Summary: Jesus left this world to prepare a place for us. He left us with marching orders that keep us busy till he returns. Luke’s inspired message of Acts reminds us of our task and our strength in Christ.
We have a job to do.
Scott Bayles, from the Church of Christ at Freeport Illinois said something like this:
The average Christian in America has heard over 4000 sermons, sung over 20,000 songs, participated in over 8000 public prayers… and converted zero sinners to Christ.
He also pointed out that the Churches of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee of late, lose more than 100 members a year than they gain. I also discovered in an article in the paper last year about religious life in our area that according to the 2000 census (which showed most of the churches in Chattanooga giving statistics about loss or gain in membership), shows that from 1990 to 2000 the churches of Christ in the greater Chattanooga area had a membership decline of over 700 members, leaving a total of about 9100 members.
What has happened?
Jesus once spoke this warning to the church at Ephesus: Rev. 2:4 ’But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5 ’Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place-- unless you repent.
Listen. You don’t want Jesus to remove the lampstand. When the lights go out the crowds go away. Jesus taught us that we are to be the light of the world. When the light shines, it attracts those lost who will listen and learn to love and life for Jesus. Comfortable buildings, padded pews, air-conditioning, carpets, and stained glass windows are not light. Preaching and teaching that entertains us and scratches our itching ears with words of worldly wisdom are not light. Neither is boring irrelevant preaching and teaching that is void of the love of Christ, or withering legalistic lashing and lathering preaching that condemns the sinner, but fails to lead him to the love of God. John tells us that Jesus is the light. When Jesus leaves the room, the lights go out. All that is left is noise.
The problem with the church in Ephesus was that they had left their first love. Our first love is the one who first loved us! Jesus’ answer to the Ephesian problem is to remember, repent, and do the deeds they did at first… or else. It’s the same for us today.
As we begin our study of the book of Acts we are returning to look at what “first love” looks like. Acts calls us to remember. We see the heights from which we have fallen. When we compare our present condition with the first love condition of the early church we are challenged and stirred to repent and restore the first love deeds. It is here in the first love, that we find the greatest rewards in our earthly walk with the Lord. Joy inexpressible is rekindled and dedication and convictions are renewed. Deeds that were done at first are done again.
When Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record this amazing document we call Acts, there is no way he could have known the enormous contribution God was giving to us through his pen. In some sense the Holy Spirit is recording an autobiography of his own presence, power and guidance for the people of God here. Jesus tells the disciples in the first few verses of Acts that God’s power will come upon them as the Holy Spirit whom God promised comes upon them. Without the Holy Spirit, they are a powerless people. But filled with the Holy Spirit, they declare the praises of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ with power that convinces, convicts, and converts good hearts that are open and inclined toward the kingdom. The same Holy Spirit filled preaching stirs up hatred and persecution from those whose hearts are hardened against the truth about Jesus.
The message that motivated them and the mission that mobilized them has three basic elements:
Risen: Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, is risen.
Reigning: Jesus is reigning in His kingdom at the right hand of the Father as Lord.
Returning: Jesus will return and reward the people who repent and respond in obedient faith with eternal life, but will cast the disobedient unbelievers into eternal condemnation.
It’s all about Jesus and my response to him. The risen, reigning, returning Christ is our first love, our first and only hope, our first and last, the beginning and end, all in all.
To properly view this book of Acts we will see Jesus everywhere reflected in the eyes of his people. We see Jesus nourishing and cherishing his church, perfecting her in holiness through the trials and troubles as well as the triumphs they experience. He directs their missions and strengthens their hearts and minds with his words. He feels their persecution and calls and converts their most vicious persecutor turning him into the most productive missionary in the book. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus into every portion of their lives.