Read Acts 2:42-47
The Book of Acts tells the story of how Christianity began and spread. As with any historical narrative, Acts omits many details in favor of selected facts that are most important and the events that played critical roles in the development of later situations. In this case, Luke has interpreted the events and presented them in an organized way that demonstrates both history and faith. Historically, the book serves as a vital link between the Gospels and the epistles. It bridges the gap between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. In the Gospels, Jesus is preaching; in the epistles, Jesus is being preached. (Michael Morrison)
The book of Acts may be read for history, and it may also be read to strengthen our faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. As we read, we can put ourselves in the apostles’ sandals, to feel their boldness in preaching the gospel and their fears when facing persecution. We can marvel that the apostles, right after being flogged, were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]” (Acts 5:41). And by reading about their faith and perseverance, we can be a little more emboldened to face our own crises with the help of the same Holy Spirit.
Key Qualities of the Fellowship
They devoted themselves to the Apostles teachings – This is an indication that the believers sought and honored the authority of those upon whom the call and charge had been placed. The early Church accepted the leadership of the Apostles. In turn, the leaders cared for the fellowship and guided the use of their resources for a common good. The fellowship’s devotion to Christ and each other occurred daily.
Peter and Paul emerged as central figures in Luke’s account of the Apostles and the early Church. In 1 Peter, we get a taste of the kind of leadership, or shepherding given by the Apostles: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (2:2-3). Later, Peter says, “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.” (1 Peter 2:19) Peter says, that it is necessary for believers to grow up and buck up. Again, the obvious assumption in the letters of the Apostles is that they are being heard with respect and reverence for the One who sent them to teach and preach. Peter and the other Apostles gave their followers strong doctrinal instruction, but also encouraged them during great trials. The followers of Christ believed the teaching of the Apostles because they witnessed the shared suffering and experienced the anointed leadership. They were fed and cared for both spiritually and physically through the Apostles’ leadership.
The same basic structure exists in today’s typical church. An anointed, appointed, spiritual leader shepherds the flock. Authority is given as a sign of faith in Christ as head of the Church. Each believer is part of the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:9) does not equate to universal authority. Each believer is subject to the teachings and leadership of the Apostles. Priesthood is understood as an extension of the Body of Christ.
Read John 10:1-10 (1666) – Jesus told the Pharisees that He was the gate. He said that anyone who goes around the gate is not the Shepherd, but a thief. Therefore, Jesus indicated that those religious leaders who denied Jesus as Christ were thieves among the sheep. As we read Jesus’ words it becomes clear that his shepherds are easily recognized and accepted as leaders of the sheep. Therefore, going around the shepherd is like going around the gate.
Psalm 23 gives a vivid description of the Lord as shepherd and describes the role of the shepherd of every flock that belongs to the Lord. Read Psalm 23 (862). See how the shepherd cares for the sheep. The shepherd provides for all their needs – not wants. It is the shepherd’s awesome responsibility and prerogative to drive the sheep away from sickening food, and dirty water. It is the shepherd who must give and accounting to the owner of the flock.
Consider what would happen as a heard of sheep moves through the valley of hunger, thirst, and danger and emerges in a place where there is water, but it is impure; where there are green plants, but they are bitter weeds. An alpha male and female of the flock presses ahead of the others even attempting to bypass the shepherd. The flock is tempted to follow, accept for the intervention of the shepherd. The shepherd speaks firmly to the sheep and pushes back the presumptuous ram and ewe. The ram is determined to drink wherever he wills and the ewe urges him on. The shepherd briefly battles over the matter of who is in charge, the sheep or the shepherd. Then, when submission is won by the shepherd the flock is led to sweet water and green pastures. For the shepherd to any less would be dishonoring to the owner of the flock.
By now, it must be apparent that I have found a particular meaning in the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this week. As I studied them I felt compelled to interpret them in the way that I have. Perhaps I have been led in this direction because I am leaving you soon and cannot help but reflect upon the years of service here, even as I anticipate my service in our next appointment. I am aware that in both places there has been some discord that resulted from discomfort with the pastor’s leadership. In some cases, persons have lost authority and influence over matters they cared deeply about. Some have lost projects and possessions. In both churches, there have been those who responded by leaving – at least until the pastor they disagree with is gone. When this happened, it saddened the pastor more than most people will ever know. Like most people, we wanted to be respected and loved; we want to be appreciated and understood as much as the body of believers. Yet, we cannot afford to forget that we are accountable to God for how we shepherd His flocks. We would rather risk the wrath of an angry ram or ewe than disappoint the Master. However, we love our flock and do not wish to see anyone wander away or go hungry.