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Acts: The Spirit, the Church and the World

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GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

 

The Spirit, The Church and the World

Studies in Acts

1. The Last Words of Jesus

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

* Introduction:

The book of Acts should come with a warning label reading, If you are open to God, this witness will call you to new life."

Acts is an extraordinary work. In essence, it is the story of transformed lives and the difference these lives made in the world.

Just before Acts begins, we see the disciples behind closed doors wallowing in the mire of their craven fear, self‑doubt and personal shame. Apart from their master, they were a pathetic group indeed (Jn 20:19; Lk 24:11). However, by the second chapter of Acts, the same men who abandoned Jesus at Gethsemane have become irrepressible dynamos, preaching with utter conviction‑and at great personal risk‑"the mighty acts of God."

What changed them? And what impact did they make upon their generation and all subsequent ones? This is the story of Acts.

Acts is an important book for us today because it confirms that the power which transformed the disciples' lives is the same power that can transform our lives today! That power is, of course, God himself‑coming to us through the Holy Spirit.

There are many benefits to studying Acts:

Acts serves as a distant mirror. We will see the dynamics of the earliest church, the nature of their fellowship, the intensity of their prayer life, and their out‑and‑out zeal to declare the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Through this example, our own situation will be called into question. What does it mean to be the church today‑and what are we to be doing?

Acts emphasizes the primary task of the church‑evangelization. Speaking the gospel is only part of the task. It is the forinative process that we see in these earliest communities. In Acts we see the entire process of calling, healing, empowering and sending people forth to love and obey Jesus Christ. Acts will challenge us to a holistic­ community spirituality that can renew our churches. today. .

Acts calls us to a vital experience with the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised power to the disciples after the Holy Spirit came upon them. And the book of Acts reveals the Holy Spirit as the driving force behind all meaningful ministry in Jesus'name. Where do we look for spiritual power today? education? work? religious heritage? Acts calls us to a Spirit‑filled life.

Acts forges a new sense of identity.    The disciples gradually realized they were no longer Jews

(at least from the confessional and ceremonial points‑of‑view). They slowly began to understand that they were part of that new community of the Spirit which was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. And they saw the need to call all people‑Jews and Gentiles‑to repentance and fellowship with this new community‑the church. Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Lord's Supper became the outward signs of the inward grace. The emphasis is on relationships.


* 1. Gospel Content [1‑5]:

Notice our Lord's work is begun in his life, ministry, teaching, deeds, the Cross and the Resurrection. See how the Ascension is regarded as the closure of phase 1 ‑ "until the day lie was taken up into heaven". Note salvation is complete, nothing further is required. The purpose of God is ongoing.

See how Jesus' work is continued through the apostles. See the emphasis on these factors ‑

•           He chose them ‑ cf Luke 6. Similarly true of Matthias and Saul of Tarsus. None were self‑appointed, or even elected by synod or assembly, but by the Lord himself

•           He showed himself to them ‑ originally appointed to be with him" [Mark 3~141 cf Acts L21f. Then of course they were also "eye witnesses of the resurrection".

•           He taught them ‑ "instructions through the Holy Spirit ‑ cf the experience of the road to Emboss. More particularly an emphasis on mission ‑ "and commanded them to preach the gospel" [western text] ‑ ie the great commission.

He promised thern the Holy Spirit ‑ they were to continue in Jerusalem "to wait for the thing the Father promised" ie the Holy Spirit.

* 2. Gospel Commission [6‑8]:

Note reference to the Kingdom of God ‑ "Will you at this time restore the kingdom to IsraeIT'

‑ cf Luke 19:11. However they still have wrong notions about the kingdom.

See how the Kingdom of God is spiritual not political, international rather than national in

membership, and is gradual in its growth.

See the place of the Holy Spirit in this programme ‑ "You shall receive power, when the Holy

Spirit comes on you". He is the agent of mission.

Consider too, the programme of mission: Jerusalem ‑ Judea ‑ Samaria ~ the ends of' the earth.

The goal is not Rome ‑ although that is where Acts concludes its story.

* 3. Gospel Closure [9-11]: See how Luke is apparently more concerned with what was .~aid, rather than with the ei,etil of the Ascension itself.

# Significance ‑ Is it just an appendix to the Resurrection. The same doubts cast licre as on the Resurrection. Luke's record is simple and sober. Again there are witnesses ‑"before their eyes", 1ooking intently up into the sky as he was going". Five times it is emphasised the event took place visibly. This time the event was final ‑ no more resurrection appearances. The disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited for the Holy Spirit to come.

# Perspective ‑ See the question of the angels, "Men of Galilee, why do You stand here looking up into the sky?" They are not to spend their time looking nostalgically or longingly heavenward ~ to wish Jesus among them, or to be piously super‑spiritual. There is Kingdom­ work to be done!

# Promise ‑ "This same Jesus will so come again in like manner as you have seen hirn go into heaven . . ." He will continue his work through his Holy Spirit and through his Church. He will

come again in glory. "This same Jesus . . ."        


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

2. Waiting for the Spirit

Passage: Acts 1: 12 - 26

Introduction: Acts is the sequel to Luke's Gospel. It is part 2 of his great work about Jesus. The Gospel had to do with "what Jesus began to do and to teach" [1:1] - his ministry, actions, death and resurrection, concluding with his ascension. Acts has to do with the continuing ministry of the risen and ascended Lord through the Holy Spirit and by means of the Church.. Acts is exciting and stirring stuff, beginning with the upper room in Jerusalem and concluding with Paul in his own hired house in Rome. It is an exciting story - which still continues today! In today's study, the Ascension has taken place. The Holy Spirit is still to come. What did the disciples do? What were the features of this period of time?

* 1. Their sense of unity.

The reference [13] to the upstairs room has echoes of the upper room of the last supper and the scene of some of the resurrection appearances, as well as the gathering place of the young church in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark.

            Notice the emphasis on their togetherness. The remaining 11 apostles are mentioned - Peter, John, James and Andrew being the first named, as well as "the women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers". They are together, united not separated.. See how they have a common purpose in prayer. They are of one mind, purpose and impulse - despite all their natural, human diversity - eg a tax collector and a nationalist.

            The total number is given as "about 120". Professor Howard Marshall in his commentary suggests the reason for the figure being introduced is that in Jewish law a minium of 120 Jewish men was required to establish a counity with its own council - and thus the believers were already nuerous enough to form a new comunity.  The unnamed women doubtless included those listed in Luke 8:2-3.

* 2. Their persistence in prayer.

"They all joined constantly together in prayer" [14]. "Together" [homothymadon] is a favourite word of Luke's, which he uses 10 times and which occurs only once elsewhere in the NT. It could mean simply that the disciples met in the same place, or were doing the same thing, ie praying. But it later describes both united prayer [4:24] and a united decision [15:25], so that the togetherness implied seems to go beyond mere assembly and activity to agreement about what they were praying for. They prayed with one mind or purpose.

            The verb "joined . . .constantly" [proskartereo] means to be busy or persistent in all activity. Luke uses it later both of the new converts who "devoted themselves to" the apostles' teaching [2:42] and of the apostles who determined to give priority to prayer and preaching [6:4]. Here he uses it of perseverance in prayer - as Paul does several times - eg Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2.

            There can be little doubt that the grounds of this unity and perseverance in prayer were the command and promise of Jesus. He had promised to send the Spirit soon [1:4,5,8]. He had commanded them to wait for him to come and then to begin their witness. Thus we learn that God's promises do not make prayer superfluous. Rather, it is his promises which give us the warrant to pray and the confidence that he will hear and answer.

* 3. Their expectant waiting.

So often our waiting is just hanging around, filling in the time between one significant thing and another - like sitting around airports or bus stations waiting for connections. The believers are not just filling the hours or passing the time.  They are not waiting around - they are waiting on God [cf Isaiah 40:31] looking to God, calling to him. It is waiting which is positive and purposeful.

            There is keen anticipation and eager expectation - like children waiting with excitement. "How many sleeps . . .?" They are also waiting in worship on their glorious God in praise and prayer.

* 4. Their preparation for action.

A significant part of this section is taken up with the account of the event of the replacing of Judas among the apostles. See how Peter takes a significant leadership role in the action. This reflects what we have seen of him in some Gospel events.

            There is the warning of the example of Judas. One translation of verse 20 I have come across says "he turned aside [from the life of discipleship, faith and obedience] to go to his own place".  It reminds me somewhat of the passage in Pilgrim's Progress - "Then I saw there was a way to hell even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction"..

            See 1:21f for the qualifications for an apostle according to Peter. Why the importance of making up the number of apostles? It is usually put up as being the notion of a link between the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel and from t6here the apostolic mission to the Jews.

            There are those who consider that Peter and the other apostles got it wrong. They acted precipitately. They ran ahead of God.  The argument is that Paul was the one to take Judas' place. What do you think - and why? cf 1:21f.

            This leads us on the wider, related topic of guidance in our lives. What we see at work in this incident are as follows:

    the general leading of Scripture

     common sense regarding qualifications

     prayer - the Lord's knowledge of everyone's heart

     they cast lots an OT practice. Since we now live in the age of the Holy Spirit this practice is not valid for us, but the others three are quite valid and still relevant. These four, says John Stott, "constitute a wholesome combination through which God may be trusted to guide us today".

      The stage is now set for the Day of Pentecost. The Apostles have received Christ's commission and seen his ascension. The apostolic team is complete again, ready to be his chosen witnesses. Only one thing is missing: the Spirit has not yet come. The place left vacant by Judas has been filled by Matthias; the place left vacant by Jesus has not yet been filled by the Spirit. The 120 are waiting in Jerusalem, persevering in prayer with one heart and mind, poised ready to fulfil Christ's command just as soon as he fulfilled his promise.


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

3. The First Pentecost

Passage: Acts 2: 1 -  13

* Introduction: The person and ministry of the Holy Spirit is central to Christian faith and life - not an optional extra. John Stott says: "There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead". Of the four evangelists, Luke is the one who lays greatest emphasis on the Spirit. In the Gospel the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism by John so that he entered his public ministry "full of the Holy Spirit, "led by the Spirit", "in the power of the Spirit and "anointed" by the Spirit [Luke 3:21f, 4:1,14,18]. Now in Acts, the same Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus to equip them for their mission in the world. In the early chapters of Acts, Luke refers to the promise, the gift, the baptism, the power and the fullness of the Spirit in the experience of God's people. The terms are many and often interchangeable; the reality is one, and there is no substitute for it.

      Notice there are four ways in which we might think of the Day of Pentecost :

     As the final act of the saving ministry of Jesus before He comes again - another of those unrepeatable events like the birth, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

     Pentecost brought to the apostles the equipment they needed for their special role as the appointed, primary and authoritative witnesses, and had promised them the reminding and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit [John 14-16].. Pentecost fulfilled that promise.

     Pentecost was the inauguration of the new age of the Spirit. Although a unique and unrepeatable event, now all the people of God can always and everywhere benefit from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We too can be witnesses. We too can know his fullness.

     Pentecost has been called the first revival - denoting an altogether unusual visitation of God, in which a whole community becomes vividly aware of his immediate, overpowering presence. It may be, therefore, that not only the physical phenomena [ff], but the deep conviction of sin [37], the 3000 conversions [41], and the widespread sense of awe [43] were signs of "revival". Perhaps we ought not to make too hard and fast a line between what is exceptional in the Church's expectation or experience and what is normal. Thus the wind and fire were abnormal, and probably the languages too, the new life and joy, fellowship and worship, freedom, boldness and power were not.

Originally Pentecost was the middle of the three annual Jewish harvest festivals [Deut 16:16] and was called the Feast of Harvest [Ex23:16] because it was celebrated the completion of the grain harvest, or the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost because it took place 7 weeks or 50 days after the Passover, which was when the grain harvesting began [Ex 34:22, Lev 23:15ff, Num 28:26]. Towards the end of the inter-testamental period it also began to be associated with the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mt Sinai, because this was reckoned as having happened fifty days after the Exodus.

* 1. The Expectancy They Shared:

The time between Easter and Ascension was a tie of teaching, learning, increasing understanding of Jesus and the Scriptures, the Cross and the Kingdom. Yet remember the question [1:6] about restoring or bringing in the Kingdom "at this time".

Remember the dimension of prayerful patience - cf Luke 24:49 about tarrying in Jerusalem or waiting for God. They are not to be rushing on ahead of God, but looking to him in terms of Isaiah 40:31.

There is the dimension of prayerful persistence [1:14] joined constantly and consistently in prayer - cf 2:42 and 6:4.

There is the dimension of prayerful unity or togetherness in prayer and this note is continued in 2:1 about their being together "with one accord in one place". Here is the context of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit and prayerfulness are linked together. They have continued in this way for some days, then "suddenly . . . ."

We do not know whether the "house" [2:2] is still the upper room [1:13; 2:46b] or one of the many rooms or halls of the temple [Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46a].

* 2. The Symbolism They Experienced:

Pentecost associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai under the Old Covenant, is associated with the giving of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant.

     Wind - the analogy of the "sound like the blowing of a violent wind". The wind blows where it wills [cf John 3] and of the wind blowing on the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Wind denotes strong power - eg traditional windmills and nowadays windpower for electricity.

     Fire - again an analogy which denotes cleansing, holiness and purity. We are intended to be God's special people. Notice the "tongues of fire that separated . . ." - distributed upon each of them. Thus the Spirit is available as an individual and personal endowment, not merely a group phenomenon.

     Speaking in other tongues - apparently not just some mystical, ecstatic language but a recognisable language. That's what the crowd said  [2:11] and they were "declaring the wonders of God". Discussion point: Are there differences between the "tongues" referred to here and those mentioned in 1 Corinthians? 

* 3. The Question they Faced:

"What does this mean?" This was the question of the crowd of onlookers in Jerusalem. It can be ours as well. Because the Holy Spirit has come - -

# We are not left on our own in Christian life and service. We are not "saved" - then cast adrift to fend for ourselves. We are not left to our own devices or resources. God is with us by his Spirit!

# We have a Counsellor - the Paraclete. He is always bearing witness to Jesus, making plain His Word and witnessing to His will.

# We have a Director to who we can look for instructions. We have in his living presence the authority and power for ministry - to serve in faith and confidence. Remember the words of Jesus: "Greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father" [John 14:12]. It is surprising, maybe even terrifying. It is not urging a spiritual ego-trip, but emphasising the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

See how it is always open to misunderstanding. Just as the crowd did not believe Jesus, so they sought a different explanation of what the Spirit was doing. They said the believers were drunk!.

Conclusion: What does it all mean for us today? What are our perceptions? What principles do we see? What are the practical outcomes? Are we trying to live in our own strength - determined to do our duty? Let's live in the delight the Spirit brings. Are we fearful of the Spirit and want to be in control - no wish to be freaky or fanatical? Let the Spirit release to new dimensions of living. Are we resentful of the blessings others have found? Let the Spirit take away all bitterness and fill you with joy and peace. Are we resisting the pleading and prompting of the Spirit? Let the Spirit work in your life to bless you and glorify Jesus!


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

4. The First Preaching

Passage: Acts 2: 14 - 41

Introduction: Peter's address on the Day of Pentecost is in response to the question of the onlookers, "What does this mean?" However, before we get into that we need to have a preliminary look generally at the place of addresses or speeches in the Book of Acts. Readers are usually struck by the prominent position occupied in Luke's text by "speeches". Acts contains as many addresses as it does acts. No fewer than nineteen significant Christian addresses. There are also non-Christian speeches by Gamaliel [5:34-40], the town clerk at Ephesus [19:35-41]and Tertullus [24:2-8]. There are 8 by Peter [in chapters 1,2,3,4,5,10,11 and 15]; one each by Stepohen [7] and James [15] and 9 by Paul - 5 sermons [13,14,17,20,28] and four defence speeches in chapters 22-26. Approximately 20% of Luke's text is devoted to addresses by Peter and Paul; if Stephen's speech is added it rises to about 25%.

            However, are these speeches genuine utterances by the people to whom they are attributed? Are they accurate? There are three possible responses: First, probably nobody has ever imagined that these speeches are verbatim accounts of what was said on each occasion. They are much too short to be complete. The Pentecost message of Peter would have taken about three minutes to deliver, and Paul's in Athens about one and a half! There was no sound recording - and even if shorthand was being developed Luke was not present. In a word he was depending on summaries given him later either by the speaker or by one of his listeners. Luke cannot be claiming to be giving more than a reliable digest of each address. Secondly, the modern critical approach developed by scholars like H J Cadbury and Martin Dibelius is much more sceptical. These are based on the lines that both the narrative passages and the speeches reflect the same style and vocabulary and theological emphasis - ie Luke's; and also the prevailing convention among ancient historians was the practice of inserting speeches of leading characters into the narrative and of freely composing those speeches themselves - so Cadbury. The authors assumed their readers understood and accepted this literary artifice. The third approach is to regard them neither as verbatim transcripts nor as literary fictions, but rather as reliable summaries of what was said on each occasion. As we read Paul's sermons we can only marvel at his adaptability. He addresses Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch [13], pagans in the open air at Lystra [14] philosophers of the Areopagus in Athens [17] and the elders of the church of Ephesus at Miletus [20]. Each is different and each is appropriate. Do we consider Luke had the rich theological insight, historical sense and literary skill to make the all up? Is it not more reasonable to suppose he is summarising genuinely Pauline utterances, although in the process his own style and vocabulary show through?  "Taken all in all, each speech suits the speaker, the audience, and the circumstances of delivery; and this . . .gives good ground . . . for believing these speeches to be, not inventions of the historian, but condensed accounts of speeches actually made, and therefore valuable and independent sources for the history and theology of the primitive Church." - Professor F F Bruce

* 1. The Connection the Preaching Engages:

Remember the crowd is part of the Jerusalem pilgrim festival - in town for the feast of Pentecost. As he begins, Peter is making what we would now describe as a cultural connection with their religion - as well  as their familiarity with the prophets. It would not be a modern connection today - but the principle of cultural connection is valid for today.

The quotation from Joel is based on promise [grace], but the background is of judgement and repentance. "This is what was spoken. . ."  "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people . . .". . ." Notice -

     the promise is to old and young alike -no ageism

     the promise is to male and female alike - no sexism

     a new day of salvation - "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved".

This is what the gospel offer, the Kingdom proclamation and the age of the Spirit is all about - wholeness, healing, the vision of God's Lordship over human lives.

 

* 2. The Content the Preaching Emphasises:

See how the apostolic preaching is proclamation - not dialogue, discussion or even debate, but declaration. Hence kerygma, from kerux=a herald. It is not the examination of a hypothesis or a theory, or the weighing up of a philosophy, but the proclamation of a message, the presentation of a person. - cf John Wesley, "I offered them Jesus". The content of the message focuses on Jesus and the whole "unfolding drama of redemption" [Scroggie]. God's plan and purpose in salvation is fulfilled in Him [21].

     Jesus' life and ministry [22] including "miracles, wonders and signs" - "as you yourselves know".

     His death on the Cross [23] in "God's set purpose and foreknowledge" and their part in it.

     His Resurrection [24, 32] - "But God raised him . . ." and  "we are all witnesses of the fact".

     His Ascension and Lordship [33-36]

     He sends the Holy Spirit [33]

"Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ"

* 3. The Conviction the Preaching Effects:

The proclamation doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Holy Spirit is working in hearts and lives to bring conviction. "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said . . . What shall we do?" They were cut, lacerated, smarting, hurting. Have we ever felt like that in Church? Here is no candy-coated, popularist Gospel. It is authentic apostolic proclamation producing conviction of sin, a sense of need and unworthiness, longing for something better, perhaps even desperation. This first result leading to repentance, tears, groans, sighs. "What does this mean?" has changed to "What shall we do?"  Compare John Bunyan's testimony in "Grace Abounding".

* 4, The Culmination Preaching Elicits:

Apostolic preaching by the Spirit addresses persons in their need, lostness, futility, guilt and longings after something better. There is a call to decision, to act, to respond, to do... See what some refer to as the "Gospel package" in Acts 2:38. There are four elements - two we do; two God does!

     "Repent!" - involves acknowledgment of sin, guilt, need and personal responsibility. That we have rebelled, strayed, drifted, gone far away from God.

     "Be baptised!" ie open confession of faith in Jesus and commitment to Him as Lord. It signifies our death to the old way of life and our being alive in Christ.

     Forgiveness of sins - this is the result of our new relationship with God in Christ - the fruits of Atonement and Redemption.

     Gift of the Spirit - here is the birthright of all believers [cf Joel] the sealing of the Spirit that we truly belong to God, and the indwelling Spirit works within us and through us.

Conclusion: It is not enough to "proclaim Jesus". There are many Jesuses being proclaimed today. According to the NT gospel, he is historical [he really lived, died, rose and ascended in the arena of history], theological [his life, death, resurrection and ascension all have saving significance] and contemporary [he lives and reigns to bestow salvation those who respond to him]. Thus the apostles told the same story of Jesus at three levels - as historical event [witnessed by their own eyes], as having theological significance [interpreted by the Scriptures], and as contemporary message [confronting men and women with the necessity of decision]. We have the same responsibility today to tell the story of Jesus as fact, doctrine and gospel. now.


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

5. The First Church

Passage: Acts 2: 42 - 47

Introduction: Many of us, whatever our age or generation - the zealousness of youth, the cynicism of midlife, or the jadedness of age with its unfulfilled dreams - seem to enter into a love-hate relationship with the Church - certainly as institution, and especially if ours is a so-called "mainline", or oldline church! If all this seems somewhat critical of the church in our time, then perhaps words from Hans Kung's early book, "The Council and Reunion" seem particularly appropriate in such a context: "Criticism, indeed loud criticism, can be a duty. A vague, unspecified discontent is hurtful; specific criticism is liberating and fruitful......As a church of men, sinful men, the church though of divine foundation needs criticizing; as the church of God, she is, more than any other institution worth criticizing. "   

     It is good for us to return to first principles and begin with Luke's apt summary of earliest congregational life with which he concludes his account of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Pentecost is regarded by some as the birthday of the Church, and certainly by all of us as a significant Day in the life of the Church. Professor E M Blaiklock has said: "Of all the centuries, the twentieth is most like the first". If that truly is so in terms of the ferment of change and new ideas, then there are lessons we can learn as we look to the first church. Luke says that the early church people "devoted themselves to" certain things. One commentator describes this attitude as "a stedfast and singleminded fidelity to a certain course of action". Notice both ATTITUDE or ASPIRATION and ACTION are involved! These were their passions, their pursuits, their priorities. This was their policy and programme. I want to suggest that these priorities and their outcome lead to some factors we need to appreciate in terms of the interaction of the Spirit, the church and the world.

* 1. The Relational Factor:

I want to start here, because I am sure that is in fact where many outside the Church begin. In a world marked by societal and family breakdown, or dormitory suburbs and anonymous neighbourhoods, people are longing to experience true community. The Gospel is the announcement of a Kingdom, the call to repentance, the proclamation of salvation, and the entry into fellowship - the covenant community of the Church. People need relationships - to experience grace, acceptance, and a sense of value and worth. Hence the attraction of the club and the pub - but what about the church? The research done in preparation for the VISION New Zealand Congress 1993 indicated that persons usually [indeed, statistically overwhelmingly] came into association with the church through the invitation or influence of a family member or a close personal friend. More often than not, they had been through some personal crisis of job, health, family or marriage and additionally or consequently were engaged in some spiritual seeking.  They and we need to keep on experiencing the love, grace, and acceptance of God.

     Remember the call of the Twelve in Mark 3:14? Jesus called them that "they might be with him..." - that first and foremost. It was in that atmosphere, he trained and prepared them. They were in a community - but its centre was Jesus. Koinonia, the fellowship of the Gospel, the Christ and the Church is no saccharine-sweet affair but the hard work and tough-love business of people facing the requirements of Christ, the transforming processes of the Holy Spirit and the pressures of the world around them. Selwyn Hughes in one of his Care seminars says: "You can't exhort and unencouraged person". In his terminology "exhortation" is a teaching medium to do with the mind and the will; whereas "encouragement" has to do with the emotions and relationships. Think of all those "one another" sayings in the New Testament. They have to do with our relationship together in Christ and in the Church. They spell out our belongingness - our fellowship.

    

* 2. The Conceptual or Didactic Factor:

     Jesus taught his followers - cf John 17:8,14 - "I have given them your word". Our Reformed tradition holds the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the supreme rule of faith and life. Yet part of that same tradition states that the Church is "semper reformanda" - always in a process of being reformed - that is, constantly bringing our beliefs, practices, programmes, policies and priorities to the touchstone of Scripture - and amending them accordingly! Even the maligned Puritan tradition, according to John Robinson, affirms that "the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word". Authentic Christian discipleship does not take place in a vacuum, nor does it exist in a series of isolated, vague personal spiritual experiences. There is instruction. Teaching is part of of our discipleship. Christian faith does not happen simply on some emotional plane. It does not disdain the enlightened and informed mind. It affirms the renewed mind. Howard Marshall has helpfully commented [EP June 1992] on how infrequently the NT refers to believers meeting for "worship" but rather for being instructed in the Word and being built up in the faith through teaching. We live in days increasingly where there are no absolutes. Relativism, secularism and pluralism are the orders of the day! Within the [mainline] churches doctrinal belief resembles nothing so much as a spiritual smorgasbord from which you choose what you fancy and leave aside what does not appeal. I am no advocate for narrowness or rigidity in these matters. However, I do believe that there is already sufficient leeway for valid Christian diversity. I believe the classic creeds, for instance, draw boundary markers of authentic belief. Can we not recognise some irreducible minimum of Christian belief?     

* 3. The Mystical Factor:

     Another of the things to which the first Christian believers devoted themselves was the breaking of bread. Whether or not we prefer to regard this as a "fellowship meal" or as a "eucharistic celebration", certainly there is a recalling of the events of the Last Supper. There is a relating directly to the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus, of our locking on to them so to speak, and appropriating their healing and renewing power. There is also the sense of HOPE - of looking forward in anticipation to the consummation of all things and the return of Christ in glory. This is all undergirded and constantly made real to us by the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are at once in the realm of the numinous, the holy, the transcendent. Curious is it not, that in the western  world so given over to secularism on the one hand and to scientism on the other, there should be such an avid pursuit of what we might describe as alternative spiritualities? Everything from eastern mysticism, through tarot cards, the occult, or astrology to the amalgam of New Age beliefs are regarded as real and equally valid world-views. While some in the churches apparently repudiate the transcendent or have outgrown notions of a God at once sovereign and almighty, many in the west are searching for something to fill the God-shaped vacuum within.  We need to face the challenge of a Holy Spirit who is real and present today and doing signs and wonders among the people.

* 4. The Intercessional Factor:

     If as we affirm so often in these days we are here to effect change in our community, transformation in society, then we need to understand it is not just brought about by the incarnational factor important and vital though it is. Another dimension is by INTERCESSION. Prayer is not only in terms of Adoration, Praise and Worship, but in bringing the world to the Throne of Grace, and not just in doing so formally or going through the motions so to speak; but feeling something of the pain and bearing the weight of the burden of a sinful world's needs. There is currently the Great Prayer Movement across the churches and round the world. Dr J Edwin Orr has said: "Whenever God is ready to do something new with his people, he sets them to praying". The history of revivals shows that prayer precedes revival.

* 5. The Missional Factor:

     To use today's jargon: What were the "outcomes"? "Everyone was filled with awe" [2:43] ie believers and unbelievers alike were conscious of the presence, the sense of the majesty, the holiness of God! The power of God was manifestly at work - "many wonders and miraculous signs were being done by the apostles". This message worked! There was a wonderful sense of unity and togetherness - "all the believers were together and had everything in common" which spilled over into a truly Christian caring for others "they gave to anyone who had any need", and that was a personally costly process. Unbelievers were attracted to people who lived in such an unselfish way. So our passion for social justice stems from the prophets, from the Gospel and from our faith in and commitment to Christ as Lord.

                There were also evangelistic outcomes: "The Lord added to their number those who were being saved". The divine initiative and action is emphatic - though God was working through a human agency - the church. Notice it was "day by day". How marvellous if we could get again to the place where people coming to faith in Christ was such a frequent, regular - almost commonplace - occurrence in our congregations and churches. We are not to be in the business of getting decisions but of making disciples! Was it done by OUTREACH or by ATTRACTION?


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

6. The First Miracle

Passage: Acts 3: 1 - 26

Introduction:  Slogans can be catchy or provocative. they can also be somewhat trite and superficial. When the habit is carried over into Christian things we can end up indulging ourselves in "smart" bumper stcker theology - eg "Be reasonable, do it my way!", or "Smile, God loves you!". One of my favourites is "Expect a miracle!", because it can be both trite and testing. It can be startling, stunning and stimulating - or theologically smarmy and slick. Remember John Stott's statement referred to in an earlier study? "There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power.

As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead". The Spirit, the Church and the world are always in dynamic interaction with one another. In the last section of chapter 2 Luke gives a summary of life in the early church. Now in chapter 3, as he sometimes does, Luke follows up that general statement with a specific example. "Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were does by the apostles" [2:43]. Now comes the account of the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.

* 1. The Event and its Demonstration:

 Clearly something of an outstanding and unusual nature took place - such that later despite all kinds of pressure, its reality could not be denied. Remember in those days, there was no social security, no welfare, no sickness benefit. The usual recourse for the afflicted was to beg. This man's pitch/location was a strategic opportunity to catch people going into the temple and in Judaism almsgiving is a meritorious act. The Beautiful Gate is usually identified as the Nicanor Gate, which was the main eastern entrance to the temple from the Court of the Gentiles, probably made of Corinthian brass which the historian Josephus said "greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold". Luke's medical interest is indicated by the brief medical history he gives. It was a congenital case, well established as the man was now over forty years of age, and the condition so severe as to require him to be carried to the place every day in order to beg.

            As Peter and John approach, the man looked to them for alms. He expected a handout. What he got was a miracle! The man was bound, limited and shackled by his physical condition. He got release - freedom, leaping and laughing! All over the place people are bound and inhibited - emotional chains confine them, personal burdens oppress them, social siruations dominate them. So often what is offered is something to make like bearable. The Gospel offers release and transformation! Sometimes the church becomes obsessed, taken up with the institution, with buildings, with programmes, even with gimmicks. True Gospel ministry has the priority of transformation and new beginning.

What do you think is the place of miracle in today's church? Is it normative? What does "word, deed and sign"  mean in terms the Church and the Kingdom  if it is not a mirroring of the ministry of Jesus?  Here the cure was complete, immediate and verifiable - cf the healing of the blind man by Jesus in John 9. Should we expect miracles all the time - for by definition is not a miracle something unusual and extraordinary?  I personally believe that miracles are for today, that they did NOT cease with the last of the apostles.However, I also feel we need to be wary of the addiction to jumping on everseas bandwaggons of "signs and wonders" under every bush so to speak!   I believe the interest is timely, perhaps not least, in confronting and questioning the rationalism and scientism which has invaded the Western Church, and turning us again to the reality of the transcendent.

* 2. The Event and its Explanation:

 Virtually every incident of miracle in Acts is linked directly to explanation in terms of the Gospel and ther Word of God. Here, not unnaturally, the astonishment, excitement and interest of the crowd focuses on the apostles. "Why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" [12]. We certainly need to recover the emphasis of playing down self and giving glory to God.

            In their preaching they make the connections - to the God of the Covenant, the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [13], and to Jesus of Nazareth. See how Jesus is described - "the Holy and Righteous One" [14]; God's Christ [18], God's servant [13, 26], and the author/prince of life" [15]. They also contrast what men did - "disowned him" and "killed him" - with what God did - "raised him". They are his witnesses. It is through the name of Jesus aqnd faith in him that such healing power flows.

* 3. The Event and its Application:

See how the message, the gospel proclamation, is not left up in the air. It is applied directly and personally. Israel is still the covenant people, but wayward, corrupt and hypocritical. Yet God wants them to return to Him and holds out the offer of blessing.

            See how clearlt repentance precedes and is a prerequisite for restoration and renewal. No repentance - no renewal. "Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" [19].

            How different from some of the stuff we hear in today's church! The "Bless me" theology with which we are so much bedevilled has the wrong perspective. God does NOT just want that we be blessed and have spiritual highs all the time. He wants us to experience true repentance, to experience his full salvation, and a right heart-relationship with himself. True times of refreshing from God include include other kinds of things - taking up the cross day by day, pruning, dying to self.

 
GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

7. The First Opposition

Passage: Acts 4: 1 - 22

Introduction: The Spirit, the Church and the World are always in dynamic interaction with one another. Like those old school chemistry laboratory experiments of years ago - put the chemicals together in a jar or test tube and watch out for the vigorous, even violent reaction! God is real and active - effectively working by his Spirit. A new release of divine grace and energy flows through his people. "Expect a miracle!" is what we thought of last week. But here is the aftermath. As someone once put it: "In the Book of Acts riots and revivals go together!" - cf Jerusalem, Derbe, Lystra, Philippi and Ephesus. The lame man has been healed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Jesus has been proclaimed. The crowd has come together in excited expectation.

* 1. The Consternation of the World [1-4]:

Remember for this purpose "the world" includes worldly, formal religion - as well as the vested interests of the religious institution and its perennial fear of losing its influence, special relationships, prestige or power. See how the religious leaders "were greatly disturbed" - ie disquieted, upset, dismayed, enraged. Why? Because the apostles "were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead" [2]. Remember the Sadducees were in control of the Jewish leadership and they did not believe in the resurrection. They were upset by the preaching about Jesus the Crucified One, the Risen One. This message was against everything they stood for.

            They seized Peter and John and imprisoned them until the next day - for preaching and healing. Such is the rationality of the unregenerate human mind and heart. However notice the outcome - "many who heard the message believed" [4].

*2. The Confrontation with the World [5-12]:

 The next day the scene shifts to the meeting of the Council. See how they bring on all the religious heavies, armed with all the powers of the Council, including a full parade of the High Priest and his minions. The intention is clearly to browbeat, terrify and overwhelm these country bumpkins from Galilee!

            They began to interrogate them. "By what power or what name did you do this?" [7]. This is ecclesiastical reign of terror tactics! How dare you! Who do you think you are? What do you know about anything? The thread runs from Jerusalem and the council, to Rome and the arena, to the Inquisition and stake, to the Covenanters and the torture and the gallows, to religious oppression and Gulag. 

            "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said" [8] - notice this filling signifies a special anointing for speaking and ministry just as Jesus had promised [cf Luke 21:12ff] which produces liberty, ability and authority in speaking in such circumstances. Notice Peter is anything but browbeaten, overawed, tongue-tied. Indeed, he is clear and cogent in his affirmation of faith and truth. Notice the perspective he puts on the whole business. Are they really being put to the question "for an act of kindness shown to a cripple" [9]?

            This brings him to the topic of Jesus of Nazareth - "whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead" [10] It is through his Name and by his power this miracle has been done. He is the rejected stone - but the fitting capstone. Indeed, "salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" [12]. What a marvellous summary of the Gospel! It emphasises the uniqueness of Christ. Notice the pivotal "must" of absolute necessity in terms of judgement and repentance, as well as of God's sovereign grace and salvation.

* 3. The Confirmation to the World [13-14]:

 "When they saw the courage/boldness of Peter and John" [13] - it is all about being strong in the Lord. At this stage the apostles did not know what the outcome would be. The Council "realised they were unschooled, ordinary men" and were astonished. There are times when we need to be saved from the religious "experts". We do not need degrees but faith, obedience and teachability. God does not desire a race of supermen or wonder-women - just "an army of ordinary people".

            See too, how "they took note that these men had been with Jesus" [13]. That's it - they reflected his manner, his speech and his authority. Further notice the evidence represented by the presence of the healed man. "But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say" [14]. He was the living demonstration of and testimony to the power of the Gospel.

* 4. The Continuation for the World [15-22]:

For the moment the Council is nonplussed. Things are at a stalemate admittedly. It is not finished yet. Another day will come for the opposition.

            They are concerned to "stop this thing from spreading any further among the people" [17]. They want to paralyse the movement, keep it from growing and expanding. That is always one of the chief tactics. Thus the council's strategy is warning them [17f] and threatening them [21].

            How brave of Peter and John - even at this juncture - to respond to their not so veiled threats by raising the issue of obeying God rather than human authority. "We cannot help speaking  about what we have seen and heard" [20]. There is the testimony of the true witness to Jesus - we cannot help telling the story!


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

8. The Church's Life

Passage: Acts 4: 23 - 35 

Introduction: The Spirit, the Church and the World are always in dynamic interaction. The Holy Spirit indwells the Church and always inspires, envisions, energises the Church propelling it out into the world in witness and service. However, sometimes we forget the Holy Spirit is also at work out there in the world - at least in terms of witness and conviction - [can you think of other factors??] provoking a response to accept the claims of Jesus and accept the Gospel message, or to stimulate reaction to reject the claims of Jesus and to oppose and persecute the Gospel. We have seen this already in the earlier part of Acts 4. The initial opposition, the first persecution, will shortly increase in intensity. now we have this cameo picture of the Church's life in the face of growing opposition.

* 1. Their Prayer:

See how the apostles move straight from the Council hearing to the church meeting. Almost immediately they get to praying. Notice the tone and tenor of their praying:

                       God's absolute sovereignty and lordship - over all creation. The opening phrase is reminiscent of Psalm 24:1, while the quotation from the psalms in from Psalm 2:1-3.

                       The context of their prayer is the world's opposition to the Lord's purposes. The quotation comes from Psalm 2:1-3

                       Notice how the lay out the situation before the Lord - rather like King Hezekiah and his letter when the Assyrians were advancing on Jerusalem [see Isaiah 37:14ff].

                       See how the line of their praying is not, as might expect, "preserve and protect us, O Lord" or "keep us safe, Lord!" - rather "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness" [29].

                       They call to God to demonstrate his mighty power - "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus" [30].

                       See how their impassioned prayer leads to empowered living, a fresh anointing and a new boldness in mission - "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly" [31].


* 2. Their Unity:

 All to often our oneness in Christ can be assumed or taken for granted. Yet how frequently in the Book of Acts is it stated explicitly - and how frequently in the epistles is it urged. "All the believers were one in heart and mind" [32] - cf Romans 12:3-13; 1Cor 1:10-17; Ephesians 4: 1-16; Philippians 2:1-4. We have already seen it in their prayerfulness - "they raised their voices together in prayer to God" [24].

            They were united in bonds of fellowship and deep personal relationships. They were united in Christian vision and purpose - the description "one in heart and mind" surely infers that too! They were not pulling in all directions. Rather there was a common concern for the Gospel and Christ's Lordship.

* 3. Their Ministry:

Notice the outward thrust of their ministry into the community - "they spoke the word of God boldly" [31] - that is to say, God answered their prayers [cf 29]. See how they were not only faithful and energetic in their witness, but it was carried out in the power of God - "with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all" [32]. Their efforts knew the blessing of God - hence the reference to "much grace" - but not just the apostles, surely on all the believers. So, what about ourselves in the ministry and tasks we have? Have we experienced "much grace"? cf James 4:2 "You do not have, because you do not ask God".

* 4. Their Attitude:

Their clear sightedness regarding Jesus and the Kingdom, also made them clear sighted regarding things and possessions. They were not selfish, greedy or grasping. Rather they were unselfish and generous in their attitude and sharing. They manifested true community and fellowship. "No one claimed any of his possessions was his own [ie exclusively] but they shared everything they had" [32b]. Notice this flows from and is a direct result of being "one in heart and mind" [32a].

            The outcome was "there was no needy person among them" [34]. What a testimony to Christian love, caring and sharing. The practical outworking of this in the community is spelt out later in the example of Barnabas [36f], the incident of Ananias and Sapphira  [5:1-11] and the institution of the ministry of the deacons in Acts 6. The sign of the love of God at work in human lives is the opposite attitude to that "covetousness which is idolatry" [Colossians 3:5], against which Christians are constantly warned. It acts like acid - corroding simplicity and sincerity of faith, love to God and one another in the Lord Jesus. What do you think?


GREYFRIARS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Minister: Rev John Oliver Evans

"The Spirit, The Church and The World"

Studies in Acts

9. Blessing and Buffeting

Passage: Acts 5: 1 - 24

* Introduction: As we have constantly stated, the Spirit, the Church and the World are always in dynamic interaction. The Holy Spirit is constantly filling, transforming, envisioning and empowering the church - motivating and driving the  church's mission in the world. At the same time, the sins, attitudes and standards of the world are seeking to pollute the church's heart, impede its will and deflect or destroy its ministry - thus grieving the Holy Spirit. It is easy to romanticise the early Church. The New Testament deals with the reality. The Letters show the blemishes in the early church [eg 1 Corinthians] and also parts of the Book of Acts [eg the incident of Ananias and Sapphira - and the situation leading to the setting up of the deacons' ministry in Acts 6].   

* 1. The Bewitching of the Church [1-11]:

How do we regard the story of Ananias and Sapphira? - unpleasant, disconcerting, off-putting, questionable, puzzling, stunning? It is a story of judgement on the Church - cf "now is the time for judgement to begin with the family of God" [1 Peter 4:17]. Professor F F Bruce has this to say: "The story of Ananias is to  the Book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the Book of Joshua. In both narratives an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God" [See Joshua 7].

            How had it all come about? Note verse 3 where it is regarded as a work of Satan - whose strategy is always to taint the church's purity, to spoil its ministry, and to undermine its integrity before the watching world. There is also the constant danger of Christians having clouded perspectives and skewed motivations. We can always just about convince ourselves about anything - no matter how "corny" at times! Remember Acts 4:32-35 records something of the general pattern of their community life - and how they responded to specific needs as they arose. The introduction of Barnabas [36f] gives a particular example of just such an occurrence. The incident involving Ananias and Sapphira illustrates the "skewing" or "twisting" of both the principle and the practice. It demonstrates hypocrisy - the outward practice and the inward motivation do not match up. John Stott says, "their giving was not to relieve the poor, but to fatten their own ego".

            In terms of the Church of God, the Christian community, we need to appreciate:

                       the seriousness of sin  Remember how Jesus described the religious leaders of his day - "scribes, pharisees, hypocrites . . ." - play-actors, merely going through the motions, with no real spirituality. It is important. We cannot, dare not, say "it's only".

                       the place of conscience - cf  walking in the light [1John 1]. The people of the East African Revival used to speak of living "in a room without ceiling or walls" - ie openness, transparency - an openness of relationship both towards God and towards one another.

                       the importance of discipline in the life of the Church. remember the Reformers definition of the Church?  Where the Gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly observed and where discipline is rightly practised. We have all heard stories of Presbyterian discipline in earlier generations - what about today do you think?

            Certainly Ananias and Sapphira were stunned when confronted with the knowledge of what they had done. Notice the outcome was "great fear" [11 - cf "great grace" 4:33] - that is an overwhelming sense of awe of the presence and power of God, as well as of his majesty and holiness. Do you think this is what is lacking in the contemporary Church - a lot of talking about God's love, but very little about God's holiness? See how this "seized the whole church". It gripped and overwhelmed them. For your interest, church is ekklesia [Gk] and this is the first use of the word in Acts to denote the people of God. It is first used in these unlikely circumstances. The church is called to be a holy people.

* 2. The Blessing of the Church [12-16]:

Here is another of Luke's cameos of the church - and of the apostolic ministry and its effectiveness, "many miraculous signs and wonders". Things were happening. Further, "the believers used to meet in Solomon's Colonnade" [12] - it was their continuing practice. They made it their special place.

            See how "no one else dared join them" [NIV] or "none dared join them" [GNB]. Was this reluctance due to the sense of awe or fear/terror as a result of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira? Why do you think this was so? Surely, no half-hearted, lukewarm, lacklustre, superficial commitment would do in the presence of the Spirit of God? After all, God discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart [cf Hebrews 4:12].

            Conversely, we are told of attraction and growth - "nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" [14]. Others still, whether out of mere curiosity or genuine spiritual inquiry came seeking ministry or contact - even if only through Peter's shadow. "Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed" [16].

* 3. The Battling of the Church [17-24]:

 As might be expected, because of this the institutional opposition reasserts itself. The ruling Sadducean party "filled with jealousy" [17] at the popularity, power, success and influence of the apostles had them arrested and put in jail. Remember how at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the governor "knew it was for envy that they handed Jesus over to him" [Matthew 27:18].

            Then followed the marvellous divine intervention and angelic deliverance - accompanied by the specific directive, "Go and stand in the temple courts . . ."[20]. They are not to sneak off, or disappear, but rather to take their stand, to hold their ground and be steadfast in the face of opposition.

            Further, they are to "tell the people the full message of this new life" [20] - "all the words" [KJV] - every detail. Surely this includes all about repenting, about believing in Jesus, about receiving the Holy Spirit, and about taking up the cross.

            Lets face it - the situation was real. The danger was real. The grace and the power of God were real in their lives. They were kept and preserved in that situation.

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