Date: 15 May 2016
Title: Day of Pentecost
Today is the Day of Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the time when the Holy Spirit was first given to the new fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ. The details of the festival that took place after the ascension of Jesus are given in Acts 2, although it is the particular events described in 2:42-47 that I want to focus on this morning. These six verses give us a clear picture of how the early church, this new fellowship of believers, came together and behaved as they pursued their new found faith in Jesus Christ. I also want to try and compare that fledgling church to today’s church and in particular to the Baptist Free Church.
In many ways it could be said that the world had been turned upside down by the amazing events that took place over a period of just fifty days. At Passover Jesus had been crucified; on the third day of that Festival He rose from the tomb and was seen by a number of people, and in the following days the risen Lord made multiple appearances in different places to different people. On one particular occasion, approximately forty days after Passover, the risen Jesus was eating with His disciples when He gave them this command, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). This was the promise that Jesus made to His disciples although I doubt that they fully understood what He meant. Then, as Jesus was talking to them He ascended into heaven, as Luke writes, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
They did as Jesus told them to and waited in Jerusalem for this promised gift. Do you suppose that they felt apprehensive as they waited? Perhaps they did, but they needn’t have worried, Jesus always kept His promises just as He still does today. As they gathered together on the Day of Pentecost, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (2:2-3). This was their first experience of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit although I doubt very much that it would be the last. The effect was dramatic, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (2:4). The Holy Spirit had given them the ability to speak in foreign languages that would enable them to share the good news of Jesus with those of other nationalities who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebrations.
Such was the power that the Holy Spirit gave them that Peter was enabled to preach a truly powerful sermon; a sermon in 2:14-41 which covered the entire spectrum of the gospel and a sermon that caused many to examine their hearts and ask Jesus into their lives. Peter may have been the mouthpiece but it was the Holy Spirit Who was in control. Because it was Pentecost there was a huge crowd assembled in Jerusalem. The historian Josephus Flavius suggests that there anywhere up to 3 million people in the City. However, it seems more realistic to suggest that there would have been about 180000 people present, many of whom may have heard Peter’s message. Regardless of how many were present to hear that message, Peter’s Spirit enabled words really hit home and as Luke records, “about three thousand were added to their number that day” (2:41).
Fellowship of Believers
That was only the beginning since these new believers needed to learn more about Jesus and how to live Spirit filled lives. When we come to 2:42 we see that they very quickly settled into a pattern of worship that we basically follow today. In many churches today worship is seen as a prolonged period of upbeat music led by a band and a ‘Worship Leader’. That is fine but isn’t the only way to worship. We bring our worship to God when we sing His praises, read and hear His word and bring Him our prayers; they are all aspects of worship that we must never push to one side in favour of 45 minutes of energetic singing. As he describes this fledgling church, Luke tells us that these new believers devoted themselves to various activities. That word devoted’ is very interesting. My trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary tells me that the word ‘devote’ means, “to give time or resource to a person or activity”. Some people devote their time and energy to following a particular football team. Some do the same for a political party; others devote themselves to their husband, wife or partner and to their children if they have any. All of that is OK and almost understandable but it is not the same as the devotion that these fairly new believers in Jesus showed towards Him and all that their faith in Him entailed. There are many people today who devote their entire lives to building their careers and bank balances. Sadly many such people often don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labours! Thankfully there are also many people who devote similar time and energy to serving and worshipping Jesus and the good news is that they will live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
In order to grow in their faith the believers needed to meet together regularly to pursue the four worship related activities that Luke refers to in 2:42. They did this both in the Temple and in their own homes. Even though they had become ‘Christians’, it is interesting to see that they continued to go to the Temple by meeting in the Temple Courts. It may well have been here that they heard the teaching that they were so eager to receive. They probably used the Temple Courts because they were larger than any of their homes and so could accommodate more people. It is also worth noting that they didn’t at this stage reject the Jewish faith; they actually felt that the message of Jesus and His resurrection was the ultimate fulfilment of everything that was written in the Old Testament and so still attended the Temple for prayers. This situation may not have lasted too long though given that there would have been increasing friction between the Jews and the new ‘Christians’ leading to Jesus’ new followers spending more time gathering in each others’ homes.
The worship related activities are listed in 2:42 and cover four important areas of the Christian life and worship to which they were devoted. Firstly, they devoted themselves to “the Apostles’ teaching”. Remember that at this stage the believers did not have what we have: the Bible. They did though have the Hebrew Scriptures and possibly more importantly the Apostles themselves. These men had been with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and consequently were able to teach the new believers all that they knew about Him. They were all able to learn together and that word devoted says to me that they enjoyed being with and learning from the Apostles and that they couldn’t get enough of their knowledge and experiences. We of course have the Bible which documents all that Jesus did and so we can learn about Him and our faith from that wonderful book. Do we enjoy studying the Bible? Perhaps I should ask, do we study the Bible or do we only open it on a Sunday morning? If we don’t follow the early believers’ example and learn about Jesus then how will we get to know Him and grow in our faith? These new Christians were anxious to follow the doctrines taught them by the Apostles and not stray from them, after all these doctrines were the truth of God.
Secondly, they devoted themselves to “fellowship”. The Greek for fellowship is koinonia which can be translated in a variety of ways. The word carries with it the idea of association, communion, fellowship and participation. It also carries the thought of sharing in something, and these believers, being anxious to share everything, formed a community of like-minded people; people who had come to faith in Jesus on the Day of Pentecost and on a daily basis from then on. They wanted to be with one another and to share with one another. This early Christian fellowship probably centered more on intimate worship, sharing and learning the Scriptures than we do today, something which I find very sad. If you think carefully about this then I’m sure you will see that we share a great many features of our faith. We share faith in the same Jesus; He is the same guide for life for all of us; hopefully we all have the same love for God and the same desire to worship Him. We all face and share the same struggles and when we overcome them with the Lord’s help, we share in the same successes. We also share in the same task of living for Him and communicating the good news that is contained in His gospel. Despite all the difficulties that they faced that is what these new believers did and enjoyed doing.
Next, they were devoted to “the breaking of bread”. We refer to it as Communion or Holy Communion although there are many Pentecostal churches which do still refer to it as the Breaking of Bread. We tend to hold a Communion service twice a month although there are some churches, Birmingham Cathedral for instance, who hold a daily Communion service. That is what this happy band of believers seems to have done; they met every day and broke bread together. They did this in two ways. Firstly, they appear to have had regular formal gatherings in the Temple Courts where they broke bread together; and secondly, they met informally in private houses where they also broke bread together. There is room for both styles of worship, with neither of them being wrong. I have served Communion to people in hospital and to people in their own homes and that is exactly what the disciples were doing in the early church. When they did meet in each others’ homes the inference in 2:46b is that they celebrated Communion before eating a full meal together. When they met in the Temple Courts it is more likely that they only shared the bread and wine without having the meal together.
Fourthly, they were devoted to “prayer”. That to me is probably the most important aspect and activity of this early church. They always turned to God in prayer and whilst we aren’t told what they prayed about or for, I’m sure that they would have had similar problems and concerns to us and happily took them to the Lord in prayer. They knew that if they did take any such problems and concerns to God in prayer then He would answer, not necessarily immediately but in His time. These early believers were building a church and knew that they needed God’s help to do that; they couldn’t do it in their own strength but needed God with them, helping them and lifting them when times got hard. We have just spent some time looking at Nehemiah and seeing how he worked. He too was building something, a wall rather than a church, but he still turned to God in prayer every step of the way. We need to build up this church, the Baptist Free Church, and we cannot do that in our own strength; we need God’s help and so we need to turn to Him in prayer, not just occasionally but regularly. We can pray privately or corporately as a church body, but pray we must. Luke here only talks of the prayers that were said when they were together although I’ve no doubt that they would also have prayed by themselves when the opportunity presented itself. No prayer is ever prayed in vain and these prayers were no different; just see what Luke says at the end of 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Prayer was a constant feature of the early church and there are a number of references to the Apostles, Paul and others praying for and about particular situations. When the Apostles met to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot we read that, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) Later when they met to discuss dividing the tasks of the leadership between spiritual and pastoral activities one of their ideas was that those with spiritual responsibility and oversight felt that they would be able to “give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:4) Without that prayer ministry I doubt that the church would have grown and survived in the way that it has and we should think about that as we contemplate our own future as a church serving Jesus Christ.
Not only did they worship and pray together but notice Luke’s comment at the end of 2:46, they also ate together “with glad and sincere hearts”. The NEB puts that thought as “unaffected joy” which to me conjures up a picture of people happy and full of joy at what they were doing. It seems that they did things together joyfully and with sincerity. None of their activities were done grudgingly, they were glad to do these things and I should imagine they looked forward to doing them with eager anticipation. Are we like that, or do we attend the service each Sunday reluctantly, wishing we were somewhere else? What about the other spiritually based activities such as Prayer Brunch and Bible Study. Do we think of attending them and sharing in the joy that they can bring? These early believers wanted nothing more than to be together, breaking bread, praying and, as we read at the beginning of 2:47, “praising God”.
I would like to think that we can learn from all this. The church that Luke is describing in these few verses in Acts 2 started from nothing on the Day of Pentecost. The Apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible. They did that faithfully and enthusiastically and before too long they had put together a nucleus of a new church, a group that later became known as The Way. These new believers came together with faith in the risen Jesus being the common denominator linking them together. They worshipped together with hearts full of joy and longing to know more about their Saviour. The feeling I get is that they were always eager to spend time together, to be together, and to worship together. They studied together and shared bread and wine together. They ate together and willingly met in each others’ homes. Perhaps most importantly, they prayed together. Such was the joy engendered by their devotion to worship in all its forms, that their numbers soon expanded and as Luke reminds us, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47).
That all happened as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that particular Day of Pentecost. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Day of Pentecost could see the start of the expansion of this church so that the Lord would add to our numbers on a daily basis? I’ll leave you to meditate on these verses and meet with the Lord in prayer to seek His guidance for the future.