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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am Service, 2005-07-03

Text: Acts 1:12-26; 2:1-11

This quarter we begin a new series of messages that are based on a study of the book of Acts of the Apostles with the theme 'Making His Name Known.' The book of Acts is the account of how the early church began. As we study it together we will see two things standing out: the passion that the early Christians had to make the name of Christ known far and wide, and the power that enabled them to do this. It would be truly wonderful if we as a church can emulate the passion and power of these early disciples, For then we would be transformed into a growing movement for Christ. And I believe that the Lord wants to transform us for His own glory in the same way that He transformed the early church.

In this first message we want to see how He accomplished that transformation. It began at the time long ago when our Lord Jesus returned to Heaven from this world, He left His disciples with a very special commission. They were entrusted with the task of witnessing to the whole world. Let us see what He said in Acts 1:8 'But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.'

 

Now, humanly speaking, it would seem very unlikely at that time, and perhaps even impossible for such a small band of eleven disciples, to accomplish this great commission of Jesus Christ. How could they ever succeed to communicate the gospel message to so many people who come from many different cultural backgrounds and speak many different languages? How could they hope to convince people who were already so steeped in their own respective idol-worshipping religions, to forsake their own religions, and to risk severe persecution by turning to Christ? 

And how could the message itself that they carried, ever succeed in gaining popularity in a world that would be hostile to a religion that teaches that God's greatest work was done through the frailty and shameful death of His beloved Son? That teaches that the bodies of the dead can resurrect to life again, and that teaches that man cannot be saved by doing good works? These main doctrines of Christianity are so contrary to the thinking of thyis world that is it quite unlikely that the world would listen to it, let alone be converted by it. 

As Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians, the message of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, and utter foolishness to the Greeks. The mere mention of the resurrection of Christ by the apostle Paul at Athens at once evoke$ a strong response of ridicule and rejection. 

History informs us that several centuries ago when Christianity came into China, government officials perceived that it was a threat and they brought the matter up to the emperor. The Chinese emperor studied the Scriptures and then confidently assured his officials that Christianity will never succeed in making many converts in China, as it is ridiculous for anyone to trust in a Saviour that died the death of a criminal!

It is true that, humanly speaking, the odds against fulfilling the great commission that Jesus gave are much too great. How can we who are just a small band of believers hope to have a growing and far-reaching witness for Christ in a world that is so unfavourable and hostile to such witness? How can a small group of believers who cannot afford to have the infrastructure of a regional business corporation, and that is whollykdependent only on voluntary giving and voluntary service alone, ever succeed in carrying out the Great Commission? How can one try to do so much, when one has so little? The answer to this is actually found in the Commission itself. Let us look again at Acts 1:8 'But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me'

 

The answer is to be endued with the presence and the power of God, working in us, and through us. This is the only way in which the church can effectively witness in the world for Christ. But what exactly is that power? According to this verse it is the power of the Holy Spirit, the third person in the godhead. Some have suggested that a better title for the book of Acts is 'The Acts of the Holy Spirit.' This is because He is really the most prominent person in the whole book. The name Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost can be found no less than 80 times in this book. He is the One who made all the difference, working in the lives of the apostles and their associates, to accomplish amazing things through them that turned the world as it was known then upside down!

And likewise today, His power is able to take hold of ordinary people like you and me from different walks of life and make us work together as a movement to accomplish things that are far greater than what we can ever accomplish on our own. 

The whole book of Acts is really an account of one sweeping and spreading movement. And every church that understands and takes the Great Commission seriously should become such a movement. 

But not all churches today can be described as movements. Sometimes a church grows so huge that it assumes the character of a massive monument. People are impressed by its big name, its glorious history and it past achievements. In some churches we find another kind of character - they have a very highly organised structure on which they run and maintain control but all to benefitkthemselves alone - hence they assume the character of an efficient machine. Then there are old churches which have the character of a museum. They have impressive buildings but are just dead showpieces, because the few members who are left in them were all very old and dying. In the west some of these churches eventually become sold and converted into real museums, art galleries and even nite-clubs.

Dearly beloved, if we are to follow the Great Commission of our Lord faithfully, Life Church must not become a Monument, a Machine or a Museum, but a Movement: a growing, dynamic, spiritual movement empowered by the Holy S0irit, a living movement that glorifies the Lord. So let us constantly strive to maintain this focus among all of us in our church. We are to be growing movement of believers, energized and empowered by the Holy Spirit, working together, to witness faithfully for the Lord Jesus Christ in every place, and even to the uttermost parts of the earth.

This morning we want to see how it all began. Firstly, we will see the preparation to become a movement. Secondly we will see the power to become a movement, and thirdly, we will see the proclamation of the beginning of the movement. Let us look at the first stage.

I. The Preparation To Become a Movement

This actually took place during the short period of about 8 days between the time that Christ went up to heaven and the time that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. What did they do during those 8 days? There are some observations we can make from this passage: Firstly, they obeyed Christ's commandment to wait at Jerusalem. 

In 1:4 we read that Christ had commanded them that they 'should not depart from Jerusalem but wait for the promise of the Father which, saith he, ye have heard of Me.' They stayed together in a place known as the Upper room, and there they waited, not knowing exactly when the promised outpouring would take place. Christ had not told them how long they were supposed to wait, whether for just a week, a month or even a year.

Why was this waiting time so necessary? Is it not in Christ's power to send the Holy Spirit immediately, or on the very next day after He ascended? Would it not have been better that no time be wasted to empower the disciples for the great and needful task which was ahead of them? Why was this time of waiting necessary? The account in the book of Acts is absolutely silent on the reasons for this time of waiting. But from looking at what the disciples did while they waited, I would like to suggest to you that the time of waiting was absolutely needed to prepare the church sufficiently for receiving the power of the Spirit.

You know, sometimes, when we want to do a work for the Lord, we tend to rush headlong into it without properly preparing ourselves for it. For instance, sometimes we come to worship service on Sundays without preparing our hearts and minds to seek the Lord. The result of this of course is that our worship becomes empty and meaningless because our hearts and minds are still at home or somewhere outside in the world. And sometimes we try to teach or lead or serve God without proper spiritual preparation, and the result is that we cannot do it well. 

When doing God's work we need to be patient in preparation. Moses spent 40 years waiting in preparation for the great task of leading God's people out of bondage in Egypt. The apostle Paul spent about 3 years waiting in Arabia, before he was prepared to launch into his very strenuous ministry. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself only began His 3 year ministry when He was 30 years old. So let us not underestimate the value of time that is spent in preparation. It can make a great difference.

Now when we look at our text we observe that the disciples did two things within those 8 days while waiting in Jerusalem: According to v.14 they were all engaged in prayer together. According to v.15 the number of people was about 120. Prayer is an essential part of spiritual preparation for worship and service to God. 

Now, besides praying, the disciples were also doing something else. Verse 15 to 26 describes how the 11 apostles selected one more apostle to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus. The account here reads like a church congregational meeting to settle official matters: The matter was brought up by Peter, everyone agreed, two candidates were nominated, prayer was made, and one was finally chosen and accepted.

The basic purpose of this exercise was to set the house in order. To prepare to become a movement, we need to set our own house in order. This may involve the appointment of leaders and perhaps also settling issues related to church membership, baptizing new believers, establishing good working relationships, and perhaps improving the facilities of the church. Some would want to dispense entirely with these things and just get on with the work of harvesting souls. But these things should not be neglected. Christ Himself, before He began His ministry, came to John the Baptist to be baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness.

There are of course some churches that never get past this stage. They are constantly setting their house in order. Setting our house in order is needful, but let us be careful not to go to extremes. The purpose of these things is not to make an impressive name for ourselves, but always to facilitate or help us serve the Lord better and more efficiently as a church. The church must go on to be mobilized as a movement, as we will see now.

II. The Power to Become a Movement

Acts 2:1 describes how the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languarges on the day of Pentecost. This tremendous event can be described as the birth of the Church. It was marked with supernatural miraculous happenings because it was the beginning of a newly created entity - the Body of Christ. 
This outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church by the Lord Jesus ignited a fire that transformed that small insignificant group of weak disciples into a growing, powerful movement that could not be stopped by any power on earth. It gave them the impetus to carry out the witness of Christ even to the furthest corners of the earth.

And today, that same power that was ignited at Pentecost is thankfully still available in all of us who are believers. That power becomes ours the moment we were born again and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

At that moment we instantly became the dwelling place of the same Holy Spirit which was poured out on the disciples. By this act of indwelling we were incorporated by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, the universal church of all believers in the world.

The only thing that may prevent us from fully manifesting the power is our own lack of interest or lack of obedience to the command to appropriate this power. We, who have been indwelt with the Holy Spirit, ought to be constantly appropriating this power in our daily life. In Galatians 5:16 we are told to 'Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.' Now to 'walk in the Spirit' or 'to be filled with the spirit' does not mean speaking in tongues or seeking to experience ecstatic emotions. It means yielding our hearts, minds and wills to the Holy Spirit fully, as instruments He can use. And when we do this we will then produce the fruit of the Spirit, which according to Galatians 5:22 is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness goodness, fait, meekness, and temperance. 

In addition to that, we will also desire to pray and to obey God's Word, living to please the Lord. We must therefore be continually filled with the Spirit of God, walking in step with the Spirit. This filling has to be renewed and maintained everyday. How often we allow our own self will and desires to remove ourselves from the influence of the Holy Spirit, and then we need to seek to be filled again. If we find ourselves lapsing again into thoughts and actions that are worldly, sinful and unworthy of Christ, it means that we have lost the filling of the Spirit, and we have fallen out of step with the Holy Spirit. 

Let us therefore commit ourselves to living the Spirit filled life constantly, so that we may not hinder our church from becoming a body that the Spirit can move effectively, like the church in the book of Acts. We have already seen the Preparation taken to become a movement, and the Power that was given to make a mighty movement. Finally let us proceed to look at:

II. The Proclamation of the Beginning of the Movement

Verses 5-11 describe the first results of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The sound of the disciples speaking in different languages in the upper room was heard in the streets of Jerusalem outside, and this soon attracted a great crowd of Jews. 

And those who saw what was happening went to call others to see the strange happenings at the upper room. The crowd grew and grew until the street outside the upper room was fully packed with people. And because these Jews had come from different countries outside Israel, each of them was quite surprised to hear his own native tongue being spoken fluently and effortlessly by the disciples.

This prepared the way for the church's very first Gospel meeting. What follows after this is Peter's preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of 3,000 souls. The church movement had begun, and this was proclaimed in public, making an immediate impact on those who were in Jerusalem. What is striking about this first evangelistic meeting is that there was no need for advertisements or publicity posters, or flyers sent out to invite people to come. They all came because of the miraculous speaking in different languages by the disciples. And then they all readily listened to the message that Peter preached, and gladly received it as the Word of God.

The point we need to observe is that these signs and wonders had served the purpose of validating and authenticating the message of the disciples. This authentication was needed since the Gospel was being preached for the very first time by the disciples. The supernatural happenings were therefore signs that God was confirming to the Jews that this message or witness was really from Him.

There are some today who claim that the church still needs miraculous sings and wonders like these. Some people teach a doctrine called 'power evangelism' which proposes that when we preach the Gospel, people will not believe unless they see miracles being performed. And they claim that this teaching follows the pattern in the book of Acts for carrying out the Great Commission. But this teaching has a built-in flaw within it: Those who are saved by miracles, will also want to live by miracles. Their faith can only be sustained by more of the same thing, and when miracles cease to happen, so will their faith cease.

This teaching also misunderstands the whole point of the supernatural signs that took place here at Pentecost. They were not done for the purpose of bringing people to Christ, but simply to confirm that the Gospel message preached by the apostles was really the genuine Word of God. Once this confirmation was made, it was no longer needed again. 

The only thing that remains for us to do now is to take and preach this already confirmed gospel far and wide. And that gospel is the message that Jesus Christ, the Son of God died on the cross to take away our sins, so that those who believe in Him may be saved unto eternal life. It is the church's mandate today to proclaim this message to every person, in every nation, in every language and at every opportunity. 

If we desire our church to become a movement that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, then we must all commit ourselves to fulfilling the Great Commission. We have seen this morning that to do this we first need to prepare ourselves with prayer and setting our house in order. Each of us also needs to appropriate individually, the power of the Holy Spirit which is available to us, by being filled with the Spirit. And then thirdly, we must boldly proclaim the gospel far and wide, not with signs and miracles, but with the confidence that the Word we preach has already been authenticated by God Himself.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11