Part 1, The First Church Launch.
God the Son fulfilled his mission to redeem humankind. He lived a sinless life, died a sinless death, and rose from the dead for our justification, thereby accomplishing the healing, teaching, and gathering of a “church” — ekklesia, “an assembly of people gathered together.”
“In my former book [The Gospel of Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:1-5 NIV).
The disciples had expected a Conquering Hero who would restore the heydays of Israel by eradicating Rome’s oppression. They didn’t recognize that they needed a Suffering Savior instead. We almost never do. We want freeing, not saving. They asked:
“‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?‘
“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” (Acts 1:6b-7 ESV).
They wanted to know. We want to know. We want the timeline revealed, all spread out before us, but the answer has always been this:
The Father knows the times and dates. “It is not for you to know.“
Before he ascended, the Lord Jesus prepared them for what came next, informing them how the Holy Spirit would spread the Gospel across the known ancient world:
“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth“ (Acts 1:5, 8 ESV).
“After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
“‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘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 1:9-11 NIV).
What would they have felt? Would they have already longed for him? Would they have been pondering his words? What do you think?
The new church had just been commissioned and launched:
“Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)” (Acts 1:13b-15 NIV). This was the entire church, including Matthias, who had been selected to take Judas’ place.
To obtain his church, Jesus died a righteous death, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. The forensic evidence:
“For I delivered to you of first importance . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-8 ESV).Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. He appeared to Peter, to the twelve, and then to more than five hundred at one time, most still living. #Faith Click To Tweet
That’s an abundance of eyewitnesses, particularly the 500 at one time, most still alive when this letter was written and able to vouch for what they had seen. Imagine having that many witnesses if you needed to prove something. This is why so many believed, all across the Roman Empire.
The spread of the Gospel to the world began here:
Greek-speaking Jews from the Diaspora — Hellenistic Jews — had long-ago been dispersed outside of Palestine following the Babylonian Captivity that ended in 538 B.C./BCE. These travelled yearly to Jerusalem for the feasts of the Passover and of Shavuoth/Pentecost. They were part of the crowd present for Jesus’ final days, his crucifixion, and the resurrection.
When the Holy Spirit filled the 120-member church at Pentecost, the disciples were miraculously given speech in the native tongues of the locations where all of these dispersed Hellenistic Jews resided.
“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:7-11 ESV).
With the power of this one act, the Holy Spirit boosted the spread of the Gospel immediately, for eventually, these Hellenistic Jews returned home to tell others about these miraculous events.The Holy Spirit boosted the spread of the Gospel immediately by giving speech in the languages of the Hellenistic Jews present for Jesus' death, burial, and #resurrection. These returned home to tell others. Click To Tweet
After this outpouring of the Spirit, Peter preached the Gospel with power. Part of the sermon included these bold and convicting words:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to YOU by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and YOU, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
“BUT GOD raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom YOU crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:22-41 NIV).
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayer, meeting in the Temple’s Court of the Gentiles. Day by day, more were added, including a great many priests. The lower ranks of the priesthood numbered in the thousands.
One of these was Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, nicknamed “Barnabas” by the apostles, meaning “son of encouragement. He sold a field and gave all the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). Barnabas’ sacrificial gift prompted the sinful lie committed by Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), who merely wanted fame and attention.
The corrupt religious leaders who had killed Jesus Messiah were watching. The miracle of healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus met with rebukes. Peter and John were arrested and beaten, but then continued proclaiming that in Jesus was the resurrection of the dead. They preached the Good News to the Sanhedrin, obeying God rather than these men.
Next the Sanhedrin arrested all the apostles and put them in the city jail. At this point a Pharisee named Gamaliel (who was educating Saul) advised:
“Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-39 NIV).
The apostles were then beaten and commanded not to speak in Jesus’ name. They left undeterred, rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.
Miracles and conflicts, persecution and power, all of these were intertwined in the beginnings of the fledgling church. This series continues next week.
In what ways do you think God prepared his Jewish church to go out into the wider world?
How did the Holy Spirit act to both plant and to preserve his church?