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The Church: God's People

Date: Oct. 6, 2013

Author: Michael Mark

Acts 2:36-47

Key Verse: Acts 2:42

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Welcome to church. We usually say, “I’m going to church on Sunday”, or we ask others, “Are you going to church?” Today the definition of church can be used for a building where believers meet, but originally the word was used to describe a group of believers. Did you ever wonder where that word comes from? I’ll tell you anyway. The English word “church” comes from the Greek word “kuriokos,” which means “belonging to the Lord.” I’m not a Greek scholar by any means, but thanks to the internet, I can pretend to be one. The Greek word for Lord is “kurios,” and “kuriokos” is where we get the word “church.” In today’s passage, we’ll look at how the Lord builds his church, and look at some of the distinguishing characteristics of God’s people, so that we can learn what it means to be a true Christian, and also be able to better understand the health of our own church.

The church is made up of the Lord’s people, but when you think about how God established the church, you’ll be amazed at his wisdom, power and grace. Nobody was born as a friend of God. In fact, we were all born as enemies of God. Peter comes to that conclusion in the sermon we heard last week, in v.36, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to heart. This was the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicted them of their sin so that they could be led to salvation. The Holy Spirit also does this work in us, convicting us of our sin. We’re sinners because we do not love God, who gave us the breath of life and all the earth to enjoy and praise his name. We’re sinners because we do not love one another. We may be filled with anger at someone who disagrees with us, or grumble and complain when someone may ask a favor. All of us are guilty of these things, and much more.

Convicted of their guilt against God and man, the people asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God knows that we are all hopeless sinners. We do not have any chance to save ourselves from the wrath that our sins deserve, so in his great grace and mercy, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to die in our place. Jesus rose again from the dead, the wrath of God was satisfied, and the payment was made for all our debt. That is why, in the name of Jesus, we can receive the forgiveness for our sins. We must repent from our unbelief, and repent from our sins. We should be baptized, and make a public declaration of faith. In the name of Jesus, our sins will be considered forgiven, let go as if they had never been committed. And to prove that we have been reconciled with God, we will also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shall come to dwell in us because peace has been made with God. It is the Holy Spirit that will give us a new birth into the church. It is the Holy Spirit that will apply the blood of Christ to our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that will cleanse us and sanctify us – helping us to die to our sins and the live for Christ.

With many other words Peter warned them; and he pleaded with the Jews in Jerusalem, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Luke gives us the highlights of Peter’s sermon, but here was the summary of everything he said, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” You might wonder, “But I thought you said we could not save ourselves.” This is still true. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sins; this does not come naturally. The Holy Spirit gives us a new birth into righteousness; just as we didn’t have a word in being born physically, we don’t have any say in being born spiritually. Yet it is still true that we have responsibilities. We have to make some efforts in our lives. When we look back, we may say, the Holy Spirit helped us, but in the present, we have to make decisions. Peter tells them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” The Jews were living under the Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the law, men who incited them to have Jesus killed. They were to come out of the evil influences in their society. The message is the same for today. We live in a corrupt generation. The heroes and role models of our day are singers, movie stars and athletes whose immoral lives are publicized, defended and sometimes glorified. There is an attack on marriage, families and children in the womb. Drugs and alcohol are glamourized. Peter’s message is to be saved from all of these things – to come out from the world, and to be holy, just as God is holy.

Look at v.41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” That is how we save ourselves, and that is how we become the people of God, a part of God’s true church. We must accept Peter’s message. We should repent of our unbelief, and repent of our sins, and be baptized. We should come out of the world. This doesn’t mean we have to move to the mountains and establish a secluded community. We must still be in the world, so that we can witness about God, testify to the truth, and make disciples of every nation. That is why we have to be in the world, but we do not need to be defiled by it. James warns believers with stern words in his letter, he says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4).” God’s people are not enemies of God. Instead, God has saved us through Jesus Christ. He knows we are still weak in the flesh, but we have the Holy Spirit to give us comfort and strength. God in his great wisdom, power and grace has transformed enemies of God into children of God. Those who belong to the Lord are not enemies of God, rather, they are God’s people, and they begin to live as people of God.

What are some distinguishing characteristics of the people of God, and how do these characteristics identify them as such? Look at v.42, can we all please read v.42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These are the marks of a healthy, vibrant church, and if any of these are lacking, the health of the church may also decline. Now let’s learn more about them. First, people belonging to the Lord, a healthy church, devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The apostles were the 12 of Jesus’ disciples, chosen to be the pillars of the church. They walked with Jesus daily, saw his great deeds and learned his great truths throughout his whole ministry. They did not teach their own doctrines, but only what was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Look at v.43, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” These miracles authenticated the apostles’ authority. If they were not right with the Spirit of God, they would not be able to perform these wonders, but they were faithful and submissive to God, and the Holy Spirit inspired their teaching.

We have the apostles’ teaching transmitted to us through the New Testament Scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote 14 books, which is over half of the New Testament. The apostle Peter wrote 2 of the letters contained in the Scriptures. The apostle John wrote one of the gospels, 3 letters, and the book of Revelation. The apostles’ teaching is authoritative, and authentic, and it is the only true source of the knowledge of God. The word of God is sufficient for all truth and teaching regarding our Christian lives. 2 Tim 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” God’s people must be devoted to the Bible, and not to any other foreign teaching. In fact, we are to test everything against Scripture. If some book says there are many ways to God, but the Bible says Jesus is the only way, the Bible is right. If some book says Jesus is not the Son of God, but the Bible testifies that Jesus is the Son of God, guess who’s right. Being devoted to the Scriptures also means to give constant attention to it, to read and study it daily. It is through the increase in the knowledge of the word of God, that we may also grow and mature in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who belong to God are devoted to the Scriptures, because in them are the knowledge of God and what God requires of man.

In the next place, the people of God devoted themselves to fellowship. Fellowship between believers is extremely important. In fact, the next three verses after v.43 show several examples of the believer’s fellowship. Look at v.44-46, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” The first example of fellowship was where they had everything in common. It’s like the saying, “Mi Casa, Su Casa (My home, Your home),” “what’s mine is yours,” “help yourself to anything that’s in the fridge,” “need my car, here are the keys.” The early church shared everything. Actually, it was a custom in those times, whenever the Jews had their annual pilgrimage feasts, that hospitality would be offered free of charge, and basic necessities were covered as well. Imagine going to a major metropolitan city, and having all your hotel paid for, with free continental breakfast. The believers took it one step further, and continued to show good hospitality even after the feast was over. Apparently it looks like many people, those Jews from other nations who believed, may have wanted to stay to continue to learn the apostles’ teaching.

The second example of fellowship was the selling of property and possessions, and giving to anyone who had need. You can see that there was a change in heart and in their attitude about their possessions, to the point where they were willing to sell their even their lands to help a brother out. It was a practice of Jesus’ teachings, to give to the needy (Matt 6:3), and also an understanding that they could store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy, and where thieves could not steal. Their treasure was in heaven, and so were their hearts. This is the continued work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. There’s a stereotype about Jews today, that most bankers are Jewish (I say this with no disrespect), so the idea is that they’re good with money, and they love the money. But you see here how the believing Jews made no complaints over selling their goods and giving to those who had need. Now some people have taken this example to say that this might be an early type of communism, but that is not true. There was no mandate to sell their possessions or have things in common – it was all voluntary. They only sold their possessions as there was need, and what happened here in Jerusalem was only temporary. So we see here even their sharing and giving was not out of obligation, but out of a generous and willing spirit.

The third example of fellowship was their daily meeting in the temple courts. It is not clear why they went. Perhaps they went there to learn more from the apostles. Or they might have went for set times of prayer. In the next chapter, Act 3:1 shows us Peter and John going to the temple together at a time of prayer. So you see the believers meeting together for worship or other religious activities. And finally, the fourth and maybe the most vivid example of fellowship is in v.46b, which says, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” They shared meals together! They were glad, they were joyful and happy to meet with each other. There was no grumbling or complaining, but they ate with glad and sincere hearts. There was no deceit or hypocrisy, they were genuinely happy to serve one another. There was no, “Awww maaaan, Mike’s coming over again,” or, “If I invite Mike every day for the next month, he’ll get me a job.” There was no self-interest, but a sincerity of heart. What a stark contrast this is from the self-interested sinner. How could they be so glad and sincere in their love for one another? For one, the Holy Spirit was working in them. Second, it was Jesus’ command to love one another. God commands us to love one another. If we don’t we’re sinning. But also, they were joyful because their sins were forgiven. They were joyful that God was with them, and they were joyful because God was with the other person too. Although they might have been strangers before, they were now brothers and sisters, one in unity in the body of Christ.

On the subject of breaking bread, let’s now move over to the third mark of a healthy church: the devotion to the public breaking of bread, or in other words, the communion. Devotion to the Scriptures is important, and so is fellowship, and right alongside that is the devotion to the Lord’s Supper. It was a Sacrament instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ so that we would remember what he has done for us, and so that we could fellowship together in unity as the body of Christ. If the believers thought it was important to keep the communion, only 2 months after Jesus’ death, how much more important is it to keep the communion 2000 years after his death. Jesus’ death on the cross is the reason our sins are forgiven, which enables us to become God’s people. As the body of Christ, we remember Jesus as the head of the church, and when we partake in communion, we also look forward to the day when he will come again. When we partake in the communion, the Holy Spirit refreshes our hearts because we are reminded of the wonderful grace of Jesus, and how he loved us and gave his life for us.

And last, but certainly not least, the fourth characteristic of God’s people is a devotion to prayer. Since we are referring to a church, by devotion to prayer I mean that a church is devoted to corporate prayer, meeting together frequently to pray together. A quote from D.A. Carson says, “Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived.” Prayer meetings provide life-sustaining power to the church. We see that in Ch.1, the disciples gathered together constantly in prayer. Here is also a story that took place over 120 years ago.   Five young college students who were in London one Sunday, and they wanted to hear the famous C. H. Spurgeon preach. If you know Spurgeon, he’s known as the prince of preachers, who preached to up to 10,000 people a week, and this was in the 1800s, a time before microphones! While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not really interested, because it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentlemen then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon. Just as individual prayer is important for an individual, corporate prayer is important for the body of Christ. Private prayer may move one person, but imagine the impact of a body of believers, praying as one, and how God could move that church.

We’ve looked at 4 different practices that can help us to better understand the health of the church: the devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They all seem equally important, and a church should emphasize each one equally. If we are missing one or more, the church may begin to suffer and decline. Notice from v.42-46 how they all moved as one body, in unity. It says they devoted themselves, everyone was filled with awe, all the believers, they sold, they broke bread – they did everything together. There was a loving community of believers. The Holy Spirit had changed all of their hearts to love one another. Now notice how the Holy Spirit had also changed all of their hearts toward God. In v.43, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” They were filled with reverence, and began to have a fear of God when they saw the miraculous signs. Non-believers do not fear God, but believers have a healthy fear of God, and as Prov 9:10 says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Look at v.47, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They also all began to praise God. Non-believers do not praise God, as Rom 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened,” But here we see the believers praising God, and they were enjoying the favor of all the people. Their devotion was bearing fruit. At this time, there was no systematic persecution of believers, and upright Jews saw the believers’ sincerity, integrity and purity. They gave glory to God by the way they were living. And finally, in the words of John Calvin, “Their diligence was not without profit.” Their devotion to the four practices yielded more fruit: the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Their church grew and grew, starting with 120, growing to 3,120, then to 5,000 men in Ch.4 (the actual size may be 2-4X (10,000 to 20,000) greater because only men were counted). The gospel was spreading unstoppably in Jerusalem.

We see how the Holy Spirit worked corporately among the church, the body of people belonging to the Lord. It started when each person accepted the message that was given by Peter. They repented and were baptized. The Holy Spirit then added them to the church. I know we also want to see growth in our lives, and growth in our church. By our own strength and our plans, we will not be able to accomplish anything. We can learn something from the first believers, however, and accept the message of Peter. Repent of your unbelief, and repent of your sins. Be baptized, make a public declaration of your faith. Put your faith in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And by his grace, save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Be holy, just as God is holy. May the Lord then work in you to either add you to the church or add someone to the church through us, and may the Holy Spirit be able to unite us all as one body of Christ, as one people who belong to the Lord.

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