June 14, 2009

The Resurrection Utopia of the First Christian Congregation - Jun 14, 2009

“…prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV) The Holy Spirit’s words which we consider today are from…

Acts 4:31-35 (NASB)

32And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

Grace and Peace be to you, from God our Father, and from our Master and Savior Jesus Christ.

A number of years ago I read a book by Alex Garland called, “The Beach”. It was later made into a movie that, of course, wasn’t as good as the book.

The story takes place on a secret beach in the Gulf of Thailand that is untouched by tourism and is hidden in the heart of a horseshoe shaped island. There a small community of people live what seems like the perfect existence.

They enjoy a tropical climate. A beautiful lagoon to swim in. Fish. Fruit. No disgusting pollution. No nine to five jobs. Just everlasting vacation.

Of course it doesn’t last. Problems arise that lead to conflict between members of the community. Conflict escalates to hatred. And eventually murder finds its way to the island paradise.

It’s appealing to people to think that they might be able to escape from the evils of society by simply relocating. But even if we could escape to a secret tropical Utopia, we could never escape the evil that lives inside our own hearts.

Or can we?

While it didn’t take place on an island, what the first Christian congregation experienced was a real Utopia. They were a unified community full of love and compassion.

Earlier in Acts this congregation is described in more detail. It says,

“42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47 NIV).

This congregation was united. In their frequent gatherings they were joyful. They were concerned for each other, even to the point that people would voluntarily sell their possessions to provide for those in need. They were more than content. They didn’t just say, “I have enough”, they said, “Here, I’m fine, you take this, you need it.” And they trusted each other. Our text says that those who sold houses or lands to benefit their fellow Christians would just lay the money at the apostles feet. In effect they were saying, “Here, we trust that you’ll get this where it needs to go.”

So, where did this amazing unity come from? What is it that drew these people together into such an intimate, compassionate fellowship?

This isn’t just the little band of Christ’s followers that met together after Jesus’ ascension. By now the followers of Christ numbered in the thousands.

So what could draw such a huge group of opinionated, different back-grounded, strangers together like this?

I’d suggest to you today that their unity came from the Resurrection of Christ. Let me say it again, the first Christian congregation was what it was because the resurrection of Christ drew them together and united them like nothing else could. I’d also suggest, that if we as a congregation are to do great things in our community, Christ’s resurrection must be highlighted in our message and in our hearts.

If you turn back and read through the first six chapters of Acts you’ll find the apostles preaching what we call the Gospel, or the Good News of Jesus, a number of times. That Good News says that Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven, and that all who trust in Him have this forgiveness. But if you go back and look, the apostles don’t stop at Christ’s death in the sinner’s place. They include His resurrection from the dead in their message.

In Acts one they chose a twelfth man to fill Judas’ empty spot as an apostle. But they said that it had to be someone who had been among them from John’s baptism of Jesus all the way to the resurrection.

On Pentecost, when Peter stood up and preached the Gospel to the masses of pilgrims gathering in Jerusalem he told them,

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32 NIV).

After Peter had healed a crippled man in the Temple he had another opportunity to preach the Good News to the group of Jews who had actually been in the city when Jesus was crucified. To them he said,

“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:15 NIV).

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (Acts 3:19 NIV).

And in our sermon text the apostles were still testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and with great power.

The apostles never left out the resurrection of Christ because it was proof that Christ’s message was true. He was the Savior that God Himself had sent. All who look to Him for forgiveness are forgiven. And with sins forgiven, they are also set free from sin’s ruling over them in life.

The Resurrection means the same thing for me and you. If Christ is risen, our sins were paid for, and by faith we have received full pardon before God.

When you share the Good News of forgiveness with people, don’t forget to include the resurrection. It is key. Without it, the cross means nothing. With it, it means sure peace with God.

The resurrection of Christ was the fertile soil from which that first amazing Christian congregation sprung up. So, also as individuals we must root ourselves in the resurrection of Christ. With the resurrected Christ as our foundation and fixation, all other things will fall into place, by the hand of God.

Just like Jesus said, “seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

Now some look at the first Christian congregation and see communism. But this was not a forced sharing of goods. They were not required by apostolic law to give their possessions over to be put in the communal pot for even redistribution.

In Acts 5 we hear about Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who were members of that first congregation. They sold a piece of land, kept back some of the money but then when they offered the rest to the apostles they said it was the whole amount they had received.

Peter scolded Ananias saying,

“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4 NIV).

Peter makes it clear. This was Ananias’ money to do with what he pleased.

Rather than forced communism, the sharing of resources in that first congregation was actually a voluntary expression of their faith in Christ. Because of Jesus they had received forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. In their daily lives then they were moved to live like Christ; selflessly, with care and generosity.

It wasn’t about communism, and it wasn’t primarily about people helping people either. This glimpse into the life of the early Christian church is all about Christ’s followers moved to gracious living. They trusted that the one who had Himself provided the Sacrifice for their sins would also provide their daily necessities. Therefore, they gave as their hearts moved them to.

We do not always agree with our fellow Christians. But despite our differences of opinion, we should appreciate the fellowship we have with each other because of Christ. Sitting beside you are people that God loved enough to die for. Treat them with that same love. Forgive them. Support them. Love them. Be patient with them.

And help your fellow Christians to grow in Christ by oiling the gears of human interaction with selflessness. Let me repeat that, we oil the gears of human interaction with selfless acts.

Recently our own congregation has had some money problems. We were falling short of our budgeted goals, and with reserve funds dwindling down we were concerned that we’d have to take some kind of drastic action. Many of us were afraid that our school was in Jeopardy. One of the things we talked about doing if needed was selling off a piece of our property, essentially to pay bills.

While we didn’t think this was a lasting solution, it did remind us that this building and property are assets that God has given us. And if Christ is best served by liquidating those assets, so be it.

This is the same line of thought that individuals in that first Christian congregation were led to by the Holy Spirit. Trusting in Christ’s forgiveness they were sent down the road to further spiritual enlightenment. They came to understand that all their possessions were means to an end. The same is true of our own skills and time. All that God gives us are tools that can be utilized in one way our another to serve our Savior.

This is something that we need to learn and relearn. Everything that we have is a means to an end.

In Paul’s letter to pastor Titus, he writes,

“14Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14 NIV).

I have time, how can I use it to build myself in Christ and encourage other Christians? Not I have extra time, but simply I have been given time. How will I use that means. To what end will it serve.

I can do things, how can I use my gifts to know Jesus more closely?

I have a voice, how can I use that voice to provide what someone else needs?

All that is material in our lives can be made to serve the spiritual. With Christ as our foundation and fixation, let us gravitate away from greed and materialism toward generosity and a focus on Christ’s spiritual reign in our lives. Then we will see material things for what they are – a means to an end.

We began our meditation by talking about Alex Garland’s book, “The Beach” with it’s little group of people seeking to escape from society to a tropical Utopia.

In that story, their community fell apart because their common bond was a desire to enjoy themselves. Far from selfless, their “unifying” characteristic was selfishness. And so the ideal human community eluded them.

But in our resurrected Savior we have a common bond that cannot be so easily broken. Let us return to our living Savior in our daily thoughts and prayers. Let us continually re-center our unity on Christ Jesus and His Word. Unified in Him, selflessness will follow. Compassion will follow. Generosity will follow. Enlightenment by the Holy Spirit will follow. Blessings of untold variety will follow.


The Peace of God , which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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