Friday 2 May 2014

Acts 2 v.37/42
Our passage this morning contains the story of what took place when the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, when the Church was effectively born. The promise of our Lord that the Holy Spirit would be given was then fulfilled.

Peter, with the other eleven Apostles, were there together with the 120 who were in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension. Peter made a tremendous sermon in which explained the mighty rushing of wind and the tongues of fire, telling the crowds about Jesus who had been crucified and had risen from the dead, and who had now ascended to heaven.

We are told the people were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Being cut to the heart means they were deeply convicted. They realised the man they had nailed to the Cross had the power of God.

Peter told them how they could become Christians. He made them realise that their lives did not correspond to the teachings of Jesus. I think many of the people who call themselves Christians would do well to ask if their lives were in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Peter told them they needed to repent and be baptised. Repent does not mean saying sorry, it means much more. There has to be a turning around, a change of direction whereby you stop doing those thoughts and actions which contravene Scriptural teaching, and confess your misdoings with determination to live righteously.

Secondly, Peter called upon them to be baptised. Baptism had a different meaning at that time. People now understand baptism to be little more than bringing a child to Church to have its name authorised, and giving a nod to the words the Minister tells them they have to say, albeit without any further requirement or commitment.

But baptism is all about commitment. It should take place after a person has come to faith in Jesus Christ, having accepted He died for the forgiveness of their sins, with a commitment to live according to His teaching, and the act of baptism is a public declaration by symbol that you have died to one’s old way of living, and risen to a new life in Christ.

Peter told them to save themselves from this crooked generation, in other words to give up living in accordance with the way ungodly people live. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s call. We then read these people devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.

What then can we learn from this first Christian Church, which was able to subsequently reach out across the ancient world without television, mobile phones, or computers?

Firstly, that we as Christians, have to live worthily of our Lord. We cannot live according to worldly standards from Monday to Saturday and then come to give a token statement of regret on Sunday. We must be seen to be Christians by the way we live our lives. Sometimes people get to a point where they are going through the motion of religion, having the ritual without the real thing. There is now a problem that many people believe they can live according to the law of the State and forget that God’s law overrides that of the State for a Christian.

Secondly, we can do what that early Church did, and devote ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles. We have that same teaching available to us, it is called the New Testament.

The most important thing for a Christian is to know God; that is at the heart of our faith. Jesus said, ‘this is eternal life that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent’.

What made the early church so attractive was down to one thing and one thing only: they shared a common faith in Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, people gathered in Jerusalem from all points of the world and their shared faith in Christ. In today’s Church there is too much difference in what is believed, even within one’s own denomination, which makes it difficult to convince outsiders we have something positive to offer them.

Today there is much false teaching, as well as none teaching. On Easter Sunday a service was broadcast from a major Cathedral in this country, a day of first importance to Christians, and a golden opportunity to present the Christian message. The address was on social justice and a condemnation of the English defence league. Imagine what a man or woman who went hoping to hear a spiritual message to help them would feel. When people come to Church they should expect and be able to hear the Bible expounded and not listen to someone’s opinion on topical issues.

It is the responsibility, and indeed the duty, of all who have the privilege of being allowed to preach, to say it does not matter what my opinion is, this is what the Bible says.

A few months ago the Methodist Church conducted a survey from members, and the first question asked, was should the Church which believes marriage is between one man and one woman consider revising that policy in consideration of society’s thinking.

Can you imagine that ever being asked of either John or Charles Wesley? Marriage was given by God at the creation of mankind; it is God’s first building block for society, and to change that would be to rip the heart out of God’s plan and purpose.

The Church in the West has been steadily moving away from the Bible Our duty is to lead people to the place where they will hear God’s voice speaking to them; where they will hear of the wonderful things he has done to put wrong things right; where they will hear words of forgiveness and power for a fresh start- the gift of the Spirit. And that place is the Bible. If it is not the Scriptures which are being opened, we are just another organisation with a spiritual flavour.

The Bible is all about salvation. John Wesley once stated “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!

The greatest revival of Christianity in this country came during the ministry of John/Charles Wesley If they were alive today they would have much to say at the way the Church has failed to proclaim the message they left, that salvation was through Christ alone, the value of a person’s life was measured by their faith, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

For many preachers these are forbidden subjects fearing they may upset people, yet they are essential biblical doctrine and were not forbidden by our Lord. Today people are being drawn away from the doctrines of the Bible as judgement is becoming a censored word.

It is hard to quote the Bible without someone saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that.’ The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no other name under heaven except Jesus Christ’.

The Bible states’ Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through me’, yet many preachers are dodging quoting this. If we avoid telling these verses how are people ever to come to know the gospel.

It appears that the Church in the West is fearful of causing upset and being criticised for being true to the Bible. The Prime Minister recently spoke out for the Church in this country, and however much you may doubt the sincerity as opposed to political campaigning; the words he spoke were welcome. Yet within one day 50 angry liberal atheists got together and organised a protest widely circulated by press, radio and television.

Now compare that with the Church’s failure to respond as strongly when the same Prime Minister redefined marriage to destroy 2000 years of Christian teaching; who in a submission to the Court of Human Rights opposed protection for the unborn child; who submitted to the same Court that the Cross was not a Christian symbol; and if you dared to speak out against same sex marriage you could resign rather than being dismissed. If anyone speaks about human rights and religious freedom, especially at that level, they must include Christians’ human rights and freedom.

Our faith is not like other faiths which someone has made up, but rather comes from God. It was taught by Jesus to the Apostles who taught it to His followers, so when we read the New Testament we are being taught by our Lord Himself. It is now under sustained attack by the judiciary, one of whom stated Sunday was not at a core factor in Christianity, and from press and educationalists.

If we are to face the challenges of our time, living in an aggressive secular society, we have to be people of the Bible. It teaches us how God wants us to live a good and moral life worthy of our Lord; it teaches us when we are going wrong; and when feeling depressed and sad encourages us to trust in Jesus to share our burdens. Whilst the preaching of Scripture may be one for the pulpit, every Christian has a duty to carry the blessings of the Bible to those not yet acquainted with it.

If the Church is to be at the centre of life in this country we need to pray for the Lord to pour that Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit upon us, and we all need to be devoted to that Apostolic teaching, which is the way to Godly Living and the future growth of the Church.

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