Sermon series: God's New Covenant People
Connection to unit theme
Acts 2 shows us how the Holy Spirit miraculously reversed the curse of Babel (Gen. 11) and created a new community through the gospel. The picture we see of this community is a wonderful reminder of what the church can be.
At the height of the Cold War, Billy Graham visited Russia to meet with their political and religious leaders. Many conservatives in the US criticized him for not taking a more prophetic role. One accused him of setting the church back 50 years. Graham responded, "I am deeply ashamed. I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years" (Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?, 264).
We must not glamorize the early church. Many problems beset them! Being Christian does not mean nostalgically looking back to a glory day. We should, however, take frequent glances back at how the early church related to God, one other, and the world. We find a beautiful picture of how the church, with all its imperfections, can be a community like no other. Let's consider three postures of the early church: inward, upward, and outward.
I: The church had a healthy inward posture (vv. 42, 44-46)
Upon receiving baptism, these 3,000 new believers immediately began devoting themselves to one another. The gospel radically transformed how they viewed their possessions, their time, even their identity. They were new people (v.41), with a new devotion (v.42), and a new community (v.44). Their compassion, humility, joy, mercy, and devotion could only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the message of the resurrected Savior.
This picture of unity and compassion flies in the face of the radical individualism that often permeates the church. Many believers make a sharp distinction between their relationship with God and with the church. This passage does not give us that luxury. When God saves us, personal devotion to His community is not an option. Christians must have a healthy inward posture. Sanctification is a community project! God intended His people to look to one another for encouragement in the gospel (Col. 3:16-18), exhortation to endure (Heb. 3:12-13), and selflessly bearing the burdens others face (Gal. 6:2). We must constantly resist the "me" mentality in the body of Christ.
Application: What is your attitude toward the church? Are church attendance, financial giving, small group activity, and other kinds of involvement important to you? How can you be a blessing to your local congregation? Are your brothers and sisters in Christ a priority in your prayers and time?
II. The church had a healthy upward posture (vv. 42-43, 46-47)
This new community experienced God deeply. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (v.42). This no doubt included teaching on how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament (Lk. 24:27), and thus the story of Israel, through His life, death, and resurrection. They also experienced awe and wonder at God's work in the world (v.43), which led to frequent worship and celebration in the temple (vv. 46-47). Finally, we learn from the rest of Acts how much the church prayed, worshipped, and celebrated God's power and presence in their midst.
Churches should protect their posture toward God. A church may move through an entire year of sermons, services, and Bible studies and never really experience God. Peter says, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk" (1 Pet. 2:2). Many interpret Peter as saying something like "Long for the Word of God the way an infant longs for milk." Sermons on this text exhort Christians to increase their efforts in morning devotions and Bible study. But Peter says to long for Jesus, not simply the Bible. He is not saying, "Get in the Word." He is saying, "Crave Jesus the way an infant craves and needs milk!" The very next verse says, "if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (v.3). They have tasted Jesus, and Peter exhorts them to keep on tasting Him (Ps. 34). We cannot exhaust God. Therefore, we must pursue Him with all our might.
Application: What currently hinders your pursuit of God? How often does your small group pray together? In what ways can our church better move toward God? How might we protect our zeal for Him?
III. The church had a healthy outward posture (v. 47)
This new community not only moved toward God and each other well, they also moved toward the world. This text does not explicitly mention evangelism. However, it comes on the heels of Peter's sermon at Pentecost, and precedes the story of the church's expansion throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (1:8). Furthermore, verse 47 says they had favor with everyone and that God added to their number daily.
God saves people to send them out and engage non-Christians with the gospel. A great way to do this is to eat with non-Christians. This is how Jesus accomplished much of his mission. Tim Chester says that we eat some 21 meals a week. Having one with a non-believer should be a priority for us. Whatever we do, we must strive to help others know this Savior as we do.
Application: Do you have a burden for non-Christians? Who in your life does not believe the gospel? What will you do to share it with them?
The early church, though flawed, is a wonderful model for us. The way it emulated these postures is a challenge for all churches today. We starts by examining these areas, asking hard questions, and resting in the gospel to find strength and motivation to fulfill them. This is why Christ gave Himself up, to create a community like nothing the world has ever seen. May we be that community.