Snapshot of the early church #3

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When I was growing up, one of the things I most disliked was having to get my picture taken. This was before there were digital cameras on our phones. That meant that you had to get it just right. Do you remember how we used to do that? “Move your chin up, but look down; turn your head to the right slightly but make sure you’re looking to the left. Turn your body slightly toward the person beside you but angle your head away from them.”
And that was with professional photos. Then there were the family pictures that we took with our own cameras. It seemed like the guiding principle was “let’s see how many different combinations of people we can cram into these photos.: And then there were the camera difficulties: Everyone is in place and smiling and it looks perfect, but oops, my camera is out of film. Everyone is ready for the picture and we’re saying cheese and pickles and all of that until our facial muscles hurt from smiling, and, “oops, my flash isn’t working; let me see if I can fix that.” And on and on it went.
But looking back, we’re always glad we took the time to take the pictures, right? Our memories only last so long, and even when they do, they get fuzzy over time. But pictures are an objective, accurate window into the past. We treasure pictures of those we love for this very reason.
Last year my parents along with me and Shannon and the kids hired a photographer and we did the family photo. It’s formal, right? You’re posing and it’s intentional. It doesn’t catch you in action. A snapshot catches you in action. A snapshot shows you how things were going when we didn’t think anyone was watching. It’s casual. No one is posing. The kids are playing and the adults are talking and eating. It’s natural. It shows you realistically what life is like.
When we look at the book of Acts, we can think of it as a photo album, and we can think of this text here, Acts 5:12-16, as a snapshot of the early church in action. Every now and then, Luke pulls back the curtain on the early church and gives us a glimpse, a snapshot, of what life was like in the early church. What was life like in the early church? Notice with me four things.

#1: God was unquestionably at work

God was unquestionably at work. Look with me at verse 12: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles”.
What were the signs and wonders that Luke is talking about? Obviously, these are miracles. People are being healed of long-standing and chronic diseases. Things like leprosy and paralysis.
You’ll remember that in the gospels, our Lord Jesus was always drawn to these types of people. They lacked, of course, the scientific knowledge that we have today. There were no proven treatments. These diseases back then were either death sentences, or they meant you would be permanently disabled and maybe even shunned and rejected by society and maybe even your own family.
We often don’t know how to treat people we love who are sick - I mean really sick. We’re uncomfortable with their suffering. We want to overlook it and get back to normal. And unfortunately, our desire to get back to normal often means that we try to rush them back to normal too. Their sickness reminds us that we are fragile and vulnerable too.
But that didn’t stop Jesus. Jesus was not afraid of their sickness; our Lord was not sickened and disgusted by them. His stomach did not turn at the sight of them. No, their sickness and brokenness and suffering and pain kindled His compassion. What repelled others away from them drew Jesus toward them; and in turn they were drawn toward Him. There was something about Jesus’ personality and His tone and His gaze and His words and touch and embrace - they knew that here was someone who was so wonderfully different than even those closest to them. Jesus is so wonderfully different than we are!
And here’s the thing: the closer we get to Jesus, the more we come to know Him, the more we come to learn His heart toward the sick and the hurting, the more we are drawn to the sick and the hurting. This is why Christians down through history have always been on the frontlines of medical care. Charles Spurgeon, the great English Baptist preacher, sat at the bedside of countless men and women and children who were dying of cholera in the 19th century. He had accepted that in doing that, he too would probably get sick and die. He did it anyway, and God spared him from getting sick.
He did it because that was his calling as a pastor, but it is also simply part of being a Christian. The early church understood this and so did the apostles. And one of the main ways that God showed His power in the days of the early church was through miraculous healings.
What does it look like today for God to be at work among His people? We have to be honest and say we do not see healings to the same degree that Jesus’ disciples saw or the early church saw. We pray for the sick and still they die. We pray for healing and still God takes them. I prayed consistently for God to heal a man in my first church who suffered from Parkinson’s. He never got better, but always declined and eventually he died.
Does that mean God is not at work among us? We should pause there and feel the weight of that question. Why do we not see healings? Especially when we’re told by some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters that we should see healings, and that if we don’t, something is wrong with us.
Why we don’t see healings:
Medical advancement
Different historical situation
Limited to the apostles
I don’t think that’s the case. Is God able to heal? Yes and amen! Should we pray for healing? Absolutely. Is something wrong when God doesn’t heal? Maybe, but maybe not.
It could be that God heals differently today than he did in the first century. We have medical technology that allows people to live a full life when in previous generations they couldn’t. It’s also possible that God is doing something different today than He was doing then. In the first century, the church had the need to spread. Christianity was transitioning from being a Jewish sect to a worldwide movement. It was crossing borders of language and culture. Miracles were one of the main ways that showed that the message the apostles preached was true. Listen to how the author of Hebrews described this:
Hebrews 2:3–4 ESV
how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
You see how it says that signs and wonders and miracles attested to the truth of the message?
And it might even be that miraculous healings, for the most part, were something that God never intended to continue once the apostles died. 2Cor 12:12
2 Corinthians 12:12 ESV
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
We know the office of apostle was something that ended with the death of apostles. God can certainly heal today and often does, but it could be that as a regularly way of showing up among His people, God never intended for that miraculous healings to continue after the unique office of apostle had come to an end.
So what does it look like for God to be at work unquestionably today? When God’s word is proclaimed with power and accuracy and conviction, God is at work by His Spirit. When the lost are saved, when people who hated God are changed into lovers of God, God is at work by His Spirit. When we are changed, when long-standing habits and addictions are broken, when we grow in love and joy and hope, God is at work. When men and women who previously hated one another are brought together in the church and learn to love one another, God is at work.
God is at work in His church, in other words, when the gospel is proclaimed, understood, and lived out. Those are signs and wonders that we can expect regardless of whether miraculous healings are the norm.
God was unquestionably at work.
Second, some people were repelled by God’s work among them.

#2: Some people were repelled by His work

We see this in verse 13: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.”
By the way, there’s a picture of Solomon’s Portico.
Now verse 13: “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”
I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. But I’ve heard that something interesting happens when you go. We’re drawn to the Grand Canyon by the promise of its beauty, but we’re also drawn to it equally by its size.
So the interesting thing is that when people get to the Grand Canyon, they’re sometimes surprised by feeling not just excitement but fear. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to a mile deep and sometimes as much as 18 miles wide. We can’t even fathom something that massive until we see it, and when we see it, it can be overwhelming. And so we have this mix of excitement and fear - we want to get close and see it, but not too close, lest we be swallowed up by it.
I think that’s kind of what’s going on here in verse 13. There were those who were attracted by the early church. They were drawn by the message of eternal life and forgiveness; they were drawn by the evident and sincere love of the early Christians; but at the same time, they were hesitant. They were aware that something extraordinary was happening among these group of ordinary people. Besides, they had heard about the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira who had lied to the apostles.
There was this paradox: they were drawn, but they were repelled. And many of them, though they held them in high esteem, Luke tells us, they still did not dare to join them.
John describes a similar dynamic in his gospel. Jesus has been teaching and performing miracles. He’s gaining a large following. And then one day, all of a sudden, many, John tells us, not just a few but many of His disciples turn back from following and “no longer walked with him”. What had changed? Well, nothing really, except they had gotten to know Jesus on a deeper level and they didn’t like what they say. Specifically, they didn’t like His teaching. It was all well and good until they heard him say that He was the bread from heaven, He was true — even better than the bread God had given the Israelites from heaven, which we know as manna.
They didn’t like this Jesus who dared to make Himself equal with God. The said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Message paraphrases it like this: “This is a tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” And finding Jesus unpalatable to modern tastes, they turned back.
John 6:67–71 ESV
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
We find ourselves in a similar situation today. How is that? Our world is increasingly biblically illiterate. And yet, our world is also moving further and further into a position where biblical truth is seen not just as offensive but harmful and dangerous.
And so what is happening is that as our biblically illiterate world rediscovers what the Bible actually says about salvation being only found in Christ and in no other religion, or as they rediscover what the Bible actually says about divorce or homosexuality or gender, we should expect more even within the church to have the same reaction as Jesus’ shallow disciples: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” “This is really intolerant; no one should have to hear this.” “This is bigoted and narrow-minded and hateful; we should criminalize those who believe it and say it.” We should expect that. We should expect some to be repelled by it. We should expect some to walk away.
And while we pray for them and we reach out to them, at the same time may we be the ones who say, with Peter, as Jesus turns to us and asks, “Do you want to go away also?”, we say “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:
Some were repelled by God’s work among them. But, third, many more were drawn and saved.

#3: But many more were drawn and saved

Look with me at verse 14: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women”.
What’s interesting is that in Acts, we see constantly that the church was growing numerically. “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved”, Luke wrote in Luke 2:47. “Many of those who had heard the word believed”, Luke writes in Luke 4:4, “and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” Luke doesn’t tell us how many more were added, but it easily eclipses any harvest the early church had seen to this point, since Luke says “more than ever were added to the Lord.” So we see that throughout the book of Acts.
And yet, what we don’t see in the book of Acts is any program the church had to reach these multitudes of people. We don’t see evangelistic campaigns and rallies. There are no crusades. Instead, what do we see? We simply see the early church being the church, and evangelism happened as a natural outflow.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a strategy to reach the lost in our community. We need to have that. That’s one of the things your Long Range Planning Team here at Buffalo is looking at: God has placed us here in the Buffalo community. The mill is closed and people now work outside of our community. But what this church couldn’t possibly have foreseen 50 or 60 years ago is how Moss Lake would draw countless unchurched families right into our church’s backyard. They are here. How can we reach them?
It’s our responsibility and no one else’s. We may not be called Moss Lake Church, but we are the closest neighborhood church to the Moss Lake community. Right around 200 of them were here on our campus at the fall festival just a couple of months ago. They know we’re here. We want to become an even greater and more pervasive presence in their lives in the next five years.
Two year goals:
Establish pattern of outreach to our community
Establish pattern of outreach to our city
Two year goals:
Every Buffalo member aware of the task of missions
Every Buffalo member engage in one mission activity
I love what Billy Graham said about this. Listen as I read this, and imagine Billy Graham speaking these words to us, exhorting us to reach the people in our backyard:
“The evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of men and nations is always being decided. Every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear full responsibility for the next one; but we do have our generation. God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.” [Quoted in Swindoll p183]
This will be both harder and different than evangelism in the past when we could go door to door. Most people nowadays won’t even come to the door when you ring the doorbell, much less let us into their homes the way they would just 20 years ago. And that’s why it will be harder and different. Listen to this quote I filed away a few years ago.
“The right to talk intimately to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him...The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other person.” [Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, p82]
Luke tells us that they were drawn, many more were drawn to faith in Christ than at any other time to this point. But things are not now the way they were in Acts 5. Now if we want to draw them, we first have to go to them.
God was unquestionably at work among them; some were repelled by that, but others were drawn, and we’ll see now and finally, broken people came in droves.

#4: Broken people came in droves

Let me clarify what I mean by “broken people”. I don’t mean to say that there’s a special class of people called broken people per se so that we could say then say “They are broken, but I am not.” Let’s just be honest before God and with ourselves: we are all broken people. This is true of long-time churchmembers and pastors and deacons, just as much as it anyone else. I’ll go out on a limb and say “I am a broken man”.
Sin vs. brokenness:
Sin = trying to solve our problems and find happiness our way, not God’s way
Brokenness: the mess that results from the above
We are all broken people because all of us have to some degree or another made a mess of our lives and the lives of those around us by trying to solve our problems and make ourselves happy our way rather than God’s way. That’s what sin is - sin happens when we try to solve our problems and find happiness our way rather than God’s way. Brokenness is what happens as a result: in doing thing sour way rather than God’s way, we’ve made messes of our lives and the lives of those we love. And if that it means to be a broken person, we’re all broken people.
But when I say broken people came in droves, by broken people I mean people who wear their brokenness on their sleeves. Some of us can hide the mess we’ve made of our lives; others of us, the mess is such that we can’t hide it, and everyone sees it.
Think about the folks mentioned in verses 15-16:“they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
So we’ve got sick folks - obviously sick folks. If you’re too weak too walk, and people have to bring you in a cot or on a mat, that’s noticeably sick. Same thing with demon possessed, those afflicted with unclean spirits. Again, hard not to notice that. These are people who wear their sickness on their sleeves, so to speak, and because in the gospels there is a close connection between sickness and moral brokenness, the pattern here is of people who are broken and who know they are broken; they are sinners and know they are sinners; and this makes them humble, it makes them the “poor in spirit” that Jesus blessed.
Jesus has a special place in His heart for these folks, and as a result He wants there to be a special place in His church for them too. Is our church the kind of church where people who wear their brokenness on their sleeve can come and be welcome and feel at home?
Shawn and I have been meeting and talking about creating a gospel culture in our church. What does it look like and how do we put ourselves in a position to allow Jesus to do that? How do we set an example in that as pastors? And the verse that keeps coming up is Romans 15:7. Do you know what that says?
Romans 15:7 ESV
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Church family, could I ask you to do something? Would you do this for your pastors? Take this verse, Romans 15:7, write it down on a card and put it somewhere you will see it every day or some place every day. I use my reminder app for Bible verses and other things like that that I want to get my eyes on every day. Whatever works for you - put it some place you will see it.
Here’s why: I want Buffalo to become the kind of church in which people who are obviously broken can belong, the kind of church where people who have made messes of their lives can come and belong, the kind of church where folks like that can discover that Jesus really does love them because real people like you and I also love them. We welcome people like that, because God in Christ has welcomed us.
James 5:14–15 ESV
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Maybe you say, “Oh wow, I cannot possibly imagine confessing my sins to an actual person in my church.” You might not be able to imagine that, but Jesus wants that for us; that is His goal. Jesus’ intention for every church is that we become the kind of church we can be honest, where it is okay for the church mask to come off. There is something that is so powerful when we confess sin and failure, we embrace one another, we remind one another that God forgives all sin through faith in Christ, and we come alongside one another to strengthen one another.
In the early church, God was unquestionably at work in their midst. Some were repelled by it, but others were drawn to Him and were saved, and broken people came in droves.

Conclusion and call for response

Where do you fit in all of this? God is at work in our church. Some have come to faith for the first time. Many of us are growing and God is changing us. Others have seen it and are joining up with us. That’s God at work. Do you have eyes to see it?
In the early church, others were repelled by God’s work. Does that maybe describe some of you? Are you drawn to the fellowship and the Bible study? Or do you resist that, always having something more pressing on your calendar? At least that’s the explanation you give - there’s just so little time, right? In reality, you don’t want to be confronted by the word of God in a small group setting. And you’re afraid what might surface if you actually stopped and sat down with some of your fellow church members and talked.
Others were drawn to God’s work in the early church and they believed in Christ and were saved. Maybe you’ve wondered about your relationship with God - have you really believed in Christ? Are you trusting Him for your salvation and resting in Him? Maybe others of you have been coming to services but you haven’t joined up with us by joining our church? We’ve got a new members class coming up in two weeks. Come to that and learn what we’re about.
The broken came in droves to the early church. I wonder what the future of our church will look like in that regard. Will our snapshots and portraits of our church reflect that the broken find Buffalo a place to belong? With God’s help and by His grace, we will.
Stand with me as we pray.
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