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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Very Beginnings of the Church

The Very Beginnings of the Church

When we speak about the Church, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind may be a congregation of members who come together on Sunday mornings for Sunday school and worship service in a church building. But of course a church building isn’t the definition of the Church. And a local congregation is only a very small part of the universal Church. All of the believers in Jesus around the world who are alive today or who have ever lived during the last 2000 years make up the mystical Body of Christ, - the Church. And the Holy Spirit has put them all together in one Body. (The Body of Christ).

It is believed that Pentecost was the birthday of the Church. At that time there were only about one hundred and twenty people who believed that Jesus was Lord and that He died for their sins. It had just been nine or ten days since Jesus had gone back to heaven and had instructed His followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. So when the Holy Spirit fell upon these believers, the Church – the Body of Christ- was born!

God was doing a new thing. These very first Christians had been brought together as one body by the power of the Holy Spirit and they were all on fire for God. The men and women who loved the Lord in Old Testament times lived out their lives under the law while waiting for God’s future promise of salvation. But now that promise of salvation (Jesus the Savior) had come and the waiting was over. The Age of Law had given way to the Age of Grace. Jesus had suffered and died to redeem His Church. So the Church (the believers) was born through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Acts 2-4 tells the story of how those very first Christians lived and what the Church (the group of believers) was like in those first few months. To start with, immediately after the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, a large group of people in Jerusalem crowded around to see what was happening to this noisy group.

Peter took this opportunity to preach to the crowds and about three thousand people believed in Jesus that very day. “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’….Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:38 and 41) So it seems that the Holy Spirit gave Peter great power in his preaching. And the Holy Spirit also convicted three thousand people to accept Christ as Savior and be baptized; they were added to the number of Christians in the new Church. In those early days the Holy Spirit was operating in His people (the Church) in a very powerful way!

That first group of Christians in Jerusalem didn’t build a big church building but instead they met in the temple court (that first group was mostly Jewish) and ate together in each other’s homes and shared everything in common. Peter and John and some of the other men who had been Jesus’ disciples became part of that very first Church. These early Jewish Christians studied Jesus’ disciples’ teachings and prayed and ate together constantly. Let’s try to get a picture of that very first group of Christians. “They devoted themselves to the disciples’ teachings and to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the disciples. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Everyday 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.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Peter and John were members of this very first church. One day on their way to the temple they stopped to talk to a lame beggar sitting at the temple gate. The beggar was asking for money. Peter told him that he didn’t have money with him but he would give him what he had –he would heal his lameness in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:6-9) So Peter commanded him to walk in Jesus’ name and immediately the lame beggar jumped up and began to walk and leap around and praise God.

All of this excitement caused quite a stir as many people crowded around in amazement. This crowd had always remembered this man sitting with withered legs by the temple gate begging, but now he was running and jumping about. So Peter had another chance to preach to the crowds and tell them about Jesus the Savior.

Just as Jesus had healed a lame man and had gotten in trouble with the religious leaders, now Peter and John also would get in trouble with the same religious leaders for healing this lame man in Jesus’ name. The high priest and the Pharisees threw Peter and John in prison, later releasing them with orders to never preach about Jesus again. These powerful rulers also threatened to imprison or kill any Christian in Jerusalem who might disobey their orders and preach about Jesus.

Peter and John went back to the Church and reported all that had happened. Peter told his fellow Christians of how they had been ordered never to preach about Jesus again. They all knew that these authorities could throw them into prison and possibly have them put to death if they disobeyed. It hadn’t taken long for the new Church to be persecuted for their faith! Would these new believers obey the religious authorities or would they risk prison or death and keep telling others about Jesus? What would we do in similar circumstances?

Let’s see what Scripture says they did. “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God,… Now, Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:24, 29-31)

I don’t know about you, but I am really impressed with that first church and the way that they reacted when they were threatened by prison and death. Instead of being intimidated and playing it safe, these early believers prayed for boldness to speak all the more about Jesus. And they prayed for more healings and miracles to be done through them in His name. God must have been pleased because after they prayed, the meeting was shaken and the Holy Spirit filled them with even more power and boldness.

That very first Church is a great model for us to follow. Those early Christians were joyful and enthusiastic about their Savior, Jesus and about what the Holy Spirit had done by putting them together as the Church. And they loved each other and shared everything with one another. They didn’t even let threats of prison or death scare them but prayed for the boldness to speak out even more for Jesus.

We also have been placed into Christ’s Body, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be enthusiastic and let’s pray for more boldness to speak out for Jesus. Let’s love and share with each other the way they did. And let’s pray that our Church today can be as fearless and loving and filled with the Holy Spirit as that very first Church was.

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