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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Acts part 1: Laying the foundation

Building a right foundation part 2
Acts 1:1-8

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

With any building project it is important to build a solid foundation upon solid ground. In this we are reminded of the Lord Jesus' parable about the man who built his house upon the sand, as soon as the storm came his house collapsed like a pack of cards. The very moment that he needed the shelter and security of his lovely home it fell apart. The exact opposite is true of course for the house built upon a solid rock. The point that Jesus is making in this parable is that He is the Rock of our salvation and if our life is built upon Him then the foundations will never fail. We know this to be true in our own personal lives but Jesus came primarily for the church to which we all as believers belong. The church here in Callington is not this building which has stood the test of time and has seen many storms throughout the years. It is still standing here somewhat weather worn and carrying the scars of battle of standing up to all that our British weather can throw at it. The true church however is the gathering of God's people who also are somewhat battle scarred and weary
we have so far stood up to the storms of life that the enemy has hurled at us. The reason for this is our Foundation who is the Lord Jesus Christ. We are His building and He is our Foundation therefore if we remain faithful to Him we will stand firm.

The key point in all of this is that we must remain faithful.

There is no better place for us to begin this new phase in the ministry of the Mustard Seed than a study in the book of Acts. As we study it's pages we will discover how the early church was built upon the Foundation of Jesus and was therefore the prototype of the church that we now belong to. Our Foundation is also the Lord Jesus Christ His Apostles teaching. The Apostles were the men that Jesus chose to teach, equip and enable the church to articulate, instruct and preach the truth of gospel. As we study Acts together we will learn many things; one important theme is that wherever believers are gathered together they became an organised local church. The local church is simply an expression or a sample of the church universal which is the complete company of believers who will finally and gloriously be gathered together in the end times to be presented to God the Father as the Bride of Christ. Until that day when we are presented to God the Father as complete and perfect we are to:
act as signposts to heaven

by our gathering together for worship, prayer, teaching, encouragement of each other and fellowship. Our gatherings are simply practice runs for heaven, they are food for our souls and for equipping to be God's people in every aspect of our lives.

Some people like to tell me today that whatever the church does in the name of the Lord is fine and God is pleased with it because God is simply pleased that we are together making the effort.

But is that true?

It cannot be true because God is organised and structured in all that He does. His instructions for the order of worship for the Old Testament church is clear to the finest of detail. The New Testament church is a fulfilment of what the Old pointed to and therefore ought to be structured according to God's pattern and not ours. Read 1 Corinthians if you want to see how the Apostle Paul dealt with that church due to their “doing church” in their own way!

When we meet together it must be for the glory of God alone and not for our own whims and fancies!

Over the next few weeks we will address what the purpose of the church is and what our responsibilities are as the church local in Callington. We will ensure that this is not from our particular tradition but from God's own word. We all have our own ideas as to how “we do church” but that is not good enough. We do not “do church”

we are the church

and we belong to God Almighty, He has laid down in scripture His plan for the church and Acts is where it has been worked out experientially by God's people. The results are recorded and the lessons that they learned are for our benefit. Therefore let us put aside our church wants and discover once again what God wants of His church here in Callington.

The prologue to Acts which we read earlier ends with the command of Jesus to His friends that they would be His witnesses throughout the whole world and that this was to be passed on through church generations until God eventually restores His kingdom.

We will today consider:
  • The writer and his purpose.
  • The reader and it's effect.

The writer and his purpose:

Luke who also wrote the gospel named after him is the undisputed author of this history of the early church. His purpose is the same as for his gospel writings which was that his friend Theophilus know from the gospel account how the ministry of the Lord Jesus and the events that surrounded His life really happened and for what purpose. Luke was not an eye witness but he was a very accomplished and accurate historian. He wanted Theophilus not only to know about Jesus but to fully understand Him and to trust fully in Him. By writing Acts Luke's intention was that Theophilus might fully understand how the church works.
In Acts 1 through to chapter 16:9 Luke recorded the results of his research of the beginning of the church. From Acts 16:10 he changed to the personal pronoun which tells his readers that from then on he had joined Paul's team and is himself a part of the history as recorded. The latter part of his book is largely first hand experience.

Luke by profession was a doctor (Colossians 4:14); he was a fellow worker of Paul (Philemon 24) and a faithful friend to Paul until Paul's death in Rome. Shortly before his death Paul wrote to Timothy that only Luke was still with him (2 Timothy 4:11) Luke was an accurate historian who records clearly and without spin or commentary on the events that happened during that time. Clearly from the prologue to Acts his purpose for writing was to show Theophilus that the events that happened were the continuing work of God by the power of His Holy Spirit.

The wonderful thing for us today is that we can rely on what is written firstly because Luke was absolutely committed to accuracy and secondly his writings were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). Luke was the human messenger or historian of the events therefore it was his responsibility to be clear, concise and accurate. He achieved that goal impeccably!

There is a great lesson for us in this, especially for those who preach and teach: Luke only recorded the events as they happened! We live in a society where the actual event seems to be drowned out by media comment, spin and public opinion. If we consider our news bulletins, they begin with fact (we hear the whole of the news in 1 minute) and they continue with commentary, spin and opinion for the next 29 minutes.

There is no room for that speculation or spin in the presentation of gospel truth.

Somebody a long time ago taught me to discount what the preacher or teacher had to say when he began teaching with “I like to think that the passage says this that, or the other!”

It is not “what we think” that is important but what is really true!

Luke's purpose was to make the truth known accurately. Likewise gospel preaching and teaching is all about making the truth to be known accurately; that is

the whole truth and nothing but the truth!”

The reader and it's effect:

For Luke his intended reader was a man of excellence called Theophilus.

Who was Theophilus?

Both Luke's gospel and also Acts are written to Theophilus. In his gospel Luke refers to him as the “most excellent Theophilus.” Here in Acts it is simply addressed to Theophilus. Some people with more time on their hands than they probably know what to do with have suggested all sorts of things concerning Theophilus due to this change of address by Luke. They fantasize issues such as their ongoing deepening friendship causing Luke to be more familiar with him in Acts. Personally I cannot see what purpose such thinking has. It certainly does not help us in our understanding of the passage. Others have suggested that Theophilus might not even be a real person but that the Gospel and Acts are written to all “lovers of God” which is what his name means. Again it might be good for clever guys to consider such things but how much does it help our purposes? If you are interested in such things you can easily follow the discussions through the commentaries.

There is a bible principle however that names are often important, on occasions a name describes perfectly the character of the person in question.

Theophilus means lover of God, therefore Luke is writing to a “lover of God.”

This sets the scene for the rest of the book! It is fair to say that this was written primarily to one man who loved God but due to it being inspired by God's Holy Spirit it is intended for all who are lovers of God!

Therefore this account is for Christians.

When this is taken into account, that which follows is so much easier to understand. Dr Luke does not attempt to justify the person of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit or the credentials and the authority of the church. He does however make many assumptions that his readership are believers in Jesus as Lord and all that this entails. This is not meant to exclude unbelievers from reading Acts (or any other part of scripture) but help for them to understand the true meaning might be necessary. This was the case with the Ethiopian Eunuch as he read Isaiah on his journey. God sent Philip along to him to interpret the truth of the word this is recorded in Acts 8:26ff. We must be ready and willing to help both believers and unbelievers to understand the bible and so we ought to have Christianity Explored type courses running regularly alongside other outreach programmes.

We must also consider the content of Luke's writing. In his gospel he had already told Theophilus about the life of Jesus Christ up until His ascension and of the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. (1: 1-2) In Acts his purpose is to tell Theophilus about the work of the Holy Spirit of God for the building of the church as was promised by the Lord Jesus. Luke records the way in which God used ordinary men to build His church through their gospel preaching, teaching and witness. In verse 8 he records that the disciples had to learn that it was not for them to know the times and dates of the completion of God’s work in this world but they were to be witnesses of His saving grace until the time when He returns.

This is a history of real events that actually took place.

Acts is written to a man who loved God and who belonged to God's people. It is all about how Christ continues to build His church through the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit and how this fulfils the purposes of God the Father.

The effect that this is intended to have is that the church be equipped to continue until the day of the Lord. Understanding Acts is essential for the purity and continuing of the church. Therefore it is vital for us here in the Mustard Seed as we begin our new phase in the life of the church. We must get things right and glorify God in our worship, witness and daily routine in this vitally important part of Cornwall.

Our community needs the church to be at it's best!

We are going back to basics in order that we be a truly biblical church as is demonstrated through the pages of this book. We are embarking on an exciting journey therefore let us together seek to glorify God in all that we do. Our mandate is to make God known to all that we are in touch with, the church meet together to be equipped for acts of righteousness in our society. The early church are our example as to how we might achieve that goal. They learned from scripture, the Apostles, and from their experience, mistakes and achievements. That also will be our journey.

Are we ready?

The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace for-evermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Samuel John Stone 1839-1900

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