Where do you start? Long before you pick out pews and carpet samples, long before you worry about selling bonds to build a building or which song books you will sing out of. Where do you start to build a church? 50 years ago, some visionary families had a dream for a church in Glenwood Springs, but it wasn’t a dream of brick and mortar sitting on a plot of land – it was a dream of bringing people into a relationship with God and relationships with each other in the Roaring Fork valley.
But even that beginning wasn’t like the one we read about here in Acts 2. This isn’t just “a” beginning, it is “the” beginning. Before vs. 41 the church did not exist – it was future tense (“I will build my church”). Following vs. 41, the church which Jesus said he would build becomes a living reality. Vs. 41 is a pivotal verse in the Bible – signaling God’s plan for saving his people being fulfilled in the church.
It’s tragic, really – those folks who go around these days – pompously denigrating the church as organized religion (always with a sneer). And certainly, “church” hasn’t done itself any favors over the centuries. But those who say, “Jesus yes, the church no” have never read the NT. They’ve never opened the Bible and read Paul’s words in Eph. 5, where Paul tells husbands to love their wives and gives them the example – “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Or in Eph. 1, where Paul describes this plan of God before the creation of the world which is fulfilled in Christ and through his church – “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Or Jesus’ own words in Matt. 16, where Jesus confirmed Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Son of God – and then he announced, “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
The church was not some miscalculation in planning, a necessary evil, or some later creation by well intentioned but confused apostles who were trying to plug the gap. The church was at the very heart of God’s plan from the beginning. And vs. 41 is when the curtain opens and God reveals what he has been planning and preparing: “and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Let’s read these six verses that give us a snapshot of this newborn church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
We know certain things about this newborn church.
· It began with the baptism of 3000 members whose homes are spread all over the Mediterranean world and beyond (remember the list of countries earlier in ch.2).
· They don’t speak the same languages, they don’t have the same customs.
· Most of them are visitors to Jerusalem and so that means where to stay will be an issue.
· And don’t forget, those who are there on pilgrimage for Passover and Pentecost have come to the end of their money.
Suddenly, they are thrown into a brand new family –
· They have brothers and sisters in Christ –
· They are saved together by the grace of God in the blood of Christ –
· But they are babes in Christ –
· they need to be taught and nurtured and trained and grounded in the word –
· they need relationships and fellowship and experience in being a family.
So, where do you start? You start with the basics – teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. This is Church 101. You come up out of the water a babe in Christ, not a full grown, mature Christian. And just like we start taking care of those needs of our newborn babies immediately, the apostles didn’t send these 3000 new Christians home with a “good luck and best wishes” – they set about the task of getting them ready to be the church. They devoted themselves to certain things, not just that they were occasional activities but they were their core agenda. There was intentionality and dedication to what they were doing.
They started teaching them the basics of their new faith – about Jesus – his life, death, resurrection, coming again, his commission. These were people who honored the word of God and hungered for the word of God. And it was not merely to have an intellectual understanding – they were taught to live the word of God.
They devoted themselves to fellowship – we need to erase from our minds this picture of picnics, potlucks and superficial chit-chat. Fellowship was/is the serious business of developing relationships, getting involved in each other’s lives, taking care of each other’s needs. And they did have needs. Those visitors in Jerusalem were given places to stay and fed by those who lived there. Vs. 44 says “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Vs. 45 says they “sold their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” In coming chapters we’re going to see this fellowship and this caring for each other become the cornerstone of the reputation of the church. People are going to be drawn to this close-knit community and risk the dangers of joining them because they hunger for that kind of intimacy. A huge word in this paragraph is “together” – three times in these five verses - All the believers were together and had everything in common. // Every day they continued to meet together // They broke bread in their homes and ate together. This was not a random assortment of individuals, but a body who found their identity in their life together in Jesus Christ. They spent time together in the temple, in their homes, in each others’ lives.
And what’s amazing is that before that day they had nothing in common. They came from different countries, cultures, languages, customs. They didn’t know each other or have any reason to be together other than that they shared one thing in common, the most important thing – that they had been united by the blood of Jesus Christ. When they were baptized, all those differences and distinctions were torn down and replaced by that bond. We let almost anything separate and divide us – they didn’t let anything separate and divide them.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Whenever you see the phrase “breaking bread” in the NT, it is a reference to the Lord’s Supper. In the NT it wasn’t just a once a week ritual – it was a frequent, at first daily reenactment of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples – participating in this celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for their sin. It was done when they all assembled together, it was done in smaller groups in homes. Look at vs. 46 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” It is we who have redefined and ritualized and restricted the Lord’s Supper. We are the ones who have read our own practice back into the NT and said one time only, one way only. But we see the Lord’s Supper in a much larger and fuller context in Acts as this newborn church defines its identity in the body and blood of the Lord. As they ate a meal, someone would take a loaf of bread and break it – “The body of the Lord, broken for us” and pass it as each person was reminded of what Christ did for them. Then he would take a cup – “His blood of the covenant that was shed for our sin.” A frequent, powerful reminder of who they were and whose they were.
And they devoted themselves to prayer. If you see nothing else in the book of Acts, you need to see that the church began as a people of prayer. They recognized their absolute dependence on God, and on every page we see them in prayer expressing their needs, praising their God, thanking him for his goodness. Prayer is the heart and soul of this earliest church
I look at this earliest church in Acts and I see their devotion and dedication, their excitement and wonder over what God was doing, their personal involvement and participation in the life of the church. Their willingness to sacrifice and give everything for the sake of Jesus Christ.
And then I look at us. No more than 70% of our members will ever be here on any particular Sunday. 50% of our members never come to Bible class. We struggle each week to meet a budget that probably doesn’t even represent 3% of our combined giving potential. We don’t spend time together, we don’t need each other, we don’t know each other. And I don’t say this to criticize or to condemn, but to say we’re missing out on what God has given to us to experience in the church. We have settled for less than he wants to give us. He builds us a mansion and we live in a shack, he prepares a banquet and we get by on stale bread. We’ve settled, and we don’t even know what we’re missing out on.
We are a shadow of what God has called us to be. We talk about restoring the doctrine and the practices and the organization of the NT church. But I want to challenge us to restore the heart of the NT church. To reclaim the excitement and devotion that characterized the church we’ve read about this morning.
What would we look like if suddenly each one of us started taking seriously God’s call to be the church – his called and chosen people – whom he is preparing to send out into the world to do something great?
If we devoted ourselves
· to teaching and learning God’s word,
· to intimate fellowship and caring for needs
· to driving home our identity in the body and blood of the Lord as we take the Lord’s Supper together.
· to prayer – believing that God answers prayer – allowing God to work in our lives.
I would love for us to experience in just a little way the feeling of what God is capable of doing through people who are surrendered to him – who are sold out for Jesus – who are not only ready to die for him, but are willing to live for him.
He calls us to give 100% of ourselves. Jesus said the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” You might not be very good in math, but even I can tell you everyone of us has a long way to go before we’re giving everything to him.
Posted on Sun, March 21, 2010
by John Roberts