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Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The First Church in Acts 2

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

I love discovering deeper layers of meaning in books and movies than stand out on the surface. I get excited when, having read or watched something on one level, I discover upon further personal meditation or discussion with others the true profundity of the work. Of the many things I love about Scripture, one is its ability to prove deeper in intention than my ever-expanding mind and heart can fathom.

In this vein, let me say that Acts 2 is a wonder of Old Testament quotation and allusion. Its subtlety in drawing in the full theological weight of Israel’s sacred writings and weaving the Pentecost event into Israel’s sacred history is, to wildly understate it, masterful. Though a thousand pages could scarce unpack the whole, here, I’d like to provide just a nibble on the role given to the hopes of Isaiah 59 in the Pentecost narrative.

From Corrupt Society to Spirit-Filled Community

Isaiah 59 begins with a diatribe of the general corruption of human society and man’s ability to escape his own depravity enough to create a thriving world. This plagues both Israelites and Gentiles and plays a role in Paul’s own summary of world corruption in Romans 3. In verse 16, Yahweh determines to bring both justice and salvation. He promises to come to man Himself and plant a redeemed, Spirit-transformed community in the world. His coming is described in verse 19 as a fear-inducing, glorious, “rushing stream” driven on by the Spirit of Yahweh. This Spirit is both upon them and in them overflowing in prophetic speech as spirit-filled families and communities continue expanding in the world.

In Acts 2, the story does not begin with neutrality, but with darkness, with a murdered messiah. The people and religious leaders and Gentiles preyed on Him for His righteousness and continue to reject Him through His followers. Into this comes the Spirit of God, sounding like a mighty rushing wind, with holy fire upon them and divine speech flowing from them. They rush into the streets where those hearing the sound witness the wonder of their emergence from the upper room.

Pentecost

On this day of Pentecost—the historic celebration of the coming of Torah, the creation of Israel, the mighty works of God, and the sending of David—the witnesses hear the disciples of Jesus declaring the mighty works of God to the gathered Jewish representatives of the nations. Peter stands up and delivers a Spirit-inspired message about the resurrection of the rejected son of David and calls upon those under the Spirit’s conviction to repent and cry out to God. In addition to several other allusions to Isaiah 59 already noted, Peter follows his call for repentance with a composite of Isaiah 59:21, Isaiah 57:19,  and Joel 2:38 in Acts 2:39.

He says,  “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Thousands respond and join these believers in the creation of the Church of Jesus, who is the Christ.

This is not the end, however. The crescendo of Acts 2 is not with coming power or prophetic speech. It is not with inspired preaching, apologetics, or evangelism. It is not with a massive altar call or swelling church numbers. The crescendo of Acts 2 is found in Acts 2:41-47 in the establishment of a community of love and devotion that stands out as a miraculous light in the great human darkness around it.

Community summaries like the one in Acts 2 play an important role in the unfolding of Acts.

The First Church

We have an early depiction of the 11 with their followers—in one accord, devoted to prayer… both men and women, Jesus’ family— in Acts 1:14. We see the filling up of the Apostle’s ranks in 1:15-26, a typological restoration of Israel.

3000 are added at Pentecost (2:41), who are devoted to the Apostle’s teaching, fellowship, eating together and prayer, experiencing signs and wonders with divine fear, sharing with each other freely, worshiping in the temple, well received by the community and growing daily in number (2:42-47).

At the end of 4:4, another 5000 are added over the incident with the lame man. We hear of the oneness of the community in sharing all things (while defending property rights which are an important social foundation throughout Scripture). We hear of the power at work among them as they preached in 4:32-37.

Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead by God causing great fear in the community as signs and wonders continue. They continue as one. Many men and women are added, but others, while admiring keep their distance. (5:11-14) In 5:42, they meet daily in the temple and from house to house.

Growth of the Spirit-Led Community

With Paul’s conversion, the church enters a period of Peace throughout Judea and Galilee, and Samaria, being built up, fearing God and finding comfort in the Holy Spirit. They multiplied. (9:31) After Peter speaks to Gentiles who come to faith, some of those scattered begin to speak to Gentiles as well, and a great number turn to the Lord. (11:21) In 11:24, “a great many are added.” In 12:24, “the word of God increased and multiplied.

Paul and Barnabas have Isaiah’s Servant mission proclaimed over them in 13:43-49 as they turn away from the Synagogue in Perga to the Gentiles there saying, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed,” (13:48) and  “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (13:49)  In 16:5, “they increased in number greatly.” In 19:20, the word prevails and increases greatly. Throughout, we find prayer 21x, worship 7x, fellowship, and breaking bread 5x.

This depiction stands in constant contrast with the darkness around them. Isaiah 42 is quoted over Paul and Barnabas in 13:47. Thus, the context of the church’s light is the darkness of the Jews & Gentiles, lowly & Great.

The Beauty of the Mundane

What does all this mean to us?

While anecdotal, my experience in schools and churches has convinced me that, like the Corinthian community, many have a tendency to measure spirituality by “spiritual” looking manifestations (the weirder the better) and to ignore the more meaningful measure of the fruit of the Spirit in community.

The idea that the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 climaxes in the uncommon “mundane” should be a check for us. Heavenly signs, fire, tongues, exuberance, bold proclamation, miracles, and massive “altar-calls,” find their intentional end in a community of devotion to God and to each other. We are excited by and eagerly seek Acts 2:2-41, but pause little over our failure to produce Acts 2:42-47.

Many others have given up the whole paradigm, contenting themselves with little more than a doctrinal reflection on the transforming power of the Spirit in life and community. Don’t be one of them. Cry out to God for His transforming power in your life and the social and societal fruit that it should bring.

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