Member’s Ministry: Give (Acts 2:42-47)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.

*Originally preached January 24th, 2021*

Sermon Audio: Member’s Ministry: Give (Acts 2:42-47)

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

Imagine you lived 800 years ago. The year would be 1221. The average life expectancy would have been around 35-40 years and the child mortality rate would have been around 50%. Unless you were the remarkably rare instance of an individual born into royalty or nobility of some sort, you likely would have been a serf, which would have meant that you were a farmer. Provided there was no plague tearing through the community nor any wars your king was summoning you to come fight in, your days would be entirely dictated by the needs of caring for the farm, livestock, hunting, and cooking. And all of this is done with medieval technology—no refrigerators, no rifles, no washing machines. Carl R. Trueman in his wonderful book The Rise and Triumph and the Modern Self reflects on the limitations of technology in the medieval ages in regards to farming: “while the farmer would plough up the ground and scatter the seed, he had no control over the weather, minimal control over the soil, and thus comparatively little control over whether his endeavors would succeed. That might well have meant for many that they had no control over life or death: they were entirely at the mercy of the environment.” Trueman brings this up to highlight how the fixed “givens” of the environment in the medieval ages affected the psychology of individuals living at that time. He continues:

“In such a world, the authority of the created order was obvious and unavoidable. The world was what it was, and the individual needed to conform to it. Sowing seed in December or harvesting crops in March was doomed to failure. Yet with the advent of more-advanced agricultural technology, this given authority of the environment became increasingly attenuated. The development of irrigation meant that water could be moved or stored and then used when necessary. Increased knowledge of soil science and fertilizers and pesticides meant that the land could be manipulated to yield more and better crops. More controversially, the recent developments of genetics has allowed for the production of foods that are immune to certain conditions or parasites. I could go on, but the point is clear: whether we consider certain innovations to be good or bad, technology affects in profound ways how we think about the world and imagine our place in it. Today’s world is not the objectively authoritative place that it was eight hundred years ago; we think of it much more as a case of raw material that we can manipulate by our own power to our own purposes.”

For the majority of human history, mankind has sought to understand what the design of the created order was and how they could conform to it—there is a grain to the universe, and if you cut with the grain life would go much better for you. Now, however, with the advent of more and more sophisticated technology to help with much of the problems and discomforts that were normally experienced, we are left thinking that “reality is something we can manipulate according to our own wills and desires.” Is it hot outside? I can step inside where I have air-conditioning. Am I hungry? I can open my refrigerator and use a microwave. Am I sick? I can see a doctor. All of these, I should point out, are great things. I am grateful I live in an age of electric lights, vaccinations, automobiles, and books. I am grateful that if one of my children gets a minor infection it isn’t a death sentence. I am not attempting to somehow lament that we are no longer in the dark ages. What I am trying to do, however, is to reflect on what the unintended consequences of the precipitous rise in technology has done to our understanding of ourselves, and the world around us.

We cannot return to pre-modern times, nor should we necessarily lament the arrival of technology. Discovering new technology is a part of the cultural mandate God first gave to Adam in Genesis 1:28 when he blessed him and commanded him to “subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it.” It isn’t like selfishness and laziness were created when the iPhone came out. But because technology amplifies human capacities and is created in a fallen world, this means that it will often produce amplifications of sinful, fallen nature, so it must be approached with great discernment and wisdom. So, we must ask ourselves how has this kind of conception of the self that technology has helped cultivate square with what Scripture tells us about the Christian life?  How do we respond to a world that tells me the greatest good I can achieve is to “be true to myself” with the Biblical injunction: “You are not your own. You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” 

And while it might be easy for Christians to look at the sexual ethic of our day and see how it transparently flies in the face of God’s design—which it does—I wonder if we are as perceptive about more subtle ways this kind of thinking has affected us, particularly as it affects how we view conception of being a Christian and the duties attendant to it. As the cultural air we breathe encourages us to first view our money, time, energy, resources, and emotional currency with the question of, “what will fulfill my desires?” rather than, “What is the right thing to do with these?” how are we to respond? I want to reflect on one major way we can push directly against this cultural current as we consider the expectations of the life of a church.

In our text today we will see how something cataclysmic happened and this created a radical transformation of the church and what this teaches us today.

What Happened

Our text today is the culmination of the dramatic events that occurred on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost. A few months after Jesus resurrected from the dead His disciples were praying together, awaiting the promised Holy Spirit to be given to them. Then, suddenly, fire descended from heaven upon this small band of Jesus followers—but not the fire of judgment, the fire of the Spirit of God and indwelt the believers there. Because Pentecost was a very significant holy day, Jews from all regions had funneled into Jerusalem to celebrate it, and Luke records 16 different people groups present (Acts 2:7-11). The Spirit-filled Christians go out and begin telling of “the mighty works of God” to these people and, miraculously, they all are able to understand them, despite the fact that they all speak different languages. It is like the tower of Babel in reverse. {Explain Babel} God is undoing the curse by uniting men from every nation under the universal language of the gospel. But this needs more explanation, so Peter stands up and delivers the great sermon of Pentecost.

Peter explains that the gift of tongues is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32, and is therefore a sign that they have now entered the last days, the climactic conclusion of God’s redemptive plan for His people. All of Israel knew that when the Messiah arrived, the end of the ages was near. Jesus Christ, Peter explains, is the Messiah and forgiveness of sins is available through Him. The people are cut to the heart and are commanded to repent and to be baptized, and are immediately added to the Jerusalem church, about 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41). 

So, what happened? The arrival of the Messiah and His work in His death and resurrection was attested to by the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit as a sign that a new age had dawned. An age where Jew and non-Jew were to be welcomed into the family of God, where the forgiveness of sins could be offered, and the gifts of the Spirit be enjoyed. This age is the beginning of the new creation, inaugurated by the new covenant which has created a new people who will have a new set of priorities.

What This Created

Here is what we are told that this created: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

This created…

1.     A community devoted to hearing God’s Word taught and preached, to the fellowship of other Christians, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.

2.     A community marked by awe and reverence at the supernatural work of God.

3.     A community that is so tightly knit together that they viewed their own possessions and resources as not belonging to themselves but to the collective whole of the church, seeking to help any who were in need.

4.     A community that spent time together, daily worshiping God together, and happily and regularly sharing meals with one another.

In many ways this describes what we have been talking about for the past number of weeks. A community that is marked by love for God and each other, a community who is committed to the truth, and a community committed to prayer. 

But what we see in Acts 2 is more than just these disparate elements spoken of hypothetically or theoretically. We see what it looks like when the rubber meets the road. It is easy to theoretically affirm that Christians should love one another, but much harder to put that into concrete action. In the introduction to J.I. Packer’s classic work Knowing God, he distinguishes between two kinds of approaches to the Christian life. One is the approach of a group of people sitting on a balcony, looking at the path of the Christian and discussing and debating about the path and the different journeys it might lead to. The other approach is the one of the traveler who is actually walking the path. The traveler needs to know discuss and debate where the path leads and the outcomes of different routes just like the balcony sitter, but their approach is entirely different. Their approach is looking to immediately apply this truth to their life as they walk out the Christian journey. 

It is one thing to affirm the need for a Christian fellowship to be marked by love; it is another to actually practice it. This is what we see in Acts 2.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” – Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What This Means 

As a church whose aim is to create a covenant community who worships Christ above all, what does Acts 2 mean for us today? Acts 2 is, in many ways, a snapshot of the ideal of what God’s people are to aspire to be. 

1.     A willingness to be inconvenienced for others—selling their possessions

2.     A life that says “Hello”—hospitality as a way of life

3.     Evangelistic implications—God added to their number

We give. Give ourselves, our time, our energy, our resources. This flies in the face of our culture’s assumptions—we are pushing against a current.

We do this through remembering and believing the gospel. Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced for us. Jesus was willing to be made poor for us. Jesus is willing to invite us to His supper, to break bread with us. Jesus is willing to spend time with us, to hear our prayers. 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” – 2 Cor 8:9

In one Peter Jackson’s renditions of “The Hobbit” there is a scene where the dwarves realize that to continue they need to bribe a man to ferry them down the river. The dwarves all turn to the richest dwarf of the thirteen, expecting him to cough up the needed funds, but he is having none of it: Don’t look to me, I’ve been bled dry by this venture! And what have I seen from my investment? Naught but misery and grief and…” But then, as the boat winds down the river suddenly the lonely mountain comes into view–their long lost home that they are fighting to take back, the final goal of their entire venture. Immediately, he forks over his money bag: “Bless my beard, take it! Take all of it!

A sight of glory and beauty inspire radical generosity. In light of what Jesus has called us to, let’s give generously. Let’s build something we want our grandchildren to talk about.

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