Sunday, October 30, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Snapshots of the Early Church"

“Snapshots of the Early Church”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
October 30, 2011
Acts 4:32-5:42

We’re calling our study of Acts, “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania,” the amazing spread of the gospel from the moment when Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That’s exactly what is happening as the promised Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and empowered the apostles to preach the good news about Jesus and His resurrection.

More than 5,000 people have already been saved and baptized and added to this new community called “the church” – even though there is rising opposition from the Jewish religious leaders.

When we left off last time, the church was having a prayer meeting where they called upon their Sovereign Lord to consider the threats of the religious leadership and to enable the church to speak God’s word with great boldness and to stretch out His hand and heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.

And that’s exactly what God did.

He answered their prayer, first with an earthquake, and then with renewed boldness in gospel witness.

... The next few sections of Acts are what I call “Snapshots of the Early Church.”  That is, they are vignettes, little stories that tell us a little bit of what the early days of the early church were like.

Can you imagine living in those days, being a part of the early church as it just gets off the ground?

What was it like?

Well, Luke can’t tell us everything.

But he carefully chooses some of the early events of the life of the early church to give us a feel for it and help us to understand the big story.

This morning, I’ve got five couplets, five pairs of words to describe these snapshots of the early church.  I think that we’ll see that all of them apply in some way to us today.

Here’s the first snapshot:


What was the it like in those early days of the early church.

Two words: unity and generosity.  Acts chapter 4, verse 32.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind [unity]. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had [generosity]. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

Notice again, how the apostles are witnessing.  The word translated “testify” in verse 33 is the verb of the Greek word for “witness.”  They are eyetwitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that’s their message.

Jesus is alive!
Jesus is alive!
Jesus is alive!

That’s what they keep saying over and over again.

And it changes everything. That brings them together so that they are “one in heart and mind.”  What a great thing to enjoy!

We had another good church family meeting last Sunday. You know in some churches, that’s a meeting that you take a side-arm to, but we enjoy a lot of gospel-like-mindedness. Unity. And it’s a God-thing!

Not just unity, but generosity.  “No one claimed that any of his possession wa his own, but hey shared everything they had.”

Now, it doesn’t mean that they completely gave up private property and private ownership. We’ll see that clearly in just a few seconds.

But these followers of Jesus had begun to realize that they were stewards, not of their own money, but of God’s and that God wanted them to share.

They became generous. And that had an amazing effect. V.34

“There were no needy persons among them [wow!]. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

Notice that people still owned lands and houses, etc. They still had private property, but they saw needs and they generously made gifts to meet those needs.

And if you were in that early church, you were going to be taken care of or taking care of others.  Generosity.

And there was one who was especially encouraging as he did. A guy named, “Joe.”  V.36

“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.”

Wouldn’t you like to have a nickname like that?

We all know a few people like that, the Barnabas’s in our lives.

Oh, to be known as a Son of Encouragement!

Barnabas was not just an encourager with words, but he was an encourager with his possession.  He was generous.

Our church is also marked by unity and generosity.

I love how many shoeboxes have been taken and are being filled with love to be sent to needy children around the world.

You remember last year was my mother-in-laws last year to send shoeboxes. She normally sent about 60 all by herself.  Well, there is a group in the church that Heather’s sister goes to that has taken it upon themselves to make sure that Linda’s 60 boxes get sent again this year now that she’s graduated to Heaven.

Unity and Generosity.

But also #2. DISCIPLINE & FEAR.

Those sound like scarey words, but they aren’t really. They are good things.

Not everything was good in the early church all the time. A true picture of the early church will keep in mind that these followers of Christ were still sinners.

And there were even fakes among them.

In chapter 4, we met Barnabas, Son of Encouragement. In chapter 5, we meet Ananias and Sapphira, who were the exact opposite of Barnabas.  V.1

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property [Just like Barnabas!]. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.”

Our word for this is FRAUD.

Do you understand the financial situation?

They sell a field. They keep back some of the money, but they bring it and put it at the apostle’s feet as if it were the whole amount.

They are lying.

But they don’t get away with it. V.3

“Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? [Yes it did. Private owenership.] And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? [Yes it was.] What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

“When Ananias heard this [bam, thunk], he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.”  Get him out of here.

Discipline and Fear. There is more. V.7

“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. [Her husband has been buried, and she doesn’t know it yet!] Peter [giving her a chance] asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she [lied], ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment [boom] she fell down at his feet and died.Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

What is going on here?

God is purifying His church.

There is a message going out from the beginning that you can’t bamboozle the Lord.

Sin will be dealt with.

Just like, in the Old Testament, Nadab and Abihu or Achan at Jericho.

It isn’t teaching that every time someone lied they died.  That would probably change some behavior, huh?

But it did put the fear of God in them.

And the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

God desires a pure church.  A church that is not faking it.

A church that is real.

A church that is what it says that it is.

Not perfect. But not fake, either.

Is there some aspect of your life where you are faking it right now?

And holding something back that you say that you are giving?

God is not fooled. He knows.

And we must know that the wages of sin is death.

Jesus didn’t die for no reason. He died because sin deserves it.

And He took that on for you and me.

Sometimes, we act as if sin was no big deal.

But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Third snapshot.

#3. POWER & FAVOR.  V.12

“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”

Power and Favor.

These are answers to the prayers of the church back in chapter 4.

Imagine what that must have been like!

It wasn’t like that fakery you see on religious television.

This was the real deal, and it didn’t have anything to do with “Send us your check to keep us on the air!”

It appears that God was even using Peter’s shadow at the moment for healing.

And all of that power was testifying to the power of the resurrection and the power of Jesus’ name. V.14 again.

“More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

The church at this moment was experiencing the favor of the Lord and the favor of the people.

Some people will tell you that the church is always going to be despised.

And that’s true. There will always be people who despise the church.

But there will also be people who approve of the church. And they won’t necessarily even be believers.

I’m glad that our church enjoys favor with others in our community. I’m sure that bad things have been said about us at times.

But in general, I think that our community is glad that we’re here.

I love that we offer things that the community can enjoy like that playground out there and like the free concert on Saturday.  Even if they have not yet accepted our message–even if our message is offensive, they might be able to appreciate our ministry to people.

V.13, “highly regarded by the people.”

But there were some people who were not at all happy that the early church was experiencing power and favor!

I thought about calling this next section, “Jealousy and Fury” because that’s what it’s about.

But we’ll call it this: #4. OPPOSITION & FAITHFULNESS. V.17

“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.”

We’re going to see the inside of a number of jails in the book of Acts.

And that is normal for Christians throughout history.

Jail is not unusual. And we should remember that.

The apostles, then Paul, later Christians in the Coliseum, Athanasius, folks like Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

And many more non-famous Christians throughout history.

Christians often see the inside of a jail-cell.  Jesus did.

And if you and I are going to claim Jesus as Lord then we should be ready to follow Him. 

But!  V.19!  “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life.’”

Isn’t that interesting?

An angel appears. He lets them out. And he tells them to keep on preaching.

Very interesting phrase, “tell the people the full message of this new life.”

That’s the gospel!

And I think this phrases emphasizes the resurrection and the new spiritual life that we get when we believe in Jesus.

“Tell the people the full message of this new life.”

And they did. I mean, wouldn’t you?  If an angel broke you out of jail and told you that the reason was that you needed to get to preaching?! V.21

“At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin–the full assembly of the elders of Israel–and sent to the jail for the apostles.”

Uh oh.

I love the humor in the book of Acts. Especially about apostolic jailbreaks.

As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”  V.22

“But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ [It’s like something out of Hogan’s Heroes!] On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’

Uh oh. I don’t think that we can control this message.

This is getting away from us.  Panic!

“At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. [Favor!] Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. [Opposition. Hey!] ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.’

Well, yeah.

“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!”


In the face of opposition, faithfulness and obedience.

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. [You are guilty of this man’s blood!] God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. [That’s the gospel!] We are witnesses of these things [there it is again!], and so is the Holy Spirit [the ultimate witness], whom God has given to those who obey him.’

Faithfulness in the face of opposition.

Now, it’s been kind of funny up till now, because things are clearly out of their control.

But all of a sudden it’s not funny at all. It’s deathly serious. V.33

“When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. [Think before you act.] 

Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’”

That’s good advice.

And it’s exactly what happened, isn’t it?

Here we are reading about it 2000 years later.

We don’t even know who Theudas and Judas are, but we know about Jesus and His apostles.

Try to stop Jesus and His church, and you will only find yourselves fighting against God.


“His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

Faithfulness in the face of opposition.

More than that.


I remember when verses 40-42 finally sunk in to my thick skull.

They had them flogged. That was probably the 40 lashes minus one.

39 lashes with a “three stranded strap of calf hide” (Bock 252).

On the back and the chest.  Some people have died from that flogging due to loss of blood.

And how did the apostles react?

V.41 “rejoicing that they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

Are you willing to go through that for Jesus?

Is Jesus worth a flogging to you?

Because these people understood that He was worth so much that it is worth rejoicing over to suffer for His name!

The Sanhedrin hoped that the flogging would stop them.

And it did no such thing.  V.42

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

I know that gospelizing is not a word, but it should be.

The Greek word here for “preaching the good news” basically means that–gospelizing.  Good-news-preaching (one word).

Jesus is alive!
Jesus is alive!
Jesus is alive!
Jesus saves!
Jesus saves!
Jesus saves!

Believe in Jesus!
Turn to Him!
Trust Him!

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

With their backs torn open by the whips of the Sanhedrin!

How is that for snapshot of the early church?

Unity and Generosity.
Discipline and Fear.
Power and Favor.
Opposition and Faithfulness.
Rejoicing and Gospelizing even with their backs ripped open, suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus.

Here’s the one application question that I want to close with.

There could be many from those snapshots, and I hope that we’ve all seen some things that we want to talk to the Lord about from this passage.

But this is the question I want to linger in our minds as we leave and go about our weeks:

What is stopping you?


“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

What is stopping you from gospelizing?

What is stopping you from teaching others about Jesus?
What is stopping you from inviting someone to this Saturday’s concert?
What is stopping you from giving your testimony to someone or handing them a gospel tract or book?

I don’t mean what is stopping you from being a jerk about Jesus.

We don’t need Jerks for Jesus.

But what is stopping you from genuinely gospelizing?

I’ll bet its not a flogging.

Jesus is so glorious, so wonderful, so worthy that we can rejoice that when we are counted worthy of suffering disgrace from His name.

What is stopping you?

Let’s go out from here today bent on following the advice of that jailbreaking angel, who said, “tell the people the full message of this new life.”

Messages So Far In this Series:

You Will Be My Witnesses
Before Pentecost