Readings: Acts 2:1-21
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This Sunday is Pentecost – the day where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit! The church will be dressed up in red, orange and yellow and we encourage you to come dressed in something of those colours too! Phil will helping us to understand the context in which the day of Pentecost occurred and how this can speak into the context the current day church finds itself.
Questions for reflection or small groups
Study option #1 – Phil’s Sermon
Insight #1 – The church is to continue Jesus ministry…
- Read Acts 1:1-2,7-8. Jesus calls us to be his witnesses (or continue his ministry) locally, regionally and to the ends to the earth. How are we going with this?
- If Jesus was perfect AND the son of God … how are we (imperfect and human) are supposed to continue the work? (Also note John 14:12)
Insight #2 – The context of the early church at Pentecost was that they were small and insignificant, so they focused on sharing the thing that made them different from all the other religions, cults and philosophies … Jesus.
- Have a glance through Peter’s speech from Acts 2:14-36. How many times does Peter talk about Jesus?
- If Jesus is our “core business”, do you think that we talk enough about Jesus and the difference that Jesus can make at our church? With our friends?
Insight #3 – The Early Church could not continue Jesus ministry alone. They needed each other and they needed the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Read Acts 3:1-8. When asked for money, Peter offered the lame beggar spiritual help. How was Peter able to bring healing to his man? (Note Acts 3:12,16). What is the role of the Holy Spirit in healing? (Note Acts 9:17-19)
- How might we at TUC be more open to:
- The strength and support that comes from being in fellowship with one other?
- The power that comes from the name of Jesus and the more supernatural side of the Holy Spirit?
Study option #2 – Bible Project Video
1) Describe how the Spirit is first introduced in the Hebrew Bible by reading Genesis 1:1-3. What does God’s ruakh (spirit, breath, wind) do in this passage?
2) God’s Spirit empowers others for specific tasks. Read the following passages and ponder… what tasks did God empower through his Spirit, and what do these tasks have in common?
- Genesis 41:16,25,38-39
- Exodus 35:29-35
- Isaiah 61:1-4
3) Read the account of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16-17. Compare the presence of the Spirit (above the baptism waters) in this scene with the presence of the Spirit (above the chaotic waters) in Genesis 1:1-3. How does this comparison help us see that Jesus is the beginning of a new creation?
4) Read John 20:19-23, Acts 1:1-8 and Acts 2:37-39. What did Jesus give the disciples after his resurrection? How did the disciples receive Jesus’ gift, and what did his gift specifically empower them to do?
Today is Pentecost … the birthday of the one, world-wide, centuries old, Jesus initiated, God inspired CHURCH! And the the day we acknowledge and celebrate the coming or empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Our bible reading came from the second chapter of Acts but is certainly not the beginning of the story. The book of Acts was written by the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke and in Acts 1:1, Luke says that in the gospel he wrote about all the things that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach. The language is subtle yet profound. Even after Jesus’ teaching, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension … Luke implies that the work of Jesus was just beginning … the ministry of Jesus is still continuing. The big difference is that Jesus work now happens in the lives of ordinary followers like you and me. Jesus had faith that we – THE CHURCH – would be continue his ministry and able to do amazing things.
And then along comes the day of Pentecost … which we will look at in a moment … but first I wish to look a little at the context that Pentecost happened within. You see, the bible was written in a particular time and place, and when we gain some understand of the context, it might give us some insight about the meaning of the passage. Context can bring understanding to contents. So how much do you know about the context of the early chapters of the book of Acts? What was happening in the world at that time? What was the experience of the disciples? What was the politics or issues that they were facing? Let’s play a quick little game to see what we know about context?
Our bible reading today refers to the early church … How big is the early church around the time of Pentecost?
- The 12 disciples
- 120 people
- 3,120 people
- 32,120 people
Either b or c is correct. The church of Acts 2 was about the size of our church. Acts 1:15 tells us that the group of believers numbered around 120. However Acts 2:41 tells us that after Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost about 3000 were added to their number each day.
Ok … next question. If we took 10 random people from the wider community, how many do you think would have heard of these people called Christians – the early church.
Well in the first few chapters of Acts – the number would be very low – basically 0. The early church was just a little unheard of religious group – one of the many religious groups and cults which existed in the Greek/Roman world.
Sure people would have heard about Jesus – but Jesus was only a localised celebrity. Jesus was known in Judea and Samaria but if you talked to someone in Rome – they would have no idea who Jesus was. Even in Jerusalem where Jesus was big news … Jesus had been killed on a cross 2 months ago … so people just went on with their lives.
So we need to understand that Peter and the early church in the beginning part of Acts were not a large, influential, powerful religious movement but rather a small, unknown group who had to struggle to get their voices heard above all the other voices, groups, religions and cults of their time.
Yes they had a message but people had heard it all before … and had become rather sceptical and apathetic.
Sometimes we think that the early church was so hated that they were victims of persecution. Well persecution didn’t come until Acts 7 and then it was only from the Jewish elements of society reacting to the Christians saying that Jesus was the Messiah. Most non-Jewish people just didn’t care.
Look at the reading from Acts 2. What was the “people in the street” initial reaction to the events of Pentecost? These men are drunk. Can you hear their scepticism? Despite their initial curiosity of hearing these people speak in their native language, the people in the street were already too busy with the demands of the Romans and of their daily life. They didn’t have time for whatever was happening with these drunk men.
Does this sound slightly familiar? It is not dissimilar to the situation that we find ourselves in. The Christian church is not the powerful influence in society as it used to be in the middle of last century. Instead there are many different groups, religions, and other personal endeavours which ask for people’s time and commitment. The church seems to be just one voice in the midst of many voices in society. And how do the society treat us when we speak up? With a little bit of scepticism and a whole lot of apathy. Just like the experience of Acts 2.
So if we are in a similar context … what were the key things that the early church learnt about being church? What principles did the early church base their decisions and actions on? I want to suggest two fundamental concepts that greatly influenced the early church …
#1 – In a society of many religions, cults, groups and philosophies, the Early Church had something which made them different – Jesus – and they needed to share Jesus with others.
It would have been really easy for the 120 Christians to just close themselves off and enjoy the amazing truth they had found in Jesus and just wait until Jesus returned again. But they couldn’t do that because Jesus left them with the command to make disciples of all people. They had to share with them what they had discovered. They had to share Jesus.
I find it interesting that they didn’t get caught up in complicated theology or worrying about rules and processes. They had discovered something amazing, life-changing in Jesus and they wanted others to experience it as well. So they focused on just talking about Jesus.
Have a look at Peter’s speech in Acts 2. After explaining to the crowd that they were not drunk, in verse 22 Peter says, “Now listen to what I have to say about Jesus of Nazareth”.
- God sent Jesus (v22)
- Jesus did miracles, wonders and signs (v22)
- Died on a cross (v23)
- We testify that Jesus was raised back to life (v32)
- He now sits at God’s right hand (v33)
- And has sent us the Holy Spirit (v34)
Can you see how the whole talk is focused on Jesus? Jesus was the thing that they had which no other group, religion or cult had … so talking about Jesus became their priority.
If we are in a similar context to the early church … I wonder if we could learn anything from this?
#2 – They couldn’t do this alone. They needed each other and needed the power of God
If you read through Acts 2 there are so many references to the community or the fellowship of believers. They understood that for Jesus’ idea of church to work, they needed each other. In the CEV version, I love the way that the CHURCH is described in Acts 2:42…They were like family to each other. They met together regularly, they helped each other, they taught and prayed together. They couldn’t do it alone … they needed each other.
But they needed more than each other. They needed divine help. They knew it and Jesus knew it. That is why Jesus promised that the father would send another helper. The Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the celebration of the coming of that power – the Holy Spirit. And if you keep on reading Acts … the early church totally relied on this power of the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry of Jesus.
There was enormous growth of the early church in the book of Acts, and yes, most of it was about connecting people to the reality of the risen Jesus … but a portion of that was also sharing this amazing power of the Holy Spirit.
Take Acts 3 as an example. Peter and John went to pray, they met a lame man on the way, he asked them for alms and he held out his palms and … what did Peter and John say?
In the power of the Holy Spirit and in Jesus name … they healed the man! Sometimes I think that if the modern day church met the man we would give him them money and forget that we actually have access to the power to heal. I know this is tricky – because healing doesn’t always come. We prayed in this church for people to be healed and it didn’t work out the way we wanted it … but sometimes it has worked … and that inconsistency should not stop us from praying! It should not stop us for praying for healing.
So what can we learn from this story of Pentecost?
I think we need to remember to priorities the basics – to make sure that we are doing the simple things that make us the CHURCH – and make sure we are doing them the best we can. The early church didn’t have time to worry about property or programs; they didn’t have a budget or employees. They needed to quickly get onto the task and hand and prioritise 4 key areas (found in Acts 2:42) – teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer.
The church felt it was important to continue to teach about Jesus and his teaching as well as teach about how they leaders were discerning what was the best way to faithfully live as Christians. As I have already mentioned, the church knew that strength came in unity. They needed each other so they regularly met together to support and encourage each other.
And the early church realised that they also needed to maintain their spiritual relationship with God – and so they prioritised practices such as Communion & Prayer
How can we as a church follow that example. Yes, we still need property and budgets … but how do we prioritise teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer. How do we priorities sharing Jesus with those around us.
Howard Schultz was the CEO of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000 and then again from 2008 to 2017. When he returned for the second stint, he noticed that the company had gotten itself off track by … in his words … they were making things too complicated. They had undertaken a massive investment in global growth. Trying were different menu items to see which was most profitable. It all came to a head when Schultz walked into a Starbucks and was stunned when he saw that they were selling stuffed toys. When he asked why, “because the mark up on them is just huge”.
He called all the key people of the company together and asked an important question … what is our core business? Coffee.
Then that is what we need to get back to. We need to get the basics right before we branch into the other stuff.
What is our core business as a church?
Jesus – knowing Jesus and making him known.
What is our key tool to do this? Jesus – and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Pentecost, let’s not just embrace the story of Pentecost, or get excited by the success of the early church … let’s learn from their example – let’s make sure we are doing the basic things right – let’s be accessing the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s see if we too can be an impacting as the early church was in our local area … and who knows … maybe our numbers might increase by 3000 by next week? Amen!