Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
- Every church needs to be posting on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat at least once per day.
- Every church needs to be posting quotable quotes on Twitter at least twice per day.
- Every church needs to be planning all of their worship online via this one very particular planning app.
- Every church needs to have professionally produced mini commercials that they advertise with – or they shouldn’t advertise at all.
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
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. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.