We have been studying the book of Acts on Wednesday nights, and, for several weeks now, we have considered the events of Pentecost recorded at the beginning of the book: the Holy Spirit is poured out, empowering the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned; a questioning crowd gathers in response; Peter preaches the first gospel sermon, that Jesus has been raised from the dead and declared to be Lord and Christ by God; and forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is offered to those who believe this message, repent, and are immersed into the name of Jesus. As a result, some 3,000 respond and are added to the church.
The end of the chapter, 2:42-27, offers a summary statement of life in this new community of believers. We examined this passage this past week, though we did not quite make it through all the material I intended. But that merely presents an opportunity for a lesson that would have been missed by those not in the class who are now reading this article.
Luke tells us that the Jerusalem church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). These are all familiar actions to us, to the point that that I fear we can take them for granted. Yet these early Christians reoriented their lives around these activities. And there is real danger in neglecting any of them.
When the church is not steeped in the apostolic teaching – for us, not delivered directly but mediated through the Scriptures – it ends up shaped by culture rather than Christ, with a thin veneer of Jesus to give authority to whatever is popular. When the church does not share in life together, individuals live in isolation, rather than in the edifying community God intended for his people. When the church does not value the breaking of bread – that is what we typically call the Lord’s Supper – it fails to proclaim the very act of God, the death and resurrection of Christ, that called it into existence. When the church does not practice fervent prayer, it ignores the powerful access God has given to his children as their Father.
The unfortunate truth is that, while we practice all of these things, we are a pale reflection of those halcyon days in Jerusalem. Does our concern for the apostles’ teaching inspire us to be fervently evangelistic like those in Jerusalem? Even after they were scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4). Does our love for the Lord transcend material things, to the point that our fellowship extends even to a willingness to share all we have with our brothers and sisters (2:44-45)? Do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as the high point of our assembly, an enacted sermon that tells who we are and what Jesus has done for us, or is it a ritual we go through thoughtlessly? Are our prayers like those of the early church, recorded as praying together all throughout Acts?
If we are honest, I think we must admit we often do not measure up. I don’t mean that primarily as an indictment – we must remember that MANY churches in the 1st century fell short of this model, and they were still God’s people! But it should challenge us to always be striving after what God would have us to be.
The larger point is that this new way of life resulted in them having favor with all the people.And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (2:47). You see, when the church practices these things, it is not just beneficial for us. There is an attractiveness, an energy, that draws outsiders in. They were praising God, they were organizing their lives around each another and prayer and God’s word. And God added to their numbers daily.
When we think that the church is unattractive or stagnant or apathetic – and we probably all think that at times, and, at least sometimes, we are right – we would do well to reread this passage and ask ourselves: what is missing? The gospel has not changed. God is still at work. People still need deliverance.
What are we doing about it?