Reading from Acts 2: 41 - 47
Paul was making references to the Old Testament. This is so that Jews at the scene (who knew that the Old Testament was God's word to humanity, through the prophets) would be absolutely convinced that this Jesus was sent from God, and was vindicated, or proven, by God to be the Christ, the Messiah, The chosen One. Therefore, when they looked at Jesus and trust in His name, and looked at his death - they can say that the death of Christ is for "my sins and his resurrection have given me life", they can be sure that they can trust in God and not in another man. Peter was adamant to say that the death and resurrection of Christ happened amongst the Jews, and they were witnesses.
In verse 41, Luke wrote that "So to those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls". From this, we saw the amazing power of God, that when God enabled and helped the disciples, on the day of Pentecost, 120 disciples became 3000. That's an amazing jump! All because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
So what did the "infant" church looked like after this?
In the context of the book of Acts. It may seem that this book is a historical book, but you would notice that it is very selective. At times, the book would devote to a large chunk of a sermon, perhaps by Peter or by Paul, or what they did - but then, they would skip far and tell us about their missionary travels. Acts is not purely historical, but also theology. It aims to teach us truth about God, through history of what the apostles did, and what they taught. In Acts 1, the apostles were told by Jesus to wait until the promise and the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1: 7-8). So from this, we already know the theme and the main point of Acts - God through these acts of the apostles is teaching us on how He has begun and established the church. Thus, the book of Acts is not merely a historical book, but also theological as it tells us on how God operates back then, and how He does now.
So I will just go through a little about the descriptions about the early church and then from there, we can think of how it can apply to us.
So the first thing that we can see is that these early disciples, the early church, the "infant" church were devoted to various things. On the note on devotions, it doesn't say that they added these things in their already existing lives, but they were devoted to the things they now believed. They devoted to the apostles teachings, the breaking of bread, to the prayers - they came together and had everything in common. You can tell how instantly this changed their lives! To know Jesus Christ and to know him as Lord, to be baptised in his name and to receive the Holy Spirit changed their entire lives. They were now devoted to Christ, instead of saying 'they went about their business, 40 hours of the week, and then they came to church on Sundays. They were devoted completely to Christ in their lives.
And the first point that we look at is that they were devoted to the apostle's teaching. This is clear that they recognised the Divine authority that Christ had given to the apostles through the Holy Spirit. And while we read the bible, we recognise that it is the words of God. They were written down by men, carried along by the Holy Spirit, Peter says. God talked through the Holy Spirit the very words that God would have said. So when it says that they devoted themselves to the apostle's teachings, it's a very same thing to say that they devoted themselves to the teachings and the authority of God. For them, when they devoted themselves to the apostle's teachings, it wasn't just the mental knowledge - they didn't just try to learn as much as they could, understand it mentally, and leave it out of their lives. For them, it affected their lives. To be devoted to the apostle's teachings means to learn as much as they can, to absorb, and to them it also meant to live that out. And we see an amazing picture of the church when they did live out the apostle's teachings. And in fact, if you ever wondered 'what do the apostles teach about?' read some of the letters that Peter or Paul writes, it's what they would have taught about. When you read Colossians, or Ephesians, we read about Paul saying 'in Christ, there is now no racial divisions, no Jew, no Greek, no Barbarian, no Scythian, no slave, no free, but all is in Christ and one' (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). That's what the apostles were teaching to the early church - we can read it ourselves. We see how they lived that out in their lives and the amazing picture that result of that. For them to devote themselves to the apostle's teaching was to learn as much as they could, to question, and to grasp mentally, but also to live them out in their lives day to day.
We see also that they devoted themselves to the fellowship, and the breaking of bread and I'm going to link the two together. It specifically said in the passage that they met together day by day to worship, to praise God together, and they also broke bread together in their homes. So publicly, they were meeting together, worshipping God, as one group of believers. And in their private lives, they also shared life intimately, breaking bread together, like family! Publicly and privately, they were devoted to fellowship. This is through the power of the gospel, because we know from Jewish traditions, that the Jews do not associate with the gentiles. In fact, it was a sin in the eyes of the Jewish faith to eat with the gentiles as they were unclean, and if you ate with someone who ate with the gentile - you were unclean, you were sinning, and you have to sacrifice and confess to the Jewish leaders, because you weren't allowed to go to the temples. For them to open their homes and eat with the gentiles, that's the power of the gospel. As read in Ephesians, if Jesus has died for the Jews and the gentiles alike to bring them to God, they have to be equal in God's eyes, surely there's no division in any longer (Ephesians 3:6). The old Jewish laws of being sanctified, holy and set apart from everybody else, has now been filled in Jesus Christ. They lived out the gospel, the good news, that they were saved by including everybody - there's no racial barriers. Everyone in Jesus Christ is part of the family of God and the early church lived like it. To break bread with one another is incredibly intimate.
Not only that, but we see this amazing picture of them sharing everything together. It wasn't as though the early Christians thought that 'money was evil, possessions are bad let's sell everything in order to live like monks!' - it wasn't like that. They gave, as the bible says, they gave as there were need. So when they saw there was a need, one would say "I could sell my house and give some there" or "I can help you by selling off some of my farm". They were wise in helping each other, but also they were self-sacrificial - they gave as there were need. They didn't think 'this is what God have given me, therefore you can't touch it', they were so open and generous to one another. This was reflective of how Jesus was - "who, though, he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking a form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2: 6-7), and came down to earth and died for them. If Jesus have done that for the early church, surely they would do that to other people. They lived out the gospel in their lives, self sacrificial living for the good of others.
Lastly, they were devoted to the prayers and praying together. Of course, after Pentecost, Peter would be teaching them and saying "that sermon I gave, came from the Spirit, not from me". All of them would have utter dependence on God and the power of the Holy Spirit. All of them would be extremely aware of the Spirit's presence. All felt this feeling of wonder, and signs and wonders were being done through the apostles. This was to show that the Spirit was amongst them. God was there and they all knew it. Everyone felt awe and wonder that God was here with us. They felt the presence of the Spirit. So in result, they prayed. How else would you respond of God being with you, but to pray and talk to God. One of the things that they said and did the most was to pray and worship. They gave thanks to God, and delighted in God on how God had given them new life. They also praised God for the new family that He has given. Though they did this publicly, no doubt that they would also do this in their homes, breaking the bread as they remembered the Lord's supper and gave thanks. They also remembered the sacrifice of Christ. Individually they also prayed, feeling the presence of God whilst you praise Him saying "how wonderful is this!". If you wonder what they prayed about, you can find out in the Epistles, or the letters of the apostles. Paul would ask the church to pray for him in order to preach the gospels, advance of the gospel, defence of the church. They were praying together for the church, and the good of the others (Ephesians 6: 19-20; Colossians 4: 3 & 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).
The amazing summary of all these things, is in verse 47 "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved". This amazing picture of the church of being devoted to one another, and being devoted to the gospel, is God working in and through them, to add to them day by day. We work through this description to the "infant" church and think "that's amazing!"
So how can we apply this to our lives? Does it have the same relevance to us? Do we expect our church to be like this?
Here are some of the things that we can apply ourselves:
Firstly, we have to know that this incredible picture of the church came about only because everyone of them was saved personally through the gospel. Each of them knew God personally and each of them collectively know God personally as a group. Because everyone of them knew God, they can give sacrificially and be devoted to the church. For us, we have to be sure that personally we know God. How can we come to church expecting to love other people, if we don't know the love God has for ourselves. For someone to say "give up your life for you brother", we would find it impossible unless we knew that Jesus gave himself for us. He gave up his life so that I may have life, and if that is the case, then I can easily give up my comforts, my time and money for my brother and sister. Everyone of the was changed personally through the power of the gospel. As we reflect in our own lives, for them it was conscious choice - they knew the power of the gospel and they were changed and saved, and made a choice to devote themselves to the gospel. They could have stayed at home, they don't have to meet at the temple. They had a choice to say "I believe in Jesus's name, and be baptised in His name; I received the Holy Spirit, now I can sit at home and wait for Jesus to come back. They didn't! They gave things, and have things in common and prayed together. For us, you may have received the gospel, but will you devote yourself in your lives to the apostle's teachings, to the Word of God, to praying together, to fellowship and be with one another with other believers. Are we willing to devote ourselves to Jesus Christ, to obey Him and live out the gospel. For them it wasn't a hobby or a cherry on top of their white picket fence, and their awesome families and their cars. For them, Jesus was everything and to love and glorify Him was everything. To us we are to do the same thing and be devoted to Christ, if we believe Him as our Saviour and Lord. When they did, we see the unmistakable joy that is present amongst them. To meet together everyday, to praise Him and have favour with all the people, you can almost imagine the happiness and joy that was pervasive through the church. Everyone of them, when they received food, they received food gladness and joy - an incredible sense of forgiveness, knowing that they knew that they have a new family, knowing that God was with them, close to them, caring them. That results in an amazing amount of joy within the church. That applies the same to us - if we devote ourselves to the church, to Christ, to each other, loving one another, that joy would be pervasive through our fellowship. As we give thanks to God for saving us. That joy was unmistakable for them and it could be for us, too! Christians should be marked by joy, not a casual happiness that comes and go like the wind, but a joy that is deep rooted - that doesn't disappear when hardships come, knowing God is Sovereign and God has a plan for you. "I am immortal until God's work for me to do is done. The Lord reigns." (Henry Martyn). What an encouragement to love each other self-sacrificially. To suffer for Christ's sake if needs be, because until I have completed the purposes of God, I am immortal. What an amazing quote!
When the scripture said "The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved", in fact, what they are doing what Christ said "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). Seek first to glorify the Father, seek first to proclaim the gospel, seek first to honour Jesus Christ in your life and everything else will be added to you. In fact Peter (being the practical man that he was) asked to Jesus “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19: 27) and Jesus says "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19: 29). For the early church, they devoted themselves to God and each other, and did they get added a hundredfold to their numbers. They sought first the kingdom of God and all was added to them day by day.
As a church plant, we may feel more in common as the early church - weak in the task before them, having to witness to the ends of the earth. For us we may feel the same, weak as we proclaim the gospel to people that don't want to hear us. For the early church, they were confident in the early church as they have witnessed it in their own lives - they knew what God could do and what God has called them to do, and therefore they were committed to all the things that God has asked for them. For us as a church plant, we may toil or we may put the most amazing event and evangelise to the community, God can add thousands to our numbers. But if God doesn't speak to them, not one will believe in Jesus Christ. If we keep being faithful to them and we might have 10 people being saved a year and God can use them to save millions over time. Don't ever distrust or don't ever think that God can't do something through ordinary things. When we meet together, to love one another and share the Gospel, it seems so ordinary! But through His faithfulness, God can use that to bring about His kingdom. The early church wasn't necessarily doing things out of the ordinary, they weren't all prophesying, speaking in tongues or healing the sick, they just met and loved one another, and they were committed to apostles' teachings and God together, and God added to them day by day. That's the encouragement to us -if we are committed and faithful, God will do the rest.
When we meet together as a church, what is the goal of meeting together?
The goal for us, the meet as a church, is not only so that we may have fellowship or support. We don't come to church only to find community or find someone to talk to, but to be witnesses. In Acts 1: 8 Jesus says "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." The end goal for us is to be witnesses to everyone. What a difference is makes for a person - that they can give self-sacrificially to others for the good others - that's an incredible witness that we have for each other. Also, we are to be a bold witness to the gospel - Jesus Christ risen for the salvation to all who wold believe. We as a church, we cannot forget about the Great Commission. When we evangelise to the community, to our friends or family, we are doing the Great Commission. So let's not forget about our mission - not merely just feel comfortable in our little group, but be witnesses to the community. At the same time, we can't neglect the church and just do missions. If everyone in the early church do this, there wouldn't be a church for the Lord to add people to! We get together for the Great Commission and be witnesses to everybody we come in contact with.
I want us, as we took a look at the passage to be encouraged of the power of the gospel, that breaks down these racial barriers, selfishness that is so prevalent in the human heart. It creates this amazing community that are willing to give up self-sacrificially for the good of others, added together by God, to be devoted to God in everything and to share and to have everything in common. All of this is to bring the gospel and salvation to the rest of mankind. The church was devoted to the Apostle's teachings, the fellowship and prayer, all of these ordinary things, and the Lord added to them day by day. We as a church plant, if we are committed to God, each other, and living the gospel everyday in our lives, praying to God "will you bring the gospel to community here in New Lynn", the Lord will add to us by number. This promise stands. By the promise of the Holy Spirit, we would be witnesses. Let us be encouraged with this promise