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Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:43-45)
There have been times in my life when I knew, without any doubt, that I was in the middle of doing God’s will; times I have been ‘filled with awe’.
MISSION AND SERVICE
Engage completely in a mission trip or campaign. Those are awesome times; prayerful times; hushed times of awe and worship because we are confident that if God were to come at this time, in this place He would declare: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
There have been times in worship when I have felt as though I could feel the breath of heaven sweep through my soul. Times when I have wept with emotion, wanted to jump and shout and spin around, experiencing a whiff of heaven in my worship. Times when I can imagine God inhaling deeply at the aroma of worship and praise from His children.
When I have helped the poor and found joy in serving. Or when I’ve been privileged to stand vigil with families as they observe the final breaths of a loved one. Holy moments. Priceless seconds.
When I see an emerging faith in a new Christian or even in a seasoned believer who has begun to discover the life found in God’s word, the true meaning of a passage or a new insight into the truths of Scripture. Seeing someone else giving themselves totally to the work at hand to accomplish a godly task.
Those are holy moments that will sweep past you if you are not watching, waiting, anticipating, hoping to see God’s affirmation gently whispered: “It will be like all the time in heaven!” Awed by a sunrise or sunset, the distant stars in a clear night’s sky; the birth of a child; the trillions of leaves changing color in a northern Michigan October day. God has left plenty of evidence of His fingerprints that, in times of surprise or in those quiet moments declare: “I AM!”
Earlier in Acts 2 Peter had talked about Jesus, the Messiah, who came doing “signs and wonders” in verse 22 that attested to His divinity. Now here in verse 43 we find the apostles carrying on the signs and wonders of Jesus in the city of Jerusalem.
Imagine walking down a crowded street when suddenly you hear a crowd of people, gathered around the town cripple who is now jumping up and down, shouting glory to God as others stand around amazed while an apostle begins to speak about Jesus. Further down the street you see one of the apostles reach out to touch a blind man who can suddenly see for the very first time in his life! Further on you see a man crawling off of a funeral processional, his mother removing the cloth from his face while others unwrap his limbs from the funeral cloth as others fall to the ground in worship.
No doubt! God is in our midst! He’s here among us! We no longer doubt; now we know that Jesus is the Christ!
Imagine the sense of anticipation and wonder as you wonder what great evident might occur right around the corner. You are curious about every little gathering or as you see a group enter someone’s home. The signs and wonders were intended to get people’s attention so they could hear the message and, it is working! Confident in the presence of God a new optimism and hope begins to emerge as “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” In fact, Luke tells us: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
All the believers – not a few, a handful or a group of them. Luke tells us “All the believers.” They were together – literally ‘in one place’ – not 3,000 plus in one specific location but together as a reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit, moving among God’s people to assure them of Jesus’ presence.
All the believers…had everything in common. This is not a forced socialism or communism…though some have considered this possibility. This is a free-will realization that what I have is truly not my own. It all is God’s. Some have wondered if this isn’t commanding wholesale surrender of worldly goods…yet we find people meeting in each other’s homes. What does it mean to have everything in common? They sold property and possessions – Why? To give to anyone who had need.
In Acts 4:32-37 Luke brings a little more detail to his chapter 2 description:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
A danger of passages like this is that we may tend to think that the awesome excitement of the first century church is no longer possible because the workings of the Spirit are different today. The anticipation of a dramatic healing around the corner does not characterize our common experience today so we can’t know the excitement.
I would suggest that one way the Spirit works in our churches today is when believers come together to devote themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. We go forth to take the gospel to our communities by caring for the poor and letting go of the trappings of materialism. As we start sharing how the Lord is working in our lives we come together to share our experiences, to pray, explore God’s word to answer questions that arise from our experiences and we remember why we hurt for the lost while celebrating our joy in Christ as we gather beneath the cross to break bread and share a meal
Here is my point of wrestling.
If we are wondering why we do not feel the same first-century abandonment filled with joy and excitement, self-sacrifice and freedom from materialism it may be because we have concluded that since the Holy Spirit does not function as it once did that the same joy cannot recur in our generation. As a result we have settled for a spirit-deprived, duty-bound faithfulness to the form of Christianity without acknowledging the Spirit-led, Christ-centered freedom that places greater emphasis upon the celebratory function of the cross in the lives of people.
We know from Acts 2:46 that the believers met daily in the temple courts and that the apostles continued to go to the temple at the appointed hours to pray (Peter and John in Acts 3:1, 2, 8; Paul in Acts 21:26-30; 22:17). We also know that they were praying as they awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14; 4:24, 41).
Just in the book of Acts alone the word ‘pray’ appears more often than in any other New Testament document and matches the number of times it is used in the Old Testament book of Psalms at 34 times.
Leading 3,000 people early in their Christian walk must have seemed overwhelming to the apostles! Much as Paul described to the church in Ephesus I suspect it began with…
Prayer has always been a characteristic of those who were seeking the heart of God, who were striving to do His will and who truly hungered and thirsted for His righteousness. With 3,000 new converts I am confident that the disciples spent a great deal of time in prayer. In fact, ‘the twelve’ describe their mission as apostles: “[We] will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Attending to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to the prayers of Acts 2:42 was important to the early church. I believe that neglecting any aspect of these four areas weakens the ability of the church to function. Striving to grow in each of these areas requires vigilance, persistence and prayer with the result that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
We hear people minimizing the church more and more today, perhaps, in part, because the Lord’s people have neglected aspects of these four characteristics of the early church. Stop growing in Bible study, ignore brothers and sisters bought by the blood of Christ, turn the breaking of bread into a lifeless ritual and stop making prayer a priority and you can almost hear the sound as Christ removes yet another lamp stand because, like the church in Ephesus who lost their first love (Revelation 2:4-5) the distractions of life draw our attention and focus away from the more important matters of life in Christ.
There are those among us who are realizing we can only go so long without appealing to God in prayer for ourselves, our families, our friends and co-workers, our communities and beyond. A recent example is the upcoming release of the movie War Room that capitalizes on God’s answers to the persistent prayers of His people. Here is the trailer for the movie that opens on August 28:
At least two valuable resources for learning to pray as Jesus instructed when He said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).
Voice of the Martyrs tracks Christian persecution in the world to help focus prayer and aid.
Operation World Prayer Movement which focuses upon the peoples of countries of the world for prayer.
Let us pray!