October/November 2014 - Vol. 76

Peter and John heal lame man, by William
Peter and John healing a lame man, by William Hatherell 1855-1928
From Evidence to Faith

by Carlos Mantica
The following article is adapted from a series of talks prepared for the City of God community in Managua, Nicaragua, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit. The talks were given by Carlos Mantica, the senior leader of the community. - ed.
Many people are still stunned when they hear a lay person preaching. That is why it’s worth remembering that, from the very beginning, it was the Lord’s desire that fishermen, tax collectors, and people just like you and me would be the ones to carry the Good News of the Kingdom to all nations. Nowadays,  the Lord is again calling mechanics and refrigeration technicians, accountants and doctors, engineers and people from all walks of life, to be his witnesses and to proclaim to the whole world that our God lives and is present among us.

The One who has power to heal and transform
I would like to begin this short presentation with a passage that seems to me very appropriate for today. It is taken from chapter 3 in the Acts of the Apostles, and says:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour [i. e. around 3 p.m.]. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s, astounded. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, “Men of Israel, why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name, has made this made strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
I invite you all to visualize this scene. The Lord has healed a man lame from birth, who was known to everybody, and a big crowd gathers around Peter and John in order to find out who these magicians or these saints are, who have healed him with extraordinary powers. Peter is amused by the matter, and says: “Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”

Jesus of Nazareth - King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Something similar happens when people come to our community gatherings and say, “I want  that white-haired man standing over there, or the fat one who is leading the gathering, or that other one with the big nose, to be the one to pray for me, because I’ve heard that they heal people.” So we have to answer just like Peter did: “Brothers and sisters, none of us here has any healing power of any kind.
All of us together would not be able to heal anyone of a cold. We are ashamed to admit that we are not very holy or very pious either. Among us there is only one who is holy, who heals and saves, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in whose name we take the risk of facing ridicule so that his glory can be manifested among men.”

In fact, the most important message of Peter in this passage I just read is his proclamation, “The one whom you delivered up and denied, God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”

We, too, are witnesses of Jesus Christ
We too proclaim that Christ is alive, that Christ reigns, and that he has been given all power in heaven and earth. I intend to share briefly with you why we say that we are witnesses to the truth of all this.

Can we prove God's existence?

I went to a school run by the Jesuits, in Granada, Nicaragua, back when students actually studied at school. And, among other things, one day we studied St. Thomas Aquinas and his proofs of the existence of God. Our philosophy teacher would then say, quoting St. Thomas:

The Uncaused Cause
“First Proof: The Uncaused Cause. Just look around and you will see that there is no effect without a cause. This seed was caused by this fruit, and this fruit by this tree, and this tree by another seed, which in turn was caused by another seed, till we go back to the very first seed that somebody had to create because it could not create itself. And you came from your father and mother, and they from your grandparents, and they from your great-grandparents, till we go back to the first man who could not have created himself but had to be created by somebody else; and it makes no sense to say that he was made by a Martian or by a first cell, because somebody had to create that cell or that little Martian, and the one who created them and was not created by anybody is the one we call God.”

“Boy, was St. Thomas clever!”, we all said, but we remained the same we had been up to that moment.

The Order of the World
Oh, but listen to the Second Proof”, the teacher would then say; “The Order of the World:

“Look at something as ordinary as the leaf of a tree. Billions and billions of leaves in the whole world, carrying out every day chemical operations so complex as changing carbon dioxide into oxygen, through the action of light. Man, despite all his intelligence, has not been able to produce one single leaf or one single lab that can do what any leaf does.

“Or take a look at the human eye: billions of perfectly well-ordered cells, working together to make it possible for us to see, and if just one of them is not playing its role, the whole operation fails. Or look at the earth—a mere grain of sand in the cosmos. There are millions of galaxies, each of them millions of times bigger than the earth, and some of them so far away that their light, traveling 365,000 kilometers per second, has not reached the earth yet, and there are stars whose light we see today, but which actually ceased to exist thousands of years ago, and what we see is only the light that came out from them before they disappeared, and each of them occupies the right place without straying from its course.

“Or look at the microcosm—in the fertilized egg of a woman the chromosomes are present that will determine if the child will have the small nose of his great-great-grandmother, the intelligence of his grandfather and the bad temper of his father. All of this requires a superior intelligence that has shaped everything in the universe, and saying that everything fell into order just by chance is as absurd as if I went up to the steeple of the Cathedral with a lot of boxes of printing types, threw all the characters into the air, and when they fell down they spelled the complete works of Shakespeare on the stair steps of the church.”

There was no denying it. This argument by St. Thomas persuaded us through and through. “No way, José! There’s got to be a God!”, we said.

All cultures believe in God
And then came the Third Proof: All cultures of all ages have believed in God. All of them? Surely, every single one of them! The Chinese, and the Hindus, and the Vikings? Yes, sir! And the Eskimos and the Redskins? Of course! And the Indians of Mexico and of Nicaragua? Sure, so sure that if you want to know their names you can buy the book I wrote on Nicaraguan speech and there you can find them!

"Oh boy," we said. That really gives you a matter for reflection! There must be some reason why all cultures of all ages have believed in God. “Well,” some atheists came around and said, “what happens is that those ignorant people of other ages looked at the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, and the mechanisms of fertility, and when they could not give an account of them they turned them into gods and goddesses—the Sun God, the Moon Goddess, the goddess of fertility, and so on.

But the atheists were not convincing. I only had to read the first chapter of the Bible, not to mention the encounter of Moses and the other prophets with God, to realize that Jews and Christians not only did not believe that the sun and the moon were gods, but they clearly asserted that all of them had been created by a being that was superior to all of them, and who was the explanation for the cause of all things, for the order in creation, and for the fact that all cultures had come to the conclusion that such a God had to exist.

So I came out of school believing in God, but believing in the same way that some people believe that such and such toothpaste will prevent cavities but they do not even brush their teeth. I believed that God was someone who had to exist, but who played no role in my life. Maybe he was a force, an energy, something immensely big that was supposed to inspire awe and respect, and about whom many strange things were said whose truth I would never be able to ascertain until I was dead, but which, just in case they were true, were a good reason for me to behave reasonably well, least I were to come to his presence one of these days.

God is a personal Being
Many years had to pass before I discovered that God is a personal being, who has dreamed of me in eternity before the beginning of time and creation, who loves me and because he loves me wants what is good for me, and who is omnipotent. And that
“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory” (John 1:14),

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
What am I trying to explain here? I am trying to say that we sometimes meet people who think that we believe in God or in Jesus Christ because someone spoke to us when we when we were young, maybe a teacher. priest or minister, or some other Christian tried to persuade us with arguments about the existence of God. Or that, throughout the centuries and in the midst of the most hostile environments and ideologies, people continue to believe in God because somebody told them he existed. Or that thousands and thousands of men and women left everything behind —possessions, fame, riches and love, in order to follow him and serve him among the most miserable and dispossessed in the whole earth, among those who are rejected by society itself as human rubbish, so that, throughout history and to this day, hundreds of thousands of people have been willing to die, even in the most atrocious fashions, rather than deny their God and Lord.

I think that line of argument is rather stupid. Because more absurd than believing in God is to believe that there are people who are able to die for something they have merely been told about, or because of a catechism or some religious instruction that was thrust into their heads when they were young.

It was not until August 13, 1965, that I discovered that we Christians do not follow a doctrine, but a person. That Muslims, Buddhists and all other “-ists” follow the ideas of a dead figure - a corpse, whereas we Christians follow a person - who died for our sins and rose again and who is alive today and who will continue to be with us always, to the close of this present age and for all eternity
—“Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom you delivered up and denied, but whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
We have encountered the Risen Lord

We are witnesses to this because for many of us we, too, remember the day when we first experienced a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. Our encounter with the person of Jesus is the only reason we truly believe that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

There are many ways in which people encounter the person of Christ. Many have had a personal encounter with him when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, or when they sensed him stirring within their hearts and moving their lips to speak out inspired words of praise in an unknown language through the gift of tongues, or when they were inspired to raise their hands as an expression of joy and worship. Some have encountered the Lord speaking to them personally through a prophetic word spoken out in a charismatic prayer meeting or gathering.  Still others might have met him when they experienced a peace that he alone can give, and a joy that no human trouble can take away.

Finally, others became aware that Christ is alive, that Christ loves them and that Christ reigns, on the day they came out of curiosity  or out of some personal need, to a charismatic prayer meeting or community gathering, due to a cancer that had decreed their imminent death, or because of a child of theirs who was unable to walk, and then they were able to have firsthand experience of the reality of Christ who heals and of Christ who saves.

Brothers and sisters, I have said all these things for the sake of those who do not believe, or for those who believe because somebody else told them or because they were taught when they were young children, we want them to be able to say what those men told the Samaritan woman in John 4:42:
“It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Encountering Him in tangible experiential ways
That is what our public Christian community gatherings are for — so that many may meet him - Jesus the risen Lord who givess total inner security, and perfect peace and joy. Others come and experience in a tangible experiential way the presence of the living God, and others experience the healing of their diseases by the work of the same one who, two thousand years ago, healed so many sick people.

He is the same yesterday and today and forever, and he is among us because he promised so, and his name if Faithful and True. And he is the same one who says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

I encourage all of you, in the intimacy of your hearts, to invite Jesus Christ to come into your life. Thus, in the future, our praise will be as thundering as the praise of all those who know him. Let me end with the words of John in the introduction to his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us (1 John 1:1-3). Amen!

See related articles by Carlos Mantica:

> How Come They Never Told Me
> What is the Kingdom of God?

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica. Used with permission.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995. 

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