************ Sermon on Acts 2:47b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 27, 2015
"Devoted to Witnessing"
It was the seventh game of the 1962 World Series. The San Francisco Giants had a man on second base, which put him near New York Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson. When the Yanks decided to change pitchers, Richardson, who was a Christian, saw a unique opportunity. While the new pitcher was warming up, Bobby asked the runner on second if he knew Jesus as his Savior.
When the runner reached the dugout later, he told a teammate, another outspoken Christian, what Bobby had said to him. And then he added, "Even in the seventh game of the World Series you people are still talking about Jesus." That runner couldn't understand what made Christians so eager to talk about Jesus Christ, even in highly unusual situations.
It is sad to consider that even in the church there are those who think Bobby Richardson is strange or different. In actual fact, though, there is nothing strange or different about Bobby Richardson. We should all be like him. For Bobby Richardson is like the apostles and the other early Christians.
Do you remember the time Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin? They were commanded 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). Why not? Because they were Spirit-filled. Spirit-filled Christians and Spirit-filled churches cannot help but speak about Jesus. Spirit-filled Christians and Spirit-filled churches cannot help but be witnesses to the Christ.
If we claim to be Spirit-filled -- both as individual Christians and as a church -- then we too cannot help but speak about Jesus.
According to our Scripture reading the early church was unified, magnified, and multiplied. She cooperated with the Spirit. She did not resist the Spirit. And, as such, her members "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). We've been looking at these characteristics. We looked at her devotion to fellowship with God in worship. We looked at her devotion to a fellowship of caring and sharing with one another. We looked at her devotion to the Apostles' teaching. We looked at her devotion to the breaking of bread. We looked at her devotion to prayer.
These marks of the early church all have to do with her inner life; they tell us nothing about her compassionate outreach to the world. In other words, these marks do not give us the full picture of the church's life. They need to be balanced by the words of our text: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47b). Those first Jerusalem Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, fellowshipping, the breaking of bread, and prayer that they forgot about witnessing. You see, we can never forget that a Spirit-filled church is also a witnessing church. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit Who created a missionary church. As Jesus said to the apostles:
(Acts 1:8) But 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.Filled with the power of the Spirit, the church cannot help but be Christ's witnesses.
I Witness to Christ
A What can we say about the early church's witness? What is immediately clear is that it was focused on Jesus Christ. It is not enough, however, to "proclaim Jesus." For there are many today who proclaim Jesus but we can hardly recognize the Jesus of their proclamation. Some say He is less than God and more than man -- this is the view of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. Others say He is only an example for us to follow and imitate -- this is the classic liberal approach. Still others say we must add our works and faith to His blood in order to be saved -- this is still the official view of the Roman Catholics. And still others say He is an historical figure with no relevance for today -- we see this in many of our secular neighbors and co-workers.
The early church proclaimed an historical Jesus -- He really lived, died, arose, ascended, and was seated at God's right hand. They proclaimed a saving Jesus -- His conception, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and session all have to do with salvation. They proclaimed a relevant Jesus -- He lives and reigns right now and claims every square inch of the universe as His. They proclaimed a divine Jesus -- He is the eternal Son of God through Whom all things were made.
Filled with the power of the Spirit, the early church witnessed to Jesus Christ. Filled with the power of the Spirit, the early church proclaimed Christ.
B The early Spirit-filled church, then, made Christ the center of her witness. And we can do no less. When we witness, our witness must be centered on Christ. It is good to invite people to worship or Bible Study or VBS, to participate in church programs and ministries, but we also need to press them to meet Christ. Otherwise, we are only some more noise in an already noisy world.
At the same time I need to say that missions and outreach not only calls people to believe in Jesus but also to join the church. Our text tells us that "the Lord added to their number ... those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47b). He did not add them to the church without saving them, nor did He save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do. We can't divorce salvation and church membership like so many do; they go hand-in-hand.
II The Church's Bold, Daily Witness
A What else can we say about the early church's witness? We see in the book of Acts that it involved not only the apostles but also -- and especially -- the ordinary members. After the death of Stephen a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Scripture tells us that "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4). The word "preached" here is misleading; the Greek expression means "to tell or share the good news." What is plain is that in the early church it wasn't only the apostles but also the ordinary believers -- the man and woman and child in the pew -- who spread the good news of the Gospel. This certainly wasn't his intention, but by persecuting the church Satan was helping her to grow:
Did you know that if a starfish is cut up, any pieces that contain a part of the central disc will develop into a new starfish.What a picture of Christianity. The more it has been opposed and persecuted, the more it has multiplied -- just like the starfish -- because of the witness of ordinary members. So, do you know what we are seeing today? In spite of Communism, the church in China is gaining 1500 converts a day. In spite of persecution, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Middle East are being converted to the Christian faith. Satan is dumber than dumb. He has to keep learning that the best way to attack the church is not through persecution but through the comfortable pew and false teaching. Because throughout history, beginning with the early church, persecution has led to the growth of the church through the witness of ordinary believers.
Some oyster fishermen found that out, much to their dismay, when their oyster beds became infested with starfish. The fishermen cut up the starfish they caught and tossed the pieces back into the water. Rather than destroying them, however, they were actually helping them multiply.
We make a great mistake if we downplay the importance of the individual believer's witness. There is a system of belief among some of our churches and pastors that downplays this witness. The only witness that counts, they say, is from the pulpit in an official worship service. Do not fall for this heresy, congregation. Because this takes away the office of all believers. Because this puts everything on the backs of an ordained clergy. Because this takes away our individual responsibility. We make a great mistake if we say evangelism and outreach and missions is the job of ministers and missionaries and evangelism committees. Rather, it is the job of each and every member. Tony Campallo has this to say about the importance of the witness of the ordinary Christian:
On a number of occasions I have taken an informal survey to see how people have come to know Jesus. I ask how many became Christians as the result of listening to some Christian radio show. Seldom does a hand go up. When I ask how many were saved through a Christian television show, the response is not much better. Out of a crowd of several thousand people, usually just a few hands go up when I ask how many have become Christians because of a sermon they heard; usually only two or three percent of the crowd responds.
But when I ask how many have become Christians because some person loved them and shared the gospel with them, the response is always overwhelming. There is never any doubt after such surveys that the best and most "powerful" means of evangelism is not TV at all, but ordinary people who love their friends and relatives enough to tell them about Christ.
We need to regain the perspective of the early church, the perspective that every member has a responsibility to witness to Christ.
B What else can we say about the early church's witness? Acts 4:29 tells us that the apostles and early believers prayed for boldness: "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness" (we looked at this last week). Remember the answer to that prayer?
(Acts 4:31) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.Those early Christians witnessed in spite of persecution or threat of persecution. They witnessed regardless of what people might say or think of them. They were willing to go anywhere and to anyone in order to witness to Jesus Christ. They were willing to go around the world and across the street, around the country and across the lunch room, around the continent and across the office. They went to friend and foe, to home and marketplace, to the Synagogue and riverside with the good news of Jesus Christ.
C The book of Acts also tells us that the early Spirit-filled church witnessed daily. Our text tells us the Lord added to their number "daily." In the Greek language the verb "added" implies continuous action. The Lord added and kept adding every day to the church's numbers. The early church's evangelism was not occasional or sporadic. It didn't happen only during a Mission Emphasis week or VBS. Their witness was like their worship: it was a daily occurrence (Acts 2:46a). Daily witness, like daily praise, is the natural overflow of hearts filled with the Spirit. Spirit-filled Christians testify daily to the Christ.
D What was the result of this witness? Eight times in the book of Acts we are given wonderful summaries of the early church's growth:
(Acts 2:41) Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
(Acts 5:14) Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
(Acts 6:7) So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
(Acts 9:31) Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
(Acts 12:24) But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
(Acts 16:5) So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
(Acts 19:20) In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
(Acts 28:30-31) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. (31) Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostles preached -- sometimes in official worship services but more often in the city square. The ordinary believers witnessed. And, the church grew. That is what Acts is telling us.
III Evangelism: A Work of the Lord
A We know that God, not us, is in charge of all things. He controls the weather. He holds men and nations in His hand. He holds up the heavens and the earth. This same care and control is to be seen in the area of evangelism and missions. There too it is God, not us, Who is in charge.
Our text reminds us of this. It tells us "the Lord added to their number" (Acts 2:47b). Yes, He did it through the preaching of the apostles, the witness of church members, the impressive love of their common life, and the fervor of their worship. Yet, He is the One Who did it. For He is the head of the church. He alone can admit people into the church's membership and He alone can give salvation. Keep in mind what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
(1 Cor 3:6-7) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
It is God, first-of-all, who sends the Gospel to nations and people. It is God, first-of-all, Who wants the promise of salvation together with the command to repent and believe to be announced and declared.
The fact that people are converted must not be credited to man. No, it must be credited to God. For it is God, within time, Who effectively calls, grants faith and repentance, and brings into the kingdom of His Son. It is God, through His Holy Spirit, who penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant.
B We need to hear this today because often we think it is up to us to save the lost. We hear of church-planting ministries. We hear much talk today of how radio, TV, the internet, talking Bibles, tract, and print ministries are opening up the world to God's Word. Human technology does allow us to reach out as we never have before, but let us never forget we remain dependent upon God. It is He Who is the principal evangelist. It is His Spirit which must open minds and soften hearts. It is the seed of His Word which must take root and grow and develop. Ultimately, it is He Who adds the lost to the church.
God is the principal evangelist. Yet, in a Spirit-filled church every member is a bold and daily witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only when this happens is the church unified, magnified, and multiplied.
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