Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resolved: to Hold Fast to the Past - part 1

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
by David P. Kautt
Sunday morning, January 3, 2010

Acts 2:36-47: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when
they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of
the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them,
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for
the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For
the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many
as the Lord our God will call.”
And with many other words he testified and
exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day
about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in
the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread; and in prayers.
Then fear came up on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through
the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had
need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from
house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the
church daily those who were being saved.

Two thousand and ten – can you believe it? We are now fully one decade – 10 years into this new century – this new millenium. And, as we are wont to say at the beginning of a New Year, it’s time to make a fresh start. It’s time to turn over some new leaves. It’s time perhaps to begin some new habits.

However, before you and I head off to pursue the fulfillment of our “New Year’s Resolutions,” allow me to make to you a suggestion of a different sort. Today, as we begin this New Year and this new decade together, I’d like to suggest to you that there are some things – some very important things, I believe, that are worth holding on to – worth continuing in – worth maintaining and enhancing rather than neglecting and abandoning. But, what are those things? What is it that we should continue to pursue, in the midst of our pursuit of other worthwhile new ventures?

Take a closer look at our text with me today, as we seek to answer that crucial question. Acts Chapter two. I wish we had time to read the entirety of this important portion of Scripture. It’s full of a lot of key verses that let us in on the very earliest events of – the “birthday” we might say – of the Early Church. However, in the interest of time, and the other important things in this text we need to examine this morning, I want to direct your attention primarily to one verse from the passage we read a moment ago. That verse is verse 42. Read it again with me if you would, please:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread; and in prayers.

As we begin a New Year – even a new decade – there is a lot of talk about new starts, fresh beginnings and so forth. However, I’d like for you to consider with me what we don’t want to leave behind as we close the door on 2009. Notice again what Acts 2:42 says – how this verse begins – as it describes the practices, the habits, (there’s a New Year’s resolution word for you) – take a look at Acts 2:42 and seek with me to know, and understand and to do what the Early Church did.

Look first of all at how this verse begins, the first few words of it. It says that “they continued steadfastly….” Some translations put it: “They devoted themselves to….” What does this portion of the text mean? And what are we to do about it? Steadfast – steadfastly. It’s kind of an older, less common English word – but I found it interesting to learn that it has to do with a constant, firm, fixed resolution. Resolution to do something or to BE something. We know a lot about people who are fickle, don’t we? We know a lot about people who waver and waffle in their decision-making, don’t we? But when the Bible says here of these earliest believers that they “continued steadfastly in…” fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer, what it means is that with great diligence, and great fervency, they directed their strength TOWARD these four priorities.

Acts 2:42. As I said, when we come to a crossroads, like a year-ending and a new one beginning, we may have a desire - even a habit - of doing what my sons did on New Year’s day. Time to clean out the garage and haul off some things, time to let go of, turn our back on some things. But, listen. WE call ourselves a New Testament Church, don’t we? Don’t we? Well, then let’s act like one! Let’s follow their example, and not set aside these four key priorities! Think of it this way, would you, my Loved Ones? When the Holy Spirit inspired historian, Dr. Luke – details these things for us here, what he is really says is this: “Day-in-and-day-out, from one month, one year, one decade, one century to the next – what the early church did was they busied themselves with these four things.” 21st century Christians – 2010 Christians – should do the same!

Okay. Okay. But, what does the Bible mean when it says, “the apostles’ doctrine?” What does it mean when it says they held out and held on to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayer?

Well, let’s take a look, shall we? Four priorities worth continuing – worth maintaining and enhancing – New Year or no New Year – what are they? How are we to go about pursuing them?

First off, priority #1 is the one Luke describes as “the apostles’ doctrine,” the apostles’ teaching. What does this phrase mean? Well, first, let’s uncover what it doesn’t mean. When looking at a phrase like “the apostles’ teaching,” we might be prone to say that Luke is talking here about their activity – that the emphasis of the text is on the DOING of the teacher’s task.

But if that were the emphasis, what good would that be for us who live not in the first, but in the twenty-first century, seeing that the apostles are not still around to carry out that task? “And they devoted themselves to – continued steadfastly in – the apostles’ doctrine, the apostles’ teaching.” What does this phrase mean if it is not emphasizing the activity of the apostles?

Here’s what I believe the Holy Spirit meant for us to understand by this phrase: “Day-in and day-out, the early church held out and held on to – they directed diligent and fervent strength toward – WHAT the apostles taught! The emphasis, in other words, is not on the activity so much as it is on the outcome of that activity, the content of their teaching!

Now, before we move on from here, maybe you’re wondering, what’s the big deal, the content rather than the activity?

Let me take you to two or three passages to see if you might grasp this more clearly.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In verse 20, notice the emphasis Jesus makes when He details what’s involved in the process of making disciples. Is the emphasis on the activity, the teaching, OR is the emphasis on what the disciple-maker teaches? Jesus says, “Teach them.” Teach them what? “Teach them to observe – literally, ‘to keep, to guard, to obey’ – all that I have commanded you….” The emphasis is on what? On the teaching of the apostles’ (Jesus’ hand-picked representatives, sent out by Him with His authority). To teach others what – there’s that word again – to teach others WHAT He had taught them!! Take a look at John 14:25-26. Take a look at John 16:12-15. Take a look at 1 John 2:20-27. Take a look even at Acts 1:8, where Jesus commissions His closest men with the words, “You shall be witnesses – to Me!’ And you’ll discover that for the early church, the priority was not the so-called insights of pop-psychology, or of the advice of Dear Abby or Ann Landers or, even of the words of some supposedly lost, but now found, previously unknown portion of “Scripture.” (Like in Dan Brown’s book0) Rather, the priority was on the Word of God, the words of Christ, handed down to us through the apostles, the teachings of Christ, to be learned, to be understood, to be obeyed!

We say we want to be a New Testament church? I agree! Let’s do so. Let’s be so! [Hold up Bible.] “And they continued steadfastly in the authentic, authoritative words of Jesus through the apostles.” There’s a great place to begin! There’s a perfect place to start!

Priority #2 – They devoted themselves – they held out and held on to – the fellowship – the fellowship.

Fellowship. That’s a word we use quite often as twenty-first century Christians. But do we know what it means, what it entails from a New Testament, from a first-century church perspective? Fellowship. In our era, that word most often is linked with another word – one that you and I might wish were true for today. I’m talking about the word “DINNER.” “FOOD.”
But again, I ask you to consider the teaching of this text and other texts, to see if that is what fellowship really means. While you’re mulling that over, allow me to read three or four passages for you. Please listen closely.

Psalm 133:1-3 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing –
Life forevermore.

Acts 2:44-47 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

1 John 1:3-4 …that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 9:10-15 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you; who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

“And they continued steadfastly, they diligently and resolutely directed their strength towards… fellowship….” What is the meaning of this word? What difference does it make to us?
Allow me to suggest, first of all, that the meaning of the New Testament term “fellowship” has to do, as Psalm 133 put so beautifully, fellowship has to do with brotherly unity. It has to do with genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ drawn to Him by His love and grace towards us, and bound to one another by His Holy Spirit. Fellowship – in one New Testament sense of the term - has to do with people of like precious faith having all things in common, sharing our hearts, our tender affection. “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” the Bible declares. Sharing our heads, our minds, as they are fashioned into the mindset of Jesus Christ. By the way, according to Philippians 2:5-11, the mindset of Jesus Christ is the mindset of unselfish servanthood, washing the feet of the saints (1 Timothy 5:10).

And yes, my friends, if we are to be a truly New Testament church, consistently engaging on a day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade basis in Biblical fellowship, we will not only share our hearts with our brothers and sisters, and our heads with our brothers, but our hands [reach into pocket and pull out wallet] with our brothers and sisters (2 Cor 9:10-15). By the way, thank you one and all, for how you’ve done that with my family and me for all these years!
New Testament fellowship. How can I say, and put it more simply? Just like with the breaking of the bread, just like with prayer, just like with the apostles’ doctrine – Jesus Christ is central! The breaking of the bread – Jesus’ sacrifice is central! The prayers – Jesus’ power and program is central! “Hollowed be Thy name – Thy kingdom – Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….” The apostles’ doctrine, Jesus’ Christ’s words are central. And then there’s the fellowship, the brotherly unity of heart and head and, even of hand. And what’s the focus?
Listen closely. They continued steadfastly in the fellowship. What that means is that they kept Christ’s people central! Through prayerful intercession, through humble service, and yes, through generous, even sacrificial giving, they showed, that they remembered Jesus’ words: “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto Me!”

Beloved, I’m looking at the clock, and certain that we must close out our study this morning. But the Lord willing, we’ll come back to it next Lord’s Day. But before we bow in prayer, let me say it again like this: When it comes to moving from 2009 to 2010, we may want to close some doors behind us and we may need to put some periods on some sentences, and shut the book on some chapters of our lives. But listen. As New Testament Christians, let us never, ever tire in doing what is right. Let us never, ever stop, or even slow down, our pursuit of, our busying ourselves with, our giving our all to Christ’s Word (the apostles’ doctrine), Christ’s sacrifice (the breaking of bread), Christ’s power and program (the prayers) and Christ’s people (the fellowship).

Let’s pray.

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