************ Sermon on Acts 2:42a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 13, 2015
"Devoted to the Apostles' Teaching"
Church-Year Kick Off
Jacob had been taught enough Hebrew to read his Torah portion at his bar mitzvah, but his rabbi had only taught him how to pronounce the funny-looking letters, not how to understand what he was reading. Max, on the other hand, knew ancient Hebrew fluently. Beyond a few passages here and a few there, Jacob had never read the Torah or the Mishnah. But Max said he and his father used to sit around their home on Shabbat reading from the Law and the commentaries, dissecting and discussing and often debating the meaning of the holy text.
Max seemed to truly love studying Torah and observing Shabbat and celebrating the high holidays and embracing the community of the shul. It was everything to him. It was not only who Max was; it was who he wanted to be. Jacob, by contrast, was certainly proud to be a Jew, but he'd never fallen in love with all things Jewish. Maybe that was because his family wasn't really religious at all. They kept kosher and went to shul and lit the candles on Shabbat, but these were traditions, not anything spiritual.
This description of Jacob and Max comes from a book I read on the treatment of Jews during World War II. Most Jews today are like Jacob. I mentioned a few weeks ago that they no longer believe in angels. Also, they no longer believe in the God of the Bible -- a God Who goes into battle and protects His people.
The early Christians are like Max: they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching in the same way as Max devoted himself to the Torah. As we start off a new church year I want to challenge every home and family to be like Max and the early church. Meaning what for you and me? Meaning, I want to challenge you this church year to devote yourself to the apostles' teaching.
I A Devoted Church
A This is now our third message on Luke's state of the church report. Remember what Luke tells us about the early church? He tells us she was unified, magnified, and multiplied. Why was she this way? How did she become this way? Because filled with the Spirit she devoted herself to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. We learned this church didn't grieve the Spirit. We learned she didn't resist the Spirit. We learned she didn't fight the Spirit. We learned she didn't put out the Spirit's fire. Instead, she fanned into flame the gift of God. Instead, she fully cooperated with the Spirit of God.
The church had to do this because of the three thousand converts who were baptized on Pentecost Sunday. Those three thousand converts needed to be turned into disciples who obeyed the commands of Jesus (cf Mt 28:20). Converts get turned into disciples only when a Spirit-filled church devotes herself, as Luke puts it, to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. This is true not only for the early church but for us today as well. This morning I want to emphasize that to be unified, magnified, and multiplied we need to devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching.
B Let me also remind you, again, of the meaning of the most important word in our Bible reading. I am talking about the word "devoted." The believers "devoted" themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Devoted means to be loyal to someone or something. It means to give the highest priority to something or someone. It means to identify what is most important to you and to stick with it. This word is used of Simon Magus who followed Philip everywhere like a puppy-dog follows its master (Acts 8:13); Simon, we would say, was devoted to Philip. This word is used of a soldier who faithfully obeys his commander (Acts 10:7). This word is used of Paul who "devoted himself exclusively to preaching" (Acts 18:5). Elsewhere in the New Testament we read that the apostles -- with the women -- devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14; cf 1 Cor 7:5). And, Paul tells young Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching (1 Tim 4:13).
Filled with the Spirit, the early church "devoted" herself to God and the things of God. She made a commitment and kept that commitment. Her relationship with God was a high priority. In fact, it was the highest priority.
A couple of years ago a new church took out a full page advertisement in the Visalia Times Delta. The heading at the top: Ten Things We will Never Do. In the list were things like: We will never get you home after the opening kick-off. We will never ask for your wallet. We will never make you join the church. We will never ask you to attend a class. If you expect Trinity to make promises like this, you are in the wrong church. Because we expect a lot from our members. We expect devoted members. We expect commitment and involvement and learning. We expect our members to be devoted to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
"Devoted." Does this word describe you? Does this word describe me? Does this word describe Trinity United Reformed Church? Are we devoted to God and the things of God? More specifically, as we stand at the start of another church year, can we say we are devoted to the apostles' teaching?
II The Apostles' Teaching
A There can be no doubt that the Apostles devoted themselves to preaching and teaching. I think of the time the Sanhedrin warned Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20); they were talking about the life and ministry of Jesus. And then they prayed, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness" (Acts 4:29). God heard and answered this prayer because later we are told,
(Acts 4:33) With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
I also think of the time the first deacons were appointed. The apostles found themselves too busy looking after the needs of the widows. As a consequence they were neglecting the ministry of the Word of God. Therefore the deacons were made responsible for looking after the needy so the apostles could give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:2-4).
B What did the apostles preach and teach? What was the content of their message? What did they say to the people? In one word, they preached the Gospel. And the Gospel, of course, focuses on Jesus Christ. The apostles talked and taught about Jesus. In his Pentecost day sermon Peter said, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth ..." (Acts 2:22). As Peter demonstrates, it is impossible to preach the Gospel without proclaiming Christ.
I spent some time this past week looking over the apostolic sermons that we find in Acts. We can distinguish four elements in these Gospel messages. First, the Gospel events. At the center of the apostles' proclamation was the death and resurrection of the Lord. Second, the Gospel witnesses. The apostles appealed to two witnesses: the Old Testament Scriptures fulfilled by Christ and their own eyewitness experiences. Third, the Gospel promises. The apostles proclaimed the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. Fourth, the Gospel demand or response. The apostles proclaimed that the Gospel of Jesus demands a response of repentance and faith (cf Stott, "The Spirit, The Church, And The World," p. 80-81).
III Devoted to the Apostles' Teaching
A In the Nicene Creed we affirm belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic church." The Roman Catholic Church makes a big deal about being apostolic and lots of people get fooled and confused by their claim. According to the Church of Rome, apostolic means papal succession -- that is, the popes today can trace their line of bishops all the way back to St. Peter and the apostles.
What is an apostle? The Greek word was used in the first century for those who had the right to speak for an authority figure. For example, Caesar would appoint generals and governors and ambassadors to speak for him and the words of these apostles had the same authority as the words of Caesar. To ignore their words was to ignore Caesar himself. Similarly, Jesus appointed others to speak for Him and the words of these apostles had the same authority as the words of Jesus. And, to ignore their words was to ignore Christ Himself. Do you see what it means to be apostolic? It doesn't mean you have a pope who can trace his office back to Peter. It means you are faithful to the teachings of the Apostles as we find it in the Bible. When it comes right down to it, then, to be apostolic means to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus. And, if you teach or believe anything contrary to the Gospel you are not apostolic.
A church is apostolic only if she loves what the Apostles loved and affirms what the Apostles affirmed. That is why it is so important for the church to be devoted to the apostles' teaching. So, my brothers and sisters, pray for your church. Pray for this church. Pray for her leaders. Pray for the pastors. That we remain faithful to Scripture and teach it with boldness. Then we are apostolic!
B Remember, we are talking about a Spirit-filled church that is unified, magnified, and multiplied. For that to happen she needs to be devoted to the Word. It is no accident that this is the first thing in Luke's list. The Word comes first. The Word is primary. There is no substitute for Gospel teaching and preaching. No music, no program, no ministry, no counseling, no video can take the place of the Word. True churches are identified not by their numbers, not by the size of their budget, not by the number of pastors on staff, not by the variety of programs that they offer, but by their faithfulness to the Word of God.
Like the apostles, then, we must proclaim the fullness of the Gospel message. You know as well as I do that church after church no longer does this. There are churches that never tell members and listeners to repent -- that is too negative, they say. Listen to Joel Osteen sometime. You will never hear the "S" word from his lips; you will never hear him talk about SIN and repentance. The mainline Protestant denominations -- like the PCUSA, the United Methodist, and the Episcopal Church -- have sold out to the world and only condemn politically correct sins like intolerance and damage to the environment. When sin is no longer preached then Christ is no longer needed so pulpits remain silent about Him too.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). This means they did not follow the footsteps of the church in Galatia. About this church Paul can write:
(Gal 1:6) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all.The church of Galatia put aside the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith; in its place they put a Gospel of works. We can only believe that this church did not devote herself to the apostles' teachings. A Spirit-filled church, on the other hand, is devoted to that teaching and does not slip from the Gospel message.
Consider a survey done of those studying for the Protestant ministry. Of the ministers in training, 56 percent reject the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 71 percent reject that there is life after death. 54 percent reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, 98 percent reject that there will be a personal return of Jesus Christ to this earth. I can't help but think that these seminarians and their professors do not devote themselves to the apostles' teachings. For if they do, they would believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the return of the Lord.
Churches, built to convey to men and women the water of life, are now the providers of anything but the Gospel. There's bingo, and there are dances, and there are clubs and fellowship, and there are programs and concerts.
Charles Paul Conn tells of the time when he lived in Atlanta. He noticed in the Yellow Pages, in the listing of restaurants, an entry for a place called "Church of God Grill." The peculiar name aroused his curiosity and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheery, "Hello! Church of God Grill!" Conn asked how the restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man at the other end said: "Well, we had a little mission down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. People liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that's Church of God Grill."Notice, it no longer function as a proclaimer of the Gospel.
C The early church was devoted to the apostles' teaching? What does this mean? This means that those early Christians sat at the apostles' feet, hungry to receive instruction, and they persevered in it. This was no 10 week or 2 year course they participated in; rather, it was something lifelong. Also, it wasn't only the young but the middle aged and the elderly too who received instruction.
It means they heard the Word, they studied the Word, they memorized the Word, they read the Word, they meditated upon the Word. Like the Bereans of Acts 17, they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what was said was true
It means that they believed the Word, they defended it, and they obeyed it (Acts 11:23; 14:22; Col 1:23; 2 Tim 3:14; Heb 10:39). They did not shrink back from the Word. They did not deny the Word. They continued or remained in what they had been taught and learned.
D The early church was devoted to the apostles' teaching? What does this mean for Trinity United Reformed Church as we stand at the start of a new church year? Let me highlight some things.
This means regular attendance at our worship services where we hear the teachings of the apostles which is the Word of Jesus.
This means involvement in Bible Study. I want to say something to the husbands and fathers as the spiritual head of the home. Shame on you if Bible Study is something done only by the women in your home.
This means regular family and personal devotions.
This means sending our children and youth to Sunday School and Catechism on Sundays and to GEMS, Cadets, and Youth Group on Wednesdays. I know some of your youth think that once they make public profession of faith, they have graduated. Wrong, wrong, wrong. When you are young we want you to be devoted to the Word.
This means education for our children and youth that includes the Word of God. This means Christian education.
The early church was unified, magnified, and multiplied. We can be too. Why? How? That is what happens when Spirit-filled people devote themselves to the apostles' teaching. That is what happens when we are like Max instead of Jacob.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page