In Acts 15 we see a fundamental theological question that the early church had to answer, and how they went about handling the situation. Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection represented a radical change in how mankind interacted with God. We no longer need to sacrifice for our sins because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, and has fulfilled the law and the prophets. The problem is that the Law of Moses was the very foundation of basically all of Jewish culture and when Jesus ascended it was not completely clear to the apostles as to what to do with the Law of Moses. Because Christianity started in Jerusalem and then spread out from there to the rest of the world the early Christian leaders all came from a Jewish background and some of them tried to force their culture and the Law of Moses onto the new Gentile believers. To them this would seem natural because in their mind this is how you interact with God and what he expects from you, and has been for over a thousand years. They had not caught up completely with all of the changes that Jesus brought. The way I picture this is like a person who messed up their leg and needs to walk on crutches for a while, and then after the doctor performs a surgery that completely fixes their leg they decide to continue to use the crutches after that, and then also try to convince their friends that they should start to use crutches too even though that isn’t necessary at all and will only inhibit your friends. This is basically the conclusion that the early church leaders come to and they tell the gentiles that they do not need to follow the Law of Moses because it would hinder the gentiles from coming to God. They also tell the gentile believers that they need to make sure that they are not participating in the aspects of their old gentile beliefs that might cause issues for them. Just as the early church leaders saw that the Law of Moses would be a stumbling block to other people, they saw that aspects of the idol worship in many gentile areas would be a stumbling block as well.
I think it is very important that we recognize that there are many aspects of our modern secular American culture that are going to be stumbling blocks for our spiritual walk, and that we need to leave many of those things behind if we are going to devote our lives to Christ. This is not easy and was a very divisive issue in the early church, and has the potential to be divisive in our churches today. Some things as seemingly small as the use of drums and guitar in a church service can be very contentious in some churches. This passage also shows us how Paul dealt with the issue so as to not cause division. He was one of the first people preaching to the gentiles and had not had a lot of contact with the early church leaders in Jerusalem. Instead of trying to handle this issue by himself and decree what he knew the Holy Spirit was telling him he went to Jerusalem and discussed with the church leaders and showed them that God was working in the gentiles and that was proof that they did not need to follow the Law. Once they agreed this helped to legitimize Paul’s message and began the process of unifying the Church on this issue.
We continue to see the change in the disciples that was produced by the holy spirit. As Peter and John are headed to the temple to pray, a beggar asks for money. These men – like many of us today – are used to seeing pan handlers standing alongside the busier intersections.
This draws us to a conundrum that many today face. What do we as Christians do? Depending on who you talk to, you will get multiple well thought out different answers. (If you have – give, never give – they should get a job, or sometimes it is somewhere in between.)
What if there is another option? With the new change since the arrival of the holy spirit, they take another angle. They do not toss a couple coins or keep walking and continue on with their business. Instead they stop and make eye contact with the beggar. Both men stopped what they were doing and looked at the man as a person worthy of respect.
Then they do what they have struggled with in the past. They heal the man in an instant, through the name and power of Jesus Christ. Just as the miracles of Jesus did, this miracle draws a crowd. Peter takes this opportunity to teach and preach the Gospel. He teaches the people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His message continues: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord and he may send the Christ…at the time for God to restore everything as he promised long ago.”
My biggest take away is this: They could have dropped some coins or ignored the beggar. But they would have missed the opportunity to take part in a miracle. They would have missed the opportunity to share the hope we have in the restoration of God’s kingdom. They looked at the man and saw his biggest needs: respect, love, healing, forgiveness and hope. He needed Jesus!
We need to look for opportunities to share the reason for our Hope – and sometimes that means we may have to stop what we are doing and maybe do something that makes us uncomfortable.
On the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, the disciples get the gift they were waiting for. The power of God – at work in their lives. The disciples go out with a new bold style that has forever changed our world. They have become the talk of Jerusalem and because of so many visitors hearing the message in their own language, the message is becoming available to the rest of the neighboring countries.
The former coward disciple Peter, who denied Christ three times, has a new found confidence and fearlessness as he takes on the authorities he once feared. He stood and proclaimed Jesus as the promised messiah. The fulfillment of all the Jewish peoples’ hopes and dreams. That day three thousand people respond to the message and the Christian church begins.
The church is a movement – notice how I said “is” not was. The church is not supposed to be a stale environment only catered to a small group in a small location. Instead a movement that moves – active, involved and growing. The new church did just that – it was moving fast. To the annoyance of the Jewish leaders, the message spreads through out Judea and Samaria.
It is our mission to continue that movement – keep growing the church and continue to share the message of Christ. Like the early believers we need to devote ourselves to the teachings (truth), fellowship (getting together with other believers) and prayer (communicating with God).
“…you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Today we are going to consider what is your Jerusalem and how do you witness there. The disciples were told to be Jesus’ witnesses first in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where they were at, their home town, their local churches.
What is your Jerusalem? That is where you should start doing the Great Commission. The mission conference I mentioned yesterday will help, but what can you do today to prepare?
To get started it is necessary that you know and are passionate for the message Jesus gave us to preach. You should know this message so well that it just rolls off your tongue without hardly thinking. But how does one get to that point? It is just like any other area of study or favorite hobby. You must read about it, talk about and talk more about it. We do this naturally with things that we are interested in. How many of you know all about your favorite musician or sports team and can recite trivia any time the topic comes up?
I have found that the more we talk about things, the more we know and internalize them. What we put in will come out. What we invest our time and energy in, shows what we love.
What did the early church do to prepare for the kingdom work they were given? “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
Read Acts 2:37-47 to get a taste of the excitement and results of God’s spirit at work in the people after they heard a great sermon! Be encouraged and dialog with other believers about what you read in the Scriptures. This will put you on the right path to doing your part of the Great Commission in your Jerusalem and onward.
We have been looking at living our life on purpose – choosing goals that are pleasing to God and then striving to live by them. So far, we have covered the purposes of Worship and Discipleship.
Today, we consider the exciting fact that we are not the only disciple of Christ. Rather, we are a part of a body of believers – the body of Christ. It is God’s desire that we remain connected to the body of Christ in order to be more effective and to better fulfill the 2nd Commandment: love others. This purpose can be called Fellowship.
Hebrews 10:25 gives great counsel to the family of God: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Unfortunately, sometimes the church body fails at this. In a survey of people who have stopped attending church, 75% said they gave up meeting together because they didn’t feel like people cared if they were at church or not. They failed to get encouragement from the body of Christ. This should not be! As disciples of Christ we have a responsibility to each other – to encourage, to listen, to greet, to show concern, to value the other members of God’s family. The church is no place for cliques or loneliness. And each one of us can be part of the solution.
Take a minute today to read Acts 2 (particularly verses 36-47). Look for what the early church was doing together. How were they creating a powerful body of believers that were on fire for God’s truth and a love for one another? What will you do today and throughout the week to strengthen your bonds with God’s family? They need you – and you just might find out you are better off with them, too.
A Part of His Body,
What stands in the way of you living completely for Jesus? Not enough time, a secret sin, a preoccupation with _______, a friend taking you in the wrong direction? Many in the early church in Acts were living out a completely committed relationship with God and His Son, Jesus. And the results are exciting to watch as we read through the book. Their faith was living and active and daily – and tested regularly.
I wonder if today too many people who carry the label ‘Christian’ use their faith as a once-a-week booster shot, if they can make it to church that week. But then are quite content to spend the week surrounded by (and sometimes covered in) the germs and sicknesses of worldly living and priorities.
Go ahead and read Acts 19 today and search for all the sold-out characteristics and examples; and while you’re at it – spot the imitations as well (those exist today, too). I particularly like the passage in verses 18-20 where the believers were confessing their practices and bringing their (expensive) magic books to be burned. They had heard about Jesus and they believed and they were excited and ready to change! It’s not that they had heard about Jesus and kind of believed and were sort of interested and wanted to add in some Jesus/church/faith to their full lives. See the huge difference? They were radically changing their lives because they wanted to follow Jesus well.
Do you have anything in your life to add to the bonfire? Anything that is keeping you from being totally committed to God and His Coming Kingdom? Anything that doesn’t mix well with Jesus’ message that you need to give up?
The believers had burned 50,000 drachmas worth of obstacles to living sold-out lives (a drachma was a silver coin worth about one day’s wages) – that’s a lot of obstacles they eliminated! The very next thing Paul wrote was: “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:20). Sacrifice and true change brought growth. Are you ready to grow?
Sunday, June 4
What are your three favorite things that your church currently does well? Looking at the early church, what were their strengths and weaknesses? We can learn from the early churches in many ways, such as learning from what they did well?
The people’s actions from the early church:
- Those who accepted the message were baptized. Does this still apply today? Well we see many churches and different denominations baptizing their members, but some of them sprinkle, some use full immersion while others have different methods. The Church of God of course, still practices the original immersion practice of baptism.
- The people devoted themselves to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles. Are we as devoted as the people in the early church? How do you define “devoted?” Is it 100% of your effort 24/7?
- They were consistent in breaking bread and prayer. What are the standards we adhere to in this generation when it comes to prayer? Do we allocate time each day to prayer or do we get too busy with life to take the time?
- The early church sold their possessions and goods and gave them to anyone in need. How eager are the people of this generation to help others? Do we sell our belongings and use the money to help those less fortunate? Do we offer our talents that God has gifted us?
- They met together every day in the temple courts. Do the people of today’s church meet every day? Sometimes we have a hard time just getting to church one day a week.
- They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Do we break bread together in our homes anymore?
Peter warned and pleaded with them to save themselves from this corrupt generation. Does that warning still apply today? Are we living in a corrupt world? Do we mimic the early church or do we fall into the antics of this corrupt generation? How devoted are we to the church? How can we become more devoted? If we are a righteous church, and a people that follow Him, then God will add to our numbers daily as in the New Testament.