What would you do if you were starting a church from scratch? Would you dream up a creative architectural design for a building that would draw attention from the community? Would you focus on the gathering for worship and put together a certain kind of musical or artistic program? Would it be multi-cultural? What doctrines would the church hold to? The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider all the expressions of church out there.
When it comes to starting a church, the reality, though, is that we don’t start from scratch. Instead we believe God, through his Word, has given us some guidelines for what a church should be. In Acts 2, which we’re studying in this week’s series of posts, we get to observe the beginning of the first church. How did the disciples and other followers of Jesus, the ones who walked with him for three years, start the church? Most importantly, can we learn from them how to be the church? I think we can.
Last week I started a new blog series about how to live as Christians in the world, and we are studying the book of Acts to learn how the first Christians lived out their faith. I think it will be very obvious how this passage of Scripture can relate not only to each one of us individually, but also to our identity as Christians who are part of a church family.
If you want, you can follow along by opening a Bible to Acts 2:1-4.
Verse 1 starts by mentioning Pentecost. This was a Jewish holiday that took place 50 days after the Sabbath of Passover. It was an ancient feast the God asked the people of Israel to observe to celebrate harvest. Because Jews were spread out around the known world in the First Century, thousands of them would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.
On that day, we read that the 120 remaining followers of Jesus “were all together in one place”
Remember what we read last week in Acts 1? Look at chapter 1, verse 4. In some of his final instructions to them, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for a few days when they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Soon after that he ascended back to his father in heaven, and what did they do?
Now look at chapter 1, verse 14. They waited by “joining together constantly in prayer.” That short phrase is amazing. First I want to point out that they were all together. This was a group effort. Next they joined, they were like-minded. There was unity. Finally, they gave themselves to constant prayer. That’s quite a prayer meeting, right? And it reminds us of the importance of church families gathering together for prayer.
But I have to ask, how long were they doing this? Jesus had said they would have to wait, “a few days,” until the Spirit would arrive. As chapter 1 ends, they’ve been praying and waiting. We don’t know how much time passes between the end of chapter 1 and the Day of Pentecost which we read about in chapter 2 verse 1. Some scholars believe they might have waited together in prayer as many as 10 days. But on day 10 right in the middle of their gathering, everything changes.
There were many times when Jesus told the disciples the Spirit was coming. When the Spirit came he wanted them to be ready!
What would they have been expecting? They knew from their nation’s history that the Holy Spirit sometimes filled and empowered leaders, and those stories would have been all they had to try to understand what Jesus might have meant. When the Holy Spirit filled people in the Hebrew Bible, things got a little crazy. There was wild, ecstatic prophesying, as they called it. Or there was Samson killing thousands of Philistines. Or there was David dancing with all his might as the Ark of God came into Jerusalem. But as we saw in the story of Samson, that filling of the Spirit was temporary. Who knows what the disciples were thinking was going to happen! And then it happens.
Check back in to the next post as we’ll learn what happens!