Monday, January 31, 2011

love of the Gospel

this is my sermon from yesterday for youth sunday at plainfield first church of God. let me know what you think.


[Acts 2:1] When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
[5] Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” [12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” [13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
[14] But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. [15] For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. [16] But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

[17] “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
[18] even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
[19] And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
[20] the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
[21] And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

[22] “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— [23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. [25] For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
[26] therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
[27] For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
[28] You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

[29] “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. [30] Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [31] he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. [32] This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. [33] Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. [34] For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
[35] until I make your enemies your footstool.’

[36] Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
[37] Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” [38] And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [40] And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” [41] So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.


as i began thinking about this youth sunday, it occurred to me that youth sunday at this church will rarely fall in the month of february. since this is as close as we get to valentine’s day for the next twenty-some years, we decided that today’s theme would be love. my mind quickly was led to our text for this morning.
i want us first to take a look at the last six verses of today’s Scripture reading. verse 42 starts with devotion. the word here can also be translated as continually giving oneself over to something. i thought this was appropriate with the theme we chose for today, namely, love. have you ever thought about how often we pair these two together? we say that a man gives a woman his love and devotion, and if he’s as blessed to have a wife like mine, he’ll have her love and devotion in return. or take sports, for example. many of us, men in particular, will spend many hours watching games, keeping up with stats, maybe even playing in a fantasy league. or if we find a tv series which we particularly enjoy, we devote a certain time each week to watching that show. think about it: what do you love? don’t you spend your time, your money, your effort on those things? and aren’t they the frequent topics of your conversations? we devote ourselves to what we delight in, what we enjoy, what we love.
now our text today speaks of the very start of the Church, on the day in which God first poured out His Holy Spirit en masse upon believers. and i think this part of the narrative commends to us, in part, how the Church ought to act in every age, ancient or modern. so what did these new Christians devote themselves to?
first, we are told they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. their teachings, based on the hebrew Scriptures, the doctrines of Christ, and the direction of the Holy Spirit, were eventually collected in the Bible. so, in essence, they devoted themselves to God’s Word, and so should we.
on the one hand, this means knowing our Bible. this is something that is easier to do than ever. there are a plethora of options for reading or hearing the Scriptures, gaining understanding in them, and committing them to memory. i know a number of you do this: consider this an encouragement to continue in doing so. for those of you want to know Scripture better, we’re having a seminar in two weeks that’s all about how to get you into the Word and the Word into you, and if you can’t make that, talk to any one of the godly men and women you know in this church. but if you are not digging into God’s Book, nor have any desire to, let me encourage you to take a long, hard look as to why you don’t.
the flip side of this devotion is that we not only know the Word, but follow it, obey it. james, our Lord’s brother, says in his Letter, to “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. for if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. for he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. but the one who looks into the perfect Law, the Law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” let us resolve not to be deceivers, but to follow our Savior and be transformed into His likeness as we walk as He walked.
our text also says that they were devoted to fellowship. now when we hear that word, what comes to mind? pot-luck dinners, summer picnics, the occasional game night? i mean no discouragement on these things, because they can indeed be times of fellowship, the family of God meeting and blessing one another. but if this is all we mean by fellowship, are we really acting as the family of God? for that is what we are, brothers and sisters. and i know that life gets busy, and i’m not calling on you to give more of your time to some mere club. what i mean is for us to enter in to each other’s lives, and to get to really know those with whom God has placed us, that we might know each others joys and struggles and burdens and hopes and dreams. that we might talk to each other about what really matters to us, and what goes on inside, and not hide behind a pretty mask and chit-chat about weather and other thing of little importance. the text says that the saints of old gathered regularly in large groups and small ones, sharing meals, and in various ways encouraging each other in godliness. i don’t know how all of that will look in our day here in plainfield, but i want to work with you to flesh it out.
these new disciples were also devoted to prayer. libraries have been written and years’ worth of sermons have been preached on this. for the sake of time, let me only say this: i doubt there is a one of us who is satisfied with our praying, myself included. if you want to repent and grow in this, let’s encourage and walk with each other in this, and pray and look for the help we need. and again i warn you, my friends, if this isn’t something that concerns you, then for the sake of God’s glory and your joy don’t just put it off and continue in callousness.
the next part of this description of the early church is that they were generous. this is something i think you as a church are truly worthy of commendation for. the stories i have heard of the needs that have been met through things like the benevolent fund, and the generosity that has been shown to me personally by several members of this body, bear witness to that. may this text be an encouragement for us to continue and to grow in this, for our Father smiles at it. and if you have a need, or know of someone who does, please let us know, for it is our joy to be a reflection of God’s love in serving you.
The last part of the description we see in our text is that the believers “received their food with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.” they gave thanks to God for His provisions. notice they don’t do this begrudgingly, but with joy, and such a joy that the greek word is often used in the context of festival, of dancing and singing and celebrating. in a few moments, we’ll follow their example by having a time of publicly praising God for the good things He’s done and is doing in our lives, as well as to sing His praises. one suggestion: on holidays, birthdays, and times that cause us to think back and reminisce on the past, why not take some time to express to God our gratefulness for His good gifts to us? something to think about...

so we see that the early church became devoted to the teaching of the apostles, to each other, and to God. but do you ever see things in Scripture and wonder how they came about? what happened to cause this devotion? how was the love for these things sparked? i believe the answer lies in the rest of chapter, with peter’s sermon.
remember, these events take place 50 days after the first Easter, and at this point those who believe in Christ number around 120. as far as most people in jerusalem know, the upstart Prophet from galilee was dead and gone, and any of them who may have hoped for something to change with Him have moved on with their lives. all of a sudden, on this day of festival, something incredible happens. the remaining followers of Jesus are all speaking in languages they’ve never spoken before, and are speaking of what God has done through Christ. the crowd is amazed, confused, and some a little skeptical.
then peter stands up, and speaks with boldness and power of how these things have been foretold to them by the ancient prophets, and of Jesus as risen Son of God. but did you note how peter speaks of his audience? twice he reminds them that they are the ones who murdered Jesus, the One whom God has now vindicated and who is their rightful Lord!
can you imagine what must have been going through the minds of the crowd? what they might have written off as lunacy they cannot, because of the miraculous presence of the Spirit. so if what peter is telling them is true, they are the very murderers of God! and remember also, these are devout jews, who very much understand the atrocity of sin and the holiness of God and His righteous wrath against all ungodliness, and that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. and they had probably heard it read from the Scripture in the synagogue, “if someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”
do you understand the turmoil of their hearts within them? do you understand the anxiety with which they cry out “what shall we do?!” and do you understand that we also are guilty of this crime? for the death of Christ was made so gruesome, so horrific as to make us understand the disgust and fury of God against sin. brothers and sisters, do you get this? i pray that you do, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.
peter tells them first that they must repent, that they must turn away from their evil deeds and live toward God. this may seem obvious to us, but let us not miss it, or else we will easily fall into license and the devil’s snare. the need to repent is very great, and frequent. for even on our best of days, we do not live up to God’s perfect standards, and so we need to continually let go of the things of this world, even the good things, which can so easily distract us from godliness – we must break ourselves away from them, and fix ourselves upon our Lord. as Hebrews commands us, “let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” the apostle paul knew of the devil’s unceasing war upon our souls, and how his sly and crafty attacks could come upon those unaware. and so he encourages us to “fight the good fight of faith,” knowing that we cannot fully rest or let down our guard until we are called home and the world is made anew.
but it is not the call to repent that is surprising, for the people had heard such things before. it is the second part of peter’s reply that is truly astounding. he tells them to be baptized in Jesus name, and that in thus showing their faith, their sins will be forgiven. i wonder if these words are so commonplace to us that we do not see how great a thing this is. no Levitical sacrifice, no offering, no animals burning on the temple altar. this alone would be confounding to the jews. but more than that, they are to be baptized in the name of the One whom they have lynched, and for His sake they are to be forgiven and accepted by God? what amazing grace! what unbounded mercy this is! as in charles wesley’s hymn, “and can it be that i should gain an interest in my Savior’s blood? died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued? amazing love! how can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” john owen, a great puritan theologian, said it well: “oh to behold the glory of Christ! herein would i live, herein would i die, hereon would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections.”
3000 baby Christians to took their first steps of faith that day because of this: the Holy Spirit followed the gospel message into their hearts, and awakened them to its beauty, the glory of the grace of the Lord God and of His Christ. they got the Gospel! welsey, owen; they got the Gospel! they understood holiness and sin and mercy and grace. and when you see it for what it is, Gospel transforms your life, because it is about all of life, because Jesus our Savior is Lord of all of life. it’s from this transformation, this new birth, that we gain new desires. we want to read our Bible and to follow it, because we want to hear from Dad and follow His ways, since He obviously wants what’s best for us, if He loved us enough to reconcile us to Himself at the price of the agony of His Son. we want to pray, because we want to talk to the One who so loves us and to tell Him of our hopes, our cares – of all of our lives. we want to meet together, to encourage each other, to lovingly correct each other and bear each other’s burdens, because through the Gospel we are brothers and sisters in the family of Christ. and we give freely, because our God has given so freely to us, and we want to share in His joy, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” our lives, as our brothers and sisters before us, become shaped by the Gospel. it informs every part of the Christian walk: how we eat, how we sleep, how we do our work, how we play our games, how we handle our money and our time and our relationship, and on and on i could go. do you see what i mean? think of any part of your life, something that you may have considered completely “unspiritual” until now, and see how the Gospel has implications for that area of life.
and so God in His love through His Gospel recreates us as new people, into a new family, a new society. and this true Christianity, this picture of God in His church shaped by His Gospel, becomes wondrous to behold. it reflects the glory of God to all: it mirrors it back to our Maker, it shows it to all the hosts of heaven and hell, and displays it to all the world. and this is where, i believe, the last part of our text comes in. verse 47 says that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” God honors our living for Him in using us as His instruments to bring about reconciliation to the world, especially as ambassadors to all people, so that they might be made into brothers and sisters in Jesus’ family as well. and how does this happen, but by believers talking about our Lord? imagine the new believers at pentecost. though there may have been legitimate fears that cropped up in their hearts, temptations to not speak about the Jesus who was publicly executed not two months before, i cannot believe that these people would be so devoted to Him in action yet never mention Him in their speech. and so let us follow their example: though there may be all sorts of hindrances and temptations to not talk about Jesus in our world, let us not submit to them, but rather speak of the One we love, Who has loves us so.
i entitled this sermon, “the love of the Gospel.” i did so, because it has at least three distinct meanings, all of which are wonderful and which i want to commend to you today. the first is the love which God shows us in the Gospel, the love displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ and in His resurrection. if this is unknown to you, ask me or someone around you to tell you more, so that you may experience it yourself and be transformed by it. the second is our love for the God who has so loved us. may God grow our love for Him, as we display it here together and as we go about our lives. and the last is the love of telling the Gospel, that others may know it, that they may taste and see that the Lord is good, and join us in treasuring Him above all things, for His glory and our joy in Him. Amen.


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