Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


The Birth of the Church

Acts II.

"Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."

T EACHER should read over the Special Lessons for Whitsuntide, as throwing fuller light upon this Lesson.

Recapitulate last Lesson. "The Great Forty Days." Then came the Ascension—then the return to Jerusalem to upper room—to wait ten days more—for what? (i. 4). What promise? Remember what said in last Lesson about "power" to be given.

§ 1. The Story of Pentecost

Picture the group in that room, meeting day after day for earnest prayer and waiting. How solemn life would seem! How real would be Christ and religion! Day after day they meet, waiting, wondering, expecting they scarce know what.

Then, at last, one of the great Church holidays of the Jews. Enormous crowds of Jews from all neighbouring countries crowded into Jerusalem. Whence? (vv.  9-11). The 120 disciples make their way through the crowds early (v.  13). Their morning prayer has begun. If every parish like these on Sunday morning—all with one accord in one place—with one accord in eager prayer for the Holy Ghost—in one place, not scattered into different sects and parties—there would be more of Pentecost results. See them waiting, wondering, praying. Suddenly a most startling thing—the house shaking and quivering, as with earthquake, and they hear—what? And see—what? And feel—what? (v.  4). This last was the most wonderful of all—the shaking house and stormy sound and tongues of fire, were as nothing to the great wonder of all which they felt in their own souls. Surely this must be the promised gift—this must be the Holy Ghost—God appearing in mysterious power to equip the new Church for its work in the world! And then they discovered another wonderful thing, that astonished everybody who heard. What? (v.  4). People came crowding together to enquire about the sound, as of a mighty wind, and as they crowd around, the disciples begin to speak in the various languages of all the strangers. The Jerusalem people don't understand—it seems mere gabble. What do they think? (v.  13). But the strangers know better. Utterly astonished. What do they say? (vv.  7-11). Yes, it was really the foreign tongues taught by miracle in a moment. Many think it was to enable them to go and preach to all these nations. It seems a sort of prophecy of what the Church should do in the days to come. To-day the Church sends out missionaries to teach many people in their own tongue wherein they were born. The Bible Society sends out Bible in 250 different languages through the world.

What did Peter reply to the mockers? Not filled with wine, but filled with what? (v.  4). Not the excitement of drunkenness, but the glorious enthusiasm for God and righteousness. Some cold, worldly people now-a-days don't believe in this wonderful enthusiasm. It is possible still? Yes; there are people now also very enthusiastic for God, willing to do and say and suffer anything if only they can carry out our Lord's blessed design for the Kingdom of God (see last Lesson). But should be far more people and far more power and enthusiasm. What would accomplish this? More of the power of the Holy Ghost. How get it?

§ 2. The Birth of the Church

We name this Lesson "Birth of the Church." Why? Christian Church really began on that Pentecost day. Before that day there were materials collected waiting for the influence of the Holy Ghost, like wires laid in their place waiting for the electric energy that was to infuse them with power. Now the power came.

Before that day also there were 120 separate individual disciples believing in Christ and loyal to Him. Now they become One Body, they become "The Church." There is One Body and One Spirit," i.e.,  the whole band of Christians became the one body indwelt by the One Spirit. Explain: like human body indwelt by human spirit. That is the meaning of calling the Church the "Body of Christ." It is very wrong to split it up into separate little sects. He prayed "that they all may be one (John xvii. 21). And they were (vv.  44-47). And so, with insignificant exceptions, for nearly 1,000 years. Then they quarrelled—split up more and more as years went on. Now more than 200 separate bodies in Great Britain. The beautiful thought of One Body, One Spirit, spoiled by these divisions. Like as His earthly body was ill-treated, so is His mystical body the Church. "By schisms rent asunder." But we must not lose hope of reuniting the parts again. God has all power still. Full power of Holy Ghost, in answer to prayer, would teach all divided Christians to love one another, and give up their disputings, and come together again, and thus accomplish their Master's prayer. Like the separate pools on the shore when the tide is out, all belonging to the same sea, all composed of the same water, yet hopelessly separate until the tide sweeps in, and they all become one. So will it be when some day, in answer to earnest prayers, a great outpouring again of the gift of Pentecost, and we all shall be one. And then we may hope that same Pentecost gift will give us more and more of the power  of holiness and self-sacrifice and enthusiasm for Christ's work.

§ 3. The First Sermon in the Christian Church

Think of the influence of preaching in all ages of the Church. Therefore interesting to think of its first sermon, and its results. First the sermon—(1) Plain, ordinary, not clever or eloquent, but close, manly, personal appeal from a man to men as about something of enormous consequence to them. (2) It was all about Jesus Christ—Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, gift of Holy Ghost. (3) Its courageous tone. Think of that poor coward who was frightened by the mocking tongue of a maid-servant a few weeks ago, and these timid disciples who had run away before crucifixion, now bearding priest and Pharisee and mob, proclaiming in that very town where He had been crucified—the Risen, and Glorified, and Ascended Messiah! Where had they got that power? Surely from Holy Ghost. (4) And then look at results. More than all the results of our Saviour's own preaching throughout His ministry. We cannot understand, but the Lord had foretold it. "Greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to the Father." In some way it was necessary for Him to go in order that He should send down this marvellous power—the Holy Ghost. See the result at once. Conviction—Conversion—3,000 men (vv.  37, 41) pricked to the heart and crying out, "What shall we do?" More about this in next Lesson.

§ 4. Lesson

Believe in the Holy Ghost—in the reality  of His power—for Church—for individual (v.  3, "sat upon each").  His power is ready to our hand to-day. We who want to be good and holy, who want our Church to be a mighty blessing, pray more and more for "the fellowship of the Holy Ghost."

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