12.09.21 AM Acts 4:32-5:11 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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12.09.21 AM Acts 4:32-5:11

May 2021 onwards

The Gospel is Full of Great Things

It is all about:

  • The great  salvation that has been prepared for us by the great love and according to the great mercy of God
  • The gospel is the power of God and it is a great and mighty power of a great and mighty God
  • His great promises find their fulfilment here
  • For the gospel is centred upon our great God and Saviour, Jesus-Christ. Jesus is the One who is the great shepherd of the sheep and our great high priest
  • When Jesus’ birth was foretold it was revealed that he would be great
  • The OT prophet Isaiah centuries before referred to the great and all-changing light he would bring to a dark world – when the apostle Paul was converted his life was turned around by a great light that shone from heaven
  • Jesus’ coming into the world was also a cause of great joy – the wise men knew it when they saw his star and the shepherds knew it when the angel choir told them the news of the Saviour’s birth
  • He performed miracles doing signs and wonders that caused great crowds to flock to him again and again
  • Confronted by a great storm that frightened his fishermen followers he spoke out and at once there was a great calm
  • Such was his authority that he struck great fear into these men who knew him best and all the while the great throng of common people heard him gladly
  • His presence deeply affected so many people – the despised tax collector Levi threw a great feast in his honour; the widow of Nain had her dead son restored to life and the onlookers realised a great prophet had come amongst them; a violent uncontrollable demoniac was delivered and the inhabitants of the region were seized by such a great fear that they begged Jesus to leave
  • As he reached the climax of his earthly ministry the enormity of the task that lay ahead of him the spiritual battle intensified and his sweat fell like great drops of blood but he won the victory praying “nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And so he went to his death a willing substitute who was ready to pay the price that was needed to redeem his people from their sins.
  • But even death couldn’t restrain him – there was a great earthquake and the tomb was open – and the women who were the first to learn about his resurrection from the dead were filled with great joy
  • He will come again – not this time in humble obscurity but with great power, great glory, on that great day and there will be a great reward in heaven for his followers

We live in the in-between period. At the beginning of this period the apostles performed great wonders and miracles in Jesus’ name. They knew they would have to face great struggles but could do so calmly and confidently knowing that godliness with contentment is great gain.

His followers preached and proclaimed this gospel becoming known as the men who turned the world upside down and in the Acts of the Apostles we read of great numbers responding and committing themselves to Jesus Christ

As we come to our passage in Acts 4+5 we are going to investigate just a little more the greatness of this gospel message.

Gospel Changes People
The gospel changes people and it is designed to do so. Indeed it is impossible to truly believe this gospel of God and remain unchanged for this gospel is not just a gospel of ideas.

Mere ideas or philosophies of life can be accepted and even attributed a high degree of mental assent without them impacting the way you live your life in the slightest. But the gospel is just not like that and the reason stares us in the face. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

Rom.1:16 the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...”

Our world is in a mess. It has been in a mess from the time of Adam and Eve. They thought they could get along much better without God and his rules and regulations and so they declared their spiritual independence. By the time they realised what they had done it was too late and we’ve been living with the awful consequences of sin (theirs and ours) ever since.

The gospel is God’s answer to the problem of sin. The problem that we humans have is not one that will be dealt with by giving everyone a bit more education what we need is for God to visit us and to change us at the most fundamental level of our being. It is not primarily our minds that are the problem but rather it is our heart and our soul. The gospel deals with us at this level and it is only the gospel that does so.

When God deals with us in the gospel everything changes: new emotions, new feelings, new orientations and fresh desires flood into our lives. The believer finds that his new faith in Christ is not like adding some religious appendage to his otherwise reasonably OK life it is far, far more radical than that.

The Christian gospel comes to us as God’s free gift offered to us to be received by faith in Christ. It is under God’s control and not ultimately our own. We become Christians not by working hard and somehow meriting a reward, no, we become Christians when we simply exercise faith in what God has done for us in Christ and we pray asking him to extend his mercy and grace to us.

In a wide variety of different ways the NT emphasizes the radical nature of true Christian believing. Consider the language that is employed, for example:

  • being born again or born from above
  • new birth
  • new creation

Try as you might you can’t do this to yourself these are things that happen to us by an agency outside of ourselves. And God is the One who works powerfully to bring it all about. So don’t think you have to work it all out by yourself. Don’t imagine that you must fire up your resolve before you can act. All things are possible with God – nothing is too hard for him – and certainly not your stony heart!

The invitation is issued. “Believe” it says. Repent and cast yourself upon God in Jesus Christ and you will find him to be a faithful God and a perfectly competent Saviour.

This is the route taken by all who would follow Jesus Christ and it is a route that changes people. It was the route taken by the believers referred to here in Acts 4 and all of them were changed:

v.32 “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

This was a work that went right to where the problem was located – it was, in the first instance, an internal work that transformed the heart and the soul. And once a change had been effected there it wasn’t too long before outward signs of that inward change began to make themselves manifest. But it is important you realise that it works in that order and not the other way round.

Now what do you of this? Do you know anything of this? The Christian gospel is fundamentally transformative and can’t be regarded as the equivalent of a few cosmetic changes in outward moral behaviour. Let the sects peddle such ideas that all will be well if only we adopt a few of their teachings – what we really need is a new heart and a revived soul and these are gifts that God gives in the gospel.

Of course when changes occur at this fundamental level of a person’s life the rest of life begins to change – a new fruit begins to be produced. In this particular instance the believers were moved out of concern for one another and were prepared to meet the cost of meeting the needs they saw. Now the remarkable thing was that this was entirely voluntary. The fledgling church wasn’t teaching that new believers had to sell their possessions, to offer exorbitant gifts and tithes. The church didn’t become a tax raising institution insisting on certain contributions. No, it was not due to any external pressure at all. These new believers just knew that they had freely received from the Lord and so wanted to freely give too. With free acts of generous kindness they set about eliminating need when they encountered it.

It was a lovely way to live but it wasn’t taken up by the church and made a requirement. Indeed in the very next incident it is very clearly declared that there were no such obligations to be imposed.

Of course when the gospel is taken up by people who take it up so seriously we’re not really surprised to read that the apostles were enabled to preach powerfully about Jesus. A world hungry for hope and reality was able to hear about Jesus and his resurrection for God enabled the apostles to testify:

“with great power”

The apostles focussed on the gospel – they didn’t share their economic or social policies about how to alleviate poverty; they didn’t lay out some programme designed to redistribute wealth more equitably – no, they preached that Jesus had risen from the dead having fully satisfied divine justice. Salvation was available in him and in him alone!

You see the inhabitants of Jerusalem knew something already about Jesus, how he had gone about doing good. They knew too that their leaders hadn’t approved of him but had conspired to have him executed on a Roman gibbet, as a blaspheming enemy of the state. But what did they know more than that? What did they know about his resurrection?

Well they knew that his early followers believed and preached his resurrection and their changed lives seemed to indicate that there really must be something more to it than they had first thought.

When the gospel has real effect in transforming people’s lives it is attractive and intriguing and it adds credence to those preaching. Some folk will always want to know what was responsible. And the Holy Spirit gave great power to the proclamation of the truth so that they too might come to a saving knowledge of the truth

It was a blessed time for the church wasn’t it? How lovely to read that:

v.33 “great grace was upon them all”

Lives had been turned around by this gospel. The lives of others were being touched too as the gospel bore fruit in individual lives. This gospel was being blessed by God who poured out his blessings:

               “great power and great grace”!

Don’t we long to see that happening again in our own day in our own church. May the God who enabled it to happen make it happen again!

Has the gospel had a profound influence upon your life? Has it had a profound influence on mine?

Some of the Christians sold land, some sold houses so that they might relieve the burdens of others. Barnabas was singled out – he lived up to his name – what an encouraging person he was to have around!

It won’t necessarily show in exactly the same way as it did in the example described here but if we aren’t going to sell fields and give our belongings to help the poor and needy what sort of fruit will the gospel produce in our lives, for this great gospel must produce fruit. Maybe it will be time spent talking with lonely people? Phoning those whose who are shut in? Doing some shopping and adding some extras at your own cost? Offering lifts? There are many ways that we can be sharing more together and yes, maybe even helping others out financially when we learn of their needs. But we’ll need to remember that such behaviour is not designed to try to earn some spiritual brownie points but is to represent an overflow of love flowing from our own transformed hearts and souls.

If we were to leave things there we might be tempted to think that all was well in the early NT church. Chapter 5 opens with a sorry and sobering account of how the work of Christ is always opposed.

We’ve been insisting on the fact that the gospel will and must produce fruit in the life of the believer but now we find that believers are capable of making some tragic mistakes too, mistakes that potentially undermine the witness and testimony of the church.

Chapter four closed with descriptions of genuine generosity chapter five opens with the same theme of generosity but now the theme is muddied and polluted by some very mixed motives.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira had seen how the truly generous believers like Barnabas were appreciated and they wanted to be held in similar esteem only they wanted it on the cheap as it were. They were prepared to give – even though they were under no obligation to do so – but they wanted to be applauded as though they were giving far more than they actually were.

And so they schemed together. They’d sell some property and give the church just a part of the proceeds while pretending they were giving the full amount. No-one would know and wouldn’t people be impressed!

But we sinners often choose to forget that our God is an all-seeing God and he would know!

Somehow Peter knew too and Peter challenged Ananias when he came in:

“Why had he allowed Satan to fill his heart so that he was ready to lie to the Holy Spirit?”

The fault didn’t lie in the giving but in the lying about it. There was hypocrisy in what was being done and do you see where that hypocrisy was to be found? In the heart! The very heart that the gospel is to transform.

Ananias was about to experience the severest expression of divine discipline: he fell down dead! All those who knew were affected by it and fear came upon them all.

Sapphira didn’t know what had happened to her husband. When she arrived Peter immediately challenged her and she too was ready to test the Spirit of God with her lying hypocrisy. Her outcome was the same as that of her husband. The effect upon others was the same too – great fear came upon the church and all those outside the church who heard about what had happened too.

I don’t know whether Ananias and his wife were genuine believers who made a huge mistake and reaped the extreme consequences for their behaviour or whether they weren’t real believers at all. In the event it doesn’t matter for the incident stands as a special warning to us. Don’t mess with God – it won’t turn out well for you if you do.

Consequences of rejecting this great gospel
We began this message by looking at the great blessings of the gospel and how that word great was so often employed.

Well now for completeness we need to realise that the Bible tells us the consequences of rejecting this glorious gospel are also great and that in a very negative sense indeed.

The gospel brings light into the dark places, it points us and leads us to Jesus, the Light of the World. To reject him means to go on dwelling in darkness, in great darkness.

The gospel offers us a sure foundation upon which to build our lives but to reject Jesus and his word is to build upon moving unreliable sands that won’t support you when the troubles really come flooding in. When the storms come battering then the house built on the sand will fall and its fall will be a great fall.

And the only opportunity you have to fix your eternal destiny is in this life. When you die you won’t have any second chance for after death comes the judgment. There is separation after death – there is a heaven to be enjoyed as a reward by all those who have believed and received the gospel and the Christ of the gospel. But there is also a hell to be avoided. And the choice is to be made now in this life, now while it is yet the day of salvation. Don’t wait any longer – there is a great chasm fixed and you don’t want to be found on the wrong side of it for eternity.

The gospel is wonderful. It is all about Jesus and what he has done for needy sinners just like you. Will you have this Jesus?

But what will you have if you won’t have this gospel and this Jesus?

Heb.2:3 “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

You won’t and you’ll hear those dreadful words from Jesus’ own lips:

Mt.7:23 “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

But it doesn’t need to be that way for any of you. If the gospel was sufficient to save the apostle Paul who described himself as the chief of sinners, it will be sufficient to save you.

Let me close this morning with some encouraging words from our Lord Jesus:

Jn.6:37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

To God be the glory.

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