It is difficult to accurately know exactly how much the earliest followers of Jesus Christ understood about what was happening around them. Surely they knew something very unique had happened on the Day of Pentecost. There were the phenomenal displays of the Holy Spirit, the powerful preaching of Peter, and the confessions of faith and baptism of 3,000 people.
But did they understand they were beginning a distinctly new age and work of God that would be called the church? It was some time later that the terms Christians and church were applied to them as a distinct work. And likely most of these Jewish folks simply perceived these happenings were actually a new branch of the old faith of the nation.
In Acts chapter two we read immediately after the account of 3,000 being saved at Pentecost that they began to right away spend time together in both formal and informal settings. It says …
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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.
Along with the fellowship of togetherness, the teaching of the apostles and their witness to a watching world, they were continuously praising God. This was done both in the temple courts and in their gatherings with one another.
What brought them together in worship and dependence upon God? Looking into surrounding chapters we see …
- Prayers for guidance – Even before the day of Pentecost, these early Christ followers looked to the Lord for wisdom in selecting a replacement for Judas. Much later, as they began to understand the need to spread the message more widely, the believers in Antioch sought the Lord as to who should be separated out as missionaries. The directive came to them in a time of worship …
Acts 13:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
- Perspective in the midst of persecution and hostility – The message of the gospel was no more appreciated by the religious leadership now than it was from the mouth of Jesus previously. And after performing a miracle and creating a scene with their ministry and preaching, Peter and John ended up having a free night in jail.
Acts 4:23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. [quote from Psalm 2]
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
While understanding it was a privilege to be persecuted for the gospel message of Christ, it remained a fearsome endeavor in light of the threats of those in power. Therefore in the midst of their worship and prayer, they sought the Lord for the necessary boldness to be his witnesses in speech and ministry.
- Earnest prayer in the midst of crisis – Before long, Peter was back in jail and awaiting a trial before Herod. The situation looked grim, but the church set out to praying in earnest — a word that literally means “in a stretched-out manner.”
Acts 12: 4-5 … After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
The situation was so grave and serious that they likely had minimal hope it would turn out well, let alone that he might miraculously be delivered and show up at the door while they were praying…
Acts 12:12-17 … [Peter] went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
A summary of the life of the early church is that they did not do anything without praising God and expressing their dependence upon him in prayer for everything.
So let’s think through Acts and the Epistles and ask, what is different eventually as compared to these early days? When did the teaching change that members of the church did not have to be people of worship and prayer, commitment and dependence? Of course, it did not change; we continue to need the same and to be the same.
Worship is not an optional thing. It is not something that is simply about songs. It is not something that you sit and watch other people do. It is about active engagement as a central feature of what the church is all about.