Acts 2:37–47 . . .

“Repent, Be Baptized, and Fellowship with Believers”

The closing verse in last week's study caused Peter’s audience on the Day of Pentecost to ask him a question at the end of his famous sermon. We'll start with it today: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Peter had demonstrated to them that Jesus Christ, whom they'd crucified, was none other than the Lord and Messiah (v. 36). So, in v. 37, we see their response: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'” Peter’s answer in v. 38 told them how to receive God’s forgiveness. His words were the greatest news that they'd ever heard.

“Brothers, what shall we do?”  It's fascinating to see the incredible work of the Holy Spirit here. Peter offered absolutely no invitation, merely a declaration of truth; the listeners themselves gave the invitation! For the spectators, the gift of tongues exercise they'd witnessed produced nothing but astonishment and mocking; it wasn't until the gospel was preached that conviction from the Holy Spirit came. This was the work God really wanted to accomplish. Their being "cut to the heart" is a good way of describing the Holy Spirit's conviction. The devout Jews realized that they were responsible for Jesus' death, and consequently had to respond appropriately. When the resurrected Jesus changed Peter's life, the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon him. He himself did some effective cutting: First he cut people's hearts, opening them to Jesus, which he could only do while in the Spirit's power. He also cut people with the sword of the Spirit, God's Word.

That "Brothers, what should we do?" question sounds a great deal like the one asked by the Philippian jailer, which we'll get to later in the book of Acts: "He [the Philippian jailer] then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

Peter Invites the Multitude to Come to Jesus (2:38–40)

On our summary page of Acts 2:14–36, we realized that the final punch came from Peter’s reference to Psalm 110. Not only had Jesus been raised from the grave, he'd ascended to the right hand of the Father. Psalm 110:1 indicated what was next on the program: God was to put the enemies of his Son under his feet. The next step, indicated by Joel 2 and Psalm 110:1, was the judgment of God’s enemies, those who'd rejected his Son. The impact was incredible. Cut to the heart, they asked Peter and the other apostles what they should do. Peter told them to repent and to be baptized, and thus be saved from that evil generation and the horrible fate that would someday befall them. Approximately 3,000 believed and were baptized. It's on this group of people — the multitude — that we'll now focus.

Peter must have been pleasantly astounded to see what God had done in this situation; instead of people wanting to crucify him because of his relationship with Jesus, thousands of people wanted to trust in Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Responding to the question, "What shall we do?" Peter gave them something to do: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you." And for us, we must truly believe in and follow Jesus.

The first thing Peter told them to do was to repent, which doesn't mean "to feel sorry," but to change one's mind or direction. They'd thought a certain way about Jesus before (considering him worthy of crucifixion); now they must turn around their thinking, embracing him as Lord and Messiah. The second thing that Peter said they must do was to "be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ," to demonstrate their belief and complete trust in him. Baptism made a clear statement. In those days, Jews weren't commonly baptized, only Gentiles who wanted to become Jews were baptized. So, for these Jewish men and women to be baptized showed how strongly they felt they needed Jesus.

"The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off." Peter specifically assured the multitude that the promise of the Holy Spirit would be given to those who believed in all succeeding generations. They saw the glorious work of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, and Peter told them that they needn't be merely observers but that they too were invited to join those who'd become indwelled by the Spirit. And since the promise was made to all who'd be "afar off," it included all people up to our present time. And with Peter's pleading to "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation," he declared that the generation responsible for putting Jesus to death was a perverse, corrupt generation. And because every generation is responsible for Jesus' death, every generation needs salvation.

The Multitude’s Response to Peter’s Preaching (v. 41)

"Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." This single day of Pentecost saw an amazing harvest of souls. Church membership increased significantly, from about 120 people to 3,120 people in one day. Think how this touched lives. Many of those thousands were undoubtedly pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, expecting something special from God, but not expecting anything like this. Many in this crowd would eventually travel far from Jerusalem, back to their homes, taking the good news of Jesus Christ with them. Those who believed on Jesus that day did so gladly, even making a dramatic statement in baptism. They wouldn't have submitted to baptism unless they were fully convinced of who Jesus was and their great need for him to become their Savior.

Are you wondering how and where more than three thousand people could be baptized on the same day in one location? There were huge resources of water available on the temple mount, with pools and reservoirs nearby. So it wouldn't have been difficult to find a place where numerous baptisms could take place. What a baptism service that must have been! God continues to do such great things, day after day.

The Practice and Progress of the Church (vv. 42)

Verse 42 identifies four things to which the believers — new and existing — were devoted: "to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." On that day of Pentecost, the sound of the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the conversion of 3,000 were all remarkable events; but the things described in this verse were the abiding legacy of God's work. They relied on the apostles to communicate to them who Jesus was and what he'd done. They'd trusted in Jesus; now they wanted to know more! They continued in fellowship: The Greek word koinonia has the idea of association, communion, fellowship, and participation; it means to share in something. They continued in the breaking of bread: Even living so close to the time when Jesus was crucified, they still didn't want to forget it. Finally, they continued praying. Whenever God's at work, God's people are praying. Everything else we read about the power and glory of the early church flows from this foundation of the word, fellowship, remembrance of Jesus' work on the cross, and prayer.

God’s Power Is Clearly Present (vv. 43–45)

The power of God was evident because "Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles." Fear had come upon every soul. One of the greatest, most powerful works God can do is to change the human heart, encouraging it to become a reverent honor of the Lord. God's power was visible because many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles. That said, where God moves powerfully, lives will be touched in miraculous ways.

Verse 44 starts with: "All the believers were together and had everything in common." With the influx of 3,000 new believers, most of whom had stayed in Jerusalem and didn't have jobs, the enlarged family of Christians had to share their resources with one another if they were to survive. Such sharing was voluntary, temporary, and flawed, to the extent that the church in Jerusalem was in continual need of financial support from other churches. Also, we don't have any evidence that this sharing effort continued very long.

The Jews had an unwavering custom of practicing hospitality during major feasts such as Pentecost (as depicted in the video that's linked beneath this summary); all visitors were warmly received into private homes; no one could charge people for giving a bed or a room to a visitor or for supplying their basic needs. Christians took this tremendous feast-time hospitality and made it an everyday thing. Regarding their selling their possessions and dividing them among all who had need, realize that the power of God was evident here because Jesus became much more important to them than their possessions.

Did you read vv. 42–45 somewhat casually? If so, you might have felt curious about, possibly uncomfortable with, Luke's statement in v. 45: "They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need." One might conclude that "all the saints sold all their possessions, all at one time," and that "they lived together in some kind of communal dwelling." More likely, there wasn't one great sale, but an on-going process in which needs that arose were met by the sale of some property. People retained ownership of their goods but they sold goods from time to time to meet the pressing needs of others.

Several things characterize the generosity of the early church as described herein: (1) The sale of goods was voluntary. There's no indication of compulsory sales, which will soon be confirmed in Acts 5; (2) The sale of goods took place spontaneously, not in a scheduled way; (3) We may well conclude that giving was done directly, from the donor to one in need, without “middle men”; (4) The emphasis fell on the church caring for its own. Luke informs us that "they shared everything in common," and thus, the church was taking care of its own here. In Acts 4, we'll see a more clearly expressed definition. In 4:2, we'll see this text in a passage titled "The Believers Share Their Possessions," with "share" being a key word: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had."

That's a very significant detail. It wasn't that people gave up possession of all their goods; they gave up ownership of them. Their things still belonged to them; they had them in their possession, but they didn't claim to own them. They regarded themselves as stewards of their possessions, and thus they didn't seek to hoard them. When someone was in need of another's possessions (or receipts from such sales), they put those items up for sale and gave the money to meet that need.

Christians Living and Growing Together (vv. 46–47)

The early church was to worship God daily, on a continuing basis, and learn his Word together while praising God and sharing meals with one another. It was God's desire for the early church, and ours today, that we share our lives meaningfully with one another. Further, we see in v. 47a that their Christian experiences were to be shared daily, in joyful and simple ways, which is a great example for us to follow.

After re-reading vv. 42–47a, . . . look at v.47b: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." . . . We ought, therefore, to realize and appreciate fully that that passage is, in effect, God's prescription for church growth. If we intentionally take the time and make a hearty effort to mindfully and faithfully follow the example that Luke presents herein, it'll be most clear to us that God himself will take full responsibility for the growth of his church.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  How would you answer a person who used Acts 2:38 to argue that baptism is essential for salvation?
  • Q. 2  What keeps today's church from experiencing the fellowship shown in vv. 42–47?

This Week’s Passage
Acts 2:37–47

New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 2.]

 Watch this video clip of Acts 2:14–4:2, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.

37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

The Fellowship of the Believers

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

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