Saturday, September 10, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Newborn Church

“The Newborn Church”
September 11, 2005
Acts 2:1-47

Today, I’m going to begin a short series of sermons on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve all been reading Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris. And our Sunday School classes will continue on the theme of the church throughout the Fall. Over the next month or so, I’d like to go deeper in our understanding of what the local church is supposed to be and do.

This morning, I’d like to remind us of our purpose statement as a church. It’s now been six and half years since your Leadership Board went away for the day and reworked our church’s purpose statement to be what you see on the front of your bulletin. It’s been six years since I preached a series of sermons on that new purpose statement. It’s not really new any more! But it is still very biblical, very helpful, and very good.

It says, “Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God (That’s the bottom line! The glory of God is the rock-bottom reason for our existence) by bringing people (we’re all about God, and we’re all about people: children, youth, adults, singles, couples, families, seniors, our community, the nations, people) into a love relationship with Jesus Christ (knowing the love of Christ and returning love to Christ–a love relationship with Jesus Christ) through (5 things) worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.” That’s our statement of our purpose.

Now, this morning, I want to go down through those last 5 things and remind ourselves of their importance for our church and for each of our own lives. But before I do, let’s see these things at work in the birth of the local church–Acts chapter 2.

Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that the Holy Spirit would come on the disciples, and they would be his witnesses and spread His Word. It is often called the “Birth of the Church.”

I want us to study the last six verses in-depth, but I think we should read the whole thing to get a sense of the story.

Acts chapter 2, verse 1.

“When the day of Pentecost came [50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection], they [the disciples] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. [Holy Spirit?!] They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. [Fire like the burning bush?!] All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? [They’ve got the accent!] Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ [God is doing something here!] Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”

Verse 14. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. [This is a down-payment on this prophecy!] Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' ‘Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' ‘Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘'The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’' ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’”

Peter preached the Lord Jesus Christ! And then what happened? The church was born.

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (NIV)

What a day that was! The birth of the church.

The Holy Spirit came, just as Jesus had foretold (though not like anyone might have expected!), the disciples were filled with Him and boldly preached to an international Jewish audience the gospel of Jesus Christ: His life, death, resurrection, and exaltation.

And the people responded! They were (v.37) “cut to the heart.” They felt it! They agonized over their sins. They saw themselves as guilty before a holy God and those who had killed His Messiah. And they called out for salvation.

And Peter told them to repent (to turn from their sins) and to be baptized (expressing their confidence in Christ’s death on their behalf, identifying with Him in baptism) for the forgiveness of their sins. And with that repentance and faith would come the Holy Spirit. To all whom the Lord would call–people near and people far. This generation and the generations to come.

And 3,000 people got saved!

The first church was immediately a mega-church. 3,000 people were (v.41) “added to their number that day.” What a day! The birth of the church.

Now, what did that newborn church in Jerusalem do? What practices did they immediately adopt?

Let’s re-read verses 42 through 47.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Does that sound anything like our purpose statement? We sure hope so! This is one of the passages that we studied when came up with it back in March of 1999.

Lanse Free Church exists to glorify God (and there was a lot of glorifying God here!) by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ (The Lord Jesus and His gospel was preached on the day of Pentecost) through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

I think that all five of those are right here.

Now, there is always a tension in studying the book of Acts between knowing what is prescriptive and what is merely descriptive. What is mandated (prescripted) for all of the churches now and what is being reported here as simply a description of what the Holy Spirit was doing then in the newborn church.

But I think that we can safely draw these five practices out of this passage because they are also prescribed elsewhere in scripture for the local church.

#1. Worship. Or LOVING JESUS.

Verse 46 has the believers meeting together in the temple courts. Verse 47 says that they were praising God.

The newborn church worshiped.

They met together, and they praised God together. They worshiped.

And our local church should do the same.

We call our Sunday morning meeting our Worship Celebration. And the whole thing is about worship.

That’s why we don’t just call the singing “worship.”

Look at the inside of the front of your bulletin. Notice how often we use the word worship:

“Welcome to Worship”

“Worship in Giving” (The offering is an act of worship, valuing Jesus as the supreme treasure of our lives.)

“Worship in Singing and Sharing” (The Bible says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:19-20))

“Worship in the Word.” What we are doing right now is worship. Or at least it should be.

Everything the church does should be considered worship.

And all of us are called to worship all the time.

Sunday is the weekly intensification of our 24/7 regular worship lifestyle.

Question. Are you a worshipper? Are you and I committed to daily personal worship and committed to corporate worship together?

Worship is not a spectator sport. It’s a participative thing.

Do you just come on Sundays but leave your heart behind? Are you here on Sundays? All of you?

Are you worshiping throughout the week? Chapter 6 in the book “Stop Dating the Church” (which Tom Hampton is going to lead a discussion of next Sunday) has a great guide to getting ready throughout the week for the Sunday Celebration. It’s called “How to Get More From the Best Day of the Week.”

The newborn church worshiped, and so should we.

Their worship included what we call the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism was the initial symbol of inclusion in the church. It said to the world that you had repented and put your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and want to be numbered with the church.

Have you been baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ? It’s a first step of obedience to the Risen Lord. Talk with me if you are ready to publically identify with Him as your Savior. There were 3,000 baptisms that day!

And the Lord’s Supper is referred to (I think) in verse 42 and 46 in the “breaking of bread.” Now, that could be just a fellowship meal, but there is a real emphasis on it here, and I expect that they included their remembrance of our Savior’s sacrifice in their regular communal meals.

We practice it monthly. The Bible says to do it regularly. And here, they are “devoted” to it. They are given to it. It was a regular part of their worship to remember what Jesus had done on the Cross.

It was Cross-Centered Worship. And ours needs to be, as well.

And the other thing their worship included (and permeated all of what they did) was prayer. V.42

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

Prayer permeated all of what they did.

And it should for us, as well.

How are you doing with your prayer life? Are you “in touch” with God? Do you have a regular appointment with Him? Do pray?

Do you meet with others to pray? This says, “they were prayer.” I think that means together. We all need to be meeting with others and praying together.

If you don’t have a thing like that in your life right now, get one. Prayer Meeting would be a good place to start for many of you.

The Bible says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Col. 4:2)

The newborn church worshiped, and so should we.

#2. The newborn church experienced instruction. Instruction or LEARNING OF JESUS. V.42 again.

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching...”

The word for devoted here (proskarterou/nte) means to attach yourself to something to get close to and not leave something. That’s how the newborn church felt about the apostle’s teaching.

And the apostle’s teaching is available to us now in this book: the Bible.

They were devoted instruction, to learning of Jesus.

This is why we stress the Bible around here. It’s because we want to be “devoted to the apostle’s teachings.”

That’s why our sermons, classes, Bible studies, Link Groups, and every other ministry has a Word-based component to it.

How are you doing at learning of Jesus? Are you committed to regular Bible reading and study yourself? Not just a little snatch here and there, but regular, systematic, prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures?

I hope that my sermon is not your only dose each week of spiritual food. Imagine eating food only once week! You’d shrivel up and have nothing to go on. We each need to have regular personal time in the Bible being shaped by its message.

Are you committed to learning of Jesus with others? These believers sat together at the disciple’s feet. They met together in homes. They worked at understanding Christian teaching together.

Are you connected to a learning group where you are going deeper in the apostle’s teaching with others?

Are you applying what you are learning? Jesus told the disciples to establish the church by teaching their disciples to obey everything that He had commanded. Not just to know what He had taught but to put it into practice. Are you doing that?

On Thursday night, Heather and I had a date. We left Robin in charge, and went to State College (just kidding, Ruth Murray graciously came over and watched the kids, but we did go to State College) and we went out to eat and to Barnes and Noble for a little book-shopping.

There is a section at Barnes & Noble which is like 50 or 100 books just about Pennsylvania: hiking Pennsylvania, shopping in Pennsylvania, sight-seeing in Pennsylvania, taking kids around Pennsylvania, etc, etc.

It struck me that someone could sit down with a Starbucks coffee at Barnes and Noble and read all of those books and become a veritable expert on Pennsylvania but never go to any of those places and put any of that information to work.

There are many people like that in Jesus’ church. To learn of Jesus means to learn to obey Jesus, to apply what we know of Jesus. Continually learning, gaining wisdom and biblical worldview and then putting it to work.

The newborn church experienced instruction.

#3. The newborn church experienced fellowship. Fellowship or LINKING WITH OTHERS IN JESUS. V.42 again.

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship...”

They devoted themselves to the fellowship. That is, they gave themselves to one another. They built relationships. They connected with one another and built a new community. V.44

“All the believers were together and had everythig in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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.”

Those are all descriptions of biblical fellowship.

Fellowship is having the most important things in common.

This last Spring when I went to my class on Small Group Ministry, we were asked to come up with our own definition of biblical community in 50 words or less. Here was my stab at it:

Biblical community is a sanctifying foretaste of heaven, experienced in the smallest of groups and in large gatherings, when followers of Jesus Christ share together the most important things in life in such a way that the diverse but unified body of Christ is built up, cared for, and brought to maturity so that their oneness with each other somehow reflects and shares in the oneness of the Trinity.

And the contemporary word that I thought of to express that is: Linking.

It’s connectivity. It’s relationality. It’s linking with others in Jesus.

Jesus is what we have in common. We are all very different from one another. (Some of us are more different than others!) But the church has Jesus in common. He is our point of fellowship.

And we are to link with others in Him.

How are you doing at linking?

Are you committed to spiritual relationship that help one another grow? Are you accountable to others? Are you accountable to church leadership? Are you committed to others in the Body of Christ? Are you a member of a local church? Are you doing the “one-anothers” of Scripture with other believers?

Are you willing to get involved in a small group of believers? Our leaders are looking to launch a number of what we are going to now call “Link Groups” to connect believers to one another in vital spiritual community.

Are you connected? Or are you out there on the fringe?

I read a tragic story this week. In October of 1993, in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, police found an old woman dead on her kitchen floor. This was no ordinary discovery–she had been dead four years!

Police speculated she died at age seventy-three of natural causes. That's when her bank transactions ended.

To some extent, it was a mistake. Four years earlier, neighbors had called authorities when they sensed something might be wrong. When the police contacted the woman's brother, he said she had gone into a nursing home. Police told the postal service to stop delivering mail. One neighbor paid her grandson to cut the grass because the place was looking run-down. Another neighbor had the utility company come and shut off the water when a pipe froze, broke, and sent water spilling out of the door.

To a great extent though, it was not a mistake. One friend from the past said, "She didn't want anyone bothering her at all. I guess she got her wish, but it's awfully sad." Her brother said the family hadn't been close since their mother died in 1979. The woman had lived in her house in this middle class neighborhood for forty years, but none of her neighbors knew her. "My heart bleeds for her, " said the woman who lives across the street. "But you can't blame a soul. If she saw you out there, she never said hello to you." What a tragedy!

This woman had isolated herself from any sense of community. And it took 4 years to discover her body. (Originally from a book of sermon illustrations, I can’t find the source today.)

Some Christians believe that they can live the Christian life in isolation. It's not possible. We need each.

The Apostle Paul knew people just like that. In 1 Cor. 12, he says, "If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body....In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."

Being a Christian means more than just believing...being a Christian means belonging.

Are you belonging?

The newborn church devoted themselves to fellowship.

#4. The newborn church devoted itself to evangelism. Evangelism or LURING OTHERS TO JESUS.

Peter did it on the day of Pentecost with His sermon. I’ll bet they were doing it in the temple courts. They were certainly having an effect on outsiders. V.47

“[They were] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I love all the different ways the book of Acts refers to people coming to faith.

“The Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.”

The newly born church was a healthy church. And like all healthy things, a healthy church inevitably grows.

Jesus said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Luring others to the Savior.

Are you doing that? Are you a lure? Do you love the lost? Are you praying for those who do not yet know the Lord? Do you know the Gospel? Are you ready to share it? The gospel is the main thing. And the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

We’re to do evangelism as individuals, but also as a church.

Late in October this year, I am going to preach a series of evangelistically-minded sermons on Hell and Heaven. And we’re going to encourage everyone to bring a friend on their elbow for that series of messages.

We, as a church, need to be doing evangelism, bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ.

We cannot be content to let people just be lost.

We need to be saying, with the apostle Peter, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation! ... Repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Vv. 40, 38)

How many people in New Orleans thought that they had so much more time to live their lives? And now they face eternity.

Life is short. We need to reach out to people with the gospel and lure them by the truth of Christ to faith in Christ.

Oh for the day, when we could say, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved!”

The newborn church practiced evangelism.

And #5. The newborn church practiced service. Service or LIVING FOR JESUS.

They took care of one another. V.45

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to one another as he had need.”

Just like we have been giving towards Katrina victims, they served by giving their financial resources for ministry.

There’s not much here about this, but they also gave their time and energy and efforts. They used their spiritual gifts in ministry to one another. They found where they fit in the Body of Christ and got to work using their gifts for the good of whole.

They were committed to living for Jesus in loving others and meeting their needs. They weren’t content to just let others do it. They got personally involved.

How are you doing at serving?

Do you use your gifts in ministry to others? Do you have a ministry here at church where you serve? Are you ready to say, “Yes” when asked?

This church is full of servants. It’s one of the things that I love to talk about when I meet with the other pastors. We have a number of people who are active in serving with glad hearts. As your pastor, I am so thankful for you. We have 21 adults (for example) who are a part of our front-line ministry team to children and youth on Sunday nights. 21 adults.

But not everyone does serve. How are you doing at serving?

Are you involved?

I may be the “pastor” here, but we are all the “ministers.”

We are all called to ministry.

Did you notice that the newborn church didn’t have a building or any programs, per se?

We often think that a church requires buildings, programs, and paid staff to be a church. But that’s not so! I’m glad for our building, programs, and paid staff! But that’s not what defines us as a church.

What defines us is:

Loving Jesus in Worship
Learning Of Jesus in Instruction
Linking with Others in Jesus in Fellowship
Luring Others to Jesus in Evangelism
And Living for Jesus in Service.

That’s what characterized the newborn church in Acts 2, and should characterize us.