A Fellowship of Believers, March 13th, 2022
God of wisdom, your Word brings light to show us the way you would have us follow. As the Scriptures are read and proclaimed this day, send us your Holy Spirit to aid our understanding and guide us in the ways we live out your truth. Amen
New Testament Reading: Acts 2:37-47
This morning our New Testament reading from the book of Acts opened with this line, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” which leaves us wondering who were the “they” and why were they “cut to the heart”?
To answer that we’ll review the previous verses of Chapter 2 of the book of Acts where we’re told by Luke what had taken place earlier that same day. Luke writes, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they, (the disciples), were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
And this is what took place next, “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” The disciple Peter then stood up and addressed the crowd, telling them that because of the work of the Holy Spirit, he, and the other disciples were able to speak to them, each in their own language.
He then continued on to offer them proof that Jesus was indeed the long promised Messiah for Israel and that he was the Son of God. Peter also reminded them that they were present that day when the crowds called out for the crucifixion of Jesus. He ended his speech with these words, “‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’”
Now that struck the heart of many of those listening to Peter and the other disciples that day and so they asked them, “‘Brothers, what should we do?’” And this was Peter’s advice, ‘“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
And when Peter said “repent” he didn’t mean it in the sense we think of today. He didn’t mean just admit that you made a mistake, say you’re sorry and move on, what Peter asked of them was a complete change of heart and mind. Repentance needs to be a willingness to change and a desire to please God, not self. Whereas once we lived for ourselves, now, as believers, we live for God! Repentance and faith are God's requirements for salvation. Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you will all perish."
The message of Peter to those in the crowd, and to us today, is the same, if you’re thinking that Jesus is nothing but a great teacher, or a great prophet, and that he is not the Son of God, and he is not the Lord of all the earth; well, think again. You need to repent, to change your mind, accept Jesus for whom he really is, the Way, the Truth, and the Light of the World.
Peter then continued on to say, “‘For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” This is the promise that whoever believes in Jesus and accepts him as their Lord and Saviour shall have everlasting life. And, as Peter says, this promise will not only be for you, but for your family as well, should they come to believe in him.
And yet, the promise of salvation was not just for those of the Jewish faith and their descendants but was offered to all of mankind. As the Bible tells us, it was “‘for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” That’s what’s important to us today to know, to understand, and to believe; God’s gift of life everlasting made through his Son, Jesus, is available to everyone who accepts him as their Lord and Saviour.
And that’s what should inspire us as a church today. This is the gift God gave us that has lasted thousands of years and has reached millions of people all over the world in their own languages. It was the start of God’s great plan that remains today. And we can continue to take our inspiration from the beginnings of the church in Jerusalem at that time. We’re told that, “‘those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.’” Not everyone who heard Peter’s command accepted Jesus as their Saviour, but those who did showed their repentance by being baptised in Christ and following his way.
And that was just the beginning, for, as Luke tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
This was the foundation of the Christian church today which began as a community of faith that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would spread throughout the world. It was a community of people who saw themselves as united in purpose and identity, they weren’t just attending worship together but were united in a common goal. They saw themselves as messengers of the mission of Jesus to bring salvation to the world. And because of this there was a constant mood of celebration in all that they did. This is the spirit we want to see in all of our activities and in all of our gatherings. The Holy Spirit working with us and through us.
And not only did those early believers help each other, they also helped those in the community around them. We’re told by Luke, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They shared what they had so that others could benefit and see Jesus at work in their lives.
Now at that time it was the Feast of Pentecost and thousands of pilgrims had traveled to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. After hearing Peter’s sermon many had come to accept Jesus and they wanted to stay longer to get grounded in their new faith. They needed a place to stay and financial help to do this. So, to meet these needs, the church opened their homes and their pocketbooks to help the needy.
And that was one of the most important works of the Holy Spirit in the life of those early Christians. It was the development of a community that took a different stance when it came to how a person treated those around them. In these verses from the book of Acts Luke makes it clear that there was a connection between the Spirit’s presence and power and the ability of the community to live with Christ-like generosity. As a church community, we need to recognise the fact that the simple act of hospitality to others might be one of the most magnificent gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This is what attracted so many to the church. This fellowship was contagious. It got people talking. Many wondered who these people were who cared so much for each other. The church caught the attention of unbelievers by their great love for God and for each other. Luke says they were, “praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The big attraction was the way that the fellowship had been blessed by God and how they were living out their lives in love with one another. Outsiders were attracted to how God had changed the lives of believers. It gave them hope and was clearly evident in the community of the church family. It is exactly what Jesus had said to his disciples when they were all together in that upper room on the night of the Last Supper, “‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
And that love was expressed by the way in which they helped each other. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the believers in Corinth telling them to look after one another, quoting this verse from the Old Testament book of Exodus which describes God supplying manna to the Israelites in the desert, he says, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” And those members of that first church in Jerusalem truly cared about the needs of others, they looked out and cared for each other.
And that’s what we should always be known for, we are called to be a committed community of people, who break bread together because we have a deep love for God, we believe God deeply loves us, we trust that Christ died for us. And, while we have a personal relationship with Christ, we also have a shared relationship with Christ. It’s shared because we relate to Christ within a community. Fellowship isn’t all about ourselves. It’s about our family, our friends, even strangers, its about helping others. God has equipped each of us in special ways to build up, encourage and instruct others. You may not think you have much to offer. But God’s Word says that each of us has been given gifts that are critical for the health of the church and our fellow man.
In the New Testament book of Hebrews we’re told, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” God’s word shows us clearly, we are to decisively act in a manner which provokes another Christ follower to love and to do good works.
And not only are we told to encourage one another in the faith through love and good deeds, we’re also reminded we need to be together here on Sunday. Whenever we’re able, we need to be encouraging one another and worshipping together. We all face our struggles but being together as God’s family builds us up. It reminds us regularly who we are in Christ and it’s part of the shared relationship we have through Jesus. Church is a major part of being a community of Christ who proclaim Jesus as Lord. We come together to support one another and work to build a society of peace, hope, love and joy.
In closing, this is what we are and what we need to continue to be, a fellowship of believers. It’s a living fellowship where we actively interact with fellow believers and with God. All believers should find a church where they can have fellowship through building relationships, learning God’s word, and worshipping Him. As scripture reminded us today, “‘For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’”
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, open our hearts toward one another and toward you. Make us to be of one heart and one mind and one accord, generous in giving, glad to participate in growing your Kingdom in this world. We thank you, Lord, for the gift of your Spirit, and for your power and your grace among us, and we ask that you strengthen us in it. All this we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.