Peter. I’m glad the archaeologists have found a physical place to correspond to an event described in the Bible. However, it’s not the kind discovery which impacts the faith of average believers. Most credible scholars accept the historical fact that Jesus existed. Pontius Pilate was known to be the Roman governor of Palestine. Jesus was tried by Pilate. These are historical facts, undisputed by most reputable researchers and shared by Christians the world over. What matters most is the impact and outcome of Jesus’ trial; not the fact we may now know where it occurred. For example, what matters more, the impact of Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence or that I can walk in his garden and tour his home? How we understand the meaning of equality and liberty today is far more important than the collection of buildings known as Monticello.
It is the same with Jesus. The meaning of his death and resurrection are more important than the scenic backdrop where they occurred. Discoveries such as this don’t convince atheists or skeptics nor do they strengthen the faith of believers. Yet, some believers need their faith strengthened by the occasional archaeological discovery in order to say, “I told you so” to those they believe are hostile to Christianity. No one likes “I told you so Christians”. Our faith isn’t built on buildings, whether it’s a church on Ocracoke or a site in Jerusalem. Instead, we believe in what Jesus said, did, and died for and the implications of his actions on how we live today.
Like the believers in Ephesus who had never heard of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, there are plenty of things we Christians have yet to learn. Most of the answers we think we need are not lying undiscovered beneath the streets of Jerusalem. As Acts 19 shows, we grow in faith and understanding when we are learning with others. Luke tells us that Paul was with a community of about 12 people in Ephesus. Through creative engagement, honest conversation, and authentic sharing Paul explained the next steps for the Ephesian church.
Paul also explains faith as a gradual process, evolving over time in complimentary stages. He doesn’t tell this small group, “You’ve got to go from zero to Jesus in under sixty seconds or else.” Instead, he explains the logic and purpose of John’s baptism and what that represents. Paul doesn’t denigrate or try to erode the faith they bring to the table. What they have now is not only valuable, it’s absolutely crucial to understanding who Jesus is and what the Holy Spirit does. Belief in Jesus (not in his trial, his parables, or even his death and resurrection) as the one who marks the culmination of what John began is all that Paul is interested in.
Lastly, Paul does great things in an extremely small community. With those 12 people, the spirit becomes active and they become outwardly focused and mission driven. Speaking other languages and prophesying (as the text says) are useless gifts if you’re only sitting around talking to yourself. Those are gifts meant to be used in the world as we share our experiences of belief with others.