Sunday, May 22, 2011

Acts 2:42-47 - God's Institution of the Church

The Day of Pentecost
Luke’s sequel to his first book, his Gospel, is the book of Acts. The book of Acts tells the story of the formation and spread of one of the three things God instituted – the Church. The other two are the family, on which civilization is built and government by which society is directed.

Acts begins with Jesus’ command to wait until the Holy Spirit comes and then the disciples would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). At the beginning of chapter 2, the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and brings the Church to birth. Peter preaches a powerful sermon that wins 3,000 converts, and then we come to a paragraph that describes the early church.  That paragraph gives us incredible instruction about the nature and work of the Church. That’s where we will camp out today. Let’s read Acts 2:42-47.

Key Truth: Luke wrote Acts 2:42-47 to explain to believers how God instituted the Church to proclaim the Kingdom’s Good News, to demonstrate the Kingdom’s power, to care for those in need of the Kingdom, to worship the King, and to extend the Kingdom through evangelism and missions.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about God’s institution of the church.
Key Verse: Acts 2:42
Pray and Read:  Acts 2:42-47

Sermon Points: God instituted the Church to . . .
1.   Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (Acts 2:42)
2.   Demonstrate the power of the Kingdom (Acts 2:43)
3.   Care for those in need of the Kingdom (Acts 2:44-45)
4.   Worship the King (Acts 2:46-47a)
5.   Invite others into the Kingdom (Acts 2:47b)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Apostle’s Teaching: didache: “the act of teaching or doctrine taught.” In Hebrew, Torah means “teaching,” too. What did they teach? Things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). This teaching comes from the authority of the Messiah Himself, Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) and is the same as Jesus’ teaching (e.g., Matthew 5-7-Sermon on the Mount), since Jesus’ covenant is based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). The Apostles through the Holy Spirit now have the mind of Messiah (1 Cor 2:16) to be reminded of everything Jesus said to them (John 14:26) and to be guided into all truth (John 16:13).[1]
b.   Fellowship: koinonia “community, commonness, communion, fellowship” included deepening friendships and developing a common vision, goals, and priorities. This is the horizontal relationship with others. It is stressed heavily here, being mentioned in four of six verses here.
c.   APPLICATION: One of the key factors of a church’s health is to design ways and means for fellowship to be an integral part of church life week in and week out. When fellowship is absent, the church will plateau or decline. Are you involved in a Sunday School class on Sunday mornings? Sunday School is a tool of outreach and fellowship – not only a Bible lesson. Are you in a small group Bible study? Would you like to be part of one but none of them fit your schedule? Then start one to fit your schedule and invite your friends to it. Are you meeting weekly with someone with whom you can share your life and the Scripture? These are all so important.
d.   Breaking bread: Breaking bread means exactly that, eating together, sharing meals in each others’ homes (see Acts 2:46). Part of the early church’s congregation-wide meal included the Lord’s Supper to remember his sacrifice. Jesus broke bread at the Last Supper and said, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:24).
e.   Prayer: Both individual and corporate prayer characterized the Jerusalem church. This has been a severely neglected area of our Christian life in many of our churches today. We want results, but we don’t want to pray. Prayer consumes a lot of talk but practiced little. It is the non-Western church that is reminding us of the importance of the practice of prayer, with early morning prayer year round, prayer when you enter someone’s home, prayer and fasting retreats, all night Friday prayer, and their practice has resulted in incredible growth of the church so much that worldwide the Body of Christ is 80% nonwhite today.
a.   There was a constant sense of awe around the early church because of the incredible works of God going on among them.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember the awe and joy we experienced just over a year ago when the Duke neurologists and neuro-surgeons had repeatedly told Pam Saunders that her husband was brain dead and there was no hope? As she prepared to move him to a nursing home to give him dignity in death, churches all over Nash County and places across the country prayed for him that Wednesday night. Then around 3:30 that January morning Steve miraculously woke up, wanted to know where he was and wanted something to drink. The Duke neurologists, among the best in the world – and I heard one of them say it myself – said that there was no explanation except a miracle of God. When Pam would ask them for direction, they would tell her that they were in uncharted medicine, that there was no medical record of any kind like Steve’s. I watched the neurology students from Duke Medical School filing into his room to look at him and marvel. The email and phone and facebook was ablaze with the news of Steve’s recovery, and he gave glory to God.
c.   APPLICATION: Contrary to those who take a verse out of context in 1 Corinthians 13, signs and wonders have not ended. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While miracles are not our focus, we do trust the power and person of Christ in our time of need. It is right to pray for people to be healed  (spiritually and physically) or to command demons to leave us. There is a real spiritual world, and we must recognize it – not get giddy about it – but recognize and deal with it.
a.   Many of these new believers had not been planning to stay in Jerusalem after Pentecost. They were headed home afterwards, but their conversion arrested them, and the early church took seriously their discipleship. Local believers sold assets to feed, house, and care for these new believers.
b.   Some mistakenly take these verses to back their personal and political agendas to live communally as some kind of Christian communists. The believers did not plan for such a response. These were 120 from the Upper Room caring to a daily increasing 3000 converts. They were scrambling in an emergency situation.
c.   Thus, these believers were more radical in their giving to the church and sharing material possessions than many of us are today. Their relationships with each other were so strong that they could not tolerate anyone in the church living with material need while others enjoyed prosperity. Just as family members will frequently do, they sold their possessions and good so that they would have resources to care for those in need. They were apparently giving above and beyond the tithe, i.e., ten percent of their income. Jesus taught that giving is an important outward sign of inward commitment to God. He said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
d.   APPLICATION: These verses teach unselfishness, unpossessiveness, and hospitality. Giving reflects one’s heart condition. A generous person is a joy to those around them. They go to see people and take something out of their garden or that they have made. Generous people love to have you at their house and nearly compel you to come in. You cannot leave without having something to eat. And have you noticed that it does not matter the financial situation generous people are found in, that they always have enough for themselves after giving of themselves. Who do you think provides for those who give of themselves with hospitality and generosity. The elderly black woman was right: You can’t out-give God.
e.   If you cannot give because you want to keep it for yourself, not realizing that everything you have comes from God anyway, then you are saying that you can provide for yourself better than God can. Foolish man. If you cannot give because you have some possessions that mean more to you, then you have an idol in your life.
f.    Churches in which members do not at least tithe their income (give 10%) to the local church are obviously not high-quality churches. And have you noticed that often the people who spit and spark the most about the way church monies are spent are the ones who give the least?
                  i.    Some people do not give 10% of their income because they have not had accurate Bible teaching on it.
                ii.    Some people do not give because it never occurred to them to give.
              iii.    Some people do not give because their family is going through a tough time financially. That is exactly the time to trust God. For them giving is a significant heart issue of trust in God, and maybe He is testing you in that area of trust and using dollars to do it.
               iv.    Some people do not give because they take no responsibility for the things they receive from the local church. They are just takers and users, not generous. That points to a problem in their own souls.
                 v.    Some people do not give because they are offended or in deep disagreement about something going on in the church. They are handling things in a wrong manner. The appropriate thing to do is to first talk with the person with whom they have an issue. If that does not resolve their offense, they should talk to the appropriate committee or deacons. If that does not resolve the problem, then they should bring the issue to a congregational meeting. If they cannot resolve the issue there, then they should consider whether the Lord is calling them to remain in that fellowship.
g.   One’s giving record – not the amount, but the percentage of income – is a fair measurement of one’s membership commitment. The believers in the Jerusalem church would not have been embarrassed by their giving records. If we were to see your giving record, would you be? The way one handles their giving says a lot about a person’s heart and their trust in the Lord. Just sayin’.
a.   The believers were all Jews, and they went daily to the Temple to worship the Lord and thank Him for his Messiah. Worship today is becoming a more important part of our church services. A growing number of churches, even here locally, worship for an hour or more, then have a sermon for an hour, then have a meal together, similar to our ancestors who came to church to spend time in worship with God’s people, not to “get something out of it” and go out to eat.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: On Friday night the House of Worship Baptist Church from Queens, NY, was here. The service was about an hour of worship and an hour of testimony and sermon. We had a small crowd, but the One who counted was here. Afterward, the Indian worship leader, Boto Matthew, said to me, “I hope the service was not too long for your people. We are used to services lasting over three hours.” This has become the norm in nearly all churches except in the American South and the dead churches of Europe. The songs in these churches are typically directed to the Lord Himself and include the Biblical mandate of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16).
a.   Reaching the lost was a priority of the church from the beginning. All that good fellowship, prayer, and Bible teaching did not make the believers turn inward to their own church, but it thrust them out to tell others about Jesus, both those who are close by culturally (evangelism) and those who have not yet had a chance to hear about Jesus (missions).
b.   ILLUSTRATION: Yesterday at our church’s outreach to Bethlehem Woods apartment complex, we invited many people to Vacation Bible School in June. We praised the Lord in song and word and deed. We fed the people a great meal. We played games with the children. And we had four people, two grown men and two grown women, make commitments to Jesus Christ. Marvin Stallings led them all to the Lord. All of them were African American. Barry Lawrence said to me, “Gene, I hope your people can see that the field is WHITE unto harvest among our precious Black friends” – no pun intended.
c.   APPLICATION: The very best method of evangelism, and it has been proven time and time again, is to plant churches. I am praying that our church one day will plant a church here in Rocky Mount primarily designed for African-Americans, though every church should be multi-ethnic and welcoming of every sinner regardless of ethnicity. There is a great harvest waiting out there, souls who need Jesus, and there are churches in our association that can help us and mentor us in this.

[1] David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 226-8.