Acts chapter two is one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible. Think about it from the apostles’ perspective. Seven weeks earlier, their hopes and dreams of the redemption of Israel had been utterly crushed. Jesus had been brutally slaughtered by the combined forces of the secular and religious authorities. Peter, and perhaps the others, had thought he was the Messiah, but how could the Messiah be so wholly defeated?
Three days later, they were plunged into absolute confusion. Early that morning, they began to hear preposterous reports from previously reliable friends, claiming they’d met Jesus and he was alive. His tomb was empty, that much was clear, but risen from the dead? That was impossible; except it wasn’t impossible. By the evening, the risen Jesus had revealed himself to the apostles, too. He’d defeated death, and soon they’d discover he’d defeated sin and Satan, too. He really was the Messiah!
The next six weeks were a frenzy of astonishing revelations. Under Jesus’ guidance, fresh light flooded onto the old, old story. They began to discover a wealth of prophecies, types and shadows that all pointed to him. Many others saw the risen Jesus too, and joined the apostles in becoming witnesses of the resurrection. Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses, starting in Jerusalem but reaching the ends of the earth.
Then suddenly, Jesus was gone – taken up into Heaven, promising one day to return. It could have been devastating. The apostles had lost Jesus not once but twice, but they weren’t devastated. They’d learned enough over the previous six weeks to understand something of God’s plan. The restoration of Israel was going to be bigger than they’d imagined, and they had a big part to play.
They didn’t have to wait long. A few days later, just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit came. All the believers began to declare the mighty works of God in languages they’d never previously spoken! The message Peter and the others were empowered to preach was simple: it was that which they had learned from Jesus over those previous six weeks. The last days, for which faithful Jews had been longing for centuries, had finally arrived, and it was Jesus, they explained, through his resurrection from the dead, who had ushered the world into this astonishing new era. Jesus had conquered death and ascended to Heaven. A response was now needed and the call went up: ‘Repent and be baptised!’ Some scoffed, but thousands believed and were baptised.
Devoted to Jesus
So what now for this nascent New Testament church? Acts 2:42 sums it up in a miniature but magnificent sentence:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Despite our familiarity with those words, we can often miss one vital principle it carries: what Jesus did for the apostles, so now the apostles do for the believers.
Can you see that? Jesus had taught the apostles everything the Scriptures said about him. Now the apostles are doing that for the believers. Jesus had fellowshipped with them – appearing to them and gathering them together. Now the apostles are doing that with the believers. Jesus had eaten with the apostles and broken bread with them. Now too, the apostles are doing that with the believers. The apostles had spoken with Jesus, talking face-to-face with the Son of God! Now the apostles were encouraging the believers to continue that conversation, talking not just with the risen Jesus, but with the ascended, risen Jesus!
What Jesus did for the apostles, now the apostles do for the believers, but equally, what the apostles did with Jesus, so now the believers do with the apostles. Over three years, the apostles devoted themselves to Jesus. They watched him, listened to him and learned from him. They were his disciples and now, these new believers are doing the same. They’re following the apostles as the apostles follow Christ.
The power of the Holy Spirit
However, it’s not that the baton has been handed on from Jesus to the apostles. That would be to miss the point of Pentecost. The baton hasn’t been handed on from Jesus to the apostles. It’s been handed on from Jesus to the Holy Spirit. The apostles are the hands, feet and voice of Jesus, but the power is not their own. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now working in and through the apostles, and in and through the other believers too.
This unbreakable link between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and between the Holy Spirit and those the Spirit empowers, means we can say with complete confidence that the apostles’ teaching is Jesus’ teaching. Jesus himself had told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would remind them of everything he said to them (John 14:26). He’d told them that the Spirit would testify of Jesus and that they too would testify of him (John 15:26-27). He’d told them that the Spirit would guide them in all truth and make known to them what he’s received from Jesus (John 16:13-14). The apostles’ teaching is the Holy Spirit’s teaching. The Holy Spirit’s teaching is Jesus’ teaching. The link is unbreakable.
For the early believers, the apostles’ teaching (along with fellowship, communion and prayer) connected them, through the Spirit, to the risen Lord Jesus. Without it, they were cut off, adrift. With it, they were connected to Christ; connected to God’s ongoing ministry through the Holy Spirit; connected to the apostles; connected to one another; connected to the entire community of believers who were equally devoted to the very same things and connected, I hope, to us.
Today, true believers remain devoted to the apostles’ teaching, as well as to fellowship, communion and prayer. There are many things that Christians can live without, but not without those. As one commentator puts it, these ‘are not just marginal activities but the primary signs of life’ in the church. This reminds us that their devotion was not a solo effort. It was a corporate devotion. Luke emphasises that they were together (Acts 2:44).
So where, today, do we find those things that the believers were devoted to? Only in truly biblical churches. How, today, can we devote ourselves to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer? Only together with other believers as part of a truly biblical church. Private devotions are not unimportant, but the New Testament emphasises public devotion much more. Salvation is not a private affair.
There’s a challenge here, isn’t there? ‘Devoted’ is a strong word. Behind the original Greek word is the idea of persistence, of something continuous and ongoing, but that persistence is more of an encouragement than it is a challenge. The apostles’ teaching did not die out in the first century. Neither did it die out under Roman oppression, the rise of Islam, corrupt distortions of Christianity, the French Revolution, communism, secularism and everything else that the devil has thrown at us. Around the world, hundreds of millions of believers are still devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. How can such devotion not only persevere but grow exponentially? Because the apostles’ teaching is the Holy Spirit’s teaching; and the Holy Spirit’s teaching is Jesus’ teaching; and on that rock, Jesus is building his church.