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Sermon - May 1, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1255

May 1, 2016 Acts 2:37-47

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Inside and Outside the Church”

 

There is sometimes a concern for the church that we spend more time inside the church building trying to be the church and little time outside the church building being the church. On the one hand we have the Field of Dreams philosophy that says, “If you build it, they will come.” So, we build our buildings and we build our programs and we wait for the people to come rolling in eager to join up! On the other hand we might focus more attention outside the church building bringing folks to Christ and yet neglecting the need to make them disciples through teaching and nourishing them and ourselves. There should be a balance between inside these walls and outside these walls. Yes, we must worship and teach and fellowship and break bread and prayer together, but we must also go and make disciples and be God’s witnesses to the world. At the very least we need to be able to give our own personal witness to Jesus Christ. We cannot do everything, well, I mean, I cannot do everything and you cannot do everything. Sometimes we might get the impression that we as individuals are given the biblical tasks of all things. We CAN do everything as the church. Some are stronger and gifted in prayer, others gifted with evangelism, others in any variety of gifts.

 

This is why it takes a community of faith. It takes our church and other churches and churches all across the country and around the world to be the body of Christ in the world. And all of us together are only capable of meeting the call of Christ by yielding our lives to His Lordship and to the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said we could do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).

 

We are all called to active participation is in the life of the church. We know that all of us are called to worship, all are called to prayer, all called to learn and love and conduct ourselves within the boundaries of Christ-like conduct. Within such boundaries we are the most free we can ever be. What I want to do today is look at a piece of the early church life. The early church was learning to be the church, following the lead of the Holy Spirit and remembering the teachings of Jesus through the apostles' teaching. We will look at three things the church did “outside” the church. They would not have had the buildings like we do now, but by “outside” I'm referring to the things they did outside the gathered community of faith. And then we will look briefly at six things done “inside” the church.

 

Outside 1 – Heard and Cut to the Heart 37

 

First thing the church did outside was to preach the gospel. That verse 37 says is they heard and were cut to the heart. What they heard was Peter preaching and sharing the gospel and that word “cut to the heart”. The word does that – it is a living word that pierces and cuts and convicts and burns. Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God works in people's hearts when the word is preached and heard. Our task is to also “preach”, but that I mean that we are all charged with the ability to share our story in whatever way we can. Not all of us will make cold calls, knocking on doors or greeting people on the street, but we can be prepared if someone asks us about our faith and hope. Be prepared to give our testimony and show God's love in some word or action.

 

Outside 2 – Repent and be Baptized 38

 

As a result of Peter's preaching, they asked what must they do. Here is the prepared statement, “repent and be baptized”. The church is ready to lead people to Christ and then we will also baptize them! Not only are we to be ready to share the gospel, but we can also learn how we might lead someone to Jesus and teach them to repent and ask Christ into their life. These are the first steps into the community of faith. Repentance leads us to deep understanding about our human depravity and the glorious blessing of God's forgiveness in Christ. In our baptism we experience our death and resurrection in Christ and how to walk in new life.

 

Outside 3 – Bearing Witness 40

 

The third thing that happens in this passage is the same thing as the first. Verse 40 speaks of Peter continuing to bear witness and to exhort them. He continued to preach and teach. He revealed the simple story of Jesus Christ, a story many of us have heard and told since we were children. It is even a story we take for granted because it is so familiar. We sometime might think that everyone knows the gospel story. But that is not true. They might have heard it before, but many have yet to respond to it in faith and we might be the last step along that journey to Jesus.

 

Inside 1 – Apostles’ Teachings 42

 

At least six things occurred among the believers in the early church when they came together. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings. Devotion takes commitment and consistency. Devotion requires time and energy and concentration. Devotion needs focus. We practice this same discipline when we study the Bible. We are studying the apostles' teachings and Jesus' teaching and the Law, Prophets, and Psalms. Devotion, word, and growth all come together for faithful discipleship.

 

 

Inside 2 – Fellowship 42

 

The church spent time in fellowship. When we fellowship, we share meals, shared conversation, share concern for one another. We grow together in love and unity given us by the Holy Spirit. Fellowship is about sharing our lives together. It reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, where Paul talks about the people become so dear to him that he not only shared the gospel with them but his life as well.

 

Inside 3 – Breaking Bread 42

 

They broke bread together. This may have had both meanings of fellowship meals and sharing the Lord's supper together. There is something special in any church in eating together. Certainly we know that there are few churches in our nation where food is not a central element of gathering, but even more crucial to the bond of the church is the gathering we share around this communion table. It is here that we are nurtured, not just with God's gift of food and drink, but with spiritual food of body and blood, of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit. This is the holy sacrament, the mystery of unity in Christ shared by breaking bread.

Inside 4 – Prayers 42

 

The fourth thing I have listed in your outline is prayer. They devoted themselves to the prayers. Makes it sound like they had specific prayers they used. Or perhaps they devoted themselves to the discipline of prayer. Whatever we make of the way it is phrased, we know that the early church prayed and prayed a lot. We pray as well, but we know that we can always grow in our devotion to prayer by learning more ways to pray or studying the scripture and the language of prayer. A great source is the Psalms, reading the prayers of the Bible where the human experience is poured out to God in prayer.

 

 

Inside 5 – Caring for One Another 44-45

 

Inside #5 is how they cared for one another by sharing what they had. They would sell their possessions and give to others in need. People who completely miss the meaning of scripture try to justify socialism using this text. The big difference is the Christians shared all things in common voluntarily while socialists force their system of governance upon people. In one sense, we still care for one another as each has need. We help people all the time, some we may not even know, and we especially care for those within our fellowship. It is a part of our identity as Christians, to help those in need, and even if we get scammed by one, we still desire to trust the next person in need.

 

Inside 6 – Worship 46

 

The last in this list is worship. Hebrews speaks of not neglecting the assembly of God's people (10:25). We need to attend worship as often as possible, if not here then somewhere else when out of town. Worship is vital to the life of the church and to the life of each of us. It is here that we praise and thank and celebrate as one the goodness of God.

 

The Lord’s Work – He Added to Their Number 41, 47

 

At the end of the reading, verse 47, there is an important observation that I believe also speaks to the growth in verse 41. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” It is the Lord's work to bring people into saving faith. It is only our work to do those things inside and outside the church as God's people – witnesses, prayerful, devoted, breaking bread, and worshiping. I know that there are people that we desire would come to Christ and it breaks our hearts when they reject the gospel, but we cannot save them. What we can do is pray for them, give some sort of witness to them in word or deed, and trust in God's saving work.

 

Inside and Outside the Church (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

 

I have included 1 Cor. 12 in the message today because it emphasizes the diversity of gifts God gives us. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” All of our gifts are for the same of the common good of the church and the world. In verse 11 Paul writes, All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Just as God is the one who brings people to salvation, here we learn that God empowered each of us differently as God sees fit. No gift that one of us might have is no less and no greater than any other. In fact, Paul warns the church in 1 Cor. 14 not to abuse the use of the gifts in any way.

 

The early church was greatly empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit. They could do great and amazing things and today that same Spirit gives gifts and power to us, his church. Let us consider doing as the early church did both inside and outside the walls of our church. Amen.