Today we’re going to dive into God’s Word and continue our study in Acts as part of our series called The Faithful Journey, looking at what happened in Acts and asking the question, how can we be faithful according to what we’re reading? Right. And so, last week we talked about the ascension of Christ. Uncertain times, but there was a faithful group, devoted to prayer, devoted to a Christ-centered life, of believers that were sitting there waiting on the Lord in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit, waiting to see what God was going to do. And now we’re getting into the fun part where we actually see what God is doing, where Luke is recording what God is doing. But remember that we’ve got faithful people devoted to the Lord in prayer, waiting on him in Acts Chapter one. Before we go further, though, in reading the scripture, I’m going to give you guys a couple of scenarios, OK? Because we do work overseas and there are a lot of different contexts where we work. Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the Great Commission, wanting to fulfill the Great Commission. And with that comes making disciples, right? When I pause like that, you can fill in so I know you’re alive. OK. Like making… Alright, good. Oh man. OK. So when we’re making disciples, there are two different scenarios that we often run into. OK. One is the one that you would expect to see. We are serving in an area that’s predominantly not Christian, and as we find new believers that are interested in gathering, we come across different barriers, very significant barriers. One of those would be: they gather together and they’re like, “Alright, let’s do church together.” And what do you think we do? We kind of just twiddle our thumbs, stare at each other. Right. “Well, we’re here. Maybe we should read the Bible. I don’t know.” Because, you see, these folks don’t come from a traditionally churched Western background like we do. Often, they have never heard the name of Jesus Christ until we spoke to them or until our people spoke to them.
And so they don’t know what to do, and quite often, the worldview that they come with suggests that some of the things that we would do in church right here are actually worldly and shouldn’t be done. For instance, in the country where we live, singing is a big deal. If we gather together and sing, people looking at us would assume that singing is a worldly thing. It’s either seen as worldly or associated with Hindu false God worship. So when people are first coming together as a church and they’re struggling through God’s word, looking at the songs and seeing scripture exhorting people to pray with one another, to sing hymns with one another, they’re wondering, “What does this mean for us?” They don’t have a concept of an order of service. They don’t have a concept of what they should do. So we have to get back to the basics. Well, in the Bible, what are the basics, right?
Then, we have this other group of people where I live, who are the descendants of those who came to faith in Christ in droves in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a massive people movement. Thousands and thousands came to faith in Jesus Christ in this area of what was British India at the time. The modern brick-and-mortar, established, traditional church that you see in the country today is a remnant of that.
Hindsight is always 20/20, right? Now, Siri isn’t supposed to work during my preaching, but that’s fine. Sorry. With hindsight being 20/20, the missionaries and those focused on the Great Commission back then had a modus operandi. The way they worked was that they would take a cookie-cutter experience of what they did in the West, based on their church tradition, and replicate it in the East. So we see brick-and-mortar churches with steeples that look like they’ve come straight out of Europe. If you go into some of these churches, most of them will have a pulpit. In some way or another, right? The church service cannot end until the pastor comes, raises his hand over the congregation, and prays.
It blows their minds if we try to end a service before that, or if we try to end the service before the actual offering plate, like what we have, is passed around. They have the same kind of offering plates, the same little cups for the Lord’s Supper, everything, because they have been taught for the last 200 years, “this is how you do church.” Now, there are some strengths to that, and then there are some weaknesses, right? Because you see, I grew up in church. I’ve been there, and I can tell you everything about how we do church here, right? And I’m going to tell you, I’m really good at some things. Alright? You want to hear what I’m really good at? Alright.
First things first: I could officiate a wedding at five years old. OK, for two reasons. One, my dad was a pastor and dragged me to enough of them. And the second was an old movie by Jimmy Stewart called “Shenandoah.” I watched that movie religiously when I was a kid. There’s a wedding scene in there, and I knew how a wedding worked. I knew how a funeral worked. I knew how church worked. I knew when my dad closed his Bible, it meant it’s almost lunchtime. I knew all that. Another thing I was really good at was baptizing, right? At three or four years old, more than once, my mom caught me on my dresser, preaching to no one. Who was I preaching to? Elaine? I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t listen. Anyway, I baptized her. And my method of baptism was a little different than Dad’s. When I was that young, I really just went for the throat because, you know, you can really get someone down if you have a throat hold. I baptized my sister like that multiple times. I don’t know if I ever baptized Sarah like that. No, just Elaine. Poor girl.
But I knew church. The people in the country where I live, who were shown that exact same kind of church tradition, feel they really know church. The new believers are learning church. But the fact is, many people can go their entire lives and hardly recognize what it means to be the church or even be able to articulate what the church does.
Does that make sense? You can go your whole life being a part of this, and someone off the street, who does not know Jesus and has never been in church, would have trouble explaining the why behind any of it. So, remember where we left off: this is a group of followers of Christ living in uncertainty, waiting faithfully for the Holy Spirit, united in prayer. When the Holy Spirit comes, Peter starts preaching. So, actually, after Acts chapter 2 in the beginning, we see Pentecost. The Spirit comes upon the disciples. We’re not going to read that today, but we’re just going to keep following that story. That happened, and then Peter starts preaching to many, many people, evidently. He starts preaching the gospel. And then in Acts chapter 2, starting at verse 37, we’re going to start reading. This is what happened: “When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what must we do?’
Let’s pause. We need to pray right now, OK? Bow your head with me. Gently, Father, we know that you’re a God that works. We know that you poured out your spirit on your people so that you might do a great, mighty work on earth, that your Kingdom may be established, and that many would come to know you. We pray, Lord, that those around Hillsborough right now and at New Life Baptist Church would be just as these people, Lord, and say, “What must we do?” May their conviction be deep. May they hear your piercing word and may their hearts be changed. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Then it continues to say in verse 38: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent,’ Peter said to them, ‘and be baptized, each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ And with many other words, he testified and strongly urged them, saying, ‘Be saved from this corrupt generation.'”
Alright, so that’s Peter. He gets into the gospel. He shares the gospel. Then in verse 41, we see verses 41 through 47, is the first church review that we see in the early church. So, let’s just look here at our Book of Acts, our old-school Google.
Alright, let’s see what this was all about. We see that those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. Folks, how many people can fit in this church? Approximately, if every seat was full? Not 300. More than 150, more than 200. We could probably fit close to 700 people in this room or more, right? That’s not even close to what was touched that day by God. That’s what God can do, right? And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now, all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
So, we’re going to ask some questions as we look at this passage, just like we would with that group of brand new believers. This is exactly what I would do with those people: we’d sit down and ask them questions. The first is, who is a part of the church? You know, identity is so important. It’s important here in the US, but it’s even more significant where we live. Where I’m from, last week, I shared with you guys a story about my friend who said, ‘You would be so happy if you only knew Jesus,’ right? You guys remember that? OK, so that same guy, a few nights later, was sitting with me, and he just decided to kind of name it and claim it. We’re sitting there once again, waiting on our wives to finish talking, and he looks at me and says, “Mister B… you’re a Muslim.’ I replied, ‘No, brother, I’m a follower of Jesus.’ He insists, ‘No, you are Muslim. You are a good man. You have the beard, you dress in our attire,’ and he lists other things. It was so important to him. We debated for about an hour and a half. He wanted me identified as one of his people, not just religiously. He said, ‘Brother,’ and I replied, ‘I’m not Afridi.’ (Afridi is a tribe in the mountains). ‘Yes, you’re from the mountains.’ I responded, ‘Yes, I’m from mountains, but not those mountains. I’m not Afridi.’ And finally, I said, ‘Listen, if you want to call me an Afridi, OK, but I am a follower of Jesus.’ But identity was so crucial to him because he genuinely liked me. He wanted me in his community. Where we live, identity provides community and support. Marriage and jobs occur within that community. Daily interactions happen within that circle; it doesn’t branch out. But when we ask, ‘Who is a part of the church?’ and we read this first account that Luke gives here, we see in verse 41 that it is those who accepted Peter’s message and were baptized. Baptized believers in Jesus Christ are the church.
Because the Church is not a social club. The Church is not just something we do. The Church is not merely a tradition. The Church doesn’t exist without the people. The building is not the Church. We, as baptized followers of Christ, are the Church. Why is it significant to ask ‘who’ before we ask, ‘what does the Church do’? Because if your identity is not in Christ, if you don’t identify as a baptized follower of Christ as the Church, it doesn’t matter what you do. It takes away from the meaning; there’s no glorifying God because it just becomes false and shallow. But that identity is important. We are the church because we are God’s. We are the body of Christ. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12, we are the Bride of Christ, as Ephesians 5 states. So, why is it significant to ask who is a part of the church? Well, here are three other reasons I want to give you. One, look at what God did. When we ask who is part of the church, we’re acknowledging what God did. These people, 3,000, were added that day. When I look out over this service and the last service, I’m seeing what God did because God worked in each and every one of you or your families for you to even be here. It’s important to ask ‘who’ because it’s attentive to what God did and is doing right now. The second reason it’s significant to ask ‘who’ is a part of the church is to know who the family is, to act like a family. If I didn’t know my sister Sarah is my sister, why would I treat her like my sister? I wouldn’t, right? Family fights, but the family is still family. Families get along. Families reconcile. Families act like families. And then the third reason it’s significant to ask ‘who’ is a part of the church is because it lets us know who needs the gospel. Those of you who are baptized followers of Christ in here don’t need me to preach the gospel to you again. I now need to go find someone else. Right? You have a tag; you have been earmarked. You’re part of the flock. You’re here. So, that’s good. But the fruit of a believer shows me, “Oh, they have the gospel; time to go.” Many people ask me why we live where we live. Isn’t it dangerous? Why would you go over there? Some have even said they’ve had their chance. There are 230 million people, over 98% unbelievers. And those who consider themselves believers are, by and large, just Christian by name. Someone gave them an identity card that said ‘Christian’ on it when they were born. That’s it. When you’re faced with that vast number, when you know who needs to hear the gospel, it should pierce your heart. Knowing who is a part of the church also tells us who needs Jesus. So here’s a key question for you, attached to the main question: As baptized believers, are we acting as a unified community? Are we acting as the Church? Do we understand our identity? Because we can’t move forward in being the Church and doing what the Church does until we understand that identity. Do we grasp that identity? The second question that we approach this passage with is, what did the earliest community of believers do? What did the first church do? In verse 42, it says they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They were a Christ-centered community. They prioritized the Word of God. What were the apostles teaching? They weren’t instructing them to play Yahtzee. The Great Commission says, “Teach them to obey all that I’ve commanded you.” They were teaching them what Christ had taught, what Christ had imparted.
They were teaching them the gospel. So they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. That means it’s a priority of God’s Word. Quick question, Church: Are we as a church prioritizing God’s word, or are we prioritizing our churchy things? Now, let me preface today for you, OK? We’re going to have a lot of little hard questions like that. I’m not knocking anything down. The building’s great, the ministries are good, the programs can be good. OK, those things are great, but I’m elevating something. I’m not tearing anything down. I’m elevating something: elevating Christ and a Christ-centered Church. So, this priority of God’s Word is more important than saving a program. This priority of God’s Word is more important than the building itself. If it came down to God’s Word or the building, give me God’s Word. The building can go. OK, as we’ll see further as we read this passage. So, we see they were a Christ-centered community. In verse 42, devoted to the apostles’ teaching. In that same verse, it says they were committed to fellowship and the breaking of bread together. It was a true community. In this verse, we see that “koinonia,” that Greek term for that community where they held everything in common. And when it says that they came together to fellowship, it showed a commitment to each other, to each other’s livelihoods, to each other’s lives. And the breaking of bread part in this particular verse is not pointing towards necessarily the Lord’s Supper, but more so towards their fellowship and interacting together. It takes time to set up a meal and have a meal together, right? It means an investment in each other, the breaking of bread together. Now, it is said that they would still, at the same time, remember Christ’s bodily sacrifice and His blood spilled. We see this addressed in 1 Corinthians, where some were coming to that table with the wrong heart, right? But here, we see this fellowship, this community; they were a committed fellowship together. The third thing we see them doing is they were devoted to praying together because in verse 42, that’s what it ends with: “and to the prayers.” Again, that continued devotion to praying together. This was a Christ-centered togetherness in prayer. The fourth thing we see is that they were in awe, or a fear came over them. Verse 43: “Then fear came over everyone, and many signs and wonders were being performed through the apostles,” meaning they were in awe of what God was doing. They were attentive to God’s work. Now, I’ve been in those chairs before, so the first thing that comes to mind would be like, “Yeah, but I don’t see anyone doing any big signs and wonders right now. No apostles.” It’s a little different, right? Sure, it is a little different when you have the apostles healing people and there are many signs and wonders. You’re right. They also didn’t have this. They also didn’t have the church history that we have to look back on and think: How did God’s word survive? How did the Dead Sea Scrolls survive? How did the church expand all the way to Asia? How are we sitting here as Gentiles, given the same gospel as Jews, and came to have faith in Jesus Christ? We too can be attentive and in awe of what God has done and is doing. But I’ll tell you this, what they didn’t do is sit complacent. Right. They were in awe and attentive to God’s word. They had a Christ-centered unity, Christ-centered prayer, and a Christ-centered unity will produce Christ- and Holy Spirit-attentive disciples.
That’s what it will produce. So I’m only saying this right here, drawing this point out for us to ask the question: Do I even know what God’s doing around me? Am I attentive at all to even stop and look? Satan loves it when we don’t look, right? And when we think everything is in our own power, when we think everything will always be the same. He loves that tunnel vision state. So, #5 that they did: We see in verse 44 that they were unified together. Again, another unity. OK, one would be hard-pressed to read this passage and look at them as separate individuals. So again, we see a unity, holding everything in common. They were one in Christ. This was continual. And we see this urgency to remain unified even written in 1 Corinthians 1, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12. It talks about the body, but we also see in Galatians 3:28 where it mentions there’s no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free. There’s diversity in the body, but there’s unity. You can’t be a body if you’re not unified, right? So we’re all different people, from different backgrounds, different things. It’s the reason I can go to the country that I live in, walk into a church, and be called a Brother in Christ. I haven’t seen them before, but I can be called that because there’s unity in this body. There’s the overall shape, but even in our local church, how we serve, how we interact together, how we fellowship—there’s unity in that, holding all things together. Because we also see in verse 45, they prioritized each other’s needs. Holding everything in common, when you’re unified, you’re going to see when someone is slipping, when someone needs help, when someone needs food. And that’s what they did: they came together out of Christ-like love for each other. And this was before even 1 Corinthians, Romans, or any other epistles were written. They were already doing this in Christ.
So then, number seven: We saw each other’s needs in verse 45, and in verse 46—this is the big one—every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex and broke bread from house to house. So that’s just the first part of verse 46 there. But we see that they were committed to meeting together. It was more than just fellowship; they also came together to worship. They also came together to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Now, let’s talk a minute. OK? Let’s not wear our emotions on our sleeves here for too long. Let’s be sensitive to this. Let’s talk about church and church attendance a little bit. OK? Now I’ll tell you this, I don’t really have a dog in the fight because I was living overseas during COVID. But we do have to ask the question: Why is it important for us to meet face-to-face? That’s a serious question, and I’ll tell you it’s not just because of the lockdowns during COVID.
It’s also because there are times when I’m encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ to meet together face-to-face in a country where they could easily be killed. So, if meeting together face-to-face is not a priority, am I in sin for that? That’s a big question, right? I personally believe that the pattern of scripture shows an importance of God’s people being God’s people together in togetherness, even in presence, physically, as much as they can, from beginning to end, in good times and bad. We see from the Old Testament to the very end, as God’s people were enslaved together. God’s people went through hard times together, even as they were a diaspora away from Jerusalem. They did as much as they could to gather together, tried to gather together even as a diaspora in the early church. As they continued after these chapters that we’re reading right now and faced some of the harshest persecution ever laid down on anyone, they did that together. That togetherness and that face-to-face was prioritized in scripture. And we can go through the big ‘what ifs’, right? We can say, “But what if you have a guy and he’s in a Siberian prison, right? And let’s just say he happens to get a phone and he can get on WhatsApp, so we can include him as part of our church, right?” Sure. OK. I don’t know how many Siberian prison mates you know that have phones and WhatsApp. Yeah, sure. Like, I’m not talking about the ‘what ifs’, we’re talking about what is prioritized. What is the normative pattern in scripture? And the priority and normative pattern in scripture is coming together, not forsaking that meeting. And what backs this up even more is Hebrews chapter 10. I’m going to go there for a minute, and if you guys are getting the sense this is a little bit of a theological soapbox, it’s OK. You guys will be like, “Oh, thank God, Kevin’s coming back here in a minute.” Because that question about the persecuted and gathering together weighs heavily on me. Right, so. But Hebrews 10:25 says the author is emphasizing not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. A face-to-face meeting is ideal for us to be that community, to encourage each other, and wait on the Lord. The Lord will return, holding each other accountable, encouraging one another in Christ. The author of Hebrews was not unfamiliar with persecution. In the previous chapters, they write about persecuted believers and their faithfulness and steadfastness through it, but still found it important to write about gathering together habitually for worship.
That should be significant to us. And we see in Acts Chapter 2 that’s exactly what they started out doing. That was the first pattern: to gather together. They were meeting together consistently. They remained joyful and humble as they were fellowshipping together, having favor with all people. Verses 46 and 47 show a good testimony, which I believe also partly attracted people to their fold. Right? Partly their good testimony, and that humility and joy in Christ, positively helped attract people to the gospel message. They praised God in verse 47; you can’t praise God unless you know your identity is in Christ. OK, so they praised God. And then, lastly, in verse 47, we see that they presumably shared the gospel because the Lord was adding to them every day those who were being saved. And as we’re going to see through the book of Acts, it’s highly unlikely that just the 12 apostles and Paul did all the work. The early Christians and the early church were very much concerned with spreading the gospel and spreading God’s Kingdom. So when did believers gather? We see in verse 46 that they came together daily. This is not to initiate an argument about whether or not we should have daily church services. It just points to that consistency of coming together, the priority that it had in their lives. Where did they gather? Believers gathered in temple complexes as well as went from house to house. We see multiple house churches starting, as mentioned in Colossians 4 and Romans 16. And finally, we see evidence of churches starting in houses, and this wasn’t a brand-new thing. Actually, house synagogues were something that were going on long before the house church came into existence. Because of the Jewish diaspora that were outside of Jerusalem, they wanted a place to meet, so it was not uncommon for them to have a synagogue in a household. A household would often be larger and have a bigger courtyard, and it would be a place that could fit enough people to meet. And so, I’m not saying let’s abandon this building. God, thank you for this building. But that just points right back to the priority of Scripture. God, help us to prioritize being your people, the faithful church, over the protection of this building. Help us to be Christ-centered more than protecting this building. Because where I serve and where I work, I have been told dozens of times, “Oh, but we don’t have a building, so we’re not a church.” What a travesty, right? Meeting places aren’t about whether we should meet in a house or have a building. It’s about whether our priority is Christ and God’s word. If it is, “Lord, thank you for this building. Let’s use it for your glory.” If it goes away, whose house are we going to? You, right? I don’t have one. So why is it important for us to observe and focus on the simplicity? Because, guys, this is not hard stuff, right? Like, my 6-year-old can read verses 37 through 47 and say, “Oh yeah, this is what they were doing,” and list it out. It’s the easiest sermon prep ever. But why is it important to look at this simplicity? Why is it important to see what they were focusing on? How does it impact our faithfulness as the Church? How does the birth of the early Church affect how we faithfully are the Church? Well, I’m going to give you some questions to consider here as we’re wrapping up. And I want us to ask ourselves these questions and meditate on them as we go into prayer and worship, OK? Can you do that with me?
You have to be honest with yourself. OK, the first question is: As baptized believers, are we acting as a unified community? Are we acting like the church? We see this unity in Acts Chapter 2 that’s unparalleled. They were one. This is what Christ prayed for. In John 17, He prayed for this. Absolutely. It’s being lived out. Are we, as baptized believers, acting as a unified community? Two, a very short question: Can we define the church? Can we explain that to an unbeliever? Do we know the scriptures well enough? Do we spend enough time caring about whether or not we can define the church? Third, is our church living as a Christ-centered community in recognition of what He has done and what He’s doing? Right. Is our church living as a Christ-centered community in acknowledgment of what God has done and what God is doing? If we don’t feel like we see what God is doing, we need to ask ourselves, have I closed my eyes to it? Am I just putting my head down, doing my work, doing my due diligence, and just going to church? Right, the last question: Are we idolizing the building, the programs, or the church-related activities over Christ and His work? So, if you’re going to write a question down, this is probably the one that I would hope you’d note. Let’s read it together. Well, I’ll read it. You just sit there. OK, but we’ll go through it together, alright? Am I idolizing the building, the program, the ministry, or church-related activities over Christ and His word? You can be a good Christian, going to church week in, week out. You can even be leading out in the ministry. You could even be leading out in the program. And that thing becomes the idol over Christ and God’s word. Right. We could care so much about this building and property that we forget about the personal impact that we need to be making on the community. Gospel-centered impact, right? I’ve been guilty of it. Everyone’s been guilty of it. That’s the question: Are we idolizing the building, the programs, or the church-related activities over Christ and His work?
Now, as the rest of the worship team is coming up, I want us to take some time in prayer, OK? I’m going to pray for all of us right now, that God would just use His word. Remember this next step is in the worship guide. In it, you’ll find Acts 4:31, a verse about them praying for boldness, right? And we also commit to reading Acts during the month of September. There are a couple of other things there, but don’t let these words just fall on deaf or complacent ears. Don’t quench the Spirit or what He’s trying to do in your life. So, as I pray, just think about those questions that I’ve just posed. And then we’re going to continue worshipping God and close out our time together. But join me in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we’re here because you exist, not just because you made us, but because we are the Church, Lord, and we have faith in you. We have faith in what you’ve done, what you’re doing. We have faith that you can lead us as a church. We pray that we are faithful as a church together. Lord, we pray that we consistently prioritize your word. We pray that everything we do, everything we think about, is centered around you, even when it comes to our programs and what we value here in this building, God. I pray that you convict us deeply, like you did those in this passage, Lord, that we might be changed even further to grow and mature in you. And Lord, I pray that you use this word, through your Holy Spirit, to impact how we view those lost around us. God, grant us the grace to obey well and be faithful as a church together this week and today. Lord, we pray earnestly in the powerful name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.