Summary: A focus on what happened after the events in the Upper Room
I wonder how many people had their TV sets switched on yesterday morning at 5 o’clock. That’s when the CBC coverage of the royal wedding began and for the next five hours I can only imagine that millions of viewers were glued to their screens, trying to catch a glimpse of this or that celebrity among the six hundred who were invited to the event.
Long before it took place, countless hours of television time had already gone into the anticipation of the wedding—and for the publicists it was all big money. While the costs of the wedding are estimated to top $36 million, it was expected to generate over $860 million in revenue. If it is anything to go by, memorabilia sales alone for the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton seven years ago amounted to more than $380 million.
By this time you may already have been asking yourself, “What is this preacher fellow getting at—and what does all of this business about royal weddings have to do with the Bible anyway?” Well, for Christians today is the anniversary of another big event, when three thousand souls were added to the fledgling group of Jesus’ followers who had come together that morning to pray.
Little could they have imagined when they gathered in the upper room that they would be swept off their feet (spiritually if not physically) by a “rushing mighty wind”, touched by fire, and speaking in languages never before heard from their lips! So completely strange was what happened to them that it is little wonder that it all began to attract a crowd of people who were no less amazed and perplexed than they were. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
So today, while the rest of the world is recovering from the royal wedding or preparing for Game Five in the playoffs between Vegas and the Jets, we Christians quietly celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. And quite rightly our attention is fixed on the miraculous events that occurred that morning: the mysterious whistling of the wind, the flames of fire that divided and settled on each of the believers, and the praises of God in all the varied languages of the known world.
It was a remarkable event—and I don’t know how many times I have preached on it over the past forty-plus years. Yet this year as I began my preparations, it dawned upon me that my attention has always been focused on the events in the opening verses of Acts, chapter 2. At the same time it began to occur to me that maybe what Luke wrote in the closing verses of that same chapter has even more to teach us about the real meaning of Pentecost and about the work that the Holy Spirit yearns to do in you and in me. So allow me to read them to you.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
There are three aspects of this brief summary of the first days of the church I would like us to focus on. The first of them can be summarized by the word “devotion”. Luke begins, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
My Greek lexicon tells me that those words “devoted themselves” can be translated in a whole variety of ways: “persist in”, “attach oneself to”, “be faithful to”, “be busily engaged in”, “hold fast to”, “persevere in”, “spend much time in”. By now probably you get the idea. Those first believers were not prepared to allow anything to stand in the way of learning from the apostles or from coming together regularly for fellowship, worship and prayer.
Early in my own walk with Christ many years ago, my pastor encouraged me to begin memorizing Scripture. The first verses I ever committed to memory were Psalm 119:9 and 11, and I quote them as I learned them in the old King James Version:
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed thereto according to thy word…
Thy word have I hid in mine heart,
that I might not sin against thee.
It seems to me that those early believers did exactly what Psalm 119 counsels us to do: they were taking God’s word to heart with an unshakeable commitment to the apostles’ teaching. Now of course they had no New Testament and they wouldn’t for a couple of generations. But they had the apostles themselves and they spent time learning from them, drinking in their words—and we’re not just talking about a weekly twenty-minute sermon or even a forty-minute one. Acts 20 tells us of an evening when the apostle Paul went on talking till midnight—to the point where one young man drifted into sleep and fell out the window!