A Paradigm for Discipleship
By Stephen Jones, Student Ministries Team Leader
I still have a lot of questions about the Day of Pentecost.
It MUST have been an awe-inspiring sight, a multi-sensory overload.
Consider the great diversity of people there in Jerusalem for the festival, the multiplicity of languages spoken within earshot, and the cultural complexities present in every interaction. Then, add the fireworks of the Holy Spirit and a rag-tag group of home-grown disciples passionately preaching in obscure languages!
Pentecost represented the birth of the church—the first mega-church, even by today’s standards. It must have been amazing to witness. We can read Luke’s description of it, and we can draw our own mental images of that day. Many of us understand the power of a single, overwhelming experience. We’re equally aware of how a one-off experience can be diminished in our memories over time, if there’s no accompanying life-change. The Day of Pentecost was certainly a watershed moment in the history of Christianity—even more significant when considering the incredible complexities of diverse people groups and language barriers! However, what about the days that followed?
Luke said, “…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”
What exactly did the apostles teach those people — that diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multitude.
To what exactly did they study and devote themselves?
What was communication like? There was no podcast.
The Book of Acts does the modern reader a tremendous favor by recording some of the early messages that came out of the Empowering Presence of God on the Day of Pentecost. Those early messages, delivered by the apostle Peter, give us the basic tenets of the faith and a glimpse into how the apostles discipled the most diverse mega-church ever conceived.
Luke described, in detail, at least four occasions when Peter articulated the Gospel. The first happened on the day of Pentecost when the onlookers asked, “What does all this mean?” (2:12-13). The second event happened when Peter and John healed the man at the Beautiful Gate, and a crowd soon gathered to see (3:11-26). The third, though much shorter on details, was Peter’s response to the religious authorities who questioned their message (4:8-12). The fourth event was a second deposition in front of the Sanhedrin—an interrogation about their preaching, their ministry, and their obstinate disobedience to the Council’s orders (5:29-32). Those four messages, recorded early in Luke’s account of the apostle’s ministry, are amazingly similar in content and laser-focused on a single objective. Those messages form the outline of the apostles’ teaching and the paradigm for discipleship today.
What are those common threads among all of Peter’s messages?
- You have sinned.
In each circumstance, on every occasion, Peter took the opportunity to boldly remind the people of how Jesus had been innocent, attested to them by God with miracles and wonders, and they still chose to execute Him. On every occasion, once-timid Peter detailed how they had chosen a murderer in place of Jesus, how they had turned one of their own over to the Roman authorities to be nailed to a cross, how they had rejected the true Servant of the Living God. He was frighteningly sharp with his indictments of both laypeople and the religious leaders. There could be no doubt—every single person stood under judgment on the basis of how they responded to Christ.
- God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
The core of the Gospel message was that even though Jesus had been crucified, He was no longer dead or laying in a tomb. The central focus of EVERY SINGLE SERMON was that Jesus was alive and well, that God had raised Him from the dead, and that the apostles were all witnesses of His resurrection. Whether the audience was a group of on-lookers in the temple courts, or the temple leaders themselves, there was no ambiguity or hesitation. Jesus was alive! Moreover, by virtue of His perfect life, sacrificial death, and documented resurrection, God has made Him Lord and Savior over all humanity and the created order. The man, who had once been attested by God (by His miracles) to be an authoritative teacher, had now been validated and verified to be the Son of God by His resurrection!
- Salvation is found only in His name.
Despite the bold, finger-pointed truth of Peter’s indictment, he still offered to every single crowd a tremendous hope of forgiveness and restoration. In an historic, unprecedented, wonderful irony, the man whom they had turned over to Pilate for execution was the very same man in whom they would find forgiveness—not only for their rejection of Him, but also for every single mistake they had ever made against anyone else, every way they had ever rejected God and His commands, both past, present, and forevermore. No other name, no other god could offer clean-slate forgiveness like the One they had rejected. There was also no wait-list, no probationary period, and no reason to delay accepting that free gift He offered.
Looking back on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles brought a wealth of experience to that Gospel moment; their three years spent with the Servant-Leader, King of Kings, could have filled countless books with lessons on ethics, wisdom, how to be right before God, and to follow His commands. When they were released by Jesus and empowered by the Spirit to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, they had also been equipped to lead unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Him.
Yet, when Peter’s first messages are read together, and in one sitting, three core truths are announced at full-volume, over and above those many other lessons and experiences. Without messaging experts, speechwriters, or teleprompters, Peter was able to deliver powerful sermons in separate venues with different audiences and with incredible responses because of the power of the Holy Spirit—and from the intimacy of His own experience. He, too, had rejected Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He, too, had seen the empty tomb. He, too, had experienced the loving forgiveness of his Lord.
When we ask, “What exactly did they teach,” I believe the answer is a simple Gospel, framed by their experiences with the risen Lord. In that way, I believe their message was a paradigm for discipleship.
**This is part one of a two-part series about the core teachings of the early church. Look for part two during the month of March.**