Series: Next Things: Acts 1,2,4 - Part Six
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 15, 2003
Over the last few Sundays we’ve been looking at the Book of Acts - at the events following Jesus’ resurrection - looking at these events and considering how God desires to use us to reach others with the Gospel. I’ve heard a number of people share how these messages have been challenging to them. To that I would personally add the word “overwhelming.” What we’ve been talking about is the hard - nuts and bolts - of life in Jesus. Thinking through the scope and responsibility of that life - especially as we’ve been looking at evangelism - the challenge can be overwhelming.
I saw a cartoon where - just as the pastor gets up to share - he says to the congregation, “Please keep hands and arms inside the pews and remain seated until the sermon comes to a complete stop.” God is not going to let up on us this week. But, what we’re going to look at today should help bring this huge task of world evangelism down to size. Please turn to Acts 2 - starting at verse 37. We’ll come there in a minute.
Do you remember last year there was a stripper up in Sacramento who’s daughter was a kindergartner at the church-run Capitol Christian School? The little girl was expelled from kindergarten because the mother was in a “profession” that was against the church’s policy. I remember that the “conservative” San Francisco press made the church out to be a bunch of bigots.
And yet, listening to the Pastor of the church, Rick Cole - Pastor Cole said his church offered to work with the mother financially and to help her find another job. Pastor Cole said, this mother “is a very precious person. And this is exploiting her, and there is a much greater destiny for her life that God has that we would love to see her enter into.” (1)
Time and again the church is portrayed negatively as a bunch of out of touch greedy fundamentalists bigots - hypocritical perverts who have nothing better to do than tell everyone else how to live their lives. As a Christian you’re considered to be a intellectual lightweight - brainwashed - easily led by a self-serving religious hierarchy. I get personally concerned about this because pastors are often portrayed as well wishing feeble minded incompetent do-gooders - nincompoops. In too many situations the church is looked upon as a spiritual institution - an institution among many institutions - where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lost in a politically correct program of social good works.
Given that image - how can God take us - not the Billy Grahams of the world - but ordinary people trying to get through life - how can God use us in this society to live as His Church effectively witnessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Acts 2:37: Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Ever feel like you’ve missed something? Before we go on to verse 38, we need to understand the significance of that question, “What shall we do?”
When we looked at Pentecost we read about the coming of the Holy Spirit - the rushing wind - the tongues of fire - Jews from all over the Diaspora coming to find out what had happened. The disciples speaking to the them - by the power of the Holy Spirit - speaking in the native languages and dialects of the thousands who were there - proclaiming the wonderful and mighty deeds of God. The confusion as the people tried to figure out what was going on with the disciples. Then as now - people trying to understand the strangeness - the uniqueness - of the Church and God’s working in the world.
Last Sunday we saw Peter stand and explain to those who had come that what they were experiencing was fulfilling the words of the prophet Joel - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit - in fact the beginning of a new and wonderful work of God. In Acts 2:22 and following - the verses that we skipped through to come to verse 37 this morning - Peter goes on to explain that this same God also testified of Jesus through miracles and wonders and signs - which you - the people gathered there - you yourselves saw. You also saw that Jesus was crucified - put to death - at the hands of godless men. You were there. But, God raised Him up - all according to God’s predetermined plan. He - Jesus - is now exalted - at the right hand of God. He is the Lord and Messiah. “Jesus” - Peter says in verse 36, “Jesus Whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)
In past ages of Church history the Jews have been referred to as Christ killers. They’re the one’s who called for Jesus to be crucified. In almost 2,000 years, hopefully we’ve learned something about our own sin nature. Christ died for us - all of us. With our sin - we put the nails on his hand - hammered the nails through His flesh. Our sin drove the nails through His feet. We lifted Him up on the cross. The thud of the cross sinking into the earth is for our transgressions. The ridicule - the disgrace - the forsaking - the blood flowing should have been ours. He died because of us - according to God’s plan.
When these people realized their own sin their hearts were pierced. What Peter says should pierce our hearts. Say this with me, “We put Him on the cross.” - “I put Him on the cross.”
Verse 37: Now when they heard this - Peter’s words, “Jesus Whom you crucified.” - they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will received the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Realizing our sin and separation from God - our desperate need for Jesus as our Savior - “repent” - do a 180º turn from your sin - reject it - renounce it. Confess it and receive God’s forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ. Give your lives - which were once lived in our own way and direction and sin - give the direction and purpose of your life to God - so that He’s in control not us.
Then, be baptized. The celebration we shared two weeks ago at Lake Yosemite. Baptism symbolically demonstrating our repentance - going under the water shows that our old selves have died - coming from the water that we live - resurrected by God’s power - into a new life with Jesus. Then, Peter says, repenting and coming to Christ the Holy Spirit will come to you. God Himself will enable you to live this new life.
Verse 39: “For the promise - this wonderful saving work of God - is for you and your children and for all who are far off - that’s us - those who are “far off” down the line in history - as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept exhorting them saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. - 3,000 plus believers from all over the Diaspora.
Verse 42: They - the believers - were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all who had believed were together and had all things in common - underline that statement and we’ll come back to it - all who had believed were together and had all things in common - and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Let’s pause here. Before we go on to talk about making an impact in this world we need to have a clearer understanding of our life together as the Church.
3,000 plus believers who are devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching - Scripture study - fellowship - shared meals and communion - prayer - mutual support - the meeting of physical needs - and a sense of awe as to what God was doing before their eyes. All things that a vital healthy growing church experiences.
Most amazing is this description: “all who had believed were together and had all things in common.” Consider that statement and our life together as the Church. Consider the “all” in “all.” What background? What point of origin has shaped our thinking?
A few weeks ago I asked about our church backgrounds - where we’ve come from: Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Assembly of God, Brethren, a few Evangelical Free. Who am I missing?
Here we are in an Evangelical Free Church. But, what do we mean by “evangelical”? What type of music is familiar to us? Or, style of worship? Preaching? What about theology and doctrine?
There’s a number of ethnic roots here. Bear with me on this. I’m going to count to three and then I’d like everyone to shout out their ethnic background. 1,2,3… That’s diversity. We could go on with this. We haven’t even gotten to places where we were born and raised.
The “all” here is verse 44 are 3,000 plus individuals from all over the Jewish Diaspora - coming from different cultures - with different languages - slaves and free - rich and poor - backgrounds and experiences as different as the four corners of the world they’d come from. “All of them” - not just some or a few of them - “all of them had all things in common” - an amazing bond and depth of fellowship together.
The reason for that is here in verse 44. Notice - “All who believed had all things in common.” That common life testifies to what God can do in the lives of the repentant - in and through those who have given their lives to Jesus Christ.
Please hear this - thinking about our life together - we need to be clear about what this means. There's a difference between having a relationship and having fellowship.
All of us have things in common with others. We share human life. When we repent and accept Jesus as our Savior we come to have a relationship with Him. We become a part of the family of God - the Church. But, fellowship is not just because we have mutual interests or family relationships or because we come here for Sunday services or the potlucks or to share spiritual experiences.
Fellowship is much deeper. Fellowship means experiencing life in Christ. Relationship puts us into the family of God. But, fellowship permits the life of that family to shine through us. Relationship means that all God has is potentially ours. But fellowship means we're actually drawing upon that source. Relationship is our possessing God. Fellowship is God possessing us. This fellowship with other believers and our fellowship with God through Jesus Christ - is deeper - more joyful - more satisfying than any type of relationship or experience which this world can offer us.
Put another way - thinking about our life together as the Church. We're like wanderers in the wilderness - out there in the world - who've come and sat down next to one another around the same fire. We belong to each other - a unique community of people who've all come to share the same - common - source of life. The common life - the fellowship - that’s being described here - is that life that we share in Jesus Christ - the fellowship of those who know Jesus personally - who have given their lives to Him as their Savior and Lord.
Let’s go on - verse 46 - those who had fellowship together - Day by day - were - continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
That fellowship witnesses of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - impacts lives with the Gospel - thousands of believers reaching thousands with the Gospel. God bringing thousands to salvation.
In thinking through all this for our own lives - thinking about the witness of our relationship together - we need to consider the lives of those around us.
Ravi Zacharias - the Christian apologist and author - Ravi shared about a time he was speaking to a wall-to-wall crowd of students at an Ivy League university - presenting in his powerfully persuasive manner the intellectual case for Christianity. For an hour afterward, one of Ravi’s associates was engaged in a vigorous conversation with four young men who were contesting argument after argument that Ravi had presented. The associate answered every protest skillfully and convincingly from the Christian perspective. Finally, one of the students - who seemed to be speaking for all of his fellow debaters - made this surprising admission: “To be honest with you, I think most of what that man - Ravi - had said is true. And I don’t care.” (2)
One major reason people do not respond to the Gospel is because they really don’t see anything wrong with their lives. Nothing major any way. A little here and there. But, so what? What does a relationship with Jesus Christ really offer? Once we get past the theology and the doctrine and the “go to church” thing - what is there that should make someone change the direction of their lives? Why change to join another institution or club - a religious organization with another set of do’s and don’ts. Who has time for that?
In America today - those who research these things tell us - that in America today there are more than 25 million people who are profoundly lonely. Over 20% of Americans would rather spend time with their computer than a real person. More than 70 million adults are struggling to find some meaning and purpose in life. 50 million plus Americans have endured divorce - and the continuing strain of divorce on their lives. An unknown number of adults and children suffer from physical and emotional abuse - usually by members of their own family.
Today - children are raised in day care centers by strangers - latchkey kids come home to empty houses - while both parents pursue careers - and money - and status - larger houses - more expensive cars. Many children in America - children of broken and torn apart families - live where they have no physical relationship to anyone they live with. The most frequent concern expressed by teenagers in America today is that they do not receive unconditional love from their parents.
The majority of people around us - maybe some here this morning - the majority of people around us are trying to find some healing for their lives - whether in some type of physical addiction - drugs - alcohol - pornography - unhealthy relationships - sex - toxic spirituality - wealth and possessions - or some other empty form of false hope. (3) We shake our heads. But, why is Merced County the Methamphetamine capital of the world? These needs touch our lives and the community in which we live.
Fellowship - the true Christian community of those who believe - genuine God given - God led relationships of the Spirit - is what we all deeply crave and our society is desperate to find. Amen?
Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) How we as a church live together testifies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our life as a Christian community has an impact - on our families - our community - and our nation. Isn’t that a great possibility?
Prabhu Isaac - was living in Saudi Arabia - a foreign worker from India. As a Christian - with 14 other brothers in Christ - Prabhu was thrown in a prison waiting to be deported. Prabhu was asked if he had had opportunities to witness for Jesus while in prison. “Yes.” He said. “I was taken to a room, which could accommodate seven or eight people. The prison officials tried to teach us the Islamic faith. All 14 brothers who were arrested with me ministered to the others in this place. As all of us were from different countries - hear that diversity - as all of us were from different countries, we shared our faith with people who came from our respective countries and who could understand the language we spoke.” (4)
“All who had believed were together and had all things in common.” Strangers in life - thrown together in prison - or gathered here around the same source of life - serving together - with the same goal - the same purpose. If we could only realize the grace of God towards us - repentance. If we could only see the bondage of this world - the desperation of those around us. Wouldn’t we spend less time focused on things that distract us and keep us apart and more time prayerfully coming together to live and share the Gospel with others?
How can God take us - ordinary people trying to get through life - how can God use us in this society to live as His Church effectively witnessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The effective “witness” of the Church is our “with-ness” together in Christ.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.