The Ecclesial Dimension of Revival (Acts 2:42-47)


Acts 2 narrates the paradigmatic revival of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost. There are three dimensions to that revival: (1) experiential, (2) evangelical, and (3) ecclesial. We have already studied the experiential and ecclesial dimensions of revival in some depth, so let us turn to Acts 2:42-47 and begin to explore the ecclesial dimension, that is, how people express their commitment to God through involvement in a local church.
 
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
 
These verses speak of five concrete ecclesial activities:
 
The first is liturgy. Verse 42 outlines four elements of a worship service: teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer (which in the first century included singing). Over the centuries, Christian denominations have developed considerable variety in their liturgies, but these four elements are present in some way in each and every one.
 
The second activity is expectation of the miraculous. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have witnessed divine signs and wonders in response to faithful prayer, just as the early church did (verse 43). Such signs and wonders are part of the gifts of the Spirit God distributes to the church (1 Cor. 12:9) in response to committed prayer (James 5:13-16).
 
The third activity is social concern. The early church developed organizational structures of voluntary giving and accountable generosity so that its poorest members would not have financial or material needs (verses 44-45). These organizational structures carried on the ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor, and whenever the church has recommitted itself to him, it has recommitted itself to them, whom Jesus loved and blessed.
 
The fourth activity is small groups. In addition to their Sunday liturgy, the early Christians in Jerusalem met daily for worship at the Temple (a practice which permanently ended when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70). According to verse 46, they also met in one another’s homes to eat together, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and worship together. Christian revivals have almost always included what 17th-Century German Pietists referred to as eccesiolae in ecclesia, that is, “little churches within the church.”
 
The fifth activity is evangelism. In verse 47, we read that the church grew as God converted people daily to the Christian faith. God is the Great Evangelist, but he used the words of Peter and uses our words today to catalyze people’s interest in the gospel.
 
Revival cannot happen without a vital experience of the Holy Spirit, a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, and regular participation in a Christian church. They are a chord of three strands that cannot—and should not—be broken.
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Momentous Decisions (Acts 2:37-41)


Life is filled with momentous decisions, none more momentous than what we decide about Jesus Christ.
 
In Acts 2:14-36, the Apostle Peter outlines the history of Jesus’ ministry and explains its theological significance. Through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, Jesus fulfills the promise of God to save people who call on his name and to fill them with the Holy Spirit.
 
According to Acts 2:37-41, the people who hear Peter’s sermon understand the momentousness of Jesus’ actions, but they are uncertain how to respond.
 
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.
 
Notice three things about Peter’s answer to their question.
 
First, it involves repentance. The Greek word for “repent” is metanoesate. Literally, it is a command to change (meta) one’s mind (nous). Our response to God is an intellectual one. It requires a changed way of seeing God and our relationship to him. And that changed way centers on what God has done to save us through his Son, Jesus Christ. The history and theology Peter relates in his sermon are the foundation of Christian faith. Our faith must be rooted in truth that can be intellectually apprehended.
 
But repentance goes beyond believing to behaving. Metanoesate more broadly means changing one’s entire being: how one thinks, feels, speaks, and acts. When you understand what God has done for you, the natural—not to mention logical—response is a new way of living.
 
Second, Peter’s answer involves church. Peter’s command to the crowd is twofold: “Repent and be baptized.” The first verb is active; the second is passive. Repentance is something you and I do. Being baptized is something that is done to us by others. Christianity is not an individualistic faith. It is a rather a social one. Jesus calls us into community with others, and baptism is the first formal act by which that community recognizes us as fellow followers of Jesus Christ.
 
Third, Peter’s answer involves sanctification. Sanctification literally means “to make holy.” Peter describes the present age of the world as “this corrupt generation.” Despite the grace of God, the world continues to sin against him and to pervert his good creation toward unholy ends. To follow Jesus is to walk a straight path.
 
Believing and behaving, baptizing and belonging, becoming holy: these are momentous decisions. In response to God’s promise of grace and salvation, choose well!

Jesus as the Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy (Acts 2:25-36)


I have worn glasses since I was two-and-a-half years old. They correct my nearsightedness and help me see things at a distance.
 
Biblical prophecy is like glasses. In Acts 2:25-36, Peter quotes or alludes to three psalms that speak about the Messiah. These prophetic lenses help us see Jesus clearly. Here’s what Peter said:
 
David said about [Jesus]:
 
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 live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you 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 [Ps. 16:8-11].
 
Brothers, 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 [Ps. 132:11]. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 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” [Ps. 110:1].
 
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
 
First-century Jews believed that David was a prophet who wrote psalms under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They interpreted his songs as vehicles for telling the truth about God, his plan, and the Messiah who would bring that plan to fruition.
 
For Peter, Jesus was that Messiah. Psalm 16:8-11 is a song of hope, in which David expresses confidence that God will not abandon him to the grave. But as Peter pointed out, it did not apply to David himself, whose tomb was in Jerusalem. Rather, it applied to Jesus, David’s descendant and heir, whom God raised from the dead. Peter and others were “witnesses of the fact.”
 
Psalm 132:11 speaks of the “oath” God “promised” to David to “place one of his descendants on his throne.” While Jesus did not ascend to an earthly throne, he did ascend to a heavenly one at God’s right hand (Ps. 110:1) and ruled from there. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the first of his kingly acts.
 
When we see Jesus through the lens of these three psalms, we see a God who makes and keeps his promises in spite of human opposition. The crucified Jesus is “both Lord and Christ”—David’s and ours.

The Purpose of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-24)


What was the purpose of Jesus Christ?
 
In Acts 2:22-24, the Apostle Peter offers a succinct answer to this question in his sermon to the Jewish crowd at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost:
 
Men of Israel, 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 set purpose 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.
 
There are two parts to his answer: history and theology. The history is a précis of the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, focusing on his miracles and culminating in his death and resurrection. The theology shows God at work behind the scenes of everything that Jesus did and that was done to him. Neither the history nor the theology sits well with modern minds.
 
Consider, first of all, the history. Modern treatments of the historical Jesus downplay or outright deny the supernatural and miraculous character of Jesus’ ministry. There is no better symbol of these treatments than the so-called Jefferson Bible, in which President Thomas Jefferson literally took scissors to the pages of the Gospels and cut the miracles out. The resulting Jesus was a talking head, a teacher, a dispenser of gnostic truths.
 
Peter, on the contrary, emphasized the acts of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, exorcized the demonized, died for sinners, and conquered death by his resurrection. Of course he taught as well. Peter knew that. But his précis of Jesus’ ministry focused on the deeds, for they were the deeds of God.
 
That brings us, second, to the theology. God stood behind Jesus’ acts. He “accredited” Jesus to his contemporaries (and to us) “by miracles, wonders and signs.” In fact, he “did” them. God “raised” Jesus from the dead. And, most controversially, he arranged for Jesus’ capture and crucifixion according to his “set purpose and foreknowledge.”
 
Modern philosophers typically fall into one of two mutually exclusive categories: determinists, who say that individual choice is determined by large impersonal forces; and existentialists, who say that there is no reality beyond what the individual chooses. Christians reject them both. We believe that a personal God guides the choices of human individuals toward his appointed ends without thereby robbing them of moral freedom and responsibility. How God does this is a mystery. That he does so is a biblical truth beyond dispute.
 
The whole bent of modernism is to squeeze God out of life, to claim that he plays no role in the world. Peter’s sermon is a prophetic refutation of that tendency. God is active in the world. He has a plan for it. Enacting that plan was—and is—the purpose of Jesus Christ.

This Is That (Acts 2:16-21)


We explain what we do not know in terms of what we do.
 
Consider the word horsepower. James Watt coined that term to market steam engines to people who relied on horses as beasts of burden. They understood how powerful horses were, so Watt explained how powerful steam engines were in terms of how much horsepower they were equivalent to.
 
In Acts 2:16-21, the Apostle Peter used what his audience knew (Old Testament prophecy) to explain what they did not know (the disciples’ spiritual experience). Here is what Peter said:
 
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
 
“In the last days, God says,
            I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
            your young men will see visions,
            your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
            I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
            and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
            and signs on the earth below,
            blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
            and the moon to blood
            before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
            on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
 
Peter’s “No” reminds us that we can misinterpret what we do not know in terms of what we do. The crowds had misinterpreted the disciples’ spiritual experience as the slurred speech of drunks. Peter rejected their misinterpretation and turned to Joel 2:28-32 for the proper interpretation. He noted four Old Testament expectations that the disciples’ spiritual experience had met:
 
First, the expectation of the end: First-century Jews looked forward to “the last days” and “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” The disciples’ spiritual experience heralded the beginning of that end.
 
Second, the expectation of universality: First-century Jews looked forward to a day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people regardless of nationality, age, sex, and class. This happened on Pentecost when the disciples praised God in many foreign languages, which they spoke by divine enablement.
 
Third, the expectation of signs and wonders: First-century Jews believed the end of time would be characterized by supernatural portents in heaven and on earth. The sound of wind and tongues of fire that manifested themselves on the Day of Pentecost were examples of such portents. So were the miracles performed by Jesus and by the early church.
 
Fourth, the expectation of salvation: First-century Jews looked forward to the day when God would judge the wicked and save the righteous. According to Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This expectation began to be met when 3000 people accepted Peter’s evangelistic message and were baptized (Acts 2:41).
 
This is that. We explain what we do not know in terms of what we do. And what we should know best is the Bible, which helps us interpret all spiritual experience.

Answered Questions, Committed Lives (Acts 2:14-15)


When my wife and I started dating, we had to sort out our religious differences. She was raised fundamentalist Baptist; I, evangelical Pentecostal. She believed in once-saved, always-saved; I did not. I believed speaking in tongues was normal; she did not. We worked things out by the time we married. Now we are both Bapticostals.
 
I mention my personal experience because I think it illuminates a problem facing Christians in modern America. If two Christians with similar beliefs and morals have to explain themselves to one another, imagine how much they need to explain themselves to non-Christians, who do not share their beliefs and morals. If religious literacy among Christians is low, it certainly must be lower among unbelievers.
 
There is an additional twist to this problem. Some American unbelievers are not merely ignorant about Christianity; they are hostilely ignorant. They do not understand it, but they nevertheless want to critique what they do not understand.
 
This antipathy to Christianity is as old as, well, Christianity itself. Acts 2:1-13 describes the earliest Christians’ experience of the Holy Spirit, which produced supernatural, charismatic manifestations such as speaking in tongues. Many bystanders asked, “What does this mean?” They were genuinely interested in the supernatural phenomenon they were witnessing. Others, however, ridiculed the disciples: “They have had too much wine.” They critiqued what they had not bothered to understand.
 
Acts 2:14-15 records Peter’s response:
 
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. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
 
Notice, first of all, what Peter does not do. He does not ignore either the honest questioners or the hostile critics. Several years ago, I talked with a friend of my sister’s who, though once a strong Christian, had become alienated from the church. When I asked her why this had happened, she told me that she had been turned off to the faith by a pastor who, instead of answering her honest questions, tried to bully her into silence. I wonder how many people share her unfortunate testimony. Unanswered questions result in uncommitted lives.
 
Now notice what Peter does. He answers the hostile critics. They claim the disciples are drunk; he argues that the facts show otherwise. This refutation then allows him, in verses 16-41, to answer the honest questioners and explain what Pentecost means. Think of answering hard questions as a ground-clearing operation. If you want to build a house, you must first lay a foundation. And if you want to lay a foundation, you must first clear and level the ground. That is what Christian apologetics does. It clears away alternative explanations of spiritual experience—whether honest or hostile—so that the foundation of the gospel can be laid in people’s lives.
 
So, next time someone asks you a question about Christianity, answer it! Answered questions lead to committed lives.

The Evangelical Dimension of Revival (Acts 2:14-41)


Every Sunday, I preach to my congregation. Sometimes, my sermons are ill-prepared and poorly delivered. Other times—hopefully, more often than not—they are well-prepared, well-delivered, and spiritually effective.
 
The Apostle Peter preached the first recorded sermon of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). In it, he proclaimed the gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. The English word gospel comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which the Romans transliterated as evangel. Preaching is an evangelical activity. It brings good news to its hearers.
 
When I read Peter’s sermon, I see four characteristics of a good sermon:
 
First, it is apologetically sensitive. I don’t mean that a preacher says “I’m sorry” a lot from the pulpit. Apologetics is that branch of theology that provides a defense (Greek, apologia) of the Christian faith. In Acts 2:1-13, we read about the disciples’ spiritual experience on the Day of Pentecost. Some bystanders think the disciples are drunk. But Peter defends them. “These men are not drunk as you suppose” (verse 15). A good sermon is always aware of the alternative explanations people offer for spiritual experience, and it defends the truth.
 
Second, it is biblically grounded. Peter doesn’t offer a subjective defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience. He doesn’t say, “Well, I just feel like this is God at work.” Instead, he says, “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (verse 16); and “David said” (verses 25, 34). In other words, Peter grounds his defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience in Scripture. Specifically, he quotes Joel 2:28-32 and Psalms 16:8-11 and 110:1. A good sermon always grounds itself in the objectivity of God’s Word rather than in the subjectivity of human experience.
 
Third, it is Christ-focused. The Bible is a big book. It says many things that are not always easy to square with one another. What readers need is an interpretive key to unlock Scripture’s meaning. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and showed them that he is that key: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). When Peter quotes Joel and the Psalms, he does so because they illuminate Jesus Christ: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (verse 36). A good sermon always keeps the focus on Jesus.
 
Fourth, a good sermon is decision-oriented. In light of his biblically grounded, Christ-focused defense of the disciples’ spiritual experience, Peter calls on his audience to make a decision: “Repent and be baptized” (verse 38). If Jesus really is the good news of the Bible, then all of us need to respond to him with love and faith. A good sermon requires us to make changes in our lives.
 
Acts 2:1-47 narrates the paradigmatic revival of the Christian church. It includes an experiential dimension (verses 1-13). But it also includes an evangelical dimension (verses 14-41). Let us always strive, like the early disciples, to ground our spiritual experience upon the evangel of Jesus Christ!

Alternative Explanations of Spiritual Experience (Acts 2:5-13)


What are spiritual experiences?
 
We Christians believe that authentic spiritual experiences are experiences of God and/or other elements of the supernatural realm (such as angels or demons). We also believe that counterfeit spiritual experiences are possible, however, when people mistakenly attribute to a supernatural cause an event with a natural explanation. Knowing whether a spiritual experience is counterfeit or authentic, and if authentic whether divine or demonic, calls for discernment (1 John 4:1).
 
Acts 2:1-4 narrates the spiritual experience of the early Christians (speaking in tongues) and attributes it to a supernatural source (the Holy Spirit). But Acts 2:5-13 also notes that critics of the early Christians had an alternative, naturalistic explanation of the experience. Let’s take a closer look at the latter passage:
 
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
 
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
 
On the one hand, the Holy Spirit; on the other hand, alcoholic spirits.
 
Which is the better explanation for what happened on the Day of Pentecost?
 
First, what exactly is the experience? In this case, it is speaking in tongues, which is the miraculous ability to speak a human or angelic language you have not learned through normal means.
 
Second, is the experience publicly verifiable? It is one thing for believers to claim that they have spoken in tongues. The important thing to know is whether there is public confirmation of the experience. In this case, nonbelievers confirmed that they heard their native languages being spoken by the disciples. If the case was a miraculous healing, we would expect before and after doctor reports as public confirmation of the miracle.
 
Third, is a supernatural or natural explanation more probable? Two natural explanations of what happened on the Day of Pentecost arise from within the text itself: (1) The disciples had learned these languages by normal means. (2) They were drunk. Against (1), even the nonbelievers were “amazed and perplexed” at the disciples’ speech; they assumed that Galileans in general and Christ’s Galilean disciples in particular were uneducated (cf. Acts 4:13). Against (2), religious Jews didn’t drink alcohol so early in the morning (Acts 2:14); and anyway, the disciples speech was coherent praise, not incoherent babbling, which is what you would expect from drunks.
 
On balance, then, a supernatural explanation of publicly verifiable tongues-speech is more probable than a naturalistic one. Notice, I have not approached this issue dogmatically, but empirically, using common-sense questions to make my case. In our skeptical day and age, this is a good apologetic strategy when engaging in dialogue with nonbelievers.

The Experiential Dimension of Revival (Acts 2:1-4)


Acts 2 narrates the paradigmatic revival of the Christian church. It has three dimensions: experiential (verses 1-13), evangelical (verses 14-41), and ecclesial (verses 42-47). Over the next few days, I will examine each dimension, pointing out its relevance for today’s church.
 
First, however, let me explain my use of the term revival to describe the events of Acts 2. The dictionary offers two meanings of revival in a religious context: (1) “an awakening, in a church or community, of interest in and care for matters relating to personal religion”; and (2) “an evangelistic service or a series of services for the purpose of effecting a religious awakening: to hold a revival.” When I use revival, I intend the first meaning, not the second.
 
With that in mind, look at Acts 2:1-4:
 
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
 
Pentecost was one of Judaism’s three annual festivals, which included pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Ex. 23:14-17). It occurred fifty days (Gr., pentekostos) after Passover, and it celebrated the firstfruits of the harvest (Lev. 23:15-21, Deut. 16:9-12). In intertestamental Jewish tradition, it also celebrated the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
 
Luke himself does not draw out the symbolic value of Pentecost, but the conversion of 3000 people (Acts 2:41) can be seen as the spiritual firstfruits of the gospel. Moreover, the charismatic phenomena experienced that day (wind, fire, and tongues) parallel what Jews believed happened at Sinai (e.g., Heb. 12:18-19, Ex. 19:16-19). On Pentecost, as at Sinai, God showed up, and people were changed by the encounter.
 
Luke emphasizes the supernatural source of these charismatic phenomena by noting that they came “from heaven” as a result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “enabled” by him. This spiritual infilling is the same thing as the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5).
 
The experiential dimension of revival is thus a filling with or baptism in the Holy Spirit. This experience can include charismatic manifestations. I say can rather than must because while tongues reappear throughout Acts as evidence of Spirit-baptism (e.g., 8:14-19, 10:44-48, 19:1-7), wind and fire do not.
 
Unfortunately, in the history of the Christian church, some have become so desirous of the experiential dimension of revival that they neglect its evangelical foundation (salvation through Jesus Christ) and its ecclesial outcomes (moral formation in a believing community). We must therefore remember that revival is like a three-legged stool: without one of its legs, the stool topples over.
 
The Spirit yes, but not without Christ and the church!

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