Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode · 7 years ago

The Kingdom in Our Midst


Rev. Christopher Chelpka

An about you. To turn with me to the book of acts. Will be looking at chapter four of acts and verses thirty two through thirty five. Again, acts chapter four, starting at Verse Thirty Two through Thirty Five. Here now is God's word. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common and with great power. The apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and Great Grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostle's feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus end as the reading of God's word you may be seating. As we continue in what is commonly called the Church calendar and as we find ourselves still in the season of Easter, we see in these beginning chapters of the book of acts what happened in the life of the Church following Christ resurrection and all those tumultuous events that led to his death and and his resurrection and the appearances that happened after his resurrection. We say, for example, in chapter two of Pentecost, how the Holy Spirit came down and as three thousand people were added to the number of the Church that day. But we also see a distinct transition in the the the mentality and the activities of the apostles. You remember on Easter how in Jesus appeared to the apostles and Issy appeared to them later on. He often would find the behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were afraid being in that city of Jerusalem. That's that the same thing that they had just witnessed happened to Jesus, would also happen to them, who had so long been at Jesus side and had been proclaiming and giving testimony to Jesus Kingdom. Indeed, they in those moments were totally like sheep without a shepherd. They had been scattered and whatever political power they thought they had, whatever popularity they may have had, was gone like dust in the wind. But yet we see something very different here, and he's beginning chapters of acts where the apostles are no longer locked behind doors out of fear, but are boldly proclaiming and boldly illustrating to the world around them the Kingdom of God. Not only are they preaching it, but they're living it out without fear and in the face of the very leaders who had put Jesus to death just months before. Need this must have been quite a surprise to these religious leaders, who thought finally that they had turned the page, they finally closed the chapter on this Jesus Movement. They had succeeded in getting the crowds turned against Jesus, they had succeeded in nailing him to a cross and they had seen how his disciples had scattered and they thought, finally this is it. And just to make absolutely certain that this word would not continue to spread, they had asked pilot for an armed guard to seal the tomb, to make sure that nobody stole the body of Jesus and and started preaching that he had risen from the dead. But in fact, despite their every effort, everything that they feared was an even more was coming about in their very midst. Now it was not merely Jesus as the primary preacher and performer of miracles, but now these apostles themselves are going out preaching boldly and performing miracles, and...

...the whole church is growing up. Thousands are being added to their number. Once again you see the tables of turn. Once again it is the religious leaders who have their backs against the walls, not able to refute either the miracles or the message that the apostles are bringing need. Once again they want to persecute the church. But because of the crowds and because of the reality of these miracles, you know, he got some guy who's been lame from birth who is now standing as a forty year old, completely healed by the power of God. And how can they refute that miracle? How can they refute the fact that God is working among them? And so, as this church is growing, as the Kingdom of God is is growing like a flower in their very midst, we see here a remarkable verse. In in verse thirty two, it says the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Now, earlier in this chapter it says that there was about five thousand men who are part of the church. So the Church has been growing and we read here that that the full number were of one heart and one soul, which is an amazing thing for a group that large, especially those who did not necessarily know each other for a very long time. The full number who believed were one heart and one soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. What we see here in the midst of this city, in the very midst of the political powers that were opposed to Jesus, ironically, was a very fulfillments of the things that the Old Testament prominent prophets had longed for and looked forward to. They had looked forward to a kingdom that would grow within their midst, where people's hearts would be changed. We're not only there would be glory, not only would the messiah be enthroned on high, but also that people's hearts would be changed and that they would love one another. This is the salient criticism that God gave of his people in the Old Testament, was that their hearts were hardened. He said to them again and again, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, all these animals you're slaughtering for me, they're not making me forget the fact that you are not being merciful to each other. You are not loving each other, your hearts are not open to one another. I desire, I demand, mercy, not sacrifice. That is what he wanted. He wanted them to to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with her. God. It was the heart matter that was important to God, and what we see in verse thirty two here is that heart matter is being fulfilled and the very midst of those who pretended to look for the Kingdom of God but were really opposed to the Kingdom of God. They who thought they were the leaders, they who thought they were on the front lines, who were the first who are going to taste power when God's kingdom came in its glory. They are now on the sidelines because of their lack of faith, as in fact, God's power is revealed in their midst. The hearts of these people are opened, and the tangible way that they expressed that to one another. It says, is that no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. Now you would spect among family members, people who have grown up and who have especially a biological relationship to one another, that they would work for one another, that they would sacrifice for one another, that they would provide for one another, and the New Testament, this is one of the arguments that the apostles used to tell Christians. You know, you really need to care for your families, because even the gentiles, even the Pagans, do that. This is something that even natural people, because of their family ties, know how to do. You see parents working so that their children can get... education, you see them trying to make the next generation better than the previous generation, and these things we expect of natural family members. But here we see something that is remarkable in the way that this love that these people have is expressed, and that is these people, who may not have even known each other for very long, who are certainly not family members in the immediate sense, we're nevertheless sharing things with one another and having everything in common as if they were a family. They saw somebody in need, they provided what that person needed without question, without even thinking twice. They were willing to treat one another as a family, and this, I say, is evidence of the reality of the Kingdom of God growing up in their very midst. That we might ask a certainly people looking back into history, might ask what made the difference? What is it that broke these people's hearts? What is it that made these strangers who had just come together have such love for one another? And I think we see the answer to that in verse thirty three. We see that in this whole passage that I read, versus three two through thirty five, it talks mainly about, you know, the physical sharing that they did with their their their goods. But Luke, here the author Tucks away this verse right in the middle so that we don't lose sight of why this happened. Verse Three Three says with great power, the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Great Grace was upon them all. This is the reason they came together, this is the reason that they felt to be a family's because of the message of Christ. The message are the one who came down from heaven, who took on human flesh, who walked in our place, who lied the perfect life, who didn't disobey a single law and who had all the power to his fingertips to do whatever he wanted, and yet who chose out of humility, who chose an obedience to his heavenly father, to die for sinners, to take their sins upon himself, to have his record stained with all the sins of his people and to hang there on a cross, naked, bloodied, and to endure that shame, that humiliation, of someone who, just a week before had been on the precipice of seemingly political power and glory, free on Palm Sunday, and who had been willing to take that all aside to die for his people, and who, triumphant rose on the third day, having paid that debt, having made that sacrifice, having paid for sins and and wiped our slates clean. He rose again. It is this message which the apostles were now emboldened to preach, regardless of their own death, because now they knew the one who had conquered death, the one who had the power of eternal life, and they had seen him in their midst, they had seen the wounds in his body, they knew that his resurrection was a fact. And now, with this testimony, with this inside and with great power, they preached the word. And for this reason people came together. People came together and treated each other as brothers and sisters, in Christ because they knew that that was reason enough to be a family. We see here in the following verses, in verses thirty four and thirty five, more information about how that came to tangible expression, as they gave to one another not simply freely, but also magnanimously and with full open hearts. It says here in Verse Thirty Four, there was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostle's feet. Now think about this. You got, you know, five thousand plus people in this..., and surely there are going to be some among them who were poorer, perhaps even destitute, for various reasons. Maybe they were lame, maybe they were blind, maybe something like that had kept them from making money. And yet now there were people, there were people in the church who, on the other end of the spectrum, were very rich, who had houses and lands, who are willing to sell those things and give magnanimously to those who were needy. And just think about the the the amount of giving that is involved here. You know, we all give a certain amount and you know some people believe in the ten percent tithes, some people believe you know whatever is on your heart, but giving somebody a house is kind of a big deal. I mean, I don't care what the housing market looks like, it's a big deal to sell your house and say I ain't to bring the proceeds from this house and because I know they are destitute people in this church, I am to give everything from this house or from this tract of land that I just sold so that their needs can be met in at that is what people did. They gave from the heart magnanimously, and it was successful. We read here there was not a needy person among them, because of what these people do. Now, we also read here that what they did they did in an orderly fashion. Certainly, their hearts were opened wide, certainly they loved one another, but they did not do this as a church in a way that was foolish or in a way that was without safeguards. Let me put it that way. For we read here that the people brought their guests and laid it at the Apostle's feed and it was distributed to each as any had need. This is something that we see later on in the church as they developed deacons, as the Office of Deacon is established, and as apostles such as Paul lay down rules for who can receive money from the church. That was very important for them to safeguard what was being done so that you would not have people trying to just come into the church for the sake of getting money. We see here again the principle that the Holy Spirit, though he is a powerful Holy Spirit, as also an orderly holy spirit and the spirit who moved in people's lives and and the love that was shared was not done without this order and without this accountability, so that all good order could be preserved and so that there would not be abuses of people who were from the heart giving large sums of money for those who genuinely had need. It was under the oversight of the Apostles and the end result, again, is that there was not a needy person among them within this church. Now, I would say at this point, speaking of these successes and speaking of this this love that was poured out and speaking about the fact that we see here the Kingdom of God growing up in the midst of Palestine here, that we as Christians are not actually that far removed from the early church. Certainly, there are many years that have passed between this early church and us, but what was going on here was the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, and that is something that is still being fulfilled in our very midst. The same Christ that was proclaimed back then is the same Christ who is proclaimed now. The Same Holy Spirit that was poured out back then is the same Holy Spirit who is poured out now. We are today the church the Community of believers, just as they were the church in the community of believers back then. And we have a risen Christ who has conquered death so that we can be confident that nothing can stand in the way of his kingdom, even today, as we see it spreading around the world. I would also say that in these these these verses, we see an answer to all the...

...the systems that the world has tried to develop to solve the human problem. For Dy throughout human history, people have tried to create utopias in the world to try to overcome the sin in the brokenness which this fallen world so obviously manifests. We have seen communism, we have seen subcultural groups like the hippies and their various communes try on a human level to replicate something that comes close to salvation, to something that that comes close to love in their minds, something that will heal this broken world, and yet we see that it's it fails every single time because it is absence of the true power and the true love that only comes from God, through Christ and his Holy Spirit. My grandfather, who did not profess, at least in my hearing, to be a believer, used to mock this text and the used to joke and say, you know, the early church, they were a bunch of communists. See, they shared everything in common. There were a bunch of communists back then, and I'm sure that there are other people who have, looking at this verse, thought the same thing, that the church is basically a commune and that what was going on was kind of like Marxism today. But I would submit to you that this is nothing of the case that was going on in this early church. In fact, I would submit to you that this is one of the most anti communist passages and all of scripture. We do not see anything here of class envy or class hatred, of the rich greedily holding back whatever they can and the poor having to resort to violent revolution to get ahold of their share of the Pie. But we see something very, very different, something that cannot be replicated by any political party or by any human movement. We see something coming from heaven itself, as the rich have their own hearts broken and opened, as they are giving in common to the poor. The Apostles did not take anything away from them, they did not compel and we see that in the following verses and Chapter Five, where Peter tells them that they nobody is compelling you to give anything. This is your property, it remains your own. But because of the love they had, they freely gave what they what was needed for the welfare of the poor and the destitute in the church. And this is something, again, that cannot be replicated by any human movement, but only comes from God and is a sign that God was truly working in this church and it is truly moving and as again, as we read in verse three four, this was successful. There was not a needy person among them because of the giving that was going on. Well, at this point somebody might be asking me, well, you painted a pretty rosy picture of life back then, and you've also said that we today in the church have the same spirit and the same Gospel and the same message. So we should be exactly like that, right. Why isn't everything Hunky Dorry in the Church today as it appears to be back in the Church back then? What is different about us today? And I would submit to you that, first of all, yes, we need to admit that everything is not hunky Dory today, but I think, despite what we read in this passage, we also need to admit that everything was not Hunky Dory in the early church either. What we see in this passage is true who the true pouring out of God's spirit and the true expression of love, but what we also see in the new testaments, and especially in the the letters of the apostles to the various churches, is that they still struggled with sin, just as we do today. Let me give you an illustration that helps me to understand this a little bit better and as Arizonans might might resound with you. If you take a typical Arizona desert like the one we live in, and you cultivate the soil and you plant seeds and you pour water...

...on it, you can get things to grow here. I mean they have golf courses here and they have lots of green grass. You can see people's lawns that are actually green and it's a beautiful thing. But if you look around, even if you're standing in the middle of summon's yard or even if you're on one of those golf courses, and you look around, you will find evidences of desert. Even there. You'll see evidence that even though new life is growing, there are still remnants of the old, dead desert there as well. There is cultivation, there is new life growing up, but it is growing up in the midst of a place of death and they are remnants of death even there. And I would submit to you, beloved, that in that sense we are no different than the early church today. They wrestled with sins, even though they had love for one another. There were, you know, if you go to the very next chapter in acts, we see the story of N and I us and Sapphara and how they lied to the Holy Spirit into the church about how much money they were giving. And we're struck dead as a result of that lie. But indeed, they say they wrestled with sins, just as we do today. And yet they saw and experience also the new life and the fruits of the Holy Spirit that were possible only through the message of Jesus Christ. Yes, beloved, we await being finally perfected. We await to Christ to come again so that he can consummate what he has started. But the good news for us even now is that he has started it. Even now we can taste the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Even now we can express righteousness, which we cannot before, because of what God has done in our hearts. And if you've been a Christian for any length of time, you know what a different creature you were before you came to Christ from what you are now. You know the truth that in Him we are a new creation. But you also know, if you've been a Christian for any length of time, how difficult sometimes it is to wrestle with those sins and how much we must struggle to put to death the old man, even as we walk according to the spirit who is undoubtably within us. And if we look at the Church today, the the same struggle happens as well. The good news is we do see today strangers coming together around the name of Christ. We do see people in even in this church. I look around the demographics are very diverse. I mean we have people who are young and old, we have people who are of different racial backgrounds, we have people who are maybe even from different countries. And why are we all here this morning? It is because of the name of Christ. Why do we have any love for one another at all? It is because of the love of Christ. Why are we new creatures? It is because of the love of Christ. That is the good news. And so you might be saying, well, how do we work on the bad news? How do we how do we continue to grow so that we can be more perfect, so that we can be more perfect and our love for one another and that we can overcome more and more the brokenness that we see in the world around us? And again I would point you, will love it, back to verse thirty three of this text. Once again, the thing that brings us together, once again, the thing that will help us to continue to grow in our sanctification, is the same thing that brought us to faith in the first place, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That which broke our hearts, is the thing that will continue to break our hearts, is a message of the cross, is the message of his kingdom, the message of something which is not of this world but as of Heaven, the message of a Lord who loved us so much that he took on our flesh, walked in our shoes and died in our place and now is ruling and reigning at the right hand of God the father. And if we keep our eyes fixed upon him, as Paul says, in the heavenly places, that will give us the proper perspective, that will keep our eyes and our focus where they need to be so that we can overlook whatever differences...

...on human level we might have with one another and come together around the name of Christ and over the body of Jesus Christ, because that is what is truly our reason for being together and united today. Scripture teaches us in many places about our heavenly inheritance and about the things that we are already participating in now. You could even say that we are spending our inheritance even now as Christians, because even though we wait for the future, even though we wait for Christ to come back and to see that glory, we even now have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payments of eternal life. We even now can bear those fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. We even now can bear those in our lives because of what God is doing for us, and so we ought to consider our lives now, more and more, is being pilgrims in this evil world, as those who do not belong, who are not citizens of earth and of this present world system, but who are citizens even now of Christ's kingdom, who even now have a spirit and who even now are written in the book of life. We ought more and more to turn our eyes away from getting things for ourselves, whether it's chasing worldly ambitions or acquiring money for our selves, or whatever the case may be, and also rather to think about how we can store up treasure in heaven, and with the Lord's help, we will more and more do that. We know we must ultimately await Christ, who is the author and perfector of our faith, to do the work. But, beloved, he has already given us a means of grace by which we can grow. He has already given us the Lord's supper, he's already given US baptism, he has already given us his word. Indeed, he is the word incarnate and he has given us this word so that we can grow even now, even as we await for him to come back and finish what he has started. We can even now be transformed by the renewing of our minds and more and more bear the image of Christ in our lives. And if we do that, not only individually will we be transformed, not only in our families, but also in the Church and the body of Christ. Will we see this again and again and again, how love is poured out in strange places where you never expect it, where the Gospel is priest and miraculous and wonderful things happen. Indeed, the conversion of one center is a miracle. Who can who can do surgery on man's heart, but God alone? But indeed, I would I would submit to you that if we keep our focus on the Gospel and as we see the preaching the Gospel, we will see amazing things in the world around us, even as the apostles saw in the early days of the church. Let us pray.

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