4 February 2011 (Sheshi/Kippur)|
Day #325, 5934 AM
The New Covenant Assembly
Part 1: What Was It Like in the Beginning?
As one today wanders through the different Christian churches and Messianic assemblies that claim to be the restoration of the original New Testament community of believers, one is left to wonder how they could interpret the early history of the set-apart ones (saints) so differently when they all share the same New Testament or B'rit Chadashah Scriptures. My purpose in this short series of devotionals is to map out the basic elements of these early saved Judahites and converts from among the Gentiles so that we can both better understand them and, as necessary, imitate them.
The very earliest account we have of the first assembly is of the gathering of the first talmidim or disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem where Yah'shua (Jesus) and His followers had partaken of the Last Supper (Ac.1:13). These believers were united by memory and by hope, by experience and by conviction above everything else. They remembered all that the Master Yah'shua (Lord Jesus) began to say and do while He went in and out with them in Galilee. Some of them had shared in that upper room strange resurrection experiences of His presence with them after death. They were in no doubt that He was alive for evermore, and that He was indeed the Messiah foretold by the Torah (Law) and the Nevi'im (Prophets) who should redeem Israel. They confidently hoped to witness the speedy and visible triumph of their Master.
2. Shavu'ot (Pentecost)
In the first few weeks after the crucifixion, when sorrow and despair were being changed into simcha (joy) and hope, they did not seek to communicate their convictions to others, but at the first new Covenant Shavu'ot (Pentecost) the little group became fired with missionary zeal. Their convictions that Yah'shua was alive and exalted in power, and that they themselves were living in the last days, were confirmed by the kindling of a spiritual enthusiasm which found expression in the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages or 'tongues'. This gift was surely, they felt, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel (Ac.2:17), the sign of the near approach of the great and manifest Day of Yahweh. Peter, the first head apostle of the little group, now had the courage to rebuke publicly his fellow Judeans for the sin of rejecting Yah'shua (Jesus) and putting Him to death. Nor were the gifts of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) confined to 'tongues' and courageous public testimony. Miracles of healing began to be wrought by the apostles' hands. And so it was this first handful of believers eagerly besought others to recongise the Messiah, in Yah'shua (Jesus), in whose Name these signs were given
The members of this little group were marked out from the other Judeans by their faith in Yah'shua (Jesus), by their joyous enthusiasm and by the intensity of their fellowship. They did not completely break with the old Commonwealth of Israel even though they were now the new successor Commonwealth by virtue of Yah'shua being the King of Judah. Outwardly everything must have looked as it had done before, with the Temple and synagogues still functioning under the Sanhedrin that had rejected the Messiah. Yet a change had taken place, and the rulership of Israel had been transferred to the apostles even though they possessed no political authority and would not do so until Yah'shua returned the second time.
This is perhaps a little hard for some to grasp and indeed the first apostles and believers must have found it hard to grasp too. For there were two 'Israel's' present - the old one, which had rejected Yahweh's appointee King (Yah'shua) and were therefore no longer Israel in Yahweh's eyes (even though they continued for several more decades as though they were) - and the new one consisting of those who accepted King Messiah. This must have been confusing at first as they assembled in the Temple at the hour of evening prayer, and on the Sabbaths they would probably be present individually or in groups at public worship in some of the many synagogues to be found in Jerusalem. Here they would meet and sometimes convert Judahites from the diaspora (dispersion) who spoke Greek more easily than Aramaic. They had no public building in which to assemble in a material sense but with their headquarters probably in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Ac.12:12), and with other private houses available as their numbers grew, they used to meet for united prayer and for common meals (Ac.2:42), perhaps every day and certainly on the Sabbath apart from the synagogue services too. The common meal was the effective symbol of their fellowship, and they spoke of it as "breaking bread together" recalled the many occasions on which Yah'shua (Jesus) had broken bread for His disciples, and above all it recalled the Last Supper. At such times they must often have been more than usually aware of the Master's presence.
The sharing of these simple meals, which were something more than ritual acts, in itself established and helped to maintain a sense of being united in a fellowship which claimed the utmost loyalty from those who entered into it. The spirit of comradeship was by no means exhausted by this breaking of bread together. Many of the wealthier adherents, moved probably by Yah'shua's (Jesus') counsel to the rich young man, inspired also by the strength of their brotherly feelings, and perhaps influenced by their expectation of the immediate end of the age, sold their chief possessions (Ac.2:43ff.) and formed a common fund under the administration of the apostles, from which the necessities of their poorer fellow-believers should be met (Ac.4:32). This experiment in what we call 'The United Order', was of a voluntary kind, and was a further evidence of the exaltation of spirit of the first talmidim (disciples).
Growth in numbers and the problems connected with the administration of their common fund (Ac.6:1ff.), particularly, it would seem, between Aramaic-speaking and Greek-speaking converts, led to the first steps in organisation. The leadership of the little community lay naturally with the first talmidim (disciples) of Yah'shua, the Twelve Apostles, with the inner circle of Three (what we call the Patriarchate or Community's Fathers), Peter (Kefa), James I (Yakov I) and John (Yochannan), the sons of Zebedee, and latterly with James II (Yakov II), Yah'shua's brother. But with them were now associated, to act as almoners and treasurers, seven representatives of the Greek-speaking section of the Messianic Community, and in this appointment the author of Acts (Luke) sees the origin of the office of Shammash or Deacon. Later on, we hear of the Zaqenim or Presbyters (Elders) receiving the gifts sent from Antioch to relieve famine in Jerusalem (Ac.11:30). Some members, at least of the Jerusalem Assembly, were set free - like the apostles themselves - for the work of evangelists, while others undertook the task of looking after assembly funds.
Continued in Part 2