The Church at Jerusalem - A Church Making Progress
A. Naismith, Falkirk
A programme is in itself an indication of progress. The writer can recall the general amusement in a company of boys and girls when one of our sons, then seven or eight years of age and self-appointed chairman of the meeting, announced, "The next item in the progress is —!".
Like the Lord Jesus in His early years in Nazareth, the young church in Jerusalem grew in favour with God and men. It was an assembly that became Prosperous by Divine Favour. In his final statement at the close of Acts 2, Luke strikes the same exultant key with which he concludes chapter 2 of his Gospel before proceeding to the historical records that follow. Conversions were numerous, and the number of those who were added to the church increased daily. This march of progress is discernible again and again throughout the book of Acts, proving the account to be the acts of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Indeed, the narrative of the spread of the gospel is punctuated with notes of progress, which prove the faithfulness of the apostles and disciples of Christ in carrying out the plan of witness in the manner and order that He indicated to them before His ascension, Acts 1. 8. Beginning at Jerusalem, they proclaimed the gospel of God concerning His Son so faithfully and fearlessly that "the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly", 6. 7. From Jerusalem the evangelists carried the message into all Judaea and Samaria, with the result that "the churches had rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied", 9. 31. Commissioned to carry the witness "unto the uttermost part of the earth", they proceeded northward into Syria, so that "the word of God grew and multiplied", 12. 24; then westward into Asia Minor where they saw the churches established in the faith and daily increasing in numbers, 16.5; then into the great cities of the Roman Empire in Europe, where "mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed", 19. 20. The account ends with Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, in Rome preaching boldly, no man forbidding him, 28. 31.
The progress of the Word of God and His Church was an answer to the people's wonder, Acts 3. 11,12, to the hecklers' questions, to the Sanhedrin's prohibitions and threats, 5. 28, and to the debaters' accusations, 6. 13, 14. The Word increased, and with it the churches grew. The Greek word auxand, to grow, is used of the child Jesus in Luke 2. 52, is applied to a plant and its fruit, and describes the physical development of a body and the construction of a temple. The great theme of the disciples' testimony was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and in proof of their assertions they could point to the empty tomb. Their opponents had only to produce the body of Jesus to silence the preachers and disprove their assertions, but this they could not do, though the events that the apostles narrated had taken place in that very city and its environs only a few weeks before. The apostolic gospel could not be stifled, because it presented a living Saviour in the power of the Holy Spirit. Factors contributory to the church's progress were the apostles' healing ministry, the radiant lives of the Christians, the believers' fervent prayers and their boldness before their persecutors, divine discipline, the wise counsel of the elders, and the preachers' personal contacts.
The church in Jerusalem was also Persecuted by Devilish Foes. It was not to be expected that the devil would be silent while such a work of God was proceeding, or allow to go unchallenged such a display of the power of God through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Satan has ever been opposed to divine simplicity and the observance of Scriptural principles. The proclamation of Jesus as the expected Messiah by the disciples, and their repeated reference to His resurrection as the supreme vindication of His claims, conflicted sharply with the existing order in Jerusalem. The apostles boldly charged the Jews with the murder of the Messiah; and the Jews, infuriated, devised various ways of persecuting the Christians, who accepted the opposition and tribulation gladly, knowing that those who live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. Satan's assaults upon the early church were directed alternately from without and from within; yet the Lord made His assembly prosper even in the midst of difficulties and persecution. From their enemies the servants of Christ received imprisonment, threats, warnings and violent opposition which culminated in the martyrdom of Stephen. Within the church, problems arose from the deceit and discontent of some of its members.
The prosperity of the church and the persecution to which it was subjected combined to make its evangelistic outreach extensive and effective. Scattered in many directions by the persecution that arose, the disciples went everywhere preaching the Word - to Jews, to Samaritans, to an Ethiopian proselyte, to Gentiles in Caesarea, and to the citizens of Syrian Antioch. The saints who remained in Jerusalem took an active part in the spread of the gospel in the regions beyond them and showed themselves Practical in Displaying Fellowship with those engaged in the ministry of the gospel. This fellowship was specially expressed in sending Peter and John to Samaria for the furtherance and consolidation of the work there during the gospel campaign of Philip the evangelist. Though it was still true that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, the Holy Spirit welded Jewish and Samaritan believers together in an unbreakable bond of fellowship and Christian unity. Man's efforts may achieve a measure of ecumenical uniformity of worship, but the Holy Spirit alone can produce a unity of heart and spirit by imparting the new life in Christ Jesus to people who are naturally and nationally diametrically opposed. A further expression of fellowship in sending Barnabas to Antioch to build up the young church there (mainly composed of Gentile believers), indicated their delight in the recognition of Gentile converts as fellow-heirs with them of the blessings of the gospel.