MELVIN NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
(PowerPoints used with this message are available for free. Just email me at email@example.com & request #291.)
TEXT: Acts 1:8 - 4:33
A. I’m sure most of us here this morning would agree that the greatest single event in human history is the resurrection of Jesus. And just a few weeks ago much of the world celebrated that occasion.
Now I realize that there are those to whom the idea of a resurrection from the dead seems unbelievable. But the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most attested events in history, & many of the eyewitnesses sealed their testimony at the sacrifice of their own lives.
And today we’re celebrating what many consider the 2nd greatest event - the birthday of the Church - for it was on Pentecost 1,986 years ago that the Church began. I’m sure most of you know the story of that day, but let me take a little time this morning to remind you of it.
B. If you remember, over a span of 40 days after His resurrection Jesus appeared & spoke with the apostles & many others again & again before that final day on the Mt. of Olives when he ascended back into heaven. Listen to Acts 1:8-10 as Jesus speaks to His apostles:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
"After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them."
By the way, the Greek words that are translated “looking intently up” expresses the idea that they’re standing there with their mouths wide open in astonishment at the sight of Jesus ascending into the clouds. And I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I had been there, too! But let’s go on:
Continuing on (vs. 11), 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.'
Vs. 12 says, “Then they returned to Jerusalem…” And vs. 14 tells us, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
They spent the next 10 days in Jerusalem, waiting & praying together. And then it was Pentecost! Listen to what happened on that day. Acts 2:1-4 tells us:
C. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.”
Listen to what happens next! (Vs's 5-8) “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
“Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? …
Vs's 12-16 says, “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’ Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 'These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…’”
D. And with that beginning Peter preaches the first-ever gospel sermon – a message about the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus. He points out that the prophets had predicted exactly what had happened, & he told them:
In vs's 22-24, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know
"… and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead…”
And as he continued preaching, Peter told them in vs's 36-38, “‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
“Peter replied, ‘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…’
"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3,000 were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:40-41)
SUM. That was the birthday of the Church. And what a beginning it was! The apostles were such a small group of men. And they soon found that they were up against almost insurmountable odds.
As a group, they weren't very impressive – mostly just Galilean fishermen, a zealot, & a tax collector. Yet, they turned the world upside down. With little of what we have today, they spread the Gospel of Christ all over their world.
And the 2nd chapter of Acts ends with these words: “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
E. But the story continues on in chapter 3. Vs. 1 tells us that Peter & John were on their way to the temple to worship, & they came to a crippled beggar sitting at the gate.
As they approached, he asks them for money, & vs. 6 tells us, "Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.'
Then in the name of Jesus he tells him to rise & walk. Instantly the beggar's feet & ankles become strong, & he jumps up & leaps about, shouting for joy.
Well, this miracle caused problems for the chief priests & elders who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. And in chapter 4, vs. 7 we find that Peter & John have been arrested & brought before these officials, & they are asked, "By what power or what name did you do this?"
Without any hesitation Peter answered, (Acts 4:8-10) "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you & all the people of Israel:
"It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed."
Vs. 13 says, "When they saw the courage of Peter & John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."
Wow, what a testimony! They had no degrees behind their names. No trophies hanging on their walls. They were just ordinary men. Yet one thing distinguished them from all the rest, "They had been with Jesus."
APPL. I wonder how many people who know us can say, "Well, he or she may not be much, but there is one thing special about him. He has been with Jesus. You can see the difference in the way he talks, & how he acts." That was one thing that stood out about Peter & John & the other apostles.
Then the chief priests & elders (Acts 4:18-20) "…commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter & John replied,
'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen & heard."
And vs. 31 says, "They spoke the word of God boldly."
PROP. Now look at vs’s 32-33, for I think that in them we see a summary of what God wants His church to be.
It says, "All the believers were one in heart & mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, & much grace was upon them all."
These 2 verses relate 3 essential characteristics of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. #1 is unity. #2 is generosity. And #3 is a great witness.
First of all, there is unity. "All the believers were one in heart & mind."
Can you imagine how millions of Christians united "in heart & mind" could influence the world for Jesus? If millions of testimonies were being spoken every day, if millions of people were seeking to serve God faithfully, think what a difference that would make in our world.
ILL. C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled "The Screwtape Letters." In it, he portrayed Screwtape as the Devil, & his nephew, Wormwood, as the little demon assigned the responsibility of recruiting candidates for Hell.
In one chapter, Screwtape is talking to Wormwood. He says, "You will find that the church is fertile soil. One of the best places to find recruits for Hell is in the church."
Now here is his advice to Wormwood. "Keep them bickering over programs, procedures, money, organization, personal hurts, misgivings. … Whatever you do, don't let them see the banners wave, because if they ever see the banners wave, we've lost them forever."
C.S. Lewis is saying, "The secret to carrying out the great commission is that when our vision is fixed on Jesus, & we are so caught up in Him, we won't have time to bicker. We won't have time to worry about our little hurts.
When we are focused on carrying His banner to a lost & dying world then the church will march forward in triumph once again."
The first characteristic is unity. The 2nd is generosity. Listen again to vs. 32. "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."
After the church saw the empty tomb, & became excited about the resurrected Lord, the next thing that happened was that they became generous. And it was a generosity that extended beyond money – it was a giving of themselves to others.
ILL. In his book, “You Can Experience an Authentic Life,” James White wrote,
"At the state university I attended, I knew a history professor who was a Christian. He would go down to a local nursing home & visit with the elderly men & women there on a weekly basis.
Though some were lovingly visited every day by their families … for many others it was a place where they had been dumped so that their children wouldn’t have to bother with them. They were sad, & they were lonely.
One day, after this professor had made his weekly visit to those elderly people, a student told him how wonderful it was that he had the "love & gift for that sort of thing.”
The professor replied, “A love for it? A gift for it? Do you think I enjoy smelling urine, stepping over bedpans, or talking with someone who drifts off into senile daydreams in the middle of a sentence? Enjoy it? You’ve got to be kidding!”
The student was stunned. “Then why do you go out there every week?” “Because,” the professor answered with a smile on his face, “that is where Christ would be, & that is what Christ would do. And I am a follower of Christ.”
Filled with a deep concern for those who were lost in sin, the one thing the apostles were concerned about was sharing the good news about Jesus. They marched forward with their banners waving, turning the world right side up.
III. GREAT WITNESS
Now a 3rd essential characteristic of the church is a great witness. Listen to vs. 33, "With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all."
The church was united & generous, & as a result the church had a great witness, a great testimony to the world. They saturated Jerusalem with the message, then Judea & Samaria, & the uttermost parts of the world.
Here & there - in the alleys. the byways, on the streets, in the homes, in the catacombs - wherever God leads them, they are telling others, "Have you heard? Jesus is alive. The tomb is empty. He has conquered death. And He gives us everlasting life. Have you heard about Jesus?"
ILL. One of the most touching moments of the 2000 Sydney Olympics was when Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea swam in the 100-meter free-style qualifying heat.
The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim a few months before, had only practiced in a 20-meter pool, & had never raced more than 50 meters before.
By invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.
When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani ended up swimming alone. He was, to use the words of an Associated Press story, "charmingly inept."
He never put his head underwater, & flailed wildly to stay afloat. Some spectators even thought he might drown!
Even though his time was over a minute slower than what qualified for the next level up, the capacity crowd stood & cheered him on. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally reached the wall of the pool & hung on for dear life.
When he had caught his breath, Moussambani said through an interpreter, "I want to send hugs & kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going." Contributed by: Bruce Emmert, SC