The In-Between Years - Part 1
Series: The In-Between Years
April 26, 2020
The In-Between Years - Part 1
We are just one message in to a brand new series called The In-Between Years: A Look at the Church in the Book of Acts. It’s actually a spin-off of the God’s End Game series I just finished.
With last week’s introduction, we covered at the first verse…
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1 (ESV)
Luke refers back to his first book, the Gospel of Luke. Luke and Acts are a two volume set written by the good doctor.
There are eighteen words in that first verse, but we honed in on six:
Jesus began to do and teach.
Six simple words sum up perfectly the life of Jesus, the man who did all things well. He went about doing things like healing and feeding people and teaching things like repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.
We also saw how important the word began was here and how to do and teach are in the present tense.
It’s as if he’s still doing and teaching. We learned Jesus is still with us by the Spirit who lives in us, doing and teaching through us, so much so that he predicted we would do greater things for God’s kingdom than him is some ways. What Jesus began to do and teach is ongoing through His followers, us, today.
Those six words intentionally leave everything open ended. They require us as Christ-followers to be active and present in the here and now, not just believe in Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die.
Christians, known collectively as the church, were never intended to just sit around waiting for our Savior to come back. We were given a job, a vocation, individually as Christ followers and as whole, and it’s more than just sharing our faith.
That’s what this series is about, the church, the part of God’s Plan that fills the years between Jesus’ first coming and second. The book of Acts records the birth of the church, what it was like, what it did. And that speaks to us as the church today.
Before we proceed any further in Acts, we’re going to take a trip back to the Gospel of Matthew where encounter the first mention of the church in all the Bible.
Let me set this up. Jesus is going around doing things and teaching things with his twelve disciples, the very disciples — minus one — who become the apostles in the book of Acts. A good teacher teaches as much by asking questions as answering them. Jesus asks a major question as they near the district of Caesarea Philippi…
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13 (ESV)
Jesus liked to refer to himself as the Son of Man. That can allude to his humanity, but it’s also a title connecting to a text in Daniel 7 where one “like the son of man” comes before the Ancient of Days (God) and is given an everlasting kingdom. We don’t have time to go into that today, but just know it’s a messianic title that ties into the end of God’s End Game.
So Jesus asks…
Who do the people say I, the Son Man, am?
14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Matthew 16:14 (ESV)
Some thought He was John the Baptist come back from the dead because He wasn’t afraid of the Pharisees or Sadducees and he preached a message of repentance. Others thought He was Elijah the OT prophet because of the great miracles He performed. And others thought He was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, because He wept over the sins of Jerusalem.
Jesus pressed further, though, asking who they thought, he was…
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15 (ESV)
It’s no surprise Peter answers. Bless his heart, he was bad about speaking up or jumping to the front of the line and getting into trouble. But not this time…
16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 (ESV)
Peter confessed Jesus not as John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah come back from the dead, but the Messiah (the Christ). He agreed with Jesus’s reference to himself as the Son of Man (AKA a messianic figure), but Peter added something else.
You are the Christ (messiah) AND “the Son of the living God.” That’s not the first we’ve heard of Jesus being called God’s Son. Jesus often referred to himself as that way, such as in…
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” John 5:25 (ESV)
Jesus calling himself the Son of God and Peter confessing him as the same was wildly controversial, blasphemous even. Just look at what Jesus said to the Jews about himself and how they responded in John 15…
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:17–18 (ESV)
Tim Keller explains why they went bonkers…
Jesus doesn’t just say, “I’m a son of God.” There’s sense of which anyone with a loving relationship with God is a son of God. But Jesus says, “I am the Son,” all through [the Gospels]. “I am the Son.”
Now the Jewish leaders knew what he was talking about because in [Jewish culture], the eldest son and the only son always received all of the father’s wealth, all of the father’s status, all of the father’s position, all of it, the law of primogenitor. It wasn’t divided up, which meant that the only son or the eldest son was completely and totally equal with the father.
It’s one thing for Jesus to say that about himself, but Peter, a Jew, was confessing Jesus as being equal with God! Something that could get a fellow killed. It was blasphemy for anyone to make a man equal with God.
Here’s where it ties in with our series on the church. Back to our Matthew text and Peter’s confession…
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:17–18 (ESV)
There we have the first mention of the church in all of Scripture. More on that in a minute. Jesus reveals a number of things here. We don’t have time to look at them all. But here are three…
1. Peter was blessed for confessing that. In other words, he’s right.
2. Peter’s spot-on confession had nothing to do with his brilliance. It was wholly from God. He couldn’t have figured out who Jesus really was unless God helped him.
3. He would actually build his church on Peter the person (which is what the book of Acts is about).
Here’s an example of something I’ve mentioned a number of times. Study God’s Word long enough and hard enough and you’ll eventually, over time, change how you interpret certain texts. If you don’t you’re not really studying it.
For many years I thought what Jesus said here meant he’d build his church on the confession of Peter and not the person of Peter. In other words, confessing Jesus as God’s son was the foundation of the church.
That interpretation has been around since the reformation or so and probably had something to do with the fact that our Catholic friends use this very text as justification for having a pope and all. How does it make sense for the church to be built on people anyway? It must mean the church’s foundation is confessing Jesus as God’s one and only Son.
But Greek scholars have been trying to tell us there’s a strong case for it meaning Jesus would build his church on the person of Peter and ultimately the other Apostles. There’s a word play here. Peter’s birth name is Simon but here Jesus gives him new name, Peter. Peter means rock. As if Peter and the other apostles would be the rock the coming church would be built on.
You know what made me change my mind? How the New Jerusalem is described in Revelation 21…
14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Revelation 21:14 (ESV)
The role Peter and the other Apostles played in the formation of the early church as recorded in Acts was so critical, God inscribes their names on the Holy City’s very foundations, something we’ll see for all eternity!
If this is right, then we all should be greatly encouraged. If Jesus can build his church on a guy like Peter, then there’s hope for us all!
Enough of that. Let’s finish out today by looking at the word in this text that’s most important for our study: on this rock I will build my CHURCH. This is the first time we see church in all the Bible.
It comes from the Greek word ekklesia.
Ekklesia is found only once more in the Gospels (Matthew 18:17) but found 112 more times in the rest of the NT. It means “the called out ones” and originally referred to those called out to form an assembly or public gathering. Jesus and the NT writers employed it to mean those called out of the world and into fellowship with the Father.
So it refers to people who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his Son. They have God’s Spirit living within them. It’s Christians.
Quick, what picture comes to mind when I say, “church.” For most of us, it’s a building. We associate church with the building we call church. If you don’t think so, look at the web site home page photos of lots of churches.
That idea has been coded into our 21st Century Western mindset. Did you know the church didn’t start meeting in dedicated buildings for about 250 years. Before that they met in homes.
Ever heard of the movie Soylent Green? It came out in 1973 and starred Charleton Heston. It was about a NYC of the future where food was scarce. The government fed the starving masses with something called Soylent Green. Heston gives one of the most famous movie lines ever when he screams his startling discovery: “Soylent Green is people!”
Folks, the church is people! NOT a building.
The building, and all the stuff that goes with it, is just an added blessing. We are not together in a building right now, but we are just much the local community of faith, the church, known as PVFBC, as if we were on campus.
Years ago I was with some ministry friends at a Shoneys in Hopkinsville, KY. We struck up a conversation with our sweet waitress. We eventually asked her if she was a Christian. She said yes. So we asked where she went to church. She said she didn’t go to church because that was mad made. She explained how she didn’t need to because she was part of God’s church whether she went to church or not.
I have to admit, she was partly right. Joining a local community of believers isn’t what makes you a Christian because there’s something theologians call the church universal, made up of all Christians of all time.
But the Bible — Jesus — makes it very clear the church local, Christians coming together in a city or a neighborhood, is extremely important. So much so it’s not optional.
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews said…
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV)
If being part of a church has hurt you or offended you or caused you pain, I get it. And I’m so sorry. Pastor Rob in last week’s study was 100% right when he said, “There ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.” We can be a pretty messed-up bunch of folks. At PVFBC we’re a bunch of messed up folks in this thing together!
We can’t encourage each other and hold each other accountable if we’re not together. Christians, Jesus’ called-out ones were never meant to live out the in-between times in isolation. We need each other.
Our look at the church in the book of Acts is a look at people. Man are we going to see how they needed each other and helped each other and even held each other accountable.
Conclusion: As we close, let me seemingly contradict myself in a big way. The church, the ekklessia, is actually a building after all…
9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9 (ESV)
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (ESV)
Before I close let’s go back to what Jesus said about Peter confessing as coming from God. That he could have never known that if God had not revealed it to him.
We come into this world unable to seek God because of our brokenness, brokenness caused by our sinfulness. The only hope we have is if God takes the initiative. Jesus said…
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)
If you’ve found yourself leaning toward God lately, or even just wanting to that’s God drawing you to him. If you’re looking at your life and realizing it isn’t right and want to get right — even if it seems impossible — that’s God drawing you to him.
You couldn’t even think about turning towards God if he wasn’t at work in your heart making that possible.
What do you need to do? Call on him.
 Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
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