Sunday, August 22, 2021

The 7 Step Cycle of the Body of Christ's Growth in Acts

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit. -Acts 1:3-5

The mysterious Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. After Jesus rose from the dead, and spent time with his disciples and others in the city, he told them that though he was leaving, he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them and guide them in their mission.

In Acts 1:8-11 Jesus continued saying, “ 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.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Here we also get a hint about how Jesus will return to the Earth, when our mission to win the world for Christ is finished. He will return from the sky, the same way that he left. Many believe the church will be raptured, or taken up into heaven, when Jesus appears in the sky, and at that moment the great tribulation will begin, the last days disaster and judgment.

In any case, we see that the moment Jesus leaves the Earth, the way in which Jesus works fundamentally changes. Jesus had been on the Earth, in person, in the flesh, doing miracles, healing people, and sharing the word of God. But now Jesus’ returns to heaven, and the disciples are told to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

They would receive power when the Holy Spirit was on them, in them, you might say. They would become “little Christs” Christians, as we say today, and they would have the same authority as Christ did, to share the word of God, to heal people in Jesus name, and to talk to God directly in Jesus name.

So they waited 40 days, and then the day of Pentecost came. This was a sacred festival day. And that is often how God works ,he does things on these sacred festival days, like Jesus crucifixion took place over the Passover festival. Some believe the rapture will take place over the feast of trumpets. In any case,

Acts 2:1-4 NIV “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”

On that day, the Holy Spirit was given to Christians. And today, as Christians we continue to have the Holy Spirit. And as the Spirit enables us, which you saw in verse 4, we do the works of Jesus in the world. We share the gospel, we pray, we preach, we teach, we evangelize, we meet needs, we heal, we go to the lost world.

We as the church are currently under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who is on Earth with us. But the Holy Spirit is under the authority of Jesus Christ, who is under the authority of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the Spirit of Christ, and Christ said if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father. We serve a triune God, who reveals himself as Father, as a divine creator of the heavens and Earth who loves us as a dad, as Jesus Christ our divine savior who gave his life as a ransom for us, who is our King and even our brother, our friend, and as the Holy Spirit, a comforter who gives us power, guides us, corrects us, encourages us, and leads us in our mission to win people to Jesus on a daily basis. Pretty awesome, right?

It all fits together just so. God reveals himself to us in 3 distinct ways. Father, Savior, and Comforter.

As we know, since we’ve been going through the Book of Acts at Dinner Church, we know that the apostles received the Spirit, and went about preaching, fled from Jerusalem, preached around the cities in the Roman empire, and so on and so forth. So I want to take a different approach today.

Let’s look at the bigger picture of the book of Acts, particularly how the Church functions through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

We’ve talked about this pattern from Acts a few times at Dinner Church but I want to delve into it a bit more.

First, we see the disciples share the gospel. (this is sometimes accompanied by miracles or wonders, or by divine healings, or by the casting out of demons) – This often occurs one of two places, they would go to the local synagogue, or they would teach to the gentiles, in the marketplace, or in front of rulers, or at locations of public discussions)

2nd, we see the crowds divide in regard to the gospel – (this is exactly what happened when Jesus would teach as well) – some would receive it gladly, some would reject it.

3rd we would see the believers organize into groups and begin meeting regularly – (we call this church planting) – These churches will send out missionaries and continue to witness in their local communities. They also share resources with each other and raise money for persecuted believers elsewhere.

4th we see persecution arise against the believers / apostles – Some form of persecution would occur, they’d be arrested, some would stir up the crowd into a frenzy, they would be whipped, they would be put in prison, etc (This 4th step should be rightly understood as almost always being demonically inspired attempts to stop the gospel) Satan wants to stop the church

5th The Holy Spirit responds by helping the church – the persecuted are set free by an angel, they are released by the authorities, doors randomly open, they are stoned but don’t die, plots against them are revealed and foiled, etc. No matter what the enemy does, they can’t stop the church because it’s empowered by God himself.

6th Problems occur in the churches – the letters to the churches are filled with all sorts of problems, sexual immorality, works based efforts, scandals, incest, divisions, arguments over foolish things, circumcision, false teachers, heretical doctrines, debates over the end times, and so on. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Same thing today) – These issues are sometimes sown by the enemy who wants to disrupt the churches

7th The Churches repent (or they don’t) – Through the early book of Revelation we see various messages from Jesus to the churches of this time, challenging them to repent of various concerns, whether it was sexual immorality, or luke-warmness, or a lack of love, (though some churches had nothing to repent of) – the churches would right their course, through the apostles calling them to repent, or through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, while others would be led astray and go into false doctrines, or lose their way. The same occurs today, some bodies of believers flourish and fight through false ways, other bodies of believers will slowly begin to drift toward false doctrine or luke-warmness, and eventually they close their doors.

Throughout the book of Acts we see Paul and Peter and the apostles planting churches that they later write letters to like 1st and 2nd Corinthians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philippians and Galatians and so on, challenging them to right their courses, and most of them did, praise God. And you could sense the confidence of the apostles writing them, believing very firmly that they would right their courses in the Holy Spirit who guided them.

Just to review, 7 steps in the process through Acts and the epistles:

1. The believers preach the gospel

2. The crowds are divided, some believe some don’t

3. Believers organize into churches

4. The believers are persecuted

5. The Holy Spirit helps the persecuted

6. Problems occur in the churches

7. The churches repent (or don’t)

But now I want to hone in on one aspect of this process of how the gospel spreads. I’ve been reading an excellent book gifted to me by a friend, it’s by Charles Stanley called How to Handle Adversity. It’s been excellent. But he draws some excellent points from scripture, particularly in the case of the raising of Lazarus, about how God brings people to Jesus through our suffering.

I really see the same truths at work in the book of Acts. And just as much today, when I say this is how the acts church functions, its just exactly as much as saying that is how the church functions today.

We go through the same things as they did. It’s just different due to the day and age we live in. But the principles are the same.

We go through suffering as the church of Christ. We’ve discussed that point recently.

The church also has great joy in serving Jesus. So we’re constantly sort of caught between joy and peace in Christ and suffering and trials in Christ. And it’s all part of our journey here on Earth.

We suffer. And as we handle that suffering by holding close to God, others see us do that, and are amazed. It’s a witness to others about Jesus. I remember when Chelsey lost her grandfather, and the way that she gracefully dealt with that, by giving glory to God, it encouraged my faith.

When you hear of a mass shooter, who shoots up a church, and then you hear about the church members being interviewed and saying they forgive the person who did it. We’re all amazed.

There’s a movie called Amish Grace, a true story, about an Amish school that was shot up by a man who then killed himself. And it tells of how the Amish community went and ministered to the widow of the man and their children. And how amazed people were to see them serve and forgive and become friends with the family of the man who killed their children.

There's a story from the Charles Stanley book, of a woman who gave birth, but they wouldn’t let her see the child. And the father was told in private, your baby has downs syndrome. And he was overcome. He went and met with his pastor, and his pastor told him, this is a gift from God. He told his wife this, and she began crying, but he explained that this was a gift from God. They should receive it as such.

This must’ve been long ago, because there was a woman who worked the switchboard at the hospital. And she hated Christians, she enjoyed seeing them sort of fail and lose hope in God. So she had heard about the downs syndrome baby. And she was listening in on the phone call when the mother called her mom. And she was expecting the mom to be crying and angry at God, but instead she simply said to her mom, we’ve had our baby and he has downs syndrome, and it is a gift from God. And the woman at the switchboard was astonished. She told everyone at the hospital what had happened and how amazing their response was. Pretty soon the whole hospital was buzzing with this story. And the next week, at the father’s church, there were 70 nurses, staff, doctors, and so on, in the pews, listening to the message of salvation. And then there was a call to come forward, and 30 of them gave their lives to Jesus Christ that day.

Your suffering is often a witness to others about God’s existence and Jesus love.

We as the church, as we handle suffering gracefully, give glory to God. And others see that glory.

Through the sufferings we also grow, and learn to trust God completely in all circumstances.

Through suffering and trials we grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ.

And we as mature believers, often live fairly ordinary lives, we get married, have families, workday jobs, serve in the church ministries, raise up godly children, share the gospel within our sphere of influence, and are salt and light to society.

Some of us who are lucky enough, do get to be martyred for Jesus. That is killed for our faith in Christ. Many in Afghanistan are facing that reality right now. They will have to die for their faith. That is a great honor. But also quite scary, no doubt. Please be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, and the middle east and China, when one suffers, all suffer. 

But in all of this, the end goal is paradise regained. All our trials and struggles and sufferings as the body of Christ, spreading the gospel as Jesus commanded us, is with the end goal in mind of going to paradise. To the new Jerusalem. To the streets of gold. And bringing as many people with us as we can, before the return of Jesus comes. That is our mission. We are the acts church, today, empowered by the Holy Spirit to complete Jesus Christ’s last great command to make disciples of all nations. Amen.