Today is Pentecost Sunday. The church was born in Jerusalem on Pentecost roughly 2,000 years ago. I did not plan for our first Sunday in our new location to be on Pentecost. But when I realized it, I thought it was very cool. Star Lake is being birthed and here we are at a milestone moment on Pentecost Sunday.
When we come to milestone moments it is appropriate to stop and look around, to remember why we are on this journey in the first place. Where are we going? Lets stop and look at the map! I like maps. Maps give you a birds eye view of how to get from one place to another. Our passage today is a kind of map. The early church laid down a map, a pattern for all Christian churches. As we celebrate our move and the start of our journey as a community of believers, let us consider the map laid before us on Pentecost.
Acts 2:1-4, 32-39
What is Pentecost?
Pentecost is one of the three pilgrimage feasts on Israels annual calendar (Ex 23:14-17). First, is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is tied to the Passover commemoration supper. It reminded the Jews every year how the Passover Lamb died in their place so that the death angel would strike down their Egyptian oppressors firstborn but not theirs, that death would passover them. After this Pharaoh pushed them out so fast, they had to leave Egypt in such a hurry their bread had no time to rise so it remained unleavened (Ex 12). This was at the beginning of their calendar year in late March or early April and coincided with the beginning of the barley harvest.
This harvest set the countdown for the second feast. The Feast of Harvest, also known as the Feast of Weeks, Feast of First Fruits or Pentecost. It was fifty days (Pentecost in Greek) from the first grain offering made to God in recognition of His blessing in providing food. We could think of it as a Jewish Thanksgiving. We had a great harvest. We have worked hard to gather it all up; its time to celebrate with a feast.
The third feast is in the fall, The Feast of Ingathering. It followed the grape and olive harvest. It had other names as well, The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths or Shelters. A side note about this feast. Some Christians, especially Jewish believers, think the Second coming will occur during the Feast of Ingathering. Why? Jesus was crucified at Passover, so death would passover us. He fulfilled the feasts commemoration in a deeper way. Pentecost or First Fruits saw the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as a first fruit of Gods presence being accessible on earth beyond the Temple. Finally, The Feast of Ingathering then would be fulfilled completely by Jesus return and gathering all of His people to Himself.
Pentecost was the time God poured out His Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples of Jesus who were together in Jerusalem. The Spirits manifested presence and demonstration of supernatural power caused 3,000 people to be added to the 120, and the church was born.
This new group was made up completely of Jews. But these Jews were now disciples of Jesus their Messiah. So, their gathering would have a different focus and character than the Jewish Synagogue. The synagogue was a gathering of the people of the Mosaic Covenant. This new people of God were focused on Jesus as the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and Moses promise that one like himself would come (Dt 18:15-19).
What characterizes a gathering of Jesus followers, the church? (What pattern is laid for us? What are we to be about?)
(v38) Water Baptism - This was a public declaration of allegiance.
(v38) Reception of the Holy Spirit Peter is speaking of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. Essentially, If you do as I say, you too will have Gods Spirit manifest Himself, show Himself in you! Much of the American/Western church has ignored this and stopped at water baptism. We must not neglect Peters call to us; this is the word of the Lord for all His disciples.
(v42) Apostles teaching The Bible is the record of the Apostles teaching. We/I must not neglect to hold firm to the Gospel. The Apostles have given to us the way of salvation. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me. Pauls letters record his pastoral guidance to those who might wander away from the Gospel. Likewise the Book of Hebrews warns of doom if we neglect so great a salvation. The church is not just a glorified self help group focused on making life more comfortable. Let me warn you the Enemy is subtle and relentless. We cannot afford to be careless or lazy about this, too much is at stake.
(vs42,44,46) Fellowship We are to spend time together to the point that we behave like family toward each other. Mind you a good, healthy family.
(v42) Breaking bread This refers to communion. We will regularly do as Jesus commanded and recall the new covenant with God made in Jesus own blood.
(v42) Prayer We are to be a people who spend time with God. Prayer is not simply spelling out our requests. It is also listening and communing with Him.
(v43) Wonders and signs Supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit should be part of our community life. God wants to talk and guide and deliver and heal and provide and do miracles (1Co 12-14). We must make room for the Spirit. Our services must never be so structured that He cant override our plan with His own. It is His church after all.
(v47) Praising God Worship is central to all our gatherings. In it we recognize His worth and give place to His Spirit. The Spirits presence comes in a sensible way, a tangible way as we worship. It can take time for this intersection between Him and us to occur. We may have to work at it. Without His presence church can become academic and educational and miss the point Him.
(v47) Having Favor and Adding to their Number The early church had a good reputation with the larger community. They were not ingrown and unwilling to include more people who wanted to become disciples. We can become comfortable with certain people and a certain size. But, God wants more and He expects us to love inclusively the way He does.
The map has been laid before us. The church has had a pattern of conduct ever since its birth. We are an extension of that ancient community. The same expressions of devotion that fed their hearts can feed ours. Let us pursue the same disciplines of the early church and allow God to show Himself to us and our city just as He did with them.
1) Are these practices of the early church part of your life?
2) Which ones of these are the most challenging for you? Why?