"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42, ESV).
Acts 2:42 mentions four things to which members of the early church devoted themselves: the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. The word devote is a strong word. A person is devoted to the things to which he gives most or all of his time, resources, energy, and attention.
In certain instances, the word devote can mean "to be set apart," much like we use the word consecrate or dedicate. For example, a place can be devoted (set apart, consecrated, dedicated) to the worship of God, meaning that that place exists for the sole purpose of worshiping God. It has no other use.
With that in mind, then, to say that members of the early church devoted themselves to the word, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers is quite a statement. And one of the things for which the church from the very beginning set itself apart was fellowship. It's not a word we use all that much outside the context of the Bible or church.
For me growing up, fellowship was a potluck meal we had after the Sunday evening service every so often. Somehow Merriam and Webster still haven't gotten around to including that definition. The ones they do provide, however, include "companionship," "company," "the state of being a fellow or associate," and "a company of equals or friends." When you're sitting in someone's living room or around the dining room table with a group of friends and you are considered part of the group—you're "in"—that's fellowship.
At the face of it, that sounds like a rather strange thing to devote oneself to. Oh sure, you'd expect "devotion to the apostles' teaching" to make the list. But to say that the early church spent large amounts of time, energy, and resources into bringing people together and creating an atmosphere in which they all felt like equal members of the family? It's stunning and beautiful all at the same time. It's a reflection of the heart of God that manifests itself in his children. Of course his children would devote themselves to such a thing when he has devoted himself to making a place at the table for people like you and me.
If there was ever a time when people the world over needed the blessing of being brought in, included, and given a chair at the table in equal standing with everyone else gathered, it's now, and in light of who our Father is, we believers of all people should feel most devoted to it. As we grow in our devotion to the word, the breaking of bread, and prayer, may we also grow in our devotion to fellowship.
Longing for you to find your place at the table,
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The early church devoted itself to these four things:
3 outcomes of their devotion:
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion:
"They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4, NIV).
Clouds and fire are both symbols of God's presence in the Old Testament. Exodus 13:21 says, "And the LORD went before them [the Israelites they were leaving Egypt] by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night" (ESV). Notice that it was God himself there in the cloud and in the fire. When the tabernacle was finally completed according to God's specifications, "the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34). God's glory filled the tabernacle because God's presence had come down to dwell among his people. A similar description is given in 1 Kings 8:10-11 when the first temple was built under the direction of Solomon: "a cloud filled the house of the Lord" and "the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord."
God had desired to live among his people since sin separated them from him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), and with the construction of the tabernacle and then the permanent temple, we see him take a step closer. Yet notice two very interesting details about the account of God's filling the tabernacle in Exodus 40 and then God's filling the temple in 1 Kings 8. In Exodus 40:35 we read, "And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it." Precisely because God's presence had descended to earth over the tabernacle, Moses wasn't able to go inside. In 1 Kings 8:10-11 it says, "And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord."
What happens when God comes near to his people? God's people must take a step back lest they be consumed.
The prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of something truly tragic happening in Ezekiel 10: "Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house [the temple]." The living God who dwelled among his people left as surely as he had come. And for hundreds of years, God no longer dwells presentially on earth with his people.
The kingdoms represented by Daniel's visions arose and fell. The Romans finally claimed their seat on top. And in a backwater town called Bethlehem, the eternal Word of God became flesh and once more tabernacled among us. God's presence was back, but not in the form of a cloud or a pilar of fire. This time he had come in the flesh, so unmistakably so that John is able to say, "and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). What the Israelites saw in the tabernacle and then in the temple, namely, God's glory, John got to see in the person of Jesus Christ.
But then, to our dismay, Jesus in bodily form ascended again into heaven after his crucifixion and resurrection. I would remain very sad about that fact had Jesus not given us this promise in John 16:6: "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."
And then, and only then, came Pentecost, and something beyond the imagination of any human being actually happened. God once more came near. This time, however, he didn't come in a cloud or in fire. He didn't come bodily. His presence once more began to dwell among his people in the person of his Holy Spirit, as represented by small tongues of fire resting over the heads of those present in the upper room. Note it's the same presence; God himself is with us. Yet notice that there's no building associated with that presence like was true with the tabernacle and temple. Believers in Jesus, like "living stones," Peter says, "are being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5). We are the place where God's presence dwells on the earth, and that is no less miraculous than God's presence filling the tabernacle or the temple.
When God's presence descended over the tabernacle and temple, people were forced to take a step back. When God's presence descended over his people on Pentecost, not only were they given full access to that presence (remember the veil of the temple had been ripped from top to bottom [Matthew 27:51]), they were the very places in which God's presence dwelled. And it was Jesus's act in which "upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace" (Isaiah 53:5) that allowed God's people to finally be able to dwell once more with God in peace.
As dramatic as the descent of a cloud over the temple might be or as exciting as the resting of small flames of fire on the heads of believers gathered in the upper room might sound, we must not miss the reality for the sign. A cloud or fire are not God's presence. They are visible representations or signs of that presence. I would love to see God's glory appear to me in a cloud or in fire, yet if I get the reality without the sign, have I any right to feel shortchanged?
Paul told the Ephesians, "[Y]ou also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13), and to the Romans he said, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).
If you, along with the Ephesians, have heard the word of truth and believed in him, the same presence of God that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the form of a cloud by day and fiery pilar by night, the same presence of God that descended on the tabernacle and temple in a glorious cloud, the same presence of God that Ezekiel saw leave the temple, the same presence of God that walked down dusty Galilean roads and ate roasted fish with his disciples, and the same presence of God that filled those first believers when fire came to rest on each one of them is none other than the very same presence of God that is with us today in the person of his indwelling Spirit.
Feel the weight of that. The God in the cloud over the tabernacle in Exodus is the God who fills you with his presence right now. And that's better than merely seeing him descend over a building. It's like the difference between only being able to see God through binoculars from far away and being able to invite him right into the living room of your soul for coffee. God's presence, once a death sentence to mankind, has come to stay, and if you've believed in Jesus, you're a stone in his house.
May the truth that God is so incredibly near to you overwhelm you with hope this week.
Rejoicing with you for the hope that is ours because God is still with us,
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Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-13
Three questions about Pentecost.
1. What is Pentecost?
It's the reversal of the tower of Babel, that city connected with Babylon, representing mankind's rebellion against God. Here God is coming to live on earth in a new way (compare Exodus 40:34 with Acts 2:3). God establishing his dwelling among his people.
2. What does it mean?
Peter explains in Acts 2:14-41. We see the clear communication of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all language to all people, signaling universally available salvation. Jesus, the main character of Pentecost, is the Lord, and God is doing a new thing. He's building his home inside us.
3. What should we do?
Peter tells the crowds to do two things: repent and be baptized. This is how we receive and continue to enjoy the gift of salvation. Repentance is not a single event but an ongoing lifestyle. Baptism, immersion in water, is the sign of washing from sin and freedom from the slavery of sin.
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:
1. When you consider the fact that Pentecost signals the return of God's presence to once again dwell with his people and in his people, how does that impact you?
2. In what ways is God on the day of Pentecost fulfilling his Old Testament promises to carry out his grand plan of redemption?
3. In light of the fact that repentance is not a single event but instead an ongoing lifestyle, how might you need to repent today?
"[Jesus] said to [his disciples]: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7, NIV).
Dear ICB family,
Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1 that it simply wasn't their business to know when God would restore the kingdom to Israel (verses 6-7). Such secret things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). And instead of answering the disciples' question, Jesus gives them a clear directive that, as Pastor Phil reminded us, is for us today, too: "[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
At least for me, this was a stark reminder of the fact that God puts a higher premium on our obedience to his unambiguous commands than he does on our figuring out the great mysterious of the universe, and for a guy who likes to spend considerable time up in the clouds thinking about just such mysteries, such a reminder strikes me as both humbling and as a huge relief. It's humbling because I'm a servant who's been given orders by his Master. Servants obey. It's simply not our job to understand the Master's business dealings or his timetables for running his estate. He'll tend to all that just fine. And he'll do so whether I have the foggiest idea of his plans and methods for carrying out those plans or not.
And it's a huge relief because it takes so much pressure off. God doesn't demand that his servants perfectly grasp the exact nature of the relationships between the members of the Trinity. He does, however, demand that we love him with all our beings and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. He doesn't demand that we fully comprehend how his sovereignty interacts with man's free will, but he does command us to stand as lights and witnesses of his power and his love to those around us. We don't have to have plumbed the deepest depths of the significance of the atonement of Christ on our behalf for us to very simply declare, with tears in our eyes, that Christ died so that we could come home to our heavenly Father. And even if we did understand "all mysteries and all knowledge" but failed to obey his command to love, we would be nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). That means that despite all my unanswered questions, I can start living faithfully to my Master right now, and I can barely think of anything that I want more.
Yes, it's true, the King James translation of 2 Timothy 2:15 reads "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," and yes, loving God with all our beings includes loving God with all our minds, which at least means that we are to exercise every last mental muscle we've been given to know all that we can about the God whom we love. But any knowledge gained, any insight given, or any truth better understood is only worth something to the extent that it aids a person in being a more faithful servant.
For example, we strain with all our mental might to better understand the nature of God as he's revealed himself in the pages of Scripture and ultimately in the person of his Son because the more we know about him the more about him there is for us to love and adore—that is, our knowledge of God aids us in being more obedient to the command to love him. And we labor with detailed precision to better understand Paul's arguments through the book of Romans, for example, so that we can sit down with another person and walk him or her through those same arguments so that his or her faith might be built up—that is, our understanding the Bible better helps us to obey God's command to love and build up other people.
In the end, we will live every last one of our days on this earth straining to see "in a mirror dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV). And remember that the guy who said that about himself and us was also the one who was "caught up to the third heaven" and who "heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter" (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), meaning that our greatest, clearest glimpses of the glory of God this side of eternity are faint reflections in darkened rooms compared to what will one day be revealed to us. Until then, there's no need to fret about our limited, blurry vision. We have enough to be obedient to his clear and direct commands right now; we have the Holy Spirit after all, as this passage also reminds us!
So as we look into this upcoming year and continue to wonder at the vastness of our great God and all those things about him and his plans that ultimately aren't any of our business, may our limited understanding not in any way impede our obedience to his clear and simple commands, specifically, from Acts 1, that we live our entire lives as Jesus's witnesses to the very last ends of the earth.
Asking for grace along with you to continue witnessing even as I wonder,
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5 questions as we begin a new sermon series through the book of Acts:
1. What is the role of the book of Acts in the NT and in the Bible?
The book of Acts introduces us to people whose lives are radically transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who in turn share this good news with others so that their lives are similarly transformed.
2. What is the structure of the story of the book of Acts?
There are three waves of expansion: The church in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), the church in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12), the church to the ends of the earth (Acts 13-28).
3. Who wrote the book of Acts?
Dr. Luke (Colossians 4:14), who wrote the Gospel of Luke
He enters the story himself in Acts 16:11 when he begins saying "we."
4. How does the author begin volume 2 of his story of Jesus?
It's a description of the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
The primary topic of conversation is the Kingdom of God. What is the Kingdom of God? It's a term that is used to describe human life in relationship to their Creator as God intended it to be.
It is a Trinitarian conversation. Jesus the Son is teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, who comes from God the Father.
5. How does Jesus call his followers to respond?
Acts 1:4-5: Wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. God's work in this world cannot be accomplished simply by human effort.
Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (ESV). There are some things that are not for us to know. We stand in faith upon that which has been revealed to us and in wonder at those things that haven't, knowing that God has all things under his control.
Acts 1:8: If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a witness to others of the transforming power and love of Jesus.