The opening pages of the book of Acts show us the church God used to launch the movement that we call Christianity. On their opening Sunday, three thousand people came to faith in Jesus Christ. At their second public gathering, over five thousand were added to their number. Historians and scholars go on to tell us that within six months of Pentecost, there were over one hundred thousand new Christians in the city of Jerusalem. And here’s the reality: every single one of us trace our faith back to this moment that began with a handful of Christians in Acts 2.
When you realize the magnitude of what happened through this group of people, it raises a question: What was it about them that enabled them to be so mightily used of God? This was a ragtag group of nobodies. Nobody knew their names, nobody knew their platform, nobody knew where they’d come from. Yet history records that they were used by God to literally turn the world upside down. And I think if we look closely at Acts 1:1–14, we can find four characteristics of the early church that we can apply to our own lives.
1. They had a faith that produced obedience.
They trusted God, and they did what God said.
Before he ascended, Jesus told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 HCSB). He said, “I want you to go back to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is where we’re going to begin this movement.” You know what happened just forty days earlier in Jerusalem? Jerusalem had made a pretty clear statement about what they thought about Jesus. Jerusalem was where Jesus was whipped, beaten, tried, crucified, and buried. Jerusalem was the place where they could lose their lives. Logically, strategically, it made no sense to go to Jerusalem.
And yet the Bible says they went to Jerusalem. Why would they do that? Here’s why: they heard the voice of God. And when God speaks, we respond in obedience and faith. Hearing doesn’t mean God fills in all the blanks, but God clearly speaks about what the next step is. And, in faith, I respond in obedience to the next step. And that kind of faith demands intimacy with God.
“Everything Jesus desires to do through you he will do out of the overflow of what he’s doing in you.”
The single greatest thing you carry to the field is not your training. It’s not your education. It’s not your experience. It’s not even your passion. The single greatest thing you carry with you is your intimate love relationship with Jesus. Everything Jesus desires to do through you he will do out of the overflow of what he’s doing in you.
2. They had a passion that produced unity.
Verse fourteen tells us, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (NASB). This phrase “one mind” in the Greek language literally means one will, one heart, one passion.
What the writer is telling us about these people is that they had all wrapped their hearts around the same thing. What is it? Look at verse three. It says, “He also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (HCSB).
These are the last forty days Jesus will be on earth physically. And the Bible says every time Jesus got around his disciples, he only talked about one subject: the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God?
The kingdom of God is the ultimate eternal redemptive mission of God. Here’s the way we define the kingdom of God at Hope Church: the kingdom of God is God’s sovereign activity in the world, resulting in people being in right relationship with himself. The kingdom of God is the big picture of what God is doing in the world.
If you’re not careful when you go out and get involved in mission and ministry, the church can become the goal. But the church was never to be the goal. The church is a temporary tool established by Jesus to teach people about the King, to disciple them in kingdom living, and then to send them out for the expansion of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. These people in the book of Acts, they wrapped their hearts around that and said, “Everything else we put aside in view of the glorious kingdom being expanded to the ends of the earth.”
3. They had a desperation that produced prayer.
The Bible says they got in that upper room and they devoted themselves to prayer, and they didn’t stop praying until God showed up to do what he said he was going to do. I believe God in his sovereignty has chosen to limit his activity to the prayers of his people. No, God doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need our prayers. Prayer is not powerful. The One to whom we pray is powerful. God, in his infinite sovereignty, has ordained that he moves in response to the prayers of his people.
“Prayer is not powerful. The One to whom we pray is powerful.”
You dig deep enough anywhere in the world where God is actively at work, and let me tell you what you’ll find. You’ll find a remnant of people that have sought the face of God in prayer for that to happen.
4. They had the Spirit that produced power.
We can debate for days in seminary classrooms what really happened on the Day of Pentecost. But here’s one thing we can all agree on: on that day, the church was empowered as it had never been before.
You know what we need in the Southern Baptist Convention? We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God. In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan writes, “When I read the book of Acts, I see the church as an unstoppable force. The church was powerful and spreading like wildfire. Not because of clever planning, but by a movement of the Spirit. Riots, torture, poverty, or any other type of persecution couldn’t stop it. Isn’t that the type of church movement we all long to be a part of?”
These men and women of God were an unlikely group of people. But they had a faith that produced obedience. They had a passion that produced unity. They had a desperation that produced prayer. They had the Spirit of the living God that produced power. May we send men and women of God like that.
Vance Pitman is the senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. As a seasoned church planter who has commissioned more than forty churches, and now as a national mobilizer for NAMB, Vance seeks to promote awareness that the gospel is very needed in the United States as well as all over the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @VancePitman.