Chapter 15 Pentecost

I knew the Holy Spirit was going to do something spectacular as he launched our church in the world. He was the one who originally brought life into a formless world (Genesis 1:2). For hundreds of years he kept giving wisdom to the wise and new vision to the prophets (Acts 3:21, Romans 1:2, Hebrews 1:1). He not only conceived me in the womb of Mary (Luke 1:35), but continually gave me the wisdom and power I needed for my mission on earth. And I have just told you how he gave me my resurrection body (Romans 8:11).

On the Day of Pentecost who could have expected a strange reversal of what I had done at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) . That tower was meant to be the sky scraping headquarters of world government. But I wasn't about to let them take control and make everyone's life a misery. All I had to do was to let them divide themselves into different language groups. But now the Spirit had symbolically chosen the Day of Pentecost to enable people of many nations to understand the prophetic message each in their own language. (Acts 2:8-11).

He also used a startling manifestation to indicate the change from the Jerusalem temple of stones to a temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). I remember reading as a boy about the fire that the Spirit sent to symbolize his presence both in the wilderness tabernacle and for the temple of Solomon. Now there was a flame of fire flickering on the head of each of the 120 disciples who had gathered (Acts 1:15). Like Moses' bush that burned with fire, they pointed to the Spirit's presence, and they were not consumed (Exodus 3:2). Moses had been chosen to lead the old Exodus, but now my disciples were to lead a new Exodus of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 11) in every country of the world.

Then came the signature tune, the rushing mighty wind. I loved all the meaning which was part of the Hebrew word ruakh. It meant both wind and Wind of God. It was the wind that lifted the eagles to soar up Mount Lebanon. Wind moved fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee and the large sailing vessels on the Mediterranean. But there was also wind breathing in our lungs, and wind burning for a fire to cook on. The Spirit wanted Jerusalem to know that he was going to move and inspire my disciples to do exploits (Daniel 11:32) and burn with zeal for our church.

In planning my church (Matthew 16:18) we had agreed that I would be the Head (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 1:18, 2:19). And I wanted to be in personal contact with each member. But it would be the Spirit who would plan and empower the work of every individual member. And our church would eventually have a local expression in every city and town of the world.

We knew that we would face the problem of people thinking they could organize the work much better than the way the Spirit intended to do things. But short of making them all into robots that was a risk we had to take.

In addition to the twelve apostles who were the accredited witnesses of my resurrection (Acts 1:22) the Spirit planned to use hundreds of other church planting apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11). These would be sent to begin the work in each place, and then move around to keep the churches on track for their spiritual work.

As the new churches formed every member would have one or more functions to perform (1 Corinthians 12:7,11). There again there was the risk that people would want to make lists of members for voting and money raising purposes and forget that they were to be living members of an organic body (1 Corinthians 12:12). And in each local church body some of the most unnoticed members would be the most important (1 Corinthians 12:22-25).

That kind of congregational life can easily fly apart in all directions. So we would need teachers and pastors who could "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). The Holy Spirit would of course never move people to go against the principles I had taught again and again on the mountain in Galilee. But he would certainly initiate new methods and solve problems for each social situation in unexpected ways.

It was exciting to see how the new church in Jerusalem grew together so quickly. Peter, so recently recovered from his denial, was able to interpret by the Spirit (Acts 2:14) what was happening. Then imagine three thousand new disciples being added by baptism in one day (Acts 2:41). Even if one apostle managed to baptize and give basic instruction to one person every five minutes, and did that continuously for eight hours, he would have baptized less than a hundred persons that day. So you can see how many others had to work together to get the job done. I counted that Mary Magdalene alone baptized 120 women. But hundreds of others had to be involved drawing water, welcoming, shepherding, seating, explaining, teaching, and praying for all that crowd. The Spirit certainly had them all working together very impressively as my body began to take shape.

By the next day there were some who had dropped off as I pictured in my parable of the Sower. But a large number appeared in the temple courts for teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42). The new love among them was amazing. Converted Pharisees hugged street people. And when the leaders wondered what to do next, the Spirit reminded them they should eat bread and drink wine together (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). In no time pita bread and two skins of wine appeared, and they said it was like the Messianic banquet of heaven. Then you should have heard their prayers for their friends and enemies and people from all over (Acts 2:42).

Very soon some of the richer members began helping those who were unemployed. One said he had more property than he could manage and settled some homeless families to live there (Acts 2:44-45). Feeding the growing numbers proved to be too much, so the Spirit guided some with bigger homes in different parts of the city to welcome people for teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:46).

At first the people of Jerusalem thought this was wonderful (Acts 2:47). Then a well known temple beggar aged forty, who had been lame from birth was healed (Acts 3:1-10, 42). That was the first major healing miracle in the new church. Peter was able to explain to the crowd right there in Solomon's portico (Acts 3:11) that my resurrection had happened (Acts 3:15), the new order now beginning (Acts 3:19-21), and soon there would be the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham that in him all nations of the earth would be blessed (Acts 3:25).

That was the last straw for the temple authorities and other Sadducee religious leaders who had refused to become disciple. So they got Peter and John arrested (Acts 4:1-4). Meanwhile another five thousand people in Jerusalem were added to our church there (Acts 4:4).

I wondered how these fishermen from Galilee would manage when they were questioned the next day before the whole council (Acts 3:5). I was proud of Peter when he remembered to let the Spirit fill him (Acts 4:8) and give him the right prophetic words (Matthew 10:17-20). All the eminent men of the Sanhedrin were able to do was to threaten and order them not to speak or teach in my name (Act 4:13-18). But you can imagine what my disciples did with that (Acts 4:19-22).

When they were released, I wish you could have seen the service of praise and thanksgiving (Acts 4:23-28). They didn't ask for protection but for boldness (Acts 4:29-30), and the Spirit was so excited that the building began to shake as they were filled with his power and courage (Acts 4:31).

Soon after the Spirit was faced with a serious problem. There was a man named Joseph from the tribe of Levi, who had come from Cyprus and become a wealthy merchant. After his baptism he had been given the name Barnabas (son of encouragement) because he was such a kind loving encouraging person. He sold a field needed by developers, and brought the whole sale price in silver bars to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). Seeing the praise he received, and the big influence he had in the church, a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. But they kept a large part for themselves, and pretended that what they gave to the church was the total value of what they received (Acts 5:1-2). Nobody was required to give, and they could have kept as much as they wanted and given the amount they chose to give. What the Spirit could not tolerate was pretending they had been generous, and lying to the whole community with the intent of buying influence among them (Colossians 3:9-10). When the Spirit revealed this to Peter, he asked "How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!" Ananias was so shocked at having been found out, that he had a heart attack and died instantly (Acts 5:1-5).

Three hours later his wife Sapphira came into the church gathering, not knowing her husband had died and was already buried. Peter asked her whether the property had been sold for the amount her husband had given, and she said "Yes, that was the price." Peter said "How is it that you have agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?" And she also fell down dead. You can imagine the impression that made on the church in Jerusalem (Acts 5:7-11). Telling lies was one thing, but lying to the Holy Spirit of God could have very severe consequences. Later as new churches were formed the story was told again and again. People realized that the Spirit was always willing to help and encourage but not to be trifled with..

As the numbers gathering in Solomon's Portico kept growing, and more and more sick people were healed (Acts 5:12-16), the high priest and his Sadducee supporters clapped my twelve apostles in prison. I decided to send an angel to open the prison doors, and he told them to go on preaching the next morning (Acts 5:17-25). Again they were arrested, and this time Gamaliel, one of the leading rabbis in the city managed to save them from being killed. His argument was unanswerable. "I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" (Acts 5:33-39).

The judges were convinced by his argument but I was very upset when they still had them flogged before telling them to leave and never mention my name again. Don't imagine it is easy watching your devoted friends being treated so badly. But not one of them backed away, and they kept right on teaching and proclaiming that I am the Messiah (Acts 5:40-42).

Of course as a church keeps growing in that way there has to be division to handle the numbers. There can be bad acrimonious unloving division. But a good division occurs in response to a need. The church in Jerusalem began as a mix of Hebrew speaking members and those whose first language was Greek (Acts 6:1). The Greek speaking disciples felt that their widows were not well cared by the Hebrew speaking elders. So far the twelve apostles had tried to supervise such matters, but they rightly felt that their task was to be involved in prayer and proclaiming the message of my Kingdom far and wide (Acts 6:4).

The Spirit gave them the wisdom to see an effective solution. They ordained seven Greek-speaking elders to shepherd and take care of the needs my Hellenistic disciples (6:2-6). There were already a number of synagogues in the city (Acts 6:9). And these tended to form to meet the needs of a particular language or social group. As I will describe in the work of my servant Paul, the appointing of elders for new congregations was a very simple and flexible method of taking care of church growth.

A by-product of this form of organization was that it offered a huge amount of freedom to worship and learn and grow for people from a rich variety of cultural and language needs. As a result the number of disciples continued to multiply in Jerusalem. And suddenly a large number of the Sadducee priestly class, who had at first opposed us so bitterly, now found they could find a spiritual home in one or another of the new groupings (Acts 6:7). Of course a Sadducee who believes in my resurrection is no longer a Sadducee. And Pharisees who believe the Spirit has freed them from legalism are no longer Pharisees. That is why my disciples soon found themselves called Messiah people (Christians as in Acts 11:26).

Chapter 16 .....