Summary: The Holy Spirit comes in community, and creates community. This message leads into communion.
Breaking Bread and Building Bonds: Experiencing Biblical Community
Acts 2:1-4, 42-47 September 14, 2003
We want to spend a little more time around the communion table this morning than normal, partly because it feels like the right thing to do early in the fall as the rhythm of our lives change, but also because communion has a way of bringing us back to what is most important in our lives and in our life as community.
As we do, I’d like us to look at Acts 2. You might be familiar with that passage of Scripture; we talked about it together several months ago on Pentecost Sunday. The first four verses describe the incredible fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and rather than attempt to describe it or interpret it, I’d rather just read it to you: (read Acts 2:1-4).
“Church” all begins with the Spirit
Up until this moment, the followers of Jesus were merely men and women. Men and women who had been witnesses of incredible things – men and women who had known Jesus and loved Him and watching Him die and then rise again to new life – but still men and women. With the coming of the Holy Spirit they became something more, something new. They became new creatures, they experienced that transformation of the core of who they were which Paul later describes in terms of the “old person” dying and the “new person” being born. That is a big part of what this communion table is about – recognizing that in the death of Jesus our “old person” can die, and in the resurrection of Jesus we can experience new life.
Jesus’ followers did – they received that which Jesus had promised in His parting words: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:9). And they did receive, and they were witnesses! Acts 2:1-4 describe that power, and the impact it had on the people – which Luke describes in verses 5-41. The disciples leave the upper room, spill out into the street speaking in tongues and attracting attention, they gather a crowd and Peter preaches to them, and the power of God flows through them and convicts of sin, and 3000 people repent of their sins, choose to obey Jesus as Lord, are likewise filled with the Spirit and respond publicly by being baptized.
And what happens immediately after that is the formation of community, which we read about in verses 42-47. But just before we do…
Did this ever happen alone?
Reading that passage this week, a question jumped into my head: did the Holy Spirit ever come upon someone while they were alone, in private? I did a quick glance through the rest of Acts, looking for places where the record shows the coming of the Holy Spirit, and I couldn’t find any. Now I’m open to being corrected, but all the occurrences I found involved a group of people. Even if I’m wrong about the “all”, I know I am right in saying that the normal way the Holy Spirit came upon people was when they were together – when they were in some sort of community.
We see that first in the 120 disciples of Jesus gathered in the upper room in Acts 2:1-4.
We see that in the response of the 3000.
In Acts 3, Peter AND John heal the cripple in front of a crowd.
Later, Stephen is seized, dragged in front of the Sanhedrin where he is filled with the Spirit and eventually stoned.
Philip ministers to crowds in Samaria. Then an Ethiopian traveling with servants.
Even Saul, on the Damascus road, hears the voice of Jesus along with the men traveling with him (even though those men couldn’t see the light from heaven which blinded Saul.)
Peter goes to Cornelius, and meets “a large gathering of people” (Acts 10:27).
My point: the normal way for the Spirit of God to come is in community. When people are together, seeking God, and sharing an experience. It is something that normally happens when we are together. The point is not that we do not have a personal experience of Jesus – you know I believe we each must and we each can – but that the normative way for that to happen is in a group of people. Why? I think it is so that all those around can witness/see testimony/wake up and ask why they aren’t also experiencing God/be encouraged as they see God working maybe even through their gifts. God comes in community.
That is why it is so important for us to meet together to seek God. Yes, we can and should seek Him in personal times of devotion and prayer – but we should expect that most often we will know and hear God speak and work when we are together. That is a little opposite modern western Christianity, I think – which is mostly about having a personal experience of Jesus. Biblical Christianity is about having a corporate experience of Jesus, or at least having a personal experience which is shared corporately.