Catch the Wind. Today we begin sermon number 5 in this series on how the Holy Spirit was present in the early Christian church. The white dove we have on the platform is being loaned to us by Burney Tompkins. We are very grateful that he was able to find it for us. I had tried my best. I had searched the pet stores. One store had some eggs, but they didn't know what color the dove would be. We needed white. I even called a magician supply store without success. Burney Tompkins found our dove at a flea market. He said he wasn't looking for birds. He was walking by and something told him to turn around and go back to that booth. When he got back, the man was just unloading a chicken coop that had a couple of doves in it along with the chickens. So, our dove is grateful to be in church and away from the chickens today. So out of gratitude to Burney Tompkins, we and our family have named this dove, "Birdie Tompkins." I'm sure he appreciates that.
Remember, last week's sermon by Pastor Gettys ended with a remarkable verse. Turn with me to Acts 2:41. This was his closing verse.
I'm amazed at how comfortable this bird is in any circumstances. I believe the Holy Spirit is like that. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, the Holy Spirit is in His comfort zone because He knows what is going to happen. The Holy Spirit just wishes He could guide each of us to what He knows is best. This bird is up here preening his feathers. Sometimes when he hops down in his cage, he's not hiding, he's eating or drinking. He's just totally comfortable here at church. He got a little worried on the way to church this morning. When we went around a curve you could see him lean back and forth. He'd be a good G-force indicator. But he's very comfortable up here and that's the way the Holy Spirit should make us feel: comfortable in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
Here we find in Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. That's amazing.
Well, what did these 3120 believers do? (Remember, there were already about 120 believers.) Were they baptized and went on their merry way? I've done that before. I remember at the end of an evangelistic series I baptized fifteen people. One of them came back to church the next week. I never saw the rest of them again, except in their homes. "What happened?" "Oh, we've got other things to do." That's not what happened here. These people were committed to the church. These people believers were:
We often refer to the church as a building. I often say to my family, "I'm running over to the church for a few minutes." And they usually know that I mean a few hours. "I'm running over to the church." Typically we're not having church here. There may be a few people here. It's seldom ever that there's nobody here. There's always somebody here. But, that's not really church, is it? It's a building with a steeple. This is where the church meets. We may refer to a denomination as a church such as, "The Methodist Church," "The Baptist Church," "The Adventist Church," "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,"... Denominations: is that the church? We may be referring to a local congregation such as, "The McDonald Road Church." Or we may be thinking of the body of all believers called the Christian church. As you can see, we use the word "church" in many different ways. The next few verses describe what "church" really is.
Look at the next verse, Acts 2:42. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Four things.
We saw In verse 41 how they were saved and separated through receiving the Word and being baptized. Verse 42 indicates their desire to be steadfast.
What does it mean to devote yourself to something. Are any of you devoted here? If so, to what or to whom? What does it mean? It must be important because, according to this verse, they devoted themselves to four things. The American Heritage Dictionary says of the word "devote," "To give or apply oneself, one's time, etc. entirely." Some of you, I think, are devoted to church. Every time I come you're here, doing something in the Sabbath School room or an office, somewhere doing something. The second meaning in the dictionary is "To dedicate; to consecrate." Notice that the word "Temporary" is not used to describe devotion. Your devotion to your spouse is not designed to be temporary, although Satan would like for that to happen. Neither is your devotion to God and His church to be temporary.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. Now remember, these men were not trained teachers or preachers. But something about them gave them authority. They could not say, "I got my degree from the Seminary." "I have my Masters, I have my Doctorate." "I've been preaching for thirty years." They couldn't say any of that. What could they say? What gave them authority? That "something" that gave them authority was that they had been with Jesus. When a person has been with Jesus, the Holy Spirit can use them in ways that they never thought that they could be used.
I can't picture Peter out there on the fishing boat in his early years saying, "I'm going to preach and this is going to change people's lives." That thought probably never crossed his head. "I'm fishing. This is what I'm going to do all my life." But, when he devoted himself to Jesus, Jesus says, "Devote yourself to My work. I will make it possible to make you a leader."
Every pastor remembers his first sermon, and I wish this was not true. I hope that Dr. Bennett, my Homiletics professor, does not remember my first preaching attempt, or even my second. I recently read a story about a young monk's first sermon at the monastery. Frightened and intimidated, he opened with a question: "How many of you know what I am about to say?" When no one raised a hand, he timidly admitted, "Well, I don't either." And dismissed the assembly with the traditional, "The Lord be with you."
Of course, his superiors would not let him off the hook with that kind of behavior, so a week later he was back on the same platform. To everyone's surprise, he asked the same question: "How many of you know what I am about to say?" This time the brothers determined to teach him a lesson, so everyone present raised a hand. Courageously, the young monk smiled and said, "Well, since you already know, you don't need to hear the sermon. The Lord be with you."
After a severe reprimand he slowly ascended the stairs of the platform yet a third time. Slowly, but deliberately, he astonished the audience with his now traditional question: "How many of you know what I am about to say?" To completely unbalance this clever amateur, half the brothers raised a hand, the other half did not. "Well," said the young monk, "those of you who know tell those who do not. The Lord be with you."
I remember feeling that way many times. Who am I to get up here and say anything to anybody? I remember the first sermon I ever preached in a real church. Dr. Bennett showed up. It scared me to death. He didn't know I was preaching, though. He showed up to do a baby dedication in that church. With fear and trembling I delivered my message and he never said a word. I was so grateful. He wasn't there to critique me, he was there to do a baby dedication. We feel like we're being critiqued when we share what we know. It should not be that way. Because, in all honesty, who has the right to critique us when we are speaking of what we know? who we know?
You may not feel that you have enough of what it takes to preach. You may not feel like you have enough to talk to your neighbor, but you do. If you know Jesus, you have enough. Even if you're a brand new Christian, you can share how you got to know Jesus and what He means to you today. You can't tell what He means to you tomorrow, you haven't lived that yet. Don't worry about tomorrow. Talk about what He means to you right now. You don't have to be a trained theologian. In fact, it's often better if you are not.
I was in Chicago conducting my first Revelation Seminar. Talk about nervous. I noticed that a man was coming every night. One night he came up to me and said, "Do you know why I keep coming back to listen to you?" I was kind of feeling I wasn't doing so bad. He said, "It's not because you are a good speaker." Well, there went my pride. He continued, "Its because you are too young and inexperienced to pull the wool over my eyes." He was baptized! He trusted me because I hadn't lived in the world long enough to know how to deceive him. Maybe it's better not to be trained. Share what you know. Share what's in your heart.
These new believers also devoted themselves to the fellowship. The church has been called "the colony of Heaven." Here the believers fulfilled the words that Jesus gave His disciples just before the crucifixion in John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The way that we fellowship together is a witness to the world. Let's take every step to be great representatives of Jesus.
They also were devoted to the breaking of bread. From the looks of some of the potluck plates that I saw last week, some of us are more devoted to the breaking of bread than others! Actually, this was not just talking abut coming together to eat. This is also speaking of the Lord's Supper as well as sharing meals together. The disciples introduced the Lord's Supper right away into the new church, just as Jesus had requested, "Do this in remembrance of Me."
The new believers also were devoted to the fourth thing: prayer. Prayer took on a wonderful new meaning with the introduction of our High Priest and best friend, Jesus. They could now pray in the name of Jesus, somebody they knew! It made all the difference in the world. I have two friends. They are both pastors. They live in the area. I talk to them on the phone every once in a while. And, they never hesitate to pray with me. It is so nice. Just yesterday, one of them called and was telling about different things going on and I shared with him a little bit about what my week had been like. He said, "Brother, before I hang up, I need to pray for you." And he did! And it felt good right here. Doesn't it feel good when you know that someone is praying for you? Pray for me. I like to pray for you. When I drive by your house I pray for you.
Look at the verse 43. Acts 2:43. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. Everyone filled with awe!
Here, we find a group that is experiencing that which is sanctified, set apart, made holy. They are, as the Greek says, in continual awe. It wasn't just surprise. It was continual awe at what God was doing. That's what we need to be as a church; in continual disbelief at power and the mighty work of God in our hearts. They are also experiencing the spectacular. Did you realize that the Holy Spirit still works miracles today? Did you realize that He works miracles in the McDonald Road Church? If you don't believe that, just ask somebody on the building committee. All kinds of little miracles going on today. Do you remember when Pastor Gettys spoke about the gift of tongues at Pentecost? A form of this miraculous event took place in our church a number of months ago. I saw a young man come in with his grandfather. I met him, but I did not know that this young man had come to church that day knowing that he was going to make a decision. He had come, thinking, "Today, I am going to give God one chance. If I don't like something, I'm going to my old way of life, and believe me that was an old way of life. This young man had been there, done that. But he walked into this church with his grandfather saying, I don't really like what I'm doing, but I'm going to give God one chance to show me a better way."
I preached the sermon, he went home with his grandfather and he said, "Grampa, when Pastor Crutcher said those words, I gave my heart to Jesus and decided to be baptized." And his grandfather came and told me that story and I said, "I never said those words." He said, "Well, I didn't think I'd heard you say that either, but I figured I was distracted." He got a tape of the sermon, took it home and listened to it and came back and said, "You're right. You never said that." Do you know what happened? The Holy Spirit knew what that young man needed to hear that day in spite of my sermon. If you come to church searching for truth, no matter how boring my sermon is, you will find it!
Next, we find that the new believers have a singleness of purpose. Look at verse 44. Acts 2:44. And all that believed were together, and had everything in common.
This does not mean that they were robots without differing opinions. I heard one preacher say they were not "automatons." It does mean that they worked together in spite of differing opinions. An old pastor, the one that used the word "automatons" once told me as I was just starting out, "A church is a miracle! People coming from different backgrounds, different places with different ideas working together to do a great task." You don't see that anywhere else.
I have told some of you a story that greatly affected my life. It happened at a church board meeting in my first church right after the General Conference Session in Indianapolis. The General Conference requested that we show a video of their worship service at Indianapolis "to all the churches" so that everyone would have a taste of what went on at the General Conference meetings.
The problem was that our church did not have a TV or a VCR. And so we brought it to board meeting. "Well, what do we want to do? The General Conference is requesting that we show this video, but we have no way to show it. And we had another problem: our head elder was brought up to believe that it was wrong to show any kind of moving picture in the sanctuary. That's the way he had been raised, that's the way he believed. And he was against having a TV set, even for one Sabbath, in the sanctuary. Now, people usually agreed with our head elder who was and is a very wise man. But this time, he was voted down. I did not know how he would react to this rare event. I was a little shy about what was about to happen, but all my fears were for nothing when he raised his head and said, "I have a good friend who is the Curtis Mathis dealer in town. I'll take care of getting the T.V." My mouth dropped open. He showed up with one of the largest television sets I have ever seen!
I learned a lot from him about what it means to be in unity with the church. He also taught me how to be gracious when my opinion is not headed. This type of unity is a far greater witness that Jesus is actually a part of one's life than those who spend all their energies straining gnats while swallowing camels.
Our new believers here were also led by the Holy Spirit to be sacrificial. Look at verse Acts 2:45. Selling their possessions and goods , they gave to anyone as he had need.
It kind of sounds like an appeal from our fund-raiser, Warren Oliver, doesn't it. "Sell what you have and give to the building fund." It's a very similar concept. This is a Biblical concept. People willingly sold things to raise money so they could put it to better use in the Lord's work of helping others. The difference between possessions and goods in this verse is that Possessions implies something immovable like land or a home. Goods are everything else like anything you get rid of at a yard sale. They were selling both things to be able to care for each other as well as those who were not Christians. They were sacrificially generous. Did you know that if everyone in this church trusted God enough to give an honest offering, our fund raiser would be out of a job? You also would never hear an appeal for offering from the pulpit. The Holy Spirit has the power to change a naturally selfish heart like mine into a generous heart.
Some have said that this verse makes the early church sound Communistic. The difference is, in Communism, giving is forced. In Christianity, giving is natural.
Now look at verse Acts 2:46. 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, This is spiritual living. Spirituality is not something we clothe ourselves with on Sabbath morning, just to take off before we eat our Sabbath meal. Spirituality involves the whole life. Notice that the Holy Spirit in this verse links together the temple and the table. They were sincere in both places. You weren't seeing a different person in one place than you did in the other place.
You shouldn't be amazed that the new Christians were still going to the Temple. The Temple was more precious to them now than in the days before they knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Through Him, they had learned truly to know the God of the Temple. Thy came to know what the temple services had really meant when they came to know Jesus.
It might also seem strange that they were allowed to meet in the Temple. Later on, they were forbidden to do so, but it must be remembered that the Temple courts were open to all Jews who did not disturb the peace. All of the early Christians were still Jews. The Gospel had not yet gone to the Gentiles. Plus, people like Nicodemus probably had influence in allowing them to stay in the temple courts. As for the disciples, they did not think of their religion as a defection from Judaism, but rather as the fulfillment of it. The Christians therefore worshiped with their Jewish brothers, not only from habit and desire, but also in the hope of seeing them won to the Gospel. And they were.
True spirituality will not be left in the Temple courts. It will spill over into even the mundane aspects of life. It will bring people together in hospitality. Common place things like eating together become a blessed event. A truly Spirit led life will not be divided into things considered secular and sacred. If the Holy Spirit is leading, all will be sacred. We don't have two standards for two different places.
Look at the first part of Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
They were a singing people. When we contemplate what Jesus means to us, songs arise. Even in people who don't have the gift of music. In the church where I was pastor in south Georgia, an old man would occasionally show up, unannounced, uninvited. He was a member of a church two and a half hours away. But sometime he would just show up at our church. And he carried with him, rather than his Bible, an ancient electric guitar and an old beat up amplifier. We new that we were going to have special music that day. The old man would come up just before the sermon and he would sit right on the edge of the small platform. He would sit there, get his extension cord, plug in his amplifier in the closest outlet he could find, pull his guitar out of its case, plug it into the beat up amplifier, which had lots of problems. He needed to work on it. The thing had a buzz in it you couldn't believe. And the guitar always had at least two strings out of six missing.
That old man would sit on the edge of the platform and pluck that guitar and sing out of key if there was a key. We were not really sure. The first time he sat there and did this, I was sitting behind him on the platform in fear of the response I was going to get from the congregation because it was musically conservative in nature. My fears were without need as usual. I was pleasantly surprised when they said how much they appreciated his sincerity in praising God. Even though his music was not our music, he was loved. When we remodeled the platform, an electric outlet was installed right where he sat just in case he showed up again. That's acceptance, that's church.
A relationship with Jesus also allows us to hear song for the first time. Do you remember the fellow that was baptized after my first embarrassing Revelation Seminar? He told me one day, "Do you know what I heard this morning? Kent, you've got to hear." I said, "What did you hear this morning?" "I heard birds." I said, "Yes? I did too." "You don't understand. I've never heard birds before." I said, "Why not? Why haven't you heard birds?" "Well, you know, I know that they make a noise and all that. But I never noticed them before. But now I realize that they're singing praises to God. And I can understand them." There's a difference in the songs we can hear when we know Jesus. All nature rings with the songs about Jesus.
This verse also mentions how they enjoyed the favor of the community. Is this to be wondered at? Remember their new found generosity? They were there helping their neighbors like they had never done before. They were honest, they were loving, they were kind hearted, they were easy to get along with, they were Christ like. No wonder they were given the success that is mentioned in the second half of this verse.
Look at Acts 2:47, the last sentence. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Who did it? Did they do it? They knew the Lord did it. "The Lord did this for us."
The success of the church was Spirit driven. They realized that God was bringing people to them. I pastored a church one time that was in constant upheaval. It was hard to tell how many divisions there were in the church. It usually went about how many members we had, was how many divisions we had. Nobody agreed with anybody and they didn't even want to. They loved to fight. And I hated fighting. One day, the ministerial director of the conference came and said, "Kent, I notice that you haven't had very many baptisms lately. We need to work on that." I said, "Elder, I'm not going to do it." He looked at me, "What?!" I said, "No, sir. I cannot bring new people into this mess." He thought for a minute and then said, "You're right. Don't worry about it. Get this solved and we'll worry about that later."
God cannot bring people into a church that is not like this church is being described. There is not reason to, because they'll be driven right out. But God knows when to bring people into church, and I love to see somebody just come in. They don't know anybody. This happens more often than you can know. One lady came in and just said, "What does a Seventh-day Adventist believe?" Right out here in our lobby. That's why you often wee us pastors walking around in the lobby. They're not trying to avoid Sabbath School. They're meeting people that God is bringing to this church. It's amazing the people that He brings here. Thank you for being this kind of church. He feels comfortable bringing this kind of people here.
God wants to bring success, to bring people to a church that is saved, separate, steadfast, sanctified, spectacular, single minded, sacrificial, spiritual and singing His praises.
In Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, Ellen White says, "Nothing else in this world is so dear to God as His church." Blest be that wonderful Tie that binds us together!
Major Sources: Exploring ACTS by John Phillips Holman NT Commentary, Acts by Kenneth O, Gangel Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary vol. 6 Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6 By E.G. White
Hymn of Praise: #70, Praise Ye the Father Scripture: Acts 2:46, 47 Hymn of Response: #350, Blest Be the Tie that Binds
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last updated 8/17/2003 by Bob Beckett.