Video Transcript: Unit 2 Lecture 1
Unit 2 Lecture 1
In week 1, we looked at the way God had prepared the world for the arrival of Jesus in the fullness of time. We took a quick and very sketchy look at the broader culture of the Roman Empire as the church was coming into being. This week, we are going to take a quick look at the way the early church dealt with the struggles it had within itself as it began to branch out from the humble beginning of the twelve and the 120 people in the upper room on Pentecost.
It was on the day of Pentecost in the year that Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead that the Christian church was born. For the previous 10 days the eleven plus Matthias, along with over 100 others gathered each day in a large upper room in the city of Jerusalem and they prayed. Jesus had said that they were to remain in the city until they would receive the gift from the Father. He told them to wait, so the apostles prayed for the gift that Jesus had promised - the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, the 120 followers of Jesus in that upper room, were praying. The doors were closed, the fear of what might happen when the chief priests discovered where they were haunted them.
Now Pentecost was one of the major holidays in the Jewish faith. On this day there was a procession of priests from the temple out to the fields where a symbolic sheaf was harvested from a wheat field and brought to the temple in great celebration for the gift of the harvest. It was a celebration of the gift of God in giving the nation food for another year. So Pentecost was the feast of the first fruits of the harvest.
As the day dawned over Jerusalem in about the year 33, there came the sound of a great violent wind. It swept through the city and created, one can easily imagine a great deal of consternation on the part of the thousands of people in the city as visitors for the feast. They heard the sound and they could tell it was headed in a certain direction. Now if the disciples had thought that they would remain quietly praying and waiting for God to sneak into their lives with the gift of the Spirit, they were greatly mistaken. For the sound of the violent wind passed through the city and came into the upper room where they were praying. And then, much to their amazement, a fire broke out. But not the typical fire. This was a fire that broke into many different tongues of flame and came to rest on each one of them.
Much to their surprise, they made their way down the stairs and out into the streets where they began to speak to every person they could find to listen. These people had come for the feast and they were witnesses to one of the great miracles of God. For they heard the stories of God's great works in their own mother tongues. There was no need to understand the language of Jerusalem. The language they spoke in their homes was the language they heard spoken by these people from Galilee. And that day, the first fruits of the harvest was gathered in as over 3000 people listened to the word being spoken and said, I want to be a Jesus follower too. I have heard God calling my name. I must confess my sins and be baptized as a person who knows Jesus.
That day saw the beginning of this magnificent movement of God called the Christian church. This is our birthday as we take our place in the church of Jesus as well. What a day of first fruits of the harvest! The church grew by thousands on that day. It was also the beginning of what would prove to be a difficult group to belong to.
It was not long after that great day, that the church had grown rapidly and had people whose everyday language as they dealt with one another was Greek and not the Aramaic that was the common language of the apostles. So as the church made an effort to care for the poor among them, the Greek speaking people found their widows being neglected.
While that in itself gave the church an opportunity to figure out how to deal with that problem by developing a system, it also was a foreshadowing of the complexities of fulfilling the word of the Lord, you shall be my witnesses beginning in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. How does one meet all the needs of the people whom we find coming to know the lord? What must be done to organize the church so that it is done well? These questions began to arise already in the first years of the church.
In the process of dealing with the issue of neglecting the widows of the Greek speaking churches in Jerusalem, the book of Acts tells us that there were 7 who were appointed to assist in the daily care of the body while the apostles devoted themselves to the ministry of the Word of God.
One of the seven deacons as they were called, was a man named Stephen who was an articulate speaker who promoted the truth of Jesus to all who would listen. This got him in trouble with spiritual leaders of the Jewish faith who at one point became so enraged that they took him outside of the city and killed him.
At his death, a young man named Saul was standing by, keeping the coats of those who were doing the stoning. This young man would become Paul when God laid his hand on him and called him to be the great missionary that he was. Paul, when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, became a man filled with a zeal for the Lord. And under the leading of the Spirit of God, Paul became the one who took the word of Jesus to the gentiles in a robust manner.
Again, this was met with some level of skepticism by the members of the church. Paul was preaching the good news to people who were not a part of the Jewish household of faith. He was preaching that one was saved by faith in Jesus and that it did not matter if one kept the law of the Jewish faith. What mattered was that one believed that Jesus had obeyed all of God's commands and had won for everyone the gift of salvation by grace, not by works. A righteousness that was from faith from first to last was his message.
While this was met with great enthusiasm by the Gentile believers, it was a difficult idea to comprehend to those who had lived by obedience. The second chapter of Romans gives us Paul's response to those who looked with great concern at the entry of many Gentiles as followers of Jesus into the ecclesia. He pointed out that no one, even those who all their lives had tried to live by the Law of Moses, no one could live in total obedience to God. All were in need of a savior. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul (chapter 3) points out that if anyone could boast of his obedience and faithfulness to the Law of Moses, he could. But he goes on to say, I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ--the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
After the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to consult with the elders who were considered to be leaders of the church. We know this as the first great council of the church. It was called to discern what God was doing in the church and in the world through the church. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas were preaching the truth. They did not bear false witness. So a letter was sent to all the new churches to let them know that what Paul was teaching was considered sound doctrine by the church.
While this settled things down for a while, it was not long until the Jewish component of the church began to wonder if it really was enough to simply believe in Jesus. Was it not also necessary to follow the Laws of Moses? In the years that followed individual churches would find themselves arguing about what was really God's will - especially in the matter of eating with each other, and in view of what might have been on the menu. We can find evidence of these issues scattered throughout all of Paul's letters to the churches. As churches made up of both Jews and Gentiles, there was often a profound sense of freedom on the part of the Gentiles and a queasy feeling on the part of the Jewish believers. The Jewish folks had this nagging feeling that they were turning their backs on many of the precious things which made them different from the world around them if they went along with Paul. And they just could not accept Paul's teaching that one is saved only by faith.
In the years that would follow, the issues would not simply go away. We'll see more of that in lecture three this week.