January 28, 2018
New commitments bring new priorities. If you decide to run a marathon, your new priority will be to train every day. If you join a book club, your new priority will be to read the books. If you become a parent believe me, new priorities will be thrust upon you. Of course, if your commitment is weak to begin with, then the priority will not be very compelling for you.
But what if you become a Christian? And make no mistake about it, a person is not born a Christian. A person chooses to become a Christian. If you become a Christian there ought to be some changes. In fact, Christians embrace brand new priorities.
I. CHRISTIANS PRIORITIZE JESUS CHRIST IN ALL OF LIFE. Acts 2:36-41
Here Peter is preaching to the crowd that had gathered on the day of Pentecost. In v.23 Peter says, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter indicts both Jews and Gentiles for the shameful crucifixion of Jesus. In v.36 Peter tells them that by raising him from the dead, God has made Jesus, whom they crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah). In v.37 we see that his listeners were cut to the heart. Why? They were cut to the heart because they realized they had crucified their Messiah, God’s anointed King, the Savior whose coming had been prophesied for centuries.
They wanted to know what they could do to remedy the situation. Peter explained that there was only one thing they could do. “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In v.39 Peter explains that the gospel promise is for everyone whom the Lord calls to himself. In v.40 Peter exhorts, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” Not everyone, but 3,000 turned to Jesus Christ.
In saying that Jesus Christ is Lord, Peter was claiming that all that is said about God in the Old Testament applies to Jesus. It is a claim of deity for Jesus Christ. In saying that Jesus is Lord, Peter is saying that Jesus, alone, is worthy of our wholehearted, singular trust and allegiance. He is Lord of all. The title, “Messiah,” refers to Jesus as God’s anointed King and Savior. Jesus is not only Israel’s Messiah, he also fulfills the role Israel was to play in the world. Israel was to be a light to the nations. They failed to be that light. Jesus is light of the world.
The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ alone is the hope of deliverance and life for the world. If we desire to be delivered from our sins and have eternal living that comes from God, we must embrace Jesus, his Son who died for us. A person cannot embrace their current way of living in the world and embrace Jesus at the same time. We cannot be lord of our own lives and embrace Jesus as Lord at the same time.
When I was a student at MBI, across the street from where my parents lived in Michigan, was an older couple. Burt had attended Union Theological Seminary in New York and studied under Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr, credited with writing the serenity prayer, retired from Union in 1960. Burt was a profane man and I was a young student and no match for his bluster. I remember Burt loudly saying, “How egotistical of God to demand our worship.” Burt was unwilling to acknowledge the reality of who God is. Because God is God it is the height of arrogance to not worship him. Burt was the one who had an ego problem. He would not bow before God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
And the truth of the matter is that all of us have an ego problem. We all aspire to be our own god, refusing to bow before and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. If you think you are not that sinful of a person, it means that you think you are a good enough person to stand before God on your own merit. No one stands before God on their own merit. At the heart of standing on one’s own merit is pride and arrogance that says, “I don’t need Jesus, who died for me.”
So what Peter was calling his listeners to do was to turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation and life. When we turn to Jesus Christ we acknowledge him alone as Lord. We prioritize Jesus Christ as the most important person in our lives. We are completely dependent upon him for forgiveness and life. We are committed to obey his commands. Our allegiance to Jesus trumps every other allegiance we may have ever professed. Jesus did not come to be our spiritual guru. He came to be our Savior, Lord and King. He must be Lord of our entire life, body and soul. Have you embraced Jesus as your Savior, Lord and King? Have you prioritized Jesus? Does he hold the highest place in your life?
II. CHRISTIANS PRIORITIZE THE CHURCH IN ALL OF LIFE. Acts 2:42-47
This is the beginning of the church. The word, “church,” refers to a called out assembly or congregation of people. It wasn’t just a religious term. It referred to various kinds of public assemblies, but in the New Testament the word refers to those who have heard the gospel call of life in Christ and have responded in faith to Jesus. When a person embraces Jesus as Savior, Lord, and King, that person is brought into the body of Christ, the church by the Holy Spirit. We all share the same life of Christ and the same Holy Spirit. If believers belong to the church, then it only makes sense that believers will prioritize the church in all of life. Our being in the church flows out of our life in Christ.
That’s what we see in v.42-47. These new believers prioritized the church. Notice what that entails. They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching. After Jesus rose from the dead he told his disciples to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The Apostles were teaching about Jesus. They were teaching about Jesus’ life, his words, his ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and about how to enter into eternal living through faith in Jesus, becoming his disciple.
The fellowship refers to all that Christians have in common with one another in Christ. It refers to our doing life together. We often think of fellowship in terms of having a meal together. It is that and more. Scott McKnight writes, “Acts is not describing a golden age when everything was perfect; rather, it was describing how those early Christians, drenched as they were with the Holy Spirit and feeling the glow of their new lives at work, learned to live with one another in fellowship. All they wanted was for the We to be bigger than Me.” They were devoted to the fellowship of the church.
They were devoted to the breaking of bread. Most think this refers to the Lord’s Table as well as to the sharing of a meal together along with the Lord’s Table. I include corporate worship here because the Lord’s Table is a time of worship. And then they were devoted to the prayers. For Jews there were fixed hours of prayer during the day. In Act.1:14 we learn that after Jesus ascended to the Father the believers regularly gathered together and were devoting themselves to prayer. We also see that they were devoted to generous giving. Some were even selling property in order to provide for those who had need. Verses 46-47 give a summary picture. Day by day they were attending worship together, breaking bread in their homes with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.
Now I recognize that after more than 2000 years of church history much has changed. But is prioritizing the church optional for us as believers? Can we be faithful followers of Jesus Christ without full participation in the local church? I don’t think so and here’s why. They were not devoted to the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the Lord’s Table, worship, prayer, and generous giving just for their own benefit. They were devoted to the church because the church is the visible expression of our life with Christ in the world. The church is the light of the world. Our love for one another and what we do together bears witness of our life in Jesus Christ to the world. The church is the body, the visible manifestation and presence of Jesus Christ in the world. So if we prioritize Christ, how can we not prioritize his church?
Many Christians prioritize their work and their family to the exclusion of the church. But if the church is the visible expression of the kingdom of God and of our life with Christ on earth, it would seem to me that we need to do some hard thinking about our relationship with the church. I realize that knowing Christ is a very personal thing but it’s not just personal. Our personal relationship with Jesus is expressed in the context of his people.
I would like to say something about our congregation. I love our congregation. Over the past 32 years that we have been together as pastor and people my desire has always been that we become more mature followers of Jesus Christ together. My desire has always been that our doors are open to everyone who comes, especially those who seek to know and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. My hope and prayer is that all of us would share the same desire. But more than this, in light of these post-Christendom days, I believe we need to take up anew the challenge of what it means to be the visible presence of Jesus in the world as a local congregation. This is what Jesus called us to be. This is some of what the elders and deacons have been discussing over the last number of months and more will be shared at our Annual Meeting after the morning service. Do we prioritize the church in all of life?
One of the more exciting truths that I have recently learned from Scripture is the idea that through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurated the new creation that will eventually become the new heaven and earth when he returns. Paul writes that Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who will be raised from the dead. Jesus gives his new creation life to all who surrender to him in faith. Paul says that we are new creations in Christ Jesus. This means that the church is the visible expression of the new creation in the world today. We have the wonderful opportunity to explore what it means for our congregation to make visible to the world Christ’s new creation life. So as Christians we prioritize Jesus and we prioritize the church. Amen