Category Archives: Acts

Acts 6:8-7:60: Stephen, stones and the Saviour

How well do you receive CORRECTION? When someone points out your faults, or mistakes? Do you WELCOME it as helpful advice, and put it into practice?

Or is your first reaction to TAKE IT PERSONALLY? (Get OFFENDED? Perhaps get DEFENSIVE, and give excuses or justifications?)

Or maybe your instinct is TO ATTACK BACK. To point out how the person offering the advice is HARDLY ONE TO CRITICISE. Because they have plenty of faults TOO.

That’s our temptation. Because we’re proud. And we feel HURT.

But correction’s GOOD FOR US. It makes us BETTER. The Bible’s FULL of good advice about listening to correction. Like Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

And correction and instruction’s ESPECIALLY important if they COME FROM GOD. If it’s stupid to ignore advice from PEOPLE, how much MORE foolish is it to ignore it from our CREATOR! From a heavenly Father, who lovingly disciplines us for our GOOD (Hebrews 12:10)? Who breathes out his Word, the Bible, to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness, so we’ll be thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:16)?

James 1 says

22 Do not merely LISTEN to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS.

Listening and DOING. That’s what God’s people SHOULD do when God speaks. But the story of the Bible is how we’re not very good at listening.

And that’s what we learn from the history lesson Stephen gives here in Acts 7. It’s a summary of the Old Testament, And it’s LONG! In fact, it’s the longest of all the speeches in Acts. But it’s got a very special focus, which is all about how Israel REFUSED TO LISTEN to God’s message, or God’s messengers.

And the sting in the tail, and what ends up getting Stephen KILLED, is he accuses his hearers of being JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Because they REFUSED TO LISTEN TO JESUS, God’s righteous servant, and MURDERED him.

And so the question God’s asking US is how well do WE listen to him. Most importantly, are we listening to his SON, JESUS? And living in response to him?

We’ll come back to those questions. But let’s start at the beginning. Ch 6 v8. We’re introduced to Stephen. (One of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians we met last week. They’ve been appointed to distribute the food to the needy.)

But that’s not all he does. He’s full of the Spirit and wisdom. And God uses him to do MIRACLES. And when he goes to his Greek-speaking synagogue, v9, he TELLS THEM ALL ABOUT JESUS. Probably, like Peter in Chapter 2 and 3, showing how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus as a suffering Messiah, who died for sin, and who defeated death.

And because he’s got God’s Spirit and wisdom, those who disagreed couldn’t win the argument, v10. And so people LIED, and accused him, (see it there in v11) of speaking WORDS OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST MOSES AND AGAINST GOD.

They bring him before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. And, v12, MORE false witnesses testify that he was speaking against THIS HOLY PLACE (which means the temple) and against THE LAW.

The three most important things in Judaism. God, the Law, and the temple. And Stephen’s accused of speaking against all three. It’s hard to imagine greater sins in Judaism.

The high priest asks him if the charges are true. And, in v2 of ch 7, Stephen begins his defence. It’s a STRANGE sort of defence, because it’s more of a PROSECUTION, than a defence. (He accuses his ACCUSERS).

On the surface, it looks like a long history lesson of Israel. But if we look a little closer, we notice he does actually address the charges against him. FIRSTLY the charge that he’s AGAINST THE TEMPLE – which they call “THIS HOLY PLACE”. And secondly that he’s against God, Moses and the Law.

What’s really a holy place?

And his point about the FIRST charge (that he’s against this holy place) is that there are LOTS of holy places. Because God’s been at work ALL OVER THE PLACE. THEY think the TEMPLE is the holy place, But Stephen asks the question, “What’s REALLY a holy place?”

He begins, v2, by noticing that Abraham was in MESOPOTAMIA when God appeared to him. God was THERE!

Then he talks about all the places Abraham went. He skips over Isaac and Jacob, and slows down again when he gets to JACOB, v9. His brothers sold him as a slave into EGYPT. But GOD WAS WITH HIM. IN EGYPT!

Fast forward again, through the famine. Jacob and his brothers die. And they get brought back to SHECHEM to be buried, v16. That’s ANOTHER holy place.

Fast forward again through the slavery in Egypt, to MOSES. He flees Egypt and goes to Midian, v29. Forty years later, v30, an angel appears to Moses in the burning bush on Mt Sinai. He hears the LORD’S voice, who tells him, v33, to take off his sandals, BECAUSE THE PLACE HE’S STANDING ON IS HOLY GROUND. MT SINAI is holy ground TOO!

Fast forward again, through Moses bringing Israel out of slavery. An amazing series of stories, but all summarised in one verse, v36. Where we see three MORE locations where God was working through Moses. He did wonders and miracles in EGYPT, and THE RED SEA, and in THE DESERT.

The action slows down again at v40. The people rebel against Moses. And ask Aaron, v41, to make an idol in the form of a calf. And

They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in WHAT THEIR OWN HANDS HAD MADE

Notice what Stephen calls the idol. Something MADE WITH HANDS. (It’s a common Old Testament insult of idols.)

And then, in v44, Stephen turns his attention to the TABERNACLE. Which was made

AS GOD DIRECTED MOSES, according to the pattern he had seen

And the tabernacle travelled around wherever the people went. Through the desert, and then into the Promised Land. And God was in ALL OF THOSE PLACES. THOSE places were holy.

And the tabernacle stayed in the land until King David arrived, v45. David wanted to find a dwelling place for God, v46. But, in the end, it was SOLOMON who built a house for him, v47. And in v48 Stephen paraphrases Solomon’s prayer at the opening of the temple

“However, the Most High does not live in houses MADE BY HUMAN HANDS.

Solomon had ACTUALLY said that God didn’t live in “THIS TEMPLE I HAVE BUILT.” But Stephen describes it, instead, as a HOUSE MADE WITH HANDS. Which is how IDOLS are made. He’s, more or less, calling the temple AN IDOL. At least, the way the Jews of the day were TREATING it was idolatry.

And then to back it up, he quotes Isaiah 66.

49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not MY HAND made all these things?’

Everything belongs to God. Everywhere is HOLY because God’s MADE IT ALL. Forget something made with HUMAN hands. The world’s been made with GOD’S hand. EVERYWHERE IS HOLY GROUND.

The Jews of the time had focussed so much on Jerusalem and the Jews, they’d forgotten that God was God of the WHOLE WORLD, and every nation. And now, in Jesus, the gospel was going TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.

You didn’t need to come to the temple to meet God. God was everywhere.

And that’s a great truth for us to remember. To REJOICE in. EVERYWHERE is HOLY. God is everywhere. It’s been difficult with our building closed. And it’s good to be back. But we don’t go to a BUILDING to meet God. God’s been with us the WHOLE TIME.

We don’t need a certain ritual. Or mediator. Or a congregation.

Because of Jesus’ reconciling work, he’s poured out his Spirit, and now God lives WITH us. Wherever we are. On the top of a mountain, or under the sea. By ourselves, or in a crowd. At midday, or the middle of the night. And he HEARS us when we talk to him.

I think, sometimes, we FORGET that. We under value it. Let’s REJOICE in that privilege. And TAKE ADVANTAGE of it!

That’s Stephen’s answer to the FIRST charge. (That he’s speaking against “this holy place”.) In a sense, he’s AGREEING with them. He IS against what the temple has BECOME.

  1. Who’s really speaking against God and his leaders?

But what about the SECOND charge? Do you remember what it was? It was SPEAKING AGAINST GOD, MOSES AND THE LAW. And we can summarise Stephen’s response with this question, “Who’s REALLY speaking against God and his leaders?”

So go back to the start of Ch 7, and we’ll skim through it again, looking for what he says about rejecting God and his leaders.

Jump down to v9, where he says that the Patriarchs were JEALOUS of Joseph so they sold him to Egypt. They rejected the one God chose to SAVE them from famine. Just like the Jews were jealous of Jesus.

Fast forward to Moses in v20. Stephen says, in v25,

Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, BUT THEY DID NOT.

They didn’t recognise God’s Saviour – just like the Jews did, hundreds of years later, with JESUS!

And then he zooms in on one man’s reaction to Moses’ peace-making efforts. V27, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”

Stephen’s building his case of a history of God’s people who reject God’s leaders.

Jump forward again 40 years later to God’s call to Moses on Mt Sinai. Stephen describes him in v35

“This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.

They reject MOSES. And so they reject GOD, who SENT him.

And again, v36, even though Moses led the people out of Egypt, and, v38, received living words from God to pass on us, V39

“But our fathers REFUSED TO OBEY HIM. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.

The sin of the fathers was rejecting God and his chosen leader.

Fast forward through the story of the golden calf, and the tabernacle. And Solomon building the temple. And look at v51. Stephen reaches his conclusion. The point of the whole history lesson.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHERS: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One

They’ve accused STEPHEN. But now, he accuses THEM. They’re stiff-necked. And their hearts are dead, and their ears are dull. But it’s not a PHYSICAL problem. It’s a SPIRITUAL one. They’re PROUD. And they REFUSE to LISTEN to God’s Holy Spirit.

And that makes them JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Who refused to listen to THEIR leaders like Moses and Joseph. They REJECTED their RESCUERS. They PERSECUTED their PROPHETS. The prophets who predicted the Messiah.

And then, at the end of v52, the EVIDENCE for his charge that they refuse to listen). “You’ve BETRAYED and MURDERED the Righteous One – Jesus!” The worst sin of all! Murdering the One the Law and the Prophets points to. Rejecting the One God sent to rescue them.

I wonder how you’d receive THAT CORRECTION. Would you recognise it as great advice, and accept it. And throw yourself on God’s MERCY?

That’s what happened back in chapter 2. The crowd who listened to Peter’s speech at Pentecost. Peter says,

v36,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ.”

And listen to how the crowd respond. They’re CUT TO THE HEART. And they say, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

And Peter says, “REPENT and be baptised, every one of you for the FORGIVENESS of your sins.”

And they DO. And they ARE. Which is WONDERFUL! And what WE should do TOO.

But how do STEPHEN’S hearers respond? V54, they’re FURIOUS with him, and they GNASHED THEIR TEETH at him. (I’m not quite sure what that LOOKS LIKE, but it SOUNDS BAD!)

But it doesn’t bother Stephen. In the middle of the fury all around him, God gives him a wonderful vision to strengthen him. V55

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

It’s not something that JUST HAPPENED THEN. Jesus is ALWAYS king, watching over his people. And KNOWING the REALITY of it give Stephen COMFORT and HOPE.

May WE understand that same reality, so WE can stand up courageously for our King!

Notice that Jesus is STANDING. Not SITTING at God’s right hand. But waiting to receive Stephen. To welcome him home.

And did you notice Stephen calls Jesus THE SON OF MAN? He’s the only other person in the Bible to call Jesus that! But Stephen had seen, perhaps like no one else before him, that Jesus was more than a Messiah FOR JEWS ONLY. He was the Son of Man, from Daniel 7, who’d been given authority, glory and sovereign power by the Ancient of Days. And that ALL NATIONS and PEOPLES of EVERY LANGUAGE worshipped him. He was a king for EVERYONE.

And that’s enough to drive the Sanhedrin WILD. That Jesus is WITH GOD IN HEAVEN. V57. They cover their ears, and scream at him.

How ironic that God’s correcting them by his Spirit, through Stephen. (About HOW THEY DON’T LISTEN)… And they DON’T LISTEN to THAT!

And then drag him out of the city and stone him to death.

And as they do, Stephen prays to the Jesus he can see waiting to welcome him home. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Like Jesus himself, who’d prayed, “Father, into YOUR hands I commit my spirit.”

And then, again like Jesus, he loved his enemies. V60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In other words, “Show them MERCY. Grant them REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS.”

And that prayer was answered for at least ONE of those watching. Because there was a young man named SAUL, who was looking after the coats. And he’ll end up being the most important human cause in how the gospel spread. He was the PLANT that grew from the SEED of Stephen’s death.

We’ll see NEXT WEEK about MORE fruit that came from that persecution. How it drove Christians out of Jerusalem. But they spread the gospel of Jesus wherever they went. Doing the very thing the Sanhedrin was trying to STOP.

And the church GREW.

But back to the question we BEGAN with. How well do YOU accept correction?

Firstly, about how you TREAT JESUS. Israel’s forefathers rejected the rescuers God sent them. Is that YOU? In your pride and independence, have you said to Jesus, “No thanks. I’m ok. I don’t need your help.”

God sent his Son because WE’RE NOT OK. We’re dead in our sin. Helpless. Bound for judgment.

But God, who is RICH in MERCY, offers to make you ALIVE with Christ. Saving you by GRACE.

What have you done with THAT advice?

Many of us have heard and received that advice. (We’re saved and forgiven) But we need to KEEP doing that. (Listening to God’s word to us, in the Bible). Daily.

Is hearing from God your TOP PRIORITY? The FIRST thing you do each day? How regular is your Bible reading? Jesus advised us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Is that what fuels YOUR life?

And when you READ, are you EXPECTING GOD to CORRECT YOU? A great prayer to pray before you read is, “God, COMMAND me! Speak, Lord, your servant is LISTENING!”

Or, finally, how well do you receive correction from your brothers and sisters?

We actually have a RESPONSIBILITY as FAMILY to be correcting each other. Galatians 6:1-2 says

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should RESTORE that person GENTLY. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

We show LOVE by correcting people. For their GOOD. That needs to be our motivation. Not pride, or comparing ourselves, or putting someone in their place.

And if you’re on the RECEIVING END. Don’t be like your FATHERS. Don’t be stiff necked. Be HUMBLE. Listen before you speak. (You’ve got TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason).

Try not to take it personally. It’s easier to do that if you know the person is doing it from LOVE rather than some OTHER motive.

But even if it’s NOT given in love, doesn’t mean it’s WRONG. Prayerfully consider the advice. Look for the grain of truth amongst the advice that’s NOT helpful.

Or here’s a hard one. Do you INVITE correction? Are there people you ASK for advice? Do you ever say, “How can I be a better husband? Dad? Public speaker? Employee?”

God is at work on all sorts of situations, in all sorts of place, and using all sorts of people to make you more like Jesus each day. Make sure you’re LISTENING.

 

Acts 4:32-5:16: Keeping up appearances

Keeping up Appearances. It’s a British TV comedy. Starring Hyacinth Bucket. Which she prefers to pronounce BOUQUET. And everything about her is to do with KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. Impressing other people.

Hyacinth turns up to her church working bee. In her best clothes. But she’s not there to HELP. She’s there to BE NOTICED. And so she’s only interested in the BEST, MOST PROMINENT job. But she ends up having to clean the toilets.

One of the reasons we laugh at the show is because we all know someone like Hyacinth. Might be the mother-in-law. Or our boss. Or the next door neighbour. Or perhaps we recognise a little bit of her in OURSELVES. (A BUCKET that wants to look like a BOUQUET.)

We might LAUGH, but in real life, keeping up appearances IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. Because, at the lowest level, it’s all about DECEPTION, isn’t it? Hypocrisy. Pretending to be something that you’re not.

And it’s especially serious when it involves LYING TO GOD. Which is what you see in the passage we’re looking at today. An incredibly scary story of two people who learned the hard way. Two people who stand as an example for all time. That HYPOCRISY is a stench in God’s nostrils.

You know, surveys say one of things that turn people off Christianity is the HYPOCRISY of Christians. Christians who say one thing, and do another. Who are more interested in the APPEARANCE. Than the REALITY.

And the fact that people THINK that/ means the church hasn’t properly learned the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira.

We’re looking at a passage with a contrast. How things SHOULD be. How things SHOULDN’T BE. A passage with a GOOD example. And a BAD example. A picture of GENEROSITY. Set against a picture of HYPOCRISY. If you like, a BOUQUET. And a BUCKET.

The passage starts on A HIGH NOTE. A description of a church that’s BEING a church. Verse 32 in chapter 4; “all the believers were ONE IN HEART AND MIND. No one claimed any of his possessions was his own, but they SHARED EVERYTHING THEY HAD.”

Out of their UNITY; out of their connection as FAMILY; came A VERY PRACTICAL CONCERN for each other. And instead of the usual attitude of WHAT’S MINE IS MINE, there’s the opposite. What’s MINE is YOURS. (Which sounds easy. But most of us know it’s a lot harder IN PRACTICE than it is in THEORY!)

And notice, in verse 33, it’s a SIDE EFFECT of the fact that they’re Christians. It’s not that the apostles are COMMANDING they share everything. Because the apostles are just going about the business of TESTIFYING TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. And his LORDSHIP.

But the CONSEQUENCE of Jesus’ lordship. (The practical outworking). Is that when you have a whole bunch of people who are ALL Jesus-FOLLOWERS. Then they’re genuinely UNITED in heart and mind. And so, THEY SHARE EVERYTHING. They genuinely consider OTHERS before they consider THEMSELVES. This is a church that’s working like a FAMILY.

And look at the radical ways that worked itself out. Verse 34; there’s not a needy person left among them. Because every now and then, someone who owns a block of land or a house, they’ll sell it; and they bring the money and they lay it at the feet of the apostles. And they say, “I didn’t really need this. Share it with someone who does. I don’t mind. You decide.”

Verse 36 and 37, here’s an example. Joseph, from Cyprus. The apostles have a nickname for him; they call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Hebrew – Bar-nabas. The Aussie translation is “good bloke”. And you’ll see why. Barnabas sells a field he owns, and he brings the money and puts it at the apostles’ feet.

Cyprus is an island 400 km from Jerusalem. And it may have been that’s where the block of land was. And he didn’t need it. That’s a fair guess. A bit like Bill discovering a long-lost uncle in Scotland who dies, and leaves him a castle or something. Doesn’t need it. So he sells it. And gives it to the church. Same with Barnabas. He sells the field. And brings the money and puts it at the apostles’ feet. “Use it where it’s needed most.” That’s story ONE.

Now look carefully at what happens next. Story TWO. Because it BEGINS in the same way. Ananias and Sapphira are a married couple. And they’re part of the church. And chapter 5 verse 1 tells us that THEY SELL A PIECE OF PROPERTY TOO. Just like Barnabas.

But notice the difference. Verse 2 says, with Sapphira’s full knowledge, Ananias keeps back some of the money for himself; and then brings THE REST. And puts it at the apostles’ feet. We’re not told how much. I mean, it might have been a BETTER block than the one Barnabas sold. Might be that the PARTIAL proceeds were even more than the FULL proceeds from Barnabas.

And the only ones who know the FULL price are Ananias and Sapphira. Or at least, that’s the plan. Because of course, GOD knows. And Peter, with the help of the Holy Spirit, knows TOO. Ananias brings him the money. And Peter confronts him. He says (v3)

“Ananias, HOW IS IT THAT SATAN HAS SO FILLED YOUR HEART that you’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

Here we are in the first months of THE CHURCH, and there’s HYPOCRISY and DECEPTION GOING ON. Ananias and Sapphira have looked at what Barnabas did. And they thought, “LOOK HOW PEOPLE ADMIRE HIM. They call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Wouldn’t it be nice if PEOPLE SAID THAT ABOUT US? LOVE a nickname like THAT! They’re trying to BUY ADMIRATION. (Buckets trying to be bouquets.)

But Peter says to Ananias, IT’S THE DEVIL AT WORK. (The end of verse 4), he says “You haven’t only lied to MEN. You’ve lied to GOD.” And verse 5, God passes his judgment sentence. When Ananias hears this, he, literally, drops dead. On the spot. And a bunch of young guys come forward and they take him away and bury him; and everyone’s filled with awe. The word is actually FEAR – which seems more accurate to me!

Verse 7, three hours later, and Sapphira comes in. She hasn’t heard what happened. And Peter asks HER the question. (Testing her. Seeing how deep the deceit’s going to run. But also a chance to have a change of heart.)

Verse 8, he asks her, “Sapphira, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” And she says, “Yes, that’s it. That’s the price.” Not true. But she’s keeping up appearances.

And Peter says almost the same words as before. How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? He says, look, here come the guys who buried your husband. And they’ll carry you out too.

And in verse 10, SHE fell down at his feet. And died. And the young men come and take her out. And bury her beside her husband.

And we’re told in verse 11, great FEAR seized the whole church. And not only in the church, but EVERYONE WHO HEARD ABOUT IT AS WELL.

And, maybe, that’s how YOU’RE feeling, TOO? FEARFUL? WORRIED? CONFUSED about why God would do this?

After all, it seems a tad unfair, doesn’t it? I mean, they’ve sold their block of land, they give MOST OF IT TO HELP THE POOR. In terms of VALUE, probably MORE THAN YOU’D GIVE IN A YEAR. And yet they’re struck down on the spot. For doing what, on the SURFACE, is a good deed.

But it’s the DECEPTION that’s the problem, isn’t it? And that’s what’s scary. Because, if you’re HONEST, you’ve probably done something PRETTY SIMILAR? And you’re wondering whether you’re in danger of God doing the same thing to you TOO?

If that’s how you’re feeling, then perhaps that’s just what God WANTS you to feel. (Not to be CONFUSED). But to feel his gracious WARNING. The warning that FORGIVENESS/ isn’t LICENSE TO SIN. But that God’s calling is a calling to HOLINESS. And PURITY. And HONESTY. Your behavior MATTERS. Your MOTIVATION matters.

It’s God’s gracious warning. HERE. At the start of this chapter of the Christian church. To MERCIFULLY WARN ALL THOSE WHO FOLLOW. It’s a lot like the sin of Achan, (Joshua Ch 7). When Joshua and Israel defeated Jericho. (The beginning of God’s people conquering Canaan, the Promised Land.)

God had given Israel a miraculous victory over Jericho. But then Achan had stolen some of the wealth, when God had said to DESTROY IT ALL. And God punished HIM – put him to death – AS AN EXAMPLE – A GRACIOUS WARNING- to the REST of the people who LIVED AFTER him in the Promised Land.

As far as we know, after Ananias and Sapphira, God didn’t do it AGAIN. In fact, his NORMAL way of dealing with sinners is GRACIOUS FORGIVENESS.

Like Peter himself. He denied Jesus three times. But Jesus forgave and restored him.

Or Paul, who PERSECUTED believers. But God chose him to be Apostle to the Gentiles. He used that same dogged zeal and determination to BUILD the church, rather than DESTROY it.

Or there’s Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. He makes the mistake of TRYING TO BUY THE HOLY SPIRIT. But he only earns a WARNING and REBUKE from Peter. And, it seems he REPENTS.

So BE WARNED. Ananias and Sapphira are God’s warning signpost at the START of the journey. Be careful about HYPOCRISY.

Generous AND genuine

And there’s TWO LESSONS we can learn from this section. FIRST, as Christians, we’re called to be GENEROUS. (That’s what BARNABAS teaches us.)

But that’s not enough. We’re also called to be GENUINE. (That’s what Ananias and Sapphira teach us). And one without the other isn’t enough. In fact, if you want to MAKE one THE TOP PRIORITY, then put GENUINE right at the top.

But let’s begin with GENEROSITY. God WANTS you to be generous. It’s what the Kingdom of God LOOKS LIKE. Again and again through the Bible, OLD Testament as well as NEW, there are commands. There’s BLESSING in generosity. Because it shows you’re trusting God. And he also blesses OTHERS with YOUR GENEROSITY.

God wants you to LOVE THE BROTHERS, so that you HATE to see them doing WITHOUT. And you’re willing to go without YOURSELF, so they don’t suffer.

Recently, I’ve been hugely encouraged by nearly $15000 that 20 different people from our church have given to help others doing it tough due to COVID19. And they give it to the committee of management. And they trust that they’ll be wise in giving it to those who NEED it. Which is exactly how it was back then. And exactly how it SHOULD be. But let’s do it more and more.

And not just MONEY. Without minimising the generosity of those 20 people in any way. For many of us, giving money is relatively EASY. All it hurts is your WALLET – your bank balance. But we can give away MORE COSTLY things.

Like our time. Our energy. Our friendship. Our hospitality. The thoughtfulness of writing a letter. Of telling someone how you appreciate them. We’re commanded to share not just our money, but our EMOTIONS. Romans 12.15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Those things can COST us more than cash. But they can also be FAR MORE VALUABLE to people than money.

But let’s finish by thinking about the challenge to BE GENUINE. Because that’s really where the sting is. Take a look at Peter’s words in verse 4 of chapter 5. (We skipped over them before). He highlights the problem. He says to Ananias, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO DO IT. He says to him, you didn’t have to sell your land. It was yours in the first place. He says “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?” You could DO WHAT YOU LIKED WITH IT.

“And AFTER IT WAS SOLD, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” You could give HALF. You could give a QUARTER. You didn’t have to give ANY OF IT! God’s not offended by your generosity, or lack of it.

What you DID have to do… was TO BE HONEST ABOUT IT. And not use it to make yourself LOOK BETTER. And act as if you’re something that you’re not. It’s the HYPOCRISY that upsets God.

God’s more concerned with your INTEGRITY than your GENEROSITY. More interested in your CHARACTER than your CASH. Your HEART, rather than your HANDS. The motivation BEHIND the action, than the ACTION ITSELF.

From Hosea 6:6, where he says

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Or 1 Samuel 16:7

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Or Jesus himself (Matthew 6), who had a hard word for the hypocrites, who’d give to the needy, then announce it with trumpets, to be honoured by men. Instead he says, (Matthew 6:3-4)

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. THEN YOUR FATHER, WHO SEES WHAT IS DONE IN SECRET, WILL REWARD YOU.

And THAT’S the answer. That’s where our focus needs to be. ON WHAT GOD THINKS. Ananias and Sapphira must have known, in that moment, that they couldn’t HIDE from God. They must have known he’d SEE their deception.

But the reality was, in that moment, they cared more about what OTHER people thought than they did with what GOD thought.

The hypocrisy and the deception are just symptoms of something else. A DEEPER problem. HUMAN approval and acceptance meant more to them than GOD’S approval and acceptance. The idol they worshipped was HUMAN OPINION.

And it’s what WE do too, when we choose hypocrisy. We choose to value the opinion of PEOPLE more than GOD.

So how do we learn from their mistake? How do we begin to ORIENTATE OURSELVES to look, only, for the FATHER’S REWARD?

The solution is about beginning each day with a commitment to WALK with GOD through the day. Begin each day listening to HIS voice, in his Word, as the FIRST opinion you hear. Let HIS voice tell you who you are. And why you matter. Let his priorities set YOUR priorities.

Give the day to him. Everything you SAY, and DO, and THINK.

Perform for an audience of ONE. Pray that you’ll learn to worry less about the opinions of others, and more about God’s opinion.

But if you walk out the door without giving God a thought. Then that’s likely to be the way things CONTINUE. Your actions end up coming from wrong motives. (Pleasing others, rather than GOD). You’ll value, instead, the voices AROUND YOU. That speak of different priorities, and different choices, and a different identity.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to do things from wrong motives? And it doesn’t just happen with GIVING MONEY. EVERYTHING WE DO can be tainted with wrong motives. Wanting to please MEN rather than please GOD. Or serving from PRIDE, rather than HUMILTY. So people will LIKE us, or APPROVE of us. (KEEPING UP APPEARANCES.)

And that was Ananias and Sapphira through and through. So can I ask you, will you LEARN from them?

And at least back then, it had the desired effect, didn’t it. It was very clear that the CHURCH wasn’t the place for IMPRESSING OTHERS. PERFORMERS. For INSTAGRAM-INFLUENCERS. It was the place for GENUINE CARING. Instead of giving to make yourself LOOK GOOD.

And PEOPLE NOTICED. Take a look a bit further on. Verse 12 and 13, all the believers used to meet together in the verandah area to the side of the temple. And there’s this STRANGE CONTRADICTION in v13 and 14. When they met, no-one ELSE dared join them, even though they’re highly regarded. They’re held in AWE. Except, v14, that MORE AND MORE men and women believed in the Lord. And were added to their number. Not as casual onlookers. But as serious CONVERTS.

Those who weren’t sure / were scared to join them. They recognised more BUCKET in themselves than BOUQUET.

And yet, there were many GENUINE believers as well. Who God had really done a work in. Who were SERIOUS about serving him, and serving others.

When the church is GENUINE, that’s what happens.

As WE get serious about the way we share. Not just because we’re KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. But because we GENUINELY CARE. Care about God’s opinion, and CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER. Then God really WILL add to our number.

May it be so!

Acts 3-4:31: Power, preaching, persecution and plans

There’s one phrase in this whole passage I want you to notice. Right near the end. Acts chapter 4 v13, talking about Peter and John. “They took note that THESE MEN HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.”

For me, that sentence SUMS EVERYTHING UP. (Following Jesus, so that people notice the change he makes in you). It’s the whole point of THIS STORY. And it’s the whole point of the Christian life. And it’s the top priority for churches (To MAKE DISCIPLES – Jesus-FOLLOWERS).

But, more than that, it’s what I want for MYSELF. To follow Jesus. Relentlessly and steadfastly. With single-minded determination and endurance. So that I’m DIFFERENT. And people NOTICE. And give glory to God. And I hope it’s what YOU want, TOO.

What a witness THAT would be if our churches were full of people like THAT!

So let’s pay close attention to see what we can learn about Jesus, and his power that changes those who trust him.

Last week we looked at the end of chapter 2. How the believers met every day in the temple courts. And how everyone was filled with awe, and many miraculous signs and wonders were done by the apostles. That’s the SUMMARY. Now we see an EXAMPLE of that.

  1. Power

(Start of ch 3) Peter and John head up to the temple at the regular time of prayer. Just what other devout Jews did. They enter through one of the popular gates. Which made it a great spot for beggars. (Lots of people passing, keen to obey God, and be generous to the needy.) ONE beggar there was crippled from birth. V3. I want you to notice the unusual way Luke describes his meeting with Peter and John.

3 When he SAW Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter LOOKED STRAIGHT AT HIM, as did John. Then Peter said, “LOOK AT US!” 5 So the man GAVE THEM HIS ATTENTION, expecting to get something from them.

Four different words for SEE. What’s going on with all the LOOKING? Interesting, isn’t it? We’ve got the lame man seeing Peter and John. But only seeing an income source.

Then Peter looks straight at him. And commands him to LOOK AT THEM. So what’s Peter doing?

At the very least he wants this to be something PERSONAL. Something more than just a TRANSACTION. Where a few coins are exchanged.

And that’s often the way it works with beggars, isn’t it? When we pass them in the street? They just want what we’ve got. And we’re tempted to just get away as quickly as we can – whether we give them money or not.

But what would happen if we stopped and ENGAGED with people. Listened to their story. Saw them as real people, with personality, and real needs and opinions and preferences.

That’s at a HUMAN level. But I think there’s something going on at a SPIRITUAL level, too.

The Apostle Paul does something similar over in Chapters 13 and 14. And they help us understand THIS. Chapter 13 v9. Paul and Barnabas are on Cyprus, and a sorcerer called Elymas opposed them. And in v9 we read.

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, LOOKED STRAIGHT AT ELYMAS and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!

Looking at him seems to be a way of assessing him, Discerning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what’s happening SPIRITUALLY. Below the surface.

A similar thing happens in the next chapter. Chapter 14 v9. But with the OPPOSITE RESULT. Paul’s preaching in Lystra, and a lame man’s listening. V9.

Paul LOOKED DIRECTLY AT HIM, SAW that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

THIS time, Paul looks/ and sees FAITH. The man’s heard the message about Jesus. And he BELIEVES it. And so he’s HEALED.

And I think Peter’s doing a similar thing here in Ch 3. Showing SPIRITUAL INSIGHT. He’s looking below the PHYSICAL limitations. And the focus ON MONEY. Is there any SPIRITUAL life there?

And that’s something we should ALL do. What do WE see when we look at people? Education? Fulfilment? Success? Hardness to spiritual things? Pride?

Let’s look DEEPER. Look beyond the externals. Below the skin. Let’s get to know people. Ask questions. Let’s pray for Holy Spirit-discernment and wisdom. Find out what DRIVES them. What they’re THIRSTY for.

Too often, we don’t look long enough, or deep enough, to find out. WHATEVER IT IS, JESUS IS THE ANSWER!

Peter looks at him. He asks the man to look at HIM. The man does, but only because he’s expecting MONEY.

And v6, Peter disappoints him. At least for a moment.

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

My pockets are empty. But my heart’s full. I’ve got something far better than MONEY. The NAME of Jesus. His AUTHORITY. Which has the power to HEAL YOU.

And he takes hold of his right hand, helps him up. And the man’s legs instantly become strong. He JUMPS to his feet. And then he takes off, overjoyed, dancing through the temple courts. PRAISING GOD.

And v9, it’s not just Peter and John looking at him. Everyone in the temple saw him dancing around. And they recognise him as the lame man. And they’re filled with wonder and amazement.

And, v11, the man returns to hug Peter and John. In his JOY, all thoughts about money forgotten. And the crowd follow him, right up to where Peter and John are. Now it’s THEIR turn to come running.

  1. Preaching

And Peter’s recognises it’s time to PREACH. They’ve seen THE POWER. Now, the PREACHING. V12.

You’re STARING AT US as if WE’D cured him. (More SEEING). (Trying to understand what’s happened.)

V13. It’s not US, it’s JESUS. God’s GLORIFIED him. (Raised him to his right side, ruling everything.) You handed him over, and disowned him. God’s SERVANT, the HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS ONE – titles, from Isaiah, for the Messiah.

And, again, v14, you DISOWNED him. It’s an unexpected word… Except it’s exactly what PETER did. He disowned Jesus. Three times. He failed to recognise him. Failed to stand on his side.

And so he feels the WEIGHT of that. And recognises it in OTHERS.

And Peter describes the horror and INJUSTICE of it. Jesus was the RIGHTEOUS one, but they asked for A MURDERER to be released.

And, v15, they KILLED / the AUTHOR OF LIFE. The took away the LIFE of the One who was the ORIGIN of ALL life. It sounds IMPOSSIBLE.

And, in a sense, it WAS. It WASN’T possible for the Author of life to STAY dead. Because God RAISED HIM TO LIFE.

And we’re WITNESSES of it. Just like you’re looking at this healed lame man. We LOOKED at the Resurrected Jesus.

And here’s the relevance of the history lesson. It’s THAT SAME POWER that healed THIS man. (Faith in the name of Jesus has made him strong.)

And now, v17, Peter turns his attention from the healed man to the crowd. “You acted in IGNORANCE. You didn’t realise what you were doing. But that’s no excuse. You still need to REPENT, v19. (Turn back to God). You turned away from him when you disowned Jesus.”

Do that, and God will WIPE OUT your sins. Completely gone. A fresh start.

And times of REFRESHING will begin. New life. Recovery.

And that’s what life will be like until Jesus comes back, v21, to RESTORE EVERYTHING. Not just a fresh start for YOU. Not just restored legs for the lame man. But for the WHOLE UNIVERSE. No more pollution, or war, or disease, or suffering, or death. RESTORED.

  1. Persecution

Peter’s preaching up a storm. But, into Ch 4, he’s interrupted by the temple guard. The priests have heard he’s preaching about the resurrection. Which they don’t believe in. So they send in the guards to break up the crowd. And Peter and John are thrown in jail overnight.

(We’ve seen the POWER, and the PREACHING. Now it’s time for the PERSECUTION.)

They might be in jail. But, v4, it’s too late to stop the message. And lots more believe. At the end of chapter two there were three thousand. Now, the count’s about FIVE thousand! And that’s just THE MEN!

The POWER that healed the lame man. (The POWER that raised Jesus from the dead.) Is the power that grants FAITH and REPENTANCE to THOUSANDS. And a FEW GUARDS, and A JAIL CELL can’t stop it!

The next morning, v5, they’re brought before the Jewish leaders. And POWER is what they’re interested in. V7, “by what power, or what name, did you do this?”

Notice, they’re not questioning the MIRACLE. They just want to know whose POWER is behind it.

And, once again, Peter points them STRAIGHT TO JESUS. V10

It is by THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

The same Jesus they thought they’d removed. Was BACK! It’s by the power of HIS name that the man was healed. There’s NO OTHER NAME LIKE IT. No one else compares. V12.

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is NO other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

The word for SAVED is the same word for HEALED back up in v9. Peter’s extending its meaning, applying it more broadly. The name of Jesus has the power to HEAL LEGS. But more than that, the power to SAVE FROM GOD’S JUDGMENT. And that’s something EVERYONE needs. Whether your legs work or not.

And there’s NO OTHER NAME that can do THAT.

It’s an extraordinary claim. Because all those listening would know Joel 2, where God talks about the last days, when he’d send his Spirit. And when there’d be wonders in the heavens, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. Judgment Day! And, v32,

32 And everyone who calls on the name of THE LORD (that’s YAHWEH) will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance,

So, YAHWEH is the name people will call on to be saved. But Peter’s saying, as they all stand on Mt Zion, that there’s NO OTHER NAME to be saved by than JESUS.

So, he’s either saying Yahweh’s NOT the name to call on. OR, he’s saying that JESUS IS Yahweh. They’re ONE AND THE SAME.

Jesus, the one they killed, is alive again and healing and saving people. But more than that, He’s GOD HIMSELF!

We don’t know how the Jewish leaders react to Peter’s WORDS. But they DO notice PETER AND JOHN. V13.

13 When they saw the COURAGE of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were ASTONISHED and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

It’s the verse I BEGAN with. The crowd saw the healed man, and are amazed. The Jewish leaders see Peter and John who’ve been changed. And THEY’RE amazed. Ordinary, uneducated men, now speaking with wisdom and courage. And power that convinces and changes people.

Both are because of the POWER of the name of Jesus.

People sometimes ask why we don’t see miracles anymore, like they saw in Acts. The truth is that every person who turns to God in repentance. And who calls on the name of Jesus. And God wipes out their sin. And fills them with his Holy Spirit, so they follow and love, and grow to resemble, Jesus. Every one is a miracle. A miracle that people NOTICE.

May God do MANY MORE miracles among us, like THAT!

The leaders can’t deny the miracle – either in the healed man, or the disciples. So, v18, they warn them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus.

But look at Peter and John’s response. Peter’s not going to disown his Saviour again. V19.

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

“We cannot help speaking”. What does it take for YOU to stop speaking about Jesus? How little does it take for you to go quiet? A little busy-ness? A little tiredness? A little teasing? A little self-pity?

May God make us people who FOLLOW Jesus relentlessly, so people will notice, so nothing will stop us speaking for him! That the good news just BUBBLES OUT OF US!

  1. Plans

Peter and John are released, v23. They return to the brothers. Who are overjoyed. And they turn to PRAYER. In thanks for God’s protection in the PAST. But also, asking for his help IN THE FUTURE. As they do exactly what they’ve been told NOT to do.

And notice how it’s QUALITIES about GOD that gives them FAITH and COURAGE. That MOTIVATES them.

They begin, v24. He’s the God who MADE EVERYTHING – he’s POWERFUL. And he PREDICTED through prophets that people would reject his Messiah. V28.

28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

Nothing is outside God’s control. He’s working EVERYTHING according to HIS good purposes. It’s all part of the plan!

Notice what that MEANS. (The PRACTICAL application of God’s sovereignty). SINCE God’s decided everything that’s happening, that must mean he’ll use the persecution. So, v29,

29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

We LOVE what you’ve done so far. And we want to see MORE OF THE SAME. DESPITE the threats. More boldness. More miracles. More people calling on the name of Jesus.

And God answers their prayer straight away. The place was SHAKEN – God was in the house. And they were filled with the Spirit. And they ALL spoke the word BOLDLY.

May God make us people who FOLLOW Jesus relentlessly, so people will notice, so nothing will stop us speaking for him!

 

Acts 2:42-47: The baby church

I love baby photos. The tiny little hands. The funny ears. The cute helplessness. Photos marking various milestones. The first smile. The first tooth. The first haircut. The first step. (At least for the FIRST child. We sought of FORGOT for the rest)

And these few verses in Acts are something similar. A BABY PHOTO OF THE CHURCH. And, as we work through Acts we’ll see MORE photos. As the baby grows up.

But, here at the beginning, the question is. How’s the new baby LOOKING?

The apostles had begun, like most new parents, uncertain and scared. Not quite sure what to expect, or what they were doing. They’d been praying together, waiting.

Then Jesus had poured out his Holy Spirit. Giving them power to witness to God’s goodness. To guide them. To strengthen them. To be WITH them as they look after this new baby called the church. Making sure it grows up strong and healthy.

It’s certainly off to a good start. There’s been an amazing growth spurt. With a few thousand joining them in ONE DAY.

And verses 42-47 are a baby photo of that milestone.

But, more than just a PHOTO. It’s God’s BLUEPRINT for how he wants his church to grow. How he wants US to grow.

And there’s four aspects to notice. In relation to the APOSTLES, they were a LEARNING church. In relation to GOD, they were a WORSHIPPING church. In relation to EACH OTHER, they were a LOVING church. And in relation to OTHERS, they were an EVANGELISTIC church.

So let’s pay close attention, so we can grow more and more to look like our baby photo.

  1. A LEARNING church

Firstly, they were A LEARNING CHURCH. Unlike what some Christians seem to think today, when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, he gives you the desire to LEARN. To study. To THINK. The Spirit DOESN’T lead us just to FEELINGS, or to OTHER ways of guidance. v42.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ TEACHING.

The phrase in Greek gives the idea that their devotion is an ongoing, habitual practice. Not a one-off burst of initial enthusiasm.

God’s SPIRIT gives us a desire for God’s WORD. 3000 new converts enrolled in kindergarten for Christians. And the APOSTLES are the pre-school teachers.

And it’s the same today. The Holy Spirit wants the church to be a LEARNING church. Seriously committed to studying the Bible.

Because it’s the Bible that’s the SWORD of the Spirit. Ephesians 6. 17 says that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The Spirit uses the Bible to do his work. To convict people of sin. To teach. To encourage. To guide. To empower. To give joy, and direction.

So let’s make sure we’re a LEARNING church.

Is that a priority for you? Do you make an effort to be part of a home group? Is that a priority? And are you active in SHARING when you meet?

Or what about church? Do you take NOTES during the sermon?

How committed are you to reading your Bible on your own? How solidly have you carved out a regular time each day for it? What sort of ATTENTION do you give to God when you do? Do you give him ALL your concentration, or do you just skim through a chapter like your reading the paper?

Do you actually expect him to SAY SOMETHING to you as you read? That’s a great prayer to pray before you start reading – “God SPEAK TO ME TODAY through your word. Show me YOURSELF. Show me JESUS. Command me.”

What about keeping a journal of what God’s teaching you? Are you listening to sermons in the car, or on the train? There’s so much great stuff you can podcast for free!

What Christian books are you reading?

The Holy Spirit builds a LEARNING church.

  1. A WORSHIPPING church

Secondly, the Holy Spirit builds a WORSHIPPING church. V42 again. (They were devoted)

to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

That COULD be describing fellowship, eating and prayer IN GENERAL. But I think it’s about probably something MORE FORMAL. V46 says they met daily in the temple. Once again, they were DEVOTED to it. Which sounds like it sounds more like a church service. And each of the phrases in v42 has “THE” in front of it. (THE fellowship, the breaking of THE bread, and THE prayers.)

The breaking of THE bread is probably the Lord’s Supper. Remembering with thanks the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood.

You can see a bit more about their attitude towards God in v46.

They ate together with GLAD AND SINCERE HEARTS, {47} PRAISING GOD and enjoying the favor of all the people.

Their worship was GLAD AND SINCERE. And thankful. Notice the VERTICAL and the HORIZONTAL focus. Rejoicing in EACH OTHER. And praising GOD. It’s reminding each other about what God’s LIKE, and what HE’S DONE that make us grateful and thankful.

The BEST sort of fellowship points people TO GOD, not to EACH OTHER. Songs and words and prayers that point us to HIM

They were JOYFUL to be part of God’s family.

Is that what you feel about the time we spend together? Lots of people have told me recently that NOT being able to meet / has made them appreciate church more. And they can’t wait to meet again.

But it wasn’t all LIGHT and HAPPINESS. Look at v43 of Acts 2.

Everyone was filled with AWE, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

The word translated AWE there is actually FEAR. The wonders and miracles caused the awe. The same fear the disciples felt when Jesus calmed the storm. Because it’s the SAME JESUS, by his SPIRIT, who’s now healing and delivering people.

It’s nearly always the same reaction through the Bible. Whenever people come face to face with THE POWER OF GOD. They fall on their faces in FEAR.

And church is at its best when we combine the JOY AND PRAISE with the AWE of meeting the powerful Jesus, who LORD OF ALL.

We need to be a WORSHIPPING church.

  1. A LOVING church

The third thing we see/ is that the Holy Spirit builds a LOVING church. These guys were SERIOUSLY COMMITTED to each other. Look at v44.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. {45} Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. {46} Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

Some people understand these verses to say that the early church were a COMMUNE. They LIVED together in the one house, and pooled EVERYTHING. (Everything was COMMON PROPERTY). And that means we should do the same.

It DOES say they WERE TOGETHER. And they had EVERYTHING in common. It says they SOLD THEIR POSSESSIONS AND GOODS.

But v46 tells us they met IN EACH OTHER’S HOMES. So they can’t have all sold their homes, and lived in the same house.

The same goes for selling all their possessions. It says that AS THEY HAD NEED some would sell something. When a need came up, someone met the need. It might have meant selling the spare cloak, or some furniture. They didn’t have the same sort of banking systems we have. (The same sort of disposable income). We might transfer some money, or give cash. They SOLD something.

This was a LOVING church. And so they look after each other’s physical needs.

But you might say, “Hang on a minute, Dave! It says they had EVERYTHING in common.” Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they had to POOL everything into a common storage area.

At the end of Acts ch 4, it says that none of the disciples claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had. That’s hwat it means HERE when it says they had everything in common.

People were willing to share the things they had whenever they saw a need.

And that’s what happens in church. I know all sorts of equipment and supplies that get shared around in our church. Ladders and tools and camping gear and trailers. Baby clothes and toys. Books. DVD’s. Even holiday houses.

Why does everyone need to own a lawnmower? Or an overlocker?

We SHOW we LOVE and TRUST our brothers and sisters when we loan them our possessions. Let’s make sure we keep doing that. Keep NOTICING needs. Keep offering!

How SACRIFICIAL are you when it comes to the needs of others? Plenty of missionaries NEED our support, while we talk about how much we NEED that new phone, or that overseas holiday.

But love is seen in more than just GIVING MONEY. Because this first Christian church met EVERY DAY. They met in the temple courts – that was probably the FORMAL times.

AND they met in homes. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts. That was LESS formal. It says “breaking bread in homes” – this time without the “THE”. Which probably just means a normal meal.

They LOOKED FOR OPPORTUNITIES to get together. Sometimes it was specifically religious and formal. Sometimes LESS formal.

And notice, they ENJOYED each other’s company. They had glad and sincere hearts. Sometimes I think we ENDURE each other’s company. We can’t wait to get home again. We think that we’re too busy to spend time with each other.

We ask someone how they’re going, But aren’t really interested in the answer. Don’t ASK, unless you WANT to KNOW!

Especially as restrictions on gatherings ease. Let’s be HOSPITABLE. And CREATIVE in looking for opportunities to MEET.

That’s what the EARLY church did. Because the Holy Spirit was building a LOVING church.

  1. An EVANGELISTIC church

Fourthly, the Holy Spirit built an EVANGELISTIC church. That seems obvious from the fact that their first outreach service resulted in 3000 converts. But look a bit closer. It was about more than just BIG ONE-OFF EVENTS. Look at the end of v 47.

And the Lord added to their number DAILY those who were being saved.

On a regular basis. As a result of what they did EACH DAY. People were coming into the church. Their LIFESTYLE was evangelism. They didn’t switch it off. And switch it on. Always on duty.

And not just joining the GROUP. They were BEING SAVED.

What were they DOING, from a human point of view, for people to be saved? Well, there was the apostles’ teaching. There were wonders and miracles performed. There were public meetings. There was the daily hospitality.

But more than those things. People found their LIVES ATTRACTIVE. Verse 47 tells us THEY ENJOYED THE FAVOUR OF ALL THE PEOPLE. There was something WINSOME AND ENGAGING about them.

PART of it would be they sold their possessions and gave to anyone who had need.

And they met together in the temple courts where everyone could see them. And saw the way they TREATED each other. Just like Jesus said, (John 13:34-35) “Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”

People found their lives ATTRACTIVE. Do people say that about US? What do we need to do for that to happen?

It’s what we’re AIMING to do with our strategy: Building bridges to GENUINE COMMUNITY around Christ.

How can YOU be building bridges to your neighbours? How can you show them the love we have for each other? How can you show them the love of Jesus?

Fourthly, The Holy Spirit built an EVANGELISING church.

  1. Conclusion:

Well. That’s the sort of church the Holy Spirit builds. One that LEARNS, LOVES, WORSHIPS and EVANGELISES.

How can we help the Holy Spirit build THIS CHURCH into one like THAT?

ALL sorts of answers to that question! (It’s probably a question to be asking at the START of a sermon, rather than the END). But as we think about the answer, here’s a fact that’s both an ENCOURAGEMENT and a COMFORT.

The Holy Spirit ALSO wants to build the church like that. So we’ve got A POWERFUL ALLY in the task. And we’re in no doubt about God’s will. He WANTs to build his church. So he’ll be WITH us as we DO.

But it IS up to us to make sure we KEEP LISTENING TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. In Ephesians 5, Paul commands us to KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit. And in 1 Thessalonians 5, he puts it in the negative. “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire.”

And what’s FASCINATING is that BOTH of those passages are about CHURCH. And how to grow a healthy church.

In each passage the command to pay attention to the Holy Spirit is right next to commands about building a Biblical church. One that LEARNS and LOVES and WORSHIPS and EVANGELISES.

I’ll show you what I mean in the Ephesians passage.

From Verse 15.

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, {16} making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil

An EVANGELISTIC church). V17

{17} Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

(That’s a LEARNING church)

{18} Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. {19} Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

(A LOVING church)

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, {20} always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(A WORSHIPPING church)

Let’s press on with the Holy Spirit’s priorities. And KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit. Let’s build a church that’s LEARNING. That’s LOVING. That’s WORSHIPPING. And that’s EVANGELISING.

 

Acts 2:1-41: Coming home

Coming Home. It’s a very special feeling, isn’t it? We’ve seen it on the faces of travelers who make it home to Australian soil. Stuck overseas, or on cruise ships. In isolation for week after week. Bored, and scared, and tired.

But when they finally get HOME. There’s the joy and the relief. Because HOME is where you’re MEANT TO BE.

And I want you to notice there’s a spectacular HOMECOMING in Acts chapter 2. But we won’t really understand it without at least a little bit of background. Because you’ll see there in verse 5, the crowd of people gathering in Jerusalem have come from EVERY PLACE YOU CAN THINK OF. But they’ve got ONE THING IN COMMON. V5. They’re all JEWS.

But it begs the question – Why are the Jews scattered all over the nations in the first place?

To cut a long story short, much of the Old Testament is the story of how ISRAEL FAILS at following God. And how he does what he promises. And SCATTERS them. Exiled out of the Promised Land as punishment for their sin and rebellion.

By the time of Acts, SOME have returned. They’re living in THE LAND, but not really free.

And then there was the question of whether they’d come home TO GOD. (Returned to obeying and honouring him.) Or whether they were still doing their own thing.

And, so, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to the time when all that would CHANGE. The time when THE MESSIAH WOULD COME, gather God’s people back together. To bring God’s people HOME. For REAL. Home to A PLACE. But more importantly, home TO GOD.

Home to God’s kingdom. God’s people in God’s place. Under God’s rule.

Like Isaiah 43. God says

“5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

And so here we are in Acts chapter 2. Scattered Jews have come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. And now 50 days later, (A week of weeks). And they’re celebrating the first fruits of the harvest.

But God’s got A GREATER HARVEST IN MIND than just the barley and grapes and olives.

First of all though, Jesus said they’d receive the HOLY SPIRIT. And they DO. In a spectacular way. All the believers are together in one place. When, v2, there’s a sound like a howling wind; so loud, it fills the whole house. Just like the wind of God’s breath that blows into the dead bones of Israel in the vision of Ezekiel 37.

And, v3, what look like tongues of fire come down, separate, and rest on each one of them. Just like the pillar of fire rests over the tabernacle in the desert. The sign of God’s presence.

And this fire is the sign of God’s presence too. Not on A PEOPLE. (In one place). But on lots of individuals. Lots of little dwellings of God’s presence. Lots of little tabernacles.

And verse 4 says they’re filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. The breath who gives LIFE and POWER to dead souls. And suddenly, these guys who’ve been told TO GO AND TELL THE WORLD are speaking in other languages. Without even learning them first.

Now I reckon that would be a great way to learn a language, wouldn’t it? Leila’s learned Mandarin at Uni, and even studied in China for a while. She’s been learning for three years, but she says she STILL feels like a beginner.

But here are the believers, and, instantly, they’re speaking Turkish and Latin and Aramaic and Pamphilian and everything else.

Which is incredibly good timing, considering they’re in the middle of a crowd of Jews who are visiting from all the places you can see in verse 9 to 11.

And they come together when they hear the sound of the wind. And here’s the stunning thing. They’re amazed. Because they can all UNDERSTAND what’s being said.

It’s sort of like what you get at the United Nations where everyone’s got their set of headphones on with an interpreter talking in their ear translating what’s being said from the front.

Except in this case, THEY DON’T NEED THE INTERPRETER. Because the HOLY SPIRIT has given the believers the ability to SPEAK IN ALL THESE LANGUAGES. So the whole crowd can understand.

And they’re absolutely amazed. “Aren’t all these men who are speaking GALILEANS? Then HOW IS IT THAT EACH OF US HEARS THEM in his OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE?”

And what are they hearing? Down in the second part of verse 11. “We hear them declaring the WONDERS OF GOD in our own tongues.”

We’re not told the specifics. But if it’s anything like the REST of the sermons in Acts. They’re talking all about JESUS. And we’ll see it from what Peter says next. About how God raised him from the DEAD. And how he’s sent his Holy Spirit. To CHANGE HEARTS. And how he’s bringing his people HOME.

They’re amazed and puzzled. In fact, some go A STEP FURTHER. Maybe they’re looking on from a distance and all they can hear is the rabble. And it sounds like nonsense. And they say, They’ve had too much wine. V13.

Well, that’s the cue for Peter to start explaining. V14. He stands up with the other eleven, and he raises his voice, and he addresses the crowd.

He says, We’re not drunk at all – it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Which wouldn’t be much of an argument in Sydney. But apparently it was in Jerusalem.

And he says, what’s happening is WHAT WAS PROPHESIED BY JOEL. That God would pour out his Spirit, not only on THE PROPHETS, or the KINGS – like he had in the Old Testament. But on EVERYONE. Men, women. Boys and girls. Masters and servants.

And that ANYONE who calls on God will be saved. Anyone who recognizes they’re lost. And who TURNS BACK to him will be FORGIVEN. That’s the COMING HOME that REALLY matters. Not just a pilgrimage to the temple once a year. But coming home to the God who MADE you. Joined to him the way you were MEANT to be.

And it’s all because of Jesus. That’s what Peter goes on to say, from v22. Jesus of Nazareth was accredited to them by all sorts of miracles. (Signs and wonders, just like Joel said would happen in the last days).

And then he was handed over to them in God’s plan; and they PUT HIM TO DEATH by nailing him to the cross. Just a month and a half before.

But that wasn’t the end. V24, GOD RAISED HIM. In fact, he HAD to. Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for death to HOLD him.

Because it was God’s PLAN and God’s POWER behind it. It was IMPOSSIBLE for death to win!

And then to prove it, v25, he quotes Psalm 16, where King David foresees a Messiah whose body won’t go to the grave like everyone else;

And he concludes, v32,

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and WE ARE ALL WITNESSES OF THE FACT.

HARD to BELIEVE. NEVER SEEN BEFORE. But Not a TRICK. Not a FICTION. Not a RELIGIOUS, INTERNAL EXPERIENCE. A historical FACT. With eyewitnesses!

But not only raised to LIFE. V33.

Exalted to the right hand of God, he’s received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has POURED OUT what you now see and hear.

Raised to life, then raised to HEAVEN. Sitting at God’s right hand, ruling creation. And from there, he’s poured out the Holy Spirit, just like Joel promised.

And that’s what the crowd’s seeing and hearing and experiencing. God’s power at work, through his Spirit.

And then, in v36, Peter reaches his conclusion. The whole RAISING process is God’s CORONATION of Jesus. His vindication. The victory procession.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

PETER’S final word/ describing GOD’S final word. What looked like Jesus’ DEFEAT turns out to be VICTORY.

Well, what do you do with information like that? Peter’s hearers do EXACTLY the right thing. They want to know how THEIR story connects to Jesus’ story. v37. Read what they say. “When the people heard this, they were CUT TO THE HEART, and they said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, WHAT WILL BE DO?”

They realise they’re guilty of a case of mistaken identity. They’ve made a huge mistake. The Lord; the promised Messiah has come. And instead of WORSHIPPING him, they killed him. And now God’s raised him. And they want to know HOW THEY CAN CORRECT THEIR MISTAKE.

You know, sometimes these days, the way the Christian message is presented. It’s focused on YOUR story. And YOUR goals and dreams. About your FELT NEEDS. And how JESUS’ story can be fitted in to YOUR story. How he can give you the life you want. And help you achieve your dreams.

But notice here, how the message is ALL ABOUT JESUS. What God’s done FOR him. And what he’s declaring ABOUT him.

And the people ask, what should we do? How should we change our life to get in harmony with Jesus? How do we line up OUR story with HIS story?

And that’s the question WE should be asking, TOO? Whether you’re not yet a Christian, and you’re asking it for the FIRST TIME. Or whether you’ve been a Christian for fifty years, and you’ve asked it PLENTY of times. “What shall I do with MY life, in response to Jesus’ life?”

And look at how Peter replies. V38. “REPENT (TURN BACK) and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ; SO THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN.” COME HOME TO GOD.

For Peter’s HEARERS, they needed to repent of rejecting Jesus. Specifically, mistaking his identity. And calling for his blood.

For US it might be repenting of A WHOLE LIFE-ATTITUDE of rejecting Jesus. Of living independently of him. Assuming we have the right to sit on the throne of our lives, rather than Jesus.

It may seem like that’s giving up a lot. (Your independence, your freedom, your future). But look at what Peter promises God will give YOU. (Repent and be baptized) And YOU (YOU TOO) will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as well. The promise is for you and your children, AND for those who are far off – for ALL whom the Lord our God will call.”

God himself living IN and WITH you. Transforming you. Transforming your desires, and your priorities, and your focus. Strengthening, guiding, giving joy and purpose and hope. And life is never the same!

And it was just as good news THEN as it sounds TODAY. V41, the ones who accept the message, they’re baptized. As a sign that they’re washed and forgiven by God, they’re washed on the outside as well. And about 3000 were added to their number on that single day. 3000 CAME HOME TO GOD.

And it’s something we ALL need. Have YOU come home to God? Maybe God’s done some SCATTERING in YOUR life. You’ve traveled MILES from him. It’s been YEARS since he felt close.

Today’s a GREAT DAY to come home. The promise of God is there. The promise of forgiven sins. AND the promise of his Holy Spirit.

And Peter concludes in v39. How BIG is God’s offer?

“This promise is for you and your children, AND for all who are far off. In FACT, for ALL whom the Lord our God will call”

And that’s YOU. He’s calling YOU home. Will you come?

But it’s more than coming home to GOD. It’s about coming home to a PEOPLE. And you can see it in the next few verses. That their repenting and turning back to God/ was the start of something REMARKABLE. Something they soon began to call THE CHURCH. Which means literally, THE GATHERING. The group of people that God has GATHERED together.

And so day by day, THEY GATHERED. From all the places God had called them home. And we’ll see next week what that LOOKED LIKE.

But it’s still the same today. God calls US home. Home to HIMSELF. And home to HIS PEOPLE.

And if you look around, you can see that we really HAVE been gathered from ALL OVER THE PLACE. From all sorts of backgrounds. And experiences. With all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. Goals and dreams. Even all sorts of LANGUAGES. Just like those first Jewish converts.

But for all our differences. This group of people God has called us to/ is HOME. FAMILY. It’s where we BELONG

Is that the way YOU think about church? The way you TREAT church? (Where it fits in your priorities? How much does it take to keep you AWAY from church? What do you say NO to/ because it clashes with church?)

If this is HOME. Then we can be REAL with each other. Just like FAMILY. Be TRANSPARENT. Be HONEST. LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY. Home is SPECIAL. Family is SPECIAL.

Let’s REJOICE in it. Value it, appreciate it. Work hard at making it BETTER. Especially at this time, when connecting is harder.

God has gathered us. To himself, and to his people.

And until we make it to our REAL home, THIS IS HOME.

Acts 1:1-11: An extreme makeover

Apparently, at the moment, more people than ever are getting fit. Even though gyms and parks and beaches and pools are closed. We’re so bored, stuck inside, we’ll even EXERCISE.

Poor dogs are exhausted from over- walking. Shop shelves are empty of home gym equipment. Bike shops are doing a roaring trade.

But the BIG question is “Will people STICK with it?” When life gets back to normal, will people still exercise?

Lots of people START. But not many people MAKE IT A HABIT. (The change DOESN’T LAST). That’s the way it works with physical fitness. But it’s the same for lots of things. Like dieting. Or gardening.

Or even SPIRITUAL disciplines like reading your Bible, or praying. Or getting rid of impatience or selfishness or anger. Keeping God’s commands.

On our own, we just can’t do it CONSISTENTLY.

God knows it. And the story of the Old Testament SHOWS it. Ever since Adam and Eve, people TRIED to follow God. But again and again they FAILED. Despite all God’s second chances. And forgiveness. And discipline. They just weren’t able to live the way God wanted.

And so God planned a SOLUTION. He longed for the day when he’d give people a new heart. Change their nature from the inside. Like Ezekiel 36:26. He promises,

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

A new heart. A new DESIRE to obey. A new POWER to obey. When God would JOIN HIMSELF TO HIS PEOPLE. And transform them FROM THE INSIDE. And it would be REAL change. Change that LASTS.

What a plan! And God was looking forward to it.

And, as we pick up the story at the start of Acts, THAT TIME IS NEARLY HERE. And the PLAN IS ABOUT TO BE PUT INTO ACTION.

For three years the disciples had followed Jesus around. Learning from him. Imitating him. Sometimes getting it RIGHT. And sometimes BADLY WRONG.

And, along the way, they showed – just like everyone else before them – HOW MUCH THEY NEEDED GOD’S NEW TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus prepared them for it. He taught them about THE HOLY SPIRIT. ANOTHER counsellor. Who he’d send once he left. Who’d live in them. And guide them, and teach them. And give them POWER.

And AFTER his resurrection, that preparation continues. V3 of Acts 1, he appears to the disciples, and SPEAKS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. The same topic he’d always taught about BEFORE his death.

It was a kingdom very different from what the disciples expected. They’d misunderstood. They’d wanted PRIVILEGE and HONOUR. But Jesus had taught that the kingdom was about being LAST, not FIRST.

The rulers of THIS world LORD IT OVER their subjects. They exploit their privilege. But Jesus came to SERVE, rather than BE served.

And not much changed AFTER the resurrection. Jesus would return to heaven. Ruling as King. And his kingdom would STILL be very different to human expectation. (A different method of growth and influence. A different measure of success).

And so a very different set of TOOLS would be needed. And a very different sort of POWER. V4. We see A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE of that teaching about the kingdom.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but IN A FEW DAYS YOU WILL BE BAPTIZED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

What God PROMISED and LONGED FOR. What Jesus had TAUGHT about. (God’s Spirit filling his people. Replacing their broken and human heart with a NEW heart, and a NEW nature. And a NEW will. And a new POWER. And a new UNITY.)

And it was COMING IN A FEW DAYS.

And so the disciples ask what seems the obvious question. Because they knew God’s Old Testament promises. V6.

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to ISRAEL?”

Will it only be a few more days UNTIL YOU RESTORE THE NATION OF ISRAEL? Unite the tribes? Judge the nations? As God promised in the prophets. Was the day of the Lord just around the corner?

The TIMING of the kingdom

But Jesus corrects their thinking in THREE WAYS. First, the TIMING of the kingdom. It’s not as simple as they thought. V7.

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set.

They’d thought, like most Jews, that the day of the Lord would be a FINAL, DEFINITIVE event. That salvation, and judgment, and restoration would all happen TOGETHER. AT ONCE. That the Messiah would come and rule, and no one would mistake his victory.

But Jesus had taught how it would be like CHILDBIRTH. (Matthew 24 v8). The coming of God’s kingdom was A PROCESS. There’d be the BEGINNING of birth pains. But that it would take time before the delivery. God’s kingdom would BEGIN. But it wouldn’t finally and completely come for SOME TIME.

Jesus would be crowned as Christ and King. But IT WOULD TAKE TIME for the message to spread. And for people to get on board.

And that’s what the book of Acts describes. The LABOUR, before the delivery of God’s kingdom. The victory of the resurrection has happened. And the news of the victory is still getting out. And growing.

And that’s the time we’re STILL living in. God’s kingdom has COME. But it’s not FULLY here. In theological language, it’s INAUGURATED, but not CONSUMMATED.

We don’t see and experience EVERYTHING God has for us. Jesus is king in our HEARTS and LIVES. But he’s not yet king FOR EVERYONE. He’s defeated sin and suffering and death. But we still sin and suffer and die. Satan’s been defeated. But God’s allowed him a restricted field of influence. Like a savage dog on a short chain.

And so the Christian life isn’t all about VICTORY. At least, not YET. We walk by FAITH and not by SIGHT. We TRUST and HOPE and WAIT. Just like LABOUR – there’s PAIN before the JOY.

The METHOD of the kingdom

(That’s their FIRST misunderstanding. The TIMING of the kingdom). The second misunderstanding Jesus corrects is the METHOD of the kingdom. V8.

But you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES

They’d thought Jesus was bringing the kingdom to ISRAEL. That there’d be a political or earthly realm. And that POLITICAL and MILITARY power would be important.

But God’s kingdom needs a DIFFERENT sort of power. An INTERNAL power. The power of God’s Spirit. Who breathes LIFE into dead souls. Who gives COURAGE to speak. And then gives those words the POWER OF CONVICTION in the hearers. To influence. And bring forth spirit-life. And bring MIRACLES to go with the words.

And Acts TELLS THAT STORY. How the Holy Spirit worked with POWER. How he transformed trembling, uneducated ordinary people into brave, obedient, united WITNESSES. To stand before kings and governors. To speak confidently and clearly about what they’d seen.

And to endure persecution and beatings. And even REJOICE in them. Because they were proclaiming Jesus.

And it’s just as true today. I know how it’s worked for some of YOU. Who say that if it wasn’t for God’s Spirit working in you, you’d never have made it through. Addictions. Terrible trials. Tragedies. Discouragements. Overcoming whatever life throws at you in convincing and authentic ways.

THAT’S real power. That brings real CHANGE. Change that LASTS.

Rome thought IT had power. It changed PLENTY of things. But the mighty Roman Empire didn’t last. All that remains are piles of stones.

The Jewish leaders thought THEY had power. They’d killed Jesus, and ruled the people. But the temple only lasted another 40 years. And then it was torn down, stone by stone.

While God’s NEW temple, the Christian church, grew steadily. And went from strength to strength.

The good news about life in Jesus spread slowly, and quietly. INSIDE people. Bringing peace. And conviction. Joy and contentment.

And it spread through FAMILIES. And friendship networks. And towns. And it changed cultures and communities. Whole COUNTRIES.

And it’s lasted for two thousand years. Despite governments and ideologies and institutions trying to destroy it. And it’s STILL going and growing STRONG.

That’s POWER! The Holy Spirit working through the witness of ordinary believers.

The SCOPE of the kingdom

The THIRD correction Jesus brings is the SCOPE of the kingdom. The disciples had asked about ISRAEL. But Jesus answers

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, AND in all Judea AND Samaria, AND to the ends of the earth.”

God’s got a MUCH bigger picture in mind. Israel’s just the beginning. Jesus is king of the WHOLE WORLD.

And Jesus SAYS it the way he does to make the point that the plan IS NOTHING NEW. Right back to Abraham, when God promised to make him A BLESSING TO THE NATIONS.

In particular, WE SEE IN ISAIAH how God’s got a plan for the nations. From chapter 40 on, God promises to restore Israel from exile. And then he calls on Israel, his servant, to TESTIFY about how he’s saved them in the past. Like Isaiah 44:8, for example

8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? YOU ARE MY WITNESSES. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

And God’s plan is they testify TO THE NATIONS. In Isaiah 49:6 God reveals his plan to save the whole world!

“IT IS TOO SMALL A THING for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of JACOB and bring back those of ISRAEL I have kept. I will also make you a light for THE GENTILES, that YOU MAY BRING MY SALVATION TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

You can see the echo of that in Jesus’ words in v8. That the disciples are to be witnesses not just in Jerusalem and Judea. But in Samaria AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. In other words to the GENTILES.

The plan is NOTHING NEW. And the disciples should have realised it. They need to lift their gaze, and raise their expectations. And get with the program.

And don’t we do the same thing? LIMIT God?

Have you ever a heard a comment like? “We couldn’t possibly plant a church/ support a missionary/ afford a youth worker/ extend our building/ outreach to Muslims/ minister to refugees.”

Perhaps you’ve even said something like this yourself.

It’s the sort of statement that’s often followed by, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or “We must be financially responsible.” Or “We need to crawl before we can walk.”

We often PRESUME TO KNOW what God wants for his church. And that we’ve got God figured out. And that we’re happy with the comfortable, settled status quo.

But the message of Acts is that God ISN’T happy with “comfortable.” “It’s TOO SMALL A THING” to stick with “COMFORTABLE”. His plans are bigger than we could ever imagine. And God himself is bigger than any box we might try to squeeze him into!

What is it he might want US to be doing?

What a great question to be asking each other! What a great question to be PRAYING!

Well, back to Jesus and the disciples. He finishes speaking. And then to reinforce his WORDS, he backs them up with ACTION. V9

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into heaven as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, WILL COME IN THE SAME WAY YOU HAVE SEEN HIM GO INTO HEAVEN.”

And the description of HEAVEN, and COMING and CLOUDS is significant. Because it’s meant to remind the disciples, and US, of Daniel chapter 7. A vision about JESUS, who called himself the Son of Man.

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

THAT’S the Jesus the disciples are to witness to. The Jesus WE worship and witness to. KING Jesus, victorious over sin and death. Coming in the clouds to sit on his throne in heaven. Victorious. Ruling over EVERY nation and language. And people everywhere WORSHIPPING him. And his reign will never end!

Lift your gaze. Raise your expectation. Join the team. God is doing a GREAT thing! And he wants US to be PART of it.

Acts 2:14-41: Jesus is King

As a Christian, are you feeling UNDER ATTACK at the moment?

Atheists are more militant, aggressive, outspoken and insulting than ever before. The debate about homosexual marriage is heated and personal. And Christians are often ridiculed as ignorant, bigoted and outdated.

Q and A on the ABC this week featured Peter Jensen defending the biblical position on gay marriage. And he’s been ridiculed by the press, the gay lobby, everyday Aussies, and even so-called Christians.

The latest round of federal government grants for Christian school chaplains has been under threat by a high court challenge.

School Scripture in NSW has been challenged by the introduction of Ethics classes for non-Scripture kids.

Is Christianity under threat? Are we a dying breed? An endangered species? Do we just need to fit in, fade away, update, modernise, negotiate, or compromise?

It must have been the sort of thing Jesus’ disciples were thinking after his death.

They’d scattered like seagulls when he’d been arrested. And Peter, the only one to hang around, was so scared he denied he even KNEW Jesus. THREE TIMES.

The rest of them had all watched from a distance as things went from bad to worse.

Everyone was out to get them. The Jewish leaders wanted them dead. Even the Jewish PEOPLE had turned on them. The Romans were vicious and deadly.

The disciples were too scared to make a peep, otherwise what was happening to JESUS might happen to THEM. Judged, sentenced, beaten, abandoned, whipped, stripped and crucified.

And then Jesus had DIED. The cruellest of deaths. And the hopes of the disciples died WITH him. Their hopes of VICTORY. Their hopes of GOD’S KINGDOM coming through Jesus.

And they’d spent Friday night and Saturday licking their wounds. Feeling sorry for themselves. Puzzled. Confused. Defeated. Wondering what to do next. Wondering what had happened to all God’s promises.

Feeling, very much, under attack. As if the whole world was against them.

Then Sunday morning things started to get WEIRD. Strange rumours circulated among the women and some of the disciples. Surely, they’re just tired, emotional, scared, under pressure.

That night (John 20) they all meet behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.

When all of a sudden (v19) Jesus comes and stands among them. They can’t believe their eyes. He tells them not to be scared. That he’s alive again. Just like he’d PROMISED. And that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!

And he was RIGHT!

Jump ahead a few pages. And Luke takes up the story in the book of Acts. Acts 1:3.

3 After his suffering, he SHOWED himself to these men and gave MANY CONVINCING PROOFS THAT HE WAS ALIVE.

Sure, it was hard to understand. And their world was turned on its head. AGAIN. But Jesus SHOWED himself to them. Put their fingers into the holes in his side and in his wrists. He ATE AND DRANK with them. It was really him. Not a vision. Not a ghost. Not grief-induced wishful thinking. Not group hysteria.

Rock solid certainty. Raised from death. Defeated it. Destroyed its power.

But not just PROOFS. He had stuff to TEACH them TOO.

He appeared to them over a period of forty days and SPOKE ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

The same topic Jesus had preached BEFORE his death. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. God’s people in God’s place under God’s RULE. The theme of the WHOLE BIBLE – as we’ve been discovering over the last nine weeks.

But NOW it takes on a whole new clarity. A whole new COMPLEXITY. And Jesus has to explain it all. But this time including the crucial turning point. That God had raised him from the dead.

It meant everything had CHANGED. It meant everything God had promised in the Old Testament about his kingdom is BEGINNING! The starting gun has fired!

He’s gathering his people, and washing them clean, and pouring out his Holy Spirit. And he’s giving them a new heart to obey his laws. And raising a banner for the nations to gather around. Just like he’d PROMISED through prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and Joel.

And it’s all beginning through Jesus’ resurrection. God’s ultimate BIG STATEMENT.

Artists are known for making BIG STATEMENTS. In Oxford we saw the bases of some huge rainforest trees. Perhaps 10 m around. They’d been brought all the way back from South America. A huge logistical task. And then an artist had sculpted them and displayed them. A statement about deforestation and global warming. Quite striking!

But there’s perhaps no bigger statement than that made by Christo Javacheff. He wraps up whole buildings. Or surrounds islands with pink wrapping. Or coverings mountain sides with yellow umbrellas. It takes years of planning and organisation. And WEEKS of work (show photos)

I’m not sure WHAT he’s saying, but he’s saying it IN BOLD LETTERS.

And that’s what GOD’s doing in raising Jesus. Making A BIG STATEMENT. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was

DECLARED WITH POWER TO BE THE SON OF GOD by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

The resurrection is God’s BIG BILLBOARD advertising Jesus. His performance art. God’s the proud parent. The resurrection is him saying, “This is MY SON. This is Jesus – the SON OF GOD.”

And in Peter’s sermon we just read, he says God raised Jesus to life. And exalted him to his right hand. And (v36) he’s MADE him LORD and CHRIST. DECLARED him to be KING. God’s making all his enemies – nations and kings and sin and death – a footstool for his feet.

He’s bringing his kingdom in by bringing in his king.

It’s what he’s been promising to do through the whole Bible. Ever since Adam and Eve first stepped OUT from God’s kingdom. And now it’s beginning!

And the disciples finally begin to work it out. V4 of Acts 1 Jesus tells them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the disciples see Old Testament promises fulfilled. V6.

“Lord, are you AT THIS TIME going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

In other words, is it all about to begin? The day of the LORD? The Kingdom of God? Is it NOW?

But God’s plans are bigger than what the disciples can imagine. And the TIMING’S going to be different, too. V7

7 Jesus said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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.”

In other words, “My people are much bigger than just ISRAEL.” Jesus is saying. “I’ve got to BRING THE NATIONS IN. God’s promised THAT TOO. And it’s going to TAKE a while. And that’s going to be YOUR job. With the help of my Spirit.

And that’s what the disciples begin to do. The Holy Spirit falls on them. And they begin speaking in all sorts of different languages. So that every nationality of Jew in Jerusalem hears them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own tongue.

Because God’s gathering his people from all over the world. Building his kingdom.

And the Holy Spirit gives these timid, under-attack, locked-room-hiding, running-away disciples a new found confidence. They grow a spine. Because their king Jesus HAS WON. And that means EVERYTHING’S CHANGED.

Ch 2 v14. Peter, together with the other disciples, proclaim that the kingdom is arriving. V17 Just like God promised through Joel.

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

The last days are beginning. The kingdom is arriving. And amazing things will happen. Just like you’re seeing.

And while he goes on to speak many OTHER words that day. There’s a number of SINGLE words I want to FOCUS on. Single words that will strengthen and encourage and embolden YOU as you feel under attack from all sides.

FIVE words about Jesus. And ONE word about US. Here they are: ACCREDITED, PURPOSE, PROMISED, RAISED, EXALTED. And finally, ASSURED.

Accredited

First up. ACCREDITED. Look there in v22.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Accredited. Authorised. Certified. And by GOD HIMSELF. That means you can RELY on him.

The grammar of the word suggests that it STANDS COMPLETED. The accreditation was stamped as valid. It happened at a particular point in time. But it DOESN’T EXPIRE. It’s just as relevant TODAY as it was when God first DID it.

Jesus doesn’t go out of date. Terminate. He’s STILL authorised. He’s not old-fashioned. An archaeological RELIC. He’s culturally relevant, powerful, and solidly historical.

And God accredited him by MIRACLES, WONDERS AND SIGNS. Jesus didn’t just SAY he could forgive sins. He healed the lame man to SHOW HE HAD THE AUTHORITY to forgive sins (Mark 2). He SHOWED the nature of the kingdom by restoring health and relationship. By bringing cleansing and life.

And the stories about Jesus – they’re no FABLES. FAIRY STORIES. Peter said, “He did them AMONG YOU, as YOU YOURSELVES KNOW.” They’re historical facts. As solid as ANY historical claim CAN be.

PURPOSE

Jesus was accredited. Peter goes on. V23. The SECOND word – PURPOSE.

23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

It had seemed unthinkable at the time. But now Peter realises it was ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN.

The Jewish leaders thought they were scheming on their own. But God was using them for HIS purposes. Pilate and Herod thought they were making politically expedient decisions all on their own. But God knew beforehand what they would choose.

Satan was laughing  – he thought he’d WON. He was laughing right up until the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus stormed out. Satan thought all HIS plans were coming to pass. But they were God’s plans ALL ALONG.

And that means the stuff YOU’RE going through is all part of God’s purpose TOO. No matter HOW dark it seems. God IS in control. And he WILL work all things for good. For those He’s called according to his PURPOSE. That’s the promise in Romans 8:28.

Promised

And with Jesus’ death, we know it’s part of God’s PURPOSE because he PROMISED it. That’s word THREE. God was keeping his PROMISE. He’d promised King David a descendent who would rule FOREVER. And whose KINGDOM would never end. We’ve seen how THAT’S been worked out through the Bible in the last few weeks.

And since God ALWAYS keeps his promises, he crowned JESUS. The greatest son of great King David. And gave him an ETERNAL kingdom.

And that’s one of the reasons to read the Old Testament. Because it shows that God KEEPS HIS PROMISES. That he’s reliable. And if he keeps his promises THEN. That means he’ll STILL keep his promises. And that you can depend on them NOW.

Raised

But for Jesus, God kept his promise to David by RAISING Jesus from the dead. Our FOURTH word. There in v32. Peter’s quoting from Ps 16, where David rejoices that God won’t abandon him to the grave.

And Peter’s point is that David DID die, so David’s words must have had ANOTHER meaning. A meaning for David’s DESCENDENT. The SECOND King David. And that HE was the one David was prophesying about. There in v31.

31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHRIST, that HE was not abandoned to the grave, nor did HIS body see decay.

And just like David prophesied, that’s what happened. V32.

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and WE ARE ALL WITNESSES OF THE FACT.

An observable, verifiable reality. Hard as it is to understand. A dead heart starting pumping again. Dead nerves started firing again. Dead lungs started inflating again. Dead limbs started moving. The clock was turned backward. And Peter and the others SAW IT ALL.

And it wasn’t just JESUS. They also OTHER STUFF. Backups. Supporting evidence. They saw the sun turning dark, They saw the temple curtain torn in two. They saw earthquakes and tombs broken open. They saw angels. They saw OTHER people raised from their graves.

All by God’s power. Because he wouldn’t let his Holy One see decay.

And that’s incredible news for our world TODAY. Everyone’s got so much to say when it comes to bashing Christians’ outdated views on society. But they become very silent in the face of DEATH. Because no political or lifestyle or ethical choice can do ANYTHING about the certainty and finality of DEATH. Except for Christianity. Because Jesus DEFEATED it, and promises that it’s got no hold on all those connected to him. And that’s GREAT NEWS. News we can be BOLD about.

Exalted

But that’s not all. Peter and the other disciples also saw what God did NEXT. He EXALTED him (v33). God took him up before their eyes, until a cloud hid him from their sight. That’s Acts 1:9.

And God restored him to his heavenly throne at his right hand. But MORE THAN just RESTORED. (Back to where he was BEFORE). GLORIFIED. Now with MORE glory because of his obedience to death. Phil 2:9 puts it like this

(he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!) 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

BEFORE, he was God the Son. But NOW, he’s God’s OBEDIENT, GIVING-UP-TO-DEATH Son. And that’s the Jesus we follow.

He’s there NOW. Seated on the throne. And he’s DESERVING of the honour and submission and recognition of every authority and institution and society and government and media outlet and ignorant comedian or outspoken journalist.

He RULES. That’s the FACT. It’s just not being RECOGNISED by everyone. Yet.

Assured

Which is what the disciples are setting about FIXING. Peter comes to his NEXT word. The MONEY word. What it means for his hearers. And for US. ASSURED. V36.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be ASSURED of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Let all Israel KNOW WITH CERTAINTY. Be CONFIDENT in it. Establish your LIFE on it. In the resurrection, God has MADE – set, established – Jesus as LORD and CHRIST.

It’s way more than just HEAD KNOWLEDGE. You can’t know it and your life not change. Knowing that Jesus is Lord and Christ because he’s beaten death changes EVERYTHING.

And that’s something Peter’s hearers realise TOO. V37.

37 When the people heard this, they were CUT TO THE HEART and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replies

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And YOU will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When you know with certainty that God has raised Jesus from the dead. Declared him to be Lord and Christ. Then that means your life needs to CONFORM to that truth. Your knee needs to BOW before that Lord. Recognising your rebellion, your impending death and judgment. And repenting of it.

And Peter passes on God’s promise. The same promise he’s made all the way through the Bible. That repentance will lead to FORGIVENESS. And that they’ll now receive THE HOLY SPIRIT. God’s presence and power. The down payment for ALL in God’s kingdom.

And then be BAPTISED as a sign of the washing of God’s forgiveness. And the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Peter goes on. He’s caught the vision of the enormity of God’s kingdom. V39.

39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

And that now includes US. The call has come to US. How have you RESPONDED? Have you recognised Jesus as King? As Lord and Christ? Have you repented of your rebellion? Received God’s washing of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit? Have you been BAPTISED?

See me if you KNOW THE CERTAINTY of God’s declaration in Jesus’ resurrection. And if you want to DO something about that.

Because it DOES change everything. The victory of Jesus’ resurrection can’t leave you unaffected. Unmoved.

How has it changed YOU?

If it’s only Sunday mornings that are different. Then that’s a PITIFUL RESPONSE to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s not just Lord of Sunday mornings. He’s Lord of ALL. 247.

If your Christianity is “just a private thing.” Something you don’t talk about. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He’s Lord of ALL. Lord of your relationships, and your conversations. Of your actions and your holidays and your wallet.

If it’s only your FAMILY LIFE that’s different. But not your WORK life. Or your SOCIAL life. Or your PRIVATE life. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection.

If you know the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection, but you’re still FEARFUL. If you still WORRY. If you’re still scared to be disliked or rejected for Jesus’ sake. Then that’s a pitiful response to Jesus’ resurrection. He is Lord and Christ. He ALONE deserves your honour and loyalty and fear and love and submission.

Knowing the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection should change EVERYTHING. It should change your schedule. Your priorities. What you fit into your day. What you do FIRST. And what you move to LAST.

It changes your hopes for the future. It changes your dreams for your children. It changes what you spend your money on. It changes how you pray.

It changes who you let influence you. Whose words discourage you. And who you ignore.

It changes who you WORK for. And whose approval your LONG for.

And it changes who you bow before. And who you REFUSE to submit to. No matter HOW culturally inappropriate, or politically incorrect, or socially out-of-date you seem.

Is that how it’s working for YOU?

Are you CUT TO THE HEART? God has MADE Jesus both LORD and Christ. And it’s changed EVERYTHING. How’s it changing YOU?

Introduction to Acts: The God Outside Your Box

Have you ever a heard a comment like one of these in a church meeting? “We couldn’t possibly plant a church/ support a missionary/ afford a youth worker/ extend our building/ outreach to Muslims/ minister to refugees.”

It’s the sort of statement that’s often followed by a comment like, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or “We must be financially responsible.” Or “We need to crawl before we can walk.”

We often presume to know what God wants for his church, and that we’ve got God figured out. And yet the message of Acts is that God is into things that have never been done before, God’s plans are bigger than we could ever imagine, and God himself is bigger than any box we might try to fit him in!

Michael Green, in his book on Acts, Thirty Years That Changed The World says that Acts “has so much to say to our half-hearted and cold-blooded Christianity in the Western world. It rebukes our preoccupation with buildings and ministerial pedigree, our syncretism and pluralism, our lack of expectancy and vibrant faith. As such it is a book supremely relevant for our time (p5).”[1] Amen to that!

We see the beginning of God’s surprising plans even before Jesus’ ascension. In chapter 1 Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. This would mean the keeping of Jesus’ own promise (Luke 24:49) as well as God’s fulfillment of prophecy (Ezekiel 36:27; Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28-29). The disciples could only see such a gift as the beginning of a new age for Israel, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6)

Jesus rebukes them that they mustn’t put God in boxes, and then expands their horizons, “But 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 (1:8).” In other words, “Forget Israel! For God, Israel’s just the beginning!”

Further on into Acts Peter and Paul both receive further horizon-expanding visions that show that God’s plans are bigger than they could ever imagine. For Peter it takes a dream of unclean animals served up for lunch to send him to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, resulting in ‘a second Pentecost’, as the Holy Spirit falls even on Gentiles. He concludes (11:17), “If God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

For Paul’s part, he had planned his second missionary journey to be nothing more than revisiting those churches he had planted throughout Galatia and Asia on his first journey (see 15:36). However God had different ideas. Paul was kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia, and when he tried to enter Bithynia, to the north of Asia, the Spirit of Jesus prevented them. Instead he had a vision of a man from Macedonia begging for help. Paul concluded that God had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia, on a new continent entirely (16:10).

Despite the clarity of Jesus’ call, the scope of God’s strategy, and the promise of Spirit-power in 1:8, the disciples seem to be slow-learners. Following Jesus’ ascension, the Spirit comes, thousands of Jews are converted, and by 6:7 even a large number of priests come to faith. But the gospel had no further than Jerusalem. What would it take for the Christians to be faithful to their commission in 1:8, and to begin seeing the world the way God did?

The crucial turning point comes in Ch 7, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin. It’s a chapter I suspect many of us skip over on our way to something more interesting.

Acts is full of speeches and sermons – more than one third of the total number of verses – to Jew and Gentile, Christian and non-Christian, in settings from royal courts to riverbanks, mostly from the lips of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the two pillars of the early church. However it is Stephen’s speech that occupies more space than any other. He is a “simple deacon” who appears in Ch 6 and disappears in Ch 7. What in this speech so interests Luke that he devotes 52 verses to recounting it?

Paul Barnett’s reconstruction is probably correct (p207-221)  – Stephen represents the views of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, who had grown-up outside Israel, and had a less Jewish-focused perspective of God’s purposes than the Hebrew/ Aramaic-speaking Christians.[2] That the two groups were distinct seems obvious from the need for seven (probably Greek-speaking) deacons to look after the daily distribution of food.

Stephen is arrested for preaching Jesus in the Greek-speaking synagogue. He is falsely accused of speaking against Moses and the law, against ‘this place’ – i.e. the temple.

His defense seems to wander aimlessly through the history pages of Israel, yet he is doing something far more significant. No one in Acts sees God’s worldwide purposes as early or as clearly as Stephen does. A major point is that God’s interest and activity are not confined to within the borders of Israel alone – he appeared to Abram in Mesopotamia, then spoke to him in Haran. When Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, God was with him there. God increased the numbers of his people in Egypt, then raised up Moses. After Moses fled to Midian, God appeared to him at Mt Sinai, which was holy ground though not in the land. God led his people out of Egypt and for forty years in the desert, where he also gave them the law. Success in conquering the land under Joshua came because of God’s presence among them represented by the movable tabernacle. And even when Solomon built a permanent temple, he was aware that the Most High does not live in houses made by men.

While the tabernacle-tent was made according to God’s plan (7:44), the temple was ‘made with hands’ (7:48). This is a sharp attack on the attitude of the Jews who had made an idol of their temple since it is the same phrase Stephen uses to describe the golden calf (7:41). Thus Stephen’s accusers are just like their fathers (7:51).

Rather than a defense, his speech is more of a counter-attack, and it so angers the narrow-minded and place-focused Sanhedrin that Stephen is stoned, the first martyr of the Christian church. It is the trigger to a great persecution that drove the Christians out of Jerusalem, preaching the word wherever they went (8:4; 11:19-21), to Judea, then Samaria (8), then eventually to all the Gentile world.

From Stephen’s vantage point, provided by a cultural background different from that of many in the Jerusalem Church, he was able to perceive a potential danger hidden from his Hebrew Christian brothers and sisters. To the Hellenist, the Christians’ remaining in Jerusalem and continuing attachment to Jewish nationalistic institutions such as the temple could lead them into the same errors of attitude and action that had ensnared Judaism. Jesus the Messiah had commanded a worldwide mission (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8) but the young Church had not obeyed. The geographical, cultural and religious provincialism of their Jewish background had stood in the way.

The Apostles were constantly surprised at God’s plans. And even though the events Acts describes were one-off, God hasn’t changed, and neither have his plans – they’re still bigger than we could ever imagine.

Where have we become comfortable and place-focused? Where has our gaze been reduced to nothing more than a squinty-eyed myopia concentrated no further a field than our church, our suburb, our own people group, or our country?

The recent GAA heard of the re-planted Presbyterian Church in Darwin, as well as plans for the planting of new churches in Perth. Will we see these opportunities to jump on board with God’s big purposes?

Let’s see our world the way God does. He’s the God who is into things that have never been done before!


[1] Green, Michael. Thirty years that changed the world (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002).

[2] Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times (IVP, 1999).

Acts 1: Extreme Makeover

One of the weirdest shows on TV has to be “Extreme Makeovers”.  Thousands of people from all over America apply to be given the chance to have radical cosmetic surgery. To have a face-lift, to get a nose-job, their enlarged, liposuction, major dental work.  To go through six weeks of . Pain, discomfort, risk of infection and major complications. All to LOOK BETTER.

And their plea is that life NOW is miserable. And if only they could be happier about the way they look. Then life will just be SO MUCH BETTER.

And so the producers choose the most NEEDY cases – or the ones that will bring the highest ratings. And they offer them the chance to get A WHOLE NEW LIFE.  And to tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure how to react. I don’t know whether to be amused, or excited.  Because it really is moving to see the joy on someone’s face/ who’s just had their teeth repaired.  And they can finally smile, without self-consciously covering up a mouth full of crooked, brown, rotting teeth. And these people swear that their life has been REVOLUTIONISED! And it will never be the same again.

And if life can change that much when you change on the OUTSIDE, imagine how life would change if you had an extreme makeover on the INSIDE.  Because that’s what’s happening to Jesus’ disciples.

Three short years ago, they’d been quietly going about their business. Catching fish, mending nets, sailing around the lake.

But then Jesus had arrived. And life was turned on its head. And it would never be the same again.

He chose them. And they’d left everything to follow him. Taking nothing but the clothes on their back, and the shoes on their feet.

And they’d travelled the length and breadth of Israel. Met all sorts of people. Heard amazing things. Seen incredible miracles. They’d been challenged, and rebuked. Comforted, and disappointed. But never bored.

And they’d come to learn that Jesus was God’s Son. With power to forgive sins, and raise the , and calm storms. And they couldn’t imagine life doing anything else. Being with anyone else.

And then one day, Jesus was gone. And all their hopes were dashed.

He was dragged off by an angry Jewish mob. Found guilty at a rigged trial. Cruelly executed by Roman soldiers.

And that was the lowest point in their lives. They were stunned. Numb. Speechless. Afraid.

And then just as suddenly as he’d gone. Unbelievably. He was back. Back from the .

Back with a new perspective. A new majesty and authority. Giving them a new understanding of who he was, and what his plans were.

And this time, they were finally able to understand. To see Jesus CLEARLY. The extreme makeover had begun.

And whether THEY knew it or not, Jesus knew. That now it was time for STAGE TWO. Stage two of the extreme makeover. Because now the disciples were expected to be LEADERS, and not just FOLLOWERS.

Because Jesus wasn’t going to be with them for much longer. At least not BODILY anyway. And so now it was up to these disciples. They were going to continue the mission Jesus had started.

And that’s where we pick up the story today.

But it was also stage two in a DIFFERENT way. Because it wasn’t just THE DISCIPLES who were in for an EXTREME MAKEOVER, the WHOLE WORLD would never be the same again.

By the end of their lives, the disciples, with God’s help, would have changed the face of the civilised world.

It would be hard to argue whether there’s ever been a more significant movement than that which Jesus began among this small group of uneducated, uncultured fishermen.

It’s a movement that continues right up to today. To people sitting here in this room. And Jesus is STILL giving people this extreme makeover. Changing their orientation, their goals and desires, their priorities. Showing them life the way it was designed to be.

And the portrait we see of the life of these disciples/ is no different from the life Jesus offers ANY OF YOU sitting here today.

And there are four aspects to this life – this extreme makeover – I want to emphasise. It’s life BASED ON HISTORICAL FACT, A life EMPOWERED BY THE PRESENCE OF JESUS HIMSELF. A life lived FOLLOWING JESUS. And a life with A SURE FUTURE HOPE.

1. A life based on historical fact

Let’s look at the first of those. A life following Jesus is BASED ON HISTORICAL FACT.

You see, Christianity is not a philosophy that’s DETACHED from reality. A set of ideas  – a way of living – that’s irrelevant to anything that actually happens in history.

Some people say that being a Christian is just a matter of FAITH. And that THINKING has nothing to do with it. But that’s only HALF right.

Yes, it DOES take faith to believe in a reality you can’t see or hear or smell. And it DOES take faith to believe the historical documents are trustworthy.

But it’s still REASONABLE to do so. Because it takes faith to believe that ANY historical documents are reliable. Newspaper reports on WW2. Army documents. Government papers. Photos.

We use our BRAIN to work out whether it’s REASONABLE to accept these documents. And then we make a decision – take a step of faith – to TRUST them.

And it’s no different with these documents. Because the book of Acts is A HISTORY BOOK. In fact, it’s volume TWO of the series. You can see that right there in v1.

(Acts 1:1 NIV)  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

The guy who wrote the book was called Luke. And his FIRST volume/ is the book of the Bible WE call the Gospel of Luke.

And if you look over at his introduction to THAT book (p723), you can see the method he used as he researched and recorded his history. Luke Ch 1 v1.

(Luke 1:1-4 NIV)  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, {2} just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were EYEWITNESSES and servants of the word. {3} Therefore, since I myself have CAREFULLY INVESTIGATED EVERYTHING from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, {4} so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

He’s spoken to the eyewitnesses. He’s checked his facts. In fact, he was actually PART of some of the later events in this book.

And then he’s recorded them all carefully. In a systematic and organized way. That’s history. It’s not a fable, or a story. Or a nursery rhyme. It’s HISTORY.

Just like a historian today might research the facts about WW2. He’d read the documents, interview the eyewitnesses. Check the details, and record the events accurately.

And it’s about the SAME LENGTH OF TIME between the events and the writing. As between now and WW2. About 50 years. And that’s NOTHING when it comes to history.

But WHAT WAS IT that Luke was interested in? Because it wasn’t a COMPREHENSIVE history. V1 tells us. It was, SPECIFICALLY, events about JESUS. “All that JESUS began to do and teach”

V2 takes up the story.

(Acts 1:2-3 NIV)  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. {3} After his suffering, he showed himself to these men 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.

Luke’s already told us about these events in volume 1. But he REMINDS us of them here at the start of Volume 2. Because they form the FOUNDATION of all that’s GOING to happen.

In volume 1, they form the CLIMAX. The END of THAT story. But here, they’re the FOUNDATION. The disciples only do what they do. Become who they become. Because of the time they spend with Jesus after his resurrection.

And exactly what does he DO after his resurrection? He SHOWED himself to the disciples. And gave CONVINCING PROOF that he was alive. He wasn’t a phantom. A hallucination caused by grief. Wishful thinking. The result of MASS HYSTERIA.

He ATE with them. They TOUCHED him. And he didn’t just do it ONCE. But MANY TIMES. Over a period of FORTY DAYS.

And what’s more. He gave INSTRUCTIONS to his disciples. Instructions about the Kingdom of God. Setting them straight about God’s plan for the world. And how Jesus fitted in to it.

Because his and resurrection had changed EVERYTHING. They’d imagined a MILITARY saviour. A warrior. Who’d free Israel from the Romans. Restore the JEWS to a number one position among the nations of the world.

But Jesus says their life will involve a DIFFERENT sort of battle instead. They’ll be WITNESSES, rather than WARRIORS. Declaring that Jesus really HAS risen from the . A historical fact. And that he calls people to RECOGNISE him. And submit to him.

And as witnesses rather than warriors, it won’t be a case of Israel versus the rest of the world. US AGAINST THEM. But Israel as the springboard into which the WHOLE WORLD will hear about Jesus. Israel holding up a LIGHT for the rest of the world to FOLLOW.

Look at how he corrects that idea in v7 and 8. The disciples want to know if Jesus is going to RESTORE THE PRIDE OF NATIONAL ISRAEL. That’s v6. It’s what Israel’s STILL trying to do.

But Jesus stretches their thinking.

(Acts 1:7-8 NIV)  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. {8} But 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 EVEN to THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

God’s got a MUCH bigger picture in mind. Israel’s just the beginning. The WORLD is now in view. That’s an extreme makeover.

2. A life empowered by the presence of Jesus himself

But in case it all sounds too hard. Too impossible a task for the disciples to achieve. He’s got a word of COMFORT as well.

The life he calls them to/ is one EMPOWERED by the PRESENCE of JESUS HIMSELF.

He says it in v4

(Acts 1:4-5 NIV)  ..”Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the GIFT my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. {5} For John baptized with water, but in a few days YOU WILL BE BAPTIZED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus – the Spirit of God the Father – living WITH the Christian. Living IN the Christian. That’s what God’s promised. And he’s coming soon.

The MAN Jesus could only be in one place at one time. With one group of people. But one of the amazing truths about Christianity is that Jesus’ SPIRIT can be with EVERY SINGLE of his followers. ALL THE TIME.

And other parts of the Bible tell us that the Holy Spirit GUIDES us. Strengthens us. Helps us to understand the Bible. Convicts us of sin. Gives us GIFTS to build up God’s people. Develops FRUIT in us that reflect his character.

And look at what else. Down in v8.

(Acts 1:8 NIV)  But you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses …

It is the EXTREME MAKEOVER of the Holy Spirit. His POWER which enables these scared, mumbling, uneducated tradesmen to move outside their comfort zones. To stand before kings and governors. Stand up for what they believe in. And EXPLAIN it. In ways they never thought possible.

Because when Jesus expands the TASK. He expands the RESOURCES to match.

And it’s just as true today.

I know people sitting here today. Who can honestly say that if it wasn’t for God’s Spirit working in them, they would never have made it. Addictions. Terrible trials. Tragedies. Overcoming what life throws at them in convincing and authentic ways.

Jesus promises those who follow him. Life empowered by the presence of Jesus himself.

3. A life lived following Jesus – doing, teaching, witnessing

And look at what he says they’re to DO with this power. To WITNESS to the reality of Jesus. And that will involve doing just what Jesus had done with the disciples. Teaching them. Training. Correcting. Showing by example. Living.

Witness is nothing more than a life lived following Jesus.

And this witness. Is just what the rest of the book goes on to describe. How the disciples witness. First in JERUSALEM – that’s Ch’s 1 to 7. And then in ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA – that’s Ch 8. And then to the ends of the earth – that’s Ch’s 9 to 28.

And if you flip over to Ch 28, you can see from the headings that The Apostle Paul lands in Malta, and then arrives in Rome.

And that’s where the book ends. With the message of Jesus having reached Rome. Over a thousand km’s away in about 20 years. Pretty impressive.

But not quite THE END OF THE WORLD.

And so the book finishes with the task INCOMPLETE. Waiting for someone ELSE to take up the running. To continue following Jesus. Witnessing for him.

And someone DID. Because after the Apostles died, the gospel continued to spread. From Rome across to Spain. And then across to Britain. And up into Europe.

And down through Egypt, and North Africa.

And eventually it made it all the way to Australia. Which really IS the end of the world. Unless you count NZ.

People here today continue to carry the baton. Witnessing for Jesus. Still following Jesus. Teaching others, correcting them, living like Jesus, SHOWING them Jesus.

4. A life with a sure future hope

But that’s the END of the race. And that’s a long way from where the disciples are at the moment. Here in Ch 1.

Jesus gives them the command – passes the baton on – in v8. And then look what happens next. V9.

(Acts 1:9-11 NIV)  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. {10} They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. {11} “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 back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

He didn’t just disappear. Vanish into thin air. They all saw him go. There was no doubt about it. No misinformation. No rumours. He went back to heaven. Hard to believe – yes! But no doubt.

And while the disciples keep looking at the clouds. Searching for some last glimpse. Some flicker of hope that they weren’t on their own. Two angels appear, and drag them back to earth.

“Get on with it. You’ve got work to do. Stop pining for something that’s over. Yes, he’s gone. But he’s coming back. The same way he went.”

“So make sure you’re READY when he does. He’s going to want to know how you’ve used your time, and your energy, and your money, and your possessions, and your abilities.”

The Christian life has a sure and certain hope. Jesus will come back one day. And we’ll give an ACCOUNT of all we’ve done. A de-brief. And that’s an incentive to be focussed and committed and hard-working.

Does that describe YOU? Are your priorities affected by the reality of Jesus’ return?

Or are you like an ostrich with its head in the sand? Pretending it ain’t going to happen? Building for financial independence, for comfort, for retirement. But ignoring the most central future event of all.

But Jesus WILL return. And what you do with your life NOW will determine whether you’ll be ready, or not.

The disciples were ready. Will YOU be?

Acts 2:1-41: Coming Home

Coming Home. It’s a very special feeling, isn’t it? Jake and Bernie have just returned after 15 months working and holidaying in England and Europe. They had all sorts of adventures. Great stories to tell, facebook albums full of amazing photos. Met some incredible people. Saw some amazing sights.

But in the end, they couldn’t wait to get home. Home to beaches and cold beer and hot pies. Home to their own bed. Home to their families, and to church.

Because COMING HOME is where you’re MEANT TO BE.

BACK TO THE START…

I want you to notice there’s a spectacular HOMECOMING in Acts chapter 2. But we won’t really understand it without at least a little bit of background. Because you’ll see there in verse 5, the crowd of people who are gathering in Jerusalem have come from EVERY PLACE YOU CAN THINK OF. But they’ve got ONE THING IN COMMON. Verse 5, have a look. They’re all JEWS.

But it begs the question – How come the Jews are scattered all over the nations in the first place?

And the answer goes all the way back to Deuteronomy. Right back at the very BEGINNING of the nation of Israel. Because right then Moses gives a warning. That if they’re UNFAITHFUL TO GOD, they’ll be scattered around the nations like dust. From one end of the earth to the other. They’ll go from NATION/ to NOTHING/ in the blink of an eye. The consequences of turning away from God.

But even then, there’s a promise. And it comes in Deuteronomy 30, the first six verses. As Moses looks far into the future. A promise that IF THEY REPENT, if they TURN BACK WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS, that there’ll be a HOMECOMING.

2 and when you and your children RETURN to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and GATHER YOU AGAIN from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will GATHER YOU and BRING YOU BACK. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. … 6 The LORD your God will CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEARTS and the hearts of your descendants, so that you MAY love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

A return TO GOD/ will result in a RETURN to THE LAND. He’ll forgive them. And bring them home.

Do you notice, not only a HOMECOMING – but CHANGED HEARTS as well. As GOD’S SPIRIT will circumcise the hearts of his people.

And the only thing they’ll have to do, the only thing they’ll have to do to be part of the homecoming, to have THEIR HEARTS CHANGED. Is TO REPENT. Turn back to God with all their heart and soul. That’s the promise.

Now to cut a long story short, the whole Old Testament is the story of how ISRAEL FAILS. And gets demolished. How the Israelites are scattered to the four winds.

And even those who HAVE come back, they’ve come to THE LAND of Israel without ever really coming home to GOD.

The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the time when all that would CHANGE. The time when THE MESSIAH COMES, to gather God’s people back together. To bring God’s people HOME. For REAL.

COMING HOME:

And so here we are in Acts chapter 2.

Last time, we looked at chapter 1. And how Jesus says the Holy Spirit’s going to come on the disciples; and they’ll have GOD’S STRENGTH. To go out from Israel/ to ALL THE WORLD. With the message that THE KING HAS FINALLY COME. And it’s time for God’s people to COME HOME.

Except here in chapter 2, the world’s already come to THEM.

First of all though, Jesus said they’d receive the SPIRIT. And they DO. In a spectacular way. We’re told in verse 2 there’s a sound like a howling wind; and the whole house shakes on its foundations; and what looks like tongues of fire through the air onto each of them.

Just like the pillar of fire rests over the tabernacle in the desert. The sign of God’s presence. And this fire is the sign of God’s presence too. Not on a TENT. But on lots of individuals. Lots of little dwellings of God’s presence. His HS filling all these people.

Which is what verse 4 says. They’re filled with the HEART CHANGING HOLY SPIRIT. And suddenly, these guys who have been told they’ve got to go and TELL THE WORLD are speaking in other languages. Without even learning them first.

Now I reckon that would be a great way to learn a language, wouldn’t it? Going through bible college we had to learn Biblical Greek and Hebrew; hours every week, tests every second day. Grinding away. Let me tell you, it was hard work.

But here are the apostles, and suddenly they’re speaking Turkish and Latin and Aramaic and Pamphilian and everything else.

Which is incredibly good timing, considering they’re in the middle of a crowd of Jews. Who are visiting Jerusalem from all the places you can see mentioned in verse 9 and 10 and 11.

And they come together when they hear the sound. And here’s the stunning thing. They can all UNDERSTAND what’s being said.

It’s sort of like what you get at the United Nations where everyone’s got their set of headphones on with an interpreter talking in their ear translating what’s being said from the front.

Except in this case, THEY DON’T NEED THE INTERPRETER. Because the HOLY SPIRIT has given the apostles the ability to SPEAK IN ALL THESE LANGUAGES so they can understand.

And they’re absolutely amazed. “Aren’t all these men who are speaking GALILEANS? Then HOW IS IT THAT EACH OF US HEARS THEM in his OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE?”

And what are they hearing? Down in the second part of verse 11. “We hear them declaring the WONDERS OF GOD in our own tongues.”

They’re ANNOUNCING THAT THE TIME HAS COME. The time Moses talked about. The time the prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah and Joel had talked about; where God’s Spirit would come. And CHANGE HEARTS. And the gospel would go out to ALL THE NATIONS. And ALL KINDS of people would be brought into the KINGDOM. In this new thing called THE CHURCH.

And NOW is the time. It’s TIME TO COME HOME. The launch of a whole new era. That’s the WONDERS of God. The POWERFUL ACTS of God.

God’s vision for who his children are is SO MUCH greater than ours. We can’t see beyond this building, or western Sydney, or Australia.  But God’s eyes can see his children in Portugal, and Hungary, and France, and Spain, and Vanuatu. And they’re just waiting for someone to tell them the good news about God pouring out his Holy Spirit. That God can make them NEW, and live WITH them! And then he can bring them home TOO.

Except the hearers don’t quite REALISE that at first. Some of them, maybe the locals who don’t speak any of these other languages, maybe people looking on from a distance and all they can hear is the rabble; and they say, huh, look at these blokes, they’ve had such A BIG NIGHT, it’s carried over into THE MORNING AFTER! They’ve had too much wine. V13.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Peter’s Sermon

Well, that’s the cue for Peter to start explaining. V15. He stands up with the other eleven, and he raises his voice above the noise, and he addresses the crowd.

They’re not drunk at all – it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Which wouldn’t be much of an argument in Sydney. But apparently it was in Jerusalem.

And he says, what’s happening is WHAT WAS PROPHESIED BY JOEL. That God would pour out his Spirit, not only on THE PROPHETS – like he had in the Old Testament. But on EVERYONE.

Men, women. Boys and s. Masters and servants.

And that ANYONE who calls on God will be saved. Anyone who TURNS BACK to him will be forgiven.

And it’s all because of Jesus. That’s what Peter goes on to tell them. That this man Jesus of Nazareth, he was accredited to them by all sorts of miracles.

Who was handed over to them in God’s plan; and they PUT HIM TO by nailing him to the cross. Just a month and a half before. Put to . In a case of mistaken identity.

But that wasn’t the end. In Verse 24, Peter says, GOD RAISED HIM. In fact, he HAD to. Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for to HOLD him.

And there’s a powerful picture that’s used. But we don’t pick it up in English. It says God freed Jesus from the AGONY of . It’s literally “God freed him from THE LABOURS, OR BIRTH PANGS, of ”.

The picture is of trying to hold onto Jesus, but Jesus just bursting out. As surely as a women who gives birth. It mightn’t be quick. It mightn’t be easy. But it’s 100% certain. It’s going to happen.

It’s no good saying once labour’s started, “I don’t think I want to do this any more. Let’s just go home!”

That baby’s coming. And there’s nothing much you can do to stop it!

And Peter’s saying “It’s the same with Jesus. He’s MESSIAH. He’s LORD. There’s no way that can keep him. It’s impossible!

And then to prove it, he quotes Psalm 16, where King David foresees a Messiah whose body won’t go to the grave like everyone else; a Messiah who’ll SIT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD and RULE FOR EVER.

And if you go down to verse 32, you’ll see that’s the bottom line. That’s the whole focus of Peter’s sermon. Remember what Jesus wanted the apostles to be? WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION.

And here as Peter PREACHES THE GOSPEL, that’s what he’s on about. The scriptures foretold it. And we’ve seen it. Verse 32. “God has raised this Jesus TO LIFE; and we are all WITNESSES to the fact.”

And that resurrection is God’s declaration – God’s WITNESS – that Jesus really IS LORD and CHRIST. Raised to the right hand of God; RULING OVER ALL THE NATIONS.

And BECAUSE he’s Messiah and Lord, God the Father’s given him the Holy Spirit to distribute to his followers. One of the perks of the job. That’s v33.

And that, says Peter, THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE SEEING TODAY. Jesus, pouring out the Holy Spirit.

Well, what do you do with information like that? What do you do when you’ve suffered a case of mistaken identity.

I heard of a who were invited to go to a dinner party. They were told that one of the guests at the party would be Brian Booth – the former Australian Cricket Captain.

The husband was pretty excited about having the chance to talk with Brian Booth. The wife, however, had no idea who Brian Booth was and her husband had forgotten to tell her.

During the course of the evening the conversation turned to cricket – as it inevitably would. When Brian Booth had made a few comments about the game the wife stepped in and said “Oh. So you played some cricket when you were younger, did you?”

The whole dinner party went quiet. She had just asked a former Australian Cricket Captain if he ever played cricket.

But failing to recognise JESUS is far worse. As these Jews listen to Peter, as they weigh it all up, it dawns on them. They’ve made a huge mistake. The Lord; the promised Messiah. he came. And instead of worshipping him, they killed him. And now God’s raised him.

And I guess there’s a bit of desperation in their voices when they say the words in verse 37. Read what they say. “When the people heard this, they were CUT TO THE HEART (convicted), and they said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, WHAT WILL BE DO?”

They recognised their mistake. That’s something many people today REFUSE to do. A of years ago we had Jews for Jesus speaking at church. And they must have had their schedule on the internet. Because a few weeks before, I got a letter from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Warning me that Jews for Jesus was offensive to Jews, and that we should consider these things before inviting them.

Here’s some of what the letter said.

“Jews for Jesus maintain that it is Jewish to believe in Jesus, But the fact is one cannot be Jewish (waiting for the Messiah to come) and Christian (believing that Jesus was the Messiah) at the same time. They are two separate religions. It is dishonest to claim otherwise. Jews for Jesus are harming interfaith relations.”

According to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. They HAVEN’T made a mistake. So they’ve got nothing to correct. They’ve looked at Jesus, decided he’s not the messiah. And so they’re still waiting.

Which is like plenty of people OUT THERE. They don’t need to be JEWISH to do it. “Na. I’ve checked Jesus out. He’s IRRELEVANT.”

But that’s not Peter’s hearers. “What must we do? How do we fix up our mistake?” And look at how Peter replies. They’re important words. Because you might remember it goes all the way back to what Moses said. Coming home for the scattered people of Israel, it’s not just about coming to a PLACE. It’s a TURNING OF THE HEART. Heart and soul BACK to God.

And so Peter says this. “REPENT (TURN BACK) and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ; SO THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. And YOU (YOU TOO) will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as well.

And so in verse 41, the ones who accept the message, they’re baptised – I don’t know whether they go into the river, or they’re just sprinkled with water or not – that’s not the point. The point is, they’ve seen they were wrong about Jesus. And they’ve totally changed their minds. They’ve turned around. They’ve repented.

And as a sign that they’re washed and forgiven by God, they’re washed on the outside as well. And about 3000 were added to their number on that single day.

Have YOU been baptised? If you’re a Christian, you SHOULD have. PETER tells you to. Jesus HIMSELF tells you to. If not, why not?

Perhaps you think “But it doesn’t MAKE me a Christian.” And that’s true. It’s only a SYMBOL of something that God does when he washes us clean. And gives us his Spirit.

But he still wants us to be BAPTISED. Because it’s GOOD FOR US. It’s good for our FAITH. Good for the faith of those watching. It helps to CONFIRM the REALITY of God’s promise. The reality of our forgiveness. And the reality of God’s Spirit with us.

“Repent AND be baptised”, Peter pleads.

COMING HOME TO WHAT?

There’s still a question though in all of this. And it’s an important one. The question is, COMING HOME TO WHAT? All these Jews. From all over the known world. They thought they were coming home to JERUSALEM. To the HOLY LAND.

But much more important than coming home to a PLACE. Is coming home TO GOD. That’s what REPENTANCE is.

And it’s something we ALL need. Have YOU come home to God? Maybe God’s done some SCATTERING in YOUR life. You’ve traveled MILES from him. It’s been YEARS since he felt close.

Today’s a GREAT DAY to come home. The promise of God is there. The promise of forgiven sins. AND the promise of his Holy Spirit.

And Peter concludes in v39. How BIG is God’s offer?

“This promise is for you and your children, AND for all who are far off. In FACT, for ALL whom the Lord our God will call”

And that’s YOU. He’s calling YOU home. Will you come?

But it’s more than coming home to GOD. It’s about coming home to a PEOPLE. And you can see it in the next few verses. That their repenting and turning back to God/ was the start of something REMARKABLE. Something they soon began to call THE CHURCH. Which means literally, THE GATHERING. The group of people that God has GATHERED together.

And so day by day, THEY GATHERED. From all the places God had called them home. And we’ll see next week what that LOOKED LIKE.

But it’s still the same today. God calls US home. Home to HIMSELF. And home to HIS PEOPLE.

And if you look around, you can see that we really HAVE been gathered from ALL OVER THE PLACE. From all sorts of backgrounds. And experiences. With all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. Goals and dreams. Just like those first Jewish converts.

But for all our differences. This group of people God has called us to/ is HOME. It’s where we BELONG. It’s where we should feel comfortable. Where we should be committed.

It’s much more important than just some place you come to on a Sunday. Somewhere to pass away a of hours.

Is that reflected in the way YOU think about church? In the way you TREAT church? Where it fits in your priorities? How much does it take to keep you AWAY from church? What do you say NO to/ because it clashes with church?

If this is HOME. Then we can be comfortable with each other. Just like FAMILY. Be REAL. Be HONEST. LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY. Home is SPECIAL. Family is SPECIAL.

Let’s REJOICE in it. Value it, appreciate it. Work hard at making it BETTER. God has gathered us. To himself, and to his people.

And until we make it to our REAL home, THIS IS HOME.