I am sure that many of us had a sinking feeling last week when we saw the first news report about a man crashing his car into Westminster Bridge and from then on we were drip-fed the increasingly bad news of death, destruction and injury in Westminster.

 

Yesterday I came across a photo I took in Athens a couple of years ago. It was a time of political and economic upheaval for the nation which was summed up by one word of gigantic graffiti: crisis. This sees to sum up the current mood in our nation, and our world. With unprecedented upheaval and violence in the Middle-East, a dark cloud of international terror hanging over the world, famine in East Africa and division in the United Kingdom a lot of people are asking: where will this all end?  Of course, as Christians, we know the answer! It will end with Jesus’ return when he will judge the world and rule in righteousness, justice and peace. That Kingdom has already been inaugurated in Jesus’ coming and he has appointed us to be his ambassadors as we spread the good news of the Kingdom, urge people to come under his rule and live in anticipation of all that is to come. That is why Bill Hybels famously said, ‘The local church is the hope of the world’.

In the early chapters of Acts Luke describes the prototype local church, who met in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had been poured out on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people gave their life to the risen Christ and so became part of his kingdom. These verses, that describe their early days, show us how – as a local church – we can be ‘the hope of the world’ in this time of huge uncertainty and fear. It isn’t rocket science either, we just need to take two simple steps:

Lay the Foundations

The Christians in Jerusalem were ‘devoted’ to four activities which are foundational to the life of a local church. In language in which this was first written it speaks of a consuming passion.

If the foundations aren’t on a proper footing the whole building will crumble. Sometimes they can deteriorate many years after a building has been erected. In an area like Hucknall this can happen through subsidence from mining and work will need to be done to correct it. The church has been around for two-thousand years and in some cases these foundations have been undermined so it is important that we check our own and sure them up. Let’s give some thought as to what they are.

The Word of God

These early Christians were devoted to ‘the apostles teaching’ which we can find in the pages of the New Testament. To put it another way they were hungry for God’s Word. We live in a confusing and fearful time and we can only find the answers we seek and peace that we crave in the Bible. As Paul said to the Christians in Rome:

‘Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next’

Romans 15:4-5

I was very impressed with Justin Welby’s video message after the London attacks where he spoke the Psalms saying that as the Bible helps us to lament and work through terrible events such as this.

The people of God

Fellowship was another feature of their life together. It describes the relationship with Jesus and inclusion in his Kingdom that we share. This is something that is very practical, for example Paul uses the same word in 2 Corinthians 8:4 to describe the financial help he wanted to the Christians in Greece to give to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who were suffering famine.

We are in fellowship together because we know the Lord, we share it when we worship and build one another up and we live it out when we practically care for each other’s needs.  When we do so we are living out the reality of God’s Kingdom and demonstrating a message of hope to the world.

The worship of God

Luke focuses in on two areas of worship. First, ‘the breaking of bread’. This is what we now call communion and it was probably described in this way because they used to celebrate it in the context of a meal (see 1 Cor 11).  When we take the bread and wine that speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and ‘receive him in our hearts by faith’ we are demonstrating another sign of the Kingdom: a people united in and through Christ. In all honesty I believe we need to do some thinking on how we can do this more meaningfully.

Calling out to God

These people were devoted to prayer, it was crucial to them.

As a result of the first local church living out the reality of God’s Kingdom, ‘Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles’ (43). It is important to note that they were meeting in the Temple Courts (the outer part). People were supposed to have a sense of awe inside the Temple but the promise God had given in Ezekiel of a river flowing out of the temple was being fulfilled – God was among his people and the tangible evidence of this was shown in the ‘signs and wonders’ displayed by the apostles. The Lord has laid on my heart that he wants to do a deeper work among us through his Holy Spirit and it is my prayer that we have this sense of awe about the person and power of God and expectancy that he will do great things.

Live as God’s Family

We live in an increasingly fragmented world but God has put us into a family, which is a powerful demonstration of God’s Kingdom.  The Christians in Jerusalem didn’t just meet once or twice a week, they shared their lives together.

First, they were caring: ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need’ (44).  This doesn’t mean that we need to rush out, sell our houses and cars and live in a commune! The challenge is that we don’t grasp onto our possession and that we give generous care to one another.

Second, they were consistent. ‘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’ (46). The Temple Courts was a big space where a lot of people could meet together (3,000 and counting!). But they also met together in smaller groups in people’s homes ‘breaking bread’ together, which was probably a meal that incorporated the Lord’s Supper. It is vital that we meet each Sunday as God’s people but also in smaller groups where we can worship, pray and look at God’s Word together.

Thirdly they were joyful: ‘They received their food with glad and generous hearts’. Joy is different to happiness. While the latter is dependent on what’s going on in our lives joy is dependent on the Lord. This speaks volumes to a world in turmoil.

Fourthly, they were relational. Luke tells us that they were ‘enjoying the favour of the people’. I know that later persecution came but they did nothing to invite it, they related well to the watching world.

Fifthly they were growing: ‘The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. It wouldn’t always be that way, the Greek mission was much more difficult. Nevertheless growth in God’s Kingdom was normal. As churches in Hucknall we are going to be involved in Hope 18 which is ‘a vision of growing church, showing Jesus’ love and telling the Jesus story at the heart of every community’. Roy Crowne, who is heading it up nationally, has spoken of a dream that our churches will grow by 10% through people coming to Christ. We have come to expect decay, let’s change that mind-set, look to God for growth and go out and tell people ‘the Jesus story’. In the coming months we will be equipping local Christians to do so and on 14th October Roy will be spending a day with us to teach us how to share our faith effectively.

I don’t think I have ever lived in a time so full of fear and uncertainty as this but we know where it’s all heading – Jesus will return and establish his Kingdom. We are already part of it so let’s be the beacon of hope in a world of darkness.

Think it Through

How can we be more devoted to God’s Word, personally and as a church? What areas do we need help wth (house group leaders please feed answers back!)?

Think about Romans 14:4-5. In what ways does God’s Word guide us and give us peace?

Describe ‘fellowship’ in a sentence. How do the following passages help us to think about its spiritual and practical aspects: 1 John 1:3-4, 2 Cor 8:1-13?

How can we make communion more meaningful?

Look at Ezekiel 47:1-3 and talk about ways in which this prophecy was being fulfilled in the Jerusalem Church.

Do we need to sell our possessions and put them in a common fund? If not, what is the challenge of verse 45 to us?

Pray it in

How can we relate to our community so that, as far as possible we can be ‘enjoying the favour of the people’ (47)?

What steps do we need to take to be ready for growth?