170430 Acts 2:14a, 36-47

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 April 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Acts 2:14a, 36-47
Theme: The Lord Builds His Church

April 2, 2008. You might not be able to remember the significance of that date, but what happened on that day is something our community will never forget. On an early spring afternoon a gas main ruptured by road construction caused an explosion that destroyed a church just a few blocks away. Pictures of the scene after the blast revealed that all that was left of the nearly century old structure was the bell tower.

Reporters rushed to the scene, and the tragedy was the lead story on every channel that evening. The pastor and a number of parishioners were interviewed. Some were visibly shaken. Some expressed thanks that no one was killed. One member even talked about rebuilding. At the very end of the story one of the newsroom reporters said something significant. He made the comment that in the midst of tragedy there was still hope because the church isn't about a building. The church is about people.

The early Christians understood that. They didn't have a place to call their own. They met in the temple courts. They met in each others' homes. But it didn't matter. It didn't matter to them because they understood that the church wasn't about the building. It's about people.

Luke introduces us to some of those people today. When the sun came up on the day of Pentecost the believers numbered about a hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15), but at the end of the day the church had grown by 3,000! As impressive as the numerical growth was, it was matched by the spiritual growth of the members.

How did this happen? Who or what was responsible for this exponential growth? It wasn't a fool proof program. It wasn't a dynamic speaker (although Peter could preach with the best of them). It was God. It was the Lord working through the water and the Word. And as we examine how the Lord blessed the early church we will see that he works through the same means to build his church today...

THE LORD BUILDS HIS CHURCH

I. He gives people the faith to believe
II. He gives people the desire to serve

Our text begins with the last line of Peter's Pentecost sermon. He refuted the charge that the disciples were drunk. He explained that what was happening was the fulfillment of prophecy. He went on to explain that Jesus' resurrection and ascension had been predicted in the Old Testament as well. And speaking to the crowd of people who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost, Peter concluded with this climactic statement: "Let all Israel be assured of this: God made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (36).

If these words were a tool in a tool box, they would be a hammer. Yes, Jesus was the Lord of heaven and earth. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah. But what Peter really wanted his countrymen to know, what they needed to hear, what they needed to admit was that Jesus' blood was on their hands.

They didn't hand down the death sentence (Pontius Pilate did), but they were still guilty. They didn't execute the death sentence (Roman soldiers did), but they were still guilty. They were guilty because they didn't do anything to help Jesus. They were guilty because they didn't do anything to stop his crucifixion. They were guilty because their sins made them guilty.

And if they were guilty so are we. We weren't there physically, but our sins weighed heavily on Jesus' shoulders. Like when we hear others misusing and abusing God's name and we say nothing. Like when we see others ignore God's Word and disregard his will and we do nothing.

When Peter accused the people of killing Jesus he expected a reaction, but he didn't know what kind of reaction to expect. Would they get defensive? Would they get angry? Would they do to him what they had done to Jesus?

The people's response did have to do with pain, not the pain they wished to inflict on Peter, but the pain Peter's words had inflicted upon them: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do'" (37)?

Pentecost is known for its miracles, the wind, the fire, the speaking in tongues, but the people's response to Peter's words was the most miraculous miracle of all. Instead of making excuses they made a confession. They admitted that they were in the wrong, and they wanted to know if there was anything they could do to make things right.

When Peter heard what the people said, he put away his hammer and applied to these wounded souls the healing medicine of the gospel: "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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call" (38, 39).

Taken by themselves the words, "Repent" and "be baptized," sound like demands. It sounds like Peter is telling the people: "You need to do this and this if you want to be forgiven." But in his next breath Peter calls the Holy Spirit a gift. And then he goes on to speak of God's promise: "This promise is for you. The promise of forgiveness is for you and your children."

And every time a family gathers around the baptismal font the Lord gives us a visible reminder of how he continues to keep his promises today. He keeps his promise when the Spirit works faith in a tiny heart through the water and the Word. He keeps his promise when the Spirit makes a little child a child of God. He keeps his promise when we recall our own baptism and remember how much Jesus loves us and how Jesus' blood has washed our sins away.

Baptizing a baby in church may not seem as impressive as the 3,000 people who were baptized on the day of Pentecost, but it is no less miraculous. In fact, it is a miracle every time God gives a person the faith to believe. And we want more people to believe. We want more people, all people, to believe in Jesus and be saved. So does God.

But at the same time God doesn't want us to get caught up in a numbers game because that can be a very dangerous game. Luke reminds us that adding new members isn't the only way the Lord builds his church. Once God has given people the faith to believe, he also gives us the desire to serve.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (42). The early church was a learning church. The people didn't have the attitude: "Jesus loves me; this I know. And this is all I need to know." No, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the men who had been taught by Jesus himself. And as they studied God's Word together, they grew. They grew in faith and they grew in their love for God and each other.

They early church was a loving church. They devoted themselves to the fellowship of believers. What does that mean? It means that the people cared about each other. It means that they took care of each other. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need" (44, 45).

The early church was a worshipping church. They devoted themselves "to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Worship wasn't something they did for about an hour on Sunday morning. They met in the temple courts every day to praise God, to pray to God, to be built up in their faith and to build up each other.

Finally, the early church was an evangelizing church. When the Christians went out in public, when they worshiped in public, other people noticed. They recognized that these followers of Jesus were different, but not in a bad way. They genuinely loved each another. They were eager to help each another.

And those differences made other people curious, curious enough to walk up and talk to Christians, curious enough to ask questions about their God, curious enough to listen and give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to do his work. And through the witnessing of those early Christians "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (47).

It sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? Luke's description makes the early church sound like some kind of utopia, like a little slice of heaven on earth. We might be tempted to think that the first century church was so much better than the twenty-first century church, so much better than our church. If only we could go back in time. If only we could go back to the good old days of the apostles.

The truth is that the good old days weren't always so good. The early church was blessed, but it wasn't perfect because it was made up of imperfect people. And you only have to look a couple chapters ahead in Acts to see many of the same sins we see in the church today.

Instead of comparing ourselves with that church, instead of feeling guilty because we aren't as spiritual as the first generation of Christians, it would be a much better use of our time to focus on the blessings God has given us. Let's focus on what God has done for us and what he is doing through us. Let us never forget that the Lord is still building his church. He is still giving people the faith to believe, and he is still giving people the desire and the ability and the opportunity to serve.

Our church is a learning church. We offer various adult Bible classes, Bible Information Classes, catechism classes, Sunday School classes, men's and women's classes. And as hard as it is to keep track of all the formal Bible studies we offer, it would impossible be to count how many times our people open up their Bibles for personal study of God's Word.

Our church is a loving church. St. Matthew's has a program in place to help members in need, and I am happy that we do. But I am even happier when I hear about a member helping out another member, giving someone a ride, giving someone a call, sending a note with a few words of encouragement. And for all of those little acts of love I am aware of, I am grateful that there are many more good things happening without my knowledge.

Our church is a worshipping church. That is why we are here today. We have devoted ourselves to the apostles' teaching. We confess our sins. We confess our faith. We praise God. We pray to God. And in a few minutes we will celebrate God's forgiveness and our oneness when we celebrate communion.

Our church is an evangelizing church. It is almost too easy to connect a sermon about the Lord building his church with our church's "Forward" building program. But we also need to remember that outreach isn't about building buildings. Our structures won't do evangelism for us. Evangelism is about people. It's about building relationships with people. It's about building bridges between sinners and their Savior. And none of us needs a building permit to do that.

Every Sunday I look out and see people who are here because other people brought them here, because a Christian cared enough and was daring enough to invite them to hear more about Jesus. I want to see more of those faces. I want to be able to reach more people. I want to need a bigger room for my Bible Information Class. But to make that dream a reality, I need you. I need every one of you to pray for opportunities and seize every opportunity to share the hope that you have.

Are we perfect? Far from it. Does God still use us? By his grace. And even if the place where we gather for worship is destroyed by a fire or a tornado or some other natural disaster, it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't matter because the church isn't about the building. It's about people, flawed people like you and me, forgiven people who have been brought to faith in a living Lord and Savior, people who have the gift of the Spirit and the desire to serve God and God's people, people who look to the future with confidence because we know that the Lord builds his church. He always has, and he always will. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

Worship Schedule

Sunday
8:00 A.M. & 10:30 A.M.

9:15 A.M. Bible Study for All Ages

Monday at 7:00 P.M.

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Sunday at 10:00 A.M.
on Charter Cable Station 985

 

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
262-912-6060

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