Revival Continues under Peter & Other Apostles
PS: as I am writing this on Easter Saturday let me greet you all in the words the faithful around the world will use tomorrow:
Christ is Risen
He is risen indeed!
Back to our investigation:
The first century revival in Palestine paused for a moment after Jesus crucifixion, resurrection, period of appearances to his disciples and ascension into heaven. Then on the Day on Pentecost it resumed with renewed vigour. The reason scripture gives for the renewed vigour is the newly bestowed gift to all believers of the Holy Spirit.
The first thing we note in the Acts account is the change from timorous seclusion to bold going forth into the public arena on the part of the Apostles and other disciples. Peter we see standing in front of the crowd and urging them: “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” and then: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you , in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
We see the age old message “Repent (turn back to your God) and you will be forgiven” coupled with the astounding new additions: Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, now raised from death and the presence of the Holy Spirit as God's gift to all who believe in Jesus.
We also see (which was absent in previous revivals) the formation of a new community of believers separating out from the general population. “3,000 were added to their number that day” “and all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's colonnade. No one else dared to join them ...” Paradoxically the new community although distinct, had not completely separated itself but existed within the general national and religious body. But by the time of Paul's missionary journeys we see him start within the synagogue of each town he visits, then being expelled from it and taking the believers with him forming a separate fledgling “church”. So that while Christianity was even then still in the eyes of many a sect “the Way” within Judaism, expulsion is forcing it to become completely separate.
Sociologist David Moberg in his extensive book on religion in the United States back in the 50's described the life cycle of a church. It went like this:
a) Period of effectiveness
b) Period of decline where symbolism and ritual continue though emptied of spiritual vitality
c) then either a reform movement starts or the church continues its decline
d) the reform group EITHER remains within and renews vitality OR leaves as a splinter group.
Previous revivals under the Old Testament prophets and God-fearing kings either failed or stayed within the existing nation and gave renewed vitality to its faith. Under John the Baptist and Jesus despite opposition from the powers that be, people affected by the revival remained within the national – religious system. What happens in the time of Peter and the other apostles is an increasing persecution and separation which eventually becomes a complete parting of ways between Judaism and what is by then known as the “Christians”. We will see a similar thing happen in the revival in England under the Wesleys
The other notable feature is that the working of miracles which was a feature of Jesus' ministry but which was absent from John the Baptist continues through the Apostles.
In looking for information that help our understanding or expectations for modern day revival, what can we draw from this?
a) The Apostles are told to wait until they are “clothed with power from on high”, referring to the Holy Spirit. Thereafter there are mentions, not only of miracles at the hands of the Apostles, but instances such as when Peter and the others were hauled before the Sanhedrin we are told that the formerly cowardly Peter “filled with the Holy Spirit” confronts them boldly and with surprising eloquence. In our time, we should realise that revival will only be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to fall in line with the God's plans, not make our own and expect God to fall in line with us!
b) In the Old Testament persons performing outstanding deeds in God's service, be it prophets, artisans, or warriors are said to have done so in the power of God's Spirit. With John the Baptist and in Jesus ministry scripture is even more explicit about the role of the Holy Spirit. In Acts it is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which starts the explosive growth of the church. But the unique fact at (and since) Pentecost is the gift of the Spirit to all believers. True at first it is Peter and the other Apostles who are public figures, but upon the persecution that sees believers scattered we read: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” I think it is fair to observe that the activity of the Holy Spirit in all believers now facilitates the spreading of the Gospel through all believers.
c) The message is always the old “turn back to God and he will forgive” but now with a richer understanding of God: That “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself” and the presence in believers of the Holy Spirit. This begins the understanding of God's triune nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.