This week’s lesson on Acts 2:
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Have you ever had that sinking feeling?
I have, and I’ll be you have too if you’re old enough to be reading this.
I remember when, as a six year old, I decided to shoot my neighbor’s storm window with my new B.B. gun. I didn’t think I’d get caught, but I did, and when I knew what was coming next (i.e. a bottom dusting from my mom) I experienced that sinking feeling.
I remember when I was ten my neighborhood buddies and I decided to leave freshly fallen pine cones in the bird bath all day long (so they’d get nice and waterlogged). When the evening came, we took our arsenal and hid in the bushes near the road and pegged the first couple of cars that drove by. When a hot-headed driver screeched to a halt, got out of his dented car, and began yelling obscenities at us, our carefully planned escape routes were forgotten. Our gang of mischief makers were supposed to have run through the woods AWAY from all of our houses, but instead everyone ran straight to my back yard in full view of the angry man. It wasn’t long until he was pulling into my driveway and knocking on the door to my house. That sinking feeling again … I knew what was coming!
I remember when I was a twelve year old 8th grader at CAC (where I was later on the state champ baseball team with this guy), my 2nd period English teacher (Miss Moss) had me leave class to pick something up for her from the main office. On my way back I passed a classroom chocked full of students facing the doorway so they could see out. Coach Jeff Daniels was lecturing on American History with his back turned toward the hallway, and as I passed by every eye in the classroom was on me. Seeing a couple of my football buddies on the front row, I decided to do the reasonable thing – grin widely and flip them off. Little did I know that my football’s coach’s wife had come around the corner at the other end of the hallway with a clear view of the birdy I was waving. When she approached me and grabbed my arm to lead me back to the office – you guessed it – that sinking feeling fell upon me. I knew what was coming!
QUICK SIDENOTE: Believe it or not, Russell Quattlebaum – CAC’s dean of students in 1992 – could really swing a paddle hard! I remember watching his feet while bent over grabbing my ankles. He actually pivoted and put his weight into his swings (just like I did when I swung my baseball bat) and absolutely tattooed my behind. I cried so hard my nose bled (abuse)!
But those are just kid stories, and kind of funny now.
I could tell you plenty of other true stories of times in my life where facing the consequences of my own stupid actions have caused me to experience that sinking feeling in such a way that those silly stories I just shared are just that – silly stories.
I’ve been to jail more than once. I’ve battled a fierce addiction to illegal substances. I’ve battled depression, and I’ve destroyed relationships. I’ve watched people’s lives literally fall apart before my eyes due to the destructive habits I’d helped them nurture, and have wept while experiencing their pain by proxy.
Regardless of a person’s background, if you’ve lived on this planet in human form you’ve likely done something really stupid – really horrible – and had to face the consequences of it as a result. I don’t know what’s worse – actually experiencing the consequences, or that sinking feeling you get the first moment you find out you’re going to have to face them.
This train of thought began for me after reading Acts 2 with fresh eyes last night. For quite some time now, I’ve been meditating on the idea of Christ-centered community. Acts 2:42-47 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture because it paints a picture of what a truly Christ-centered community looks like.
Check it out:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Wow. How different of a picture does that passage paint than what most people experience with “church” today?
I love this – I want to be part of this – I want to help this come into being. The “this” I speak of is what this passage describes – a community of believers devoted to all the right things – to God, to one another, and to seeing the world changed for the better.
I want to be part of a church where I can take my shoes off – where Pharisees are few and fellowship is frequent – where being devoted is a delight and consumer-Christianity is minimal if present at all – where sacrifices are made, needs are met, and praise for the Savior has a permanent home on the lips of the people. I want to be part of a true, Christ-centered community.
I’ve experienced this type of community before and am sure I will again, but I’ve also been part of faith communities where certain aspects from the latter part of Acts 2 were noticeably missing (and no, I don’t plan on naming names :p).
As I pondered this last night during my Bible study, a profound truth from Acts 2 struck me. The events leading up to the formation of the community were very special – very special indeed.
In verse 17 Peter begins preaching the first recorded sermon following the ascension of Christ into heaven to the crowd in Jerusalem. While there are people in the crowd from all over the world, the majority of those listening were Jews (hence Peter says “fellow Jews” in v.14 then makes a reference to the Pentecost fast that wasn’t quite over in v.15).
As I read last night, I tried to put myself in the place of the Jews as they listened to Peter. Each time I think about the crowd Peter is addressing, in my mind’s eye I go back to the scenes from the movie The Passion of the Christ surrounding the trial before Pilate, subsequent beatings of Jesus, and demands for His crucifixion.
That crowd, led by the Pharisees, demanded Jesus’ life be snuffed out in the most horrific way possible, and that same crowd – many, the same ones who demanded Jesus be crucified – were the ones Peter addresses in Acts 2.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and listen to what Peter has to say:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.
23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.
30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.
31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ‘
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
… they weren’t just fearing for their lives – they were fearing for the very future of the Jewish nation. They were fearing for their children’s lives and their children’s children.
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
They were “cut to the heart.” Reading over this quickly it’s easy to miss what this statement means. There is no fear quite like the fear of God’s impending wrath, and the Jews in Acts 2 were experiencing it as intensely as a group of people ever had up to that point in history. Their lives were over! They felt that sinking feeling like none had ever experienced that sinking feeling, and the question they asked (“What shall we do?”) was not asked casually – it was a question born out of desperation and hopelessness!
A better way to read it would be, “What shall we do!?!”
My intuition tells me that they were expecting to hear something like “wild dogs will invade the city, eat your children before your eyes, then eat you” (or something equally as vicious) and they were notexpecting to hear what Peter said next, so can you imagine their surprise at Peter’s response found in the following verses:
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, 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.
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Then in verse 41:
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Are you still thinking the way the Jews in this situation would think? For those 3,000, can you imaginethe feeling of gratitude they were feeling at this point? The intensity of their gratitude would have equally matched the intensity of that sinking feeling they’d woefully experienced just before, and this beautiful picture of Christ-centered community was born out of this magical feeling.
That’s what I’d missed before. That’s the profound truth that struck me last night. Genuine, Christ-centered community has its roots in gratitude to God!
When a person understands how lost they were, how hopeless they’d become, and what a gift they’ve been given in Jesus joy follows! It overflows and manifests itself in devotion, in praise, in miracles, and in fellowship.
For those communities I’ve been a part of where it felt the least like what’s described in Acts 2, gratitude toward God for salvation was missing. Most of the people making up the community had grown up in the church. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – only that I believe they’d might have taken for granted what God had done for them.
In the communities I’ve been a part of that felt the most like what’s described at the end of Acts 2, gratitude for God was ever present because most of the people making up the group were newly saved (relatively speaking) and we were constantly seeing more saved. We weren’t just hearing stories about God changing people’s lives, we were witnessing them first hand!
That sinking feeling our hopeless lives helped produce had been transformed into intense gratitude that was ever present on our hearts and minds and frequent in our conversation. That’s what it looks like when you’re part of a ministry that is making contact with a lost world – when you’re impacting the lives of people who so desperately need a Savior – when Jesus makes that sinking feeling go away by forgiving your sins and promising you the brightest future imaginable!
The gratitude born out of the transition between being purposeless, hopeless, and lost to being purposeful, hopeful, and gloriously found – that’s the root of Acts 2 community.
Without it, you’re just a social club.