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I was talking with a friend who is an investment counselor. He helped me understand that a big part of what he does is help manage people’s expectations. People have certain expectations about what should or could or ought to happen in the stock market, with their investments, with their savings. Some expectations might be reasonable, some are not. Helping people honestly own their expectations and then bring those expectations in line with reality is part of his job.

That conversation spilled over into thinking about our lives as followers of Jesus. And we began to think out loud about the expectations that we have–and do not have–for the “Christian life.” Having come to understand the truth that is found in Jesus, what kinds of expectations do we have for what that life with Jesus will look like?

And we began to think out loud, looking into the book of Acts. What about the expectations the earliest “Christians” might have had about the life they entered into?

The first “converts”–post-resurrection–came at Pentecost. Not even two months after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The events are recorded for us in Acts 1-2. (Which you might want to read, because I’m not going to post both chapters. ) The essence of what happens is as follows.

Jesus has instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem because he has a “gift” for them. Although he has explained that he is leaving the planet, he has also explained that his departure will mean that he will send “the promise of the Father” to them.

Those who heard this explanation prayerfully wait in Jerusalem. They anticipate some gift from the Father. And they associate this gift with the Spirit because of what Jesus has told them. Exactly what it will be like, they don’t know. But they expect some encounter with the Spirit.

On Pentecost, the 120 who are gathered together are introduced into a vibrant, experientially-real, fresh dimension of life with the Spirit of God. Consistent with Old Testament prophecies, they receive “power from on high” just as Jesus had promised.

What happened to the 120 generated a little commotion in the city as visitors to Jerusalem, there for the feast, overheard some of what was happening in the gathering of the 120. The crowd is puzzled and abuzz.

Peter gets the attention of the crowd and begins to explain. Going back to Old Testament prophecies, Peter tells the crowd that what has happened is a fulfillment of God’s promises.

Peter points out that this fulfillment of a “poured out” Spirit is part of what the Messiah (Israel’s promised deliverer) was to inaugurate. Jesus, Peter declares, is this Messiah. He was crucified, he was buried, he was raised, he ascended to the right hand of the Father, he received the gift of the Spirit, and he has poured out this gift on all the “bond servants” of God. And, Peter says, this is what has happened that has attracted such attention.

And those who are listening are cut to heart. The Spirit is working on them, even as he is working through the 120. And those who are listening cry out for help. They want to know, from Peter, what they should do.

Peter explains. If they understand that Jesus is the Messiah and that he has come to solve their sin problem through his death and resurrection and that he is the ascended Lord of all, then there is an appropriate response to that understanding. He says that they should “repent” (that means, “change your mind”). They should change their minds about how they have been thinking about Jesus. And they should “be baptized” (that means, “publicly identify yourself with Jesus”). They should not stand aloof or distant from Jesus and the community that shares life with him.

And then Peter says this intriguing thing:

“And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

What is so intriguing to me about this is what Peter does, and does not, say about coming to put one’s trust in Jesus–seen in the repentance and baptism. If Peter had responded to the crowd the way that many Christians in our day and age talk about the Gospel, he would have invited people to put their faith in Jesus and then he would have said:

“And you will one day get to go to heaven. For having your sins forgiven is the big point and it is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, and being forgiven means that you will get into heaven one day.”

Now there is truth in that. I am not denying that. Peter did mention the forgiveness of sins in speaking of Jesus (in Acts 2:38). But Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was not that responding to Jesus merely meant that eternity future would be changed. Peter’s expectation was not simply that one day those who responded to the message would get to go to heaven. Peter’s expectation–and the expectation he stirred in the minds and hearts of his hearers–was that responding to Jesus would mean that from that very day forward their every day life would be radically altered because the Spirit of God would show up in a manifest way in their lives.

Peter doesn’t even mention “going to heaven when you die.” They wouldn’t have thought that was what the Christian life was all about. For these earliest Christians, the “Christian life” was wrapped up in a Spirit-enabled, experientially-real, present-day-life-altering encounter with the living Jesus.


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