A bit of review: Last week we heard about how the disciples began their BIG, INTIMIDATING mission to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel. They did so empowered by their BIGGER, MORE INTIMIDATING God. At the end of the events of Pentecost, 3000 people were baptized!
Think about that:
In one day, the church had gone from a group of about 20 to over 3000 people.
From very tiny to megachurch.
And it was big
And it was exciting.
Now that they were a bigger, more formidable organization what should the “church” do next?
Decide on a church name?
Setup the constitution and bylaws?
Argue about whose turn it is to mow the lawn?
Today we look at the priorities of the early church and consider what they thought was important. Particularly we will consider how much their priorities should be a part of our church in 2018. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Early Priorities
Acts 2:42 takes place right after they 3000 were added to the church. It says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
First, look at the word “devoted.” The Greek literally means “to adhere to,” or “to stick closely to.”
That makes the verb kinda like Gorilla Glue. Ever used Gorilla Glue? It’s very popular here at Precious Lambs. It is the repair glue of choice for a broken chair leg, or a broken plastic fireman’s leg. It holds together puzzle pieces that have been snapped in half and plastic hamburgers that some little kids treated like a real hamburger. It works well because it dries and seals the pieces together, holding them tightly, so that the two things will always stay connected.
That’s how the early Church was treating their priorities. They found them so integral to the survival and growth of the church that they didn’t just do them, they “devoted themselves” to them.
What were these priorities?
1. Devotion to God’s Word
Verse 42 says they were “Devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” The apostles are the very guys who learned directly from Jesus. They are the ones who saw him die and became convinced of his resurrection through his various appearances. They are the ones to whom Jesus said, “I’ll send my Holy Spirit to help you do the mission,” and to whom he gave the Holy Spirit in an incredible way at Pentecost!
In other words – the apostle’s teachings were not just their own ideas.
It wasn’t just their thoughts on the best way to fix a meatloaf.
It wasn’t just their opinion on the latest political controversy.
Their teachings were the very words of Jesus.
People are sinners.
People need a Savior.
Jesus is that Savior.
Jesus lived perfectly when they could not.
Jesus died innocently in their place.
Jesus rose triumphantly and conquered death.
Because of Jesus’ work, they were loved, forgiven and going to live forever in heaven!
This is an awesome message.
The people wanted to hear it a lot.
They needed to hear it a lot.
So, they devoted themselves to it.
Not once a year.
Not once a month.
Not even once a week.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (v.46)
It didn’t matter what was going on.
It didn’t matter if their boss gave them an extra project at work.
It didn’t matter if little Ezekiel had a soccer practice to get to.
It didn’t matter if the Royal Wedding was on the television!
They met at the temple and devoted themselves to God’s Word…
QUESTION: Are you that devoted?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot – and I’d say the Early Church’s devotion to God’s Word would put our devotion levels to shame:
They had to travel to the temple to get to the one copy of the scroll that was on hand. We just have to pick up our phones.
They had to travel to the temple to meet and hear the Apostle’s teachings. Again – we’ve got phones.
They had to deal with persecutions and death threats. We have to deal with someone on Facebook calling us a loser.
And yet – Whose is more in contact with God’s Word?
If you’re feeling convicted, pray with me:
Lord, forgive me.
Forgive me for my lack of devotion to you!
And here’s the thing – when you devote yourself to God’s Word, you’ll find out.
God does forgive you.
Because God’s Word says that God is devoted to you.
He devoted himself to – coming to earth and dying to make you apart of his family.
He is devoted to you – bringing you this message of His devotion to you – even as I speak these words to you.
He will always be devoted to you – because He promised He would and He does not break his promises.
And His devotion to us reinvigorate and repowers us to be devoted to him.
That’s challenge #1 Today. Re-devote yourself to Jesus who is completely devoted to you.
2. Devotion to Each Other
But God’s Word is not the only thing the Early Church was devoted to. Check out the next couple of verses:
They devoted themselves to fellowship. Fellowship means spending time together. It means being with one another. It means talking, conversing, swapping stories of the week, telling jokes, slapping high fives, giving hugs, and fist bumps.
Note that the Early Church didn’t just do fellowship; they devoted themselves to fellowship. They made sure that fellowshipping with others was high on their ToDoList. If they would have smartphones, they would have had Google Calendar reminders pop up to remind them to “check in with Mary – just to make sure she knows that you care.”
They devoted themselves to breaking bread together. That doesn’t mean they got together and karate chopped French baguettes. It means that they ate together. (Which is a is a pretty personal thing. There’s a reason it’s a common choice for a first date). The Early Church got personal. They shared meals together. They had lunch together. They had supper together. They got up early and had brunch together.
When’s the last time you did that? When’s the last time you grabbed someone else here right now and said, “Let’s grab a Chipotle Bowl together?” It’d be worth it.
They devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed for God to bless the Apostles’ work. They asked God to reach hearts with the Gospel. They asked God to help Edna who was at home with the flu. They asked God to help Jedediah who just started a new job last week. They asked God to reconnect with Lydia who they hadn’t seen in their church group for about a week and a half.
They devoted themselves to sharing. In fact, the Scripture says this about their sharing: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (v.44-45) That sounds incredible. They didn’t just give some extra money to help each other out (although they did do that – the Bible is filled with cases of them doing that). They sold things that they owned, in order to get the money to help each other out.
What’s that? Ned needs a root canal and doesn’t have enough money? I can’t pay for it right now but let me put my HD TV on Facebook Marketplace – and I’ll be able to help out in a bit.
This another level of being connected, isn’t it? Because people love money. Husbands – we have a hard time giving up some of the funds for our bass fishing boats to buy our wife flowers – and we live with them! Yet these people were helping out people they didn’t live with. People they weren’t related to. People that they didn’t have a financial obligation to help.
People they helped simply because…Jesus.
Because he had given them eternal riches.
Because he was their greatest treasure.
Because he provided all things to them anyways – and these were their brothers and sisters – a part of the same family.
Here’s the Point.
The Early Church’s first priority was God’s Word.
The second? EACH OTHER.
That’s important for us to consider.
Because there’s this notion out there among modern Christians that Christianity is something you can do by yourself.
I fear it’s a notion that some of us have.
Just study God’s Word by yourself.
Read the Bible by yourself.
No need for church. No need for fellowship.
No need for other Christians.
Is that actually true?
Well, that’s not what the Early Church thought.
It’s not what the Early Church practiced.
In fact, the Bible writers of the Early Church wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together.” (Heb. 11)
And “Let us encourage one another.” (Heb. 11)
Learn this lesson: You might be able to hold onto faith without others and by simply doing Bible reading on your own.
But… If you are devoted God’s Word, then you will devote yourself to others.
If you aren’t devoting yourself to others, then you aren’t really devoting yourself to God’s Word.
Devote yourself to God’s Word.
Re-devote yourself to each other.
Because when you are devoted to God’s Word, you see God’s devotion to you which will drive your devotion others.
And that’s important. Because it’s not always easy being devoted to others.
Sometimes the others are bitter.
Sometimes they are angry.
Sometimes they are sinful, not-always-that-pleasant people.
But remember that’s what Christ saw when he looked at you.
He saw a bitter, angry, sinful, not-always-that-pleasant person.
But He still devoted himself to you.
And He still devoted himself to the others here today.
Be devoted to who Christ is devoted to.
Be devoted to your family.
II. Awesome Results
Because when we are devoted to God’s Word and to each other there are some incredible results.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles… They were filled with awe. They were reinvigorated. They saw God’s power and God’s mercy again and again. They were strengthened in faith.
The same thing happens here. We see God at work and are strengthened in faith. We see this through the Bible as we hear about God’s incredible miracles – walking on water, making the blind to see, raising the dead. But we also see this with one another.
Seeing a friend who was very much against Christianity join us for worship for the very first time.
Listening as a man whose wife has been begging him to believe confess his faith in front of everyone.
Watching as a young infant is adopted into God’s family through the miraculous waters of baptism.
Rejoicing as a fellow believer dies; but we know we will see them again in heaven!
Being devoted to God’s Word and being devoted people devoted to God’s Word will strengthen your faith.
(2) Attention Gained
Look at verse 47. It says, “They were enjoying the favor of all the people.” That’s not just talking about other Christians or others in the church. But all the people surrounding them. Their devotion to God’s Word and to each other was so powerful that others were taking notice.
To be fair – if we are jerks to one another, others will take note of that too. They’ll take note and vow never to give Christianity a chance.
But if we are practicing this Biblical concept of devotion to each other…
…they’ll see you checking in with a church friend. “They had a bad week and I just want to uplift them.”
…or asking for praying for a church friend. “He’s going through a rough patch.”
…or hanging out with a church friend. “I love my church family and they are blessing to me.”
They will take notice.
They will want to be a part of it.
They will open a way for you to share the Gospel.
And from there, well…
(3) God Goes to Work
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (v.48) Granted. God does not state that all people will automatically believe. They don’t. And it’s entirely possible to sow the seed of God’s Word and people still reject it.
The more we devote ourselves to Jesus; the more will we share Jesus.
The more we devote ourselves to each other; the more we will work together to share Jesus.
The more Jesus is shared?
Around February, I threw a lot grass seed on my back grounds. A lot. A lot, a lot. Two whole bags to be precise. Our backyard is kind of woodsy. There’s a lot of pine straw and plenty of clay. It’s not exactly a place where you’d expect seeds to grow.
And a lot didn’t.
I threw enough on there that – lo and behold – some.
The more you sow seed the more seed will grow.
The more we share Jesus, the more faith will grow.
This is the purpose of the church, is it not? To plant the message of Jesus to the end of the earth. It’s our mission to plant the message of Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh.
And here’s the reality – if we stick to the priorities of the Early Church – devotion to God’s Word and devotion to each other.
We will accomplish our mission. Amen.
Last week we started out our summer ACTS series by looking at the mission that Jesus gave the Early Christian Church. It’s a mission that still is the mission of the church today. It’s the mission of our church today.
And we learned that it was different from what his disciples expected in three ways:
1) The mission to build the kingdom was spiritual, not physical.
2) The mission required them to get off the sidelines and into the game.
3) The mission wasn’t going to just be local, but global.
Which is how we got to know about Jesus.
And it’s how we got to have the same mission.
And that’s a bit intimidating.
Even if we focus just on our specific end of the earth.
North Raleigh is where we are located. Boundary wise it runs from up at Falls Lake down to Millbrook, from Creedmoor over to Durant Nature Park. It’s a couple some square miles in each direction that holds over 115,000 people. The population is made up from lifelong Raleighians, to Northerners, to Midwesterners, to Southwesterners, to Northwesterners. It has people from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Congo, Nepal, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, and many other places. And in the latest demographic study of the area, the most common religious group for all of these people was NONE.
God has given us – a church of about 200 – the mission to reach those 115,000 with the Gospel.
And that’s if we limit ourselves to North Raleigh.
That’s not to mention Durham, Chapel Hill, Morrisville and many others.
How can we do that all by ourselves?
Today we are continuing our study of Acts by looking at chapter 2, the story of Pentecost. In this section, God makes it very clear to us that our BIG, INTIMIDATING mission is not so intimidating, because we aren’t doing it…ALONE. Before we study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Pentecost Scene
The scene we’re starting from is Acts 2. It takes place in a small room in the middle of Jerusalem. If you remember, that’s where Jesus told his disciples to go. “Do not leave, Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” (1:4)
So…after the disciples heard about their BIG, INTIMIDATING mission and Jesus left them for heaven (something else very intimidating), they went back to their house in Jerusalem ...and sat…
…and sat some more.
I imagine, things got a bit antsy.
When’s this gift coming?
How much longer do you think we have to wait?
I hope it never comes so we never have to start on this impossible mission!
Eventually, the disciples started doing things to stay busy:
In the corner, Matthew worked on an ancient Excel spreadsheet on funding for their mission.
In the kitchen, crumbs all over the table as James had been anxiety eating.
On the other side of the room was the dartboard where Philip and Nathanael had taken turns throwing darts at a rough sketch of the world – as if those darts would determine who would have to go where.
The BIG chair was occupied by Mary Magdalene who was sewing arch supports into Jude’s sandals because “to the ends of the earth,” seemed like a lot of walking.
And they sat….
…and sat some more.
When WAS this gift coming?
Suddenly, on the 10th day…Something happened.
It started as a low hum.
A few of the disciples took notice.
One went to check the kitchen garbage disposal.
As they listened, it grew louder and louder.
It sounded more like a storm. A loud, rushing, wind – a thunderstorm – a squall – something they experienced on the lake from time to time.
But they weren’t on a lake.
They were in the middle of the house. And this noise, this tornado like noise was coming right over the top of them!
As James scoured the room looking for the source of the sound, his eyes happened upon something else entirely.
A flame. A fire appeared on the top of his brother John’s head.
James panicked. He reached down, grabbed the nearest rug and threw it over John’s head as he tackled him to the floor. He smothered him in the blanket and helped him stop, drop and roll.
But after John grunted and asked him to get off, James removed the covering to discover the fire was still there.
Yet that wasn’t as shocking as to what he saw reflected in John’s eyeballs: there was fire on his own head too.
In fact, every disciple suddenly resembled a candlestick.
Fire was brimming off the top of their heads.
As if someone was turning 12 and they were the candles on the cake!
Peter looked across the room. He was marveling at the spectacle, until he saw the fire start to light off the top of Jude’s head. He noticed that the flame was dangerously close to the covering on Mary Magdalene’s head.
He shouted a warning:
Jude looked confused: “Que hablas amigo?”
“Kenichiwa.” said Matthew.
“Oui, Oui; French fries,” said Bartholomew.
The disciples looked at each other in amazement.
They hadn’t learned?
This. Was. The Gift.
Not the languages.
Not the fires.
Not the tornadolike sound.
This was the POWERFUL, UNSTOPPABLE, INCREDIBLE, DIVINE, Holy Spirit.
And He was with them.
And He was empowering them.
And suddenly…that BIG, INTIMIDATING mission?
Didn’t seem so scary anymore…
II. The Powerful Holy Spirit
This is the Pentecost story. It’s a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Although it’s not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Scriptures. It is probably THE time that He reveals Himself in such a magnificent fashion.
Think again about what the disciples witnessed the Holy Spirit doing.
(1) Tornado like Noise without the Tornado
Have you ever heard a tornado? Up in Minnesota, I remember hearing them from a distance, but (Thank the LORD) I’ve never heard them up close and personal. I’ve heard that it sounds something like a freight train coming through your living room. It’s loud. It’s harsh. It’s intense.
That’s the kind of noise that the disciples hear.
Only…as they look around…
Nobody’s hair is blowing to the side.
No one’s tunic is flopping in the wind.
Nobody’s beard is out of place.
The Holy Spirit is able to remove the visual and tangible qualities of a tornado and bring just the sound to the disciples.
It’d be like taking a soundtrack, putting it on some computer audio software and scrubbing out background noises.
The Holy Spirit does that with a storm.
Amazing! If he can empower the dead room temperature air with such a sound, imagine the incredible Gospel words He would do through the disciples.
(2) Flamelike Apparitions
The Bible is clear. These things looked like little flames of fire, but they weren’t fire. The disciples don’t get hurt, but they clearly see this glimpse into the divine manifesting itself above their heads.
They are like candles without the wax.
Like blowtorches without the gasoline.
Like campfires without the logs.
By the way – if you are feeling skeptical about this whole scene and you think it’s just a figment of one disciples’ imagination, remember – There were at least 12 people in that room. Probably more. I imagine that when they saw the fire on each other’s heads, they too were skeptical. They too investigated. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them touched it.
But…none of them came to the conclusion that this is all a big illusion similar to the illusion of our leader Jesus dying on the cross and rising form the dead…the illusion we’ve seen over 7 times.
Jesus was real.
Pentecost was real.
And if the Holy Spirit had no problem lighting a fire without fuel on their heads, he would have no problem lighting the fire of faith in people’s hearts.
(3) Instantaneous Foreign Language Fluency
I have an app on my phone for Duolingo. It pops up on a daily basis and tells me to practice my Spanish by going through quick three-minute lessons. I’ve been doing it for about a year and 1/2. I am only recently 50% fluent in Spanish. It takes that long to learn a language.
It was a lot faster.
And we know it isn’t just gibberish. At what happens when the people outside the house hear what’s going on.
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
That’s over 15 languages represented.
Over 15 languages clearly communicated.
Unless the disciples have each been secretly learning one of those languages without telling the others…which just so happen to be the very languages needed for that Pentecost Day – This is a miracle!
If the Holy Spirit can teach them human languages like that, he would certainly teach them the spiritual words to say to convert hearts to their Savior.
This all leads to one awesome truth about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God
He is the third person of the Triune God.
He is all powerful, all knowing and all divine.
And on Pentecost, he proves that he is with the disciples on their mission.
III. The Holy Spirit and You?
But Pastor…Who cares? That’s nice that the disciples had the Holy Spirit with them, but how does that help me?
I can’t conjure up tornado noises.
I can’t snap my fingers and make flamelike apparitions appear.
I can’t speak any language beyond English – and dog; at least I can tell when he’s hungry – but I don’t have those powerful signs with me.
You might not.
But that doesn’t mean that same Powerful Holy Spirit isn’t with you.
Look at the following three passages:
“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19)
“Our gospel comes…with the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess. 1:5)
The first passage is clear. If you believe that Jesus is Lord. If you authentically trust Jesus as your Savior, then guess what? You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside of you.
The second passage is speaking to believers. It reiterates that point – the Holy Spirit dwells within you! His temple is your body.
Finally, the last passage points out that the message of Jesus – that he is our savior from sin – comes packed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the truth:
The powerful Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
His power to teach instantaneous language has spoken the message of grace to your heart.
His power to light a flamelike apparition lights a fire for God in your hearts.
His powerful to conjure up the sound of the storm is infused with your message that “Jesus saves.”
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is with you, too.
You need not fear the BIG, INTIMIDATING mission.
You need not fear telling your spouse about their Savior.
You need not fear inviting your friends to church.
You need only BE BOLD.
That’s what he disciples did. They went from sitting around, nervously waiting in a room, constantly thinking about this BIG INTIMIDATING task to running into the streets. Many who had shouted for Jesus’ death no more than 53 days earlier. The disciples found some steps and a few soap boxes; they stood up and started street preaching!
You ever done any street preaching before? It’s intimidating.
Imagine that as a downtown activity later today!
But the disciples didn’t fear that because the Holy Spirit was with them.
That same Holy Spirit is with you.
And…to be fair…I’m not asking that you start with street preaching. Not today. 😊
But, if I could challenge you, why not do some living room preaching?
Or maybe some employee’s break room teaching?
Or some social media gospel sharing?
Don’t be afraid. The Holy Spirit is with you.
In fact, here’s verse 21. It’s the main verse in Peter’s sermon that he gives to tens of thousands in the middle of Downtown Jerusalem. Look at his message: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It’s a pretty awesome summary of the Gospel message, because it (1) implies our need for saving and (2) points out who the Savior is and (3) gives confidence that all who believe will be saved.
Write it down. Memorize it. If you’ve got your phone here today, why wait to share this until later? Do this. Go to your social media. Write it down. Check in at Gethsemane. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
And later this afternoon, take your family aside. Talk to the one who isn’t here today. Share this passage. Boldly share the message of Jesus.
Granted. You might be thinking. Will it work?
Check out the following verse.
It happens at the end of Pentecost.
It happens at the end of the impromptu street preaching.
It happens after Peter calls out the very men and women who crucified Jesus!
“Those who received the message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day.” (2:41)
Does the Holy Spirit work? Absolutely.
Will someone you tell immediately come to faith? Maybe not.
But the message will work.
Because the Holy Spirit works.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Share the Gospel. Amen.
I’m pretty excited today because we are beginning a brand-new series in which we study the book of Acts. Acts is a book that picks up right at the end of Jesus’ life and work on this earth. It chronicles the Early Christian Church and their struggles to maintain faith in Jesus and share Jesus in a society that was very much against Jesus. I’m particularly excited because I think we can learn a lot from this group and its early escapades.
Still – you might say:
Why are we studying the Early Church? That was over 2000 years ago. A lot has changed. We have iPhones. We have self-driving cars. We have Starbucks Coffee. We have the ability to order something at Walmart online and pick up curbside.
How, in the world, are we similar to the Early Church?
A lot of ways:
The Early Church was a relatively small group of people
We are a relatively small group of people.
The early church was trying to share Jesus with their community.
We are trying to share Jesus with our community.
The Early Church faced a society that was hostile to Christianity.
We face an American society increasingly hostile to Christianity.
The Early church was led by God.
We too are led by God.
We are very similar to the early Church. In a lot of ways, they underwent the same challenges that we are going through. Study their values, their goals, and their errors – will teach us some very important lessons.
Today we are beginning that journey in Acts 1. It’s the last interaction with Jesus and his disciples before he leaves them. Our goal is to listen to Jesus words, analyze them and take to heart a few valuable words about mission work here in North Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The End of One Mission
Acts 1 is where we are going to be to start. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
A couple of notes:
The book of Acts was written by a guy named Luke. When he talked about his “former book”, it’s a reference to a book in the Bible called – “Luke.” That book is all about Jesus’ life, ministry and death.
Interesting to note that Luke, as a character in his own historical account, doesn’t appear in the Gospel of Luke. In fact, he doesn’t appear in the book of Acts until about 2/3 of the way through the story. That’s important because it means Luke was not an eyewitness of most of his accounts. However, Luke was a journalist. A scholarly journalist. He investigated thoroughly the accounts of Jesus and the Early Church in order to write down first-and accounts of what happened.
His first book focused on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
His second – on what takes place next.
Acts is the sequel. It’s the part two. It’s the Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars. It’s Weekend at Bernie’s II to Weekend at Bernie’s.
That’s why these first couple of verses require some knowledge of the first book. Because in the climax of the book of Luke, Jesus dies. He is killed on the cross. But then, three days later (spoiler alert) he comes back to life. After he comes back to life he presented himself to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
That’s because Jesus had died. The disciples had seen him die. Most dead people stayed dead.
It was hard to believe he had come back to life. And when the disciples first saw him – they were frightened and figured that they had seen a ghost or a vision or some kind of illusion.
If you read Luke’s book, you can read about those convincing proofs.
He appears to some women at the tomb.
He appears to two disciples on the road.
He appears to his disciples in a locked room.
He appears again and again to remove the disciples fears and convince them – HE IS ALIVE!
Fast Forward to the book of Acts. It’s the end of the 40 days. Jesus has appeared to them throughout those 40 days. The disciples are no longer frightened, and their doubts have dissipated.
So…they ask Jesus a question:
Lord, are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel? (v.6)
Are you finally going to put the Roman government in its place?
Are you finally going to take your place as ruler on earth?
Are you going to set up a Christian Utopia here in Jerusalem?
Are you going to give us spots as princes and judges and cabinet members?
Are you going to get a palace where we can each lay down in a hammock, while someone waves a palm branch to cool us and someone else feeds us grapes?
Are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel?
We could get into the inaccurate soteriology of the disciples.
We could discuss their incomplete understanding of God’s Will.
We could talk about their complete failure to correctly apply Messianic prophecy.
But for our purposes, it might be best to simply paraphrase Jesus’ response to their question.
The disciples ask: Lord, are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel?
Jesus replies, “No.”
II. The Beginning of Another
But Jesus doesn’t dwell there. Look at his comments in verse 8. Because in verse 8, Jesus completely reverses the disciples’ concept of what comes next. Look at Jesus’ words:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (v.8)
(1) Spiritual, not Structural
The disciples had this concept of Jerusalem being actually, physically rebranded. They pictured the population sign being changed from “Jerusalem” to “Christ-a-topia.” They thought the Roman flagged being dropped and replaced by a flag with a giant cross. They figured that the “Knights of Columbus – Jerusalem Chapter;” would soon become the “Knights of Columbus – Jesus City Chapter.”
But they were wrong.
Jesus was never interested in setting up a physical kingdom of earth.
It didn’t ask for a throne.
He didn’t ask for political power.
He didn’t want the title of President.
He was interested in people’s hearts. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit brings people to faith.
The Holy Spirit builds people in faith.
The Holy Spirit builds people into God’s kingdom.
The Holy Spirit builds people as God’s kingdom.
Do you see the twist? The disciples thought that God’s kingdom would be a physical, geographical location.
Jesus taught that God’s kingdom would be spiritual.
That’s important for us to remember.
Precious Lambs’ expansion is getting closer and closer to completion. Trees are planted; the building is painted; inspections are done to start getting drywall hung in the building. Soon it’ll be complete. Soon it’ll be filled with children. Soon it’ll be a fixture of North Raleigh.
But that’s not the end game.
Our goal is not to simply cut the red ribbon.
Our goal is to use that building to build connections to the community.
Our goal is to use that building to build souls into Christ.
Our goal is to use that building to build God’s kingdom.
Remember – God’s kingdom is spiritual, not structural.
That (school) building is not the end.
This (church) building is not the end.
Jesus in people’s hearts is the end.
(2) Not on the Sidelines Anymore
The disciples had asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore...” They had this picture of Jesus heading out and giving speeches. Of Jesus physically leading the charge against the Romans and knocking out entire armies simply by calling down fire from heaven.
But that’s not how Jesus says it will work. Check out verse 8b. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.”
For years, the disciples had been on the sideline.
They had cheered Jesus on.
They had watched safely on the sidelines.
It was time to get in the game.
And that’s even more shocking when you consider who the disciples were:
“You” as in the disciples.
“You” as in Doubting Thomas.
“You” as in too nervous to say anything at my trial John.
“You” as in unknown, unimportant seeming Simon the Zealot.
“You” as in racist Nathanael.
“You” as in greedy Philip.
“You” as in loud mouthed, thinking without talking, denial of Jesus, Peter.
Since it is recorded for us to read…
“You” as in “you.”
Sinful, imperfect you.
That’s so important to remember. Because it is so easy to feel like “God could never work through me.”
I’m too old.
I’m too young.
I’m too quiet.
I’m too loud.
I’m too sinful.
But if you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit.
If you have the Holy Spirit, God has chosen you to be a part of his kingdom.
If you are a part of his kingdom, you aren’t just a brick. You’re a builder: God has tasked you with building his kingdom.
And God will build his kingdom through you.
He just might not build it where you expect.
(3) Not Local, but Global
Because again - final twist - the disciples asked Jesus if he was going to rebuild the kingdom “in Jerusalem.” With Jewish people, who spoke the Jewish language and celebrated Jewish holidays and got together to talk about how great the Jewish people were.
But look at Jesus’ response: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (v.8b)
Jesus didn’t want the message to stay with the Jews.
Jesus wanted all places.
You know – places like Raleigh.
Places like Durham.
Places like Chapel Hill.
Places like Morrisville, Zebulon and Fuquay-Varina.
Do you understand?
And that’s our goal. Our goal is to #GatherToTheGarden. It is to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Notice it doesn’t say, “To plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of People who look like us…in North Raleigh.”
It doesn’t say, “Plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of People who talk like us…in North Raleigh.”
It doesn’t even say, “Plant the message of Jesus in the Hearts of people who think like us…in North Raleigh.”
Plant the message of Jesus –everywhere.
Which is a bit intimidating.
Intimidating for us…and we’ve got over 100 gathered today.
The disciples. There were less than 12.
And they were supposed to bring the message to the ends of the earth?
And then, Jesus does something that makes the situation even more intimidating.
Because as he is talking…
As he is finishing his speech…
As he is smiling in their direction…
His feet lift off.
There’s about 6 inches of space between him and the ground – and the space keeps increasing.
Suddenly, Jesus is going up and up and up…
…like he’s a balloon without a balloon.
…Like he’s a kite only there’s not a kite.
…Like he’s being lifted by a drone, only drones are about 2000 years away from being invented.
He ascends past the trees.
He ascends past the birds.
He ascends past the clouds.
And the disciples – are stupefied.
In part, because that was incredible.
In part, because “HE LEFT THEM!?!” How can they ever continue his mission?
As the disciples are staring up into the sky…
They don’t notice two men join them.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come bac kin the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.11)
In other words, stop looking up.
Start looking around.
That’s what Jesus has called us to do.
Stop looking up.
He’s up there watching over you.
Stop waiting for Jesus to come back.
Stop waiting for Jesus to do the work.
He works through you.
Stop looking up.
Start looking around.
Start building his kingdom. Amen.
Animals have amazing instincts. It’s true.
Geese know to migrate cross country during the weather change.
Baby kangaroos instinctively climb into their mother’s pouches to suckle.
Honeybees dance to communicate the whereabouts of pollen to each other.
Animals have amazing instincts, usually.
Sometimes they get confused. Sometimes they get confused enough that they forget exactly who they are.
Like the lion who is playing around with his food – I mean – his friend – the deer…
Or this dog trying to get his fellow pups (and by that, I mean baby chickens) to throw the ball…
Or this turtle that thinks that turtle shaped sandbox is long lost Uncle Earl…
In the animal kingdom, mistaken identity is cute.
But what about in the spiritual kingdom?
What happens when you have a spiritual identity crisis?
Today we are going to talk about the very real identity crisis that Christian can suffer from – you might even be going through it right now. Our goal? To reexamine what our NEW identity is in Jesus and be confident of that NEW identity. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Corinthian Identity
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to church in a city called Corinth. A bit about Corinth – It was a harbor town located on the coast of Greece. It was a popular trade center which saw all kinds of goods and ideas pass through its marketplace.
Around 49 A.D. Pastor Paul went on a missionary journey. On this journey, he went from city to city in southern Europe sharing the message of Jesus with people who had never heard of Jesus. When he went, he had a method for how he brought the Gospel to a new city. (He would start by bringing the message to the Jewish synagogue located in town. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. He figured they had a connection). After that, Paul would go the non-Jewish part of town. He would enter the marketplace and the town square. He would encounter people who were completely unfamiliar with Jesus, completely unaware of God’s grace and completely unlearned in the Old Testament promises of the Savior.
That’s what Paul did in Corinth.
He spoke about Jesus to the Biblically learned Jews expecting the Messiah and the Biblically illiterate non-Jews not even knowing he exists…
Which group do you think would be Paul’s message?
The answer is surprising:
Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
That means the Corinthian church was filled with brand new believers in every sense of the world.
The believers were people who had previously NEVER heard the Good news of Jesus before and were in love with that good news of Jesus.
As a result, Paul stayed with this church for a while. He told them about Jesus. He told them about forgiveness. He told them about the peace they had with God.
But Paul was a missionary.
Eventually…he had to move on to the next city.
And after about a year, he did.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Things had changed in Corinth.
The church was not as joyful as it once was.
The church was filled with bitterness.
The church people were overwhelmed with guilt.
Without Paul around, their fellow Corinthians from the marketplace began to question their Christianity:
“You mean you don’t stay out late and get drunk on the weekends? What about the benders? The ragers? The good ol’ days? That’s not who I remember.”
“What do you mean marriage is important? You used to sleep with me and my sister on the same night? This Christian thing has changed who you are.”
“I thought you were a Corinthian. Corinthians worship Poseidon! Come on. Here’s some money. Let’s go have sex with the prostitutes in front of his temple to receive Poseidon’s blessing.”
And…it was working.
The Corinthians were listening to their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors.
They were falling into sin.
Worse yet – when they failed – on Sunday mornings as they made their way to church shaking off a hangover – the Jews -- the ones who hadn’t believed in Jesus – were waiting for them along the way:
“Oh look! If it isn’t Ned! He’s looking so religious this morning. He worshipped his god all last night by getting drunk.”
“Yep. He’s not a Christian. Unless there’s a denomination called “Christian drunkards.”
“And here’s the worst part. They’re going to get together and talk about forgiveness today. Ya’ll are fools!”
You aren’t loved; but hated.
You aren’t forgiven; but filled with sin.
You aren’t righteous; but absolute scum.
And the Corinthian congregation was in shambles.
And they argued with each other.
And they pointed out each other’s sins in order to make themselves feel better about their own.
And they fled back to their addictions.
And they were filled with shame.
And they were in the middle of a spiritual identity crisis.
Pastor Paul heard of this and he was compelled to respond. He wrote this to them: “Listen…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) You aren’t just a bag of bones. You aren’t just stressed muscles that need to let off some steam. You aren’t just sex organs that need to be fulfilled. You aren’t just an object for someone else’s pleasure. No, we regard you as much more than that.
Why? Because we used to regard Christ in that way, though we do so no longer. (v. 16b)
We thought of Christ as a common Jewish man.
He wasn’t especially attractive.
He wasn’t especially powerful.
He was a former carpenter’s apprentice who had a few bruises on his knees from bending over to nail tables together.
And he sure didn’t look all that special on the cross.
He sweated like a common earthly man.
And bled like a common earthly man.
And died like a common earthly man.
But then…do you remember what I preached to you? Then…Jesus came back to life!
Unlike any man ever, Jesus came back to life.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus walked the earth again.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you see Paul’s point?
Jesus proved there was more to him than the earthly man.
As believers in Jesus…
There’s more to you too!!!
II. a NEW identity
Has anyone here seen Remember the Titans? It’s a film that follows a high school football team in the segregated south. The coach works hard to integrate the team and help them work together at a time when people who looked different from one another – didn’t even attempt to.
At one point – things get heated. Players are being divisive. The team isn’t working out.
So…coach makes them look at their jerseys.
He tells them to look at their helmets.
He tells them to notice that they are the same.
Because under that helmet and jersey, the players aren’t black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
They are Titans.
Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians – and to you. If you are in Christ, the old has gone; the new has come…God has reconciled us to himself.
You are no longer “addict.”
You are no longer “slut.”
You are no longer “failure.”
You are no longer “convict.”
You are no longer “homo.”
You are no longer “bitter old man.”
You are no longer “gossip.”
You are no longer “sinner.”
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are righteous.
You are pure.
You are God’s child.
You are reconciled.
That’s your identity!
And that’s the identity that Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to remember.
It’s the identity that Paul had taught them about.
It’s an identity that you and I have learned about.
It’s an identity that is as true for you as it was for a Corinthian.
You are reconciled.
III. Identity Origins?
Granted. You might say, “That sounds nice, but how do I know it’s true? How do I know it’s not just a bunch of psycho babbles?” Look at what Paul says next and there you’ll find a few answers:
1. It’s from God
Verse 18 literally says, “All of this is from God who was reconciling himself to you in Christ!” God’s the ultimate source. He’s the ultimate reason behind the new identity of “reconciled.” And that’s good news – because it means that no other identity really counts.
It’s like the name that your parents give you. That’s the name that’s on your birth certificate. That’s the name that’s on your social security card. That’s the name that’s on your taxes. Your friends might give you a nickname. They might call you something for short, but that’s not your real name. Your parents had the authority to name you and they did.
And there is not greater authority than your spiritual Father – God himself.
And God himself has named you “Reconciled.”
And there is no other name the world can give you that has the authority to conquer this.
2. It’s through God’s people
Because it’s true! God did not speak in some loud booming voice to the Corinthians.
But he spoke through the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us!”
And it’s true! God might not have spoken to you in some loud, booming, obviously God voice.
But he has spoken to you.
Through the stern yet loving voice of your Sunday School teacher.
Through the tearful voice of a concerned friend.
Through the tremoring words of your great grandfather.
Through the gentle lullaby of your mother singing: “Jesus loves you.”
Through words that sound a lot like mine right now.
God may speak through his people. But they are still his words.
“We are Christ’s ambassadors, making his appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!”
3. It’s paid for by Jesus
Up to the east of church is Falls of Neuse Rd. We used to live right across the street by the apartments complex there. Behind the apartments are million dollars homes situated on a beautiful golf course called the North Ridge Country Club. There’s 36 beautiful holes, a private swimming area, tennis courts and a private club for dining events.
How do you get in? You pay your membership dues. Those dues would include up to $30,000/year.
I could not afford to be a member there. I don’t have enough money.
And the cost to be a member of God’s kingdom? It’s a life of perfection.
I can’t afford that.
You can’t either.
But we are members.
Because Jesus paid the price for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says just that, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
In other words, your identity is paid for.
It can’t be taken away.
You are NEW in Jesus.
III. What Now?
Two major things that I want you to take away and put into practice this coming week. They both come from verse 16. Look at it again, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(1) Regard Yourself from God’s Point of View
Because it won’t be long after this service that you hear those worldly thoughts again:
You’re only humans – have some fun.
You’re one of us – enjoy this sin a little.
(And then) You are the worst of sinners that God could never ever, ever love.
Stop regarding yourself from the worldly point of view.
Start regarding yourself from God’s point of view.
Start regarding yourself as your NEW identity.
The NEW YOU doesn’t do the things of your old sinful way of life.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live selfishly.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live for your bodily desires.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live frightened of God’s eternal wrath.
The NEW YOU lives for Jesus.
The NEW YOU lives for others.
The NEW YOU lives for the Spirit.
The NEW YOU lives confidently in God’s forgiveness.
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you'll have in God's love.
(2) Regard Others from God’s Point of View
This is doubly important. Because as easy as it is to view yourself from a worldly perspective, it is even easier to view others that way:
“Oh her? That’s the adulteress. God does not forgive her.”
“That guy has a bunch of tattoos! He’s not one of us.”
“That guy? Over there? I think he’s Islamic. We need him to leave immediately!”
Stop regarding people from a worldly point of view.
That’s what worldly people do.
Rather, from God’s point of view.
Because that’s what God’s people do.
Regard them as souls that Jesus died for.
Regard them as souls that need to hear that Jesus died for them.
Regard them as future – brothers and sisters.
That’s what Paul did! It’s why he wrote them this letter as brothers and sisters and not as “you no good, awful, dirty rotten sinners from Corinth!”
That’s because Paul understood one more thing about his identity. He wasn’t just a member of God’s kingdom, he was an ambassador.
And as believers in Jesus, you are ambassadors, too.
Think about what an ambassador does. He heads off to foreign countries. He represents his country. He speaks on behalf of his country.
You are God’s ambassadors. You are about of his country. You represent his country. You speak on behalf of your Lord.
That’s an important task. Who is up for such a task?
Can I tell you about Susie? Susie is 4 years old.
Susie attends Precious Lambs.
Susie loves Jesus.
She loves Bible Times.
She loves Jesus songs.
She loves going to chapel.
Susie’s mother told me the other day that Susie talks about Jesus even when she isn’t at school.
She talks about Jesus at home.
She talks about Jesus at her brother’s basketball practice.
She talks about Jesus at the grocery store.
She talks about Jesus before she goes to bed.
Susie has not forgotten her identity.
Susie knows she’s four years old (ask her; she’ll tell you).
But Susie also knows that she is an ambassador for Jesus.
Don’t you forget it either because you have a NEW identity in Jesus. Amen.