Acts 017 – The Beginning of the Church Age (pt. 11)Acts 2:41-42 • Dr. Andy Woods • April 5, 2023 • Acts
The Beginning of The Church Age (PT. 11)
April 5, 2023
Dr. Andy Woods
Let’s open our Bibles this evening to the Book of Acts. Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:41. And as you all know, we’re in a verse-by-verse teaching through the Book of Acts. Having a difficult time getting out of Acts 2, though. Just because there’s so much- it’s, I don’t know. Somebody needs to write a book on the high points of scripture. I mean, all scripture is of God. But there are some passages, like if you don’t understand them, you can’t understand the rest of the Bible. I think Genesis 3 is one of those chapters. There’s many we could pick. I think Acts 2 is one of those chapters. And I think Matthew 12 is one of those chapters. And come to think of it, Second Samuel 12 is one also. Maybe I should write the book- Amen? But there’s just some chapters you have to just go through them a little more slowly because you’re in a fog as to the rest of scripture if you don’t understand them. So that’s why we’re sort of taking our time with Acts 2. So you have in Acts 2:1-4 the coming of the Holy Spirit. You have the Holy Spirit’s impact, verses 5 through 13. As the Apostles began speaking in languages, known languages they have never learned. And then you have the Apostle Peter in a lengthy sermon- which is really a masterpiece in terms of his use of Old Testament-
standing up and refuting the charge that these languages are the source of drunkenness. And in the process, he explains that these languages came from Jesus, the miracle worker who’s continuing to do His miracles from the Father’s right hand through the church. And by the way, who put Jesus in the heaven? Peter is pretty aggressive around verse 23, where he says, It’s you first century Israel, particularly the leadership that crucified the Messiah. So you turned Him over to the Romans for execution. And of course, he’s speaking to a Jewish audience. And they’re sort of prompted to the point of decision now. Are they going to continue to agree with the tragic decision of national Israel’s first century leadership, or are they going to change their minds? Which is what repentance is- change of mind concerning who Jesus really is. So when they changed their minds and then went public with it through baptism, they were basically ostracized from the rest of the nation because they were identifying with Peter’s message publicly. And they were in the process saying that first century Israel had it wrong. So the sermon leads to the sermons impact, verses 37 through 47, which is the last section of the chapter. And two things happen: number one, salvations of about 3000 people, verses 37 through 41. And then number two, what do you do with 3000 people that have just changed their minds and repented who have come to a true knowledge of who Jesus is? What do you do with 3000 people? Well, you have the first church meeting recorded in all of scripture, verses 42 through 47.
And these are really important verses for us because it shows us their priorities. And we have to ask ourselves constantly, are our priorities their priorities? And we have to keep reforming our churches, I believe, to get back to what the Scripture teaches. What should church be about? And so that happens in verses 42 through 47. So we’re almost finished with the salvations. There has been the conviction by the Holy Spirit where they’re torn open. The word is a sword, Hebrews 4:12. Sharper than any two edged sword dividing soul and spirit. Peter has used the Scripture to convince them of the true identity of Jesus. The Spirit has blessed Peter’s message, and they’re basically undone. Verse 37, his audience, and they say, What shall we do? Well, Peter says, you should repent, which means change your mind about Jesus. And then after you’re justified before God, then you should, as a step of obedience, as a Christian, be baptized. And that’s happening in verses 38 and 39. And as I mentioned before, that’s a big deal because once they went public with it, they were saying Israel is wrong. Peter is right. And this is what brought the persecution of the early church- against the early church, I should say, by unbelieving Israel. We looked last week at verse 40, which is the consequence of repentance.
And how Peter said, save yourself from this perverse generation. And we talked about the meaning of that. And so this evening we pick it up with verse 41, which is the result of Peter’s message and it says in verse 41, “So then those who had received his word-” obviously God’s word but through Peter. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” So you’ll notice this expression here, “those who received his word.” Receiving God’s word is a synonym for believing. You see that in John 1:12. It says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” So you’ll notice that receiving and believing are used as synonyms. Different words, same meaning. So the dominant word that’s used for the lost sinner to trust Christ is to believe. But every once in a while, a synonym is thrown in, and you shouldn’t understand that synonym as an antonym. It’s not a different meaning. It’s the same meaning. So you can see here that received and believed. I have them both underlined there in John chapter 1:12 are just different verbs expressing the same reality. And that’s also how to understand repentance, verse 38. Repentance means to change your mind. That’s literally what the Greek word means.
And when you put your faith in Christ for salvation, your mind has automatically changed. Another way of expressing it is receiving Jesus. So it’s okay to use these synonyms received and repent as long as you help people understand that those are synonyms for the word believe. In fact, if you drop down just for a minute to verse, I thought it was verse 44. There it is, verse 44. And it says, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common.” So there’s the word believe. That’s the major word that’s used for the lost sinner to come to Christ. That’s the condition that they must meet. Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, Genesis 15:6. But sometimes, in lieu of the word believe, you’ll see the word receive. Receiving the Word of God, receiving Christ, verse 41. And sometimes- verse 38- you’ll see the word repent, which means change of mind. So these are all, when used in a context dealing with justification, these are all different words, basically meaning the same thing. So he goes on here in Acts 2:41, and he says, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized;” You see the order here? First you get saved by receiving the Word of God or by repenting or by believing. Not antonyms, but synonyms. Not three different steps, but one step.
And then after the lost sinner is saved, the next thing the lost sinner should do not to stay saved or to get saved, but to take a step forward as a newborn child of God. Is to be baptized. So being water baptized is not a birth truth. Spirit baptism is a birth truth. We’ll talk about that in a second. But water baptism is a growth step. And I’m happy. I think I heard the rumor right. We put out the word and people in our congregation that wanted to get baptized. I think we had- how many people? 18 to 20 people right out of the gate that want to be baptized. And so, you know, praise the Lord. Of course, we’re not a Baptist church, so we don’t have a baptistry. So we do at the Bible Church way. We take you over to a Jacuzzi. And it’s awesome over there because we typically do it at Wayne Pittman’s house and he’s got this kind of lake house. So you kind of feel like you’re there on the Sea of Galilee baptizing people. So I feel a little bit like John the Baptist over there, absent the Jacuzzi, of course. So I don’t know if I need to review all of these scriptures. A couple of lessons ago when we were in verse 38, 39, I went through all of the verses in the book of Acts that clearly show you that believing in Christ for salvation always precedes baptism.
There is no case in the Book of Acts, there is no case anywhere in the Bible where people get baptized first and believe second. There is no example anywhere in the Bible unless you want to rip Genesis 17 out of context, which is talking about circumcision for Israel on the eighth day. I mean, that’s the only verse people have if they want to argue for infant baptism, the only way to make infant baptism work in Scripture is you have to rip Genesis 17 out of context. Other than that, there are no examples anywhere in the Bible of infant baptism. I mean, I will baptize any infant that can walk forward and give me a clear testimony as to their faith in Christ. If they can do that, then we’ll baptize the infant. But I don’t- I just don’t know how that would work since an infant can’t talk. That’s why they’re an infant, right? They’re still developing. And so how could you ever validate that they’re really saved? So I won’t reread all these scriptures. You might just jot these down. I’ll give you the addresses. Matthew 28:19, It talks about making disciples first and baptizing second. The orders never reversed. Acts 8:12, They believed and then baptism happened. Those are to the converts in Philippi. Acts 8:34-39, the Ethiopian Eunuch. This is the passage I usually read when I get the opportunity to baptize people, because it clearly shows you that the Ethiopian eunuch believed first and was baptized second.
Acts 10:42-45. Cornelius and his household believed first were baptized second. Lydia in Philippi, the dealer in purple responded to the things spoken of by Paul first and was baptized second. That’s in Acts 6:16- excuse me, 14 and 15. The Philippian jailer Acts 16:30-34. What must I do to be saved? That guy, he believes first and then he’s baptized second. The last example is Crispus in the synagogue. Acts 18:8, he believes first and he’s baptized second. So to reverse the order in the Book of Acts chapter 2 is to go against every other clear statement found elsewhere in Scripture and elsewhere in the Book of Acts. So those verses are: Matthew 28:19, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:34-39, Acts 10:42-45, Acts 16:14-15, Acts 16:30-34, Acts 18:8. These cross references that I use in these lessons are on the SLBC website posted under each Bible lesson that we do. So you can find those there if you don’t get them all down in writing fast. One of the reasons I do that is I don’t want to just get up here and tell you something that baptism never precedes faith- of course, I’m speaking of water baptism- without defending why it is we believe what we believe. My teaching method, as you probably know, is not just to answer the what question, but the why question where I’m not just telling you what to believe.
I’m explaining why we believe what we believe, which is very, very necessary. Because if you’re convinced of something just because I tell you what to believe, someone else down the road with greater speaking ability or whatever can undo what I just did unless I tell you why. If I’m just explaining what without why, if I talk you into something, then someone else can come along and talk you out of it. But if I go beyond what and get into why, now it’s not just my opinion. It’s your opinion because you’ve searched the scriptures yourself, which, by the way, is your responsibility as a Christian. We’ll see that with the Bereans in Acts 17. And someone else with greater speaking ability can’t come along and unconvince you of something that I convinced you of because I just said what and not why. So that’s why we go into some of these cross references. You continue on there with Acts 2:41. And it says, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day-” What day would that be? The day of Pentecost, The special day when all of these Diaspora Jews were present in Jerusalem to celebrate this feast. “that day there were added-” now, this is to this tiny remnant, beginning with the twelve and then the 120, Acts chapter one, to this tiny remnant of people that were saying.
First century Israel has it wrong. Jesus is the Messiah. To this tiny remnant were added now about, it says, three thousand people. So that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. “So then, those who had received His word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. You’ll notice it says about 3000 souls, meaning this is not a ironclad number. It’s just a rough estimate. And that’s how you handle numbers in the Bible. You handle numbers in the Bible by taking them at face value. Unless the text itself tells you not to take them at face value. So Peter says the rough estimate is 3000. You know, it could have been a few less than 3000, a few more than 3000. But the word “about” allows you some wiggle room with that number. Now, sometimes the Bible will do that. It will just kind of give you a rough estimate. Other times it will give you a specific number that you have to take literally. For example, in the Book of Revelation chapter 20:1-10, it talks about a millennial kingdom that will last 1000 years. And it says in Revelation 20:1-10 a thousand years six times. Here are the different reasons that I’ve given when we’ve studied Revelation as to why that number is literal. But the reason- the primary reason, it’s a literal number, the thousand year kingdom, is because it says a thousand years. It doesn’t say close to a thousand years, about a thousand years, which John very clearly would have done, as Peter does here, when he says “about three thousand.”
So how many apostles were there? There were twelve. Because the Bible doesn’t say there were about twelve. It says there were twelve. One of them committed suicide and was replaced, as you know. But there were twelve. Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days. I mean, how do we know it’s not 37 days? Because the Bible doesn’t say about forty days. It says forty days. When the Bible wants to be understood in not an exactly mathematical way, it’ll use words like “about” which Peter does here, but John does not do in the Book of Revelation. So we now have 3000 conversions. You’ll notice it says souls here. That’s really significant because that’s why God is so interested in people. Trust in Christ for salvation. They are made with a soul or what the Greek calls a psuché, which will last forever. That’s why Jesus said, What can a man give in exchange for his soul? In other words, people, because they have a soul, are designed to live forever. From the point of conception forward, they’re designed by God to live forever. And so every single human being on the face of the earth today will be alive somewhere. 100 years from now, a thousand years from now. A billion years from now, a trillion years from now.
And whether they’re spending an eternity with God or an eternity in retribution without God is totally dependent on whether they’re going to trust Christ for salvation in this life, which is like mist. The book of James says this life that appears for a little while and then it disappears. God is interested in saving people because of their soulish nature. He doesn’t want them to experience eternity without him. And so this is something we need to keep in mind as we minister. You know, we’re evangelizing, we’re ministering to people that are going to be alive somewhere a hundred, a thousand, a million, a billion, a trillion years from now on into eternity. It’s also interesting that in Matthew 16:19, Jesus said this to Peter. “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” And there’s a lot of interesting things to talk about there. I’ll just focus on this one line here. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” What do you do with a key? Well, you open something. You open a door. You open your house. You know, you open your car door. You grant entrance into. And so when Peter preaches this sermon and 3000 souls are converted. Peter just took the keys that God gave him and he opened them up to future citizenship in the kingdom.
Unfortunately, a lot of people would misunderstand this as these 3000 souls entered the kingdom right away. That’s not what prophecy teaches. Prophecy teaches that the kingdom will not come until after the second Advent at the end of the tribulation period, and that’s when the thousand year kingdom will start. But Peter, even though they didn’t immediately enter what we would call the millennial kingdom, the basileia, they did become citizens of that future kingdom. And it was God that used Peter’s words to grant admission into the future kingdom to 3000 people. They became citizens of the coming kingdom at that point. When you look at the Book of Acts 14:22, it’s very obvious that the kingdom has not started yet because Paul the Apostle- Luke recording Paul the apostle’s words on his first missionary journey will say “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, we’re not in the kingdom now, but we’re going there because we’re citizens of it. And we’re only going to get there after many tribulations. So that’s what it means when Jesus told Peter, I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. You’re going to open the door to people who will trust in Christ and consequently become sons of the kingdom, inheritors of the kingdom, citizens of the coming kingdom. So it’s Peter that led the first Jews in the age of the church- which has just started- to Christ.
And Peter is the kind of guy that keeps using the keys because we’ll be getting to Acts 8. And there he leads the First Samaritans, which are a half breed race, partly Jew, partly Samaritan- to Christ. And then we’re going to be getting to Acts 10, where he leads the first Gentiles in the age of the church to Christ, Cornelius and his entourage. So when Jesus told Peter, I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, this is the outworking of that promise. As you see God strategically using Peter in the Book of Acts. By the way, this is the same guy that when he was told- Jesus said, I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom, he opened his mouth again and Jesus said, Get behind me, Satan. This is why we all love Peter. He’s the apostle with the foot shaped mouth. We all can identify with him. And it’s interesting to me that although he was made that promise, Satan used his lips just a verse or two later. But that didn’t permanently disqualify him from usefulness. Because you get to the Book of Acts and there’s no more key of a player in the outworking of God’s purposes than Peter. So that’s heartening to us because just because you make some mistakes and blow it- which we have a tendency to do as Christians- Amen? It doesn’t mean God just sort of puts you on the bench and says, I’ll never use you again.
There is an opportunity for restoration and there’s an opportunity for future usability. You know, the interesting thing about making mistakes is it’s not so much that you fall, it’s what you learn. Because Peter learned a lot when he fell. And sometimes when we fall, we just sort of disassociate ourselves from God out of embarrassment. But Peter wasn’t that way. He sought restoration. He learned a lot of life lessons. And here he is in the Book of Acts, just being phenomenally used by God. First, Jews are saved through Peter’s message Acts 2. Samaritans were saved through Peter’s message, Acts 8. First Gentiles are saved through Peter’s Message, Acts 10. Why give us a number here of about 3000 souls? Well, Luke, going back to some of our introductory lessons, is documenting the birth and growth of the church numerically, geographically and ethnically. So Luke is going to track the progress of the church numbers wise, geography wise, and ethnicity wise, as the church sort of transitions from being an offshoot of Judaism into a worldwide institution comprised primarily of Gentiles. And Luke is showing all of this stuff because he’s writing to Theophilus- as we’ve talked about- who’s questioning whether he is a Gentile is contemplated in God’s plans. Because the church looks so Jewish. Christianity looks so Jewish at its origin. And yet Luke is showing the growth of the church, the progress of the church, the birth of the church in these different categories to show Theophilus that yeah, you are, Theophilus, contemplated in the plan of God, even though you are a Roman Gentile.
But the first category of progress that Luke documents is numbers, numerical growth. And this is where he’s giving what are called progress reports. And so as you go through the book of Acts, what you’ll see is a reference to numbers. Acts 2, there in verse 41, it’s 3000. And at the top bullet point, I’ve got what I think are the clearest progress reports in the Book of Acts. If you look at the second bullet point down, you’ve got other progress reports that I think are a little less conspicuous, but they’re there nonetheless. Another number is going to be given to us down the road of 5000 people that will be saved. And so this is clearly a work of God. How did all this start? It started in Acts 1:13 with twelve. They had replaced Matthias with Judas and they had twelve. And then you go to Acts 1:15. And now- now the number is at 120 persons, it says. And then by the time you get to Acts 2:41 we’ve grown quite a bit, haven’t we, from 120 to 3000 people. There’s a lot of people within Christianity, particularly conservative circles, that are afraid of church growth. They think the church growth, if a church grows, it’s somehow compromised.
And I generally hear what they’re saying. There are a lot of churches that get very big by watering down the message. And sort of turning sermons into psychology and motivational speaking and all of that kind of thing. And I agree that there is a false sort of church growth from that angle. But you have to understand that God can cause churches to grow also. And whether a church grows or doesn’t grow or shrinks, that’s a sovereign decision of God. And we don’t need to have a frame of mind that says, Oh, no, the church is growing. We need to we need to cap this somewhere here. The church went from 12 to 120 to 3000 just like that. And that was the work of God. And there’s no shame in that. There’s no compromise in that. If God is involved in the growth, then I’m completely and totally in favor of church growth. Unfortunately, because growing churches have oftentimes compromised to get big, we think that all church growth is of Satan. Generally church growth can be of man or Satan. But it can also be of God. And so church growth in and of itself is not the enemy because God can cause churches to grow as well. The issue is how it’s growing, not that it’s growing. A lot of people say: Growth, oh, that’s terrible. I’m not of that mindset at all. The issue to me is how is it growing? Is it growing through compromise or is it growing because God is causing it to grow? Which God is very capable of doing, as you can see here from the Book of Acts.
In fact, and this was not in my notes, but a verse just popped into my head. I’m not claiming to be a prophet or anything, but over in First Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes, “I planted-” In other words, Paul says, I was the evangelist in Corinth. “-Apollos watered-” he was sort of a servant of God that came in that edified Paul’s converts. “I planted, Apollos watered, but-” there it is in verse six. “-but God was causing the growth.” So when you see this expression, God was causing the growth. You don’t have to immediately assume that if a church is big, you know, suddenly the church must be in compromise. There is room for small churches, there is room for big churches. And it’s a matter of just following what the Holy Spirit is doing rather than imposing our own personal agenda upon a church. So these are the progress reports. One other quick thing before we leave verse 41 is something Jesus said in John 14:12. On the Call-in show on KHCB that Pastor Jim and I do usually the third and fourth Thursday of the month from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. Not that I’m advertising anything.
And if you can’t stay up that late, it’s archived- Thank you, Larry Bueller- onto the Sugar Land Bible Church website with transcripts, by the way, so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing. You can just hunt down the question that you’re interested in. But all of that to say, where was I going with that? Oh yeah, here we are. John 14:12. We get asked this all the time on the air. It says, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also;” and look at this, and greater works than he- or “greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” So Jesus specifically said that the disciples, once the Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, are actually going to do greater works than Jesus himself. I had a teacher, Dr. Eugene Merrill, who taught Old Testament Dallas Seminary. He made the state. It’s one of those classes. I hardly remember anything, but I remember him saying this- and he was an excellent teacher, by the way. It’s just this class met at like 7:30 in the morning and I was not in my best frame of mind. But I do remember him saying this. He said, if a student does not rise higher than the teacher, the teacher has not taught. I remember that. I remember him talking about how proud he was of different students that he had that had gone on to do this and gone on to do that.
And he said, You know, unless I had the right framework of a teacher, maybe I could get jealous of my own students. But he says that’s not the role of a teacher. The students need to rise higher than the teacher himself, or else the teacher really hasn’t taught correctly. And that was sort of meaningful to me because he was pretty accomplished fellow, Dr. Merrill. You can get his book Kingdom of Priests and read that. It’s a wonderful book that he’s written among many others. Well, Jesus here is saying the same thing to his disciples. John 14:12, “greater works than these he will do.” In other words, you disciples are going to do greater things than me. Now, that’s perplexing. And the reason why people call into the show and want to know about this is what does that mean? Does that mean I’m going to be able to turn water to wine? Might make me popular if I’m a bartender or something, I guess. Does that mean I’m going to walk out on the water? I mean, what exactly does that mean? That’s what people always call in wanting to know what does it mean that we’re going to do greater works than these? Well, I don’t think it’s speaking of the quality of the work. I think it’s speaking of the quantity. I don’t think it’s saying we do miracles on equal par with Jesus.
I think what it’s talking about is not so much the quality of the work, but the quantity. Now, the reason I say that is Peter, through his sermon, has 3000 conversions. Show me in the gospels where Jesus ever had 3000 conversions. In fact, if I’m reading the Gospels correctly, I look at the Gospels as Jesus having a hard time keeping a crowd. For example, he had a big throng of people following him at Capernaum, in John 6 when he did the miracle of the fish, multiplication of the fish and the loaves. But then he says to the crowd, The reason you’re following me is because you want your stomach filled. You have no interest in the spiritual truths that I want to give to you. And the moment he started talking like that, everybody just started to disappear. His crowd shrunk to the point where it shrunk down to twelve people. I would envision Jesus having a crowd there of hundreds, maybe into the thousands. And the more he preached, the more everybody just went home. And by the time he gets to the end of his sermon, it’s called the Bread of Life Discourse, John 6, He’s got twelve people left. And that’s why I don’t think Jesus would even be able to get a job as a pastor. I mean, would you put that on your resume as a potential pastor? Yeah, I took a I took a church of about a thousand people and whittled it down to twelve people.
Hire me. You know, just completely unorthodox. It says there in John 6:66-67 at the end of this Bread of Life discourse- which by the way, he teaches salvation by faith alone. It’s one of the clearest passages on it. Eternal security. A lot of people don’t want to hear that because they, in pride, want to work their way to God. They don’t want to hear that you’re saved as a result of faith alone in Christ alone. They wanted their stomach filled, but they didn’t want to hear this other stuff that He was talking about. And he and you get to the end of that whole lengthy Bread of Life discourse and it says, “As a result of this,” that’s Jesus sermon, “many of His disciples withdrew and we’re not walking with Him anymore.” The only people that are left are twelve people, and that’s just the disciples. So Jesus said to the twelve, You don’t want to go away also do you? And Peter, you know, great answer. Well, where else are we going to go? I mean, you’ve got the words of eternal life. Who else has those? And then Jesus says, Yeah, but one of you is a devil. So he just took the crowd of twelve and reduced it further to eleven because he was talking about Judas. And so this is the kind of thing that went on in his ministry for three years.
I mean, there’s not a lot of success. We might say. And here’s Peter on the day of Pentecost, preaching under the Spirit’s power and 3000 people are saved just like that. And I think that’s the outworking of what Jesus was talking about in the upper room. You’re going to do even greater things than I’m doing. So it’s not so much a statement about the quality of the miracle, but its quantity. By the way, as you probably know, Jesus never got outside the borders of Israel. He was never a missionary to some foreign country. All of His ministry took place within Israel’s borders. The closest he got to Gentiles in the land of Israel is when he went into certain areas that were known to be populated by Gentiles. But other than that, he didn’t- there was not much of a missionary. By modern standards, he never got outside the borders of Israel. Israel, as you probably know, is about the size of Rhode Island. Geographically, it’s about the size of New Jersey. And this is the incarnate son of God who had his whole ministry within those narrow confines. Compare that to the disciples when Jesus said, You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria- still within the borders of Israel. What’s the rest of it? Even to the remotest parts of the earth? So they took the gospel and they went- as the Book of Acts is going to record- the three missionary journeys of Paul.
They’re going to get the gospel all the way to Rome. The Ethiopian eunuch is going to get saved in Acts 8 and the gospel is going to get into Africa. Peter is going to go all the way to modern day Iraq or Babylon, because that’s where he said he wrote his letter from first Peter 5:13. So obviously the geographical productivity of the disciples was far greater than what Jesus did. And here we are in the year 2023 on a totally different continent, preaching the gospel. In fact, with all of this technology that we have, I can teach and people from other parts of the world listen in. We know because they send us emails. That’s something that not even Jesus did. So it’s not that we’re giving better sermons than Jesus or doing greater miracles than Jesus. It’s not a question so much of quality. It’s a question of quantity. By the way, Jesus, did He write a book of the Bible? Can we look up the Jesus book in here? Turn to First Jesus chapter 3. There’s no Jesus book in here because He never wrote a book. He was preparing the disciples to write the twenty-seven New Testament books that we have. Of course, they record the teachings of Christ, but Jesus Himself never wrote a book.
So He never wrote a book, the disciples did. He never ventured, missionary wise, outside the borders of Israel. The disciples did. And He never had mass conversions of 3000 people. But Peter did on day one of the day of Pentecost. And so it was always Christ’s purpose to see the disciples not in terms of quality, but quantity to even outpace Jesus Himself. And you’re seeing the outworking of it here. So what do you do with 3000 souls that have just repented? Well, you have church. They start meeting together in Jerusalem, and that’s what’s described there in verses 42 through 47. So number one, look at their priorities. And look at the church world today and see if our priorities are their priorities. Because if our priorities aren’t their priorities, maybe we need to reform our churches and get back to biblical priorities- Amen? “They were continually,” verse 42, “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Notice the word continually. So this was habitual, these things that they were doing. And notice the word devoting. They were single minded in the sense that this is what their pursuit was. It wasn’t a kind of thing like, okay, we’ll do this if nothing else better is going on. Yeah. I’ve got visitors coming into town. Maybe I’ll be at church. Maybe I won’t. Sports events coming on. Maybe I’ll be at church. Maybe I won’t. I mean, this was the kind of thing that was not just habitual, but it was a priority.
And the first thing they gave themselves to is right there in verse 42 was the Apostle’s teaching. Here is another list that I’ve compiled when I taught ecclesiology. These are the priorities of the early church coming from Acts 2. And I just want people to notice the first thing on the list. Because there’s a there’s a long list here of different things that they did ordinances, prayer, evangelism, worship, benevolence, fellowship. But the first thing they gave themselves to was the apostles’ teaching or doctrine. The Greek word for doctrine there or teaching is didaché, which just means teaching. Why do they give themselves to the apostles teaching? Well verse 38 says they just repented. They just changed their minds. I mean, the whole world has been turned upside down. They’ve gone from being Christ Rejecters to Christ acceptors. They’re basically saying Israel is wrong and what they did with Jesus- Peter in his sermon has it right. That’s the change of mind. So when your mind is totally changed, you have to understand the new way of life. And the only way to understand the new way of life is through the apostles who were in Jerusalem. It’s not a scenario- Ah, just go home and read your Bible. Why is that? Well, there’s twenty-seven books that haven’t been written yet. You don’t have a New Testament. So the only way to learn the new way of life as a Christian- and they don’t even call themselves Christians yet. The term Christian doesn’t show up-
I’ll show it to you later if we ever get there before the Rapture- in Acts 11, concerning Antioch. That’s the first time the word Christian is ever used. They don’t even call themselves Christians. They just are people that just change their minds about Jesus and they have to understand the new way of living. They can’t go home and read a New Testament, so you’ve got to get truth from the horse’s mouth, the apostles. And so they were just steadfast and trying to understand doctrine from the apostles. And the reason doctrine is mentioned first in this list is because if you don’t understand doctrine, you don’t understand anything else in the list. I mean, how would you know anything about communion or prayer or evangelism or worship or benevolence or fellowship unless you understand doctrine? So doctrine is not a last step, but it’s a first step. Unfortunately, there’s a mindset in Bible churches where we think, well, if we just learn doctrine, that’s all we need to do. No, God never designed doctrine to be a last step. It’s a first step. In other words, Pastor Jim prayed for it earlier, that we would take what we learn and apply it to daily life. That’s the purpose of doctrine. It’s not just to inflate our minds with information. It’s to change our behavior. But one’s behavior can’t change unless doctrine is pursued first.
Jesus in John 13:17, when he got down on His hands and knees and began to wash the feet of the apostles, He’s teaching servanthood. And He says in John 13:17, “If you,” the disciples in the upper room, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” So notice that you had to know before you can do. Knowing precedes doing. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” But notice that the blessing comes not from knowing but from- what?- from doing. Gosh, I want to be blessed in the Christian life. What do I need to do? I need to do the things that God asked me to do. But how do I do the things God asked me to do unless I know what it is I’m supposed to do? So, you know, people come here and they say, why do you guys do this? I mean, you stand up there for an hour, three times a week. You teach the Bible and you teach it in Sunday school, you teach it in the main service. You teach it on Wednesday night. Well, we’re trying to model what you see happening in the early church where the priority of the early church was the pursuit of apostolic doctrine. Because without that, you don’t even know how to live as a Christian. And there’s people that have been saved for years, but they’re really not in an environment that teaches them much.
Either they’re teaching them how to get saved every Sunday, or you listen to the pastor’s sermon and you’re saying to yourself, well, didn’t he teach that a couple of weeks ago? And the pastors are not taking the people into maturity. Your job as a pastor is to take the people into a greater levels of maturity. That’s Ephesians 4:11-12, and we do it by mirroring the early church teaching apostolic doctrine, which would be the Bible. And then we exhort people to live in what they’ve learned. And that’s how you bring people into blessing. That’s how you bring the people into spiritual growth. So they devoted themselves to apostolic doctrine. They devoted themselves- it’s right there in verse 42, after apostolic doctrine to fellowship. That’s called koinónia. Um, the example that I like to use to describe koinónia is if you are putting out a campfire because you camped for the weekend and you want to put the fire out and you’ve got some coals sort of in the campfire that are burning, to get them to go out faster is you separate them. As long as the coals are together, they burn longer. That’s koinónia. God has designed the Christian life so that we are together in fellowship. And if you’re going to be like a Lone Ranger Christian, because you’ve been hurt by that church over there or this church over there and you’re looking for the perfect church, don’t join the perfect church once you find it because you’ll end up ruining the perfect church.
Boy, all those Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. Well, we always have room for one more hypocrite, I guess. We have to sort of develop a community with each other because God has designed the Christian life to be lived in community. And if you’re doing the Lone Ranger Christian thing- and I think this is one of the downsides of Internet ministries like ours. Because people think if they’re staring at a screen, that’s Christianity. I understand that there’s people in remote places that don’t have access to God’s people. I get all that. But you need to be around somebody. You know, being greeted at the door is just as important as hearing a sermon. You know, being around people. How did your week go? Can I pray for you? You know, that stuff is just as much a part of church as is didactic teaching. And that’s how God designed it. If you live in isolation of that, you cannot become the person that God wants you to become. When you live in community with other Christians, you have to learn how to forgive. Because people will let you down. And guess what? You let other people down, too. You probably don’t realize that, but that happens too. So we injure each other, we wound each other in our sinfulness. But we try to keep close accounts with each other.
Hey, I’m sorry I said such and such. Or maybe I shouldn’t have said such and such. That’s all right. I forgive- I forgive you as the Lord has forgiven me. And you just sort of develop an attitude of graciousness towards people. How do you learn how to do that when you’re by yourself? You’ve got to be around other people. You know, koinónia, fellowship. And then they also gave themselves to the breaking of bread. There’s the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 11:23-26. Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord,” and we read this practically at every Lord’s supper that we do here. We at Sugar Land Bible Church do ours once a month. Some churches, I’ve been in churches that do it every week. I’ve been in other churches that do it every quarter. I don’t know if the Bible tells you exactly how frequently you’re to practice it, but it does say it should be a regular part of your Christian life. Paul says, “For I receive from the Lord that which I also passed unto you, the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks…He said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.'”
So we take communion the bread representing His body, which was sacrificed for us. The cup representing His blood, which was spilled on our behalf. And we take it regularly because in the age of grace, it’s easy to forget the price that somebody had to pay to give us this grace. Had Jesus not stepped out of eternity into time and did what He did 2000 years ago, then the grace of God would not be available to us. That’s why I love this time of the year where we think about His sacrifice on the cross, typically celebrate that Friday. His resurrection from the dead, typically celebrate that on Sunday. And the elements are a perpetual reminder around the clock of what He did. Because what happens to us is we get so accustomed to grace that we forget someone had to pay the price. And the elements are a reminder of that. So you see the early church here devoting themselves to the Lord’s Supper. And I’ll just mention one other thing so we can at least finish this verse. They were continually devoting themselves to…didaché, doctrine, koinónia, fellowship, the breaking of bread. That’s the Lord’s table. And the last thing in verse 42 is they were devoting themselves to prayer.
James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Elijah was a human being, even as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Prayer moves the hand of God. Um, when I first came to Sugar Land Bible Church, we had a totally different staff. It was basically me and two part time secretaries. No youth pastor, no children’s minister, no associate pastor. And this church was some of the things that had gone on with the previous pastor had been through an awful lot. I was kind of put into this situation. And it’s one of those things that they don’t really teach you in seminary how to handle it. Like, what do you do? Probably my first year as a pastor, I kept looking for that book that said “Help, I’m a Pastor.” I mean, I would have bought that one. So what do you do? I mean, no one really gives you a lot of instructions. Well, I don’t know everything there is to know about God. But I do know two things. I do know that God honors His word. He says in the Psalms, Your word, have you honored above your name? I mean, His name is way up there. Think of the Word of God being higher than His name. And I also know that God honors prayer. And so we just started to pray.
I remember trying to recruit our part time help at the time. Yeah, we need to have a staff prayer meeting. And they looked at me like I was trying to yank the teeth out of their mouth. Like what? But we started to pray. There was a little bit of resistance. And over the course of time, just through the prayer and the teaching of the word. You know, I’ve seen, personally, God’s hand restoring this church probably to a level that back then no one would think could happen. That’s the power of prayer. One of the things that’s missing in the life of the church today is just prayer meetings. You know, let’s just get no teaching, no agenda, no announcements, no, no. Let’s just get together and pray. That’s what your elders do for the first hour of every elder meeting. That’s what your staff here does every Friday and we might have to soon, sooner rather than later, one of these nights of the week, just say, Hey, we’re just going to have a prayer meeting because prayer moves the hand of God. So this is early church. This is how it all started.