Date: 04 Jun 2017
Text: Acts 2:29-41
I always find it totally amazing how God is able to use people regardless of who they are, what they may have done in the past or of their educational attainment. I’ve never been convinced that He wants to see the over structured type of ministry that we see today but rather what Peter refers to when he says, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9). Many of us translate that as referring to a priesthood of believers, i.e. all believers are “priests”. That’s not to say that those called to be in pastoral ministry don’t require any training in order to correctly and faithfully respond to God’s calling; quite the opposite. The eleven remaining disciples; remember that Judas was by now dead; had that training by spending so much time with Jesus Himself. Today of course we have to attend a College of some description.
That’s all very well but at the beginning of Acts 1, which follows on from Luke 24, there is no church as such for anyone to minister to; it had yet to be founded. That all changed though as a result of the events on the Day of Pentecost, events which we will now spend a few minutes looking at.
The disciples had been with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry although I’ve always wondered just how much they understood of anything that He had said to them. They were though undoubtedly in awe of Him as they had never met or seen anyone like Him before. They also learned a lot from Him even though they initially seemed to have different opinions on just Who He was. You may recall that from Matthew 16:13-20 that Jesus asked the disciples who people thought He was. The answers included Elijah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, although it was only Peter who said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
After Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the joke of a trial and His subsequent crucifixion the disciples went into hiding and kept a very low profile. Peter was the most disturbed by these events as he’d denied Jesus three times just as Jesus had said he would. Peter famously even denied that he would do that! Collectively they were utterly confused and afraid, hence going into hiding. Do these sound like the men who could create or build anything let alone a new church or Christian fellowship? They were ordinary men from a mix of backgrounds and we know from Acts 4:13 that they were not too well educated. On the day that He ascended into heaven Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, events which are described in Acts 1:1-10. They did exactly as they were told although I suspect they may have been a bit baffled by the instruction and wondered who or what the Holy Spirit was and what the power was that Jesus had referred to. Perhaps a good example of what they were like is illustrated by the fact that they stood and watched as Jesus ascended into heaven. Two men dressed in white, men who were undoubtedly angels, stood beside them and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).
Day of Pentecost
Following that event the disciples did as they were instructed and waited in Jerusalem until the Day of Pentecost, the huge Jewish festival which comes 50 days after Passover. Being a large festival meant that once again Jerusalem was packed with people, many from other countries. Given the recent events at Passover it seems possible that the crowds may have still been talking about Jesus and all that happened just a few weeks earlier. The disciples meanwhile met together in the upper room where they had been staying as instructed. As they waited they spent time in prayer, elected a replacement for Judas Iscariot and Peter spoke to them. It isn’t clear just how big this upper room was although I doubt that it was big enough to comfortably hold the 120 people who Luke talks of in Acts 1:15. That suggests that as their numbers grew they may have moved elsewhere, possibly to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark. It’s worth noting that in previous references to numbers of people, mention has only ever been made of men. Now it seems more than likely that this figure of 120 that Luke quotes includes men and women. They waited no doubt impatiently and in a bit of a tense state; they had no idea what was to happen or what the Holy Spirit, Who Jesus had promised, would do. As the Day of Pentecost came Luke tells us, in Acts 2:2-4, that there was the sound of a violent wind blowing through the house and they saw what appeared to be “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3). They were experiencing baptism in and by the Holy Spirit and as Luke tells us, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4). This infilling by the Holy Spirit gave them the power that they needed to serve Jesus Christ in whichever way He called them.
Just to clarify a rather important point, Luke tells us that they “began to speak in other tongues”, that is, other languages. These “tongues” were not the ecstatic language that some Christians use when praying to God in the privacy of their own quiet time. These tongues were foreign languages that enabled the disciples to communicate with the many foreign visitors to Jerusalem. The Greek words used for those two types of tongues are different and have different meanings.
Jerusalem was full of visitors and when we read Acts 2:9-11 we see a list of 15 different countries and regions all of whom had their own language. These visitors were all Jews from the Diaspora, the scattering of Jews down the ages. The Holy Spirit had empowered the disciples to speak in the various languages that these foreign visitors spoke meaning that Peter and the other disciples were able to preach the gospel to them in their own languages. On that day of days Peter preached a powerful message based on those famous verses from Joel 2:28-32. This truly must have been a powerful message since Luke tells us in Acts 2:37 that “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ “. Peter told them in no uncertain terms to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. All those who believed and accepted his message did as he had said and were baptised and on that single day 3000 were added to their number. The comment on Acts 2:41 isn’t clear and so I would suggest that this number means men only. Thus began the Christian church; a man who had denied Jesus but had now been filled with the Holy Spirit preached a powerful sermon based on scripture, and the results were there for all to see.
The logistics of this new church take some thinking about given their huge numbers. However, we learn from Acts 2:42-47 that these new believers spent their time “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”. They met regularly and helped each other; they ate together and conducted themselves in ways befitting their new found faith in Jesus Christ. All that they did was demonstrable and had amazing results since Luke happily tells us, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They were faithful to the Word of God and to prayer and the results speak for themselves. There is a lesson in that for us as we seek to grow as a church.
The growth of the church didn’t end there; there was no drop off of enthusiasm after the Pentecost festival had ended, in fact the church did continue to grow.
The Apostles continued to preach the gospel based on the Word of God. It is a powerful Word that needs to heard and expounded, and it was through hearing God’s Word in that way that convinced those who heard it to follow Jesus Christ. The Apostles didn’t use any gimmicks they simply preached straightforward sermons based on scripture and the truth of Jesus Christ. That is what is very much needed today. There are instances in too many churches today of resorting to gimmicks and new initiatives rather than following the pattern of the out and out preaching of God’s Word. That may seem old fashioned but since many of these initiatives adopted by other denominations seem to have failed, perhaps it still needs to be done.
There are numerous examples throughout Acts of how the church grew. In Acts 3 we see Peter and John healing a crippled beggar. As news of this spread people came running to see if it was true and how it had happened. Upon seeing the growing crowd, Peter took the opportunity to preach. And so in Acts 3:11-26 we see him preaching a powerful and effective sermon. Peter doesn’t mince his words and having reminded the people that it was they who had crucified Jesus, he told them, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). That message was successful and we read in Acts 4:4 that, “... many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand”. Once again the power of the preaching of God’s Word was at work.
That was only the beginning. The Apostles were still together and shared their possessions thus helping those who were in need. Luke also tells us that, “with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them” (Acts 4:33-34). I read that phrase “continued to testify” as meaning that they continued to preach the Word of God for that is what they did.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though as we read in Acts 8:1 of the great persecution of Christians that took place “against the church at Jerusalem”. This persecution was led by Saul, the same man who became Paul, the great missionary and worker for Jesus Christ. The persecution led to all those believers in Jerusalem being scattered throughout the region; all that is, except the Apostles. It was this great persecution that led to the gospel being preached in more and more places, which is probably not what Saul was hoping to achieve since Luke informs us that “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). When one door closes God will always open another! Finding himself in Samaria, Philip “proclaimed the Messiah there.” His preaching and healing of people achieved great results and we read, “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:6-8) Once again we see the power of preaching the Word of God and witnessing to the saving act of Jesus at work in the hearts and lives of many people; that is a message that we surely cannot ignore.
Throughout the early chapters of Acts we see the Apostles preaching from the Word of God and relating to people what they had seen and heard during their time with Jesus. They were powerful witnesses for Him and relied on Him and the Holy Spirit for the strength to serve Him. As they preached the Word people believed and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour meaning that the church grew and grew. Remember that all this started on the Day of Pentecost when a weak bunch of disciples were baptised with the Holy Spirit and were thus enabled to become powerful preachers and witnesses for Christ.
The story doesn’t end there though since as we proceed through Acts we see Saul’s dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road followed a little while later by his powerful preaching on his numerous missionary journeys. Paul never regarded himself as a powerful preacher whilst at the same time being extremely successful, winning many converts to Christ.
The Christian church as we know it was founded on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples received the gift that Jesus had promised them shortly before His ascension. Thus filled with the power of the Holy Spirit these ordinary men were enabled to become extraordinary apostles for Christ and powerful preachers of God’s Word. The two common denominators throughout the growth of the early church were the preaching of God’s Word and witnessing for Jesus Christ. Without those two factors not much would have happened. Without the Word of God to expound preaching would be hollow and pointless; and any preaching that doesn’t witness to Jesus Christ and His saving act on the cross of Calvary makes that preaching meaningless.
For this and any other church to grow we should follow that pattern and follow God’s words in the Bible and share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many as possible just as the disciples did starting on the Day of Pentecost.