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Easter 3A, “The Fellowship of Believers”

Pastor Gary Wong April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14a, 36-47

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "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 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

“How are you doing?” That’s probably one of the first questions you have asked someone whom you haven’t seen this past month. It’s been almost forty days since our government issued its shelter – at - home directive to slow the spread of the coronavirus. COVID-19 has certainly disrupted our lives. Everyone has been trying to establish a new routine—parents and students working at home, not being able to eat at a restaurant or go to church, etc.—while being cooped up with each other practically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some people are coping well; others not so much. Some people are making the best of this opportunity to connect with their spouse and children while others are feeling that they are too close for comfort. For some, being isolated from family and friends has heightened their loneliness.

Today’s lesson gives us comfort, encouragement, and hope as we deal with this pandemic. God’s Word reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. Through faith in Christ, we are members of God’s family. The Gospel connects us to Jesus and to each other. This pandemic will pass, and we can look forward to the day when we will gather together as the family of God, worshiping our Savior, Jesus Christ, and praising him for the fellowship of believers.

Our lesson describes what happened in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus had ascended into heaven. It was a time of great joy for Christians and the future looked bright as believers basked in the glow of Jesus’ resurrection. But what was it like for Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday? Their world had been turned upside down and their spirits crushed by Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Jesus, in whom they had placed all of their hope, lay dead and buried in a tomb. Just twenty four hours earlier, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover, the commemoration of how God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. This Saturday, however, the disciples were in no mood to celebrate. Instead, they spent the entire Sabbath in the depths of despair. They couldn’t believe what had happened and didn’t know what to do as they mourned Jesus’ death. The next day, however, their doom and gloom were replaced with inexpressible joy. When the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning, they saw that the stone in front of the tomb had been rolled away. Two angels asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Lk. 24:5,6).

The women, filled with fear and joy, ran from the tomb and told Jesus’ disciples what they had seen and heard. Peter and John went and saw that the tomb was empty, but did not understand the implication of the empty grave. Mary, who stayed at the tomb after Peter and John had left, was the first person to see her risen Savior. It wasn’t until Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples that same evening in the locked room where they had been hiding in fear that they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. For the next forty days, Jesus appeared to his disciples many times and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. On one occasion, Jesus appeared to five hundred disciples at one time. Another time, Peter was by himself on a beach when Jesus reinstated this former fisherman as a “Fisher of men.” On the fortieth day after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples to a mountain top near Jerusalem. After commanding them to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49), Jesus blessed them and ascended into heaven.

Filled with joy, his disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. They wouldn’t have to wait very long. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, God-fearing Jews from all over the Roman Empire had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the OT Festival of Pentecost. St. Luke tells us that on the day of Pentecost, all of the disciples had gathered in a house. Suddenly, the sound of a violent wind shook the building. They saw what seemed to be flames of fire separate and come to rest on each of them. All of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and were proclaiming the wonders of God in languages they had never known. When the crowd heard the commotion, they went to the house to see what was going on. Many of them were amazed and confused; others simply dismissed the disciples, saying, “They have had too much wine” (Acts 2:13).

Peter, seizing this heaven sent opportunity to proclaim the gospel, stood up and addressed the crowd. “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15). Using God’s Word, Peter then proved convincingly that Jesus is the promised Savior of the world—how Jesus’ miracles proved that he had been sent by God, how the Jews, even though they knew from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah, handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate who condemned him to die on the cross, and how God raised his own Son from the dead. Peter concluded his Pentecost sermon by saying, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel be certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36 EHV).

How did the crowd respond to Peter’s bold declaration? Did they stand in stunned silence? Did they dismiss his accusations as the ravings of a religious fanatic, yelling, “You’re crazy! I didn’t crucify Jesus. I wasn’t one of the soldiers who nailed him to the cross. You don’t know what you’re talking about!”? The crowd didn’t do any of those things. With one voice they asked the disciples, “What should we do?” (v.37). Peter’s strong preaching of God’s law had done its work. The people were cut to the heart. They didn’t deny their sin. They didn’t blame others. Rather, they took responsibility for their sinful attitudes and actions. Just as Kind David confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13) when Nathan confronted him with his sins of coveting, adultery and murder, the crowd knew that they had also sinned against God. They knew that their sins were the reason why Jesus was crucified on a cross, and realized that they deserved to die and suffer in hell for all eternity. So they turned to Peter and asked him if there was any way that they could avoid the punishment that they deserved.

Just as Nathan absolved David after the king had confessed his sins, Peter also held out the gospel to the crowd who now had broken and contrite hearts. Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38). What is repentance? Repentance is more than just feeling bad because you have been caught doing or saying something wrong; repentance is being truly sorry for your sins. Repentance means a change of mind or heart. In other words, godly repentance is turning away from our sinful, self-righteous attitudes, words, and actions. Turning away from sin is a necessary first step; but there’s more. Repentance also includes turning toward something. So to whom did Peter exhort the crowd to turn? He told them to turn to Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the one whom God sent to pay the debt of sin that we owed God. Jesus did not pay that debt with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood. Because of his love for us, Jesus took the sins of the world on himself and nailed them to the cross. So where are our sins now? They’re gone! God’s Word says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). As we turn in faith to Christ, we are certain that all of our sins are forgiven, that we have eternal life, and that one day we live with Jesus in heaven forever.

Praise the Lord! Because of Jesus, we have all of these undeserved blessings. In his sermon, Peter points out that the forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation also comes through baptism. The Holy Spirit, working through water and the Word, washes away sins and gives new life in Christ. Peter went on to give the crowd more good news. He said, “[This] promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (v.39). In other words, baptism is for all people—regardless of age, race, gender, nationality, economic or social status. Peter wasn’t just talking about the men and their families who were present at Pentecost; the promises of baptism are for “all who are far off.” Baptism is for all people of all time. In his first letter, Peter simply says, “Baptism saves” (1 Pt. 3:21).

Luke tells us that the Word of God that Peter shared produced a harvest of three thousand men who believed and were baptized! So what did God’s people do after the miracle of Pentecost? Did those newly minted Christians go back to their homes and resumed their old routines as though nothing had happened? Not at all! Their lives were forever changed on the Day of Pentecost. Peter’s sermon led them to repent—to turn away from their sin and to trust that God has forgiven their sin for Jesus’ sake. There is yet a third blessing that comes from repentance. In gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us, Christians are motivated and empowered by God to live their lives in service to the Lord and to their fellow human beings. That theme is picked up in the last section of our text.

The NIV Bible describes these verses as “The Fellowship of Believers” while the EHV translation calls it “The Christians Lived in Unity.” This description of how the early Christians lived is held up as a model for Christians of every age to follow. The first thing Luke tells us is “they continued to hold firmly to the apostles’ teaching” (v.42). The early Christians knew that their most treasured possession was God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit had made them children of God and heirs of eternal life. That’s why these disciples “continued to meet together in the temple courts” (v.46). They made it a top priority to read, hear, learn, and study God’s Word; so should we. The early Christians also held firmly “to the breaking of bread” (that is, the Lord’s Supper) and “ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” As Bible –believing Christians, we value the Lord’s Supper as a gift from God and will want to regularly and frequently receive Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke also tells us that these early believers “had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (vv. 44, 45). At first glance, those verses seem to indicate that those believers were practicing a biblically commanded form of socialism (or even communism); but that was not the case. What these verses mean is that Christians realize that everything they have is a blessing from God. So rather than selfishly hoarding their possessions, those who are blessed with an abundance of wealth will want to voluntarily give from their hearts to those who are in need. Simply put, believers want to follow Jesus’ example who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk. 10:46).

So, how are you doing? Today’s lesson gives us comfort, encouragement, and hope as we deal with the effects of the coronavirus. The disciples’ lives had been turned upside down when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. They had given up all hope as Jesus lay dead in a tomb. But their hopes were revived and their hearts were filled with joy when they saw their risen Savior on Easter Sunday. Even though we haven’t been able to meet together in our churches for over a month, our hearts are still filled with Easter joy. We know that our Redeemer lives and that one day we will live with him in heaven forever. In the meantime, we can follow the early church’s example and be devoted to God’s Word as we read, listen and watch it (services online or on TV) at home. We can pray for each other. We can call on members of our church family and offer a helping hand, especially those who are living alone. Finally, let’s remember that our loving God is in control and that this crisis will pass. So let’s look forward to the day when we will meet in God’s house again, worshiping Jesus and praising God for the fellowship we have with him and each other. Jesus lives! Amen.

“Son of God, Eternal Savior” (CW 492)

Text: Somerset T.C. Lowery, 1855-1932, abr., alt.

Son of God, eternal Savior Source of life and truth and grace.

Word made flesh whose birth among us, Honors all our human race.

You, our head, who, throned in glory, For your own will ever plead:

Fill us with your love and pity; Heal our wrongs and help our need.

Come, O Christ, and reign among us, King of love and Prince of Peace;

Hush the storm of strife and passion; Bid its cruel discord cease.

By your patient years of toiling, By your silent hours of pain,

Quench our fevered thirst for pleasure; Stem our selfish greed for gain.

Bind us all as one together In your Church’s sacred fold,

Weak and healthy, poor and wealthy, Sad and joyful, young and old.

Is there want or pain or sorrow? Make us all the burden share.

Are there spirits crushed and broken? Teach us, Lord, to soothe their care.

As you, Lord, have lived for others So ay we for others live.

Freely have your gifts been granted; Freely may your servants give.

Yours the gold and yours the silver, Yours the wealth of land and sea;

We but stewards of your bounty Held in solemn trust will be.

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