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A Summary of the Early Church

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:51
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Main Idea

boldness, prayer, and unity are what define godly communities
During Steve Jobs’ tenure with Apple, he gave many amazing and impactful presentations. Many of us remember his presentations about the new features of the iPhone and the growing list of other devices as he paced back and forth on the stage in his iconic black turtleneck and jeans. Though he had many philosophies on what makes a great presentation, there is one that is often quoted because of its simplicity and effectiveness.
That is, when giving a presentation to your audience, you always structure it like this:
Tell them what you’re going to say.
Tell them.
Tell them what you’ve said.
It’s simple. It’s memorable. It’s effective. Why? Because you help them see in summary what they are about to learn. When they learn it, they can digest it better because they already see the outline in their head. And finally, the information is summarized again, so it sticks with you after you leave the building.
Many great presenters and Pastors use this method, whether they got if from Steve or not. If you notice, I just this method. I give you an outline at the beginning, I follow that outline during the sermon, and then I try to boil it all down for you for the conclusion so you have some good chunks of meat to chew on during the week.
So, I say this, because our text today is a summary of what we have already learned so far. Luke is looking back at giving us the primary nuggets of truth that we need to chew on as we move forward. This means that the information isn’t new. It is things we have already seen, but my prayer for our time today is that we see it from a fresh perspective and further internalize it so it changes us in the best possible ways.

Passage & Outline

Prayer [vv. 23-30]
Boldness [vv.31, 33]
Unity [vv. 32, 34-35]
Introduction to a new player [vv. 36-37]
Acts 4:23–37 ESV
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

I - Prayer

Prayer is the first thing this expanded Christian community did after the first recorded persecution. And, if you look closely, they didn’t pray to be exonerated from future hardship. In its fullness, the prayer was a prayer of praise. It was an exaltation of God’s nature, sovereignty, and nature. But, it was also scripturally based, and this is a reminder that you pray rightly when you pray scripturally. You speak to God in prayer with your voice, and God speaks to you through his Word.

Part 1 - A prayer that exalts God’s nature

Begins with “Sovereign Lord”. This is an acknowledgment of God’s ability to control the events of human history. We will see this in more detail in just a moment, but I want us to recognize how the apostles and early church viewed God’s interactions with man.
They were not simply Deistic in their praise - meaning they didn’t praise God as a Deity who built a machine, programmed the way it should operate, then just hit the start button and let it do its thing. He doesn’t create systems and then observes from afar. God is a Sovereign Ruler (which is what Lord means) who is in control of human history. They saw this in how Jesus was murdered and they see it in how the Christian community is being built and expanded.
They followed Jesus’ model of prayer by beginning the way they were instructed, which was “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by your name.” Your name is to be exalted above all others. You are completely holy and set apart from anything else in creation. All of the focus, glory, and honor are due to you, O God… and not to any creature that you have made.
Then praises God as the Creator of all things. I like to call this the Praise of Genesis because they go back to the very beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens, the seas, and the dry land. Then he populated those sections of creation with life: angelic beings, birds, fish, land animals, and humans. God existed before all things and in Jesus, all things came into existence. This is an extension of the ‘Hallowed by your name” part of the prayer because only God could be so powerful, creative, and perfect to design the finely-tuned world that we see.

Part 2 - A prayer that praises God’s omniscience. God is all-powerful.

God declares the end from the beginning. This is what Isaiah declared in chapter 46 of his book and it is what we see the early church praising God for in this section, and they do it in two different ways.
First, God foretells his activities. Embedded in their prayer is Psalm 2:1-2, which says:
Psalm 2:1–2 (ESV)
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed...
This is a Messianic psalm, which means that it had a real-world application when it was written, but it also had a futuristic element that pointed to the Messiah. Now, Psalm 2 has 12 verses, yet only two are mentioned here. Why? Because in the midst of their praise, they were tying together the futuristic meaning of this Psalm and therefore, exalting God for his omniscience (or the attribute that shows God to be all-knowing).
As it pertains to Jesus, who is the Anointed one mentioned in the psalm. This is God’s Messiah we are talking about here whom the nations rage against. The reason they stop at verse two is that they then make the real-world connection.
Second, they praise God for the Psalm’s fulfillment. the nation of Israel did rage and plot His murder. You see this firsthand from the gospel accounts. Pilate and Herod were Roman officials who were complicit in Jesus’ trial and execution. They were Gentiles that were directly involved. The Jewish leadership and the general community were also present to cry, crucify him!”
So, we see that if you lay the people described in Acts 4:27 overtop the people mentioned in Psalm 2:1-2, they match perfectly. Herod, Pontus Pilate, Gentiles, and the people of Isreal did rage against and plot the murder of God’s Anointed Messiah - Jesus of Nazareth.
But they don’t stop there! They even go so far as to acknowledge that, while these people sinned and are held accountable for the actions of their darkened hearts, these deeds are still done in accordance with whatever God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place. Though they are explaining the most egregious crime to ever take place on this earth - the death of the Son of God - they still saw that it could have only taken place by God’s predestined plan.
And, instead of looking at this and concluding that God is just a sadistic man in the sky holding mankind like puppets on marionette strings, they saw this as a comfort! How, you might ask? Because if God designed such a horrible thing to bring about the way of repentance and salvation for mankind, then I can have certainty that anything I go through - as a child of God - has been granted by my Heavenly Father that will ultimately result in His praise.
What on earth can man really do to me when God is ultimately in control? That is why they didn’t move on to a prayer for deliverance from persecution, but rather they prayed for the opposite because they knew the rest of the Psalm. So, let’s turn there and see what they saw:
Psalm 2:3–12 (ESV)
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
you see, they knew the end of the story. God laughs at the futile attempts of men to thwart his purposes. He will establish his Anointed One and if you do not submit and kiss his hand, you will perish in his wrath. That is the God I serve!
Thirdly, they prayed for boldness. Their exact prayer was:
Acts 4:29 ESV
29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,
Do you see that? As the nations and rulers make their threats, grant us to speak with all boldness. And as they speak bold words in the name of Jesus, God will continue to do his miraculous work to heal the broken and to raise dead souls to spiritual life.
We do not pray for easy, comfortable lives.
A prayer like that proves a lack of a Kingdom mindset.
A prayer like that places you at the center of the world and that God is to work on your behalf instead of you working on God’s behalf.
Wartime produces warriors, not slackers
We are in a spiritual war and you will either advance the territory of your King or surrender it. There is no middle ground.
So determine in your heart and mind right now to be the warrior who serves the King and takes ground from the enemy.
As a result, the place where they gathered was shaken (signifying God’s presence and power) and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, who is the warrior’s might.

II - Boldness

So far, we have seen a prayer for boldness.
Now, we see the result of that prayer.
Immediately, we see God answering their prayer. He supernaturally makes His presence known, fills them with His Spirit, and then gives them exactly what they asked for. They continued to speak the word of God with boldness. They did so before, they asked for more, and God continues to give here, and throughout Acts.
Sense Definition: boldness n. — the trait of being willing to undertake activities that involve risk or danger; especially that involve being honest and straightforward in attitude and speech.
This word is used in this sense 31 times in the NT.
This again undergirds the notion that persecution is fuel for the gospel expansion because it only emboldens those who are trying to be silenced. This only causes them to dig in their heels and become more persuaded that what they are doing is the right thing.
Nothing was going to stop the apostles from testifying to Jesus’ resurrection (as said in v.33). Their boldness was evident, but it wasn’t purely a humanistic resolve to speak the truth despite the mounting risk. We are told here that their boldness was accompanied by two things:

They gave testimony with great power

If you remember from the first few sermons in Acts, this word ‘power’ here is the greek word dynamis and is where we get the word ‘dynamite’ from. It is explosive and noticeable. It is the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead and it is the power that is at work in each one of us as we are filled with the Spirit.
As was the pattern throughout the book of Acts thus far, the apostles submitted to the Holy Spirit, who in turn, filled them with His presence and power. This is the power in which the lame beggar was healed, and it is the power in which they continued to operate in.
Not their own power or strength, but in God’s power and strength. We have gathered enough data now to see a trend. Boldness and Dynamis power go hand-in-hand.

They were under great grace

What kind of grace is this?
The Concise Dictionary of the Greek NT defines it as:
5485. χάρις charis, khar´-ece; from 5463; graciousness / the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life
If you hold to the New Testament definition of fallen humanity, then you know of our inability to come to God without his drawing, therefore, this grace is a favor that God pours out to an underserving people. Since God did not owe us anything and would be perfectly just to leave us in our sin, His grace is purely unmerited and therefore makes Him alone worthy of all our praise.
Jesus chose the disciples, not the other way around. They were leading the early church because God established them, not because of any inherent goodness or strength in them. God was using them to expand the gospel message throughout the known world, so yes, of course, they were under great grace because God was using them powerfully despite their unworthiness!
Acts—The Church Afire (Grace (Vv. 32–33))
There is no appropriate response to grace except thanksgiving. The believers’ hearts were like that of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, whom King David chose to graciously care for after Jonathan’s death, promising that his land would be restored to him and that he would always have a place at the king’s table. In response, “Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’ ” The hearts of the Christians in the early church were full of God’s grace, and it overflowed to those around them! When the church is great, there is abounding grace.
They were under great grace and dispensing great grace to those around them!

III - Unity

Acts 4:32 ESV
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
Now we move to the third and final recap. Unity… and they were unified in two ways:
United in Christ
United in Service to one another

United in Christ

The entire believing community was of one heart & one soul. Honestly, it is still hard for me to understand that given all the division we see in the church today. This was a blissful time in the life of the church where 2,000 years of infighting and controversy hadn’t yet muddied the waters. They proclaimed Christ: crucified & resurrected and relied on the Spirit to fill them as they continued to make their proclamations with bold words.
Surely, Paul reflected on this when he penned his letter to the Ephesian believers:
Ephesians 4:1–6 ESV
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This was also Jesus’ prayer for his people during the High Priestly Prayer in John 17:
John 17:21 ESV
21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
And, as A. W. Tozer perfectly puts it:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
This is what the early church was like: an orchestra of pianos tuned into the same tuning fork. What about us? Are we the same way?

United in Service to One Another

The early church also sacrificed for one another. We saw this back in chapter two and is reiterated here again for us to remember that when we serve one another, we serve Jesus Himself.
At least at this stage of the fellowship of believers, there was not a single need among them. Could you imagine what the rest of the world would think of us if they saw that instead of our divisions? How winsome would that be?
Wasn’t it Jesus Himself that confirmed that the outside world would be able to identify us as His followers by the way we love one another?
Just imagine with me for a moment, what Ashe Alliance could do in this community if we had such unity and resourcing. I’m not saying we all need to sell our homes and land to stuff the church’s coffers. But, what I am asking is this: what could we do if we actually tried to align ourselves with the boldness, fervor, and willingness to sacrifice of this first-century Christian community? What could we do? What would we become? How much more could God be glorified through us than he is currently?
I want you to really think that through this week because I am convinced that it will dramatically affect how we grow as a church.

IV - A New Player is Introduced

Now one of these generous givers has a name.
A Levite from the island of Cyprus named Joseph who is called Barnabas by the apostles was one of the many who sold possessions (in this case, it was a plot of land), and laid the money at the feet of the apostles.
We will learn a lot more about this man since he partnered with Paul on his first missionary journey, but for now, Luke is just introducing him to us, so I will not spend much time on him. Just file that name away in the back of your mind as a member of this first amazing community of believers who will embody the meaning of his name, which is ‘son of encouragement.’

Conclusion

So in summary, I will summarize Luke’s summary.
This recap is about who the early church was and how they operated.
Their first gut reaction to persecution was to hold a worship service, consisting of:
prayer that exalted God’s nature and omniscience
boldness of speech and resolve to continue spreading the gospel message in Jesus’ name
unity in Christ and service to one another
These three simple attributes ushered the gospel around the known world in a relatively short amount of time and my challenge to us today is to go and do likewise.
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