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FOLLOWING JESUS IN ACTS!  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This summary is one of the few places where Luke tells us what happens after people come to faith in Jesus. It emphasizes key elements of the church’s life. They regularly meet together and gather in the temple courts because they could accommodate a large gathering and attract a larger crowd.
They pray, teach, break bread together, and support the needy among them. The Spirit has transformed the often-cantankerous disciples (Luke 9:46–48; 22:24–27) into big-hearted believers, unrelenting in their care for and generosity toward one another. Their sharing of life’s necessities with others brings to mind what John the Baptist called “the fruit of repentance (Luke 3:8, 11).”
The phrase translated as “having the favor with all the people” is better translated as “having good will toward all the people.” Craig Keener notes, “Whereas Peter’s preaching leads to many converts on one occasion in Acts 2:41, it is the believing community’s lifestyle that leads to continuous conversions in 2:47.”
1. Devoted to the Word (2:42a,43)
Luke tells us that the church was devoted to certain activities. At the top of the list is the study of the apostles’ teaching, perhaps noted for emphasis since the Word of God informs everything else. Here, then, is the diet of a healthy body of Christ. Based on Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and the rest of the messages and descriptions in the book of Acts, the apostles taught everyone about the Messiah from the Scriptures.
In this Spirit-filled congregation the people didn’t abandon study of the Word because the Spirit was at work. If you’re walking in the fullness of the Spirit, you will be drawn to the Bible. All true spiritual awakenings involve healthy teaching from it (e.g., Neh 8).
Consider the apostle Paul. Was anyone more Spirit filled or Spirit led than this man? Yet we repeatedly find him teaching the gospel message from the Word of God (18:11; 19:10; 20:20,31); it is central to his life. He repeatedly urges Titus and Timothy to teach sound doctrine to churches because there’s no substitute for it (e.g., 1 Tim 4:16; Titus 2:1). Healthy congregations, Paul knows, consume a healthy diet of sound doctrine. They feast on the Word of God, which tells the message of the Savior.
This truth is a great reminder that pastors must lay down any desire to preach opinions and must avoid the temptation to entertain or to play with people’s emotions. Each must instead see and embrace his role as God’s spokesperson. Each must seek to please an audience of One. Pastors must believe Scripture is sufficient to build up and bless the church. Churches, in turn, must submit to God’s Word when it is faithfully taught. The early church here in Acts is demonstrating such humility before the Word.
In verse 43 Luke mentions the apostles’ awe-inspiring signs and wonders. These signs weren’t merely power displays; they validated the apostles’ teaching. While the Lord may choose at any moment to perform a miracle, we must recognize the apostles’ uniqueness. And we should realize that the miracles about which we read were serving the message.
2. Devoted to One Another (2:42b,44)
Having noted the diet of the healthy church, we now move to its exercise regimen. Its first exercise is fellowship. The first-century Christ followers shared a common way of life. They were spiritually united as “believers,” and this spiritual union worked itself out into practical acts of love and support.
Such fellowship with one another is tied to the Christian’s fellowship with the Father (cf. 1 John 1:3). Out of our common fellowship with the Father through Jesus, we enjoy fellowship with our spiritual brothers and sisters. If people are out of fellowship with Christ, then they will be out of fellowship with the church. And if people are out of fellowship with Jesus’s people, that is an indicator they may be out of fellowship with Jesus. That’s how strong the Christ-church union is.
The “one another” passages in the New Testament underscore the significance of and the early spirit of real devotion to the community of faith. I posted 23 of these, One Anothers, on the Enon Chapel Facebook page this morning so you could read them and reflect on them for yourself. Each of these teachings should be considered, acted on and prayed both for the spiritual growth of our own hearts and for those of our congregation.
While it’s a challenge to cultivate and maintain devoted Spirit-filled fellowship, it’s also an amazing blessing that we within the church enjoy. Consider the privilege you have. You get to spend time with brothers and sisters in the faith. Do you realize what a source of encouragement and blessing they can be to you and you can be to them?
3. Devoted to the Breaking of Bread (2:42c,46)
“The breaking of bread” is probably a reference to the Lord’s Supper. As it was at its institution by Jesus, is was likely enjoyed in the context of a meal. Here in Jerusalem the church daily reflected on the torn body and poured-out blood of Christ. After these earliest days the church grew, became more stable, and spread out geographically. Then it seems “the church began to take the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with the meal they shared together in the evening on the Lord’s Day” The pattern of weekly communion is demonstrated in 20:7.
It’s not my purpose to dive into all of the arguments about the Lord’s Table. I simply want to point out the Christ-centered nature of this community. The apostles preached to the ear about Jesus, and the Table preached to the eye about Jesus. Healthy church bodies are filled with affections for the crucified and risen Savior. Let’s not miss the big E on the eye chart! Everything the church does should be all about Jesus.
4. Devoted to Prayer (2:42d)
Throughout the book of Acts we see instances of the church’s vibrant prayer life (e.g., 4:31; 12:5; 13:1-3). The apostles too were seriously devoted to prayer (6:4). The church practiced both free and formal times of prayer. The believers prayed together corporately. They personally prayed without ceasing. They prayed in the temple, in homes, as they walked along the road, as they encountered the sick and afflicted, before they preached sermons, before they heard sermons, while they were being persecuted, in planned times of intense intercession over particular situations, as they offered thanks for their food, as they gave thanks to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, as they praised God in song, and as they offered up petitions for the Father to meet daily needs.
All of this reminds us that a healthy church is a praying church. The early church had few earthly resources, but that didn’t keep them from shaking the world for Christ because they had heavenly resources. These they experienced through dependent, devoted prayer.
Their devotion was used of God to result in:
· Radical generosity (2:45)
Luke stresses the practical outworking of fellowship in verse 45. Extraordinary sharing and mercy ministry, especially within the household of God, marked the early church community.
Some see this picture and that of 4:32-37 and shout, “Communism!” But that’s an inaccurate charge. The church didn’t abandon the idea of owning private property. The fact that stealing is a sin, for instance, demonstrates that some things belong to individuals.
Luke points out that “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own” (4:32; emphasis added). The Bible doesn’t teach communism, but it does teach radical generosity! These early Christians basically said, “We don’t need stuff. We need to love our brothers and sisters. If we can share our possessions to serve them, we’re happy to do it.”
This practice (which caught the attention of outsiders) happened because regenerate people should be generous people. The federal government can’t enforce this kind of logic.
· Constant interaction with one another (2:46a)
The church lived out this shared life “every day.” They were involved in one another’s lives. While the church has to love those outside the family in order to fulfill its mission, a healthy church meets together as a family regularly. Half the job of a good church member is showing up! You can’t build relationships if you aren’t meeting with God’s people.
· Gathering in both large and small groups (2:46b)
The church met both at the “temple” and “house to house.” One gathering was large, and one was small. The believers had to have a large space to meet in since three thousand people can’t fit into someone’s home. The temple area provided them a place for a large, formal, corporate gathering while their homes were wonderful places for more informal, intimate gatherings. Many Christians today emphasize one but not the other. The early church, though, devoted themselves to meeting in both.
· A spirit of awe, gladness, and praise to God (2:43a,46-47a)
The early church’s gatherings contained a wonderful spirit of praise that was both joyful and reverent. Luke mentions “awe” (v. 43) and “joyful . . . hearts” (v. 46). Both are linked to vibrant praise. There are times to rejoice with gladness, perhaps with lots of instrumentation and celebratory worship; there are also times to be still before the Lord in meditation, silence, and contemplation.
Some people find it difficult to praise God when things aren’t working out according to plan. But I want to gently remind you that while life may be hard at the moment, you should imagine how much harder life would be without Jesus. How terrible it would be if this life was all there is! As people redeemed by Jesus, we should praise God constantly—not merely when we feel like it.
Pray for your local church that a spirit of awe and gladness would replace any boredom or gloom. Pray for God to renew a heart of praise in his people.
· Displaying an attractive faith (2:47b)
Not everyone loved the early church. Just read the next few chapters to see what I mean. But some people were impacted greatly as they observed the believers’ way of life. What attracted outsiders? Surely the Christ-exalting praise and the Christlike love of the early church influenced others. In John 13 Jesus told his disciples that love for one another would get people’s attention (John 13:34-35). We have an example of this reality at work in Acts 2.
The Christians sacrificially cared for one another and also cared for outsiders. A few years after Acts was written, a man named Aristides commented on the reasons for the spread of Christianity. He wrote the following to Emperor Hadrian in AD 125:
If one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheer-fulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. (The Apology of Aristides, XV)
What an amazing description of the King Jesus’ people! Our broken world needs compassion, and the watching world needs to see Christians demonstrating it. In turn, many will be attracted to the faith.
· Daily evangelism (2:47c)
How were people added to the number of believers? Ultimately, the Lord added them. He alone converts people. But the Lord uses means, and that means in Acts was faithful evangelism on the part of the people. People were converted daily because believers were evangelizing daily.
A healthy church will have a burden for outsiders. They will boldly and compassionately proclaim the gospel to their friends and neighbors and coworkers. The early church enthusiastically communicated the gospel within their own networks, and the Lord worked mightily through their steady witness.
The church was unified (Acts 2:44), magnified (Acts 2:47a), and multiplied (Acts 2:47b). It had a powerful testimony among the unsaved Jews, not only because of the miracles done by the Apostles (Acts 2:43), but also because of the way the members of the fellowship loved each other and served the Lord. The risen Lord continued to work with them (Mark 16:20) and people continued to be saved. What a church!
The Christians you meet in the Book of Acts were not content to meet once a week for “services as usual.” They met daily (Acts 2:46), cared daily (Acts 6:1), won souls daily (Acts 2:47), searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), and increased in number daily (Acts 16:5). Their Christian faith was a day-to-day reality, not a once-a-week routine. Why? Because the risen Christ was a living reality to them, and His resurrection power was at work in their lives through the Holy Spirit.
Do you understand the gospel? Are you sitting under the authority and teaching of the Word, regularly and humbly? Are other brothers and sisters admonishing you? Are you submitting to hard truth and repenting in light of it? Are you being renewed in the gospel daily? Are you teaching the Bible to others?
Do you have fellowship with God through Jesus? Are you working at building deep relationships with others in the church? Could it be that you love the idea of community more than the actual people in your church? Are you complaining about a lack of community rather than asserting yourself to serve and love others in your congregation? Do you show up to events and meetings faithfully? Do you arrive early enough to interact with people on Sunday, or are you a ninja, slipping in late and excusing yourself before the service ends? Are you involved in others’ lives throughout the week? Are you sensitive to the needs of your brothers and sisters? Are you grateful for them? Have you told them about what they mean to you?
Are you praising God with other brothers and sisters in large and small gatherings? How do you approach the Lord’s Table? Do you attend services repentantly and joyfully? Are you experiencing awe and joy in your Christian life? Are you praying with other brothers and sisters? Are you grateful for the privilege of gathering corporately?
Concerning the word evanelism, how are you doing at speaking the gospel to the unbelievers in your networks? Are you practicing “Philip evangelism,” going out into the neighborhood sharing the gospel as Philip did? Are you practicing “Andrew evangelism,” inviting people to come and experience a corporate worship service as Andrew did? If you truly love Christ, you will share him. How are you doing at deed outreach?
The promise is still good: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). Have you called? Have you trusted Jesus Christ to save you?
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