The Unity of the Early Church
The passage we are covering for today marks the very beginning of the Apostles’ life without Christ on the earth as their ever present guide and friend. They had spent the last three years of their lives together with him, and now he has ascended back to heaven. The next phase of their life and ministry was waiting for them back in Jerusalem. The events of the next few days would prove pivotal.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1: 12-15
The story told of the disciples’ activities in the passage today is reminiscent of a story told of a Chinese farmer who had his cataracts removed by a Christian missionary working there in China as a medical doctor. After the farmer recovered, he made his way from the Christian compound back to his home in the inner regions of the country.
It wasn’t too many days after this, that the doctor looked out of his office window and once again saw the farmer. He was holding a long rope, and single file behind him were several blind Chinese whom the farmer had told about his operation. They all knew the farmer had been essentially blind, but now he could see. He told these people of the doctor who cured him; naturally, all these other blind people wanted to meet this doctor. Of course, the cured man could not explain the physiology of the eye or the technique of the operation. He could merely tell others he had been blind, the doctor had operated on him, and now he could see. That was all the others needed to hear. They came to the doctor.
[box] Likewise we, as Christians, need not be the most renowned theologian walking the planet in order to share our faith. We don’t have to be able to explain all of the mysteries of God. We don’t even have to be a flawless example of clean, Christian living. We simply need to be witnesses to the fact that once we were spiritually blind, but now we can see. It is as simple as that. [/box]
And this is exactly what the early church was setting about to do in the passage today.
Waiting in an Upper Room in Jerusalem…
As we join them, they are returning to Jerusalem to begin the work that Christ had given them to do. Look there at verse 12.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
This, of course, is immediately following the ascension of Christ, that the entourage journeyed back into the city to begin their work together. The Sabbath day’s journey mentioned here would have been about 3/4 of a mile that they traveled.
13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying,
There is no agreement on whether or not this is the same upper room where they had the last supper and it is not of great importance. It is, however, culturally characteristic of the upstairs rooms of the time period, that they would be large enough to host a very large group. Verse 15 mentions that there are 120 in all. It is uncertain whether they were all staying here or just gathered here in the daytime. But it was a large enough room that it could host all of those people.
Jesus’ Brothers are Mentioned
The rest of verse 13 says:
Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
This is the list of the 12 Apostles minus Judas Iscariot. So they all remained together and were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come.
14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
This is an interesting verse in that it mentions Jesus’ brothers here. These are the same brothers who were skeptics of Jesus’ abilities in the book of Matthew. Now, they are a part of the early church. A person who is not specifically mentioned but would have been there is Jesus’ half brother, James. He, of course, is the author of the book of James. Church history and early tradition tell us a bit about him that is of interest. He was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem. He was known as James the Just for his absolute devotion to his Lord. Even though he started out as a skeptic, he soon became a very influential figure. You know, little brothers can’t afford to be impressed with their older siblings too much even if they are the Messiah, so this is forgivable, I guess.
[box] James’ devotion was well known to people who said that his knees resembled the knees of camels, because they were so rough and calloused from the hours that he spent on the hard floor kneeling in prayer. This half-brother of Jesus was one of the earliest church martyrs and was thrown from the top of the temple and killed for the cause of Christ.[/box]
Characteristics of the People in the Upper Room
These were the kinds of people who were present in that room and there were a few things that were characteristic of them as representing the church in its infancy. This is the very first of the meetings of the church of Jesus Christ in this room in Jerusalem. We are privileged to be able to have this account of them. And what were they doing exactly?
There are three things of note:
First: They were Dwelling in Obedience.
Jesus told them in the first part of the chapter to stay in Jerusalem. The tendency could have been, in those early exciting days, to jump out ahead of what Christ told them to do. The tendency may have been to take this show on the road now and not wait around. Things were exciting. They had seen alot. They had been taught alot and now they wanted to go and tell what they had seen and learned. But Christ said to stay. And so we see in them a level of obedience that shows restraint and an understanding that God’s ways are higher than our ways. Even if they wanted to get going on their perceived mission, they had been given orders to stay put.
Second: They were Dwelling in Unity.
They were together. They probably practiced more togetherness than we could stand for ourselves these days. It was perhaps even a bit much for them.
[box] They were living together under one roof and were deeply involved and invested in each other’s lives. Now, I’m not suggesting that we start a commune and do the same, but we do need to practice a certain level of togetherness in order to remain a connected body.[/box]
There is a story told of a pastor who was eating with a friend of his in the park, and he asked him some questions about his involvement in the church. The pastor said,
“I know you are a member of our church– you are on the roll, but I never see you around. You don’t seem to have much of anything to do with anyone at the church and you never really attend. How can you say you are a real member of this fellowship?”
The friend replied that he considered his religion personal and private. He was able to meet with God just fine by himself and he didn’t need anyone at the meeting place to validate anything he was doing.
With this response, the pastor got up from where he was and took a coal from the fire where they were cooking dinner and separated it from the rest of the coals on the fire. Pretty soon the light went out from the solitary coal. “See?”, The pastor said. “The coal left out on its own goes out. We can’t keep the warmth and the fire of our beliefs, no matter how well intentioned we may be, in isolation.”
Church, we can’t isolate ourselves. If you are a lone ranger around here, you can’t expect to maintain any of the fire necessary to keep a hot heart for Christ. We are meant to live this life together. No man is an island.
When we stand before Christ and his judgment seat one day, we will stand alone. We cannot ride anyone else’s coattails into heaven–that much is true.
[box] But the pathway to heaven is not meant to be travelled alone. We are to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who are traveling the same road at the same time. The early church gave evidence to the truth of this by living together and sharing all things.[/box]
So obedience, unity and then third:
Third: They had Singularity of Purpose.
This single purpose was not from the flavor of the month, earthly leadership that sometimes exists in the modern church; where the vision gets cast in a number of different ways depending on the whims of leadership or the prevailing winds of relevance. This purpose was given by Christ and it remains the purpose of the church today. As we work our way through chapter 2 of Acts in particular, we will get to see the many facets of this purpose acted out.
The first part of the church’s purpose was prayer. They were united in prayer. Now what were they praying for? It is not really clear what it was, but it was important for Luke to mention that they were in unity and unified in prayer.
Our prayer list changes with the current situation of the church, but we pretty much always have things before the congregation that we pray for. They are put out on the loop every day or so, and people respond every single time that they are lifting up these requests. We also have some ongoing things that we can pray for.
Pray for Your Pastors
You can pray for your pastors every single day, and it wouldn’t be too much I promise. We need your prayers for our time in the study to be redeemed. Pray that we make the most of it every week and that it is productive. This grows the congregation in spiritual health by extension, because you are the beneficiary of this study time. You can pray that we will not yield to the temptations of the world around us. There are a million ways for a pastor to be disqualified these days, and there have been a multitude of pastors who have become disqualified from leading. Pray for your pastors, that we resist the temptations we face in a given week. Pray for our families, as we pray for yours.
Additional Prayer Points
- Sickness As far as other things go, we can pray for one another–about the sickness that may be in a house currently or sometimes in our congregation, we have those who are chronically ill who need our prayers.
- A Permanent Church Home Where God would have us to land as a permanent home is always a good prayer for us to pray together. We have been so blessed with this space! But as I’m sure many of you have already seen, it will only serve our needs at the current time. It may work, perhaps, a little ways into the future, but we are going to outgrow this space as well at some point. So God knows where the next spot will be, perhaps even in our own building with room to grow.
- Mission and Message of the Church We can pray for the mission and message of our church. Pray for the classes that we currently have and for those that will come in the future that they would honor God and grow the church in health.
- Future Membership Pray for our future membership that God would grow our church numerically in his time and in his way. Pray that He would lead those who belong here to find us and stay with us. Pray that we might have some projects along the way as well. Not everybody is going to look just like the homeschool bunch around here. They may need some love — warts and all. We should pray for those opportunities and take full advantage of them when they come along.
There are many ways in which we can show our unity as a church. Living in obedience, meeting and living life together, and prayer are just some of those ways. We will cover more in the weeks to come.
Posted by Koinonia Church on Sunday, July 8, 2018
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://koinoniachurch.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Pastor-Dan.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info] Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing. [/author_info] [/author]