THE LORD ADDING TO THE CHURCH
Sermon preached 11th July 1999, Forest Fold, Crowborough
We turn this morning to the Word of God in Acts chapter 2, part of the last verse in the chapter. The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2 and part of verse 47. ‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’.
And that is really a very brief summary of the whole chapter, isn’t it’? ‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’. If those words were translated literally, and word by word from the Greek, then it would read, ‘And the Lord added those who were being saved daily to the assembly’. The church is the assembly.
I know some of you will understand the word ‘ecclesiastical’ and some of you may not.
‘Ecclesiastical’ is a word which means that it is something to do with the church and the word ‘ecclesiastical’ comes from this biblical word here in verse 47 of Acts chapter 2; the word ‘ecclesia’ in the Greek. This is a very special word in the New Testament and it means an assembly of people who have been ‘called out’. And that is really the fundamental meaning of the word ‘church’.
The church are a ‘called out people’ who are assembled together. They are called out and they are called together and they are people.
Now I have often stressed to you that the word ‘church’ in the Bible does never refer to a building; it always refers to people. It is always people. It is not a building: it is not an organisation: it is not a denomination; it is a ‘called out’ assembly of people. You remember how the Lord Jesus once said to his disciples, ‘I will build my church,’ and when the Lord said that. He was referring to everybody in the whole of history who would be called out and made part of this assembly. This world-wide church is made up of people who are called out by God. It is made up of people who are called together by God. It is made up of people who meet together as an assembly. But, of course, not every believer in the world can meet in the same place. And so, sometimes, in the Bible the word is used as Jesus used it, to refer to everybody who is a real Christian; who has really been called out by God throughout the whole of the world and throughout the whole of history. But often, and here in this chapter, it refers to a particular group of these people. Part of the whole church, but nonetheless a real church, because they are a group of people who have been called out and who meet together.
Well! We might say, ‘What are they called out of?’ And if you read through this chapter 2 in the Acts of the Apostles, you will see that many of them were called out of a traditional religion. Many of them were Jews. Peter had previously accused them of crucifying the Lord Jesus. They were the Jewish people in Jerusalem. There were others, of course, but Peter was particularly speaking about them. And it is quite clear, that, as Peter preached, something very wonderful happened to some of them. Not all of them. But some of them. You read in verse 41 ‘they that gladly received his word’. Now they were the people who were ‘called out’ by God. They gladly received what Peter was saying. They believed what Peter was saying because God was at work in their lives and so they were called out of their traditional religious background and their traditional attitudes and they were called to the Lord Jesus
In a more general way, I believe this ‘calling’ is like this. That people are living in unbelief of Jesus Christ. They are living their lives in a worldly unbelieving and ungodly way. And somehow or other, often through the preaching of the word, the truth about the Lord
Jesus Christ is made known to them. They hear about it or they read about it. Something happens so that they come to know the things that Peter was saying, and many other things like Peter was saying in this chapter. And some of them are profoundly affected by what they hear. Not all. Some of them are. And that is what I mean by being ‘called out’. There is a separation that takes place between them and others. Some believe. Some do not believe. Some are profoundly affected. Others are not. Some were simply observing what happened in
Jerusalem. And they were quite surprised and amazed. How could these men speak in languages they had never learnt? That was very surprising, wasn’t it? They could be surprised but they were not ‘called out’. There were
others who were not only surprised but they were ‘called out’ and, I don’t doubt, there were others who just went away and said, ‘Oh! It’s just another excitement and it will pass’.
Just that sort of attitude, -indifference – carelessness.
But when God is at work, He is going to ‘call people out’ and He does it in two ways. He does it often through the preaching of the word. Peter was preaching God’s truth, the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. And as Peter was preaching, he was calling on these people to repent and to believe. I will say more about that in a moment. But that is what he was doing. And we call that the ‘Call of the Gospel’. And, in a sense, it is this universal call of the gospel. Whenever and wherever the gospel is faithfully preached, that will be at the heart of the gospel. Repent Believe! These men will preach the necessity of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I have so often said that, I am sure most of you know it, and I hope it is what you really believe in your hearts. But I have to say it again, because there may be some who are listening to these things for the first time. Or some who have suddenly become concerned and interested and they want to know. But this is a the very heart of what Peter was preaching and what has been preached since Peter’s day down to this day, the necessity of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now when they hear this outward call, this universal gospel call, what happens? Well!
There are some who experience an inward call, but there are some who don’t. There are some who know deep in themselves within their own hearts and minds that something has happened. Verse 37 tells us about that, ‘When they heard this’. What had they heard? Well!
They had heard about Jesus. They had heard about His crucifixion. They had heard about
His death. They had heard about His resurrection. They had heard about God who is the sovereign Lord. And they had heard Peter saying, ‘Let all the house of Israel know assuredly (that is, for certain), that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both
Lord and Christ’. Peter is saying, ‘This is the One God has sent; this is the One who is the Lord; this is the One whom we read about in the Old Testament scriptures; this is the
One’. When they heard this they were pricked in their hearts. They were affected in the deepest possible way by what they heard. They were convicted, they were convinced by what they heard, that this was truth. They were convicted by what they heard because they thought it was the truth about them They were pricked in their heart and said unto Peter and to the rest ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’
I have emphasised these things because we need to understand what this last phrase in the chapter really means. ‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’. A casual reading of this chapter might lead someone to say, ‘Well, of course, Peter was a very powerful preacher, and it was the effect of his preaching. And they all gathered
round Peter as followers of Peter’. But that would be a very casual and a very wrong reading of this chapter. Yes! Peter did preach powerfully. That is true. But I am sure there are thousands, probably millions, who have read through this chapter since, who have never been affected by what Peter said. And there were many in Jerusalem who were not affected by what
Peter said in the way that these people were. There was a ‘calling out’, you see. There was an inward call. God was at work in people’s hearts and that is why this last verse says
‘The Lord’ did something. The Lord did something!
In the Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives us a picture of the church, a palace, the
House Beautiful. Who were the people inside? They were people who had been called out by
God and they were assembling together and they constituted the church in that particular place at that particular time. John Bunyan had come to John Gifford in Bedford. And he had heard the gospel explained in the preaching, and he had come, through a very deep and painful experience, to realise his own need of a Saviour and he had come to repentance. He had repented of his past sins in his life. He had seen himself as a helpless and condemned person and he had heard the gospel of salvation, and he had believed on the Lord Jesus
Christ. The Pastor there, John Gifford, wanted to know about these things and then the rest of the church had to know about these things. It wasn’t done secretly. It wasn’t that
John Gifford said, ‘Well! He is a good man. Let him come into the church. We won’t ask any more questions’. No. John Bunyan had to make it clear that this had happened to him. And
I think it is a very wonderful picture which Bunyan draws for us.
Now you might say, ‘Well! Look at the church now!’ And I can understand you saying that because, sadly, and it is a great grief to me, that so often the church is not beautiful, so far as the outward appearance of things is concerned. There are those who say they are
Christians, and those who say they are members of churches and yet you see them misbehaving and disgracing the very name of Christ. You see them divided and embittered one against another and you say, ‘Well! That is not beautiful’, and you are quite right. It isn’t. They are the sort of things that the Bible so stringently and so obviously condemns.
That is not what it should be. But, sadly, as you know, we live in a fallen world and, sadly, Christians are not always what they ought to be. But Bunyan, in describing the people in the House Beautiful, is giving to us a picture of what they should be. I believe at a deeper level too, he is giving us a picture of what they really arc, as the God of heaven sees them. Because all these people who are true believers are in Christ so far as God the
Father in heaven sees them. They are in Christ. They are forgiven sinners; they are cleansed sinners; they are righteous in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how God the Father looks at them. So far as we are concerned on this earth, our burden and our
prayer should surely be, that we should be what we are called to be, that this church should be what it is called to be. The picture that Bunyan draws for us should be the picture that we strive for; that within the church, there will be discretion and prudence and piety and charity; that we may live our lives like that. Yes, it is sad; it is grievously sad, that there should be so much of the other side of this picture in the world in which we live today, and the churches that we are aware of and know anything about these days. Perhaps it is just helpful to remind you of that. Just to say, Look! this is what we are called to be.
This is how we are called to live. These are the experiences we should be seeking for and praying for. That these should be the characteristic features that mark us as believers, in our church and its life.
‘The Lord added to the church’. The Lord was doing a great work. He had separated these people from a sinful way of life; an unbelieving way of life; an ungodly way of life, a mere traditional outward formality in religion, and he had brought them to know and to love and to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord was doing a great work.
Let’s just look at it in the light of what I said earlier to the young people about
Bunyan’s description of the Palace Beautiful. What about Discretion? Well! Peter showed great discretion, didn’t he, in this chapter? He saw in front of him, people who were affected by what he had been saying. And they were people who were saying, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ What did Peter do? Did he just straight away say, ‘Well!
Obviously you are all Christians!’ That wouldn’t be discretion, would it? That would be presumption. I mean, he would be making a great assumption if he said that. ‘Well’, you say,
‘They were deeply affected, weren’t they?’ Yes, they were. They were deeply affected. But people can be deeply affected and not end up being real Christians. So what did he do? He didn’t just straight away say, ‘Well You are all Christians obviously.’ No; he said
‘Repent!’ That is the first thing he said and there you see a man with discretion. He might have looked at these people saying, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do’ and said,
‘They are repenting. It is obvious, isn’t it? They are repenting.’ No he said ‘Repent’.
There was something for them to give their attention to. They were to look at their lives and their sinfulness. They were to repent and especially they were to see the sin of their rejection and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that is Peter being discreet thoughtful; careful. He says ‘Repent’, and that is absolutely fundamental. Peter could not give these people any comfort of reassurance until he knew that they had repented.
That is not all he said. He said, ‘And be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins’. That is the second thing. This is all part of Peter’s discretion, isn’t it? There are certain things to be understood. There are certain things to be done. There is an orderliness about the life of a true Christian church. I think some have
wondered why, before anyone can become a member of this church, there are certain procedures that we go through. They might think it is rather frightening. They may even be tempted to think it is wholly unnecessary. Honestly, all that we are seeking to do is to be discreet; to show discretion; to be careful. You don’t just say, ‘Everything is all right. You just want to be part of the church. So welcome! Come in! We are very pleased to have you’. Well!
I will tell you in a few moments what we do feel. But we have to be discreet. We are called to show this Christian discretion. Peter gives attention to the things that are really important for these people, and he says, ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ’. There was to be this clear understanding that Christian people have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just a nominal thing. Baptism is a very important, a very real thing, isn’t it? It has got very deep meaning and Peter is, in effect,’ saying, ‘Now you must show in this open and public way that you are identified with the Lord Jesus Christ. And you must also know this, that the only way in which your sin can be put away, or remitted, is through faith in Him and your faith is demonstrated by your willing obedience’. And then he says, ‘And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’. And we want to know, don’t we, that people who come into the fellowship of a Christian church are spiritually-minded people; obeying the Lord Jesus Christ; having turned from their sin.
Peter was very discreet.
What about Prudence? I said discretion and prudence are very similar. What about Peter’s prudence, the prudence that has got to be demonstrated by every Christian church? Well! Here is prudence in verse 40: ‘With many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, ‘Save yourselves (or be saved) from this untoward (this crooked) generation’. There were the other people round about, and Peter says they are a crooked, perverse, sinful, worldly people – an untoward generation. It is just like that today! And Peter is implying, ‘Now you see things as they really are. You see what the unbelieving world is really like. And for you, the important thing is to be different. You are being called out of this. You are not going to live in the mess and misery and sin and ruin of this world. You are called out of it. So be saved, (or save yourselves) from this untoward generation. Be sure, yourselves, that you are saved out of this situation. And show by your life, your continuing way of life, that that has happened’. Peter is prudent, isn’t he? He is not just saying, ‘Now everything is all right. You are going to come into the church and be baptised. All is well’. No, he is demanding that they give close attention to the way they were living. You, too, must give close attention to the way you are living, and be sure that your way of life is radically different from this untoward, this corrupt, crooked, sinful generation if you would be a member of a truly Christian church.
So there was Discretion and Prudence. What about Piety? Well! they is it in this chapter?
Verse 44: ‘And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need’. That is real
Christian charity, isn’t it? It is observant. It says, ‘Where is there need? How can I help in some way? How can I supply that particular need? What can I do to help people who have this great need?’ There were doubtless many poor people in Jerusalem a long way from home. ‘How can we help people like that in need?’ Well, thankfully, we have expressed our sense of concern, haven’t we, in many different ways as a church, for those in greater need than ourselves. Well! Thank God for that. But remember that this is a very real part of the life of a true Christian church. I have mentioned it so recently, but I will mention it again. 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 tells us of charity and the last verse says, ‘Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’. ‘The greatest of these is charity’! And if all the other aspects of our Christian profession do not lead to true Christian charity, that enduring Christian grace, then there is something wrong, isn’t there?
Finally, if you have these things, discretion, prudence, piety and charity, in a
Christian church, then surely you will have what follows. ‘They continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their meat, (or their food), with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God’. So you will have gladness. And you will have unity. And you will have praise. That is how important these things are. You see, without discretion and prudence and piety and charity, you can’t have gladness and unity and praise. They are intimately woven together by God. When the Lord is adding to the church, you will see these things. Yes, initially you will see them, as we say, ‘in embryo’. In a small way there is a beginning; and then there is a growing. But you will see these things. And under God’s wonderful blessing in Jerusalem they grew very quickly, didn’t they? They soon became apparent. This gladness, this unity, and this spirit of praise. ‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’.
I think one of the saddest things I have ever heard is people saying, ‘Well! If the church is like that, I don’t want any place in it’. And the sadness in my heart is because I can understand why they have said it. We need to pray, don’t we? And pray earnestly, that we shall never be so guilty that people would say that. ‘If that is the sort of thing that goes on in that church, I don’t want to be part of it’. We need to pray that God will keep us very tender and very prayerful and very concerned that our church life may be properly described as something that is beautiful. That is, as God would assess it, something that is beautiful. I once looked at a ruined building, Houghton House on Houghton Hill, near
Ampthill. As I looked at this ruined building, I could see the outline of exquisite beauty. It was an absolute masterpiece of the builders’ art
years ago. But it was a ruin! Why is it a ruin? Because it has been neglected. Nobody has taken any care of it. I think there are more people taking care of it now than there used to be. But obviously, there have been so many years in the history of that building when it has been just left to rack and ruin. The damp gets in and rots the timbers; the walls begin to lean outwards and they collapse. And all you can see is the sort of vague pattern of the beauty of years ago. We do need to pray, don’t we? We do need to pray. This church is over
150 years old. We do need to pray. We need to pray that it will be beautiful in God’s sight and that we, individually, personally, will, in some humble way, contribute to the beauty of that building.
‘And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’. Amen.