They Continued Steadfastly
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The testimony of believers today should be no different from that recorded in the beginning in Acts 2. There, the ascended Lord had sent the Spirit for the formation of the assembly, so that individuals should be endued with power from on high. Their power in the declaration of the gospel was immediately apparent, as they used the O.T. Scriptures to show the purposes of God in the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Repentance and faith were followed by baptism, leading immediately to the commencement of the spiritual functioning of the assembly locally in Jerusalem.
They thus continued stedfastly in the holy things, Acts 2. 42; yet in the midst of their testimony in the gospel they did not neglect the primary things, God would have service perfectly balanced, and to this end He gave “evangelists . . . pastors and teachers”, Eph. 4. 11. God would have neither all gospel activity with the other meetings being left to the few, nor would He have such preoccupation with assembly activity that only half-hearted evangelistic endeavour is engaged in.
The four phases of assembly occupation described in Acts 2.42 embrace the saints both giving to God and receiving from God, namely, they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”. “Affection to the house”, 1 Chron. 29. 3, is necessary in order to appreciate these phases, which may also be found in other contexts of Scripture, as we now show.
The Temple in Luke’s Gospel
These four phases of assembly activity are suggested by the various references to the temple found in Luke’s Gospel.
WORSHIP IN THE TEMPLE
has given place now to the breaking of bread. The recorded examples of remnant faithfulness should provide exercise for today.
Zechariah. This priest, Luke 1. 5-9, executed his office according to the original arrangements of David made in the beginning, 1 Chron. 24. He remained in his course in spite of the religious darkness around; he burnt incense in the temple according to the original institution, Exod. 30. 8. He went back to the beginning, and was able to present the preciousness of Christ to God. The Lord’s people today, in spite of the darkness around, go back to the beginning as in Acts 2.42, bringing a sweet savour of Christ unto the Father in their moments of holy remembrance. All other service follows from its heavenly atmosphere.
Mary and Joseph demonstrate a character half-emancipated from the ceremonial law. They brought a sacrifice, Luke 2. 24, yet came to present Him to the Lord, v. 22. For believers today, the act of offering “the sacrifice of praise to God continually”, Heb. 13. 15, is a good basis for manifesting that they are emancipated from traditional ritual and carnal religion.
Simeon presents the basis for worship, Luke 2.27. The Holy Spirit was upon him, and he was ready and waiting to receive the revelation of the Lord’s Christ. Moreover, he came into the temple at the same time as the Lord; see Matthew 26. 20; Luke 22. 14.
Anna was characterised by the feature that she “departed not from the temple”, Luke 2. 37; see Psalm 23. 6. She served the Lord with fastings (not bringing what was not suitable) and with prayers (bringing what was suitable). The order of her service in verse 38 shows that she first gave thanks to the Lord and then testified of Him to the public around.
PRAYER IN THE TEMPLE
The contrast approved by the Lord is found in Luke 18. 10-14, where the Pharisee and publican went into the temple to pray. The one who drew near was satisfied with his efforts, while the one who stood afar off was dissatisfied. But God takes them up on opposite ground, as it is written, “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off”, Ps. 138. 6. Continued prayer in the house is characterized by absolute humility; self-praise in prayer is to be much deprecated.
TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE
Not only are the more mature and elderly embraced in the exercise of continuing stedfastly in the “apostles’ doctrine”, but youth is not excused from this exercise. At the beginning, the child Jesus took in the temple the position that He would have believers take, Luke 2. 42-52. He was found in the place of teaching, learning from those who knew the Word, demonstrating by His answers His own understanding and ability to teach.
In His last week before the cross, He habitually used the temple as a place in which to teach. He taught daily in the temple, and the people were very attentive to hear Him, Luke 19. 47-48, this being one sign of a healthy assembly. There was opposition from the religious world, but He continued stedfastly manifesting His authority, 20. 1-2.
FELLOWSHIP IN THE TEMPLE
In Luke 24. 49-53, He led them out to Bethany, the sphere of priestly blessing and ascension. But this led to fellowship amongst themselves, as they “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God”. See Acts 5.12. Their hearts were on the outside of the city, but they had to abide in Jerusalem for gospel witness. They were in the temple, but not partaking of its functions. The portion of the saints today, as blessed by the ascended Lord, is to find their fellowship within the world, though being apart from it.
The Lord on the Mount of Olives Here, outside the city, the Lord showed features of our subject. How different was the Lord’s activity in the city from that on the outside! It often seemed as if there was nothing in the religious city for the Lord at all. The priests sought controversy while the Lord proclaimed the truth; the Lord healed many while the leaders sought to discredit Him; the Lord sought to cleanse the temple, but the people continued in their way. In the world of the city, His only activity was to preach the gospel and to do good to all men. But in the privacy of Olivet, His acts were suited to His own. Here is the position, as it were, of the assembly - the place of ascension, the nearest place on earth to heaven.
Teaching. In Matthew 24. 1-3, the Lord departed from the temple, and on the mount of Olives His disciples came to Him privately. He revealed truth suitable only for His own. In other words, the quiet private teaching in the assembly is of great value, and a right perspective should be maintained between this and larger public rallies.
Prayer. In the garden, the Lord “went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed”, Matt. 26. 39. Thus on Olivet we find the perfect example of continuing in prayer before the crisis of suffering. We see perfection because His mind was determined to do only the will of God. As we continue instant in prayer, how often we arrange and plan, afterwards by prayer seeking to bring God in!
Worship. “And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice”, Luke 19. 37. Christ placed Himself as the Centre of worship amongst His people.
Fellowship. The mount provided a place apart for fellowship with His people. At night time, He abode in the mount obviously in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Luke 21. 37. He often resorted to the garden in Olivet over the brook Cedron with His disciples, John 18. 1. He took the eleven disciples into the garden of Gethsamane to watch with Him in His distress of soul, Matt. 26. 36-38. In Acts 1. 4-12, there was fellowship with Him there, as they witnessed His ascension.
The Example of Psalm 132
Many Psalms refer to specific events in Israel’s past history or prophetic future. An interpretation involving the assembly must therefore be regarded as suggestive only, and not a primary application. This Psalm constitutes the words of Solomon at the dedication of the temple (compare verses 8-10 with 2 Chronicles 6. 41-42).
Fellowship. Solomon’s great prayer constituted an act of fellowship in the holy things with the heads of tribes, the chief of the fathers, the men of Israel, the Levites, priests and singers, 2 Chron. 5. 2, 3, 11, 12.
Worship is found in verses 1-7 of the Psalm. Solomon recalls the deep exercises of David his father towards the preparation for the building of the temple. All his zeal was directed to finding an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob, vv. 3-5. This would answer to the meditation of the Lord’s people in worship as they contemplate the purpose of Christ to prepare and build His assembly for the habitation of God through the Spirit.
Prayer is found in verses 8-13. He desired the presence of the Lord, and that the priests should be fit for His presence. He desired faithfulness in verse 12 for the holy privilege of sharing the throne. His prayers were coloured with thoughts concerning the choice and desires of God Himself, v. 13. What holy subjects to occupy believers today in assembly prayers! But how often do our hearts fail to rise to these spiritual heights, yet a brother who thus prays can transform a prayer meeting.
Doctrine is found in verses 14-18. Solomon quoted actual words of God. The Lord answered every aspect of Solomon’s prayer, showing that the prayer was in keeping with the divine mind. Hence the purposes of God revealed in Scripture provide adequate doctrine for the feeding of His people.
What conclusion may we draw? Scripture exhorts every believer to be deeply exercised about these normal assembly activities. They involve the necessity of being found together, thereby avoiding the manner of some whereby they forsake the assembling of themselves together, Heb. 10. 25. They involve drawing a sharp distinction between legitimate occupations and recreations of daily life and the occupations that have eternal realities in view. Too many connections with the former may imply too little time for the latter, but the sacrifice of time for spiritual occupations is a good thing and God is thereby honoured. They also involve the maintaining of a proper balance in such activities. Prayer and the ministry of the Word went together in Acts 6. 4; fellowship without the camp and worship are found together in Hebrews 13. 13-15; the milk of the Word and worship go together in 1 Peter 2. 2-5; prayer and exhortation are found together in Acts 14. 22-23; breaking of bread and preaching are found side by side in Acts 20. 7. Finally, these activities involve a realization of the names and characters we possess as Christians, since as priests we worship, 1 Pet. 2. 5; as men we pray, 1 Tim. 2. 8; as disciples we learn of Christ, Mark 4. 34; and as saints we experience fellowship in holy things, Phil. 1. 1, 5.