The Thriving Church1
On Sunday, I started a new sermon series on Acts. As we consider Acts 1:1-11 there are some key points that help us understand the early church’s history in general and Acts specifically. You can listen to the sermon here. I summarize it below so that we can have a firm grasp of the context and content of Acts.
Acts was written by Luke in the early 60’s AD and was often circulated together with Luke’s gospel as a sequel. Acts records the events in the life of the early church as a response to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. We approach Acts as church history meant to be applied to our lives.
The question we ask in the opening few verses of Acts is how did the church thrive? The early church was thriving and the evidence is the existence and growth of the church today. Why and how did this thriving happen? Was it some special program? An exceptionally charismatic leader? Four principles can be seen in the opening of Acts that show us how we can thrive as a church and as individuals too.
1. The early church thrived because of a clear view of history.
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3
There was no confusion in the disciples' minds of what took place and what Jesus accomplished. They were clear on the history and their clarity pushed them forward in ministry giving them strong conviction. Contrast this with our inability to have a good grasp on history today or how history is selectively edited in favor of a certain worldview or political persuasion. The apostle’s clear view of history gave them the mandate they needed to move forward in ministry.
2. The early church thrived because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5
What the apostle’s really needed was power. That power came through the Holy Spirit who would fill them at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. We should emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit more than our knowledge, our discipline, our dedication, our programs and our personality. The presence of the Spirit was the reason the early church thrived.
3. The early church thrived because of a willingness to leave their own ideas and ambitions behind to embrace Jesus’ mission.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” Acts 1:6-8
It is clear the disciples were not pursuing the same mission Jesus was. They were mistaken in wanting to see the kingdom of Israel restored. That wasn't Jesus' mission. Jesus was calling them to be his witnesses instead. How quickly are we able to sacrifice our agenda for the Savior’s? The early church thrived because they embraced Christ’s agenda rather than their own. We would do well to do the same. We should seek to do what God wants instead of telling him to do what we want which sometimes is descriptive of our prayer life.
4. The early church thrived because of a clear view of the future.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11
The angels (see vs. 10) who are speaking to the apostles remind them that the way Jesus ascends is the way he will descend. The apostles were witnesses to the power and victory of Jesus in the ascension and the future will have a similar expression of power and victory when Jesus returns. That vision of the future and it’s certainty drove the apostles forward in ministry. They were so confident of Jesus’ return--had such a clear view of the future--they could stand up to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:19-20), endure martyrdom (Acts 8:59-60), sing when imprisoned (Acts 16:25), raise the dead (Acts 20:10-11), suffer a shipwreck, survive a snakebite (Acts 28:3), languish in prison and speak the gospel to all who would listen.
The early church was a thriving church because they had a clear view of the past, the power of the Holy Spirit, were willing to follow Jesus’ mission, and had a clear view of the future. May the churches we belong to thrive today!