I know this is a strange assertion, but I’ve been studying the book of Acts all morning and the thought hit me that Pentecost plus persecution produced the mightiest change agent in all of history – the local church empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are never commanded to purposely try to duplicate either, but we certainly ought to live in the warmth and glow of that early New Testament flame.
Pentecost wasn’t the “birth” of the church – it existed already under Jesus’ earthly ministry. Pentecost also wasn’t the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He was already here. But it was the day that He began a new ministry among New Testament believers – that of empowering the church to accomplish the great commission, which was confirmed by the first 3,000 additions to the church in Jerusalem that day.
Pentecost was the headline of Acts chapter 2. Over chapters 3 through 6, we read about the development and unity of the church in Jerusalem. But while their fellowship grew tight, their zeal for their primary mission grew cold, so God allowed persecution in the form of Paul (Saul) and others. It was like throwing water on an oil fire – the little flames cast away from the source of the burning spread throughout the Middle East.
The dispersion of the church through persecution was the other half of the equation (in addition to the great promise of the Holy Spirit’s fullness) that equaled God’s intended picture of what the church is all about. Think of the stories that follow…
- In Acts 8, Philip wins an Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus.
- In Acts 9, Saul himself is converted.
- In Acts 10, Peter reaches a Roman centurion named Cornelius.
- In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are commissioned as apostolic church planters and the fire spreads…
The great question for our current age is, what’s missing from the equation? Is it that we don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit? I’d say that’s part of it. We’re watching almost a majority of leaders today fail morally or leave the ministry for greener grasses. We’ve blended in instead of standing out, and we’ve lost our passion for fervent prayer.
And what about the persecution? On the one hand, I shudder to think of the present direction of America’s attitude toward Christianity and Judeo-Christian values. On the other, I’m trusting that God is in full control and knows exactly what His people need in the world’s most desperate hour.
We can’t re-produce Pentecost, and in my belief system, we don’t need to do so. We simply need to live in the glow of it. And we certainly don’t shout “bring it on” when conversing about persecution. But I do think it’s time to pray for God’s hand to do whatever is necessary that we might be the church He intended. The world is still waiting for the good news!