HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
EPISTLE LESSON Acts 2:42-47
MESSAGE: “This Thing Called Church”
If you are a guest this morning, we’re glad you’ve joined us on National Back to Church Sunday. I have good news for you! Sociologist’s studies over the past twenty years show that those who attend church regularly
So you couldn’t have picked a better place to be this morning.
Acts 2 is the story of the very first church, which started in Jerusalem in 33 AD. Two thousand years ago, a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus burst on the scene with a mission that has changed the world. Everywhere He went Jesus touched the hearts and minds and lives of people by telling stories, reaching out with compassion and painting verbal pictures of life and love, of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
His teachings so riveted audiences that they went without food to hear Him tell about the God who knew and loved them personally. He welcomed everybody – rich and poor, children, young people and the elderly, the blind, the lame, the sick and the healthy, women and men, friends and strangers, the popular and the outcast. What Jesus envisioned was so valuable that He encouraged children to come to it, the poor in spirit to seek it, and the rich to be willing to let go of everything they owned to enter into it. “The Good News of the Kingdom must be proclaimed,” He said. People would walk for miles to hear Him speak about it.
For three years, Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and then, to the shock and dismay of every hope-filled follower, He was mocked, beaten, and put to death. His disciples huddled in fear and depression. They had envisioned Jesus delivering Israel from Roman oppression and rule, and establishing a political kingdom on this earth with Him as the King. Now with His death, all hope seemed lost.
But three days later Jesus rose overcoming the power of sin and death. He opened their minds to see that the kingdom He had been teaching about for three years was not a political kingdom, but a far greater one, a spiritual kingdom—the rule of God in people’s hearts.
His story was powerful and compelling. People from everywhere were drawn to it. And they called this new movement “The Church” – in Greek, ekklesia – those who are called out. This thing called “church” was like nothing anyone had ever experienced before. Those who came to hear about Jesus met together in their homes, sharing with one another what they had seen and heard, what they remembered of his teachings. In the very first church, described in our lesson from Acts, the people devoted themselves to teaching, to fellowship, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to praying for one another. The atmosphere of welcome and excitement was so electric that a sense of awe and wonder was with them every time they met.
The Bible records that miracles took place in that church. One of the miracles was that people had such heartfelt love for one another that they willingly sold their possessions and goods, giving to anyone in the group who had a need. This new thing called “Church” was so compelling that the Bible says the people in the church met together every day—sometimes they would go to the Temple for public worship. Most times they met in homes for more intimate friendship.
Members of the church ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They praised God for letting them be part of this amazing group. That early church was so irresistible—so contagious—that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They became part of God’s family that Jesus had preached about, prayed about, and died for on Good Friday.
Friends, what we read about in Acts 2 is how God envisions the Church, not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world, including right here in Plainfield Township. As we talk about the direction of this church almost 2000 years later, we would do well to take a good look at the early church.
I had occasion last week to talk with our representative from Michigan Office solutions. They’re the company that leases and takes care of the equipment we use to print stuff. He reminded me of the fact that when you make a copy of something, it’s not as clear and sharp as the original. Then you make a copy of the copy, and the second copy is not as sharp as the first copy. Each successive copy is just a little less. These days, technology has improved to the point that we don’t really notice much deterioration. But there are times when it is a good idea to go back and take a good look at the original.
How does a church become like that original church in Acts 2? That church pursued five purposes that when implemented can make any church compelling, powerful and influential. So listen carefully, because this is what God wants NKPC to be like, too. And it can happen starting today – if we commit to pursuing the priorities the first church did. Are you ready for this?
1. They committed to authentic community. In the Jerusalem church people got real. They owned their mistakes, admitted who they were, took off their masks and asked and extended forgiveness. Community can be powerful because God Himself designed us to be in relationship with others. Most of us want just once in our life to be in a group where we are known and loved and served and celebrated just for who we are.
If you are taking notes, write this down: The church is meant to be a place where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be. How did they do that? The text says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. Consider a few examples, and you’ll see the power of devotion. John F. Kennedy devoted our nation to putting a man on the moon and, as a result, changed our perception of what was possible.
On a personal level, a few years ago Michael Phelps devoted himself to the sport of swimming and, as a result, earned a record number of Olympic medals. Bill Gates devoted himself to Microsoft and earned enough money to cure several worldwide diseases. Billy Graham’s devotion to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led him to travel to almost every country in the world, something he’s done for more than fifty-five years.
Put a church full of people together who are devoted to the well-being of each and every one and to the gospel of Jesus Christ and you’ll have an organization that can change our community, and perhaps our nation and world.
The Church, energized by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a relational commitment to one another, has a power to change lives like nothing else on earth. The proof is found in numbers. Community is such a strong force that today more than two billion people worldwide are part of this thing called “The Church.” Here people can feel loved and accepted in ways they had only previously hoped for.
The second compelling purpose that the very first church engaged in, was:
2. They gave God wholehearted worship.
My favorite theology professor in seminary used to say, “If people can stand for a touchdown at a football game, why shouldn’t they stand for a baptism?” Worship is a lot like our response to a touchdown. It’s about giving recognition and appreciation. One of the things that made the first church so attractive was its members all possessed a clear understanding that it was God who had made them, given them breath, saved them, and provided for their daily needs. So they assembled every week and they worshiped God.
The text says, “They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” When the Lord’s Supper was served, they didn’t take it for granted. When someone needed prayer, brothers and sisters laid hands on them and prayed fervently for God to come through. When God answered their prayers, they gave Him full credit. The church is where God gets the glory He deserves.
3. They took their spiritual growth seriously. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Every time one of their teachers was teaching, they were dialed in. Why? Because in that church, they believed that personal spiritual growth was important. Jesus had touched them, and they wanted to become as much like Him as possible. Lots of people take their golf game, their bank account, or their career seriously. Yet, the most important thing—our relationship with God—can often be neglected if we’re not intentional about it. Ultimately, giving yourself to spiritual growth brings the greatest payoff.
Here is a good point to put into your notes: The church is where you can become the best you you can be. Look at the person next to you for a minute. How many of you think they could get better? (Raise your hand.) Okay, now how many of you think you could get better? (Raise your hand.) None of us have arrived. We all need to grow, don’t we? That’s why we have Sunday school even for adults and Bible Study. God made the Church: so you could be with God and His people and learn about God and God’s ways.
4. They invested in positive priorities.
They invested their time, talents, and treasures in what really mattered.
In the Acts 2 church, because they had a sense of community and a sense of gratitude to God and a desire to become more like Jesus, the text says, “All the believers had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” They had control of their finances so that when a need arose, they not only could meet it, they got excited about meeting it. When other members of the church were in need they sold a piece of property or tapped into their savings. They lived in the anticipation that Jesus could return at anytime, so they let go of their stuff and reached out to help others and share the Good News with others. They invested in positive and eternal priorities – in other words: People.
The church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity.
The fifth compelling purpose of the first church is explained at the very end of our main passage. Acts 2:47 says that as a result of all the things going on, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
5. They invited others to join them. After all, who wouldn’t want to be part of something where people were genuine and authentic, where God got the credit, and people were becoming more and more kind and generous? Inviting people to that church was easy because the people loved their church. They loved their church because they loved each other and treated each other as they would like to be treated.
Here’s the final thing to write down: The church is where people get adopted into God’s family.
This first church lived in the reality that they were entrusted with the message of the Gospel—the Good News that had the power to change people’s hearts. They had the privilege of telling people God loved them, that Jesus died for them, and they could have a relationship with Him. Second Corinthians 5:19 puts it this way: “… God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That was their message then, and it is ours today.
The reason we participated in Back to Church Sunday was because we want our church to be like that church. And we’re committed to working to become like it: An authentic community of faith that worships God wholeheartedly, is growing spiritually, is investing in positive and eternal priorities, and is inviting our family, friends, neighbors, community, and the world to become part of God’s family!
Let us pray together: Lord Jesus, some of us have invited you into our lives before, and for some of us today is the first time. We come to you, learning to acknowledge that we all sin and are in need of a Savior. We are learning to trust you to be our Lord and are filled with awe and gratitude to know that God loves each and every one of us. Help us to forgive and receive forgiveness for past transgressions and to live for you from today forward. In your name we pray. Amen.