Series: Being The Church - Part Five
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 3, 2016
Today is our last Sunday looking at the first two chapters of Acts. What does it mean for us to be the church? To Love God, Love Others, Serve the Church, Serve the World? We are in Acts 2 - starting at verse 40 - what took place at Pentecost and just afterwards.
50 days ago Jesus was put on trial - crucified - and resurrected. 10 days ago Jesus ascended back to Heaven. The Feast of Pentecost has arrived - the great Jewish pilgrim harvest festival. Jerusalem is packed with Jews from all over wherever there’s anywhere to be from.
As the followers of Jesus met that day suddenly - at what was about 9:00 in the morning - suddenly there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind that filled the place where they were. And it got loud. Loud enough to attract people from all over Jerusalem. Then something like fire appeared and distributed itself on each person - like individual tongues of fire.
Then these people from all over heard these people with the fire talk about God’s mighty works - talking in their own dialects. The Holy Spirit had come to proclaim the working of God in their native tongues through those who followed Christ.
These representatives of the world were amazed and perplexed. They had no clue. So they asked, “What does this mean?” Or more to the point: “What does this mean for me?”
The bad news is - Peter quoting David - the bad news is that we’ve crucified our Messiah - our Savior. Which proves what God says about us. We’re sinners who have separated ourselves from God and we’re without hope perishing - facing forever apart from God.
But - Peter goes on - the good news is that Jesus is our Messiah. God has made Him to be both Lord and Christ. Whatever needed to be done between God and us, Jesus did. Purposefully. According to the plan of God. Jesus came. Died. And has been raised.
Bottom line being: You need to choose how you respond to what God has done.
Peter helping this crowd to move from where they’re at - asking questions about what they see going on around them. Peter pointing them to God and what God is doing. And then bringing them to a opportunity to respond to God.
Which is what we looked at in verses 37 to 39: Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
“What does this mean?” becomes, “What shall we do?”
Peter tells them the way to respond is first off to “repent” - 180° turn from sin to towards God. Welcome by faith what God has done for you in Jesus and turn your life over to Him. Then be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ - which is about physically publically identifying ourselves with what God has already done in us spiritually. And you’ll receive the Holy Spirit - which is what God gifts to all those who are His - the Holy Spirit entering in and regenerating and empowering and guiding us.
Which brings us to verse 40 and what happens next. We’re going to read verses 40 to 47 and then come back for three observations.
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Let’s go back. Three observations.
Peter goes on with his “This is how you respond” with ongoing testimony as to Who Jesus is - what they can do to respond to what God is doing.
First observation - notice at the end of verse 41 - the result of that - those who “received” his word - welcomed what God had done - turned their lives over to Jesus - is that about 3,000 people come to put their faith in Jesus.
Which is mind boggling. Isn’t it?
At 9:00 in morning there are 120 or so disciples gathered together for what might have been their daily prayer meeting and teaching time. By the end of the day that number goes from 120 to 3,120 plus.
Thinking about that for ourselves. What would that be like here? If by tonight - or even next Sunday - 25 times the number of people showed up. Roughly that would be about 1,625 people coming to worship next Sunday. What would that be like?
I don’t know how’d I react to that. Joy and massive stress. We’d need more chairs. More coffee. That would push most of us out of our comfort zones. Wouldn’t it?
In our conversations about our purpose as a congregation in reaching people with the gospel and moving them along a process of discipleship - we’ve come to understand that “Love God” is the entry point of that process.
“Love God” meaning the Service of Worship. Or, with the children that’s Children’s Worship. If we’re going to invite anyone to anything - when we’re making contact with people doing survey or at AWANA or VBS or at work or wherever - even tomorrow’s July 4th BBQ - the entry point of getting connected with what God is doing here at Creekside is the Sunday Service of Worship - our opportunity to Love God together.
That is the one thing that we want to make sure we are inviting people to. The time to get connected. To check out what God is doing at Creekside. Sunday at 10.
We pray for this. Don’t we? We say we’re working for it. We long for it. We’re an evangelical church - focused on getting the gospel out into the world. This sanctuary was built here on this site because we want people in this neighborhood to come to Jesus.
How would we feel if they did? 90.000 people in the greater Merced metroplex who need Jesus? What if 1,000 of them showed up next Sunday? Very different people in numbers that go beyond what we’re comfortable with? Suddenly the “feels like a family” little church that fits my world where I know mostly everyone becomes a place where I have no clue where I fit in.
Probably that’s not going to happen. But if it did as a miraculous work of God I wonder if my concerns with all that would be focused on how all that would effect me or would I be rejoicing and focused on what God is doing? How would you process that?
There’s a reminder here - in uncomfortable real time - that the church is not about us. It’s Jesus’ church. Not ours. He died for it. He’s the Head of the Church. It’s His church to do with what whatever He pleases - even if we’re uncomfortable with what He does.
Second observation - down in verse 44 we’re told that they “had all things in common.”
“Common” translates the Greek word “koinos” which is at the root of the Greek word “koinonia” meaning… “fellowship.” Which is the word in verse 42 for fellowship - an association - a joint participation - common.
“all who had believed were together and had all things in common.”
The Greek for “all” means... “all”
Were given a description of that here in these verses. 3,000 plus pilgrims coming from wherever there is anywhere to come from - who are now baby converts with all the hang-ups and misunderstandings implied in that - they all were 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. Because the only explanation is God.
Which makes us wonder: What would that be like for us?
Curiosity question: Spiritually where are you from? Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Assembly of God, Brethren, a few Evangelical Free. Who am I missing? Maybe you’re from no where. That’s possible and valid.
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. Or education or income.
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 were together and had all things in common.” Fellowship. 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.
Let’s be clear. Thinking about our life together - being the church - we need to be clear about what this means. There’s a difference between having a common relationship and having fellowship.
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 common experience which this world can offer us.
Which is one significant reason why second in the process of discipleship here at Creekside - what comes after the entry point of “Love God” - next is “Love Others” which is all about Life Groups and small group Bible studies and youth discipleship and the College & Career Friday night meetings. Having opportunities to have fellowship - to live together in real time with all things in common because of God’s work in us and through us.
We belong to each other - a unique community of people who’ve all come to share the same - common - source of life. The broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. The communion - 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.
Third observation. Verse 45 begins, “And day by day…”
“Day by day” literally means “daily” - constantly - consistently - day in and day out.
Verse 42 tells us that they were “devoted.” “Devoted” has the idea of giving unrelenting steadfast persevering enduring courageous strong attention to someone or something.
Meaning that daily they were devoted - steadfast - unswervingly committed 24/7/365 to what it means to be the church - the example we’re given in these verses.
We often look at what’s going on here in Acts. This is a familiar passage. Yes? We often look at this and think about all the reasons why it was like that then and it isn’t like that now. At least not here in America.
We need to be careful about idealizing the early church. We can wonder at what the early church experienced but even the early church was messed up. That’s what most of what’s written in the epistles is all about.
Somehow that makes me uncomfortable.
Let’s be careful. We don’t want to want to discount what our siblings in Jesus are going through but Christians can be just as messed up over there as we can be messed up over here.
Less distractions or greater persecution isn’t the issue. Choice is. Commitment is a choice.
It is impossible to have a healthy church congregation without commitment. Because with commitment comes community. Joy in fellowship only comes with commitment. Fellowship is a reward of commitment.
Back in my younger days I took a rock climbing class down at Biola. Part of that class was us climbing up the side of Sutherland Hall - which was this one story brick building on campus. One wall of which had protruding bricks so a person with reasonable ability could climb up the wall.
I had a partner who was on the roof who had one end of the rope - the other end of which I was hooked into. The purpose of which was - just in case I was part way up the wall and I became detached from the wall - if I fell my partner holding the rope would have a grip on that rope so I wouldn’t plunge to my death - class over.
Climbing up the wall - at the distance where fall and splat is a real possibility - life in danger - dangling at the end of a rope is not the time to find out that the guy on the other end of the rope isn’t as committed to the process as I am.
If others in the church are not committed to being the body of Christ they why should I put myself out? Share my hopes and dreams and fears and concerns with them? Why am I going to be vulnerable? Open? Dependent on others? Others who take their time here with a “take or leave” attitude? Why should I trust anyone who isn’t committed. I’m just laying myself open to get burned. Which happens.
Are we tracking together? There is no fellowship without commitment. There may a lose association of groups of people who gravitate to our own kind of people - people like us that we can trust. Because we’re drawn by common interests or over time they’ve proven themselves - hanging in there with us. But that isn’t fellowship in the Acts sense of fellowship.
One serious - crippling - issue in the church - which has the church in America struggling for life - is the issue of self-focus - self-preservation. People who want the joys and experiences of fellowship without the commitment. Moving from church to church congregation seeking to have their needs met - or the needs of their children - but not willing to go there when it comes to that daily devotion commitment for the long haul. So many people are part of a congregation because they’re just hanging around waiting for something better.
The average tenure of a Senior Pastor is about 2 1/2 years. The average youth pastor sticks around for about 7 months. Usually something happens and they’re gone. Either by their choice or the congregation’s choice. That’s not a great example of commitment. Maybe congregations are just following leadership.
But that’s not the fellowship we long for. Not what’s here in Acts - being the church.
What would it be like if we all were committed - made the choice to be daily devoted 24/7/365 to each other - to what God has called us to here as Creekside?
God establishes His covenant with His people. We read that in a number of places in the Old Testament. God renews and defines that covenant in different places. But essentially God is promising to love on His people and to bring them to salvation. Why? Because God chooses to commit Himself to do so.
In the New Testament the clearest demonstration of that covenant is the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood - Jesus’ work on the cross - which is an undeserved act of the loving God on our behalf. Why? Because God chooses to commit Himself to do so.
That’s a choice. Remember the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus’ choice came with bloody sweat. Choosing to die for those who betrayed Him and denied Him and totally didn’t get Him and were sleeping instead of keeping watch. People like us.
Jesus told His disciples: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
John writes, “Whoever says he abides in Him - Jesus - ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2:6)
Follow Jesus and die to everything else. Repent and follow. Choice.
That’s commitment. That’s what’s demonstrated here in Acts. What it takes to break bread and pray and share meals in each others homes and sell our stuff and distribute it according to the needs of those in the body with glad and generous hearts - praising God and having favor with those around us - meaning others being attracted to Jesus because of what they see Him doing in and through us.
Processing all that… Two suggestions.
First: We need to value the great opportunity that God has for us here.
With all our hang-ups and issues and stuff - this really is a great congregation. To be here - and I know at times it’s hard to see it this way - but to be a part of Creekside really is a gift of God. What God can do in us and through us.
What’s here in Acts shows us the value of what God has given us together - how greatly we should value each other. Which doesn’t mean that we value ourselves less but that we value others more.
On the night before Jesus was crucified He shared His last meal with the disciples. And we get how messed up the disciples could be. Jesus takes off his clothes - puts on a towel - and in the manner of a servant washes the feet of the disciples. (John 13:5)
Jesus said to them, “I’m giving you an example - you do what I did to you.” (John 13:15)
Being the church isn’t about us. Engaging the Body of Christ isn’t about what I get out of it. It’s about God. Showing up on Sunday isn’t about us. It’s about what God desires to do in us and through us for His glory. Being a part of a Life Group or Bible Study or Youth Group or College & Career isn’t about us. It’s about what God desires to do in us and through us for His glory. Serving in some ministry around here - Serve the Church - Serve the World - isn’t about us. It’s about what God desires to do in us and through us for His glory.
Being the church is about washing feet. Valuing others as God values others. If God can so love me what holds me back from loving my brother or sister in Christ who also is saved by grace? To hang in there when they mess up? Even when their mess spatters on me. To hold their rope when they fall. To seek to meet their needs - physical - emotional - spiritual.
The gift of God of being Creekside - the opportunity of being here - isn’t about us - it’s about what God desires to do in us and through us in each other’s lives for His glory. Infinitely more valuable than my needs getting met. If we legitimately get that God will transform the life of this congregation in ways we can’t process - all to His glory.
Looking at what was going on in Acts - some if not all of that - might make us a tad uncomfortable - anxious - fearful. What would that be like. Deep down we may crave it. But the commitment to get there seems just a tad over the top.
If you’re like most of us here, “daily devotion” sounds like someone talking from another universe - certainly no one from here that’s trying to balance family and work and basic survival mode type stuff in the real world of where we live our lives. And I get that. So, the bottom line here isn’t a guilt motivated pitch for trying to squeeze more stuff into less hours.
Let’s be clear. The believers in Acts were responding to what Peter had shared with them. Their desire - before everything else - was to respond to God. “What shall we do?”
Where that led them was into this life of daily devotion - focused on God first - through which God used them to testify of Him in how they were daily devoted to each other.
Are we together?
God created the rotation pattern of the planet. He knows how many hours there are. And, He knows what we’re capable of. God’s desire is for us to experience abundant life in His Son that glorifies Him. Not guilt and eventual burn out.
So, the challenge in that for us is not for us to try and cram more things into our day as we’re trying to serve God by serving others. But to choose the priority of following God and to be willing for Him to reorganize the priorities of how we live life - out there and here together as Creekside.
Being honestly open and willing to allow God to remove from us anything and anyone that keeps us back from His best for our lives - from being daily devoted to Him and to each other.
We live in a self-focused - mobile - culture that fosters a self-centered mindset. We get this. Fellowship can become what we gain verses what we commit ourselves to - let alone a commitment based on our faithfully and obediently following Jesus. Why would anybody be attracted to another organization of people focused only on themselves?
The punch line comes in verse 47: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” God was adding to their numbers. 3,000 being only the beginning of growth.
When we live what those around us are desperate for - what we’re desperate for - especially in our self-focused world. Live that way and God will daily be growing us and His work through us. We will be astounded at what God will do in and through us for His glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.