Sunday, March 29, 2015

The power of conviction; Acts 3:11-26

Today I want to talk to you in a different manner than in the way I normally preach.  As you know, I usually exegete a passage, going verse by verse.  But today I want to share some things that have been on my mind lately, ideas which are promoted by this passage, but not necessarily found through the exposition of each verse. 

This week I have found my soul distressed by several different circumstances that I have heard about, that I might term “failures of the faith.”  Not that the true faith of God can fail.  God cannot fail, and the purposes of God cannot fail.  He is Sovereign, He is over all, and all things exist through and for Him.  He existed before the world began, and will endure forever.  His truth endures forever.  God cannot fail.

But human beings do fail.  Just this week I have been reminded or in some cases confronted with several people who were once part of our fellowship who have fallen, or are in the process of falling away. It is disheartening, even heartbreaking to see these people fall away.  I heard lately that one mainstream denomination which has about 11,000 churches recently published a report that claimed over 294,000 professions of faith in one year.  But in another report some time later, they could only account for 14,000 of them in fellowship.  According to research done by an evangelist named Ray Comfort who reported on the previous statistics of that denomination, 80 to 90 percent of new conversions end up falling away from Christ.

As a pastor, I am particularly broken hearted over people who once professed a living faith in God, who we invested so much in, and who now have turned away from the Lord.  Some of them may not see themselves that way, but their lifestyle reveals that they are no longer following Christ.  Whether they are truly saved  or not is not my purview to know for certain, but it is a dangerous thing to turn away from God and follow after the lusts of your heart, and trust in your own wisdom, contrary to the Word of God.

I feel I am constantly in this battle for the hearts and minds of the people who come under my preaching.  I rightly feel a certain degree of responsibility for the outcome of their souls. So I preach my heart out in an effort to win them to the Lord.  But for the most part, it seems that far too many people are either unmoved by the preaching of the Word, or at least once they leave the church service there seems to be little thought as to the application of the doctrines which they have been taught. 

And so as I struggle to understand this inclination to fall away from the truth, and eventually from the faith, I have searched the scriptures to try to find the answer to the callousness and hardness of people’s hearts.  Additionally I have researched and studied pastors and preachers from past generations to see if there is something missing from church doctrine today which is accelerating this decline into apostasy. 

And what I have found is that the need of the current church culture today is highlighted in this message we are looking at by Peter in Acts 3.  It is revealed in studying the messages of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ Himself.  And research shows that it is the hallmark of every notable Bible preacher of history, as well as the keynote of all true revivals in history.  That is, in order to make their salvation sure, there is a fundamental need to bring people face to face with a Holy God, convicted of the vileness of their sin, and condemned by the judgment that The Righteous Judge will justly bring upon all unrighteousness. They need to understand that God hates sin, and that the wrath of God will be poured out on all sin. Then based on that reality, to preach repentance of their sins that they might be saved.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the message of the church today. The problem with modern Christianity is that there is an effort on the part of the church to make the gospel appealing by removing things from the message which people might find offensive, like God’s law, His righteousness and the judgment to come.  And in it’s place another message is substituted; that God loves you, and if you choose Christianity  it will produce joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and blessing in your life.  The only thing you have to do to receive those things, according to the new gospel message, is believe in God.  If you believe, then you receive grace - the gift of God which produces joy, happiness, peace, contentment and blessings.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 

The problem is that is not the gospel.  That’s not the gospel message that Peter preached in either his first message in chapter 2, nor his second message in chapter 3.  But the result of Peter’s first message was that 3000 people were saved.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s count, by the way.  Those are real conversions.  Then at the conclusion of Peter’s message in chapter 3  there is an additional 5000 people that are saved.  Again by the Holy Spirit’s count 5000 real conversions, not just professions of faith that seem to fade away after a year or so.

So what is the difference between Peter’s messages in Acts 2&3 and the message being preached in many churches today?  The difference is Peter preached guilt before he preached grace.  Peter preached that the judgment of God was coming.  He impressed upon them their guilt for crucifying the Son of God.  He impressed upon them the vileness of their sin, their hopeless condition, and the judgment that they rightly deserved.   Peter preached virtually the same message twice in chap. 2 and 3.

And then Peter preached repentance.  Once their sinful condition was well established, once they knew that such sinfulness rightly demanded the punishment of death, then he preached the need for repentance.  And after they had repented they received grace which brought about transformed lives.  In Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  And in the next sermon, in Acts 3:19 Peter says, "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

So I suggest to you that true repentance is the ingredient that is missing in many of today’s professions of faith.  Far too often today the supplicant is attracted to the message of “life enhancement” on the basis of merely believing in God, and when they afterwards in due time experience some of the hardships and trials that Jesus said is part of this life and to be expected in this life, then they fall away because their reality does not match what they were led to expect.

But although repentance is necessary for salvation, true repentance is contingent on a couple of essential things.  For one, true repentance is contingent upon a true theology of God.  These people that were saved under the preaching of Peter had more than just a superficial belief in God.  We use the word “believers” today to describe converts and yet unfortunately, many don’t really believe in the God of the Bible.  They believe in a god of their own imaginations.  They believe in a god that is only slightly bigger than they are. And so consequently they have a faulty theology.

By the way, speaking of believing in God.  I understand that this Wednesday is National Atheist’s Day.  Wednesday is April 1st,  April Fools Day.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  So be sure to wish all your atheist’s friends happy April Fool’s Day this Wednesday.

But as we examine our text, we see that these men that heard Peter speak were devout men and women.  In other words, they believed in the true God.  They worshipped the God of the Bible.  And yet they were unsaved.  Everyone (with the exception of the aforementioned fools) believes in God to some extent or another.  The Bible says that even the devils believe in God and tremble.  So merely believing in God doesn’t save you.  Worship does not save you.  The Muslim’s believe in God, yet they are not saved.  Because saving faith in God means that we believe that Jesus is the very representation of God in human flesh. Hebrews. 1:3 says, “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” 

John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made which was made.”  Jesus Himself told Philip in John 14, “that if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.”  And Col. 1:15 says “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

The fact of who is Jesus is the cornerstone of salvation.  The Jews Peter was preaching to believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Peter proclaimed in 3:13.  This crowd even believed in the historical Jesus.  They knew He had lived in Palestine until His crucifixion just a couple of months earlier.  They had no doubt He was a real human being.  Yet they were not saved because they failed to recognize that He was the Son of God.  They did not recognize Him as the Messiah, and so they crucified the very God of Heaven.

Listen, it is critical to your salvation that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, otherwise you cannot be saved.  You cannot merely believe in a historical Jesus.  You cannot simply believe in some sort of greater force in the universe.  You must believe that Jesus was a man who lived 2000 years ago, who was born of the Spirit of God, who was fully God and fully man in one being.

Look at the degree to which Peter describes Jesus in order to teach this essential principle.  First of all Peter calls Him the Servant in vs. 13.  That is a direct reference to Isaiah 53, the famous prophetic chapter concerning the Messiah that would have been well known to any God fearing Jew.  It is the quintessential teaching of the Messiah that foretells His suffering and atonement for the sake of the world. Then in vs. 14 he calls Jesus the Holy and Righteous One.  They knew only God was holy. And Jesus Himself said that no one is good except God alone. So therefore, Jesus is God. And then in vs. 15 Peter calls Him the Prince of Life.  It could also be translated the Author of life.  John 1: 3-4 again, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”  So Peter essentially calls Jesus the Creator. Then in vs. 16 Peter states His name as Jesus, which means Jehovah is salvation.  Peter says it is by faith in that name that this man was healed and is in perfect health.

So the first contingency is the proper theology that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.  The second contingency is a proper recognition of man’s sinfulness. You cannot have true repentance unless you first have a proper understanding of your standing in the eyes of God as a sinner.  This is born out by the Scriptures starting in Genesis.  In response to Adam and Eve’s sin, God said they would surely die, and He cast them out of the Garden of Eden, and furthermore, He removed them from His presence.  God cannot tolerate sin. He cannot have fellowship with sin. God’s judgment against sin was revealed again in the flood when He destroyed all flesh, men and animals except those on the ark, by a world wide flood.  He revealed His judgment against sin again in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme sinfulness by raining down fire and brimstone from heaven, destroying every living thing in those cities.  All of these examples illustrate God’s wrath against sin.

Then in Exodus God gave the Law to establish His standard of righteousness, and detail what constitutes sin and it’s punishment. In Rom. 3:19 Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  In other words, under the Law every one is guilty, and the penalty for that sin is death. Gal. 3:24 says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”  The Law teaches us that we are sinners, guilty before God, without hope.  We cannot keep it, we cannot achieve righteousness through it because we fail to keep it all perfectly.

“But wait a minute Roy!  We are not under the Old Covenant!  We’re under grace.” I would just ask you a question, are we under Christ?  Is not the gospel the gospel of Christ? I would suggest that the gospel of Christ is founded upon the Law of Moses, even as Peter says that Moses is a type of Christ in vs. 22. "Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”  

To illustrate that principle, look if you will to Matthew 5.  Jesus said, unless  your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees (who prided themselves on keeping the law) you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Then in vs. 21 Jesus begins to explain the Law.  But He doesn’t explain it away, He expands it.  He starts with “you shall not murder.” And Jesus says in vs. 22  "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  So Jesus is saying that for just calling someone a fool you deserve to be thrown into hell.

Then Jesus expounds the law regarding the sin of adultery.  In vs. 28 he says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Therefore Jesus said in vs. 29, ““If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  So Jesus says, just looking at a woman in lust is deserving of hell fire.

Then Jesus deals with the law concerning divorce.  And He says in vs. 32, “that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of chastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  Now Jesus is really upsetting everyone; He says that divorce is equal to adultery, which is worthy of hell. Jesus pretty much sentences 99.9% of the church to hell and He has only covered 3 laws. There are still 610 more to go.

Then Jesus talks about swearing falsely and making false statements.  And He says in vs. 37, “let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”  By extension, that which is evil deserves hell.  And in vs. 38 Jesus explains the law of an eye for an eye, so He says in vs. 39, "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

Then starting in vs. 43 Jesus wraps up His discourse on our obligation to the Law: "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Turns out Jesus’ interpretation of the Law condemns us even more than the Law of Moses does.

Listen, the purpose of the Law is to show us God’s standard of righteousness, and our level of sinfulness.  That there is a great chasm between the righteousness of God and us that no one can leap over.  That we are hopeless before the law, condemned by our sin, and under the penalty of death.  That as Romans 3:10 says, “there is none righteous, no not one.” That every mouth may be stopped.  That it would render us all without a defense.  That we might see our helpless, hopeless situation without the grace of Christ.  That we might know that we need a Savior, and be willing to give everything to gain Christ.

The great evangelist D. L. Moody said, "Ask Paul why [the Law] was given. Here is his answer, 'That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God' The Law stops every man's mouth. I can always tell a man who is near the kingdom of God; his mouth is stopped. This, then, is why God gives us the Law—to show us ourselves in our true colors."

The Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon said, "Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary [its most powerful weapon] when you have set aside the Law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ . . . They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place."

And the late theologian Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is quoted as saying; "A gospel which merely says, 'Come to Jesus,' and offers Him as a friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convincing of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. (The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the Law; and it is because the Law has not been preached that we have had so much superficial evangelism.) True evangelism... must always start by preaching the law." He goes on to say, "The trouble with people who are not seeking for a Savior, and for salvation, is that they do not understand the nature of sin. It is the peculiar function of the Law to bring such an understanding to a man's mind and conscience. That is why great evangelical preachers 300 years ago in the time of the puritans, and 200 years ago in the time of Whitefield and others, always engaged in what they called a preliminary law work."

Peter presented the law to those Jews that day.  They were guilty of failing to honor the Lord their God.  They had crucified the Lord of Creation.  They were guilty of murder.  They were guilty of false witness. So Peter’s sermon condemns them even as the Holy Spirit was convicting them of their sin.  And yet in the grace of God Peter offers to them the gospel.  It is called the gospel because it is good news.  Just as it is good news to a condemned man waiting for the morning gas chamber to hear the officer of the prison say that the Governor has commuted his sentence.  He has been pardoned. He has been freed not only from the condemnation of death but given a new life.  That is the gospel.  We that are vile sinners, without hope, lost, rightly condemned to hell  have been offered pardon, our penalty paid by the death of Jesus Christ.

What is Peter’s remedy that he offers these poor hopeless sinners that crucified the King of Kings?  Vs.19-21 "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;  and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

What does it mean to repent?  Well, it doesn’t just mean you are sorry for the mess you find yourself in.  It doesn’t just mean that you are sorry that you got caught.  It means looking at the perfect law of God and mourning over your sinful condition.  It means understanding that you are without hope, and without excuse.  It is seeing yourself in the light of God’s righteousness and holiness and knowing that you are a sinner and only by the grace of God are you given a chance to repent. It means to forsake your sins, to turn from your sins, to mourn over your sin, and to turn instead to righteousness.

Oh, folks, the reason that men and women fall away from the gospel with such ease and peace of mind today is that they have no idea of the Biblical standard of God’s righteousness.  They have no idea of how heinous their sin is in the sight of God. One of the greatest revivals that this country has ever seen was in the early 1700’s, in a time called the Great Awakening.  Jonathan Edwards was a preacher of a small church in Massachusetts who was one of the principle participants in this revival along with George Whitfield.  And perhaps Edward’s best known sermon was one that he titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Just the title alone is enough to send the modern church congregation running for the doors with their hands covering their ears.  They want to hear nothing of an angry God.  To hear nothing of the fear of the Lord.  To hear nothing of the judgment to come.  And yet this is the message, not unlike that of Peter’s message, which God used to bring about a great awakening, a great number of true conversions. 

I’m afraid one of the lost arts of modern society is the ability of critical listening.  To listen to the sermons of old is a test of one’s ability to listen attentively and critically, which seems to be lost to the church as well in our modern era of sound byte sermons.  But nevertheless, I would like to read a small portion of Edward’s sermon so that you can get a glimpse of what type of preaching against sin prompted true repentance and spawned one of the greatest revivals in this country. He read his sermons also by the way.  If you think that you have trouble with my sermons, then perhaps hearing some of his will make me seem so much more kindly and considerate.  We’ll pick up somewhere in the middle on his second point.  
"2.[All sinners] deserve to be cast into Hell; so that divine Justice never stands in the Way, it makes no Objection against God’s using his Power at any Moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, Justice calls aloud for an infinite Punishment of their Sins. Divine Justice says of the Tree that brings forth such Grapes of Sodom, Cut it down, why cumbreth it the Ground, Luke. 13. 7. The Sword of divine Justice is every Moment brandished over their Heads, and 'tis nothing but the Hand of arbitrary Mercy, and God’s meer Will, that holds it back.
3. They are already under a Sentence of Condemnation to Hell. They don’t only justly deserve to be cast down thither; but the Sentence of the Law of God, that eternal and immutable Rule of Righteousness that God has fixed between him and Mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to Hell. John. 3. 18. He that believeth not is condemned already. So that every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell; that is his Place; from thence he is. John. 8. 23. Ye are from beneath. And thither he is bound; ’tis the Place that Justice, and God’s Word, and the Sentence of his unchangeable Law assigns to him.
4. They are now the Objects of that very same Anger & Wrath of God that is expressed in the Torments of Hell: and the Reason why they don’t go down to Hell at each Moment, is not because God, in whose Power they are, is not then very angry with them; as angry as he is with many of those miserable Creatures that he is now tormenting in Hell, and do there feel and bear the fierceness of his Wrath. Yea God is a great deal more angry with great Numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this Congregation, that it may be are at Ease and Quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the Flames of Hell.
So that it is not because God is unmindful of their Wickedness, and don’t resent it, that he don’t let loose his Hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, tho’ they may imagine him to be so. The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.
5. The Devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what Moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their Souls in his Possession, and under his Dominion. The Scripture represents them as his Goods, Luke. 11. 21. The Devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right Hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry Lions that see their Prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back; if God should withdraw his Hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one Moment fly upon their poor Souls. The old Serpent is gaping for them; Hell opens his Mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
6. There are in the Souls of wicked Men those hellish Principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into Hell Fire, if it were not for God’s Restraints.”
(Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)

Like the congregation of Edward’s church, these men and women that heard Peter preach his message in chapter 3 knew that they deserved the punishment of Hell.  They were well familiar with the condemnation and penalty of the Law.  The now saw the true nature of their predicament, and the punishment that was due them.  And so they eagerly took the offer of grace that was procured through Jesus blood, that they might be saved from the wrath to come. 

Well, you might say, that sounds very dramatic Roy.  But you don’t really scare me, for I believe we are under grace and not the law, and I believe God loves me unconditionally, and if God loves me, He could never send me to hell.  And for that person I would point out Hebrews 10:26-31 which says “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

I will just close this morning by urging you to examine yourselves in the light of today’s message and see if you are of the faith. As Paul said in 2Cor. 13:5 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?” Are you merely believing in a God of your own design? Have you understood the true nature of your condemnation as a sinner before a Holy and Just God?   Have you ever repented of the sins that you have committed?  Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you will be at the moment you pass from this life?  Today is the day of salvation.  God is graciously extending time for you to repent. 2Pet. 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

I will close with one last statement from Edward’s sermon. “And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the Pit of Hell, whether they be old Men and Women, or middle Aged, or young People, or little Children, now hearken to the loud Calls of God’s Word and Providence. This acceptable Year of the Lord, that is a Day of such great Favor to some, will doubtless be a Day of as remarkable Vengeance to others….Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the Wrath to come.”  (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) 

“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace, foul I to the fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die.”  (Rock of Ages)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 3: 1-10

Someone once said that every miracle in the New Testament is a parable, designed to illustrate physically what God can do spiritually.  Today we are looking at such a miracle in this passage in Acts.  It certainly wasn’t the only miracle that was done in those days.  And yet Luke singles out this particular miracle to illustrate an important spiritual principle. 

We know that it wasn’t the only miracle because in the previous chapter, Acts 2:43 it says that “many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”  And looking ahead, we see in chapter 5 vs. 12 it says again that “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people;” to the extent, according to vs. 15, “that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.”

So many miracles were being done at that time by the apostles.  The question is why is this one highlighted and described by Luke and not the others.  And we will attempt to answer that question today.  But as I have said before, to use a fishing analogy, it is a lot easier to put a fresh hook on a new line than to unsnarl an old one.  And unfortunately, the subject of healing and miracles have become so snarled in bad doctrine that we need to spend some time unraveling this whole subject of healings and miracles before we can make the correct spiritual application of it from this passage.  We need to first understand the nature of the miracles that were occurring at the hands of the apostles.  How are we to understand these miracles?  Are they something that we should be expecting to see today?  Do we also have the power to perform miracles?  Certainly there are a number of people around, especially on television, that are claiming to be performing miracles.

Well, first of all, let’s consider the purpose of miracles.  As I said at the beginning, when miracles are presented in scripture, they usually are given to illustrate a spiritual principle.  That is the extended benefit of historic miracles to us today.  But what was the immediate benefit of the miracles that happened then, besides the obvious alleviation of suffering?  The answer is that miracles, the ability to do signs and wonders, was the means by which God authenticated the message of the apostles.  Lots of people over the ages have professed to be speaking from God.  But the apostles were specifically commissioned to speak the words of Christ, to declare His gospel to the world.  And to do that, Jesus gave them the power to perform miracles to confirm that that were speaking from God.

Jesus commissioned the apostles after His resurrection in Mark 16:15 “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."  

Now this passage has caused a lot of people to think that signs and wonders are the prerogative of every believer.  But what needs to be understood is that this statement is a highly condensed summary of Jesus’ last message given specifically to the eleven apostles.  Notice that there is a change from the singular pronoun in “he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” to the plural pronoun in “these signs will accompany those who have believed; (Jesus is now speaking of the apostles) in my name they will cast out demons, etc.  The plural pronoun sets this statement apart from the preceding one concerning all believers.  In the first statement Christ is declaring a principle of salvation.  In the second statement He is declaring the authority given to the apostles. 

So then a few verses later in Mark 16:20  we see that commission by Christ fulfilled:  “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.”  That is the key to understanding the purpose that the apostles did these signs, to “confirm the word by the signs that followed.”  They were given the power of signs to authenticate their message as being from God.

Unfortunately, as I have stated for the last couple of weeks, there is so much misunderstanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit today, and a lot of it originates in these first few chapters of Acts.  Because Jesus said “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon  you…”  And immediately after that we see the apostles speaking in other languages and performing miracles.  And there are a lot of preachers and teachers out there that want to make the assumption that the power that Jesus is speaking of is the power to speak in tongues and heal. 

That’s not it at all.  That is not the power that the Holy Spirit is promised to give to all believers.  The reason that the apostles did these signs was to authenticate that their message was from God.  But the real purpose of the Holy Spirit was to give them the words to speak, the word of God, and then as it says in Mark 16:20 to confirm that word by the signs which followed.

This is so important to understand, especially in our day.  Because false teachers and false prophets are going around today and especially on television speaking lies and using false signs to confirm their word. See the devil knows how to authenticate his false prophets as well.  We see something similar when Moses went to Pharaoh.  Moses did signs to confirm that his word was the word of the Lord.  And what did the Pharaoh’s magicians do?  They did similar signs as well.  Satan is using many of these so called charismatic signs and wonders that we hear about today to confirm the word of his false prophets. He uses false signs and wonders to get people to accept a false teaching.  So the church’s focus always needs to be on the word of God.  That is why we have written down for us a more sure word, that today we can use to validate everything and examine everything by the word of the Lord.  Today we don’t follow signs and wonders, but the word of God. 

But nonetheless, the fact that it is counterfeited by the devil does not invalidate the legitimate use of signs by God to confirm His word.  However we need to recognize that God gave this ability for a limited time to a limited number of persons.  Namely, the apostles and one or two disciples that were closely associated with them.  The New Testament doesn’t mention miracles by anyone other than an apostle or one or two people closely associated with them, namely Philip and Stephen who both were deacons appointed by the apostles in the church in Jerusalem.  No one else is identified as doing miracles in the church.  It was an apostolic gift, given to authenticate their message as being from God.

These are then what Paul calls "the signs of an apostle". In 2Corinthians 12:12 he refers to himself as having done the "signs of a true apostle" which, he says, are "signs and wonders and mighty works..." This is confirmed by Hebrews 2:3 , where the writer says that the Lord first preached the gospel, "and it was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."

Now I say all of that in order to establish the context for the miracle that we are looking at today.  To unravel the snarled fishing line, if you will.  So that we will realize that the apostles weren’t just going around healing everyone that they saw sick or infirmed.  Jesus, by the way, did not heal everyone that was sick either.  There were many dead people in the cemetery on the day that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but He only raised Lazarus.  And there were so many sick people gathered around the Pool of Bethesda that the sick man could not get into the pool before someone else, and yet Jesus healed only him.  In fact, there is a very good likelihood that Jesus had passed by this very lame man outside of the Beautiful Gate mentioned here in Acts 3 many times in the course of His ministry at the temple, and yet He had not healed him.  This man was healed by Peter to validate his message as having been from God and afterwards when he preached his message to the crowd gathered around, it says 5000 people were saved.

Now there are a number of things that are noteworthy in the telling of this story that we should consider.  First of all, vs. 1 says that Peter and John were going to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.  Prayers were said in the temple at 9 in the morning, at noon, and at 3pm, or the 9th hour.  Whether or not the disciples were going there to pray at that time is a matter of debate.  Some think that there was a slow transition on the part of the Christians out of Judaism.  But I happen to think that they went there because they knew that a lot of people would be gathered there at that time, and they wanted to preach the gospel to them.  I think if they learned any thing from Jesus, it was to find little merit in the traditions of Judaism. But as Jesus practiced, the apostles would use synagogues and the temple to preach the gospel. And once the gospel is carried to the Gentiles, there is still going to be this pattern of going to the Jewish synagogue to preach and present the gospel, even in Gentile territories.  And also, according to chapter 2, there was a great number of their church that were staying in the temple in Solomon’s portico.  They didn’t have a home to go to.  They had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feasts, and when they were saved on the day of Pentecost they stayed there in the temple daily receiving the apostle’s teaching.  So Peter and John had multiple reasons to go there at that time.

So as Peter and John are going to the temple, they pass through the gate called Beautiful.  This gate was so called because it was 75 feet tall and made of pure bronze and overlaid with plates of gold.  It would have gleamed in the sunlight.  And when the crowds would come to pray at the temple they would pass through this gate which they probably preferred above others because it seemed to promise prosperity.  So it was an opportune place to be if you were a beggar.  The Jews were taught that the way to achieve righteousness was to give alms to the poor or to the temple.  And so as these people are streaming in, this lame man positions himself there at the gate to take advantage of the possibly stricken consciences of the people who are coming in for prayers and the evening sacrifices.

When Peter and John pass by, the man began to ask them to give him alms.  Alms are an offering, a gift.  And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”  That reminds me of how my mother used to speak to me when she was trying to tell me something important.  She would say, “Look at me while I’m talking to you!”  She knew that if I wasn’t looking at her, I probably wasn’t really listening to her.  I may have heard her, but I wasn’t paying attention.

I think people do that in church a lot of the time.  I know, I used to be really good at it.  I’ve probably attended thousands of church services in my time, most of them as a preacher’s kid growing up in the church.  So especially when I was a kid, I was adept at flipping some sort of mental switch that tuned out the preacher while I went into some kind of dream mode.  The only time I would come back to reality was when the preacher would start to tell a joke or a story.  Then I would listen.  Maybe some of you have that ability as well.  I think it’s pretty common, actually.  I think it is important to listen attentively.  It’s something that takes some discipline, perhaps, but it is important to pay attention.

So Peter gets the man’s attention.  He thinks that Peter wants to give him some money.  But Peter says, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”  This is really the key to understanding the point of this miracle.  If we take this to be illustrative, like a parable, then we can see a key principle here in this miracle.  And that principle that Luke is presenting here is that the power of the Holy Spirit that was promised to the church is the power to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh.  That is what this miracle is teaching.  The power of the Holy Spirit was not given to enable everyone to be able to speak in a unknown tongue.  It was not given so that we can all have perfect health and be healed of every disease.  It was not given so that we might be able to move mountains or walk on water or call fire down from heaven.  The power of the Holy Spirit is given that we might be able to be the children of God, and then act like children of God.  He indwells us, giving us the power to live the life of Christ through these carnal bodies.  To be able to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh.  That is what this miracle is illustrating.  That is why Luke picks this miracle above all others that are done around this same time.  That is why Luke places this event immediately after the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; to illustrate the purpose of the Holy Spirit.

Now let’s look more in detail so that we might show how this miracle illustrates that purpose.  First of all, Luke says the man is lame from his mother’s womb.  Lameness could have been caused by a lot of things, but it basically means the guy couldn’t walk due to some sort of illness.  His legs might have been crippled or deformed.  And that is a perfect picture of our plight before salvation.  God set forth His laws, His requirements, His standards of righteousness, and yet no one is able to keep them.  It is like telling a lame man that he has to walk.  He may know that he needs to walk, but he is unable to do so.  That is the case with the law.  We know that the this is the standard for righteousness, but we cannot do it, anymore than a lame man can walk. In our natural state we cannot please God because we cannot keep His commandments. Rom. 3:10-12 says “as it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;  THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;  ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.’"

This is the plight of every person born on the earth.  And furthermore, we were born that way.  We’ve been this way from our mother’s womb.  Romans 5:12 says that we received the sin nature from our father, who received it from his father, and so forth all the way back to Adam.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  So this poor lame man, who was lame from his mother’s womb is a picture of sinful mankind.

And there is a second picture that is illustrated in this miracle.  This lame man has positioned himself outside the temple.  He sits by the Beautiful Gate, the gate that seems to promise financial blessing.  And so he sits there his whole life, seeking silver and gold, seeking the financial benefit that he thinks that the temple promises.  How many people today are attracted to the external blessings of the church and yet in reality are outside of the kingdom of God? How many people look to some form of the prosperity gospel as an inducement to claim Christianity?  I used to think that way.  I once was a very successful antiques dealer.  And I remember telling people that my success was due to my Christianity.  I thought that my health and my beautiful family, my financial success, my Mercedes, and my nice house were testimony to the blessing of God upon my life.  I measured my relationship with God based on how “blessed” I was.  I thought that I could be a witness to others, that I could tell them they too could have a life like mine if they would just come to Christ.  You can only imagine how my faith was shattered when I one day I lost all those material things.  Then I had to decide if I would still serve a Lord who allowed me to lose all that I had thought were His blessings. 

You have heard the song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…” Well, this man is looking for the wrong things in the right place.  He is looking for material rewards.  Really, he is looking for carnal things in a spiritual place.  The temple is an illustration of the kingdom of God which is the church.  As the church, we are the temple of Christ,  the physical manifestation of the invisible Christ.  The church is the kingdom of God, the spiritual reign of Christ on the earth.  And so if it is spiritual, it means things not seen.  No one can see a spirit.  The spiritual reign of Christ in our hearts is what it means to be in the kingdom of God.  That’s what it means to be the temple of God.  The body of Christ.  It means that Christ is using my body to live out spiritually the purpose and will of Christ.  

Yet today many Christians are being taught that Christianity means that you can live your best life now.  They think Christianity means that God is going to love you whatever you do - however you want to live, you can live.  We are taught that because God loves you, He wants to fulfill your dreams and ambitions.  He wants to give you all that you desire, all the desires of your heart.  And so we find ourselves like this lame man, seeking the benefits of the flesh, in the place of the spiritual. Seeking the carnal instead of the spiritual. 

But Peter and John get the man’s attention and then they say, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give to you.”  Peter and John say that they don’t have silver or gold.  I guess they wouldn’t make good role models for Joel Olsteen or Joyce Meyers, would they?  The apostles aren’t going to try to win the world with a soup kitchen mentality.  Listen, I don’t mean to say that we are to neglect doing good and sharing with those that are in need.  That is a godly principle that we see illustrated by the early church in the last chapter as they sold houses and possessions in order to feed those that were in need in the church.  But the point that needs to be emphasized is the church is not tasked with a social gospel, but with the gospel of salvation.  The purpose of the miracle was to authenticate the message, the preaching of the gospel, so that 5000 people are saved.  Far too often today the church finds that the social gospel is culturally acceptable.  So the church finds it easier to practice a social gospel than it does to preach a gospel that requires repentance from your sins.  But that is not the purpose of the church. 

So Peter grabs this man’s hand and pulls him up, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”  Now that is an illustration of salvation.  In the name of Jesus Christ we that were lame can now walk.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we that were sinners have now been made righteous.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we that were cut off have now been drawn close.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we that were helpless have now received help.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we that were born in our sins, have now been born again.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we that were hopeless have now received hope. 

What does it mean, “in the name of Jesus Christ?”  Is the name of Jesus some sort of incantation that we can say that magically produces miracles on command?  Is it some sort of mystical ending to our prayers which guarantees that God will grant us our wishes?  What does it mean?  Well, imagine the early explorers of a country traveling to a foreign land, and when they come ashore they might say something like, “We have come in the name of King George.”  It means that they are acting on the authority of their king.  In the same way the apostles were the ambassadors, the representatives of King Jesus.  They spoke with the delegated authority of His commission.  And they have authority because of the power of the King’s position.  They had power in the name of Jesus because of who Jesus is.  He is the Creator, according to Hebrews 1.  He is the Mighty God, according to Isaiah 9.  He is the Savior of the World, according to 1 John 4.  He is the Word which was in the beginning with God and was God, according to John 1.  It was this very God that became flesh and dwelt among us, that He might offer Himself as a substitute for sinners, that we might be saved from death and transferred into the kingdom of light.

Listen, so often we think  of salvation as being saved from something; saved from death, saved from condemnation, saved from a bad situation. And to some extent that is true.  But did you ever think that you are also saved for something? Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  So we are saved for good works, that we should walk in them. 

Now that is exactly what this miracle illustrates.  Peter says, in the name or in other words, by the power of Christ, walk!  Walk in newness of life.  Walk in faith.  Walk in the Spirit.  I cannot count how many times it says in the Bible that we are commanded to walk in the ways of God.  That is what the law required, and what we could not do.  Over and over again in the Old Testament scriptures it says to keep His commandments and walk in His ways.  That was the intent of the law, and yet we were lame from our mother’s womb and could not do it. 

But something wonderful happens in the New Testament.  In the power of the  name of Jesus Christ, who bore our sins on the cross, we received by faith and repentance the transference of His righteousness, so that we might walk in righteousness by the indwelling power of the Spirit.  In Ezekiel God declares that He will make a new covenant in the last days.  And in that new covenant according to Ezekiel 36: 25 He says,  "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” 

Do you hear that folks?  “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”  That is the miracle of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit.  God takes this sinful body, and these weak, lame legs that cannot walk, and puts new life in them, puts His Spirit in me, that I might be able to walk in His statues and keep His ordinances.  This is why God sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  This is what Jesus was talking about when He said you will receive power.  The power to walk in His statues by faith in Jesus Christ. 

The writer of the Hebrews quotes a similar statement from Jeremiah, in Heb 10:14-17 “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,  "THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM," He then says, "AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE."  What that passage is saying is that salvation and sanctification go hand in hand.  Jesus has perfected those who are being sanctified and He does so in this new covenant through the testimony of the Holy Spirit writing His laws upon our hearts and upon our minds, so that our desire is to walk in His ways. 

Oh, ladies and gentlemen.  This is such an important message for the carnal church today that claims salvation and yet scorns righteous living.  That cannot be.  We are saved and we receive the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we might walk in the same way Christ walked.  Romans 6:4 says that we are to walk in newness of life.  Romans 8:4 says that we are not to walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 1 Cor. 7:17 says we are to walk in our calling in the church. 2 Cor. 5:7 says we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Gal 5:16 says, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  Gal 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” In Eph. 4:1 Paul begs us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Eph. 5:8 says walk as children of the light. Col. 1:10 says, walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  Col. 2:6 says, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 1Jo 2:6 says the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  I could go on and on.  But I hope you understand what the Spirit is saying through this miracle.  We were given the power through the Holy Spirit to walk as Jesus walked, holy and righteous and pleasing and glorifying God in all that we do.  We have the power indwelling us, if we have been saved, to do all that God has designed us to do, if we will just be obedient to His leading. 

So folks, in closing, let me say that is how God has designed the church to be His witnesses to the world.  By the power of our walk.  When the crowds had gathered around Peter and John because they saw this formerly lame man leaping and jumping for joy on his new legs, they then received the word of the apostles and 5000 of them were saved in one day.  The success of our church is not going to be the result of some program or some outreach, or even by our soul winning efforts, but it will be the result of people witnessing the power of God to change sinful men to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  When your coworkers, when your families and neighbors witness the transformation in your life, when they witness your new walk in righteousness, then they will be compelled to follow your walk and accept your Christ.  That’s what it means to make disciples. Let us walk out of here today in the power of the Holy Spirit, walking in the ways of God as a testimony to the world.  We then can fulfill Christ’s commission to the church, to make disciples.  We can tell people, walk like I walk, because I walk like Christ walked.  That’s what it means to make disciples.  To walk like we walk, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Characteristics of the true church, Acts 2:41-47

There is much misinformation in Christian circles today as to the nature and purpose of the church.  Many books and articles have been written on the subject of church growth.  Many different strategies have been proposed for the building up of the church.  And as a result I think that in the last generation the church has changed more than at any other time in history.  However, I’m afraid that it has not always been for the better. I’m sure that many of the great ecclesiastical leaders of history would not approve or even recognize what is happening in many churches today.  In fact, I think that when we lose sight of God’s blueprint for the church and try to figure out according to our own wisdom how we might improve upon His plan, we often do great harm to the church and to the name of Christ.

Our passage today sets forth the first example of the church that we find in the New Testament.  We have spent the last couple of weeks or so describing how the Holy Spirit coronated this church with a great display of His power in order to validate and authenticate it as being from God.  Peter said in his message that it was obviously a mighty work of the Holy Spirit which had come from God to establish His spiritual kingdom on earth in the last days.  And so as this church is set forth in scripture as the premiere illustration of God’s church on earth, it would behoove us to faithfully follow it’s pattern in our practice as well. Because I believe that this scripture definitely reveals that this is God’s church.  And since God is the designer, then we should seek to follow the pattern of His design as we see it laid out for us here in this passage.

Now there are a five fundamental marks of a true church as set forth in this passage that I would like to point out for our instruction here today.  It is not a comprehensive list, perhaps, but it is an essential list.  There are things that can be added, but we cannot take any of these away and still have a faithful and true church according to the pattern set before us.

Let’s consider then these five fundamental characteristics of the church.  Number one is almost too obvious to mention, but unfortunately it’s importance is often overlooked.  It is essential that the church is saved.  I think that principle’s importance is reflected in the fact that under divine inspiration Luke bookends the passage with a reference to the fact that the church was saved.  The first reference is in vs. 40 “And with many other words [Peter] solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”  And then at the close of the passage is the other bookend: vs. 47, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 

The church is the congregation of the saved.  “Ekklesia” is the Greek word from which the word church is translated, and it means the called out ones.  Called out to an assembly, a congregation.  And I think it’s important to understand that church membership is only possible when the Lord adds them to the church that are saved. (vs.47)  It isn’t something conferred by vote, or applied to, or that baptism procures.  It is something you are born into, and you must be born again by the Holy Spirit.  The word saved indicates that you are delivered from something.  We are saved from wrath, from the judgment to come against sin, and from the wages of sin which is death.  That’s what it means to be saved.  To be changed from death to life, from darkness to light, from sons of the devil to sons of God.  It is a supernatural conversion that is accomplished by repentance from your sins and faith in the work of Jesus Christ, resulting in new life and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So the church is made up of called out, saved, converted men and women.  That is fundamental to understanding then the purpose of the church,  especially today when we are witnessing a church movement that is deliberately trying to appeal to what they call the “unchurched.”  Basically what that means is that they are trying to redesign church to accommodate the unsaved.  But that is not what the church is designed by God to be.  The church is designed as the body of Christ.  And as Paul said what communion can light have with darkness?  When we understand that the church is the calling out to assembly of those that are saved, and that Christ has placed them into His body, then it should change our perception of what the church is supposed to be.  It doesn’t need, nor should it desire to become relevant or acceptable or attractive to the world.  It needs to be attractive to Christ.  It needs to be acceptable to God, holy and blameless as the virgin bride of Christ.

So that’s of first priority in the church; it is the body of the redeemed.  Secondly, the church’s next essential characteristic is that they are devoting themselves to the word.  Vs. 42, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”  Some versions may say the apostle’s doctrine.  They both mean the same thing.  What is the apostle’s doctrine?  It is simply the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Peter’s message is a great example of it.  He starts with scripture and explains the gospel of salvation based on the Old Testament text in Joel.  Then he expounds upon that doctrine with other supportive biblical texts.  It’s expositional teaching.  It’s exhortation.  It’s admonition.  Paul broke it down for us in 2Tim. 4:2 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” 

The apostle’s doctrine is simply this;  the congregation of the saved is strengthened, exhorted, equipped, taught and led by the teaching and preaching of the word of God through the ministers of God.  Nothing less will do. John Calvin said, “Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them.”

In the great commission that was given to the apostles, the Lord told them to “go and make disciples of all nations, and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Sound doctrine is the heart of the life of the church. Not ritualistically observing the sacraments, not children’s programs, not music, not so called modern worship. If the church is not teaching the doctrines of the word, then they are failing in their primary responsibility.  And a Christian should not stay in a church that doesn’t make that a priority.  The church is not designed to be a Christian country club.  But it’s designed to teach the truth and apply it to our lives so that we might be obedient to what Christ has commanded us to do. 

Thirdly, the church is not only to be devoted to the apostle’s doctrine, but to fellowship. (vs.42)  We are the Beach Fellowship.  Sometimes I’ve had someone say, “why don’t you add the word church to your name?” Well, my answer is that would be somewhat redundant.  Fellowship is church.  Now to be accurate, they are two different words.  But you cannot have one without another.  The Greek word for fellowship is “koin┼Źnia”, which means fellowship, communion, participation and intimacy.  It is really a unique word as used in the New Testament.  It sometimes is used to describe fellowship, other times it is used to describe sharing as in taking up an offering, other times it is used to talk about participating in the Lord’s Supper, that is why we refer to the Lord’s Supper as Communion.

Paul said that of first importance we are called into fellowship with the triune God. 1Cor. 1:9 “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  And 2Cor. 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” As the church, as the body of Christ, we have fellowship with Christ who is the Head of the church, with the Holy Spirit who is the life of the church, and with God who is the creator of the church.

And then fellowship is communion of the Lord’s Supper, which is a picture of the fellowship we have with one another in the body of Christ. Paul said in 1Cor. 10:16  “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” We become one with Christ and one with the body of Christ, each other, symbolized in the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup.

And last but not least, fellowship is participation in the unity of the apostle’s doctrine. 1John 1:6-7 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

So fellowship then is not determined by finding a congregation that is similar to our economic standing.  It is not finding a church where there are a lot of young people because we happen to be young, or finding a church with a lot of older people because we are older people.  But church is the body of Christ which is made up of various members, different kinds of parts, but all of them unified by a common doctrine, and working together for a common purpose, to be the visible manifestation of Christ to the world individually and corporately.

The fourth characteristic of the true church is the breaking of bread.  This is my wife’s favorite.  If we were making up committees, this is the one she would want to be on.  She loves baking.  Her hobby is to bake something everyday.  No wonder I have such a hard time keeping my weight down.  My wife thinks that the meal that she cooks on Wednesday nights for our Bible study is a major part of our ministry.  And in a way she is be right.  It certainly seems like this was a characteristic of the first church. 

Now most commentators are going to say that this breaking of bread refers to the taking of the Lord’s Supper.  They say that there was a love feast that was like a communal meal, and then at the end of it there was an observance of the Lord’s Supper.  Maybe they are right. I don’t know. I can’t seem to prove it one way or another by scripture. However, I do know that both Jude and Paul speak rebuke to those in the churches that were abusing the Lord’s Supper.  But what I will argue is that there are familiar expressions that the apostles used in referencing the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table, but this phrase “breaking of bread” is not one of them.  It is used in scripture only once before, and that is the meal that Jesus took with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  So while I wouldn’t discount that it could include the Lord’s Supper, I do not think that is necessarily what it’s talking about.  I think it is merely talking about good old fashioned hospitality.  Sharing a meal together is a hallmark of hospitality.

Let me try to explain the context here for a moment.  On the day of Pentecost, you had thousands of pilgrims that had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.  And that day, 3000 of these men and women were saved.  And so the first church comprised a large number of people who did not live in Jerusalem, but stayed there after they were saved and lived in the portico of the temple where they were having services.  And so there was this unique situation that occurred there.  There were a large number of people that were essentially homeless.  How long they lived there we don’t know.  But every indication is that for quite a while at least, they did not go back to their homes in foreign countries, but stayed to receive the apostle’s instruction and lived in fellowship with the rest of the church. 

Now that should give us a better understanding of what was going on.  Because vs.43-47 are not a continuation of the list of essential characteristics of the church, they are an explanation of the original five. Look at vs. 44, 45, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”  See what I mean?  I’m not going to read into vs. 44 and 45 and say that the scripture says that the church needs to have a communist life style. That we all have to sell everything and give it to the church to parcel out. That is not what is going on.  If that were the case, then vs.46 wouldn’t make sense, which says they were breaking bread from house to house.  They wouldn’t have had any houses to break bread in if they all had sold their houses. 

No, like I said, I think the verses 43-47a are an explanation of the 5 primary characteristics listed prior to these.  For instance, vs. 43 says “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”  This is obviously an explanation or addendum to the statement that they were devoting themselves to the apostle’s doctrine.  There was a sense of awe, a sense of reverence, a sense of godly fear at the authority that the apostle’s spoke with.  Peter’s message was one having authority.  He had the authority of the power of the Holy Spirit.  And that was accompanied with signs and wonders.  The apostles were given the power of signs and wonders so as to authenticate their message as specifically appointed spokesmen from the Lord.   Paul declares that fact in 2Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”  Signs and wonders was the means by which God authenticated the apostles as speaking for Him, speaking His words.  He gave them authority and power and the words to speak, which became the words that were written down for us, which make up the Holy Scriptures.  It was specifically for that time and place as a sign gift to the apostles. 

So in like manner, vs. 44 and 45 illustrate for us what was the nature of that fellowship which was so essential to the foundation of the church.  The key word there is sharing.  That is communion, fellowship.  They shared what they had with one another.  Those people that were living there, unwilling or unable to go home, were supplied in their needs by the surplus of those who had the means.  They sold things that were considered surplus in order to give it to the church for the provision of the needs of the others.  This was true sacrificial giving as Jesus described in Luke 3:11 by commanding “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.”

This church illustrated what Paul would later describe in 1 Cor. 12:24, “But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 

Then in vs. 46 we read they were “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple refers to the unity of doctrine that was being taught to them by the apostles.  This is so important in the church, to have unity of doctrine.  The Bible says, “how can two walk together unless they be agreed?”  You may never have a church where there is absolute agreement over every interpretation of scripture, but there needs to be a unity of major doctrine, and most importantly a submission to the authority of the leaders as they speak the word of God.

Peter said in 2Pet. 1:20-21”But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  Now that verse has a lot of implications, but one is that there isn’t really any room for private interpretations of scripture.  “Well, I think it means..” or “what does this mean to you?”  It is important that we have men in the pulpit who are committed to preaching the truth of God’s word and nothing but the truth, and then we need to check the scriptures to see if those things are so, as the Bereans did to Paul’s teaching, but then they need to submit to the authority of faithful preaching.  As I said a couple of weeks ago, the problem in a lot of churches is that the congregation picked a pastor, not God, and they chose a pastor like they were judging a talent contest; based on his looks and his personality and his entertainment factor.  They did not pick a man that was known to be a student and a preacher of the word.

And then back to our fourth point of breaking bread, vs. 46 is an extrapolation or explanation of that principle.  It says, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”  So they were together being taught in the temple, and then they invited those home with them to have a meal who didn’t have the means to a meal.  This then is not speaking of the Lord’s Supper necessarily, but good old fashioned hospitality.  It’s taking koininea to the next logical level, sharing a meal.  Sharing your home.  Sharing your resources with those who have a need.

One of the most telling examples that I see in our church that we are experiencing church as God would have us do, is when I see our people enjoy fellowshipping together after service, or at a restaurant, or at a get together like we did at the Valentine’s Dinner.  This is how we get to know one another.  This is how we get to the point of sharing one another’s burdens.  It doesn’t do true fellowship any good whatsoever when we ask each other politely, “how are you this morning?” And the automatic response is “Fine thanks.  How are you doing?”  “Oh, I’m doing great, thanks!” And that’s it.  That’s as far as we get in getting to know one another.  No, our goal is to be able to say as I quoted from 1Cor.12:24 while ago, when one person suffers, we all suffer, when one person is honored, we all rejoice.”  And one of the best ways to incorporate all the various members together into one body is to eat together, to share together, to help one another in the day to day trials of life.

The fifth element in vs. 42 of a true church was they were devoting themselves to prayer.  Prayer is one of the two offensive weapons that we have been given in the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6. All the other armor listed there is defensive. But prayer is not only defensive, it’s offensive.  You’ve heard it said that the best defense is a good offense. Eph 6:18-19  “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”  I suppose that most of you are a lot like me – we just don’t pray like we should.  We don’t pray nearly as much as we would like to.  Jesus was a man of prayer.  He prayed many times all night on a mountaintop.  And when He came down from the mountain He was refreshed and empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit. 

I believe that much of our success on the beach is due to the Jericho March we do each year before the season starts.  It’s a time of sustained, strategic prayer for six nights and culminates on Sunday morning with the walls of opposition to the gospel coming down in this community.  But folks, we need to pray that way a lot more often than once a year.  I think it is the key to everything.  I don’t understand it, but I know it works.  The problem is that we don’t work at it. 

Hey, I got suggestion for those of you that don’t like my preaching all that much.  Did you ever think that by praying you could make me a better preacher? Isn’t that what Paul is asking them to do for him in Ephesians 6? “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”  I would really appreciate it if you guys would pray for me.  It doesn’t get any easier to preach the gospel.  And believe it or not, I have difficulty with speaking with boldness.  I may be loud, but that doesn’t necessarily make me bold.  Pray for boldness, but more importantly, pray that God would give me utterance, that He would give me the message that He would have me preach.

Well, those are the five marks of the true church, the indispensables, if you will of an effective church of God.  There is just one more point that is made here that needs to be pointed out.  We looked at 5 characteristics, and they all result in one consequence.  That is found in vs. 47, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The consequence of a congregation of saved, born again, transformed men and women, who were taught the doctrine of the apostles, and who lived out their lives in fellowship, unselfishly sharing wealth and food and resources with each other, and devoted to prayer, and were sincere and joyful in their faith, the consequence of that kind of transformed lives resulted in God using their public testimony to be a means to bring others to the Lord.  That’s the kind of church that is attractive to the lost.  It’s not a place that looks like a nightclub or tries to look attractive to sinners.  The gospel’s attractiveness is that it offers hope from the despair of sin.  The power of a transformed life is the testimony that God can use to attract sinners to the gospel.  They come to church not because they can relate to it, but because they are attracted to the hope and peace and joy that we have in Christ because He has overcome the captivity of our sin.  That’s why Peter’s first response to those that heard his message and that asked what they needed to do was that they needed to repent.  And the need for repentance will be the apostle’s message on through the book of Acts. 

Listen, all of us that are saved have been placed in the body of Christ, to perform an essential function for the health and purpose of that body.  Christ has given to each of us a part in His body and placed us in the church as He sees fit.  Let us then be faithful and diligent to be about the business of the church, because that is what Jesus tasked us with in the great commission; “to go and make disciples, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” 

Paul breaks down that commission for us in Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  Amen.