“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Maybe it’s incidental, but the first thing that jumps out of the text is the fact that “they were all together in one place.” So much has changed since then. Technology allows us to choose other options besides the church on the Lord’s Day – and we do: sports, recreation, and every imaginable activity. What difference does it make? We can catch the service later on Sermon Audio, or, better yet, we can watch a celebrity preacher online who has a much better presentation than our pastor does, or, we can sleep in and catch up next week.
The first generation of Christian’s had no idea about the choices we’d make in the 21st century. Instead, “they were all together in one place.” They were waiting for Christ’s word to be fulfilled on their behalf. Jesus wasn’t one option among many. He was the only option between eternal life and eternal death, between certain joy and certain misery. They’d counted the cost and regarded everything else as loss for the sake of knowing, following, and serving Christ. They paid a price that many of us will never consider to stand in the company of Christ’s elect, His called-out-ones. Watch what happens to church attendance if there’s even a hint of suspicion of the threat of rain. The multitudes stay home en masse.
People will brave the elements to get to work or school on time, but see two snowflakes on the same day and we must cancel church. A little weather was the last thing the early church cared about. The more pressing issue was the fact that, at any moment, a Pharisaical gang or a Roman cohort might break down the doors and arrest the Christians.
Sitting in my living room, reading Acts 2, it’s easy to romanticize about the events of that first Pentecost, but it’s impossible to grasp its reality. Under constant threat of persecution and public humiliation, the church gathered continually awaiting the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. What would He do? How would He come? Who was the Holy Spirit anyway? They had no real idea of what to expect. They just waited – together. They waited because there was nothing else to do. They waited together because there was no one else to turn to. Many of those first-generation believers in Christ had given everything – homes, families, incomes – in order to follow Jesus. They’d forsaken everything for the love of Jesus Christ, and they were content to wait until the Holy Spirit was poured out as promised.
The ease with which most American Christians have been raised has cost us something in the sweet fellowship and worship that Christians throughout history have cherished – the fellowship of suffering with Christ. Even today, in what we think are dark corners of the globe, Christians gather under threat of death or abuses of every kind just to gather with God’s people to worship Christ. For many, the church is the only place where Jesus’ name can be uttered safely with joy and devotion. Elsewhere, His name means at least exclusion and at worst death. But in the church, the company of the redeemed by grace, the name of Jesus is life itself and cause for praise and thanksgiving.
I may just be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1), but I see the day coming when speaking the very name of Jesus, except as an expletive, will be hate speech punishable by the severest means. In that day, the church will once again gather, not to be amused and entertained, but for the pure joy of fellowshipping with others around the throne of God’s grace to speak the name of Jesus as an act of worship.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.