The day the church began – strange goings-on! Imagine an Anzac Day gathering – any year: It was early on the morning of Anzac day. A great crowd of people were gathered at the memorial on North Terrace when suddenly a group of 120 diggers started talking all at once. But as people listened they discovered that the diggers were not just speaking English – they were speaking in foreign languages too. The Italians there that morning heard them speaking Italian; the Greeks heard them speaking Greek; the Spaniards heard the Spanish words they spoke. And so it went on – everyone present there that morning heard what was said in their own native tongue. Some of the crowd were amazed and perplexed and said, “what does this mean?” while others said derogatory things like, “They’re as drunk as skunks”, and “they must be blotto already and it’s only early in the morning.”
“Listen to the sermon as you read it below.
It’s only 23 mins long.
How the church began!
In Jerusalem – 50 days after the Passover/Crucifixion:
What I have described above didn’t really happen, of course, at any Anzac Day gathering, it’s just the product of my imagination. But something like it did indeed happen in Jerusalem just seven weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, the day the church began. We read about it in Acts 2:5-13. “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all then men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear the wonders of God in our own tongue!’ Amazed and perplexed they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some however made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’.”
The church is open – a promise of God fulfilled
What had happened to bring on those remarks? God had done something – he had declared from heaven, “Let the church begin!” He had just pronounced His church is open for business. God didn’t announce the beginning of the church with trumpets; He didn’t announce it with a parade; He didn’t announce it with fireworks; He chose to do it by sending His promised Spirit on the appointed latter day.
He announced it to the Jewish people who’d travelled from among many nations and gathered in Jerusalem that holy day, one of the three great appointed feasts in the Jewish year. Each one heard the pronouncement in his own native language, in his own tongue. One of those speaking those strange words that day was the apostle Peter, and standing up as the first speaker, he tells the people (v15-16) that these men are not drunk, it’s only 9 am after all. No, it is that God had just fulfilled the prophecy, or promise, recorded in the Old Testament book of Joel, the central part of which says, “In the latter-day, says the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit on all peoples.”
What happened on the day the church began?
Let me take you on a discovery tour as we seek to see how God fulfilled his promise, as spoken hundreds of years before in the prophecy of Joel. Let’s look at Acts 2:1-4 a bit more closely.
we read that the church began on the day of Pentecost. For you and me that may seem to have little significance, but to the Hebrew people, it was a significant day. The feast of Pentecost had been celebrated since the Israelites came out of Egypt. It was a celebration of the ending of the barley harvest, fifty days after it started. It was reckoned fifty days from the first Sunday after the Passover feast with both days being inclusive. It was the time when every male Israelite was required to appear in the Temple. So, on that day the temple in Jerusalem would have been very crowded. v1 also tells us that “they were all together in one place”. What place? There was really only one place at 9 am on that morning where every good Jewish male should be – in the temple. Some have thought the disciples, the 120 believers, had just hidden away together in the upper room. But given the day it was, we can take it to mean that the believers were, like everyone else, in the Temple courts. They were there for the feast of Pentecost in the Temple as part of a large crowd. That means that when the church began, it was a very public event, the beginning of the church was witnessed by a large crowd of people.
we read, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house.” What would that sound have been like? Have you ever been caught in a storm where the wind roared and shrieked around you? Perhaps like the recent cyclones. Or maybe you have been in your home when a violent storm blew up; or maybe out in the car, or perhaps on a fishing boat. The sound of the wind can be heard a long way off – so when we read that the people in the Temple heard a sound like the blowing of a violent wind we can imagine that it got their attention. But, notice something! They heard the sound but they didn’t feel the wind. And I take it that everyone heard the sound, both the believers and all the other people in the Temple.
This was no secret beginning! This sign announcing the start of the church was for everyone to hear. God was making an unprecedented announcement, and He was doing it in a way that only He could.
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” Again, I take it that all the people who were in the Temple, everyone who could get a look, saw what happened. They all saw what looked like tongues of fire appear out of nowhere, and these tongues of fire separated into little tongues and came to rest on only the heads of those who were believes – the 120 believers mentioned earlier in Acts. By doing this God was making, and proving His deliberate choice. He chose those blessed 120 people out of a vast crowd and His choice was indicated by what happened to them. Tongues of fire rested on them! Can you imagine the gasps from the crowd? Even the gasps from the believers as this supernatural happening took place on the day the church began.
In v4 we read, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Again I take it to mean that all of the believers, 120 of them, began to speak in other tongues. Why do I say that? Because God’s way of announcing the opening of His church was to be through this group of Jewish believers as they spoke about him in a way that every Jew in Jerusalem that day could understand. Truly, God had gotten the attention of the people. He filled the believers with His Spirit, and through them, He was clearly announced ‘let the church begin!’
The church began:
God had certainly poured out His Spirit. The church began. The called out body of believers, the Body of Christ, had come into being. God had breathed life into them as one, just as he did to Adam when He breathed the breath of life into him. There were just 120 founding members of the church: 120 people who had put their trust and faith in Jesus; 120 people who had seen that He was the only means to peace with God; 120 people who had given their lives to following Him. We later read that, after Peter had spoken, another 3000 people were added to their number that very same day. And ever since then God has continually been adding to His church those whom he saves.
Never to be repeated, ever to be established:
Friends, the supernatural display that occurred on the day of Pentecost will never need to be repeated. Just as Christ will never need to die on a cross again, so God will never need to inaugurate the church again. It is done. The Spirit of God has been poured out from on high, and to this day remains with us, leading and building up the one church, as it pursues its long historical journey. It all started on that day, and just as Jesus said, so it has proved to be: the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The church started because God Himself started it. And it will only ever stop growing when God says so. One day He will say so, and the number will be complete. That day will be the day that Jesus returns to this earth, to judge the living and the dead, and commence reigning in full glory forever with His people, all the members of the Body, the whole holy church as He has birthed it, and formed it for Himself.
The church is open today – for us all
Application: What does this mean for you and me in 2020? Today I am looking at the day the church began, and in the church calendar, we see it described as Pentecost. But what does that mean? Quite simply it means the same as it did for the people in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago, the church is open for business still! But let us be very clear about what this means. Let us look at the relationship between the churches of religion and the one church of Christianity, which is the true body of all believers, the Body of Christ.
Church and churches – attending church
In the UBD street directory of Adelaide we find dozens of places listed as “churches and places of worship.” The list contains over 100 Anglican Churches, 60+ Baptist churches, 10 Greek Orthodox, more than 170 Uniting churches, and many others of various denominations such as the Churches of Christ and the Roman Catholic churches.
People are attending each of these churches, and they do it for many different reasons. For example, one person may attend a local church because of a need for friendship. They may see that the members of that local church are very friendly and have something that they don’t have, and so they come along to the meetings that take place and make friends. Another person’s reason for attending church may be a desire to earn favour with God by doing religious stuff. These people have a feeling that God exists and that it would be wise to keep on side with Him!
Other people attending church do so as a favour to someone else. Perhaps one member of a family has faith in God and the other comes to please that family member. I know a man who says he is an atheist but still attends church to please his wife who is a Christian.
Still, others are attending church because they have a desire to belong to an organisation, and they get their names on the church roll by fulfilling certain membership criteria. Maybe they even want to be officers, organisers, leaders, and be well regarded, valued, respected! But, for all these kinds of reasons, people also attend and become members of football clubs, the local RSL, the bowling club, or even the Village Glee club.
Since these are largely the same reasons, then we must now ask ourselves if there is any real difference between simply attending a church and actually joining “God’s church”, the church that began started on the Day of Pentecost, the one that is described in the Bible as the “living body of Christ.” Actually there is a very real difference.
Real membership in God’s Church
As I have studied the Bible over many years I’ve come to see that merely being religious doesn’t get you membership in God’s one holy church. Just as you don’t become a car by standing in a carport so you don’t get to be a member of God’s church by simply being found in a church building.
What I’ve come to see is that in God’s church every true member has made Jesus the Lord of their lives. And in God’s church members know with certainty that they have been forgiven their sins and redeemed from sinful nature and its consequences of guilt, shame, fear, and loneliness in the universe.
And in God’s church members know that they have been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them and help them to live like Jesus. Here’s how I know that – and it comes straight from the Bible. In the Book of Acts which records when the church began, the Apostle Peter in his sermon on that wonderful day of Pentecost told the assembled people that “God has made Jesus Christ, whom you had crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah”. The effect of his words was dramatic: “when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers what shall we do’? ” Listen to what Peter told them to do! “Repent and be baptised 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. This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:36-30
Let me show what that meant for the people on the day of Pentecost and for us today.
Membership in God’s church means: Having Jesus as Lord and Saviour
Firstly, as in Acts, a person had to align with God’s will and make Jesus Christ Lord. That’s what the Bible means by repentance – we have to change our mind about who and what Jesus is. For the Jews, on the day of Pentecost, it meant that they needed to turn away from the outward religion of the traditions of the fathers and believe in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. In Paul’s day, that meant defying the decree of the Roman emperor which ordered that all people in the empire must be ready to publicly confess that Caesar is Lord. To confess that only Jesus is Lord became radical stuff! This was, in reality, saying that Caesar was not the true ‘saviour’; that he was just a political saviour. In practical terms, it meant that if a man or woman was stopped by a Roman soldier and ordered to make the confession that ‘Caesar is Lord’, and they didn’t, the usual outcome was a death sentence. But, God’s word for these first-century believers was just that – trust me with your life, confess that Jesus is Lord, and I will save you! It’s important to note that the early New Testament church didn’t talk so much about Jesus the Saviour (they knew He was!), but about Jesus the Lord. He is, of course, the Saviour: the most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.” So we can see that Jesus is the Saviour of the whole world, but it is only those who believe in him who will not perish because by believing in him they confess that he is Lord.
The forgiveness of sin – a new clean life of love
Second, it shows us that membership in God’s Church means receiving forgiveness for all our sins. For the Jews, on the day of Pentecost, this was a big thing. Up until then, forgiveness was dependent on the Priest sacrificing an animal which had been brought by the person seeking forgiveness. But it was only token forgiveness for sins committed, and it did not last – it had to be repeated time after time. It did not make the person’s conscience clean within. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again he declared total forgiveness to all who believe in Him, to be cleansed from sin, and have a new clean conscience. To be baptised in Jesus’ name was a public declaration that their sins were forgiven. Note: forgiveness of sin hinges on recognising Jesus rose from the dead and is alive to forgive us as we come to Him, repentant, and making Him Lord of our lives.
Listen to this quote from a Christian man living in a Muslim country. “It was clearly a set-up. I’d been invited to the house of a neighbour for dinner. When I walked into his sitting room, there were about 20 men from the local mosque, reclining on the mattress-type cushions placed against the walls. The only spare seat was beside the bearded imam at the far end of the long room. He motioned me to sit down beside him. Then he gave a little sermon for me on the benefits of Islam and invited me to submit to Allah. Through stories, I explained how Christ had saved me and fulfilled all my needs. ‘But, what about Mohammed?’ he asked. ‘We accept Christ as a prophet – why don’t you accept Mohammed?’ Everyone leaned forward. They wanted to know what this foreigner thought. ‘The answer is simple,’ I said. ‘Imagine you are going somewhere you haven’t been before. You come to a fork in the road and you are unsure of which way to go. Fortunately, there are two people at the crossroads. One of them has been before to the place you are going to and he is alive. The other one has never been there, and he is dead. Whom will you ask: the live person or the dead one?’ Everyone leaned backwards. The analogy was obvious, since Muslims believe that Jesus never died, but was taken up alive to heaven. The imam continued, ‘Even though Mohammed is dead, he was still a prophet, a messenger from God.’ I nodded, ‘Yes, you believe that, but I don’t, otherwise I would be a Muslim.” This man believed with his heart that Jesus died, that he was dead and buried for three days and that He rose from the dead. The Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified but was simply taken alive to heaven. Because of that belief, the man was a forgiven, saved soul, but what Muslims believe actually keeps them from being forgiven.
The gift of holy spirit
Thirdly it shows us that membership of God’s church means we must have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Up until the glorious day of Pentecost, under the old covenant, God’s Holy Spirit was sent only on occasions to certain people whom God had chosen to do something for him. They were empowered by the Spirit coming upon them. But at Pentecost everyone who repented and turned to Jesus Christ as Lord, and acknowledged through baptism that their sins had been forgiven, received this gift from God under the newly instituted covenant in Christ, in a new-covenant way, the Jesus had promised: “He shall be in you”. In meant that from that time on God though His Spirit lives in believers, renewing them in holiness, making them alive anew, and causing them to be able to live a Christian life with Jesus as Lord.
Ready for attending the Church that God began in Christ?
What is the relevance of the Day of Pentecost and the start of the church for you and me?
We have looked at the Bible account of how the church began on the day of Pentecost somewhere around AD33. We have seen that membership in God’s church – meaning the body of Christ, and not the organizational institution seen as the denominational churches – is limited to those who have made Jesus Lord, received forgiveness, acknowledged it by baptism in the name of Jesus, and who have received the Holy Spirit.
So, why join the church?
On the positive side, the answer is that anyone who is a member of the church will have peace with God and himself both in this life and forever. Such a person has regained their position as the image of God.
On the negative side, the answer is that any person who is not a member of the church will be at war with God and themselves while they live and will be eternally separated from God after death. The tarnished image will never be regained.
In the end, the choice is yours. Which will you choose?
Grahame Daniel, 25-26 April 2020