If you’re not already in the Book of Acts, go ahead and turn there, Acts 2. Page 909 is where it starts. So when, (if you need an outline raise your hand) when the Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, as Jesus promised, his presence was loud. Chapter 2, verse 2 describes the sound like a “mighty rushing wind.” It was all encompassing. It filled the entire house. It was unmistakable – you have divided tongues as a fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. It was universal – they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, everyone in the house. It was unifying – they began speaking languages they had not previously known. It was the “de-Babeling,” the undoing of the judgment at the Tower of Babel. Suddenly people who were disconnected became connected by the Spirit. This caused many to be, verse 12, “amazed and perplexed.” What does this mean? Others mocked and explained all the events as flowing from a lot of alcohol, explaining, “these are all filled with new wine.” So that demanded an explanation. So the apostle Peter stood up and said, “No, this is 9:00 in the morning. These people are not drunk.”
You’ve got to go back to the prophet Joel to understand what’s happening. And he quotes from the prophecy of Joel describing a time where the Spirit would be poured out on sons and daughters, young and old, male and female, servants. He explained God’s plan in sending his son, Jesus, and how he was rejected and crucified and buried and then raised from the dead. And then he came to this climax in verse 36,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Can you imagine anything more terrifying than that? The man you just cried, “Crucify him,” God has made Lord and Christ. Oops! Verse 37, “They were cut to the heart.” Cut to the heart. Conviction went deep. And they cried out, “What shall we do?” Verse 38, “Peter said to them, ‘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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Amen! This is an instant megachurch. Going from a little group that can fit into a room in a home to 3,000 people. And if you look down at verse 47, the Lord kept adding day by day. So it was just the beginning. The group kept growing. And if you think about that experience from our loneliness series, you can imagine that doesn’t sound all good, right? Think of your average introvert. You knew everyone, you’re hanging out with the apostles, and then all of a sudden, “Man! How come I can’t be in St. Peter’s accountability group? Why can’t I be in the apostle John’s small group? Why do I have to be in Bartholomew’s group? That’s lame.” All of a sudden, a certain intimacy that they had known was invaded by literally thousands of people — newbies, full of the spirit, all excited. That’s in one sense really exciting and in another sense really challenging. Where do I fit in? How do we do this?
And I don’t want to paint all this in rose-colored glasses. It was challenging. If you skip forward to chapter 6, you’ll see people were neglected. The care of widows, some were neglected. People fell through the cracks. They had to establish deacons and get some structure and organization to care for this growing flock. However, one of the distinguishing characteristics of this movement of the Spirit that made it so special and ultimately sustainable (hence our meeting here today, 2000 years later) was the fact that there were no spectators. A spectator is an onlooker, bystander, sightseer. “Whoa! Look at that event! Look at that occurrence! Look what’s happening! That’s cool.”
But what is happening here is very different from that. Yes, there were mockers and yes, there were rejectors — people who rejected it. But all those who gathered with this group came as participants. As Joel and Ezekiel and Jeremiah all predicted that one of the characteristics of the new covenant was its democratization. Democratization, that is: it is available to everyone. Sons, daughters, old, young, female, male, rich, poor all experiencing a deep conviction of heart. Remember, they were “cut to the heart” — deep conviction. This wasn’t just a conviction that was passed down from a parent or received by a leader. This was something each person recognized before God. “I have sinned and desperately need to be saved from this crooked generation that I am a part of.” There is a repentance, there is a faith, there is a baptism (each one being baptized), there is a filling of the Spirit, for all. Look at Peter’s invitation, verse 38, “every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” Verse 39, “For the promise is for you and for your children… [It’s for you] and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Three thousand in one day received his Word, were baptized, filled with the Spirit, bonded together. It’s possible for 3,000 people to watch a show and be amazed and maybe even have a certain commonality in their experience, but that never lasts. This is something different.
This past January a group of passengers gathered in Charlotte to remember the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Ten years ago, January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 left La Guardia Airport flying to Charlotte, 150 passengers, 5 crew members. At 2800 feet in the air they hit a flock of Canadian geese. Both engines (as far as I know it’s the first time anything like this had happened to a commercial plane), both engines shut down. Twenty-eight hundred feet isn’t that much higher than our little Paris Mountain. That’s not a lot of time for the pilot. Chelsey Sullenberger, known as Captain Sully, had to make split second decisions. Are we turning back to the runway? No, we won’t make it. We will crash. Head for the Hudson. He immediately turned toward the Hudson and miraculously glided the plane onto the water, and no one was seriously injured. No one died. They all were able to get out on the wings to be picked up. Can you imagine that experience? So ten years later when they gather together, they’re remembering what it was like to be dead. For many of them, they assumed it’s over. They’re texting family on the way down in the few seconds they had, “We love you. We’re going down.” And then suddenly to realize, “We’re alive! Captain Sully, we love you!” Seriously, children, grandchildren, everybody, was just all over him for what was really a miraculous death/life experience. And in one sense there is a bonding, right, when you’ve gone through that with people.
Multiply that by a billion and you’re getting a sense what is happening in Acts 2. The people in Acts 2 are facing the reality of their sin and realizing the judgment, but not just a judgment like “I’m going to die physically.” This is a judgment, “I’m going to die for ever. I’m going to come under the wrath of God. I’m going to be justly condemned by the judge of the universe who made us for his glory, and we have rejected that glory and are going to be condemned forever.” And as they were feeling the weight of their judgment, cut to the heart, Peter proclaimed, “No. No. Jesus was sent not that you would be damned, but that you would be saved.” Amen. He actually bore your judgment on himself, on the cross, so that you would not be condemned, so that you would be saved. And the people who had been cut to the heart cried out with their mouths, repentance and faith. And the Spirit came upon them, and they were filled and forgiven and full of joy. Now that is a bond that nothing else compares to!
Suddenly, they had everything that mattered in common. This group that spoke different languages, from different countries, had everything that mattered in common. The most diverse, multiethnic, multicultural, multiracial movement in the history of the world began that day. They spoke different languages, had different customs, but were bonded because they had all experienced what it’s like to die, to be buried, and to rise by faith in Jesus Christ. And therefore they were plugged in with one another in the presence of God.
And it goes way beyond a 10-year anniversary. Look what they did in verse 42 in response to the bonding of the Spirit, “they devoted themselves to” something. To devote yourself is “to pay attention to.” The root of that comes from the word “strong,” to give your strength to. What did they give their strength to? Four things. Number 1, the apostles’ teaching. Today many of us assume, many assume, that when the Spirit falls in a big way, you’re going to know it because there’s going to be a very emotional experience, maybe lots of worship, maybe healings, joy, and all of those things are there. You’ll notice, look at verse 43, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Verse 46, tons of joy. Verse 47, lots of praise.
But don’t miss the fact that all of these are built on and flow from the apostles’ teaching. Truths that flow from God by the Spirit. It matters what we believe. In John 14, when Jesus was leaving, he said, “I’m not going to leave you as orphans. I’m going to send you the Spirit whom the Father will send in my name. He will teach you all things and will bring all things to your remembrance.” Did that happen? Yes! The Spirit came, brought all things to the remembrance of the apostles. They, inspired of the Spirit, wrote those things down, and now 2000 years later we are clinging to, devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
November 22, 1992, East North Street, by the little foot doctor’s office, a group of believers gathered, shared their stories — death to life stories of God’s grace.
There were 47 of us that would on that day charter, begin officially, North Hills Community Church. And after sharing our testimonies of God’s grace with one another, we signed – I was just looking at it this week again – we signed a statement which is very similar to the Apostles’ Creed (which is the apostles’ teaching) saying, “based on the grace of God and the transformation he has worked in our hearts, we are devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching.” And guess what passage I preached on that day about 27 years ago? Acts 2:42. We are devoting ourselves. Our job is not to invent anything in the sense of, our job is not, “Let’s see how relevant we can be by inventing truth or creating something that’s never been.” No, our job is to receive what God has given us and to faithfully live and share that which he has given us. That’s what he means here, “devoted to the apostles’ teaching.”
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a minister of a denomination which has rejected the apostles’ teaching for the most part, many in that denomination, most. And so this minister was pretty interested in our church, asking questions about how long I’d been here. That was shocking to him because in their denomination, they move them pretty quickly. And then asking, “How long do you preach?” Why, is that funny? I said him, “A little too long. Historically, around 50 minutes, somewhere around there.” And I said, “I’m really trying to get that down more to 40 minutes.” Not that time matters, but I explained to him that what we’re really trying to do is have the time to understand the context of the passage, to unpack that passage, to listen to what the Scriptures really say, and to take time to apply that to our hearts. And I said, “I’m really … ” Oh, well let me tell you what he said during that. He looked at me and he said, “If I talked longer than 15 or 20 minutes, my people will literally get up and walk out the door.” And I said, “I know, we are really spoiled.
Our people love the apostles’ teaching. They want to know, “What does God say?” Not just … they don’t want to come to be entertained. Let’s not just hear the latest story or catch up on the latest news. I mean, if it’s relevant to what God’s word says, yes, bring it. But we want to hear, what has God given us by his Spirit? And by the power of his Spirit, we want to hear how that affects us. And his Spirit is consistently cutting us to the heart. He’s speaking to us. That goes deeper than just information in our head. We’re not just running a school. This is the Spirit’s work in our lives that actually changes the way we think and live. Amen? That’s what he’s called us to. And it’s not about length of sermon, short or long. It’s about, are we listening to what God says? Do we love it? Do we delight in his truth? And are we willing to, by the Spirit, change our thinking and as Gregg said earlier, repent of lies that we believe as we hear his word? That’s what was happening here. Can you imagine being confronted with truth that to them just seemed totally foreign? Well it does to us today too in relation to our culture.
Number 1, they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. Number 2, they were devoted to the fellowship. Verse 42, “the fellowship.” That word “fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia. It’s a rich word that means “to share with someone in something” that goes beyond the relationship itself, to share with someone in something that goes beyond the relationship itself.
So, “The Miracle on the Hudson” group gathers together up in Charlotte at the Aviation Museum. They actually have the plane there or did. It’s being moved to a new location now, but at the reunion, they had the plane there. Can you imagine those conversations? “Hey, you remember when we first realized we were going down and I screamed?” “Yeah, I remember that.” Talking about what they texted to their families. The terror, the sweating, but then the joy when they realized, “We are water-skiing down the Hudson in a tube of toothpaste.” How cool is that? There’s a bonding that comes when you experience something that traumatic.
Well, the fellowship that’s being shared in this context is that and much more because you see, “The Miracle on the Hudson,” as spectacular and terrifying as that was, it carried with it no life-altering implications. You could choose to experience that, go away, and not talk about it for ten more years and then come to the reunion, or not. No life-altering implications. Hopefully, you’re grateful.
But see the gospel comes with serious life-altering implications. When you’ve gone through that death, burial, resurrection experience, that experience forms the shape of your life, your whole life. And this is where this shift (don’t miss this, please) from “devoted to the apostles’ teaching,” which is vital, but doesn’t stop there. Notice immediately, “and the fellowship.” It’s not enough for us just to learn or even be convicted or grow in our understanding. There is an immediate connection with the body of Christ that we call koinonia, fellowship.
Listen to what Dallas Willard says about this. This was one of his soapboxes:
“We have counted on preaching and teaching to form faith in the hearer; and on faith to form the inner life and ordered behavior of the Christian. But for whatever reason, this strategy has not turned out well. The result is that we have multitudes of professing Christians that well may be ready to die, but obviously are not ready to live, and can hardly get along with themselves, much less others.”
That’s really important. Again, I’m not minimizing at all the vital role of teaching and preaching and being devoted to the apostles’ teaching. But what Luke records here in Acts 2:42 is immediately linking that with fellowship. He has called us out of death to life into a family. And that is beautiful and super difficult, right? Because it is in the context of our family that we not just receive a ticket to heaven, but Jesus does his transforming work in us. When I’m around other people, I begin to see parts of myself I would not see if I was alone. And I can blame them -“She pushes my buttons” – and not ask myself why I have so many buttons. So what God does is he puts us in a family, and we learn to share life together. And it is the incubator of transformation into the image of Christ. And all this beautiful truth we hear and believe, and claim gets to be worked out in the day-to-day. And you see beautiful implications of this in verse 44, which, by the way, the verses following verse 42 are like commentators … commentaries on verse 42, explaining and illustrating. Look at verse 44,
“And all who believed were together [that’s that koinonia, that fellowship] and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Whoa! You know the grace of God has had a powerful impact when it goes all the way to the wallet. Now today, in our current political climate, it’s hard to read these verses without getting into a debate on socialism. So is this advocating Christian socialism? Well, if you read it carefully in the context, you will see that what is being described here is, as you’ll see in verse 46, they still owned homes, or they wouldn’t have places to meet. “They ate their food in their homes.” Chapter 5, in the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter went out of his way to explain that while it was in your possession, it was as he says, “at their own disposal.”
The point here is not that some tweet-happy president or some socialist squad is telling you what to do with your money. The point is, when you experience the grace of God it changes you. It changes the way you think about one another. And so if you have, if I have resources to meet a need that you have, I want to do that freely. This is talking about grace-fueled generosity, not some coercive government or church authority coming in and snatching away your possessions. That just creates more victims. But a transformation from within, looking at people around you differently, and seeing, “Wow, God, you have blessed me. How can you use me to meet a need of my neighbor?” And that’s what was happening here, this kind of fellowship that overflowed in transparency and generosity.
Number 3, the breaking of bread. What is this breaking of bread that they’re devoted to? Is this merely eating together or something more formal, like the Lord’s Supper? And the answer is yes, it is referring to ordinary meals. Verse 46,
“When they were breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”
When you experience the grace of Jesus, a mundane meal becomes the celebration supper. You eat and you drink to the glory of God. And these people knew how to do that. They were Baptists. And it’s beautiful to see many of you hashtag #lonelinessloses as you invite others in your home or as you are invited to share a meal. Don’t miss the miracle of shared meals. Don’t write them off as if it’s got to be pagan if there’s something enjoyable involved like food. No, that is a gift from God that we can eat and drink to the glory of God. Every meal is a miracle of provision. These people did it seriously, breaking bread to the glory of God.
But also, (that’s the informal part) you’ll see as the church grows there is a formal part where often as a part of those love feasts, they would participate in the Lord’s Supper. They would remember the broken body in the broken bread and shed blood of Jesus. So much so that the informal and the formal at times was indistinguishable. Paul had to actually address that in 1 Corinthians 11. Remember the abuses of the Lord’s Supper, where he said, “Hey, don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Why are you dishonoring the church of God?” This formal/informal tension is something that you see often in the early church. Let me show you one other example. Verse 46, the gatherings were formal at large gatherings in the temple and informal, smaller gatherings in their homes. And this forms the pattern we have tried to follow here of more formal gatherings on Sunday as we gather on the Lord’s day and informal gatherings in homes throughout the week as we share with one after another, eat together often, confront, pray, the breaking of bread.
And that leads to number 4, the prayers. The article with the plural most likely is referring to specific gatherings in the temple and in homes to cry out to God together. They were united to each other in the presence of God, and they prayed about everything.
Let me show you one example a couple of chapters later. Peter and John were threatened by the Jewish authorities, “Do not preach the gospel or else.” They were like, “Okay, we’ll pray about that.” In 4:31,
“When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” and what did they do? Let’s say that together: “continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Thanks for that advice. We’re ready to submit to you in any way we can possibly submit to you, but this is not one of those ways. We have to obey God and keep sharing the good news. That prayer that they prayed for boldness, for people to come to Christ, back in 2:47 was answered so many times.
“Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
This is a really big point: as the early church got connected, it did not lead them to be more and more insulated or isolated, it actually led to more multiplication. People kept coming to Christ. As we as a church truly live in the power of the Spirit as a family, in our culture of isolation, more and more people are going to say, “Can I have a piece of that? I want to know what that is.” And as we strategically reach out as a community, as brothers and sisters to our community, it has a huge impact.
Two questions. Number 1, Who are you connected to? It’s an interesting thing to think about that no one is totally disconnected. Peter said in Acts 2:40, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” You’re part of a generation. Everyone is connected to someone or something. Look at how Paul unpacks this in Ephesians 2. I’ll put it up on the screen. Verse 1,
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” [Look at the connection] “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passion of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
We are all well connected in sin and death, swept along in a current of destruction — following, following, carrying out. All of us. You don’t have to make a choice to be that way. Even when you try not to be that way, “I’m going to be a rebel,” you’re just like all the other rebels, swept along. Look at verse 4,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses … ” [following, following, carrying out. Even then he] “made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.”
He made us alive. When you’re dead you can’t make yourself alive. Somebody has to do that. Now I want to pause here. Have you been made alive? Amen. If you’re uncertain about that, this would be a beautiful evening to say, “Jesus, I can’t count on being alive, spiritually alive, just because I’m physically alive or just because I happen to go in a church or just because I happen to have parents who are alive. This is, remember the democratization of the new covenant? It’s all of us — sons, daughters, rich, poor, male, female — cut to the heart. Yes, Jesus! I need you; I believe in you. I know when you died, you died for me. And when you were buried, I was buried. And when you rose, I rise into newness of life by faith. I trust you. I pray if there’s any of you who have not been disconnected from death and sin, connected to Jesus, made alive together, that tonight would be your night. And look at the implications of that. Verse 13,
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
So there is this radical disconnection from sin and death and connection to life and love in Jesus. We who were following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, at odds with one another in doing that, are broken free from that and brought into the family.
As D.A. Carson writes:
“The church is … made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together … because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance … They’re a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”
And this is what blew everybody away in Acts 2. They’re hearing people speak different languages, bonded together who would normally be enemies. People brought into oneness whose customs and cultures vary greatly. They eat different food, have different accents, but that is not what brings us together. It’s Jesus who brings us together. He bonds us together. Who are you connected to?
And then finally, how are you maintaining your connection? This past Wednesday I was meeting with a group of pastors here in Greenville, pastors from all sorts of denominations and backgrounds to simply pray, to cry out for our city, Greenville, that God’s Spirit would unite his people as a powerful means of transformation, blessing this city, changing this city, meeting needs for his glory. And it was interesting, one of the guys that shared at the beginning took us to Ephesians 4. And this flows right out of what we just read.
“I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
And he focused in on that word eager. Verse 3, let’s put that back up. “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That word “eager” is a pretty intense word. It actually means “to make every effort, give diligence.” Notice we don’t create the unity of the Spirit; the Spirit creates the unity of the Spirit. But we must be diligent to maintain it. We’ve got to work to maintain it. We were talking about that as pastors, as we come together with all our differences, are we willing to make every effort to look past irrelevant differences and bind together — to make every effort for the unity of the Spirit. Are we willing to do that? And that’s usually where we go off the rails, because unity is always beautiful until you have to maintain it, until you have to repent, or see your own failure, or go speak candidly with a brother or sister who might not respond well or pray fervently.
These Christians, new believers, devoted themselves to 4 things: the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. And as they did that, they were eager, diligent to maintain the unity the Spirit brought.
One of the ways we do that here at church – there are many – but one of them is through life groups, as we gather throughout the week to speak truth to one another, to love one another, to confront when necessary one another. You will notice there are cards in the seat back near you. If you pull those out and turn those over, you’ll notice a list of boxes. Several of those are coming in future weeks. But notice those first two.
There may be some of you here who say, “I’ve just been afraid to jump into a life group. I feel much more comfortable just kind of being in the crowd.” Or “I was in a life group, and some people moved away, and it fell apart, and I’ve just never really done anything about it.” Or “I had a bad experience in a life group. You know, I felt like if I share my stuff people are going to talk all about me.” I just want to plead with you, don’t give up on that.
Paul says in the word of God, make every effort “to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” That’s not going to be easy. That’s going to take what he just described: humility and gentleness and patience and bearing with one another in love and sacrificing time and effort. But if you currently don’t have a group, whether it’s a life group or a group of other people that you’re gathering together with and looking at one another and loving one another and speaking truth and praying for one another and meeting needs, go ahead and mark “I want to know more about that.” Or maybe you don’t know the Lord and you want to know more, go ahead and write that in that you’d like to talk to someone.
But there will be ushers at the doors a little later as you head out and be sure to hand those to them. We want to be able to contact you and help connect you. Just like with the early church, if you’re just part of 3000 people swarming, you’re going to feel lost in the crowd at some point. And so it is, if you just come here week after week and just blend in the crowd, you can feel isolated. But one of the greatest antidotes to loneliness is being connected to the body of Christ in a big way, with the big group, but then also in a very small, personal way with life group. Let’s pray.