Formation of Community: Assembly

On the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were baptized into a new community. They embraced the good news of Jesus the Messiah whom God had raised from the dead and exalted to the throne of David. In its early days, thousands were added to this community, including priests and Pharisees.

The restoration of Israel had begun. People joined Jesus in the water, and they, in effect, crossed the sea with ancient Israel through their baptism.  Moreover, just as ancient Israel travelled to Mount Sinai and there encountered God’s presence who came to dwell in Israel’s tabernacle, so those who entered the water with Jesus encountered God’s presence through the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon them.

Just as Israel was baptized in the sea and under the cloud, so renewed Israel is baptized in water. And, just as Israel encountered God at Mt. Sinai when they assembled before God’s presence, so renewed Israel assembled in the presence of God as well. The same Israel that assembled at Mount Sinai, now, in the first chapters of the book of Acts, assembled on Mount Zion. Israel referred to their first encounter with God as a gathered people at Mount Sinai as the “day of assembly” (Deuteronomy 9:10). Now, on the day of Pentecost, renewed Israel gathered as the people of new creation. They assembled on the day of the Holy Spirit.

The second chapter of Acts tells us that renewed Israel gathered daily both at the temple and in homes. These early believers met at the temple every day. There they listened to the apostle’s teaching and prayed their prayers. Peter and John, for example, continued the daily habit of prayer in the temple every day at three o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1). And they, along with other apostles, taught the people daily in the temple (Acts 5:32).

This newly baptized people also met daily in their homes in order to break bread. They shared meals together, and they received this food with generous and grateful hearts filled with joy as they praised God for what God had done in Jesus.

We can imagine a daily assembly of thousands in the temple as they worshipped together, prayed together, and listened to the apostle’s teaching, and we can imagine in the evening small groups of people meeting in homes to break bread, that is, to generously share food with each other and praise God together.

Assembly is an important marker of the people of God. It was important for Israel who assembled weekly, monthly, and quarterly for festive gatherings where they ate the sacrifices that were offered on the altar.  They gathered for worship in the temple courts and at sacrificial meals. Renewed Israel continued the practices of ancient Israel.

Having passed through the water, they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who came to dwell among the people of God. In response, renewed Israel gathered daily in the temple and in their homes to give thanks for their salvation, encourage one another, and dwell in God’s presence.

This is the reason renewed Israel, as it appears in the book of Acts, is called the church or the ecclesia. This people is called church because they are an assembly—a gathered people—in the presence of God and among whom God dwells. This is the meaning of the word church; it is an assembly. 

The people of God assemble. They are church. They are God’s gathered ones.

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