A SUMMER IN ACTS
We are kicking off a new series today called “How it started/How it’s going,” looking at the story of the early Church. To do this we’re going to look at the book of Acts.
Acts is sometimes called the “Acts of the Apostles” - in other words, stuff the apostles did. It’s actually part II of a two-part series that starts with the book of Luke.
Luke was a physician. But don’t think medical doctor. Think highly educated person who knew his way around ancient medicine but also knew how to do research.
At some point in the early Church, a very wealthy Jewish man named Theophilus hired Luke to do some research for him about the Jesus movement.
It’s possible Theophilus was new in his faith, and he wanted to better understand both the message of Jesus and the reason why Gentiles (non-Jewish people) were becoming such a major part of the church.
So he used his substantial wealth to sponsor Luke in writing these two massive scrolls (the biggest you could get at the time) which today we call the books of Luke and Acts.
It’s a two-part account of the story of the Church, from the birth of Jesus (which Luke ties into the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament) all the way to the bringing of the good news to the gentiles and even into Rome itself - the capital of the ancient world.
It’s the story of how the Church was born.
And this summer, we’re going to spend time digging into it.
So why now? Why look at the book of Acts this summer? Well, two reasons.
First, because we are coming up on the 30th anniversary of Grace Church. It’s hard to believe. I was eight when Grace started. It’s a big milestone, and a perfect time to talk about how this church fits in with the bigger story of the Church.
The second reason we’re looking at Acts this summer is because we are at a bit of a turning point as a faith community.
For one thing, this year we are launching our Fishers campus out as an independent church plant. Very soon we’re going to be two unique communities partnered together to share the love of Jesus with our world.
And here at 146 Street, we are also undergoing something of a rebirth as a church - taking what’s best about who we’ve become over the last 30 years and building a new future together.
For all those reasons, it is a perfect time to look back at 9 key moments in the earliest days of this movement of God to reflect on what it means to be the Church - to be the body of Christ - in the midst of our broken world.
What is the Church?
What are we up against?
And what, exactly, is our message?
It’s going to be good. So let’s dive in!
THE CHURCH AT ITS BEST
Grab a Bible and turn with me to Acts 2:42
Now, we’re going to go just a little bit out of order today. Next week we’re going to look at what happened at Pentecost, when the followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit and the Church was born.
Today we’re looking at what happened right after that, because what Luke captures at the end of Acts 2 is a glimpse of what the Church is like at its best.
And I think this little snapshot can be something of a North Star for us through this summer – and give us inspiration for what we at Grace Church could be at our best.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Let’s dig into this.
It’s helpful to remember the timeline here to understand what this early gathering of Christ-followers was experiencing.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday evening during the Jewish festival of Passover. He rose again that Sunday morning. For the next six weeks the risen Jesus met with his followers, helped them understand what had just happened and he finally disappeared from view after giving them this message:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
About a week later, that’s exactly what happened. During the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, God’s Holy Spirit was given to this small group of Jesus’ followers and they were empowered to tell the world about Christ - to be his witnesses.
They’re speaking other languages, they’re healing people of diseases, they’re speaking with power and authority…
Again, we’ll talk about it more next week, but suffice it to say, this powerful moment of the Spirit empowering these humble followers of Jesus, and this message, that the Messiah had finally come and brought salvation to the world…
It blew people’s minds, and a lot of folks decided to join the movement. You can imagine… this is 50 days after the crucifixion and the world had changed.
So people are flocking to this new movement. And when they joined, what did they do? Well, a few things. Verse 42.
First, Luke says they devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching. Apostle is a word that essentially means
Apostle - One sent out as a messenger or agent
Remember what Jesus told his followers? “You will be my witnesses.” These were the people who walked with Jesus and learned from Jesus, and now they’re his messengers.
And their teaching was pretty straightforward: this is who Jesus is, this is what he taught us, this is how he fulfilled the Scriptures, and here’s how we should live because of it. This is what the people were devoted to learning.
Remember, it was decades before anything close to what we call the books of our New Testament were in circulation. The teaching of these apostles and their followers was the backbone of the Church.
So the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. But it wasn’t all just learning; it was also action.
It says in verse 42 that they also devoted themselves to “fellowship.”
Now, this word, fellowship… in our world I don’t know that it carries the full meaning that it’s meant to. If you grew up in the Church, when you hear “fellowship” it might bring back memories of coffee and donuts in the church basement.
Or if not, maybe you immediately think of ‘the fellowship of the Ring’ or, “Jolly ho, good fellow.”
But the Greek word we translate as “fellowship” is
koinonia - Participating together in a shared identity or purpose
It’s not just about relationships or association; it’s about action. It’s about what we do because of what we share in common.
Think of the Avengers. They’re a koinonia. Captain America and Scarlet Witch and Spider Man are not just buddies. They’re in association together for a reason - to save the world.
The Church is kind of like that. We are together for a bigger purpose. And in fact, the next two things in verse 42 - breaking bread together and praying together - are an outflow of this fellowship, of this koinonia.
Because we share the message of Jesus in common - and his mission to heal the world - we share our tables, we share our spiritual lives, and as we’ll see in just a second, we even share our homes and our stuff. All while we learn at the feet of the apostles.
That’s what it means to be the Church. The apostle’s teaching and koinonia. And here it’s happening for the first time.
So what’s the outcome of this shared purpose and learning? Look at verse 43. “A deep sense of awe came over them all.”
The word “awe” here is the Greek word
phobos - fear/awe
It does mean fear, like when someone is afraid, but it also can mean being astonished.
Think of phobos in the Bible like how people feel when they see dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. When Dr. Alan Grant sees a T Rex, he’s terrified. But when he sees a brachiosaurus for the first time, [image: dinosaurs] his jaw is on the floor.
This is the kind of jaw-dropping astonishment that they felt in these early days in the Church.
Think about it! People were being healed, ordinary folks were being empowered by the Spirit with amazing gifts, men and women were being saved from their self-focused sin and set free with a renewed destiny.
A new day had dawned for these Christ-followers and now they were sharing this koinonia - this common identity and purpose - together.
No wonder everybody opened their homes to one another and shared what they had. “I’m in awe of what God is doing here. If you have a need and I can meet that need, I’m going to do that.”
No wonder they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people. Generosity, hope, life, joy… Who wouldn’t be attracted to this kind of community? “I’m in awe that such different people could share so much in common!”
And no wonder every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The Church began with awe.
It’s really no surprise that within 30 years this message of hope with this tiny group of people had already reached the edges of their known world.
The Church was born, and this movement of restoration could not be stopped. It continues today.
Through persecution and power, through crusades and reformation, through councils and colonialism, through scandals and revivals, this community of Jesus-followers has endured from that day until now.
Yes, there have been many mistakes and many shameful moments along the way (this is a movement made up of broken people, after all), but the gospel - the good news of Jesus - is still here. It is still changing lives. And it still has the power to leave our jaws on the floor.
The Church began with awe. And when the Church is at its best, we can experience that awe again.
So, Grace Church, here we are. 1988 years after this moment in Acts 2. We’re about to celebrate our 30th anniversary as a church. And we are at a turning point.
With the launch of Fishers as an independent church, with the rebirth of 146th street, and with the world around us desperately in need of hope, I believe the days of “awe” are returning.
Why do I think that?
Well, just like the early Church, we have devoted ourselves to the apostle’s teaching. Why do you think we are such Bible nerds at Grace? Why do you think we are always trying to go so deep into Scripture? Why do you think we put such an emphasis on discipleship and learning?
And just like the early church, we have devoted ourselves to koinonia – to fellowship. We share a common identity and purpose. We know why we are here. We are here to heal the broken places of this world in Jesus’ name.
As I have seen Grace Church at its best over the years, I can tell you… it’s astonishing. I’m in awe. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.
GET IN THE GAME
So yeah. This summer we’re going to talk about the big C Church, about Grace Church… (How it started / How it’s going).
But let me take a second right now and talk about you.
Let me ask you this…
How’s it going for you? When you read Acts 2, do the emotions of this thrilling new movement sound familiar to you at all? Are you in awe of what God is doing right now in this community? In this spiritual family?
If not, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I’ve spoken to many Christ-followers recently (both inside and outside of Grace) who feel stuck right now. Who feel a bit adrift in their faith and disconnected from Church. (They don’t feel awe, they feel awwh)
I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or the cultural reality we’re facing or Tik Tok, but it’s really hard right now to get ourselves back in the game.
If that’s how you feel, I want you to hear this: It’s ok for you to feel that way… BUT it’s not ok for you to stay there.
Not because I’m guilt tripping you. Not because you’ve got some obligation to do boring church stuff.
No. It’s because this book, this community, this movement is the key to your best possible life. To a life of abundance and joy and hope. To a life that changes the world around you for the better.
I mean, imagine what your life would be like if you were in “awe” of what God was doing around you again. If you were caught up in something bigger than yourself. If you were swept along by the power of the Holy Spirit just like the early church.
It’s possible. And I want to help you get there.
So, how? How do get back in the game after a year of pandemic malaise?
Well, I’ve got three ideas.
First, make a commitment. Dedicate or rededicate your life to following Jesus. “Each day the Lord added to their fellowship.” Verse 47. That could be you.
[baptisms details - June 26/27 + ability to recommit your life]
[prayer at the cross after service]
Or, make a commitment to be on the Core Team of Grace.
This is our form of membership. You commit to one of our five ministry areas and join others in building this church. If you want to be surrounded by people who are passionate and all-in with what God is doing at Grace, that’s the group.
One way or another, make a commitment to Jesus right now.
Second, if you want to experience awe, devote yourself to the apostles’ teaching.
This summer - don't let your faith be an afterthought. Attend church every week. Watch online if you're on vacation. Not for spiritual brownie points, but so you can listen to the apostle's teaching through these sermons. That's what the New Testament is!
But don’t just listen to us on the preaching team. Don’t expect our sermons and enthusiasm to do your spiritual growth for you.
Read the Bible on your own (maybe read Luke and Acts together), have spiritual conversations with your friends and family, watch videos by the Bible project, if you find yourself out in nature, listen to an audio version of Psalm 104…
You need ideas? Shoot me an email and I’ll give you ideas!
Devote yourself to the apostle's teaching and it will increase your awe.
Finally, devote yourself to koinonia. That’s our shared identity and purpose that drives us to action.
Like I said before, we are in a season of rebirth at Grace Church. In a time of disillusionment and distaste towards Christianity - the credibility gap is wide. With Christ’s power in us, we can offer a fresh vision of what's possible.
Diverse, intergenerational community, a radical pursuit of justice, a church of grace and mercy where all are welcome, the humble pursuit of truth… What makes Grace, Grace.
If we do all that and we can be a church that experiences the “goodwill of all the people” just like Acts 2. We can see lives around us transformed. We, too, can be in awe of what God is doing here.
But that church I'm describing isn't the staff. That isn't the pastors. That church is you. You are Grace Church. I’m just here to help you in being it.
Here’s my challenge to you. If this is your koinonia - your fellowship - then get in the game. Put your passions to work for this community. Let us support you in doing the things that matter. We can be a church where everyone is participating.
I know post-Covid we're all a bit disconnected, out of our rhythm, maybe even a bit too comfortable sitting on the sidelines. But now is the time to shake off the dust and get back in the game doing the things you're passionate about.
I’ll give you some ideas…
Grace Kids Production Care Center LIFT
You can go to gracechurch.us/serve and sign up for those or a bunch of other volunteer opportunities. And if you don’t know where to start, or if you’re online only, you can tell us that and we’ll help you find a place to plug in.
We have a shared purpose in Jesus. It’s when we dive into that with all our hearts that we truly come alive.
Make a commitment for Christ. Devote yourself to the apostle’s teaching and to this fellowship. Be amazed at what God can do.
The Church began with awe. I believe it’s time for awe to begin in you.