A New Church 1.2
What we’re doing here is bold. What we’re doing here is unconventional. We’re not playing by the rules anymore, but making up our own rules. If you read books about church planting, you almost never plant a church in a rural area. You almost never plant a church in the city in which you recently served on staff at another church. You never start a new church two weeks after you left said previous church.
We’re not doing things by the rules. We’re writing our own book. As we go through the book of Acts though, we see that is exactly what the first church had to do. They had no guidebook to follow. There was no church planting strategy existent. The only model they had was the life of Jesus himself. They started at Pentecost with a crowd of people who were simply interested in all the commotion taking place in the upper room. Peter didn’t have Rick Warren’s latest book on 40 days of anything. He’d never been to a leadership summit or conference of any kind. Instead he simply preached the only message he knew. Three thousand people were saved. The church began.
This is where we are this week. Today we’re going to work through Acts 3-4.
This is an interesting miracle mostly because it was performed by Peter. This is the first mention of an apostle performing a miracle. Everyone in this scene is going about his or her business. Peter and John are going up to the Temple to pray. This was a typical Jewish custom that Peter and John don’t see a need to discontinue. They were doing life as usual. You can imagine there were other people going in and out of the Temple before and after their own prayer time.
Sitting near one of the entrances to the Temple is a man who has been there for quite some time. He was a beggar who had been lame from birth. Every day he had friends or family members lay him beside this entrance so he could ask for alms. This was his life. He knew nothing else. Perhaps Peter and John had even seen him before. For whatever reason though, they locked eyes on this day.
You can bet this guy was just expecting to receive some sort of money from Peter and John. You can imagine his thoughts were somewhat happy because perhaps these men were going to help him a little bit. Then Peter does something remarkable. He says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Then Peter grabs the guy by the hand and yanks him up off the ground. The man’s feet and ankles begin to work again and he leaps around and into the Temple praising God.
It’s important that this man had been there all his life. People knew who he was. He wasn’t some random confederate of Peter and John that they hired to sit there so they could appear to heal him. This wasn’t some magic trick like making a 747 disappear. People knew him. They knew he had been lame. Now they knew he was walking around. What do you do with that?
People began to crowd around Peter and John to find out what had happened. Obviously you would want to be near guys who could heal life-long disabilities. You’d want to get in on that yourself. What does Peter do? He uses it as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.
He addressed the people in this way: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by r own power or piety we have made him walk?” Peter draws attention away from himself and directs it to where it needs to be. Aren’t we like the crowd sometimes, though? Don’t we clamor and crowd around someone that seems special to us? Don’t we hound celebrities because they’re famous and worship them by watching their feats on screen and the football field? Peter’s saying “don’t look at us…we didn’t do this.” Then he proceeds to tell them exactly who did do it.
“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers…” Peter knows his audience. He knows it is the Jews who are going to Temple to pray. By dropping these three names, he’s building a case for the God that these people claim to worship. This is YHWH. This is the God we’ve been talking about for thousands of years. This is the God who stopped Abraham from killing his own son. This is the God who renamed Jacob Israel, from whom the twelve tribes came. This is the same God who led Moses and the children of Israel across the Red Sea. This is the God who guided Joshua into the Promised Land and established King David. This is that same God. Moreover, this is the same God who sent his son Jesus, who you delivered over to the Romans to be killed. This is that God. It had nothing to do with the power or authority of Peter and John. It had everything to do with the power of God. By faith in the name of Jesus was this man healed. By faith in Jesus were Peter and John able to heal him. It’s Jesus, no one else. It’s Jesus.
Beyond that, it’s because the people denied this Jesus that they have a hard time believing he had power to do anything. After all, they thought he was dead. So what does Peter do with this message? “Repent!” He told the people they needed to turn from their sins that they might be blotted out. It is the same for us. We must repent of our disbelief, turn from our sins, and follow Jesus. Peter uses this opportunity to draw the crowd to a point of repentance. What are we to do with Jesus? We must all search our own hearts and seek out what Jesus would have us do. Often this leads to repentance. We must turn from our own desires and pursue Jesus.
As this is going on, the Jewish leaders came out to see what was happening. You can imagine the picture. This is the normal time for prayer and you saw a stream of people at first coming into your building and praying. Then, all of a sudden, no one is left. Perhaps there’s some sort of commotion that has drawn everyone away, maybe even a fight. (You know how people love a good fight.) So they go out to see what was going on. Much to their chagrin they find two guys teaching about Jesus and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead. More than that, they’re even calling people to repentance.
You have to understand what this meant to them. Imagine if two regular guys came to a morning service at a traditional church. After the service they stand out on the steps and preach a message of repentance to the people that are gathered around. If you were the pastor or a leader of this church, you might be a little frustrated. This is the scene surrounding Peter and John.
Rather than tell these two guys to leave, the religious leaders have them arrested and thrown in jail until the next day. You must remember that this is the first century Middle East, not 21st century United States. There is no due process. There needn’t be any cause. If you had power and you knew the right people, you could incarcerate whomever you wanted.
The next day all the religious leaders got together with the High Priest and brought Peter and John before them. They asked “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (referring to the miraculous healing of the lame man) Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, makes this incredibly bold statement.
“By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Jesus is the power. Jesus is the authority. There is no other name by which we may be saved. Jesus is the way. How amazing that not only did Peter finally understand all that Jesus had taught him, but he was now proclaiming without fear the power of Jesus. Remember that this was not a trial like we are accustomed to. Peter didn’t have any rights. If the high priest decided he and John had blasphemous act, they could pretty much kill him. They didn’t have a burden of proof. They just had to know the right people. Peter is fearlessly telling the religious leaders that they were murderers. Not only were they murderers, but they had killed their only chance for salvation and reconciliation with God and needed to repent. Can you imagine standing before a religious leader and telling him to repent? It would have been like Nathan confronting King David with his sin and telling him he should repent.
Instead, and showing more of their cowardice than they would like to have remembered, the religious leaders commanded them not to preach in Jesus’ name anymore. They knew the crowds had seen a miracle and while they didn’t believe it or understand it, they knew there was some sort of power in Peter and John. They didn’t want them to preach to the people anymore, but they also knew if they killed Peter and John, the people might revolt against them. This is what happens when church leaders get involved in politics. When you have constituents, you have to please them or you don’t get elected anymore. They had to maintain their public perception of holiness, so they let Peter and John go with a stern warning not to preach anymore. But what do Peter and John answer?
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
You judge whether we should listen to you or to God. That’s a loaded statement if I’ve ever heard one. Of course we should listen to God. If the religious leaders even acknowledged that statement they would have to deal with what it meant. Peter is making a distinction between the religious council and God. No one had ever really done that before. The priests and religious leaders spoke for God. Peter said, “We can either listen to you or to God. You decide. As for us, however, we can only tell about what we know. We know Jesus and we know his power can heal and set people free.”
So the leaders threatened them again and then released them.
After Peter and John were released from prison they went back to their friends and told them all that had happened. At this, all the believers realized they needed to pray for boldness. Peter had been bold so far, but they knew that if they were to continue in what Jesus wanted them to do they needed to pray for the Spirit to continue to guide them and give them the words to say. They realized that lives of peace were probably not on the horizon. Instead of praying for an easy life, however, they prayed for greater boldness, that they might meet antagonism with truth and might stand firm in their faith. Their prayer was this: “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed the building they were in shook. Luke says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
We must be bold. We must speak the truth. We must not shy away from antagonism. We mustn’t seek lives of peace and ease, but lives of truth, lives filled with Jesus. As a new church we must come together under the umbrella of the truth of Jesus and declare that he will be our life, that he will be our hope, that he will be our peace. We need no peace but Jesus. We need no hope but Jesus. We can’t help but talk about what we know. We know Jesus. He is our guide. He is our truth. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to be faithful to the one we know. It’s time to stand for what we believe in.
Scripture continues that every one of the believers was of one heart and soul. “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” What would it be like if we learned how to share? We all have been taught that from a young age. We’re supposed to share our toys. It’s funny that we are taught this until we’re old enough to make up our own minds. From the ages of 2-8 we’re supposed to share. As we get older we each have our own everything. If we’re in sports we have our own bat and glove, our own cleats and pads, our own everything. In band we have our own instrument, uniform, and even chair. As we get older we have our own car, house, food, TV, and we put up a fence so that no one can see our stuff. We learn the right idea when we’re younger, but we forget it (or think it doesn’t apply to us) as we get older.
Luke says that the people in the first church didn’t act like anything was their own, but that everything existed for the benefit of the body. A man named Barnabas even sold a field he owned and gave the money to the disciples to distribute it as they saw the need. What a radical way to live! How bizarre that sounds to us! Perhaps, though, it’s the most biblical way to live. Perhaps everything we have belongs to God and it’s just a tool to serve a greater purpose. We don’t like that place. We don’t like to think that way. In America it’s everyone for himself. I have my stuff and you have yours. If I have more stuff than you it’s because I’ve worked harder and I deserve it. As Christians, however, we must begin to realize everything we have was given to us by the Father. None of it is ours anyway. Everything is a tool to growing the kingdom of God. This may sound radical to you and it is. It’s a difficult thing to learn, but we must grasp it. I own nothing. God owns everything. If I’ve got something that can help someone else who has a need, I must give it.
How incredible would it be for our community to begin meeting needs of people we don’t know…people perhaps who don’t even deserve it? That’s what we’re going to be about. This is the kind of church we’re going to be. We’re going to take care of people, meet their needs. We’re going to give and love and serve. We’re going to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Almost as a warning we have this first part of chapter 5 to look at. There’s a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They owned a piece of property and sold it. They decided not to give the whole amount but to act as if it was the total. When Ananias brought the offering to the apostles, Peter knew by the Holy Spirit that he was being deceitful. He gave Ananias another chance. The story was the same. “This is the whole amount.” Ananias dropped dead where he stood. The same thing happened with his wife, Sapphira. Another chance was given. The story remained the same. She fell dead just like her husband.
It’s important to note that this couple was a part of the group. They were in the inner circle. They would have had to be to know what was going on. They knew that people were giving away their possessions. They knew people were selling land and giving away the money. Their sin wasn’t that they didn’t give the whole amount away. Amount means nothing to God. He owns everything anyway. Their sin was their pride. They wanted the recognition of giving a certain amount without actually giving that amount. They wanted people to know how good they were. They wanted praise.
When it comes to following Jesus, it is either all or nothing. Jesus is worth giving everything away. Jesus is worth leaving everything behind. Jesus is worth the price it costs. Jesus is worth it. That’s what we hold to. We want to see Jesus. We want to see his kingdom. We want for his name to be made known. We want for him to be lifted high. We want Jesus.
There was a man during the Second World War named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. In this book he talks about what it means to leave everything behind and follow Jesus. In fact, one of the more famous lines in the entire book is “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” It costs a lot to leave behind everything you know to follow Jesus. But could it perhaps cost more to not follow Jesus? There’s a parable in the gospels in which Jesus tells of a man who was walking through a field and found a great treasure. He covered the treasure up and in his joy sold everything he owned in order to purchase the field and claim the treasure in it.
I’m going to close with a quote from the book Radical by David Platt.
“This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something—someone—worth losing everything for. And if we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of nondiscipleship is profoundly greater for us than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him.”
This is what we long for as a church. We want for you to see the ultimate value of Jesus and fall in love with him. We want your life to be consumed with following Jesus. We want you to discover your giftedness and use your abilities in growing his Kingdom.
If you don’t have a church home we’d love for you to join us. If you’re searching for something but you don’t know what it is we’d love to help you find it. If you’re feeling drawn by the Holy Spirit to know Jesus better or to know him at all, we’d love to be the ones that help you encounter him. We’re going to spend some more time in worship. I hope you’ll spend this time in reflection, searching your own heart to determine what the Father would have you do. We’re available if you need any counsel or just someone to pray with.
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