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The Hope of the World (Acts 2:42-47)

The Hope of the World (Acts 2:42-47)

I was so excited to see that the assigned passage for today – Friday, May 29 – is one of my favorite passages of scripture. As a preacher, I don’t think I am supposed to have favorite passages of scripture, but I do. In fact, Acts 2:42-47 is on my Mount Rushmore of bible passages, alongside Micah 6:8, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:8-10, and John 1:14.

You may be asking, “What makes Acts 2:42-47 worthy of a place on the Mount Rushmore of Bible passages?” That is a fair question. It is one of my favorite passages of scripture because it describes the mission and purpose of the local church in a way that no other passage of scripture does. If you were ever wondering what the church should be doing, this is the place to start looking. It is a passage of scripture that can inspire a local church to re-imagine how it goes about being the church. It is a passage of scripture that can make you question whether you are doing church based on your own preferences or on the purpose of the church described in scripture.

 

It also points to the potential that the local church has if it lives into the purpose described for the church. It fills me with hope as I think about what our church could be and do if we live into the purpose of the church.

What, according to Acts 2, is the purpose of the church? The church is to devote itself to the “apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… give to anyone who has need.” That’s five simple things. First, be devoted to the apostles’ teaching; we might call that discipleship or spiritual formation. Second, be devoted to fellowship, the sharing of our lives with one another. Third, be devoted to the breaking of bread; this isn’t just the Lord’s supper, but also the action of sharing meals with one another. Fourth, be devoted to prayer. Lastly, be devoted to giving to anyone who has need.

What happens when the church does all these things? The book of Acts says that the “Lord adds to their number those who are being saved.” The early church didn’t have any fancy buildings or programming. They didn’t have elevated social status or influence. They were simply people who were faithful to their calling and people who were far from God found their way to God by grace because of it.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a retired theology professor, used to say often “The local church is the hope of the world.” When the local church fulfills its purpose it can accomplish things that no government agency, business, or social institution can. It can call people to grace, lead people to transformed lives that transform the world around them. It is my sincere hope that we, by committing to faithfully fulfilling our calling as a local church, may be a beacon of hope in Union County.

Posted by David Oakley

Faith in Action: A Bold Witness

In the final chapters of Acts, we see Paul standing trial before Festus, sharing his story with King Agrippa, surviving a shipwreck, and traveling to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar.  In every situation he encounters, he lives the words of the final verse of Acts, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Charges that could not be substantiated have been brought against Paul, and his accusers seek the death penalty for him. In spite of that, he doesn’t respond with the anger or bitterness that one might expect. The only desperation in his pleas seems to be his desperation to bring others to Christ.  In Acts 26:29, he responds to King Agrippa’s question about Paul trying to convert him to Christianity with, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

As I read through these chapters, I am struck with Paul’s response to those around him. Festus and Agrippa cannot find anything with which to charge Paul. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Festus may have let him walk out a free man. Paul, however, seems less concerned about his own safety than he is with the opportunity to share Christ on a larger platform. He is willing to take the risks involved in being tried by Caesar to have the opportunity to continue to bear witness to Christ to all he could encounter along the way and from the court of the emperor. In fact, I can almost imagine Paul telling his friends who are concerned about him being transported and taken to Rome for trial, “This is awesome!  We don’t have to do any more fundraisers for my next missionary journey. All of my travel and food will be covered by the empire!”

Paul’s response to the crew aboard the ship is equally as notable. He tries to warn them that this trip will be disastrous (Acts 27:9-10), he tries to encourage them and offer them hope in the midst of the storm (Acts 27:21-26), and he provides for their safety (Acts 27:31). This is a prisoner transport, and he is facing a possible execution. Again, though, for Paul, this seems to be just another opportunity to witness. Acts 27:35 tells us that before the crew ate what they could, Paul – “in front of them all” – gave thanks to God. Rather than concoct his own escape plan, Paul points his captors to Christ.  Rather than withhold the good news of hope, comfort, and Jesus himself from those who would readily kill him (Acts 27:42), Paul freely shares all of God’s love that he can in every moment he can. 

Most of us are driven by our own self-preservation. We make decisions based on what is good for us as individuals or as families. Paul, however, has allowed himself to be driven almost solely by the cause of Christ. He withholds the love of Christ from no one, and he seizes every opportunity with which he is presented with both the readiness and boldness to share the gospel. Paul’s life and witness should challenge us to consider how we might allow God to transform us to be ready to bear witness to Christ in all circumstances (the mundane, the joyous, and the challenges), consider others before ourselves, and not withhold the love of God from anyone.

Posted by Sam Oakley

Paul and Eutychus

By the time we get to chapter 20 of Acts, Paul will undertake no new missions.  He is destined for Rome, after a visit to Macedonia and Greece, followed by one more trip to Jerusalem.  Chapter 20:3 reminds us that Paul’s Jewish enemies, so far unsuccessful, have not given up.  His plans must change.  Surrounded by seven companions, Paul sets out for the holy city.  He stops in Troas on the road to his destiny and accomplishes pastoral work there.

On Sunday he offered communion and preached to a community gathered on the third floor story of a house in the city.  But this was no occasion for a few brief remarks by a visiting celebrity.  No, Paul spoke on and on, even until midnight.  Lamps were required to bring lights, heat, smoke, and perhaps a little symbolism.

There was an unfortunate young man who was named Eutychus, which ironically means “Lucky.”  He was perched on the windowsill of the third floor because of the dense crowd, or in order to see and hear all the better, or perhaps to catch a bit of fresh air.  Because Paul continued to preach until midnight, Eutychus grew drowsy and fell asleep (Anyone who has ever dosed off during a long sermon will understand his plight!).  Well, windowsills are not good places for sleeping, so Eutychus fell down to the street to an untimely death.

Not even Paul could preach through that incident. Going down the stairs, he embraced the body and spoke some reassuring words. Then, as if this were all in a night’s work, Paul returned upstairs and resumed his sermon.  The service went on until dawn.  After worship, a meal, and conversation Paul left.  Only after this does the narrator think to tell us that Eutychus was alive after all.

This understatement is quite effective.  As had Jesus (Luke 7:11-17) and Peter (Acts 9:38-41), Paul has brought someone back from the dead.  The power of the Resurrection, fully unleashed at Pentecost, proclaims the defeat of death.  We, too, are fortunate that though we may have drifted off during a few sermons in our lifetime, we have also, like “Lucky” Eutychus, been raised to new life.  And that is good news for congregations and for us preacher types as well!

Posted by Ron Glover

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