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Carrying Out Your God-Given Ministry

For the last several weeks, we’ve been going through the book of Acts – following the growth and development of the early church. 

As the Apostles boldly share their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and call people to put their faith in Him for Salvation, the Holy Spirit has been at work, and crowds of people have been responding to the Gospel. The church has been growing tremendously!

But of course, with rapid growth comes growing pains – and we’ve seen a few examples of that already.

  • We’ve seen Ananias and Sapphira being put to death by the Lord after lying to the Holy Spirit.
  • We’ve seen the Apostles being thrown into prison – and then rescued by an angel who simply opened the doors and led them out.
  • We’ve seen the religious leaders command that Apostles stop preaching in the name of Jesus –  even flogging them as a warning – but the Apostles insisted that they would continue  obeying God rather than man!

And thus far, all of these growing pains have not stopped the tremendous growth of the church. But today in our passage, the church is going to face perhaps their greatest threat yet. This particular ‘growing pain’ not only has the potential to destroy or at least seriously damage the unity of the church, which is the hallmark of the followers of Christ – but it also has the potential to prevent the Apostles from faithfully preaching the Good News.

And by the way, the threats to the church that we’re going to read about here in Acts chapter 6 are equally present us for today, and so I think this will be a very relevant passage for us!

Our passage today is in Acts chapter 6 – and we’re just going to start by just reading the very first verse. It reads like this:

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

Acts 6:1

Now right off the bat there are a couple of things that we should clarify.

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God’s Prevailing Purposes

Last Sunday, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, gave us a snapshot of life in the early church. And he gave us two contrasting examples of both the good and the bad.

First of all, Luke told us about a man named Joseph – otherwise known as Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. Filled with the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for the church, he sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to give to the needy within the church. This was a great example of the generosity and care for each other that was common within the church in those early days!

But in contrast to Barnabas, Luke then goes on to tell us about another couple – Ananias and Sapphira.  With hearts filled by Satan and motivated by pride – they also sold some land and gave the money to the apostles. However, they kept some of the money for themselves and decided to lie about it to the Apostles (and really, to the Holy Spirit) – claiming that they had given everything, when in fact, they had not. For their deception and as a strong warning to the rest of the church, the Lord stuck them both death.

Their sudden and dramatic deaths would have been quite a shock to the church, I’m sure! In fact, verse 11 tells us that…

11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

Acts 5:11

And that verse kinda sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. As we finish up Acts chapter 5 today, we’re going to see that God continues to do some amazing things in and through the church, and people just don’t know what to make of it all!

Are these followers of Jesus good or bad? Are they doing these amazing things with trickery and slight of hand or is God really behind it all? And perhaps most importantly, is their message of faith in Jesus merely empty ramblings, or is it really the Gospel truth?

Those are the questions that everyone was asking, and those are the questions that Luke wants you to consider as well!

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Contrasting Characters in the Early Church

This morning we are continuing our look at the book of Acts – specifically we will be looking at the last few verses of chapter 4 and the first few verses of chapter 5. Last week Mike took us through the bulk of Acts 4 as Peter & John boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus Christ as they stood on trial before the temple authorities. They had earlier been arrested after healing a lame man and preaching to the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah who had been raised from the dead.

Well, the religious authorities at the temple didn’t appreciate that kind of preaching, and so, upon being released from prison, Peter & John were strongly warned to never to preach again in the name of Jesus – but of course, the apostles stated quite emphatically that they could never stop speaking about what they had seen and heard. In fact, as soon as they were released, they met together with the rest of the church to pray for even more boldness in sharing the Gospel.

And of course, God was quite happy to answer their prayers. In fact, the last verse of that passage says this:

31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:31

Undeterred by the threats of the authorities and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples faithfully continued to carry out the mission they had been given by Jesus Himself – to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

And of course, as they did that, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Back in verse 4, Luke gives us a numbers update and he says….

“…the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.” Luke 4:4

5000 men had put their faith in Jesus in just a short time – in probably just a matter of days or weeks. And that’s just the men. There were undoubtedly women and children as well, so the total number of those in the church could have been around 10,000 or more by now. What a church! And even more amazing is how Luke describes this enormous group of people… Look at what he says in verse 32:

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind.

Acts 4:32a

Now that is an amazing statement! All the believers – some 5 to 10,000 of them – were all united in heart and mind. That’s almost hard to believe!

Most of us know from experience how hard it is to get people on the same page – whether you’re trying to do something as a team at work or as group of kids for a class project or even just trying to decide what movie to watch as a family – it is a rare thing that people are united in heart and mind!

But that’s exactly what God intends for his church. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus prayed for when He prayed for his disciples back at the last supper. If you remember from John chapter 17, Jesus said:

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Faith in the Name of Jesus

This morning we continue our look at the book of Acts – specifically today we are in Acts chapter 3. And if you haven’t been with us for the last two chapters, there are basically three key things that have happened in the story so far:

  1. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to Heaven and commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses throughout the world.
  2. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his disciples and every believer – just as he had promised earlier – empowering them to boldly share about Christ where ever they went.
  3. As the disciples shared the message of Christ, more & more people accepted their message, trusted in Jesus, and the early church began to take shape.

In fact, when we last left off, the church had just exploded in growth as 3000 people were added to the church as the result of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 2 describes it like this:

41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.

Acts 2:41-44

Now when we went through this passage in chapter 2 a couple weeks ago, we talked mostly about how the believers were devoted to God and devoted to each other. But we didn’t really spend much time on verse 43, which says “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” But this, too, is an important verse.

This verse points out how God affirmed the Apostles’ message & authority by enabling them to perform miraculous signs and wonders – very much like the signs and wonders that Jesus performed during his ministry on earth or even like the prophets of old – such as Moses, Elisha and Elijah.

These signs and wonders not only gave credibility to their message – but it also provided for them many opportunities to share their message with the people who witnessed these amazing miracles!

And that’s what we’re going to see today. Today, chapter 3 gives us a specific example of the signs and wonders that Peter & John were performing and how they used that as an opportunity to preach about Christ.

So we are going to start in Acts chapter 3, verse 1.

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. 2 As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Acts 3:1-3

And we’ll pause here for a minute. So far, this is a pretty normal day for everyone involved.

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The Command to be Baptized

This morning we are really excited that we can baptize 5 people out in the river in just a few minutes from now! And I am glad that we are doing this in June instead of in late September like we have in the past. Theoretically, it should be a little bit warmer! 

But I’ll admit that this year’s baptism is a unique baptism for me. This will be (by far) the youngest group of baptism candidates that I have ever baptized.

And because of that, I do want to clarify a few things this morning about baptism – what it is and what it is not. You know, having these young kids wanting to be baptized has actually been a good but challenging process for me. It’s caused me to go back and review the Scriptures to make sure that what we’re doing is actually the proper way to obey Christ’s instructions regarding baptism.

And so this morning, before we get into the actual baptism, let’s just take a few moments to look the Scriptures and see what the Bible has to say about it all!

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For the last month we’ve been taking a look at the book of Acts. The full title of the book, as listed in your Bibles, is likely “The Acts of the Apostles” – but as we’ve noted previously, it might be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or even “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. While the different Apostles certainly play a key role in the various parts of this book, it’s clear right from chapter 1 that this book is all about the incredible activity of God in people’s lives.

And that’s exactly what we saw last week. Last week, we saw how the Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit – and he was enabled, not only to speak in languages that he had never learned, but perhaps even more miraculous, the Holy Spirit enabled Peter to boldly share the Gospel with a huge crowd of people and 3,000 of them accepted Christ as their Saviour and were baptized that day!

Now remember, this was the same Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus when a little girl asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples! In fact, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times that night – but now here he is, an absolutely changed man, boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ to the very crowds who had put Jesus to death 7 weeks earlier!

What a change! Now that the Holy Spirit was living within Peter, Peter was being absolutely transformed from the inside out.

And not only Peter, but all of the Apostles too, as well as the other 120 disciples, as well as the other 3,000 people who had just accepted Christ as their Saviour after hearing Peter’s message!

And of course, that made for a really interesting scenario! Here we have the very first church – and it’s a big one – over 3,000 people. But every one of them were brand new Christians! Even the Apostles had only just recently come to understand who Jesus really was, what He had done for them, and what the Kingdom of God was really all about!

This was all brand new for everyone! There wasn’t even any other other churches in history that they could look at and learn from! They just had to make it up as they went along – trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide and direct them as they learned what it meant to be followers of Christ.

And so today, we’re going to look at the final six verses of Acts chapter 2 that describe what that very first church did as they attempted to figure out what it looked like to be a church. 

Now many people would point to this passage in Acts 2 as the description of the ideal church – in fact, I think I’ve probably preached on this passage before with similar intent. But as I’ve grown in my understanding of the Bible over the years, I’m not so sure that we should read this as God’s blueprints for the perfect church.

These people that we’re going to read about were still imperfect people who made mistakes and still struggled with sin (just like you and I). In fact, as we read on through the book of Acts, we see that made quite clear to us with stories like Ananias and Sapphira lying about their donations to church or the racial discrimination that happened at the church food bank, or even (as Paul later mentions in Galatians) how Peter refused to eat with Gentile Christians.

This was not a perfect church, nor did they have perfect leaders – and so what we read here is not necessarily the prescription for what God intended church to look like. However, it is a description of what these first believers did to carry out their mandate to make disciples, to learn to love each other and to love God, and to grow in the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. And that’s what makes this passage so helpful for us.

While not everything they did was perfect, there was a lot of good stuff happening in that church, so I think there is a lot that we can learn from them.

So as I said, we’re looking at the last verses of Acts chapter 2 this morning, so let’s begin at verse 41, and then read through until the end. It reads like this:

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