Let's review our journey through Acts. For the past few weeks, we've delved deep into events that transpired in a single day. Our pace will soon accelerate.
Jesus was crucified and then resurrected on the third day. Afterward, He stayed for 40 days before ascending to heaven. Ten days post His ascension, the significant event of Pentecost took place. Then Pentecost. It's also known as the Feast of Weeks, which happens 50 days after Passover. On this special festival day, the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers.
Miraculously, they spoke in various languages, not gibberish but actual languages understood by the diverse populace present. These were devout Jews from all corners of the world. The exact nature of the miracle—whether it occurred in the speaker's voice or the listener's ear—remains a mystery.
Peter then took the initiative to elucidate the events unfolding. Throughout the Book of Acts, there's a recurring theme: every miracle is paired with a message. We observe this in the Gospels as well. If a miracle occurs and its purpose isn't evident, its divine origin might be dubious. The Lord offers understanding, ensuring that every miraculous act is complemented with clarity. These wonders serve to verify the messenger and God's intentions.
Let's now focus on the culmination of Peter's sermon (Acts 2:36). The Holy Spirit had manifested, and tongues of fire appeared above the people. Visualize this scene: do you think Peter still had the flame above him as he preached? It's interesting to ponder the duration of this fiery display. I honestly don't know if he still had the tongue of fire over his head or not.
Our study continues with Acts 2:36, where Peter declares, "Therefore, let all the House of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
Following the climax of Peter's sermon, the narrative takes a turn (Acts 2:37). It appears we are given a concise version of his address, as it gradually transitions into a dialogue, involving not just Peter but also the other apostles. When the crowd hears Peter, they are deeply moved and inquire, not just of Peter but to other apostles too, asking, "Brothers, what should we do?"
It's plausible that while Peter delivered his sermon, other apostles were interspersed within the crowd, engaging in various conversations. This collective inquiry likely reached Peter, prompting him to respond (Acts 2:38). He advised, "Repent and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
This verse sparks debate within "free grace" circles. If you're unfamiliar, "free grace" refers to a group emphasizing salvation through faith in Christ alone, without the necessity of works. However, interpretations differ, especially concerning the term "repent." One faction interprets it as a dual action: a change of mind followed by a change in behavior. Another sees it as solely a change of mindset.
In evangelistic contexts, these differences in interpretation are evident. Some assert that in this context, "repent" is synonymous with "believe." Others argue that "repent" refers to a behavioral shift, necessary for believers who need to align their actions with God's will. Regardless of interpretation, the core message remains consistent: the transformative power of faith.
Salvation is emphasized throughout the New Testament as a gift received by faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works. Yet, some groups interpret certain verses, like the one in question, to suggest that action (like baptism) is required for salvation. One of my college professors, from a Church of Christ background, argued using this verse that baptism was a requisite for entering heaven. If this were our only scriptural reference, one might draw that conclusion. However, scripture repeatedly confirms that salvation is by faith in Christ, excluding works.
In verse 39, Peter extends a promise, declaring it applicable not just for the present audience but also their descendants and those afar (Acts 2:39). This inclusiveness is significant, considering the diverse makeup of his listeners. Initially, Peter addresses the people of Judea and Jerusalem (Acts 2:14), but later broadens his message to "fellow Israelites" (Acts 2:22), recognizing the global gathering for the festival.
Considering the vast origins of these pilgrims, one might question the applicability of this promise to their distant families. Whether they hailed from Tarsus, Ephesus, Rome, or elsewhere, Peter assures them that salvation is not confined to Jerusalem. He subtly alludes to a more extensive outreach beyond the Jews, hinting at the Gentiles. Many of us today, likely being Gentiles, are beneficiaries of this broad promise.
This outreach signifies the universal applicability of the Gospel, which resonates with many, transcending time and cultural nuances.
Peter, with fervor, emphasized the importance of salvation, urging the crowd to "be saved from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:40). This suggests that what is recorded in the scriptures is likely a condensed version of his full sermon. Undoubtedly, more was shared, possibly spanning several hours, with both Peter and the other apostles communicating passionately. His message's crux was clear and compelling: to break away from the prevailing mindset that led to the crucifixion of Christ.
It's intriguing to consider the perspective of a Jew from a distant land like Ephesus, who traveled to Jerusalem with a vision of meeting a devout community. Instead, they would find that the very people they thought were righteous had executed their Messiah. Peter's call was not only about eternal salvation but also about disassociating from the pervasive mindset that rejected Jesus.
The response was overwhelming. About 3,000 individuals, possibly familiar with the latter part of Jesus's ministry or even witnesses of His post-resurrection appearances, were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). This substantial number of converts in such a short time was unprecedented. Many of them, having come from different regions, were likely more receptive and hopeful about the Messiah's message than the locals.
The community's growth was exponential. From an initial few, they swelled to over 3,000, indicating a massive surge in belief and commitment. Such rapid expansion in a congregation is rare and noteworthy. The subsequent verse, Acts 2:42, gives insights into the early practices of this burgeoning Christian community.
The birth of the church represents the realization of Jesus's metaphor of planting a seed that grows into a mighty tree. This moment signifies the initial sprouting of that seed, heralding the emergence of the church.
The early church prioritized four primary practices: devotion to the apostles' teachings, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. Although it might seem these are the only activities churches partake in, they encompass broader actions, such as evangelism and baptism. For instance, our modern-day sermons are an extension of devoting ourselves to the apostles' teachings, even though we engage with these teachings in written form rather than directly from an apostle.
The term "fellowship" denotes sharing, suggesting that early believers met often, catering to each other's needs. "Breaking of bread" could allude to both communal meals and the more sacred Lord's Supper, indicating they frequently dined together and commemorated Jesus's sacrifice. Furthermore, their commitment to prayer parallels our practices today.
Acts 2:43-44 highlights the unity and generosity of the early believers. They were in awe of the apostles, who performed wonders and signs. The community held a deep bond, sharing all they had. The selling of possessions to provide for any in need might raise questions about their economic system, hinting at communalism. Yet, it's crucial to differentiate between what the scripture describes (descriptive) and what it prescribes as a directive.
This passage provides a description, not necessarily a prescription. It depicts a specific historical scenario where thousands, perhaps as many as 3,000, were in Jerusalem. Many were from distant lands such as Tarsus, Ephesus, and Rome. While these visitors initially brought enough resources for a short stay, their newfound faith in Jesus prompted them to extend their visit. This presented a dilemma: they were in a foreign city without sufficient resources, and there was only one newly-founded church to guide them.
The early church's response was to pool resources and ensure that everyone's needs were met. The historical situation and the church's response does not imply that all believers should sell their possessions. It does, however, underscore the importance of addressing the needs within the congregation.
Verse 46 reveals that believers met daily in the temple for collective worship and fellowship, and also gathered in homes for meals, signifying both large group assemblies and more intimate gatherings. The temple provided ample space for large gatherings, whereas homes facilitated communal meals. Given the vast number of believers, they needed to disperse into potentially hundreds of homes for meals. This practice mirrors modern churches' approach of holding group worship sessions, followed by smaller group interactions or fellowship.
Just as modern believers participate in small groups, the early church members broke bread in homes. Although we don't label it as the "Lord's Supper," it played a significant role in their gatherings, becoming a communal act done from house to house. They consistently met in the temple and shared meals in homes, enjoying their food with genuine joy and sincerity.
The early church's ambiance was one of happiness, unity, and anticipation for the great works God was initiating. They praised God and, intriguingly, enjoyed the favor of the general public. This suggests they weren't persecuted but were likely esteemed and viewed positively. The community's growth was evident as God added to their numbers daily, saving souls.
This growth can be likened to a rescue boat amidst a sinking ship. Given the impending judgment on Jerusalem, Judea, and Israel by 70 A.D., there was an urgent need for deliverance. Over the following chapters, we'll see God's intricate plan to disperse His people globally, ensuring their safety and the propagation of the gospel.