Yahshua, the Son of God has many titles. He is called the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Healer, the Savior, the Emancipator, and Emanuel. But one of the most profound titles that He could have is the Founder of the New Covenant. He came to establish fellowship among the disciples by restoring their fellowship with God. This was the birth of a brand new culture...
To understand the reality of the life of the first believers, you must understand what fellowship is, and you must understand how it comes about. It is the binding element of the reality of the New Covenant. Their whole existence as believers was one marked by absolute, abundant, unbroken fellowship. Through this perspective you can get a glimpse into the beautiful and amazing bond that Yahshua spilled His blood to establish. This was the cause for which He allowed Himself to be broken. It was a covenant of the highest order. It was a blood covenant.
What is recorded in the Book of Acts about the first church was a social phenomenon that has been unrivaled in human history.1 These people, who had once been scattered strangers, heard a message so powerful and authoritative that it gathered them and bonded them together as a true commonwealth.2 They were a body of believers who shared all they possessed, voluntarily, and out of a deep inspiration. They experienced something that cannot be described any better than by the Greek word koinonia.
Koinonia unveils the highest form of fellowship. It means full joint participation in every social event, total distribution of all wealth (both physical and spiritual), and joint contribution to the success of the common goal. It is the sharing of all things, which means exactly what is says -- all things.3 It is to function as an organic, living, social organism -- a body. This was the incredible witness and glory of the first church.
To be a believer was to be a full participant in the fellowship and common life of the New Covenant communities. Their fellowship consumed every aspect of their daily life. They shared all their possessions, all their meals, all their struggles, all their heart, and all their soul. They shared their festivities, their burdens, their faith, and their love and loyalty to their Good Shepherd.
Now, many centuries later, it has become a mystery as to how they were able to live the way they did, and also it has become obscure as to why they lived the life they did. But hidden in that mystery is found the awesome purpose for God sending His beloved Son.
First we must see what His sacrifice on the cross really was. It was far more than a heroic act of faith. It was more than a sign of mankind's need for forgiveness and a show of God's great mercy. It was actually the inauguration of the unconditional terms of the New Covenant -- a blood covenant. Although on the cross He died for all, the mystery of the significance of what He accomplished by this event can only begin to be opened up by understanding what a covenant really is.
The word covenant is about absolutes and responsibilities. A covenant is not just appointed or granted or given unconditionally. It is not loose and free to one's own interpretation, by any means. To be covenanted is to be pledged or promised with specified conditions. You must have every intention of meeting all the terms, all that is required on your part, or you cannot enter into the covenant in truth. Then, after entering, you must fulfill your obligation or you break the covenant.
The terms of the New Covenant that Yahshua founded were extremely radical -- a life for a life. If you truly believe that He died for all, there is a purpose and expectation that connects to your very life. You can't just go on your merry way, trying live your life better than you did before. The New Covenant demands "that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised." That is the response that brings you back into fellowship with God. That response also brings you into fellowship with the others who have received the same faith to enter the New Covenant:
For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this: that One died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live should no longer for live for themselves, but for the Him who died for them and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
Yahshua fulfilled His part, and what He expects as a response from us was very clearly laid out in His commandments and teachings. He gave a new and great commandment that encapsulated all the others. This was the commandment that held the heart and essence of the whole New Covenant. It is recorded in John 13:34-35,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
He loved us first. He believed that if He would give Himself as an offering for sin, He would gain the hearts of a people who would respond, and this would create the "one another" for them all to love.4 He only asks us to follow Him and do the same as He did. By our response to lay down our lives and live only for Him, our old life is washed away5 -- FORGIVEN! Those who respond in that way reach the forgiveness that is in His blood.6
When you reach the blood of Messiah, when His pure, selfless sacrifice actually penetrates through the thick, callous layers around the human heart, the only possible response is to live the rest of your life for His sake and the gospel's sake.7 With joy you would "waste"8 your life by pouring it out on the "one another" -- His body. This breaking open of the human heart was the event that actually brought the 3000 into the circle of fellowship of the first believers on the Day of Pentecost.
Yahshua did all that He could do, and now He needs a people who are stirred in their hearts to respond by living their lives completely for Him. This is the testimony of those who have entered the New Covenant.
To live for Him means you love your brothers, laying down your life for them daily, not having any cause that would keep you back from receiving eternal life. His sacrifice defined forever what love really means:
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brothers. He who does not love his brother abides in death... By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:14,16)
He articulated the dividing line between those who belong to Him and those who do not, those with whom He can have fellowship and those with whom He cannot. This call brings to light the motivations of each person's heart. Who has a heart that has been humbled through his life's struggles, knowing his condition as a sinner? Who has been humbled to the extent of being willing to pay the price of true fellowship? The terms are clear.
To respond to these very clear requirements is to "lay your hands on the sacrifice," just as in the Old Covenant when someone sacrificed a lamb for his trespasses.9 His contrition of heart when he laid his hands on the animal was his acknowledgment of the severity of his sin. He knew that the wages of sin is death, and he offered an animal to express the acceptance of his guilt. It was a life for a life. With his hands on the sacrifice, leaning all of his personality and hope, as the lamb's life drained out as a ransom for his own life, signified his total identity with the lamb. To truly believe in Messiah, and receive the sacrifice that was made as a ransom for your life, will cause you to take total identity with Him in death, and to experience the reality of His resurrection.10
No one is automatically included in the New Covenant. Only by the right response is Messiah's blood applied to your sins, making you a participant in the New Covenant. First the "old man" has to die in the waters of baptism in order for the "new man" to be born, in order to live selflessly among Yahshua's people. You have to walk away from the old and come to utter surrender in this solemn covenant with God and His people. This is where you begin the life of a disciple.
The gospel Yahshua brought included explicit instructions to clear the way for you to be free to enter into the New Covenant with all your heart. To live only for Him was to have no distractions, no split loyalties, no earthly cares and worries to prevent you from giving all to meet the terms.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish."
Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-38)
Most cringe at these high demands. Many of the multitudes who followed Him withdrew when they heard the uncompromising terms.11 The rich young ruler withdrew.12 Even Judas, one of the Master's closest chosen disciples, grew to hate the cost, and he withdrew.13 Those who heard the terms clearly and then shrunk back judged themselves as unworthy of His sacrifice.14 But through those who responded, He began the most amazing brand new culture.
The genuine fellowship of the first church was actually the evidence that the tremendous miracle of repentance had taken place in the heart and souls of those first believers. They had a life that verified that the very element that had kept them estranged from their Creator had been confronted and rectified. They had confessed and forsaken self-life. Their unity and love for one another was the undeniable proof. They had made the radical transfer out of living for the things that the unbelieving people of this world seek and into seeking first the things of the God who is love.15
The first church was a real, active community, but it was also so much more. It was the place to carry out the demands of love which fulfill the New Covenant. It was where each disciple learned how to do his part. They had all heard the call to repent and return to God, but they needed the place and the way to do it.16 They knew they could not respond and then go back to their own independent, self-oriented lives.
The sweet fellowship experienced together by all the first believers was a foretaste of the ultimate reality of the covenant -- the eternal kingdom of God. They were partakers of its first fruits. There was no other way to practically carry out the requirements of the covenant. They needed the body of believers. The community was the altar upon which to offer themselves as a living, holy sacrifice.17 The church cannot be any other way and still be the church.
The life that sprang forth from that place came purely from a response to Messiah's sacrifice -- the response to live only for Him. It was impossible to imitate or counterfeit this life. No man's genius, creativity, power, or might can accomplish it. It is by His Spirit alone.18 It has to be the genuine reality of reaching Yahshua's blood.
The outcome of denying themselves was koinonia -- the vibrant, concentric life of the Body of Messiah. This high degree of fellowship was the irrefutable sign of those who believe. Their souls had been knit together, entwined in the most sacred covenant. This bond spanned generations, from the parents to the children, and to their children's children, because of the turning of their hearts.19 It was to be a perpetual covenant.
Standing in stark contrast to the passive religious system around them, their life was the fruit of their active obedience to the will of God, through keeping their Savior's commandments, expressing a genuine love for one another daily. They knew with full clarity that to allow any selfish ambition or to live for themselves in any way was to break the covenant.
This struggle against the selfish nature of the flesh, with its passions and desires,20 in order to do His will, actually caused the most phenomenal miracle -- salvation. This salvation was the deep and thorough healing of the broken fellowship between man and God. They soberly saw that they couldn't love God, whom they couldn't see, if they did not love their brothers whom they could see.21 The restoration of this fellowship was the burning desire of the founder of the New Covenant, Yahshua, the Son of God. For this cause He paid the price.
Yet history records the sad tale of a people led astray. They were pulled away from that concentric life. They were distracted from their whole-hearted devotion and the common life began to dissipate, lost like a vapor. The forces of self-life, the dark ways of "the old man," deceived them to unravel that sacred bond. They were lured away to independent and lawless actions. Their selfish pursuits were lawless in face of their covenant -- a willful sin after having come to the knowledge of the truth.22
As they allowed their hearts to withdraw from that common life, it was the glaring sign that they were breaking their part of the covenant. Their divisions testified against them. They wanted Him to give His life to them, but they became unwilling to give their lives to Him. There can be no divisions or denominations where there is true fellowship with Him.23 They rejected fellowship with Him and His sacrifice by rejecting the terms of the covenant -- a life for a life.24 By this act they trampled the Son of God underfoot, treating the blood of the covenant as a common thing, and insulted the incredible Spirit of Grace who had, at one time, won their hearts.25
Yet, an enduring foundation was laid. The church can't be any other way and still be the witness of the New Covenant brought by the Son of God. It must be the way it was in the beginning, because those terms are set solidly on the true Rock. The demands of love were sealed eternally when He died on the cross. The terms of peace have not, will not, and cannot ever change. These terms will remain for all eternity, and shine as a beacon for the ones who will lay hold of them. These ones will enter through the narrow gate into the reality of the sacred bond of the New Covenant. These ones strive for the blessing. By the revelation of this foundation, the most famous verse in the whole Bible takes on a whole new dimension:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
For "whoever believes in Him" describes those who believed when the gospel was first preached on the Day of Pentecost:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:44)
Therefore, it can truly be said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish... but be together and have all things in common."
God has been waiting for a people who will truly believe in Him to the point of surrendering their very lives. He has been waiting for a people who will make the appropriate response to His Son's sacrifice. Such are Yahshua's disciples.
The restoration of all things has begun. Come and see!