I had the opportunity in high school to visit Israel with my church. It was all incredible, but one of my favorite memories was when we went into an upper room much like the one Jesus and His disciples might have used during the Last Supper. It was bigger than I’d expected, and full of other tour groups and visitors. I didn’t pay much attention until one of them started to sing a worship song. I couldn’t understand the words, but it didn’t matter. We all recognized the song. One by one, each group started singing in their own language, until the room was full of the sounds of worship. We all came from different places and spoke different languages, but in that moment we were united and worshipping the same God. It was a beautiful glimpse into what we might experience in heaven.
It also made me think of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus told the apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit to give them power, then to go spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. And when the Spirit came upon them, they received His life and His power. Jesus wasn’t living with them any more, but now God was living in them.
The apostles immediately responded. They didn’t stay in their room and keep this precious gift to themselves. No! They went out to the crowd and shared the Good News of Jesus with them, each in their own language. Around 3,000 people believed that one day alone, and the early Church was born.
But how can that apply to us today?
This is a difficult season for sure. Every period in history comes with challenges, but 2020 has been exceptionally rough. The news stories are full of fear, anger and despair. We’re divided in so many ways – divides that seem impossible to bridge. How can we alleviate the grief and hopelessness that people feel? What can any one of us do against such impossible odds?
“My brethren, do you believe in the Holy Ghost?… Do we believe that, at this moment, He can clothe us with power, even as He did the apostles at Pentecost? Do we believe that, under our preaching, by His energy a thousand might be born in a day?” – Charles Spurgeon
The short answer is we can’t on our own. God is the only one that can do the impossible. But He wants to partner with us to help do His work. He calls us to love each other and serve each other in love. How can we do that in this divisive time when people are so angry? The early Church gives us a few takeaways to remember:
- The believers spoke in the language of the crowd. Acts 2 lists fifteen different groups of people, and each of those groups heard the apostles speaking “in his own language.” Your delivery matters. Be gentle and respectful when you talk to people. If you speak in a way they can understand, they’ll be much more likely to listen. We struggle so much with communication. Let’s challenge ourselves to make an effort to really listen and understand each other, instead of just yelling at each other.
- They took action. They weren’t satisfied to preach, then go back to their normal lives. Being a follower of Jesus changed them completely. They devoted themselves to learning, fellowshipping and praying. They also sold their material possessions to take care of those in need. They realized that words are not enough. Following Jesus should change everything for us, because we know how high the stakes are. We know where to find the hope that this broken world so desperately needs. Nothing else is more important. We should be praying for a revival in our country, and in our world. Praying that the Spirit moves in a big way for the glory of God. Studying the Word, helping those in need. Loving our neighbors in tangible ways, no matter how hard it is.
- We’re all part of the body of Christ. God created us all differently, with different perspectives and experiences. But we’re all one in Him. “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Cor. 12:12-13). Each part has a job and a purpose. We can’t function without the others. When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. We need to be more mindful of each other.
- Diversity is part of God’s plan. Acts 2 gives us a beautiful glimpse into the beginning of the Church. In the first day alone, they added believers from over a dozen different regions. They spoke different languages, had different traditions and perspectives. But they all made the decision to follow Jesus. All believers are God’s children and adopted into His family. We were never meant to be exactly the same. It’s not enough to ignore our differences. We should celebrate them – culturally, politically, philosophically. Our diversity adds to the beauty and functionality of God’s creation. “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?” (1 Cor. 12:17)
- We all have a unique purpose. “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.'” (1 Cor. 12:18-21). We can’t continue to accept only people that look or think like we do. God created us all, and adopted us into His family. He has a specific purpose for each of us. Don’t look down on people for being different than you. Don’t discourage others from following God’s call on their lives just because it doesn’t look the same as yours. At the same time, don’t let someone discourage you from the things God has called you to. Other people might not understand, but that doesn’t change your purpose.
- Keep things in perspective. It’s so easy to lose hope when we see how broken our world is. And just as easy to blame and dismiss each other. Disagreements are inevitable. The apostles had disagreements at times, and it’s no different today. But it’s essential to remember that we’re still brothers and sisters. We can’t afford to let disagreements break us or cause us to stop loving each other. That’s what the enemy is trying to do. We’re not fighting against other people. There’s a spiritual war going on, and it bleeds over into the physical world. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). This world is full of lost and hurting people who need to know that Jesus loves them. We can’t ever afford to lose sight of who our real enemy is. And it’s not those people. We as the Church need to do better, and love better.
The book of Acts shouts the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives overnight. He still has that power, and He’s still changing lives today. It can feel hopeless and overwhelming, but always remember that God is in control. He can (and does) work in an instant. There’s always hope. We’ll all worship together in eternity, so let’s start now.
We’ve spent much of this year in a forced Sabbath. I believe it’s been a time of preparation. What has God been speaking to you? Where is He leading you to get involved? How can you share His love with the world?
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:35