The beginning of the church and its growth

 

††††††††††† The Book of Acts records the growth and progress of the church in the first century. Up to this point the apostles had been through a lot already. They had been following Jesus and were witnesses of the many miracles he had performed. Only a few of his disciples were there to see him crucified, but all of them started to doubt the he was the son of God as his lifeless body lay in that new tomb. However their faith was rekindled once Jesus appeared to them after he was raised from the dead. Now Jesus told his disciples.

 

Matthew 28:18 "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

He also told them,

Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

 

This is exactly what the disciples of Christ did as we learn from the Book of Acts. In the first chapter of Acts we learn that Jesus instructs his disciples not to leave Jerusalem because they were to wait until they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which would be accompanied with power.

 

Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

 

From this verse, we learn that when the Holy Spirit comes upon these apostles. They will become witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. We can only wonder what was going through the apostles heads at this time. It wasnít that long ago when Jesus had sent them out on a limited mission to teach about the coming of the kingdom and he specifically told them not to go to the gentiles or into the city of the Samaritans (Mat. 10:5). But now, he is telling them that they will be proclaiming the good news to all of these people. However I donít think they fully understood this statement made by Jesus at this time because isnít until later that they begin to preach the good news to the Gentiles and we will talk more about that in a minute.

 

††††††††††† As we study the book of Acts we can see that the disciples obeyed Jesus instructions and stayed in Jerusalem. They prayed and waited for the promise of the Holy Spirit from the father. While they were waiting, they choose another man to take the place of Judas and his name was Matthias. On the day of Pentecost the apostles were together in one place when the promise of the Holy Sprit was poured out on them.

 

 

Acts 2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

 

We can only imagine how great a sound this was. Now this was not a wind but Luke describes it as a sound of a great rushing wind. This would be a sound that was most likely echoing through out that area as filled the place the apostles were staying at. This sound was so loud that it caused a great number of people to gather together where the apostles were. These people were being eye witnesses to the birth of the church as they heard they heard this great noise and the hearing the apostles speak in their own language. Some were truly amazed that these uneducated Galileans were speaking in these other languages while others tried to accuse the apostles of simply being drunk.

 

Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.15 "For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

 

Then Peter goes on tells these people that were listening how Joelís prophecy was being fulfilled and teaches them about Jesus death, burial and resurrection. In doing this, the apostles had accomplished the first part of Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 by being a witness to him in Jerusalem. Now after the crowd had heard Peterís sermon, some of them realized that they had crucified their Messiah and this caused some of them to have great deal of pain in their heart and they wanted Peter and the rest of the apostles to tell them what they should do (Acts 2:37).

 

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

So, Peter tells them exactly what they must do in order to receive the remission of their sins. They had to repent and be baptized for the remission of sin. As you continue on reading we discover that about 3000 people gladly received those instructions that day and were baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins in Acts 2:41 and because of their obedient faith we learn that God added them to the church in Acts 2:47. It completely amazes me how anyone can read the second chapter of the book of Acts and firmly say that a person doesnít have to be baptized in order to be saved. These 3000 Christians, who took part in the birth of the church, continued in the apostleís doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer according to Acts 2:42.

††††††††††† Another remarkable event, which caused the church to grow is found in Acts 3 and 4. Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they came across a man who was lame from birth. He was left there to beg for alms but notice what Peter tells the man.

 

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them -- walking, leaping, and praising God.

Instantly this man was healed after more than forty years of being lame from his motherís womb according to Acts 4:22. All the Jews knew this man could not walk because they saw him begging daily at the entrance of the temple. When the Jews saw this man was healed they were truly amazed and their hearts were open to hear what Peter had to say. The main purpose for miracles was to prove to the people that the message being spoken by Peter and John was from God and not from man. It was common practice for the apostles and to use miracles to prove this very thing.

 

Mark 16:20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.

 

Peter boldly preached to them about Jesus proving to them from scripture that he was the Messiah. The high priest, Sadducees, and the captain of the temple arrested Paul and John for proclaiming Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. However they to late because we learn that Peterís message had reached a great number of these people and the church was now around 5000 men strong not including the women Acts 4:4.

 

The next day the Sanhedrin council had no choice but to let them go because they could not deny the miracle that was done(Acts 4:16). The church was really coming together and growing rapidly by the end of Acts 4.

 

Acts 4:32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.

 

The Christians were of one heart and one soul. They shared everything they had with each other so that no one was without. These Christians truly loved one another and because of the love the church continued to grow by leaps and bounds. We learn a great lesson from their example how we should have a great love for one another so that we can help Godís church grow today as well.

 

However we learn from Acts 5 that were some that were thinking more of themselves and how they could they could look good to the people. Ananias and Sapphira sold their land but then they tried to lie to God about how much they were giving. They both said they gave it all but in fact they were keeping back some for themselves so that they could look good to the brethren. Well this didnít pay off for them because they both died instantly for their sin and because of the example the church grew in great fear of the Lord.

 

Once again the apostles were working many signs and wonders and men and women were being added to the church Acts 5:14. Once again the high priest arrested the apostles and threw them into jail, but an angel freed them that night and told them to go back into the temple and preach the word of God again. Eventually, they found themselves before the Sanhedrin council again defending that Jesus was the Christ. A well-respected teacher of the law by the name of Gamaliel convinced the council to leave these apostles alone.

 

Acts 5: 38 "And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;39 "but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it -- lest you even be found to fight against God."

 

The council followed this advice and had the apostles beaten and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus again. However, this did not discourage the apostles at all. Instead, noticed what happens:

 

Acts 5:41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

 

††††††††††† At this time the church was growing by leaps and bounds. Because of this great growth we encounter our first problem in the church in Acts 6. The widows were being neglected from the daily distribution of food so the apostles decided to find seven faithful men to look after these widows. Not only did these men take care of this problem with the widows they found ample time to preach the word of God and the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem Acts 6:7.

 

One of these appointed men was Stephen and he had been doing many signs and wonders around the people. Well, this didnít hold well with some Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. So, they argued with Stephen but they could not resist his wisdom, which came from the Holy Spirit Acts 6:10. Stephen defended himself and proved to those Jews from the Old Testament that Jesus was indeed the Christ. They didnít like his message so they stoned him which gives us our us our first recorded martyred Christian in Acts 7. We learn that a man by the name of Saul consented to his death and that a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem in Acts 8:1. and because of this these Christians had scattered out into Judea and Samaria. We can now see Stephenís death has lead to the fulfillment of another part of Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 that they would be witnesses to him in all of Judea and Samaria.

 

One of these Christians named Philip made his way into Samaria. The Jews despised these people because they were considered an un-pure race half Jew half something else. The followers of Christ however had to look beyond this and love them just as much as they loved their fellow Jews. Philip preached the good news to them and both men and women were baptized in Acts 8. Now notice what happens next:

 

Acts 8: 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth.33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth."34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?"35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

 

Philip taught this man about Jesus Christ and keeping with the command of Jesus and with what Peter taught at the birth of the church this man was down into the water and was baptized that is fully immersed under the water for the remission of his sins because he wanted to become a Christian. After this new soul was saved Philip continued on preaching the word in all the cities toward Caesarea. Now we donít know they number of converts at this time but we do know that the message of Christ is spreading into Samaria and Judea just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8.

†††††††††††

Now Saul could think of nothing better to do than to destroy Christianity. He hated this new movement so much that he gained permission to go outside of Jerusalem to hunt these people down according to Acts 9. However Saul had no idea that his life was about to change and that he would end up being one of the biggest promoters of what he was trying to destroy. Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus by the glory of Jesus and it was then that he realized then that he was fighting against God. The lord told him to go into the city and wait for further instructions and he obeyed. Saul was so sorry for what he had been doing so much so that he fasted and prayed for three days when Ananias finally came and gave him the Lordís instructions. Those instructions included what Paulís work was going to be and also what Ananians tells him to do in:

 

Acts 22:16'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

 

Saul didnít wait he didnít try to put it off he submitted himself baptism and began preaching the good news in the synagogues. The Jews were astonished at this, because they knew this man was trying to destroy Christianity not promote it. The Jews wanted to kill Saul but he escaped from the city with the help of the disciples. He made his way into Jerusalem and he spoke the word of God there as well. Now the Hellenists wanted to kill him. So, the disciples took him to Caesarea and sent him to his hometown Tarsus according Acts 9. Now at this time several churches had been established.

 

Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

 

Peter was doing his part as well. He had gone through the country and healed a man at Lydda and brought a woman back to life in Joppa, which caused many more people to become Christians Acts 9:35 ff.

†††††††††††

Another pivotal point in the growth of the church can be found in Acts 10 and 11. When Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses to the end of the earth, they had no idea that this would include Gentiles. God gives Peter a vision to help him understand that both Jews and Gentiles are equal in the sight of God and they should all have the opportunity to become a Christian. Peter ends up at the house of Cornelius and begins teaching him and his family about God. However, he just barely gets started teaching them when God pours out the Holy Spirit on them. He did this to show Peter and the men thatwere with him that God also wants the Gentiles to be Christians as well. We should all be very thankful that God has included all of us in his plan of redemption.

 

Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene started the first Gentile church in Antioch. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there and great number were added to the lord according Acts 11:24. Barnabas went to find Saul at Tarsus and brought him back. They taught about Jesus at Antioch for the next year. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch Acts 11:26. In Acts 12 the first apostle (James) is killed by Herod and Peter is arrested and is to suffer the same fate. However, that night Peter is set free by an angel. When Herod finds out that Peter is not in prison he kills all those soldiers who were watching him. Herod thought he was a God and when he did not give glory to God he was struck dead before the people and the word of God grew and was multiplied. Notice Luke teaches this in:

 

Acts 12:23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

††††††††††† We have seen most of Jesus statement fulfilled in Acts 1:8 with the exception of them being a witnesses to him to the ends of the earth. However, we are going to see that Paulís missionary journeys and the workings of Christians in general will fulfill Jesus statement in Acts 1:8. Paulís three missionary journeys are recorded in Acts 13 to Acts 21 shows us that Paul suffered many trials and tribulations during this time period, but he was very successful in establishing churches wherever he went. He set up or was involved in the growth of churches in the following regions: Cyprus, Lycia, Asia, Pamphylia, Cilicia, Macedonia and Greece. Not only did he set them up and set elders in place, he would go back and revisit them and see how they were doing. Due to his obedience faith to the Lord, he caused a great many to believe. Then these same believers reached out to others and taught them about God. Paul spends the rest of his time as a prisoner in

Acts 21 to 28. We learn from history that there were 10,000 or more Christians at Jerusalem at this time. Paul stands trial before Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa and neither one of these men could find Paul guilty of anything. Paul appeals to Caesar so he gets sent to Rome. Even though Paul was a prisoner, he was allowed to visit with his brethren at the various stops on the way to Rome. At one point on their journey they encounter a storm and find themselves shipwrecked at Melita. Thanks to Godís providential care they were saved and the people on Melita treated them with unusually kindness. Paul had yet another opportunity to teach people about Christ. When Paul finally makes it to Rome he is allowed to have his own rented house, but he was still a prisoner. He did not let this stop him. He invited people into his house and preached to everyone that would come and hear about Jesus Christ. During this time he penned several letters to different churches. One of these letters was to the church at Colosse. Paul informs us at this time that the gospel has been preached to every creature throughout the world around 62 AD.

 

Colossians 1:5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world,

Colossians 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

 

As we have explored the beginning of the church and it growth we can clearly see that Jesusí statement in Acts 1:8 has came to pass. The disciples were witnesses to Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. New generations come and go and it is now up to you and I to carry the preverbal torch of salvation to our friends, neighbors, and to the world.

 

I hope this lesson the morning has shown how important it for us to continue on with what the first century Christian accomplished. Jesus command for his disciples to go and preach the good news to world did not end in the first century. His command is just as valid today as it was back then. As you have seen from the history of the church in the 1st century it take a great dedication and commitment from Christians to continue to grow Godís church and must be done out of love. So as we enter into this new year lets do our best to bring glory and honor to God.