The first century church, as recorded in the book of Acts, follows the incredible events of the Gospels. During the Gospels, Jesus was preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and healing thousands of people by great miracles. There were minimally 5,000 at one time healed, delivered, and fed (Matthew 6:8-10). Lazarus and the widow of Nain’s son were raised from the dead (John 11:1-44; Luke 8:40-56). All who gathered from near and far to travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks must have been speaking of what they had seen and heard of this Jesus, the Anointed One. To have an idea of how many Jews had in the past year experienced Jesus—there were 5,000 and 4,000 men, not counting women and children, at just two events and add in all the large throngs of people who walked with him or found him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Most likely, every person at the Feast of Weeks would have experienced their own, or family, or friends’ being healed and would have heard the radical good news of the coming Kingdom of God. They experienced Jesus performing the miracles that the prophets foretold the Messiah would do. They also gained wisdom from Jesus as he taught about Yahweh’s plan for His coming Kingdom and how we are to live as we await that promise.
Certainly, the Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem heard of Jesus being resurrected from the dead; that Jesus showed himself in his resurrected body; and heard from eyewitnesses that Jesus ascended into heaven.1 These were facts, reality, and uncommon experiences.
At 9:00 in the morning, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and only 10 days after his ascension, the disciples were seated in the Temple and praying. They heard a sound of wind and started to breathe in and out as Jesus taught them. A sign of cloven tongues of fire appeared. The twelve disciples received holy spirit with the miracle of each speaking in a different language—a gift from Yahweh and His Son. This gift of holy spirit is a spiritual gift that enables Jesus to provide wisdom and power to all who believe on him. The early church was ignited on fire with faith and power.
Immediately after the disciples spoke in tongues, the Jews marveled asking, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? (Acts 2:7-8).” The writer Luke reports that men from multiple districts and areas surrounding Jerusalem, and even visitors from Rome who were Jews and proselytes, heard them speak in their own languages (Acts 2:9-11). Most assuredly they were all astonished that these lowly men from Galilee area were fluent in speaking different languages and praising Yahweh. One can imagine the disciples were amazed also!
As with so many miracles and signs given by Yahweh, there were those present who pondered the meaning of the phenomenon in the Temple, and those that mocked saying, “They are full of sweet wine (Acts 2:12-13).” Peter stood up amid all the thousands of Jews (who had heard of the crucifixion or were a part of it) gathered at the Temple and began to preach. This new event of hearing praises to Yahweh in their own languages by men who did not know those languages was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). Yahweh was finally pouring out His spirit upon all flesh. Joel prophesied that sons and daughters shall prophesy and young men will see visions and old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17-18). At the end of Peter’s speech, he very clearly stated, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36).”
The events that Peter spoke about were recent. The shock of hearing what they assented to caused the Jews to understand the gravity of the crucifixion that happened less than two months before in Jerusalem. They most certainly had been discussing those events while celebrating the Feast of Weeks. When the Jews heard the Scriptures opened to them by Peter concerning what had just happened in the Temple, they were “pierced to the heart” or wounded in conscience (Acts 2:37). Have you ever had a “what have I just done” moment—the moment of realizing the horror of what has happened and wanting desperately for that time back to make things right? Since this could not be undone, they cried out to Peter, “Men, brothers, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?”
Peter’s reply was for the Jews and for all of us today. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’“ (Acts 2:38). Peter continued to speak about repentance and encouraged them to accept Jesus as Messiah. Those who received the Peter’s word were baptized, and “that day there were added about three thousand souls
In the following verses of Acts 2, the description of how the first century church started out was by: continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowshipping with one another, eating together, and praying together. They all had a sense of awe, and they continued to see signs and miracles by way of the apostles. They had a new sense of community and love for one another and showed it by helping those in need. They went to the Temple to pray faithfully and were of one mind. They had gladness and simplicity of heart, all while praising Yahweh, having favor with all, and Jesus added to the church all who were saved (Acts 2:42-47).
The first church experienced signs and miracles and also learned wisdom from the Scriptures about Jesus the Messiah. How their hearts must have burned to hear of the things that they were blind to in the Torah and the Prophets. Having received holy spirit, they needed both the wisdom of Scripture and godly experiences. Timothy Keller states, “Wisdom requires practical experience, but experience does not necessarily lead to wisdom.”2 The church today needs both wisdom of the Scriptures and godly experiences to thrive. Having only all wisdom and instruction leads to falling short of the love and community of experiencing Yahweh. The emphasis of only experiencing Yahweh through manifestations, signs, and miracles over and above parameters of wisdom from Yahweh leads to magic shows and empty relationships with Yahweh and Christ. Both practices produce communities that exhibit low level critical thinking ability.
As the first century church thrived, we need simplicity of heart and dogged persistence to study and learn the truth of the Scriptures. We need one another to keep us from getting off on tangents; we minister to one another for problems and illnesses that come up; and we gather strength from one another through eating together, praying together, singing together, and loving one another. It is in these simple acts that we can regain the joy of the First Century church. Miracles can happen every day and have great insights into the Scriptures that lead us in the right way.
Godly community encourages us to stand firm in order to persevere a lifetime.
Peter and the other disciples preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Thousands were coming to believe on Jesus because of the power of the spoken Word. They had faith that transpired when the Word healed people from all races, ethnicities, classes, deformities, diseases, and evil spirits. The unadulterated Word that is taught with love raises people from the dead and heals all. It also gives people the fences needed so that they have entrance into the Kingdom of God.
We need both godly wisdom and power-filled experiences. Acts 4:13 says that “they observed the confidence of Peter and John”, and when they did, they believed on Jesus. Peter and John had confidence (faith) in the Scriptures and their experience of seeing Jesus heal and deliver. The same is true for us today. Our church, the body of believers, needs to see healings and miracles, but only in line with godly wisdom. Wisdom cannot be our only goal. Both are required for a balanced, thriving Christian life.
1 John 19; John 20:19ff; Luke 24; Luke 24:50.
2 Keller, T., & Keller, K. (2017). God’s wisdom for navigating life: A year of daily devotions in the Book of Proverbs. New York: Viking, p. 45.