google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Glimpses 27

Glimpses 27

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Church Birth Pains

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 27 of our series "Glimpses", looking at the story of the Bible in 30 days - from the time of creation through to the time of the fullness of redemption! The birth of the church has come! The Holy Spirit has come to live within believers in Jesus Christ as the Messiah as part of the fulfilment of the New Covenant we have looked at. The early church was dynamic and seen to be exercising the authority of Jesus Christ.  But a couple of problems arise, just as Jesus warned about, which could have caused the early church to die young.

1. Prejudice!

Let's read Acts 6v1 "But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food."

So there is good news and bad news!

  • Good news - they were growing!
  • Bad news - but this had caused a problem as some widows were not being cared for!

Hebraic Jews had always lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic.  They would have been well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews: the Gentiles. Grecian or Hellenistic Jews were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem.  These mainly spoke Greek, and were well used to working with Gentiles.

Widows were and are important to God, God loves justice and mercy.  The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed.  We know this because earlier in Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for.  Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out. How was this crisis solved?

The Solution

The solution can be seen in Acts 6v2-4

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, "We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word."

Transformation!

It's not stated explicitly, but a transformation had taken place! Only a short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter) and some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John).  But as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, they react much more righteously and judiciously - just as Jesus Christ would have done. WOW!

All together now!

Then they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting.  They gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do - to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when travelling with Jesus Christ before His ascension.  Note also that the Apostles didn't say their work was more important than serving. Other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that!

The Result

Acts 6v7 - So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

The result was even greater growth now! This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel.  This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! So explosive was this growth, that even former enemies such as Jewish priests were becoming converts and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it.  There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent - it lived as it believed.  The church was seen as transformative and servant-like.  Transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy - serving God and others, just as Jesus Christ did.

But there was one further problem and it was just as Jesus had warned them the night before His own crucifixion and had prayed for them!

2. Persecution Arises!

But a true crisis soon appears which almost caused the growing body of believers, the only church in existence at the time, to implode and die! All the power and passion of the early church, however, had a cost.  The early church endured persecution from the Jewish authorities, keen to exercise authoritarian rule.  The early church was persecuted for Jesus as the Messiah.  What was the result of this persecution?  The world was changing, particularly for the Jewish people.  For centuries they had been expectant of a Messiah or Saviour.  When the Messiah, Jesus Christ, did come - they missed Him.  They had misunderstood what the Messiah was to do.  The Messiah was not to lead a political revolution as they thought, but rather lead a spiritual revolution, bring people back into relationship with God.  Just as we saw in the Old Testament Covenants. The worldview of the Jewish people needed to be changed and when worldviews need wholesale change of focus, problems arise.  The embryonic church, was soon to feel pressure to revert back to old ways of thinking.

It is not long into the book of Acts, and therefore the history of the church, that persecution arises.  We see the first stages of this persecution in Acts 4v1-4. While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.

However somewhat surprisingly we then read in verse 4 that "But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totalled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children."

And we read in chapter 5v29, the response of the Apostles to this persecution and harassment: "We must obey God rather than any human authority.

The early church was not going to just give up their beliefs! One example of this persecution is from Acts 6-7 and the first Christian martyr: Stephen.  Stephen had reminded these Jewish leaders that God did not dwell in buildings made from stone, as in the Temple.  For God had also been with his people in various places, such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt!  Stephen reminded them also of how the Jews had always rejected God's messengers and now finally, they had killed God's Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  He also reminded them that what made somebody a person after God's own heart was not the physical circumcision but a circumcision of the heart.  It was a spiritual revolution that occurred when a people were in relationship with the Living God, not just the outward appearance. His persecutors were livid with rage at this!

Stoning is an awful and excruciating way to die.  While Jesus had prayed to the Father in his dying moments, Stephen prayed to - Jesus!  Stephen, sees Jesus in all his magnificent, glorious and heavenly majesty, and can only cry out to Him in such a way!  Then finally he asks Jesus to forgive those who have killed him. We see in Stephen's final words, the reaction of a man full of faith and filled with the Spirit undergoing pressure.  We see his love and faith put into practise when he exclaimed as his last words before dying, Acts 7v59 "don't hold this sin against them!" Looking on was the leader of his persecutors, Saul.

If the New Testament church had known that Jesus did not rise from the dead physically, would the church have grown like it has over 2000 years?  Would people like Stephen, have knowingly died, or undergone systematic persecution, for a known lie or mistruth?

Our study next time, we will look at how King Jesus makes a brief re-appearance, the church moves on from these "problems" and commences fulfilling the command of Jesus to go to all nations with the good news about Him. Thank you!

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