Pentecost Plus One: 3 Things The Church Did After The Day Of Pentecost

What do you do after you have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit?

I don’t know how many reading this post have had experience of a powerful move of God. Many, perhaps most or even all, have been in meetings where God has been powerfully at work. Or even seasons when God has been powerfully at work. But what do you do next?

The early church found itself in that position on the day after the day of Pentecost. One hundred and twenty previously fearful believers had been impacted by the Spirit in a way that was as public as it was powerful. And the church had three thousand new believers.

Now it was Pentecost plus one. What was next?

Perhaps what they didn’t do is as instructive as what they did do.

They didn’t try to revisit the events of the day before. No retreat to the upper room to wait for the rushing wind and tongues of fire. They weren’t looking for a repeat performance. They didn’t turn the life that they had experienced into a liturgy – a mistake sometimes made in the Pentecostal / charismatic world. We experience the Spirit moving in a particular way and then try to revisit the experience again and again. We use particular songs and even phraseology that “gets a response”.

God, because He is gracious, does meet us. The tendency is, however, to become “stuck” in a way of doing things, impeding the church’s further progress.

So what did the church do on Pentecost plus one?

Firstly, it developed a shape of corporate life.

That’s a fancy way of saying that the church gathered together at certain times, and it gathered together to do certain things.

Acts 2 .42 explains that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Putting that in more contemporary terms, they prioritised learning (apostles’ teaching), spending meaningful time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread) and prayer (prayer!).

I recently attended the annual conference of a church denomination in the developing world. In its own country it has seen extraordinary growth. Miracles are not uncommon. Yet one of the major concerns was that they had seen a slight decline at their mid-week prayer gatherings.

Impressive enough was the fact that they knew how many attended mid-week prayer throughout their denomination. Their urgency in addressing the matter was even more revealing. They made the connection between maintaining the flow of the Spirit and the shape of their corporate life.

Churches that want to stay Spirit-filled must develop a Spirit-shaped corporate life that revolves around engaging with the practices of teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer.

Secondly, they were open to the Spirit moving in fresh ways.

There were no recorded miracles or healings on the day of Pentecost. The only miracles were miracles of salvation.

That changed the day after. Acts 2.43 highlights the fresh move of the Spirit:

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Notice a couple of things here.

Firstly, it was different to what happened the day before. Nothing like this had happened on the day of Pentecost.

Secondly, this was not a sovereign move of God as had happened on the day of Pentecost. It was more a case of God responding to the apostles’ faith.

Pentecost plus one teaches us to be ready for different.

It is also a reminder not to be waiting passively for God to do something. We can spend all our time waiting for Him, when all the time He’s waiting for us.

Finally, this was a church that was seen.

We know that they met publicly – in the temple courts (Acts 2.46) and they enjoyed the favour of all the people (v.47). It was a high profile church, certainly not a private club.

It is so easy for the church to resemble the latter. It’s a more comfortable existence; high profile churches attract favour and criticism.

I once heard someone say that a church can be internationally famous, yet locally anonymous. That has never been more possible than it is today. Our social networks and social media can lead us to the most exotic places without us ever having to confront the challenges on our own door step.

A church that is impacted by the Spirit will be visible locally, however visible or not it is internationally.

Pentecost plus one must have been a challenge for the early church with its three thousand new believers. But they rose to the challenge. And we can too. After all, it is the same Holy Spirit, is it not?

 

“Creating an atmosphere”

Some people create an atmosphere. At least that’s the way we describe their impact. I’m not entirely sure of the psychological dynamics of that phrase. I just know that when some people enter the room something changes. Whether that’s a result of our reaction to something that we perceive at a conscious or subconscious level or whether it needs a different explanation, I do not know. What I do know is that some people change the atmosphere.

We normally think of creating an atmosphere as something bad, something negative.

Some people however, create a good atmosphere.

Take Barnabas (Acts 11.22-24). He created an atmosphere when he went to investigate the revival at Antioch. Given that he was on a mission to investigate what was going on, it would have been easy for Barnabas to settle for assessing the situation. But he chose encouragement over assessment.

And the atmosphere that he created resulted in the growth of the church and eventually the beginning of a missionary movement.

Encouragement is a profound atmosphere changer. If you decide to be an encourager you’ll create an atmosphere. A good one. Guaranteed. Have a go and see if it works.

The Monday after the day of Pentecost

No matter how good Sunday is, the next day is always Monday!

It was no different for the early church. And it was no different on the first Pentecost Sunday. Monday was the next day. The Spirit might have been poured out. Three thousand people might have been saved and baptised. But eventually the day of Pentecost came to an end.

So what was the church to do? Was Pentecost now just a memory in the spiritual scrapbook of the early church? Would it become little more than something to reminisce about when the disciples grew older – “do you remember the time when the Holy Spirit came and we all spoke in tongues and three thousand people got saved?”?

Did they try to maintain the experience that they had? Can you maintain the Pentecostal experience? In short, is it possible to keep the fire? And if so, how?

I think it is. And I think Acts 2 tells us how.

Most preaching about the day of Pentecost ends at verse forty-one of Acts 2. This verse records that three thousand people were baptised and added to the church. Seldom do preachers venture into verse forty-two on Pentecost Sunday. (I am as guilty as anyone of this, so please do not hear this as a criticism of fellow preachers).

Often Acts 2.42 is presented as what the church starts doing when the Spirit stops moving.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. What happens 2.42-47 is what happened because of the Spirit moving!

So what did they do?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Firstly, they developed a pattern of life around the Word of God, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.

If the church wants to keep the fire it must develop a pattern of life centred around those four components. Those four things will ensure that the church is hearing what God is saying, growing in community, Jesus-focused and bringing the rule of God into every -day life through prayer.

Secondly, they devoted themselves to these things.

Devoted themselves translates a word that is used in other places of a servant waiting on his master. It’s how Luke describes the faithfulness of Cornelius servants in Acts 10.7.

In other words, this is the language of strong commitment. We might say that they made the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer their priority.

The result? Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles (v.43).

The early church kept the fire. We can too.

And they kept the fire because they developed a pattern of life and devoted themselves to it.

If we will embrace their pattern of life and devote ourselves to it, we too will keep the fire.

Perhaps the Monday after Pentecost isn’t looking so bad after all.

It’s your story too

I happened to mention in a sermon recently a BBC documentary on the life of Napoleon. The blank stares revealed that I had just outed myself as a BBC2 watching history geek. I am hoping that such a revelation is not as damaging to whatever street cred I had left as I originally feared.

Anyway, I had discovered something about Napoleon which helped to explain why he was the driven, successful leader that he was – until Waterloo , of course.

When Napoleon was at school, like other boys his age, he read about Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. A couple of centuries ago, the great military leaders of the ancient world were held up as aspirational figures. For most people who had this kind of education, even if they admired these kinds of conquering heroes, they ultimately had little bearing on the way they lived their lives.

But not Napoleon. When he read about Caesar and Alexander, he was more than inspired. He decided that he would become an Alexander or a Caesar. Their story would become his story. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When you look at the great spiritual movements in the Christian church, past and present, you are effectively looking at a group of people who have read about Jesus and the apostles and decided that the stories written in the Bible are their stories too.

Sometimes we approach the Bible as if it’s a text book or an instruction guide for life. Whilst the Bible does guide us and instruct us, it is much more than a spiritual maintenance guide. It is much more than heaven’s answer to a Haynes’ manual!

In the Bible we find the story of God at work in and through human beings throughout history, and ultimately in the person of Christ. The story however, takes a whole new shape when the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Luke, in Acts 1, talks about the things Jesus began to do and to teach (v.1). And then he goes on to record what Jesus continued to do through His Spirit-filled disciples.

Jesus is still at work. He is still teaching. How? Through followers filled with His Spirit. When we read the book of Acts, we can stand back and admire what God did through the disciples. Or we can say “That’s my story too” and allow the amazing things God did almost two thousand years ago to shape our expectations and fuel our faith.

God invites us to live a whole new story. And the good news is He gives us His Spirit to enable us to do just that. And the other piece of good news is, you don’t have to watch BBC2.

Changing the narrative

If you were an alien from Mars who had just landed on planet earth last Monday, you could be forgiven for thinking that the biggest threat to the future of the world was Sepp Blatter and the evil empire of FIFA. If you had arrived the previous Monday, it might have appeared that David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon, whoever the next leader of the Labour party is, Nigel Farage or some other political eminence grise, was just as lethal as Herr Blatter.

In fact, the really deadly action is taking place in the developing world and the Middle East, in the shape of largely unreported atrocities.

It all depends on what is reported and how it is reported. And that is what shapes the news and our perception of what is really important. Narratives come and go. Politicians, journalists and broadcasters change the narrative all the time.

When we read through the book of Acts we find that there is someone who is continually shaping and changing the narrative. No, I am not referring to Dr. Luke. I am referring to the Holy Spirit. Just consider these examples for a moment.

On the day of Pentecost, He changes the narrative. Edgy disciples are transformed into empowered disciples. They grow from one hundred and twenty to over three thousand – in one day!

In Acts 8, Philip goes into the spiritual twilight zone that was Samaria, and finds an overwhelmingly positive response to his message. Then the Holy Spirit moves him on to the road to Gaza where he leads a chancellor of the exchequer to Christ and almost immediately finds himself translated to Azotus!

The Holy Spirit changes the narrative again in chapter 9. This time the church’s number one enemy gets converted!

And so the story of the young church unfolds, with the Holy Spirit changing the narrative again and again.

It’s might be easy to think that the Holy Spirit is only interested in the big stage, big picture narrative of Acts.

However, when we turn to Ephesians 5 and Paul issues his command to be filled with the Spirit, the immediate application is that of every day life in the home and at work.

The Holy Spirit is able to – and wants to – change the narrative of our every day lives. He provides an ongoing supply of fresh power for every challenge we face. He brings about and enables us to take opportunities to share our faith. He fills our lives with joy. He gives us the ability to be a positive influence on those around us.

The Holy Spirit is not just interested in changing the big picture narrative along the lines of God’s purpose. He is also concerned with the narrative of your life. With changing you. And with enabling you to be a person of His influence on the people around you.

If you think your narrative, your story needs changing, why not ask the Holy Spirit to write some new headlines in your life this week?

May you prosper wonderfully

New year’s resolutions, despite the fact that many are ditched within the first few weeks of January, still have an attraction that many find irresistible. Part of that attraction no doubt lies in the possibility that we can make a few decisions, which if we stick by, will change our lives at least for the course of the year before us. If you are not sure how to make a new year’s resolution, new year’s resolution generators can be found aplenty on the internet! They sound like a grand invention. What they actually boil down to is a statement that you have to complete – something like: “This year I want to _____________ (fill in the blank).

There is always the temptation for a pastor’s first sermon of a new year to sound just a little like a kind of new year’s resolution, or even a string of them: This year this church will_______ (fill in the blank). And sometimes there isn’t just one blank to fill in! And usually it is something to do with the church growing and attaining more influence. No bad thing.

I don’t know how the church in Galilee, Judea and Samaria developed the lifestyle that they had. It is just a little hard to believe that it was the result of a new year sermon. Never the less, the churches referred to in Acts 9.31 were flourishing. Not just one in a particular place. All of them throughout the region mentioned were in a season of growing in strength and growing numerically.

Two characteristics in particular demand our attention.

Firstly, they were encouraged by the Holy Spirit. A good biblical expositor could write reams on this. A couple of points are worth mentioning.

Being encouraged by the Holy Spirit indicates that all of these churches had got it into their collective minds that God was for them. They were confident of the Spirit’s support in their walk and witness. The outcome was a climate of encouragement.

Conviction about the Spirit’s support and a climate of encouragement are key factors in the growth of any church. And they usually come about as we allow the Spirit to encourage others through us.

A second feature of these churches that demands our attention, is that they lived in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord does not receive a lot of air time these days. Yet throughout the Old Testament, and here, it is considered a very basic component of our relationship with God.

In fairness, the concept has probably been overlooked because of an imbalanced and sometimes legalistic way in which it has been taught in the past.

It should go without saying that such fear is not the same as being too frightened to draw near to God. That would be to turn New Testament teaching on its head. Better to understand it as a deep reverence and respect for God that results from knowing Him.

Even understood in this way, it is still easy to think of the fear of the Lord as something like an over active conscience that acts as a brake on sin. However, when you turn to the pages of the Old Testament, especially Psalms and Proverbs you find a different picture. Even a quick trawl through a word search in an online concordance will reveal that those who fear the Lord set themselves up for incredible blessing. For a start, it is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1.7) and the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9.10; Psalm 111.10).

With a climate of encouragement and a deep reverence for God, it’s little wonder the early church grew. Listen to the way The Message brings out the flavour of this verse:

All over the country—Judea, Samaria, Galilee—the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully. (Acts 9.31 MSG)

So if you really are making resolutions for the year ahead. Or you are a bit stuck, why not write “encouragement” and “reverence” into what you aspire to in the year before us? And if you don’t do resolutions, why not make a growing climate of encouragement and a deepening reverence for God your prayers for the this year? That really could change your life.

My prayer for you and for the church in the year ahead is that we will prosper wonderfully just like the church of nearly two thousand years ago.

Making stuff happen

In the years immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an American academic argued that we had reached the end of history. Communism had been defeated and liberal democracy and the free market had triumphed. All the big battles had been fought and the western way had won.

It’s hard now to believe in a post-9/11 world that anyone should have been so audacious has to think for a moment that the world had finally “made it”. The world of today seems in many ways far more dangerous than that of the days of the so called Cold War. In fairness to Fukuyama, he has since modified his position.

And the developments of recent times have impacted upon the church. Perhaps we had forgotten that governments in the communist bloc systematically persecuted the church. Torture and show trials were not unusual and having a meeting broken up by secret police officers and the leader arrested was a threat that went with the territory of praying or worshipping together.

Persecution has revisited the church, especially in the Middle East, with a vengeance. Not of course that it ever went away, it’s simply that it has come into focus again partly because of its connection to the so-called war on terror.

Persecution was part and parcel of following Jesus for Christians in the first century. Their rights were limited. If you were a Roman citizen like Paul, you had a trump card that you could play in some situations. Even so, the political weight of the early church did not count for much. So it’s main weapon was prayer – which counted for everything.

Acts 12 gives us some insight into the prayer life of a church under pressure.

James had been arrested and executed by Herod. Herod then arrested Peter and planned to have him executed. So the church turned to prayer. We are not told how intense their prayer had been when James was arrested. When Peter was arrested, however, we are told that the church prayed earnestly (v.5). The NIV translates earnestly as constant. Ongoing, relentless prayer.

The outcome was that the constant prayer produced a sudden answer (v.7). Peter is asleep and an angel appears to him. And before he knows it he is out of prison. He goes to Mary’s house and no-one seems able to believe that their prayers have been answered so dramatically.

On one level the constant prayer has been effective. The church received the answer for which it prayed. However, the chapter goes on to record that sometime later Herod met his end after accepting the kind of honour that belonged only to God. It’s hard believe that somehow through this whole event God has drawn an era to a close. Herod is gone.

Right at the end of the chapter, we are told that Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch after they had finished their mission to Jerusalem (v.25). This is the Saul who eventually became known as Paul. In a letter to the church at Thessalonica he wrote: “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5.17NIV) and to the church at Colosse: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4.2, NIV).

For Paul, constant prayer became more than a response to a crisis; it was a strategy for advancing the kingdom, a whole way of life for the church. Where did he get the idea? We know ultimately it was from the Holy Spirit. But was the seed sown during this visit to the Jerusalem church? Perhaps. If not, the importance of continual prayer must have been reinforced by Peter’s miraculous jail break.

Prison doors opened. An era of tyranny brought to an end. An apostle who would one day plant churches in the heart of the pagan world and impress on them the importance of continual prayer. And all because the church prayer constantly.

People say “Stuff happens”. Constant prayer makes stuff happen.