Early Church Community

Hello dear friend!

We have made it through the first week in our reading. How are you feeling? What stood out to you in these early chapters?

One amazing aspect of these first chapters is seeing Peter grow into his plan and purpose.

We treat Peter so one dimensionally: doubting Peter, impetuous Peter, the “rock” Peter. But it is so much better to let it all be Peter. The one Jesus sent to fish to pay for the temple tax. The one who got out of the boat. The one to strike the high priest’s servant with a sword when they came to arrest Jesus. The “not just my feet but my head and hands as well.” The one who denied and was redeemed. The one who, before all of that, Jesus told would be the one to grow His church.

Peter Grows into His Mission

We see Peter move into this as he receives the Holy Spirit (along with the those present on the day of Pentecost) and starts to live and move out of that indwelling, starting with his impassioned sermon in chapter 2!

He heals the lame man at the temple gate. Those around were utterly astonished and gathered round. Peter points them back to Christ.

“Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? … by faith in (God’s) name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”

We repeatedly see Peter pointing back to God. We are told Peter and John are “filled with the Holy Spirit” at key moments when they need to speak with boldness and truth. They are able to stand before the highest religious men of their day and boldly profess how Jesus fulfilled all that had been written – signs these “spiritual leaders” missed. These men have no recourse or response but to threaten Peter and John into not speaking about Jesus anymore.

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

Peter and John were part of an early church that, against all persecution and threats, at the cost of reputation, livelihood, and even life, believed that Jesus was who He said and together tried to become the Church.

The Early Church

And they (the believers) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Were they perfect? No. Ananias and Sapphira prove that. We have to be careful not to romanticize the first century church and miss what it took for them to follow God.

In the midst of this incredible coming together and sharing all they had, having meals together and being a community, we see intense persecution from the high priests. We cannot forget that the first century church was not only counter-cultural but also subversive to the society it was in. The entire Bible is a record of a people misplaced from their true home. It is instructions and encouragement in how to exist in a place you do not belong.

Much of the Old Testament is about a wandering, exiled, displaced people. The New Testament is about people serving the one true God in a culture that told them Caesar was god. To be a Christian was to risk death. It was to say that Caesar was man, all the gods of Greece are dust! It was to not only stand against the empire and governing authorities, but to look at the religious powerhouse of the day – the Jewish councils – and say, “you are not longer what you thought because Jesus came and fulfilled all you have waited for.”

Both ran the high risk of torture and death. Keep note of what kinds of persecution is mentioned or carried out in Acts – false imprisonment, beatings, stonings! This was not an easy or welcoming time to be part of The Way.

But notice the response of Gamaliel in chapter 5:

…I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” 

We cannot even begin to understand the cost it took for these brave women and men to proclaim and stand for Jesus. In many ways the church today has become the empire. We are not persecuted. Not by a long shot.

Who Are You With?

Two final notes I want to make:

One: women were always a part of things too! In regards to the life and ministry of Jesus and the first century Church, they did not play second fiddle. They were equal, engaged, and vital to the Church surviving. Acts 1:11 shows that the women were in the room with the disciples as they prayed in the upper room after Jesus ascended into heaven. They were present at the moment of Pentecost and received the spirit in equal measure. Jesus and Paul both make special mention of women vital to their life and work. Second:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

If someone looked at you, watched you from a far, listened to how you speak and treat others – who would they associate you with?

The religious leaders of the day looked at Peter and John and knew they had been with Jesus. Maybe they remembered the men from one of their many run-ins with Jesus at the temples. But I think there was something about their presence, their stature, countenance, attitude that reminded these men of Jesus. Peter and John were a reflection of the One the loved and served.

Who are you with?

Next week we are reading Acts 6 – 10. I would love to hear what you are getting out of these chapters. Feel free to comment below or join the conversation on my Facebook page.

Prayer:

Lord, be with me as I continue to make time for Your Word. Be in these passages. Help me to understand the reality of life for the first century church and to better understand how I can be more bold professing Your name. Lord, I thank you for the chance to read these words and get to understand our story more.

Journal:

What is your reaction to the stoning of Stephen? How would you feel about Saul/Paul before and after his conversion? Who in your own life do you need to extend some understanding to, who you might be punishing for a previous mistake or decision?

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