Change is difficult. We see that in every aspect of our lives. Just this morning I went through the difficult change of being asleep, comfortable in my bed to being awake and getting ready for church. That was a difficult change. Many of you have moved and taken on new jobs throughout your life – that change is difficult. Many of you have gone from being a newly wed-couple to having kids – that’s a difficult change. Then when those kids grow up and move out, that’s a difficult change there again. As you grow older, your body wears out and you can’t do things like you used to – that’s a difficult change. Life is full of change and most often, that change is difficult.
Even physics say that change is difficult. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to remain in motion, unless an external force is applied to it. When a train is barreling down the track in this direction, it is very difficult to change it’s direction to go the other way. Change is difficult.
As our church moves forward in the direction God is leading us, there’s bound to be some changes. Some may be minor, some may be major, but all changes will come with some degree of difficulty.
So to help us through the process a little bit, this morning I want to look at some of the major changes that happened in the early church.
The first change that we want to look at is a changed way of coming to God.
Around 1500 BC, at Mount Sinai, God gave the Israelites the law. There were three aspects of the law. There was the moral law of right and wrong – which still applies to us today. (Things like Thou shall not steal or Thou shall not kill) There was the national law – which applies to how Israel was to govern itself as a nation. (Things like you’re allowed to charge interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you’re not allowed to charge interest on a loan to a fellow Israelite.)
Then there was the ceremonial law. These laws were basically how God told them to do church – how they were to approach to God. These are the “weird” laws – that seem totally strange and foreign to us – like…
“Take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Then sprinkle blood against the altar on all sides.”
God laid out a very detailed system of how He wanted them to “do church”. Basically the whole book of Leviticus is God’s instructions for church, as well as the later part of Exodus and much of Numbers. I certainly don’t have time to give you all the details on how God said things should work, but I’ll try to give you a summary in a nutshell.
Basically there were three major elements. The temple, the priests, and the sacrifices. The Israelites could be right with God when the priest at the temple offered a sacrifice to God on their behalf. And all the who, where, what, and how were very specifically laid out. This was the system of coming to God for about 1500 years. (And some of you think our church is a little stuck in tradition!)
But when Jesus Christ died on the cross, all of that changed. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, he is now our high priest in heaven, and the Holy Spirit lives within every believer so our bodies have become the temple.
What a fantastic change! I am so glad that I don’t need to travel to a temple to have a priest sacrifice one of my sheep so that I can be right with God.
Romans 10:9 says “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
No lambs, no priests, no temples. But what a change for the Israelites who had been doing it this way for 1500 years! You can see why so many Jews were upset when Peter and Paul and the other apostles started preaching the Good News! Claiming that there was a new way to come to God – that’s the reason they caused uproars where ever they went. That’s the reason they were beaten, imprisoned, and put to death.
Now I have to be careful on how I apply this to our church situation. I’m not suggesting that you’re going to form a mob and chase me out of the church if I suggest some changes. (At least I hope not.) And I’m also not suggesting that God has revealed to me a brand new system of coming to God.
The point that I want to make is simply, “Change is difficult, but God is good.” If God brings about a change, you can be certain that it is for the better. I think every one of us here are very thankful that God changed the way that people can come to Him. But those Israelites sure didn’t see it that way. We might not understand it, we might not even like it… but God is good. He knows what He’s doing.
Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
The second change in the early church that we see is a changed mission field.
Ever since the time of Abraham, the Israelites were God’s chosen people, and as such, they felt they had an exclusive right to God. God was for the Jews only. Anyone who wasn’t a Jew was basically treated like dirt. Gentiles (or anyone who wasn’t a Jew) weren’t allowed in the temple. Jews wouldn’t eat with Gentiles or even go into their home.
Even back in Jonah’s time, we can see the Israelites’ distain for Gentiles. Jonah, an Israelite, did his best to avoid preaching to the Ninevites (who were gentiles). Then after his whole ordeal in the great fish and he went and he preached like God told Him to and the people repented and God spared their lives, look at how Jonah reacted.
Jonah 4:1-2 “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Jonah was very angry that God would spare the Ninevites and allow them to repent. To the Jews, Gentiles were the enemy. And even in the earliest days of the church, this way of thinking continued and the Good News was only preached to fellow Jews.
But one day, God sent Peter to a man named Cornelius, who was a Gentile, a Roman officer. Peter shared the Good News with him and He and everyone with him believed.
Then look at how the Jews reacted:
Acts 11:2-3 (NLT) “But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.
Well, Peter explained what happened and verse 18 continues:
“When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”
Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.
What a great example of accepting change! When the Jews saw what God was doing, they embraced the change. They no longer objected, but they praised God and went out and started preaching to the Gentiles – and a large number of them turned to the Lord.
We’ve got to do the exact same thing. If God asks us to make some changes in our life or in our church, let’s stop our objections, praise God for what He’s doing, and then go out and do what God wants us to do.
The third change that happened in the early church is changed lives.
There are many that we could look at, but I think perhaps one of the lives that had changed the greatest is the life of Saul – or as we better know him, Paul.
Saul was one of those Jews who held very tightly to the old “ceremonial law” way to God – priests, sacrifices & temples. He was also very much a “God for the Jews only” kind of guy. Being a Pharisee, he was dedicated to preserving that system and those beliefs. He writes in…
Philippians 3:5-6 “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.”
When Christians began to preach a new way of becoming right with God, Saul was infuriated! He went from city to city to hunt down these Christians and throw them in prison. He was a part of the first Christian martyr.
Acts 9:1 says he was ‘breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.’
But one day, everything changed for Saul. He met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and he was never again the same.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is passed away, behold, the new has come.”
That was Saul. He was a new creation. No longer did He persecute the church, but instead he became one of the world’s greatest church planters. He stopped breathing out murderous threats and instead penned a large part of the New Testament. God completely changed his life.
God’s still in the business of changing lives. Take a minute to look around right here in this room. God changes lives.
No matter what changes we make in our program or to our facility or to our organization – those changes will seem completely insignificant compared to the changes that God will bring about in the lives of the people around us. Yes, I am excited for the changes that are happening in our church, but I’m so thrilled I can hardly stand it – waiting to see how God is going to change the lives of the people around us.
Can you imagine it? Picture your friends and neighbors, having lived their life lost and apart from God – CHANGED! Granted eternal life. Filled with joy of the Lord. Living their life for God and praising Him for all His goodness!
Could it really happen? Sure it can! Changing lives is what God does best! Look what He’s done with me. Look what He’s done with all of you. And just imagine what He’s going to do yet. God changes lives.
Aren’t you glad you serve a God like that? Aren’t you excited for what He’s done and what He’s going to do? I know I sure am. Let’s praise and thank Him right now.