The In-Between Years - Part 16
Series: The In-Between Years
August 30, 2020
The In-Between Years — Part 16
We are progressing slowly but surely in our series, The In-Between Years — A Look at the Church in the Book of Acts. This is message number sixteen, and we’ll just be finishing chapter 2 today. We’ve had to take our time up to this point because so much is packed into the first two chapters. Things will pick up after this.
We’ve camped out at a particular verse for a while, Acts 2:38, where Peter answers the crowd’s question after hearing the gospel, what shall we do?
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 (ESV)
We’ve seen how this verse isn’t a formula. But it does contain all the elements of salvation. We saw last week how repentance is the most important word in this verse because once repentance comes on our part, everything else falls into place on God’s part.
CS Lewis described repentance as…
Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole’.
Repentance is turning away from ourselves and the fallen world we live in towards God. Repentance is a change of mind about how we’re oriented. Repentance is deep sorrow over our sin. Repentance is believing in, having faith in God who promises to save you if you call on his name.
The minute the church is born she starts calling on people to repent because God’s kingdom is at hand. Not in the accusatory, holding-a-sign kind of way but in the God-and-all-heaven-rejoices kind of way. And repent the crowds did that day…
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:41 (ESV)
The title of our series is “The In-Between Years” because what is recorded in Luke’s second volume happens in between the time of Jesus’ ascension and return, a time we are still in today. The subtitle of our series is “a look at the church in the book of Acts.” The church is God’s active agent in the in between time. It all began with those 3,120 disciples.
Luke pauses next to give a snapshot of what the newly born church was like. He does it a few other times as well. Take a look at the church in Acts 2:42-47 as we finish out chapter 2…
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
All my daughters are grown. Often I’ll reminisce about when they were babies. They hate that. They think I’m saying I don’t love them as much now. They just didn’t get it… until my granddaughter Wren was born. Now her momma, as well as her two aunts understand. There’s just something so special about a baby. The innocence. The sweetness.
Likewise, there is something so special, so pure and attractive about the newborn church. It would do us well as the church 2,000 years later to dig deeper into Luke’s snapshot.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (ESV)
The first thing we note about the church is her devotion. The Greek word that’s translated from implies “continuous and persistent tenacity.” Those first Christians were tenacious about four things:
(1) The apostles’ teaching
One commentator writes…
Just as the apostles had been instructed by Jesus, so they passed along that instruction to the new Christians. … this would have included such subjects as his resurrection, the Old Testament Scriptures, the Christian witness, and surely their own reminiscences of Jesus’ earthly ministry and teachings.
The apostles’ teaching in that day is the New Testament Scriptures in our day. Plus we have the OT to boot. This is why the Bible is so important to the church. We are also able to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching through the preaching, teaching, and discipling ministries of a local church.
They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching and they were also tenaciously committed to…
(2) The fellowship
What do we Baptists think of when we think of fellowship in the church? Potlucks. We are tenaciously devoted to potlucks for sure! They say one big plus about the pandemic is thousands of Baptists are experiencing dramatic way loss.
Actually the idea of fellowship here does imply the sharing of meals, but it’s so much more than that. The same Greek word used here (koinōnia) is also translated “contribution,” “sharing,” and “participation” in the NT.
It carries the notion of a sharing and participating in, and contributing to, a commonality among a group of people. It implies an active presence.
Ever noticed how hunters, fishermen, golfers, and football fans all have passionate fellowship. They are so excited about their sport they almost have their own language. I often wear an Auburn hat. It sparks conversations. I just pretend to understand.
These believers bought in to the gospel so much so that it permeated their minds and hearts and colored how they thought and talked and how they spent their time. Their lives revolved around their faith.
They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship as well as…
(3) The breaking of bread
This refers particularly to a coming together the first day of the week (Sunday) to sing hymns and celebrate what we call the Lord’s Supper. They shared a meal in someone’s home where everyone brought what they could (kind of like a potluck!).
That’s the origin of what most churches do today. We come together on the first day of the week for worship and the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, they were tenacious about…
(4) The Prayers
JB Polhill clarifies this for us…
The presence of the article in the Greek text before prayers has led some interpreters to see this as a reference to their keeping the formal prayer hours of Judaism in the temple. They may well have done so to some extent, for their faithfulness in attending temple worship is noted in [Acts]. The reference, however, is probably much broader and involves primarily their [praying] together in their private house worship.
The book of Acts is filled with examples of the church praying. Our version of prayer meeting probably wouldn’t impress them.
The early church was passionate about, tenaciously devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. JD Greear, in a sermon on this text, talks about how he has often heard someone say “I quit going to small group (or a church) because I just wasn’t getting that much out of it.” But look at the way this is phrased: they “devoted themselves” or put another way they “gave themselves away” to these things. He says the point is not really how much you’re getting out of it. The point is to start giving yourself away, to start investing yourself into it.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. Acts 2:43 (ESV)
The word “awe” here in the Greek is found quite a bit in the NT. It’s translated mostly as “fear.” Sometimes it means dismay or dread as in when the people feared to speak openly about Jesus because of the Jewish leaders. But other times, like here, when it has to do with the presence of God or his works, it means a holy reverence. The hand of God was so evident and powerful and otherworldly in the early church it brought a sacred wonder with it.
People weren’t talking about the weather or the Greek games or the state of current events in the Roman Empire. They were talking about what God was doing in their lives and in their fellowship. People outside the church were too. Next verse…
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44–45 (ESV)
Those early believers who had some means were so moved by what God was doing and so loved their brothers and sisters in Christ, they sold what they had to aid those believers who had little or nothing. They were supremely selfless.
Tim Keller says…
…what made the early Christians so unusual was this principle of radical unselfishness that had really never been seen before. It pervaded the whole way in which they did everything. Radical unselfishness. That’s the principle you see through the passage.
That was one of the most striking things to the culture. Lucian of Samosata, who was one of the early Greek philosophers and opponents of Christianity… disliked it, and some of his writings tell us one of the reasons so many people were offended by Christianity. Usually the people in power were offended by Christianity.
Lucian, talking about Jesus, says something like, “Their founder taught them that they should be like brothers to one another, and therefore, they despise their own privacy and view their possessions as common property.” We see this right here. Instead of being selfish about their goods and their property and their power, they share not only with one another, but also with all who have need.
…this wasn’t literal communism. They didn’t give all of their assets into a common purse and then get a salary from the central committee. It was a spiritual communalism. It was a radical unselfishness when it came to their possessions and their goods
Some of you are getting nervous. Reminds of the story of a preacher who paid a visit to a farmer and asked, "If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?
"Sure would," said the farmer.
"If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?"
"Yeah, I would."
"If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?"
The farmer replied, "That's not fair, preacher. You know I have two pigs."
This next part is a biggie, especially in light of what’s going on in the Western church right now…
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God… Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)
That speaks to their unity. Unity among God’s children is a precious commodity because the world, the flesh, and the devil works hard against it. Look at…
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1 (ESV)
Unity is the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ disciples. Our Lord prayed this in his great high priestly prayer…
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:22–23 (ESV)
NT Wright asks, in commenting on this text…
…what is Jesus praying for, as he thinks about you and me and all his other followers in this and every generation?… that we should all be one. United.
This unity isn’t to be just a formal arrangement. It isn’t just an outward thing. It is based on, and must mirror, nothing less than the unity between the father and the son, that unity [which] much of the book has been explaining and exploring. Just as the father is in the son, and the son in the father, so we too are to live within that unity. That can only mean that we ourselves are to be united.
And, in case we might miss the point, the result of this will be that the world will see, and know, that this kind of human community, united across all traditional barriers of race, custom, gender or class, can only come from the action of the creator God. ‘So that the world may believe …’
Notice how this picks up what Jesus said in [John] 13:35. ‘This is how all people will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for each other.’ Unity is vital… Sometimes we experience it, when for a moment we meet Christians from a totally different background and discover that, despite our many differences, and the traditions that keep us apart, we know a unity of love and devotion that cannot be broken. But just as often, alas, we experience, sense and know that Jesus’ prayer for us has not yet been fully answered.
As in any human relationship, unity cannot be forced. There can be no bullying, no manipulation. But in a divided world, where the divisions have often run down so-called ‘religious’ lines, there is no excuse for Christians not to work afresh in every generation towards the unity Jesus prayed for. If we are, essentially, one in faith, there can be no final reason why we may not be one, also, in our life and worship.
Conclusion: What happens when the church is passionately devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer? When the church is supremely selfless? When the church is unified in God’s love?
47 … [they had] favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 (ESV)
They had favor with all the people (inside and outside the church). People got saved.
Do you see how Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is answered in this snapshot of the early church? He prayed that they might be one, be bound together in love and unity. And that that distinguishing mark would convince people there’s something to this Christianity.
But is it being answered today? If the world is attracted to Christ when they see his followers living in unity, what happens when they don’t? They are turned away.
That sobering truth makes today’s text bittersweet. One the one hand it’s such a precious picture of what the church looks like at its best. But on the other it convicts us terribly when we look at our churches today and see so little love and much division.
Please don’t let the failure of Christians to live out these things keep you from following the One who embodies them.
 Greear, J. D. (2017). The Coming of the Spirit and the Birth of the Church: Acts 2:42–47. In J. D. Greear Sermon Archive (Ac 2:42–47). Durham, NC: The Summit Church.
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