Are you a numbers person? I am. When I hear numbers, I perk up – so to speak. It happened the other Sunday while I listened to my Pastor speak about getting our act together – well, he didn’t actually call the message that… but that’s the jest of this message series.
The number 500 came to my attention when Pastor Jimmy spoke about the last message Jesus gave to those gathered. The message was to go out and tell the Good News. Pastor Jimmy said the crowd hearing that message was less than the ones sitting in the warehouse that morning hearing Pastor Jimmy’s message.
Five hundred. That’s all it took to get the message to us today. Isn’t that amazing?
Five hundred men and women were called to tell the Good News to the ends of the earth. They heard the proclamation to go and tell in Jerusalem (city), in Judea and Samaria (region) and to the ends of the earth (world). But it took persecution to get the message to go beyond the borders of Jerusalem. When those believers felt the heat, they took off to parts unknown. But as they went, they told the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
The small crowd of followers listened intently to the message that day. These were the ones who stayed when others had left because of Jesus’ hard teaching. Their eyes were focused on the Risen Lord. I can imagine them sitting with their gaze – eyes wide; ears attentive and tuned in to His voice. They would hang on His every word. After all, this One was dead then He was alive. Who wouldn’t believe after that? Well, besides the religious leaders.
The last thing Jesus said would be the thing that would be engraved on their hearts. “Write it down; we need to remember this – it’s important.” The Gospel writers did so we could be there with them to hear the message they heard. The message changed their lives. It could change ours too – if we listened and tuned in to His voice.
Peter helped increase the number with his first message. The followers numbered three thousand five hundred on Pentecost. Jesus said those assembled would increase with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. And they did. The Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind. Tongues of fire lit something within them and they were never the same. Jesus said the assembly – Ecclesia (Greek) or Church (English) – would be built upon the foundation of Jesus’ message – His Truth – He is the Son of the Living God who died for our sins and was raised to life so that we could be in relationship with God the Father as was the Plan from the beginning.
This message was passed down from generation to generation. For centuries, it endured because of the testimony from those who had been changed by its message. Throughout the world and across generations, lives have been changed because of the first five hundred. The five hundred didn’t have an easy road to travel. They endured many hardships. Persecution kept them going. And the message spread because of it.
What would it take today to get us motivated to tell others about this Good News? The message hasn’t changed. The Holy Spirit is still at work today as He was when the Church was first formed. Jesus said the Church would never be destroyed. And it hasn’t been, although it’s not because of the enemy’s lack of trying. One day, the Church will be snatched away and the world will fall into a great darkness.
The only thing keeping the darkness at bay is the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Church. It may not be apparent today in the US as it was in the past, but the Church is still a guiding force by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still looking for those willing to risk it all, just as the first five hundred did for the message of Christ. The first five hundred experienced persecution for the Church to grow.
Today, the Church is growing in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, they experience great persecution as well. The decline of the church in the US may be caused by our “freedoms” and lack of persecution. What’s it going to take to wake up the church in the US today? Is it going to take persecution in the US to bring about a renewed interest in this old message? Will the church dwindle down to 500 faithful believers who will risk it all for the sake of the Good News? Time will tell… the church is still here – are we awake?
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.
In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:8-10 (NLT)