by Randy Bushey, October 25, 2016
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
The 2nd chapter of Acts is a decisively pivotal passage in the New Testament historical narrative.
The occasion was Pentecost, the Jewish observance commemorating God’s giving the Torah to Israel through Moses 15 centuries earlier.
In a largely agrarian culture, Pentecost – or Shavuot – was also the occasion when the firstfruits of harvest could be brought to the Temple. Because it was 50 days after Passover, the annual feast was in late May or early June – in time for the first middle-eastern harvest.
But for Christ-followers, Pentecost is forever linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit on every believer – and the “birthday” of the Church.
The first sermon in the early church was delivered by Peter. Although 7 weeks earlier he had 3 times denied Christ in the darkness around a small fire in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence, he was now preaching fearlessly as he addressed thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the Roman world.
His message was a call to change – and the gospel whenever it has been preached since, has the same purposes: theological, moral, social.*
Peter called his listeners to:
1) think differently – he declared Jesus as the eternally pre-existent Son of God, the promised Messiah, who died on the cross and was miraculously raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-36). This was the theological component.
2) live differently – Peter called the audience to repent of their sin and be baptized in Jesus’ Name. Those responding in faith would also receive the Holy Spirit which would fuel their lives to a new absolute, eternal standard of God’s righteousness. This was the moral component.
3) love differently – the result of the indwelling Spirit among the 3000 new converts was a component of radical, mutual concern evidencing itself in social change: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44,45).
And from that day to this, Christ-followers have expressed their love for their Saviour through action: dynamic thinking, energetic living, and robust loving.
Observers have sometimes confused this activity as motivated by some legalistic busy-ness code; but that conclusion misses the point. Authentic believers sense a spiritual impetus to live out their faith in service to God and to others.
Consequently, disciples of Christ have generally been at the vanguard of initiatives to eradicate poverty, provide healthcare, and promote education. In North America, many of our hospitals, relief agencies and prominent universities were founded by those who did so as informed by their Christian beliefs.
And in underdeveloped, war-torn and disaster-ravaged countries, everything from agricultural methods to water purification, from vaccination to reduced infant mortality — and shoeboxes stuffed with gifts for needy children — have been introduced by those who embraced the call of Christ to act, often at great personal cost.
What is often missed however, is that social change and foreign relief are not the core activities of the local church.
They were not at the beginning. And they are not today.
Mere weeks after the the resurrection of Jesus and only days after His ascension, those early Christ-followers prioritized in the mother-church at Jerusalem 4 activities that became the template for every healthy church that sprung up over the next generation in the Mediterranean world:
• the apostles’ teaching was written down – it now constitutes our New Testament. And the apostles taught extensively from the Old Testament. So the reading, studying, and applying all of God’s Word to their lives was an essential activity.
• fellowship, or partnership in sharing life together around Christ.
• breaking of bread, a phrase used to connote the Lord’s Supper, was observed frequently by the early church. In addition to a primary occasion of corporate worship, the Lord’s Supper emphasized Christ-centred, cross-centred thinking.
• prayer – individually and corporately – appealing to God to evidence His power among His people.
And as a result, these people were said to have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) as Christianity pervaded the cultures, and the social and spiritual tectonic plates of the 1st century Greco-Roman world fundamentally shifted.
Takeaway: God’s mandate for the church is unchanged over 2000 years – from the 1st to the 21st century. The revolution begun in Acts 2, continues today!
graphic: Steve Cohen, freeimages.com
~ this blog post incorporates content from prior posts in March 14 and April 4, 2013.
*my thinking on Peter’s sermon has been influenced by the writing of John Stott (1921-2011).