June 8, 2014

The Birth of the New Testament Church - June 8, 2014

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Read: Acts 2:1-38

The birth of child is actually a natural occurrence. Yet because of the complex nature of this event, and the life which is produced, we have come to call childbirth a “miracle.”

So much happens before a baby is birthed into this world. Bone structures solidify, organs are pieced together, neurological pathways are laid out, muscles and tendons slide into their places. And by God’s amazing design all these preparations are completely out of our hands. As it says in Scripture, it is God who “knits us together in the womb” (see Psalm 139:13).

And when everything is ready, at just the right time, a special hormone called oxytocin is released in the mother’s body. This hormone begins the process which ends with a brand new person entering the world.

Perhaps this is why we call childbirth a “miracle.” Because it’s something we can’t make happen. Only God can make a person.
The birth of the New Testament Church occurred in much the same way. It was God who made the preparations, complex and extensive. And when everything was ready, at just the right time, God poured his Holy Spirit into the disciples of Christ, and the Church was born.

Today we celebrate the birth of the New Testament Church by turning once again to the events which happened on Pentecost around the year 30 AD.
Now, we say that Pentecost marks the birth of the NEW TESTAMENT Church, because God’s Church has always existed, even since the very beginning of the world. Down through the centuries there has always been a group of people who worshipped the one true God. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned and God promised to send a Savior, the Church has looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The man who would rescue sinners from their sins, and make it possible for us to re-enter an intimate communion with our holy Creator.

Even though the Church of God knew the promise of salvation, they didn’t know exactly how this would happen. It was on Pentecost that the plan of salvation was proclaimed to the masses in detail.
Now, The festival of Pentecost was originally a festival that God commanded the Israelites to celebrate. Pentecost was to be held 50 days after the Passover. It was also called the “feast of weeks.” It marked the end of the barley harvest, so it was a harvest festival of sorts. A time to thank God for the blessings of the field.

Pentecost was a busy time in first century Jerusalem. Pilgrims from all over the world came to worship and celebrate. Through his Old Testament worship laws, God gathered in a huge crowd to hear the message of the Messiah proclaimed.
But this wasn’t the only preparation God made for this special Pentecost. God had also foretold an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. An outpouring that would get people’s attention, and draw them in to hear the message of sins forgiven through the cross of Christ.

It happened in this way. The Holy Spirit, who is always present in the hearts of believers, showed his presence in the disciples of Christ in a miraculous way. A mighty wind was heard rushing through the house where they were gathered. But visibly, all was still. And then flames appeared, and settled on the gathered Christians. And when they exited the house where they had been gathered and began to speak to the Pentecost crowds, they found that they could address each ethnic group in their own language. The Holy Spirit enabled them to communicate the wonders of God’s salvation to everyone—clearly and easily.

Jesus had told his apostles that the Holy Spirit would come to them, and that he would teach them all things and help them to remember everything that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26). And that’s exactly what happened on Pentecost. Whether a disciple was usually and eloquent speaker, or a dunce, on this day the Holy Spirit empowered them to speak the truth of the Gospel with perfect accuracy—and with boldness.

People fear a lot of things, but one fear that ranks high on many a  list is public speaking. But on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit took that fear away from the followers of Christ. And they spoke with joy and boldness.
And when some mockers tried to dismiss the message of Christ’s followers as the drunken ranting of party-goers, the apostle Peter stood up and gripped the masses with an poignant sermon explaining the Gospel.

So bold was this fisherman from Galilee that he even confronted the inhabitants of Jerusalem concerning their murder of the Messiah! He said,

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:37 NKJV).

This wasn’t exactly politically correct to say! But Peter didn’t care—it was the truth. And it was the truth that these sinners needed to hear. Christ had come from heaven to save them from their sins, and they had murdered him.

Politically correct or not, the message had it’s intended effect. The consciences of many were convicted. And fear gripped their hearts. Israel had been waiting for the promised Savior for thousands of years! And now when he finally came, they had killed him?! And in such an inglorious way. They betrayed him to the Romans and had him crucified—tortured to death.

Convicted of their sins, and the truth of Peter’s preaching, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem could says was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV). What can we do? Is there anything we can do to escape God’s wrath over this unthinkable sin, and all our other sins against God and man?
And then and there was the opening that the Holy Spirit was waiting for. There was nothing THEY could do. Their sin was done, and it could not be undone. But all was not lost, for in Christ Jesus there is FORGIVENESS—even for this sin. Peter proclaimed, no doubt with ecstatic joy in his heart…

“…Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39 NKJV).

Peter knew the forgiveness of Jesus. He had experienced it himself. He had denied even knowing Jesus—three times. And the risen Christ had forgiven him. And not only that, Jesus had called Peter to proclaim that same forgiveness to the rest of the world. Jesus hadn’t suffered and died for a few little sins. He had died for each and every sin. Great and small. In Jesus is FULL remission of ALL sins. There wasn’t a thing that anyone could do to escape God’s wrath, because Jesus had already done it for them!

And what was the result of this message? Three thousand were baptized into the faith on that day. THREE THOUSAND. Three thousand came to trust in Jesus as their great Savior from sin. No doubt many of these same people had cried out for Jesus to be crucified only weeks before. But now they cried out to God in repentance and faith, and were restored to God.

And that is how the New Testament Church was born.

Eventually the pilgrims who came for Pentecost went back to their homes. But they carried the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and the message of sins forgiven through Jesus in their mouths. And they were not silent about it.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit caused a great miracle to happen. The disciples spoke in languages they had never studied. And they spoke the life imparting message of Christ. They were made bold by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, and they gave the gift of forgiveness and peace to many through the Gospel message.
But what about today? Does the Holy Spirit still do the same thing today? In many ways the answer is yes. Christians across this globe are TODAY speaking the Gospel message, in many different languages, to untold numbers of sinners.

The Holy Spirit enabled followers like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and James to write down what Jesus had taught them, and what they had witnessed during his ministry. His teaching. His crucifixion. His resurrection to life. His ascension to heaven. And when we read their words, the Holy Spirit teaches us—for the Holy Spirit lives in the Word of God.

And though the WORLD has changed a lot since that special Pentecost, the Gospel remains the same. The sins that would damn us forever, Christ has taken away. And those baptized in the name of Jesus, and raised to know him day by day—we possess the same peace and joy that the apostles proclaimed. We know the gift of forgiveness and the promise eternal life to come.
In a very real sense you could say, Pentecost is still happening.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Lord chose a harvest festival as the day when his message would go out with power. The harvest which started with the disciples of Christ, moved on to the harvest of three thousand. And the harvest of three thousand moved on to the harvest of billions.

Today there is an estimated 2.3 billion people in this world that claim to follow Christ. And though many of them may be hypocrites, merely claiming faith in Jesus, we know that wherever the Gospel goes, it has effect. Wherever the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s command, people are brought to faith in their Savior. Like God says in Isaiah 55

10        “…as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
            And do not return there,
            But water the earth,
            And make it bring forth and bud,
            That it may give seed to the sower
            And bread to the eater,
11          So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
            It shall not return to Me void,
            But it shall accomplish what I please,
            And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NKJV). 

Even today, here at Redemption Church in Lynnwood WA, we are adding another member to our little fellowship. A child prepare by God in the womb, and birthed at just the right time. A child prepared by God’s Word, Abbey Mantei will today tell us about the faith she holds, a faith which clings to Christ Jesus as her only Savior from sin.
And there are more people around us that God is preparing for his kingdom. In the book of Acts the apostle Paul says…

“From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).

God is even now preparing people around us. Preparing them to come into contact with US, his followers. And he is using his holy Word to make us ready to tell them about what God had done for THEM, through Christ our Savior.
With all the technological wonders of our modern age, we still can’t piece together a child. We can’t prepare those organs and complex systems. We can’t put them together like a car on an assembly line. We can’t bring new life into this world. But God can, and does.

And in the same way, we can’t control and direct the lives of the people around us. We can’t move them from one place to another. We can’t get them ready to hear the Gospel of Christ. We can’t create faith in Jesus in their hearts. These are things that only God can do. But they are things that he does. And he has chosen to do these things through the simple testimony of his people. Through his Word on our lips. That’s why we’re here! That’s why God’s Church exists in this broken and sinful world—to declare the wonderful works of God—salvation through the Messiah.

So continue to pick up your Bible this summer. Continue to pour the knowledge of God into your hearts. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. And when the opportunity arises to speak about what Jesus has done, for you and all sinners—just speak up. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the apostles on Pentecost, will speak through his people today.

PRAYER: Father in heaven, thank you for restoring us through Christ’s sacrifice. Thank you for assuring us of our forgiveness by raising your Son from the dead. Help us to live each day in the light of your forgiveness and love. Lead us to live as your people, confessing our sins, receiving your forgiveness, enjoying your grace, and proclaiming your grace to others. Give us wisdom, give us boldness, and make each day an echo of that first Pentecost. Amen.

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