Over the last 46 years, I’ve been in a number of different churches. I was born, raised, and baptized in a wonderful church in East Peoria, Illinois. I led my first worship song at a one-room church in Caulfield, Missouri. As a teenager, I volunteered at a tent revival in Springfield, Illinois — and had a blast watching the preacher sweat through a three-piece silk suit.
As an adult, I have worshiped at Saddleback Church with Rick Warren (not right next to him, but he did preach). Three years ago I had the privilege of worshiping with fellow believers in Nepal. During my last year of college, I preached for a church of 18 people.
I’ve been in large churches and small churches. I’ve seen the church fight the good fight and I’ve seen the church … just fight.
What has been your experience with the church? Perhaps your experiences have been similar to mine.
It’s helpful to reflect on our own church experiences. It’s also good to study the last 2,000 years of church history.
It’s also important that we look at how the church got started. Not in 2016 or 1992 or even the 5th century. But on day one!
Day one for the church is Acts 2. The New Testament begins with what we call the Gospels – the biographies of Jesus. They tell the story of Jesus – from birth to death to resurrection. They are immediately followed by a book called Acts of the Apostles, or shorthanded to just “Acts.” It is written by Luke – the same as the Gospel that bears his name.
It is the book of Acts that tells the story of the church. It is to the book of Acts that we trace our roots.
In chapter one, we find Jesus saying his final words to the Apostles before ascending back to heaven:
4 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. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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 1:4-8
Three times he tells uses the phrase “you will” … you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit; you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; you will be my witnesses.
And when does it begin? In the very next chapter …
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. — Acts 2:1
The Jews had three great festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost celebrated the wheat harvest.
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. — Acts 2:2-4
Put yourself in that room. One moment you’re having a conversation with Peter about fishing and the next there’s a violent wind and tongues of fire!
In the original language, the words for wind and spirit are the same. In other words, it’s not just a gust of wind – it’s the blowing of the Spirit.
In Old Testament, the presence of fire was often used to reflect the presence of God. Perhaps the most famous is when God spoke to Moses through a burning bush.
Luke is taking these very natural elements and using them indicate that something supernatural is happening.
Don’t miss this: the church begins not with a strategy session but with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As a result, the apostles are enabled to speak in languages they didn’t previously know. To give us some idea of how incredible this is, Luke gives us a snapshot of the crowd …
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean? — Acts 2:5-12
You have people in the crowd from present-day Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Rome – and all sorts of places in between.
When the church was born, it emerged in a world almost as diverse as our own. People are chattering away in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. In some respects, it’s like walking in San Francisco or New York City and hearing all kinds of languages.
And the crowd asks a very important question: “What does this mean?”
Pentecost is fundamentally about God coming to us in our broken condition, just as Jesus did in the incarnation. It is also about God breaking down the barriers that often divide us.
All of this is not in spite of the church but to give birth to the church.
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! — Acts 2:13-15
(I’m not sure Peter’s rebuttal would work today!)
For many Christians, the Holy Spirit is the anonymous third wheel of the Trinity. For the early church, it was the Holy Spirit that powered their movement and expansion.
What does the birth of the first church mean for our church today?
1. The church has been empowered for its mission.
Doing the work of Jesus isn’t a matter of being saved and then simply working hard. Our job is to wait for the Holy Spirit. Then we receive power and the ability to make a difference.
2. The spiritual harvest did not end at Pentecost.
The harvest began there and has continued in ever-widening circles. In places as diverse as South Denver and Nepal, Ukraine, and North Africa.
3. God wants you to join a movement and it’s called the church.
This movement is 2,000 years old and still growing. It’s the only movement God has entrusted with the message of new life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.