After having completed his sermon, the Scripture tells us that those who heard were “cut to the heart.” Because of the approach that he had used, using their knowledge of the Old Testament, he was able to disclose to them how Jesus had fulfilled each of the prophecies that had been taught to them. And so, being overwhelmed with this evidence, they were unable to say nothing further, other than, “what shall we do?”
And Peter’s answer defines the Christian life within the Church. “Repent, and be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And to this day, our baptismal service fully reflects this fact. When someone is brought into the Church, we first repent of all of our sinful deeds, confess our sins, and renounce the devil. Secondly, we are baptized, descending into the waters of regeneration as into a tomb, and rising up with Christ in the resurrection and newness of life. And then, through the sacrament of Charismation, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And our whole lives are characterized in this manner. The Christian life is a life of repentance, a life of recognizing all of our sins, repenting of them, confessing them, receiving the absolution of them, and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us away from those transgressions.
And it tells us that “with many other words he testified and exhorted them to ‘be saved from this perverse generation.'” And, we find that “those who gladly received his word were baptized.” It’s important to recognize that they favorably received his word, with pleasure. The Greek word here is “asmenos,” which means “with joy, gladness.” It’s important, because they didn’t succumb to the word, as ones who had lost an argument, or compromised because they felt that he might be right. Rather, because he spoke within a frame of what they already believed, they gladly accepted the truth he taught because it was a logical procession. The prophecies had been spoken, which they accepted, and he merely explained how those prophecies had been fulfilled through Jesus.
What is also paramount to this passage is the chronology of the events presented to us. They received the teachings gladly, were baptized, and then only after each of those things joined the Church. See, one of my greatest “hang-ups” with churches in the West is our focus on numbers. We tend to be far more focused on how many people are in attendance than the actual faith of those who are present. I will never forget being invited, as a teenage anti-theist, to a Catholic Church service and being allowed to partake of the most Holy divine immortal and life creating mysteries, the Eucharist. And to this day, it plagues me that this Church allowed me, at that point a devout anti-theist, to receive the body and blood of our most holy Lord. I contemplate Jesus Himself, who sent away thousands who had no faith and rejected His harder teachings. Jesus, who would rather have had twelve who strongly believed, than thousands who were there for the show. That’s why I love the position of the Eastern Church so much, where some people go years before they are allowed entrance into the Church. This stands in such stark contrast to the Western (primarily) Protestant Church, where I personally know devout atheists who have been allowed to join themselves to the body because no one ever asked them what they believe. I personally know many who will denounce the very teachings of Christ Himself, while in the next breath claiming the name of Christ, and still be allowed to partake of the Eucharist.
And yet, all through the Scriptures, we see how much there is to learn about the faith and the Church before one is allowed to align themselves, join themselves, with the followers of Christ. And such is the pattern given here in this passage as well. Receive the teachings of the Church, believe and embrace them joyfully, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then, and only then, be joined to the body of Christ.
And then, this passage concludes by detailing certain central elements of worship; liturgical elements that are indispensable which are prescribe in Holy Scripture. The fellowship of daily assembly, remembering that joining the Church isn’t merely joining a social club, but rather your fellow Christians become your family. Your brother and sister in Christ do not become such merely in superficial nomenclature, they truly become your brother and sister. In the Eucharist, we partake of the body and blood of Christ, we not only join ourselves to Him, but to one another. The breaking of the Eucharistic bread, which is central to our Christian worship. During the Liturgy, we pray, “may the partaking of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment or condemnation, but to the healing of soul and body.” This is not merely some symbolic thing that we do once a month, or can replace the elements with, but rather it is the physical and spiritual joining of our lives with Christ for the healing of our souls and bodies, and also the joining together of one another in the body of Christ. As we partake of the divine mysteries, we also join ourselves to one another. Lastly, specific liturgical prayers. Thus those things which the early Church did were to maintain the tradition (doctrine) of the apostles, met daily for liturgical prayer and fellowship, and break the Eucharistic bread. And the end result of this “formula” (for lack of a better word), “Fear came upon many souls, and many wonders and signs were done.”
There is a very popular trend in American churches that states that miracles no longer. It states that the supernatural gifts and wonders ceased with the close of canon. And yet, the Scriptures themselves never attest to this ideology. to the contrary, St Paul references the miracles performed by the Prophet Elias and that he (Elias) was a man just like us. To say that God has ceased to work these signs and wonders would be to say that God has changed, which is a direct contradiction of the Scriptures. Thus, if the Scriptures are to be believed, then it is we who must have changed. Perhaps God no longer performs miracles and signs and wonders because we don’t believe that He can or will.
Those who joined the first Church dedicated their lives to the teachings of the apostles, to the Church. They met daily; they received Eucharist together; they never once argued about what was required of them or what they could get away with. Instead, they “gladly received” the teachings of the Church. Contrast that to our current generation. We disbelieve that God can work miracles; we argue about what “works” are or aren’t required of us; we use prayer merely to hand God our shopping list and then question His existence if we don’t get everything that we want to suit our carnal desires. In the early Church, prayer was liturgical, and it was centered solely around glorifying God. God has never changed. And God’s Church, which St Paul calls the “pillar and foundation of truth,” has never changed. We have. We no longer want to gather just to glorify God, we want God to make us feel better, to give us stuff.
We have changed, my brethern. We have rejected God, we have made Him impotent, and we have rejected His Church. May we all, my brothers and sisters, repent, turn away from this world, and all of it’s “wisdom” and Eunomian precepts, and embrace the true faith. Let us seek Him, let us abide in His commands, and let us embrace the traditions which have been handed down to us throughout the centuries, in word and in epistle.
Christ is Risen!!!