(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the twelfth post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
The Jerusalem Church was Devoted to God
The first great key of Jerusalem’s success was why they were even gathering together as a church to begin with. They were gathering because they were devoted to God. What they did was about God, not about themselves.
They didn’t gather for entertainment. They didn’t gather for social recreation. They didn’t become a part of the church for social status. If they did, they wouldn’t last long. Pretty quickly, the church was going to lose its social standing. Persecution would begin and being a Christian would no longer be popular or cause increased favor with the people. These Christians didn’t stay with the church because of its felt-needs based ministries. They didn’t stick around because of what it provided for their kids. These folks were part of this church because they were devoted to God.
On the day of Pentecost, they had been convicted that they crucified the Messiah. In that moment, they were left hopeless, helpless, and despairing. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” That wasn’t simply a logical question asking, “What must I do to be saved?” That was a despairing cry. “What on earth can we do? We’re doomed.” But surprisingly, Peter had an answer. “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.”
Can you imagine the shock among the Jews who understood what Peter meant. They could actually receive the gifts promised by the Holy Spirit through their father Abraham. They hadn’t destroyed their hope of salvation through the Messiah after all. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah intended to bring. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah really was. But they hadn’t lost all hope. God had provided a way.
No doubt, their devotion to God was born in the midst of this realization. If God had done this for them, despite their having nailed God’s Messiah to a cross and asked for his blood to be on their heads, to whom else would they want to offer loyalty and devotion?
Their Devotion Demonstrated
The devotion of these Jerusalem Christians was demonstrated in four ways.
#1 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to the doctrine of God; they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching.
It may be hard for us to imagine. Over the past 50 years, since the advent of television, we have become so entertainment oriented and emotionally driven. These Christians did not gather around the apostles because of their wonderful speaking style. They didn’t congregate to hear the apostles because of their comedic timing or their oratorical presence. They gathered to hear the doctrine the apostles would teach. They gathered to hear what God wanted them to do as expressed by the mouthpieces of Jesus Christ.
As the apostles once told Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Luke 6:68), these disciples knew the apostles were speaking words of life on the Lord’s authority. Where else would they go?
No doubt there is a place for entertainment. Even Jesus used entertainment as an illustration (Luke 7:32). But if we really want to have the success of the Jerusalem church, we have to be devoted to God’s will and God’s word. We need to devote ourselves to hearing it. We need to devote ourselves to accomplishing it. Why? Because God’s way works.
We need to be a thinking, reasoning people, who consider the teaching of the Lord. We need to be people who weigh the words of those who would speak on God’s behalf. We must not follow the path of our culture becoming mere passive receptacles of other men’s ideas that have been foisted upon us with emotionalism and oratorical skill.
Granted, in our entertainment based society, we may be able to produce churches with 10,000 members through our ability to entertain them. However, if we want to create disciples devoted to God, we have to focus them on the apostle’s doctrine. Otherwise, the church may look like Jerusalem on the roll book, but the members won’t look like Jerusalem Christians in their hearts.
#2 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s people; they were devoted to fellowship.
The Jerusalem Christians came from their own backgrounds. This was spiritually the opposite of the Tower of Babel. In that day, a people with a common goal were divided because of varying languages. On Pentecost, people divided by their languages were brought together by a common goal. This means the individuals had their own lives, their own livelihoods, their own plans and purposes. However, on Pentecost all of that was superseded by their desire to have forgiveness in Christ. Suddenly that meant a change in their community.
Now, instead of being Parthian Jews, Median Jews, Elamite Jews, Mespotamian Jews, and so on, they were disciples of Jesus Christ. They had a new community. They had a new sense of belonging. They got their identity from a new group. This was going to engender new traditions, new ways of thinking, new values, and especially new friends (or perhaps I should say new family).
Please do not be misled by the modern idea of fellowship. When we hear fellowship we immediately jump to potluck suppers and pick-up games of basketball. The Jerusalem church didn’t build a hall for recreation and call it fellowship. No, we see their fellowship in Acts 2:44-45. They were one now and they cared for each other as one. They were a community and they had all things in common. Some Christians even went so far as to sell their own land to care for Christians in need. Why not? They were family. Though, no doubt these sellers were local and the needy were likely from faraway lands, separated from their livelihood, they saw each other as “one of us.”
Further, we some sense of fellowship accomplished together as a congregation. They met in the temple daily with one another, praising God. That is, they jointly participated as a congregation in the work and worship of the Lord. But we also see some sense of fellowship that was not accomplished together as a congregation but pursued outside the congregational setting because they were members of the same community. They met in each other’s homes, eating together and continuing their praise of God together.
If we want to have the Jerusalem success, we have to learn this devotion to God’s people.
#3 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s mercy; they were devoted to the breaking of bread.
This is not saying the Jerusalem Christians were devoted to eating. This is not reference to what was going from house to house, taking their meals. No, this was the first reference to “the bread that we break” (I Corinthians 10:16). This refers to the Lord’s Supper. The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to this memorial.
Of course they would be. What better object of devotion than the greatest reminder of God’s love and mercy. These folks had become disciples, but they hadn’t become perfect. They were growing, but they still made mistakes and sinned. They needed a continual reminder of God’s mercy and love for them. They found that in the breaking of bread, the communion.
Each week (yes, I do believe they practiced this weekly), the Christians were reminded of their Savior. What special significance must this memorial have had for these Jewish disciples who had cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). They had meant one thing, but their request was being fulfilled in a completely different sense. They had meant it in violence and reproach, but for these, God was fulfilling it in reconciliation and glory. What special significance must this memorial have had for those few who had actually witnessed the sacrifice. They had seen the body given for them, the blood of the new covenant shed for their forgiveness.
When they partook they remembered what brought them together. It was not their ancestry. It was not their works. It was not their nationality. It was their Savior. They were sinners who needed God’s mercy, so they gathered together devoted to the God who offered it to them.
The Lord’s Supper must never simply be an “act of worship” to check off the list. It is not a sporadic celebration on annual “holy days.” It is a continual memorial. We must be devoted to it. If we let that memorial slip into the background of what we do as a church, we will lose sight of the very thing that makes us a church. We will lose sight of the very reason we are gathered together. We will lose sight of the very need that keeps us turning to Christ. If we will have the success of the Jerusalem church we must be devoted to God’s mercy, we must be devoted to the breaking of bread.
#4 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s power; they were devoted to prayer.
The Jerusalem Christians understood where real strength was. They understood where the power of forgiveness and victory resided. It resided in God. They were devoted to having God work in them and through them. Therefore, they were devoted to prayer.
Let me ask you, when you hear “devoted to prayer,” does that sound like they got together and did several different things but they always had an opening and a closing prayer? No doubt prayer was a center piece of all that they did. The 120, who had been waiting on the coming of the Holy Spirit, had laid the ground work for this. According to Acts 1:14, they were devoting themselves to prayer with one accord. What does that sound like to you? Does it sound like minutes in prayer or hours? Does it sound like prayer was something they did on occasion in their meetings or does it sound like they had entire meetings just for it.
Sadly, few churches today either understand or truly believe in the power of God and the importance of prayer. Most churches spend more time making announcements than they do praying together. But not Jerusalem. They were devoted to prayer. Their leaders were devoted to prayer. In Acts 6, the apostles refused to take charge of the widow’s care because it would hinder their praying. Wow! How would that go over today?
According to Ephesians 3:20-21, God will do far more abundantly than all we ask or think by His power working in us. But do we realize what that means? It means we need to ask and think big. Prayer must be one of our main devotions if we wish to have the success of the Jerusalem church. Through it we understand that our success is not dependent upon us but upon the strength of God.
The Jerusalem church was strong and successful. But that isn’t indicated by their numbers or their programs. That was indicated by their devotion. They were no whitewashed tombs. They were devoted to God, devoted to His will, His people, His mercy, and His power. If we will have their success we must learn to mirror their devotion.