Sermon from Mar. 10, 2024 – A Compelling Community – Acts 2:42-47

This past Sunday our livestream failed and the service was unfortunately not recorded. Normally what I would do is re-record the message, however I am unable to do that any time soon. In the mean time, I still would like to make the manuscript of message available to those who are interested.

We’re in week two of this series of messages in the book of Acts that we’re calling Us to Us. If you were unable to join us last week and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me catch you up. Acts tracks the story of the church as it morphs and grows from a small, niche community into a diverse movement of people from all walks of life who were connected through their mutual faith in Jesus. Broadly speaking, the church is really great at providing a place of community for people who share our values and beliefs but can easily miss out on opportunities with people who do not fit our church definition of us. With the best of intentions the church can fall into patterns of insider language, resistance to change, and creating artificial barriers to entering our faith community. I love the church and I believe that the ministry given to the church from Jesus is to be a community where people encounter Jesus. To do that well, it is important and necessary to examine, as a community, what it means to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the movement from Us to Us. Last week we looked at Acts 1 and 2 with an emphasis on how the author of Acts laid the foundation for the rest of the book: everything you read from this point on (in the book of Acts) has been initiated, confirmed, and enabled by the Holy Spirit. This week we’re going to be moving on to the end of chapter 2 where we get to see a pretty well known description of the church. In almost all of the books and talks and strategies on church growth out there, the description of the church at the end of Acts 2 and 4 are highly likely to show up. We’ll get to that in a moment so you can have some time to turn in your Bible with me to Acts 2. 

While you’re making your way there let me give you an illustration to start out our time together. Imagine that you have a young guy for a neighbour. You’ve done your best to keep an eye on him since the day he moved in across the street because you watched him back a truck into his deck, twice, and you figured he could use a little supervision. One day in October, just before the snow starts to fall, he comes home and excitedly tells you that he found a car that he wants to restore. The next day you watch as a rusty old wreck gets dropped off in his garage. The bay door shuts and for the next few months you watch as he pours countless hours, night after night, into restoring this car. When the spring finally comes, the bay doors open on his garage and you see for the first time the beautiful restoration job that he’s done. He proudly tells you about the care he took to keep everything original and invites you to come along for the inaugural cruise. As he runs to grab a bit of fresh fuel, you lower yourself into the passenger seat. You’re impressed with the attention to detail and quality of his work and your impression of him begins to shift a little; maybe he’s not quite as helpless as your first impression of him led you to believe. As soon as he’s finished emptying the jerrycan, he hops in and ceremonially puts the key into the ignition and the car roars to life. Everything is great as he revs up the engine, but suddenly big plumes of dirty smoke start coughing out of the exhaust and the engine begins to labour until it dies. He can turn it over but it won’t idle. With a look of panic and defeat, he pops the hood and starts poking around. After a couple of minutes, it occurs to you to check something. You slowly walk into the garage and confirm your suspicion – He just dropped 20 litres of diesel into the gas tank. Here’s the moral of the story; you can have all the parts in the right place, but if you want it to do more than look nice, make sure you’ve got the right stuff in the tank.

With that in mind, take a look at Acts 2:42-47 with me:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

The description of the church in Acts is exciting as we see the community rapidly growing. It’s got all the energy and glamour of a revival movement, and it was that for sure. However, it’s important to remember that underneath all of the excitement and growth was the foundation of the Holy Spirit moving. Here’s where I want to land this morning: A compelling community is marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let’s dig into that a little more together. 

To start, let’s break down some of the stuff that we see going on in this passage. To put this in context we have to remember that at this time, the circle of Jesus followers was pretty small – in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul confirms that Jesus presented himself to 500 people before he ascended and of those some still doubted meaning we can assume the initial number of the church was less than that. When you back up a little bit in Acts 2, we read this:

Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:41

That’s about a 600% increase in one day – if that happened here in our church today, we’d be at around 350 people and we’d be breaking fire code right now. I am looking forward to having that problem. For anyone who loves the church, it is completely natural to read the end of Acts 2 and be swept up with a yearning to see it happen in our time. We want to see lives changed. We want to see people finding hope and purpose and salvation in Jesus. We want to see revival break out, and the temptation often is to look out on the community around our church and wonder: Why don’t they want what we’ve got? Why don’t they get that this is important? Why don’t we see an outbreak like the church in Acts? Those are natural questions for anyone who is convinced of the gospel and who values the ministry of the church. What was happening that caused this revival? I’ll submit an answer for your consideration – There was something compelling going on that caught people’s attention. There was something undeniable happening that broke out and spilled into the streets. You can see it earlier on in chapter 2 – people noticed something different happening with the followers of Jesus as they spoke boldly as the Holy Spirit gave them the ability. They didn’t wait for people to find them, they went out and people noticed something different was going on. If we are going to be serious about following the Spirit in the movement from Us to Us, I believe that we in the church need to have a shift in our thinking from, “Why don’t they get it?” to “Is what our community has to offer compelling?” 

Here’s an example of what I mean by that. If you take a survey of people in Canada, you will find that the vast majority of people will land somewhere on a spectrum between two camps – Are you a Coke or Pepsi house? Now, you probably have your reasons for preferring one over the other, and if you’re someone who just drinks water, you’re part of this conversation too. Regardless of where you land on this vital and important issue, my question to you is the same: What would it take for you to change your preference? The stakes are low in this scenario, but the point still stands; it would likely take a pretty compelling reason for you to switch up what you stock in the fridge.

Church makes sense to Us who are in it. We who have been in church for a long time know that the Bible teaches that Christians should diligently meet together for the sake of support, encouragement, and accountability. Coming together to worship through singing and taking in Bible teaching are things that make sense to anyone who has been doing it for a while. Coming together to do things like study or pray are things that we value. All of those things are given to us in the Bible and so they’re good things to do, but what I’m trying to get at is that they are compelling for those of Us who are already convinced, not necessarily for people who have yet to experience them. In fact, some of the things that we may hold to as the most compelling for us may not even be what make the church compelling or unique in the plethora of options available to people.

Take another look at what was happening in the church in Acts 2. What are the good things that you see happening in verses 42-47?

  • They had quality teaching on how to live, v. 42
  • They had leaders who were doing amazing things, v. 43
  • There was a sense of community and common purpose, v. 44
  • The poor and sick and vulnerable were being cared for, v. 45
  • They shared meals and enjoyed the companionship of others, v. 46
  • They were generally thought of positively, v. 47

Those are all good exciting things, but they are not things that are exclusive to the church. It is absolutely possible to find a place of belonging and community outside of the church. Other faiths and teachers offer spiritual guidance and even miraculous experiences. It is possible to find meaning and purpose outside of what the Bible has to say. It is possible to be a good, moral, charitable person and not be connected to faith in Jesus. The mistake that I believe we can make as people in church is believing that morality, charity, and meaningful community are things that belong exclusively to Christianity. They happen in a healthy church, but they are not the most compelling thing about our community.

I’ve told this story before but it’s a good illustration that’s worth repeating. I think we’re all familiar with Kodak, the camera and film company. It’s interesting to learn that Kodak was actually the first company in the world to develop and patent the technology for taking digital pictures in 1978. I got my first digital camera in 2004, so I think it’s safe to say that they were well and truly ahead of the curve. However, they did not capitalize on this technology and chose to focus their marketing and tech development on film and conventional cameras. After all, the company was founded and devoted to the film business, and they were very good at it. Due in large part to this decision though, Kodak went from being the top camera company in the world to filing for bankruptcy in 2011, all because they lost focus of a simple principle: They forgot that they were not in the film business, they were in the business of preserving memories.

It is possible for us in the church to lose focus of what makes our community truly compelling. Yes we can invest in good resources and build good programs and have good teaching and be a community that is sincerely committed to justice and morality and being welcoming. Those are good things, but like a beautifully restored car, if our community is running on the wrong fuel, we’re not going anywhere. The church cannot and should not be competing to provide things that can be found in other places. The community we see in Acts 2 looks amazing, but the thing that made it compelling, the thing that inspired them to be such an authentic representation of a community of Jesus followers was that they were filled with the Spirit of God. Out of an abundance of God’s presence the people overflowed with compassion, charity, grace, and conviction for the gospel. Being a compelling community doesn’t necessarily mean looking exactly like the church in Acts 2 in terms of activities, I believe it means being like the church in Acts 2 by following the leading of the Spirit and partnering with him in the unique ways he wants to minister to the people around Us.

Here’s an example of what that might look like. In her book, Nurturing Hope, Lynne Baab tells the story of a church who committed themselves to paying attention to the needs of the community around them. They could have started small groups or put on a lunch or even started offering a Saturday evening service. Those are normal things that churches do, but rather than doing what was conventional, they prayed and asked God to show them what need he wanted them to meet. The answer seemed odd: provide a gym for the low-income people of your neighbourhood. One of the issues that leaped out at them in this process of listening to God was that chronic disease rates were high in their area and that there was no place for people to regularly exercise. It started out small, but over time this ministry to the community grew and started to bear fruit. Soon they were meeting and interacting with people who would have never darkened the door of a church and they were given opportunities to tangibly demonstrate the love of God through simple acts of encouragement as they met a need that the Spirit had guided them to see. Anna, the director of the gym, noted, “Our job is to serve people and show how good God is. Only God can convert people. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.” 

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that will make the church a compelling community. It is the presence of God in his people that gives an authentic encounter with the living Jesus. It is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that will guide the church to see our friends and neighbours as he sees them. 

I believe that this is good news for the church because it means that in the movement from Us to Us, we don’t need to frantically try to attract attention. We don’t need to desperately follow trends in order to stay relevant or compromise on anything to make the gospel more palatable. What it does mean is that, as a church, we need to be attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the church leans on the presence of the Holy Spirit, people will have an authentic encounter with the living Jesus. That is what makes the church a compelling community.  

In the coming months there are going to be opportunities for our congregation to intentionally connect with the Holy Spirit together through times of listening prayer. I believe that God is ready to break out in our community. I want to encourage you to continue pursuing intimacy with Jesus in your personal time of devotion, and as you do that, ask that he will speak clearly to all of us when we get together.

Thank you for taking the time to interact with this.

Know that you are loved (Rom. 8:38-39).