Renewed Israel Assembled for Word and Table

Texts: Acts 2:42, 46-47; 5:42; 20:7-12

Days 59-61 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

The assembling of Israel at Mount Sinai and the renewal of Israel on the day of Pentecost are deeply connected.

  • At Sinai God inaugurated covenant with Israel, and on Pentecost God renewed covenant with Israel.
  • At Sinai God’s presence was revealed through lightning, thunder, and smoke, and on Pentecost it was revealed by wind, fire, and tongues.
  • At Sinai God came to dwell among Israel in the tabernacle, and on Pentecost God came to dwell in the hearts of Israel through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • At Sinai God gave the law through Moses, and on Pentecost God taught Israel through words uttered by the Spirit of God.
  • At Sinai Israel gathered to hear the word of God and sit at God’s table, and at Pentecost Israel gathered to listen to the apostle’s teaching and sit at table with Jesus.

Acts 2:42 records that this newly assembled group of 3,000+ baptized believers devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to fellowship, and that fellowship involved breaking bread and prayers. Instead of four separate and distinct items, I think it is two (teaching and fellowship) with the second identified by breaking bread and prayers.

When they listened to the apostles teaching in the temple, they gathered as a community. When they shared fellowship through breaking bread and prayers, they gathered as a community. Israel, in effect, assembled on Mt. Zion just as they had done at Mt. Sinai. The assembly of Israel is renewed as the assembly of the Messiah in whose name the 3,000 were baptized.

They gathered, however, as a large community at the temple for teaching and prayers, and they gathered as smaller communities in homes for the breaking of bread. Their assemblies were not all the same sort of thing. Rather, they assembled in different ways in order to experience different dimensions of the reality of the Spirit. Perhaps thousands gathered in the temple to listen to teaching and participate in the prayers of the temple, and then they gathered in small groups in homes to eat together as they continued to praise God in prayer.

The standard was the teaching of the apostles. They were with Jesus for forty days after his resurrection. Those were days when Jesus clarified his mission, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and help them read the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of his own work. If we wonder what the teaching of the apostles looked like, we only need read the sermons in Acts (e.g., Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, or his summary to Cornelius in Acts 10). It was the story of Israel, Jesus, and the renewal of Israel.

As renewed Israel, they continued table practices. They ate together, and they ate in the presence of God. The Messiah is the host of the table. The Gospel of Luke identified the meaning of breaking bread. It is a meal hosted by the Messiah to give life and enjoy fellowship. It is a resurrection of meal because in the breaking of the bread the living Messiah is revealed.

When Paul and the community in Troas broke bread, they broke bread with a resurrected Eutyches. But they not only ate with Eutyches, they ate with the resurrected one himself. This was a table of the living Messiah, and the community gathered in the presence of the Messiah who hosts his own banquet.

The baptized community assembled to hear the word of the Lord, and they assembled to fellowship, which included the breaking of bread and prayers. This was a continuation of Israel’s own life with God which began with a “day of assembly” (Deuteronomy 9:10; 10:4; 18:16) and continued through the teaching of the law and eating at tables with God. The church, grafted into the tree of Israel, continues the same sort of practices: assembling, teaching, and table.

This is part of the process by which a community is formed, and in this case the formation of a community that embraces and participates in the mission of God.

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