Saturday 5 September 2015

Acts 2 verses 36/47

We come to the first Sunday in the Methodist Church calendar and members will be returning from holidays, some with hope and anticipation for the coming year, whilst others will have regrets at the empty seats where friends no longer sit, either because they have gone to be with the Lord, or just fallen away as so many have done. It is reported that 100,000 members have been lost over the past ten years, which should be a matter of concern for us all.

Whilst we live in very different times and culture, we could learn much from the passage you have just heard read, which is our Epistle today.

We have the story of how the Church began on the day of Pentecost. Just Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem stood before the assembled
crowds as Peter gave his sermon He spoke of a corrupt generation who had rejected God and lived their lives as if God did not exist and so they were under God’s judgement and needed to be saved. Such a situation could be said to exist today and is a reality for us. God is still rejected, and this is the reason Church congregations are so small.

Peter’s words had an immediate effect so that 3,000 responded as they were ‘cut to the heart’; in other words they were deeply convicted. They began to realize that life was not what it appeared to be, and that behind all the normal events of everyday life was the power of God. This is always what happens when the Spirit of God is at work. He makes us aware of the Lordship of Jesus, the fact that Jesus is Lord.

The early church was a good model of what the church should be. As we compare ourselves today to that early church, we need to ask ourselves if we are an accurate representation of the kind of church that God would have us be.

Peter told the people they needed to repent and turn to Christ and 3,000 people committed themselves to do so. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, who in turn had been taught by our Lord Himself. So what they heard would have been Jesus’ earthly teaching plus what He taught in His 40 days of resurrection appearances. The wonderful thing is God has graciously made possible for us to have that same teaching; He has left us with copies of those Bible classes, it is called the New Testament.

We are told they devoted themselves; they didn’t need persuasion or coercion, they were eager to learn. They were filled with awe, and their praise and worship was so inspiring others who saw and heard joined. I wonder how many of our congregations could say they were filled with awe and felt inspired. I believe much of the cause of our empty Churches has been that the worship could not reasonably be said to have been inspiring nor filled with awe. Too often in some cases it has been ‘we have to offer something’, without much further thought, and in others instances, ‘we have always done it this way’, which just shows a lack of commitment.

There is a very significant sentence at the end of the passage; and the Lord added to their number day by day. Every day, there would be new converts to the faith. That should not really be surprising. The apostles were getting the gospel of Jesus Christ out to the people around them by their teaching. They told of Christ coming to this earth in a unique way; of the miracles Jesus performed; how He gave up His life for us by dying on the Cross so that our sins could be forgiven by God, so assuring us of eternal with Him.

In addition, unbelievers were seeing the grace of God being displayed in the lives of the believers and were impressed with what was happening and were attracted. God was using these things to draw people to himself and the church grew. This tells us that it is God who builds up a Church, for He alone can move a person’s heart to repentance and faith. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘No man can come unto me except my Father draw him’. God is drawing people to himself all over the world.

It is in God’s plan that His Church will grow. In that first Church it was growing all the time; from that little band of men, the Christian gospel spread across the world.

Why is it that the Lord is not adding to our Churches now? He is in Africa, South Korea, China and South America. I suggest it is because in Britain and other Western nations we are not teaching, and certainly not practising, the teaching of the Apostles. These men were speaking in the name of and on behalf of the Lord Himself who told them what to say. If we choose to teach and preach in a manner to align ourselves with society’s culture and ways rather than with what God has lain down, we cannot expect God to bless our ministry.

It is a fact of life we live in a free and easy country where virtually no behaviour is considered to be morally wrong, and the moment anyone dares to criticise or suggest something is wrong, they are labelled as phobic or bigots. Unfortunately many people within the Church have adopted the way of the world, it has somewhat been accepted, and even applauded. This is so wrong, the Church should be setting an example and making its voice heard instead of secularists setting out their agenda.

A Danish philosopher once stated, whereas Jesus came and turned water into wine, the modern Church has managed to do something altogether more difficult, to change wine into water. . Many will agree with him as we have watered down the gospel of our Lord so that people are confused as to what they exactly should believe.

There is a false Christianity around today. There are people who put on a Christian front. They act like Christians, they read the Book, and sing the hymns, but they have no reality of Christ in their lives. That kind of Christianity is worthless. If we want to be men and women of God, we are to follow the teaching God has provided for us. This clearly set out in the Bible and readily available for all to follow.

Having seen how that early Church responded under apostolic teaching, we need to consider how the Church now in this critical time responds with its teaching of the Scriptures.

Paul commanded Timothy to preach the word, and by the word he meant the Scriptures, which is still the primary task for all preachers. He gave a clear instruction for all Christian pastors and teachers that they were commissioned to teach the truth and to refute error.

He also warned that a time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine, by which he meant the teaching given by the Apostles, but would find teachers who were willing to say what they wanted to hear. Sadly, such false teachers abound who are prepared to defy God.

At a time when the Church of England is haemorrhaging so fast, a bishop calls for the Church to hold a fast day once a month to pray for climate change; that was his concern not the gospel. On Easter Day last year, such a prominent day in the life of the Church, in a televised service from a Cathedral, the preacher lost an enormous opportunity to tell about Jesus by giving instead an attack on the English defence League. These are only two examples of a lost cause which affects all Christians and not just Anglicans.

We have to ask ourselves, why is the Church here, and what is our responsibility to God? Our primary task is to preach the gospel. If we do not do that there is no purpose for the Church. Both Jesus and Paul put that before any other work they did. We are here to tell about God and Jesus; about His unique birth, miracle works; His sacrificial death on our behalf, and how God resurrected Him as a foretaste of what can happen to us.

Jesus said the heart of the Christian faith is eternal life and that we may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent, which we can only have through Jesus Christ.

There is a reluctance by some clergy to speak out for fear of being labelled as a bigot or being discriminatory. This always likely to occur when someone wants to join the politically correct crowd and tell you sanctimoniously you shouldn’t say that, so there is the tendency to re-interpret the Bible to make it acceptable.

This once great Methodist Church was built on strong Biblical foundation. 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; by the manner in which they lived their lives, and the doctrine of heaven and hell.

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. Although over 60% opposed any change, it was decided to defer any decision for two years.

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 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; that if you dared to speak out against same sex marriage you could resign rather than being dismissed.

Obviously if we are faithful to Scripture we are going to upset many people, not out of a desire to do so, but simply because we will strike at their conscience. The Bible clearly states all people, even those who have never heard the gospel, have a sense of right and wrong. We have to tell of the consequences for them when this life is over.

If you were walking down a road and you saw a house on fire and also saw someone in side trapped, you wouldn’t just wave to them, you would seek to save them; so we have a Christian duty to try and save them spiritually.

One day every man and woman will have to give account for the way they have lived their lives, and preachers bear a much heavier responsibility, for as Paul warned Timothy, they have been given the privilege and task of proclaiming God’s Word and failure to do so will have to be answered for. We still have men/women preaching false doctrine, living in a way contrary to the Bible they are vowed to honour, then attempting to justify doing so by misinterpreting Scripture.

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now. Never let us be reluctant or ashamed to proclaim it. Proclaim the good news be
bold and positive.

Sometimes a problem does arise when there are a range of preachers. For instance, I am here this week with a conservative evangelical message and next week or soon after someone with a liberal approach will be here, a situation which arises in numerous Churches and understandably causes confusion in people’s minds as to who is right.

There is however one way of deciding; turn to your Bibles and see which message can be verified.

I want to close with words of John Wesley who 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!

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