The First Years of Christianity: Christianity Begun

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“Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” (John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)). He had wrought redemption. They were no longer merely Jewish disciples, but for the first time He calls them His brethren. They were in the same relation to His Father and God in which He stood Himself—one with Him in resurrection. These were their true Christian privileges, the true standing now of every believer, whether he knows it or not; for they knew it not. At that moment they had very sad hearts. Mary came and told the glad news. They were gathered together the same day at evening. They did not yet form the Church, but they were the persons, and were together a striking figure of the Church, as we shall soon see.
Being together, the doors being shut for fear of the Jews, “came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” What a picture of the assembly, as Jesus had said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)). He had made peace by the blood of the cross—peace now flowed to them from the heart of God, from the lips of Jesus. Let us not forget this, the first word of resurrection, “Peace.” This characterizes Christianity—peace with God, through the finished work of Christ. “He showed unto them His hands and His side.” “It is finished,” He had said, and died. “Peace be unto you.” He is risen from the dead. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” There could be no question as to whether it was the same Jesus. His hands and His side proved that. If we know how much was involved in His resurrection, surely we may well be glad also. Oh, blessed beginning of Christianity! First words of the risen Savior, “Peace be unto you.” Still He speaks. Do you hear Him? Do you believe Him? Are you glad?
But mark, He speaks again. “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” As His missionaries, His servants sent forth, the very first qualification is “Peace.” This is a true mark of one sent of Christ—”Peace”—the peace of God, even as Jesus served and suffered in perfect peace, peace with God, and the peace of God. Thousands of ministers made by men are strangers to “peace”; but no man is a true minister of Christ without it. And as the new creation had now begun, “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Another qualification in order to go and proclaim the forgiveness of sins.
Luke continues the inspired narrative in the Acts. Forty days did Jesus remain, showing Himself to His chosen apostles, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, commanding them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard from Me. They were to be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence. At that time they had no idea of the Church, or this present period of grace to the Gentiles, but were looking for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. He opens up quite another work for them—a work that they never fully understood or performed.
After the Holy Spirit should have come, He says, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” How little they, how little we, respond to the heart of Christ! And now instead of setting up the kingdom in Israel, “While they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” There was the cloud, emblem of the divine presence, and He was taken from them. And while they gazed up into heaven, two heavenly witnesses assured them that “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” Thus, if we think of Christianity as a kingdom, it is the kingdom in mystery, for the King is in heaven; hence, Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven.
As a kingdom, while the King is in heaven, there are in it both wheat and tares—the children of God, and the children of the devil. In the kingdom is seen the work of man, and the work of Satan. But the Church, the body of Christ, is quite another thing. What He builds shall stand forever. Jesus says, “I will build MY church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)). Let us keep these two things distinct, as we now enter more fully on “That which was from the beginning.” The greatest possible mistake is to presume that that which man builds, is the same as that which Christ builds.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all of one accord in one place.” Everything was now ready for the descent of the Holy Spirit, that the Church might be formed. He could not be thus given until Jesus was glorified. If the Church had been an earthly society, seeking salvation, it might have been formed while Jesus was here. But redemption must be accomplished. Jesus must be raised from the dead and received up to glory, before He, the Spirit, could be sent to form the Church. People have no idea what an entirely unknown and new thing the Church was. There had been for centuries Jews and Gentiles, but now a third company is formed. The disciples then were all together in one place, when a mighty rushing sound from heaven was heard in Jerusalem, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And they were all, not merely the apostles, but they were all filled with the Holy Spirit; and a marvelous miracle bore witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit. They began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The Jews who came together, who were present in Jerusalem from various nations, heard them speak in their own tongues the wonderful works of God. There was great amazement and wonder.
Peter, an unlettered fisherman, then stood up and preached such a discourse as had never been heard on this earth. Fifty days before, this very Peter knew not the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead. He now opens the Scriptures, and preaches Jesus of Nazareth, the risen and exalted Lord and Christ of God. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
This then is the first great truth according to the promise of Jesus: the Holy Spirit is now come and convicts of this dreadful sin. They believed not on Him, but crucified and killed Him whom God had sent from heaven. He whom this world has murdered, God has raised from the dead, and made both Lord and Christ. Conviction of this terrible sin seizes their hearts, and makes them cry out, “What shall we do?”
Is the reader unconverted? Do you know that you also belong to that world which has killed and rejected the Lord Jesus, now seated at the right hand of God? And what must they do? “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The very enemies and murderers must become the very disciples of Jesus, and they must fully confess this discipleship in baptism. What a complete and confessed change of mind, what self-judgment; for that is what the word translated “repent” implies. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” They were deeply convicted of sin, they believed, were completely changed in mind, and showed it by being gladly baptized as the disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus, whom they had so lately rejected and murdered. All this was real matter-of-fact, confessed, and seen of all men. They were not ashamed to own Him Lord and Christ. Their sins were forgiven. They were gathered, and by the Holy Spirit added to, and formed the assembly of God. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.... And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house [or at home], did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” or were being saved— that is, from day to day. All were added, but to what? evidently to that which the Holy Spirit was forming, not to different bodies or churches of men, but to the one only Church of God.
It is important to notice the connection there was between repentance and baptism, so the Jews must have understood it. John preached, saying, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And great multitudes went out to him, “and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:1-61In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:1‑6)). “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for [or unto] the remission of sins.” Mark 1:44John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4). Confession of sins was the scripture ground of forgiveness from the days of ancient Job. “He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light” (or, an atonement, margin). We see how this was in the end produced in Job. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. And it was so.” When Job was brought to that point, instead of seeking to maintain his own righteousness, he now counted himself vile, completely changed his mind, in dust and ashes. There God met him in unhindered blessing. (Job 33 and 42.)
Was not baptism the outward profession of this entire change of mind? On the day of Pentecost there was a vast multitude of Jobs, so far as seeking to maintain their own religiousness or righteousness. With astonishment they were convicted of the greatest sin a creature is capable of. They had rejected and murdered the Holy and the Just One. See how Peter, or rather the Holy Spirit, pressed this. In chapter 3 he says, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” And then, after showing them that all this was what God had made known by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, he calls upon them to repent, to entirely change their minds from the mad course they were pursuing; and as many as believed and did thus change their minds were baptized, and this was evidence or proof of confession of sins. In the preaching then of Peter to the Jews, repentance, baptism, and forgiveness were most intimately connected in the name of Jesus. And they thus became the disciples of the crucified and risen Christ.
And when preaching the gospel to Jews, Mohammedans, or heathen now, these things would be the same. We could not admit the repentance of a Jew to be genuine if he refused to be baptized.
It is somewhat different in an already baptized country. There is little or no connection there between repentance and baptism. Unconverted parents, who never have repented, bring their children to be baptized; but this is confusion. They are in the nominal profession of Christendom, and as such they must be dealt with in preaching. Practically they are much like circumcised Jews. But repentance there must be, and a repentance so deep as to set aside all hopes of improvement in self. Self must be counted vile, abhorred. But then this true repentance is scarcely known. It is most probable, from the subsequent history of Peter himself, that he may not have fully understood the repentance of a Jew, and his baptism unto a DEAD and risen Christ.
The death of Christ was the complete end of Judaism. Christ had been a Jew in the flesh. But now dead and risen, He was a Jew in the flesh no more. Paul shows that we know Him no more as such. But then Judaism was God's trial of man. Just so, but that trial was over in the rejection and murder of Jesus. The whole administration of that system of law, and trial of man, was over, abolished, and in every way a new thing had come in. Yes, so new that it is spoken of as new creation. If we only understood this, we should see how strikingly the figure of baptism shows the end of man, the first man, in the death of Christ.
It was most important to show this first in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and to man under law. God in grace bore with the disciples, still clinging to the temple and its service. But now the great High Priest had passed into the heavens, of what value was the temple priesthood? And now the one sacrifice, offered once, in continuance perfected the worshiper, what was the value of all the blood shed in the offerings of the law? Jesus was dead. There was the end of the ages of trial of man. The first man, under the most favorable circumstances at Jerusalem, is set aside forever. A new order has begun—a new creation—that which had been hid in God. The one purpose of His heart was now an accomplished fact.
These were the first days of the Church. What a wonderful description we have of it in Acts 4:31-3431And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. 32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, (Acts 4:31‑34): “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”