What can we learn from the early congregations and the first church members because, after all, we are following in their footsteps - those who were there on that Day of Pentecost mentioned in Acts chapter 2. What was important to them? What should be important to us? What traits and characteristics do we see in the early church?
Here today we find ourselves just one day before the Feast of Pentecost. I'd like to have you put yourself in the shoes of the first one hundred and twenty disciples that are mentioned in the first chapter of the book of Acts. Did they have any idea what was about to happen on their first true Day of Pentecost? Sure, they had been keeping the Feast of Weeks for years. The people of Israel and especially the Jews had been keeping the Feast of Weeks for a long time – thousands of years – and they were going to do it again.
Notice in Acts:2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place., it's written:
Acts:2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. - When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
It's kind of like us here today. We are anticipating the Day of Pentecost. Tomorrow we will be all gathered together in one place with the rest of the Cincinnati brethren ready to hear the Word of God expounded. We're prepared to sing a hymn, have a sermonette, listen to special music, take in a sermon just like any other day of Pentecost, right? But we already know of the spectacular event that took place for those one hundred and twenty disciples. It wasn't like any other Feast of Weeks or Feast of Pentecost that they had experienced. It was nothing short of miraculous and I don't think they comprehended what was to happen - tongues of fire landed on each of their heads and each understood people who spoke different languages.
There is a great master plan being worked out on this planet pictured by the seven annual holy festivals. As this upcoming Feast of Pentecost pictures, we are now in the age of the church and have been for two thousand years. God is not working through isolated prophets or ancient kings. We are not in the age of the patriarchs like Abraham, like Joseph. We're not in the age of God's kings and judges. We are in the age of the church. God is working through a small group of a few thousand spirit-begotten humans organized and unified into His church. God's church is the means by which He is now preparing this world for Christ's return. It is through us, his ambassadors, that He is preparing the future leaders and teachers of His kingdom. Those now called into God's church are part of His spiritual firstfruits – the first group to be offered salvation although not the last. Those now in God's church are being called first for a special purpose. We are being called for the special service of eventually helping to bring the knowledge of salvation to all the world when Christ returns.
Here is my question today: what can we learn from the early congregations and the first church members because, after all, we are following in their footsteps - those who were there on that Day of Pentecost mentioned in Acts chapter 2. What was important to them? What should be important to us? What traits and characteristics do we see in the early church?
In the sermon today I have two major sections. The first section is What Was God's Purpose For The Early New Testament Church? And we will follow up on that with the second section, What Is God's Purpose Then For You And Me Today? I've titled the sermon, 'The Church – Then And Now'. The church then and now.
So to begin, what was God's purpose for the early New Testament church? And I have two points under this section. And the first one is that their purpose was to grow in faith, obedience and understanding . So what was God's purpose for the early New Testament church? Growing in faith, obedience and understanding.
Let's turn to Acts chapter 3, if you would for a moment, and you will see where we're headed. Acts:3:1Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.. A number of very public miracles took place that helped to strengthen the belief, the faith and the understanding of the new church membership. Remember, it was a brand new thing, a brand new church and it was a very special time. As we turn to Acts chapter 3, notice verse 1.
Acts:3:1Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. - Now we read that - Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. It's about the middle of the afternoon or so.
Verse 2 - And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried ... this man could not walk at all ... whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called the gate Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple;
So like any handicapped person or beggar of the time, they would go where they might get some traffic and the gate that was called Beautiful was a main entrance to the Temple area and it got a lot of traffic every day. So, as normal, they brought him to the gate and set him down and he was going to beg for some money, for some help, for some food. And in Acts:4:22For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed. it says this man was now more than forty years old and he'd been handicapped or a para or quadriplegic since his birth. Now he is over forty. And then, verse 3.
Verse 3 - who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.
Verse 4 - And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, "Look at us."
And I don't know if you have ever noticed, often with someone who is looking for help and they are there every day, it almost becomes like a routine experience. You've got your plate out, your basket out, your empty violin case – whatever it is – and you are just hoping for someone to throw something in. You don't catch their eye as hundreds of people, thousands of people walked through the Temple area that day. You know, you kind of have your head down. You know you're not in good shape. So Peter says, “Look at us.” And the man looks up.
He gave them his attention ... it says in verse 5 ... expecting to receive something from them.
Verse 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."
And then a miracle took place. This man who had been crippled from birth, who is now forty or more years old, was miraculously healed.
In verse 16 we read - And His name, through faith in His name ... that is, the name of Jesus Christ ... through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him ... through Jesus Christ ...has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
Everybody knew about this because this man had been there for decades every day looking for help and so this was a very public miracle. There was no doubting what happened and Peter said that it is through faith in the name of Jesus Christ that this happened. So Peter used it as a teaching moment. It is faith in the name of Jesus Christ that enabled this man to be healed. And notice that being healed by God brings perfect soundness. When you are healed by God, it's a perfect healing. It's in verse 16.
The book of Acts, then, goes ahead and records many, many more miracles that showed the power of the Holy Spirit working in the church of God. This is just one chapter. After chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit was give to the church, there were more miraculous healings. Prison shackles came undone with that help. Prison doors were opened. Deadly snakebites were rendered harmless. Violent storms on the ocean were stilled. And the church grew by the thousands. But most of all, the power of the Holy Spirit worked in the minds of God's people and it helped them to obey and to love His law, to develop understanding of the gospel of the kingdom and to grow in faith in Jesus Christ. It truly was a miracle of the mind and these physical miracles – the healings, the casting out of demons, whatever it might be – were to show where God was working. But the most dramatic miracle happened when that Holy Spirit entered the minds of the people of God's church.
Notice Romans:16:19For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.. Let's turn to Romans 16 and verse 19. Here Paul is writing to the church at Rome and he says:
Romans:16:19For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. - For your obedience has become known to all. So not only did the church have faith in Jesus Christ, their obedience became known. They loved God's law. They wanted to keep it. Therefore I am glad on your behalf but ... says Paul ... I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.
So their obedience became known to all and Paul reminded them to be wise in what is good, but simple concerning evil. “When it comes to evil, I want you to be dumb. I want you to be innocent. I want you to be simple. I don't want you to know much about it when it comes to evil. But when it comes to being good, I want you to be wise.”
Notice 1 John:5:20And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.. Here we read a little bit about understanding. In this epistle of John he says,
1 John:5:20And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. - And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
So this kind of understanding, this kind of faith and obedience brings eternal life. You will not die forever. And so as these early writers penned to the various congregations throughout the known world, God's church was growing in faith, obedience and understanding. And we might note that obedience was very important to God when Christ began His church. You recall the story of Ananias and Sapphira who lied not just to men, but to God. Obedience is a matter of the heart. We obey because we want to, not because we have to, but because we want to. We know that it's for our good, that God loves us, and what He asks us to do will bring benefits for us and eventually eternal life.
Notice Acts chapter 5. Let's go back to Acts for a moment and read Acts 5, the first 10 verses because the early church was taught a lesson here. It's recorded for us to read, but not only that, it was a very public situation – what happened here. In chapter 4 we see that people were helping out those who were poor, those who were less well to do and some people sold some of their things – you know, at the flea market or whatever – and gave some help, some donations, some offerings to those who needed help. In chapter 5 and verse 1 we see:
Acts:5:1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, - But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. So they were going to help out, too. And I guess they thought this would look pretty good.
Verse 2 - And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. You see what they did was, they said, “Well, we sold our things and we are going to give a big offering and help out these people who are less well to do.”
Verse 3 - But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? So Ananias lied. He said, “I sold my land. I'm giving it all.” He actually kept back part of it and lied.
Verse 4 – Peter said, While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
This, of course, reinforces that what we may do to our fellow man is eventually seen before God and we are breaking His commandments.
Verse 5 - Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. And so great fear came upon all those who heard these things. This was serious and people became afraid. “Do you mean to say that if I lie to God I could die?”
Verse 6 - And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
Verse 7 - Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
Of course, they hatched this plan together, okay? Husband and wife would say, “We're going to sell it for a thousand, let's just give them seven hundred and fifty and say we gave it all. We'll keep back two hundred and fifty, okay?” She says, “Okay. Got it. If they ask me, I'll say the same thing.” So it was about three hours later when his wife came in.
Verse 8 - And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much." “Yes, yes we did. That's right. Yeah. Seven-fifty”, or whatever the price was.
Verse 9 - Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband ... which she didn't know about, by the way ... are at the door, and they will carry you out."
Verse 10 - Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
So what was important in the early church? Well, among many things that we could cover, I'll just pick three,
growing in faith – seeing these miracles and growing in faith
growing in understanding – God's way of life and the gospel of the kingdom
It's not a game. Dramatic events like this one brought that point across to the rest of the church. You don't mess around when it comes to telling the truth or any other of God's laws.
Now what was another major purpose of the early New Testament church? Besides their own faith and obedience and understanding there was another major purpose. I've check this off as preaching the gospel . The book of Acts is full of stories of these people's lives and the impact they had on the society of the day. The change in these people who received the Holy Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost was so evident that society around them, the Jewish community around them, said they were turning the world upside down. That's in Acts:17:6And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;. Of course, we understand the fact that they weren't turning the world upside down, they were turning the world right-side up because under Satan's influence and under Satan's rule, this world is already upside down. God is going to have to put it back upright again when Christ returns. This is how dramatic the power of the Holy Spirit was. They were accused of turning the world upside down. They were messing with everybody else's customs and rituals and routines in saying they weren't right – no, you'd better go this way now.
Notice Acts:5:17Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,. I want to read a few verses here, about 15 verses or so on this thought of preaching the gospel.
Acts:5:17Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, - Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation ... because you see, who are these people messing with our system here? They are turning the world upside down, they are saying things that we don't want them to say.
So verse 18 – they laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. The reason the Sadducees locked them up was because the apostles were preaching about their savior, Jesus Christ, about His death and resurrection, about the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Verse 19 – and here's another one of those miracles, But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,
Verse 20 - "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life." So the angel let them out of prison and said, “Go back to the temple and preach this gospel message that Jesus Christ brought. Preach about all these words of life that you've learned from Him.”
Verse 21 - And when they heard that, the apostles entered the temple early in the morning and taught ... notice, following orders, right? ... But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. So they figured they were still locked up in prison and said, “Send for them and let's bring these guys to account before the whole council.” Of course, this whole council that they were going to be brought in front of was the very council that condemned Jesus to death. They were a seemly bunch of individuals.
So verse 22 - when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported,
Verse 23 - saying, "Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!"
Verse 24 - Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. You have to think carefully now about what they would do to the apostles because things could get out of hand very quickly and the Sadducees were responsible for keeping law and order in the temple area.
Verse 25 - one came and told them, saying, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!"
Verse 26 - Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
Verse 27 - And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,
Verse 28 - saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name ... the name of Jesus Christ? ... And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine ... because it's not their doctrine, it's God's doctrine ... and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" The council is remembering that they were the ones who condemned Jesus Christ to death and had His blood shed.
Verse 29 - But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. And they were following orders from God Himself. Here is their faith in God and, of course, their obedience we talked about in the first point – faith and obedience.
Verse 30 - The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.
Verse 31 - Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior ... so here they are now preaching the gospel to the council ... to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Verse 32 - And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Verse 33 - When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.
They plotted to kill Jesus Christ, now they were plotting to kill the apostles. As we know as we go through the book of Acts, they were successful in murdering, martyring a number of the early church leaders. But God's Spirit, His Holy Spirit, verse 32 , is given to those who obey Him. And it's serious business. You don't go against God. But as we read this and we see that they were teaching the people, they were preaching the gospel, it makes us stop and think about today. Do you have any idea the number of people on this earth that have no concept of the kingdom of God that will actually come to this earth with Jesus Christ and the redemptive nature of the kingdom of God – the forgiveness of sins? There are people who have never heard a speech like Peter gave here. Billions and billions of people have not heard a speech like that. Do we appreciate the mystery that is being revealed to us as God's people in His church?
Look at Acts 20 and look at the perseverance demonstrated by the early church as they gave all for the task at hand. They gave all to make sure that the gospel message of the kingdom of God was preached. And here in Acts:20:18And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, is the apostle Paul. In Acts:20:18And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, we read:
Acts:20:18And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, - And when they had come to him ... when they had come to Paul ... he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,
Verse 19 - serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;
Verse 20 - how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house ... So Paul actually went and taught in various church members' homes.
Verse 21 - testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. You see, faith was very important in the early New Testament church.
Verse 22 - And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, And so Paul, of course, was being arrested, was in trouble with the authorities. He says, I don't know what is going to happen to me when I get to Jerusalem, but -
Verse 23 - except that the Holy Spirit tells me in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. Paul had some tough situations to look forward to and the Holy Spirit was telling him that tribulation and chains awaited him.
Verse 24 - But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Verse 25 - "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. So Paul knew he was in dire straits, his future didn't look good and yet he says, “My life is nothing and I will go on preaching the kingdom of God no matter what.”
How much would you and I be willing to give for the church of God and to see the truth of His kingdom preached like this? Do we have the zeal of the early membership in this regard? The early church learned faith, obedience and understanding and they preached the gospel at every opportunity.
This leads us, then, to the second half of the sermon and that is W hat Is God's Purpose For You And Me Today? What is God's purpose for you and me today? What are you expecting tomorrow? Tongues of fire? Thousands more converted? Or something else just as awesome. As Christians we sometimes forget that a great miracle has already taken place in our lives. It is one of the greatest miracles of all time – the giving of God's Holy Spirit. The work of God's church started on that Day of Pentecost recorded in the first three chapters of the book of Acts. But we, too, have received the same power. The Feast of Pentecost shows that God works in us through His Spirit. For humans to be changed and led by God's Spirit is one of the greatest miracles of all. Forget chains coming off or being immune to snakebites. Receiving God's Holy Spirit truly is a great miracle and it enables us to fully understand God's spiritual plan. So, for us too, there was once a day before Pentecost. For us, too, there was once a day just like for the early disciples – a day before the Holy Spirit because we, too, then had to be baptized and have hands laid upon us and receive that Holy Spirit.
Notice 1 Corinthians chapter 6 and verse 11. Turn over there for a moment. 1 Corinthians:6:11And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. because we are reminded that just like the early church we, too, once did not have the Holy Spirit until it was given to us.
1 Corinthians:6:11And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. - And such were some of you. But you were washed, and you were sanctified, and you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
See we, too, were once like the rest of the world, but now have God's Holy Spirit. And so, just like the early church, what should be important to us? What is important to you here today on this day before the Feast of Pentecost?
Well, firstly, what should be important to us is growing in faith, obedience and understanding . It's the same. It hasn't changed – growing in faith, obedience and understanding. God will fulfill His purpose for you today just as He did for the early church of men and women of God before that and this includes faith, obedience and understanding. And it's through Jesus Christ that God will finish what He has started in us and we will become like Him.
Turn to Psalm chapter 57. I'm going to read the first 6 verses of Psalm 57. David composed Psalm 57 when he was surrounded by his enemies. He says they were like fierce lions. This is before David became king – at least he is thinking back to the time before he became king. At the top of my chapter it says: To the Chief Musician. Set to "Do Not Destroy" ... I think that must be the music ... a Michtam of David When He Fled from Saul into the Cave. So David wrote this when he went into the cave to hide from King Saul – King Saul was trying to destroy David because he had heard that David was going to be the next king. Right?
Psalm:57:1(To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.) Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. – Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by. He is saying until King Saul is gone.
Verse 2 - I will cry out to God Most High, To God who performs all things for me. This is the verse I wanted to concentrate on – to God who performs all things for me . Do we have that kind of faith, that kind of understanding?
Verse 3 - God shall send from heaven and save me; He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
Verse 4 - My soul is among lions; I lie among the sons of men Who are set on fire, Whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.
Verse 5 - Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let Your glory be above all the earth. He is praising God now.
Verse 6 - They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down; They have dug a pit before me; but into the midst of it they themselves have fallen.
And there's a proverb about digging a pit for someone else and falling into it yourself, right, setting a trap and you end up in it. That is what David was talking about there in verse 6. But he says in verse 2 he's praying to the Most High God who performs all things for me. When David says that 'God will fulfill His purpose for me' - one translation says that – or God will perform all things for me – this is not some hopeful wish that he has while he is hiding in a dark cave, but rather it's a confident conviction. David knows that God will work things out for him because he says God is Most High. He has the power and authority to do whatever He wishes and God will bring to fruition His plan for David. And guess what? We are just as important to God as David and God will bring about His plan for us, too. If we put our trust in Him, if we honor Him in all that we do, then God will fulfill His purpose for each one of us if we have faith, come to understand and obey just like the early church.
Notice Philippians 1 and verse 6. This is almost like an echo of Psalm 57, verse 2. It's in the first chapter of the letter of Paul to the Philippians – Philippians 1:6 Paul said to the Philippians,
Philippians 1:6 - being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
So just like King David, Paul knew that God would fulfill His purpose in each one of us – complete what He started in us. Sometimes it can seem like our lives are going nowhere filled with empty routines. Maybe our plans and our hopes have been scuttled by the current economic crisis in the country or in the world. Maybe it's a physical illness that suddenly got us down or a broken relationship. We can easily become discouraged. We can be fearful that our efforts all add up to nothing. In these times we are encouraged by the truth of Psalm 57 and verse 2 and the various manifestations of it throughout the Bible. God will, indeed, fulfill His purpose for you, for me. And through all of our trials we must grow in faith – and that's what trials do, they strengthen our faith – our obedience and our understanding just like our church forefathers did. We will be the better for it and we will receive eternal life. God does not allow these things to happen to us by accident. The trials that we face in our life build our faith in Jesus Christ, strengthen our character, and make us better for it. God is working with each of us just like He did with King David and He is working out a plan. He's developing us. He's molding us. He is shaping us as the master potter and He's putting us where He wants us not just in the church today as part of His body, but for His kingdom and eternal life. He has a plan for each of us and He's going to perform that plan, He's going to work it out, and everything we face in life is molding and shaping us toward that no matter what happens to us – the joys and the sorrows.
So Philippians 4:6 – go forward a couple of pages to chapter 4, verse 6. We'll read verses 6 and 7. Paul says God is going to complete what He has started in you and
Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; So as you go through trials and suffering, tell God about it.
Verse 7 - and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding ... here's that word, understanding, again ... will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
So Paul is saying put your faith and trust in our Father in heaven. He will perform all things that are needed to insure your salvation. In tough times, verse 7, He will give you the kind of peace that is hard to even comprehend or understand. People say how can you be like that? You've just been diagnosed with cancer and you have a positive outlook. It's because this kind of peace that comes from God surpasses all understanding. The feeling you get, the faith you have, the understanding you know is hard to even comprehend when the Holy Spirit is working in you and with you. So, just like the early church, you must grow in this kind of faith with understanding, knowing that obeying Him will lead to our eternal life. And the peace we can have is hard to even understand. People don't get it that don't have it.
So what else should be important to us? Preaching the gospel just like the early church . Our task is to let the world – all nations – know of the possibility of the kingdom of God coming – not when it's going to come but that it will come – and to instruct and give people some hope. There is precious little hope in the world today for mankind. It's a gospel of peace, it's a gospel of the kingdom, it's a warning message, it's a message of salvation, it's a message of hope to a world that has little hope. We have to give people something to look forward to. Even if they don't fully understand it right now, we give them something to look forward. We tell them a better time is coming. We must not back away from the urgency and the drive to do the work of God. And this is why we are part of the firstfruits now and this role must be taken seriously.
Let's turn to Romans chapter 1 and read verse 16. Here Paul is once again writing to the Romans, the Roman church, the church in Rome and He says in verse 16 of Romans chapter 1:
Romans:1:16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
So this is for everyone – this gospel. Paul says, I'm not ashamed of it and I'll tell people about it and he did. Notice Romans Chapter 10, verse 14. Just like the early church we, too, must have this zeal of preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Romans:10:14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? - How then shall they call on Him ... that's God ... in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Somebody's got to do it.
Verse 15 - How shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF PEACE, WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!"
Verse 16 - But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?"
Verse 17 - So then faith ... there's that word, faith, again ...faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
And so unless somebody preaches it how will they hear it? And that's the job of the early New Testament church and it's the job of us today – preaching that good news.
Let me just take a few minutes and give you an update on some of our work here at the Home Office when it comes to preaching the gospel. As you know, I help manage the Media department itself and so it's our daily work here. I might mention that a couple of weeks ago one of our newer programs titled 'Who is the Antichrist?' hosted by Steve Myers aired on WGN America – that was on May 29th – and 'Who is the Antichrist?' is ranked ninth so far out of about forty-eight programs that we've aired - 9 out of 48 – and received over 1,150 responses. But we're also pleased to report that as of this program on May 29, our response on WGN America has surpassed 40,000 responses and that's in less than twelve months. And with God's blessing we expect that on WGN America to top 50,000 responses by August.
Last week, June 5th, the Beyond Today program entitled 'God's Roadmap', also by Steve Myers, aired and the preliminary response indicates that this episode, which covered God's Holy Day plan of all things, is probably going to place in the top five in terms of response. We're finding that people really are interested in the Holy Days and they are intrigued by it and we get a lot of messages about it. They are starting to realize that there is an alternative to Christmas and Easter and Halloween and the world's holidays. So last week's program, 'God's Roadmap', don't know if you saw it, but Clint Porter did a great job with the graphics. We actually had like a Rand McNally Atlas and going from Holy Day to Holy Day – God's Roadmap.
And then tomorrow, as I mentioned during the announcements today, we're going to be airing the first of those programs we recorded live in San Antonio by Gary Petty. We're anxious to see how that format does. But we'd certainly appreciate your continuing prayers for God's favor on our efforts to preach the gospel, publishing the gospel as well. It 's not just on television. It's on our websites, it's in the printed word, it's in the Good News Magazine, it's in World News & Prophecy, it's in our various booklets – Vertical Thought Magazine for the younger folk – and our new website is doing very well and I encourage you if you haven't already signed up for an account to do so. It's really simple. You just create a username and put in your own password, put a little profile picture and you can start to interact with others in the church who are also on our website at ucg.org. You can select subjects about the gospel you are interested in most and check those – even some of your hobbies – and the the next time that you go to the page and log in, you will be given material that is in line with your likes and dislikes. So the page is framed for you and other people see different things than you do based on your preferences. So go ahead and create an account. And, of course, the kingdom of God Bible seminars are coming up pretty soon as well. Our hard working media team is very thankful for your prayers and support and thoughts as well.
In late March, which was a couple of months ago now, we did a mailing to 350,000 of our Good News subscribers. It was a letter from Mr. Luker and a card and an ad for Beyond Today airing on WGN America. Many of you would have received that in your mailboxes back in March. We also offered the booklet, 'How to Understand the Bible' in that special mailing. At the moment we have received 25,500 responses, 25,500 people requesting the booklet. And some who had not renewed their subscription are renewing it. But that's a 7.3% response to the mailing which is very, very encouraging. For regular advertising you would expect about a .5% to 1%. Of course, we wrote to people who are already on our list, so we have an advantage, but we got a 7.3% response and this was the largest subscriber development mailing in the church's history in the history of the United Church of God – 350,000 of these. I don't know if you've seen how much that really is, but we got back some few thousand responses that were undeliverable and so we had to remove those addresses from our list or update them. But that list was just piles and piles and piles just for the returns. 350,000 would be like way to this room. It's a lot of cards and letters. So 25,500 responses. But what is also interesting is we offered the booklet 'How to Understand the Bible' and now we're receiving additional requests for that booklet from other churches, not churches of God groups, but from just regular Baptist, protestant and Catholic churches. Just yesterday I received a request for fifty copies from a big church in Pennsylvania who want to use it to train their ministers how to understand the Bible. Of course the advantage of this is that throughout the booklet it mentions the United Church of God, it gives our website, and it offers other material that we publish as well. So this is a really good endorsement to have someone else's church say, Hey, read this stuff from the United Church of God and use it in their training for their ministers and their church leaders. So there have been good spinoffs from the whole mailing campaign.
The audience response to Beyond Today on WGN America continues to increase. We want to increase the awareness of the general public in what we are doing and to our Good News readers. We are also in the final stages of choosing some stations, some additional broadcast stations that will give us a better time on the West Coast because for Los Angeles , Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, it's 5:30 in the morning for them when it airs on WGN. We're trying to get an 8:30 or 9 o'clock spot on the West Coast and we're very close to that. And we're also adding a station in Chicago because WGN America does not serve Chicago. WGN serves Chicago - the local WGN station - and we could not purchase that for a reasonable price. So we are also looking to add a Chicago time as well. And in the next week or two we hope to finalize that and add that to our station lineup and then we pray and hope that our requests will continue to climb because of that. I might mention, though, that on the West Coast at 5:30 a. m. we are getting thousands of responses over the months so it's not that nobody is listening, but we do need a better time slot. And, as I said before, 5:30 a. m. in Los Angeles – maybe they just haven't gone to bed yet on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning. But people are calling in.
Currently we have five thousand donors on file and three thousand co-workers. Co-workers are those who donate on a more regular basis. So there are eight thousand and some that are not church members that contribute to the work we are doing. So that is one prayer to send up – and that is that God will provide more donors and co-workers. Maybe He's not calling them as baptized members into His church yet, maybe they are not being called as firstfruits, but as in the decades past in the church, God used thousands and thousands of donors and co-workers to help support His work even though He wasn't calling them yet. So we could pray that God will instill in the hearts of our readers and our viewers to want to contribute, to like what they see and to help it go further. So, certainly a prayer in that regard.
I might mention that many of our viewers are connecting with our message and mail is up – especially our electronic mail. We found in the past two months looking at April and May that emails from our readers and personal correspondence questions are up 45% to 100% depending which category you look at. So that's very encouraging, too.
So here today on the eve of the Day of Pentecost 2011, take a moment to think back to the time before the Holy Spirit was imparted to large groups of people and the church of God began. Think back what it was like for that first church that gathered on Pentecost not knowing what was about to happen. But also think back to before the Holy Spirit was given to you – the miracle that was performed in your life and you came to understand, have faith and obey God, too. Keep in mind the purpose of God's church. Just as in days of old, we ought to be growing in faith and understanding and obedience and love for God's law. Just like the early apostles and disciples, we ought to be preaching the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of the kingdom of God. Stop and appreciate what we have been given. Think of the power of the Holy Spirit working in your life as baptized members of God's church, the same church that Jesus Christ began, and remember that you, too, have received the Holy Spirit after you had hands laid upon you at baptism.
Let's close with 1 Peter chapter 1. I want to read a very inspiring nine verses from the 1st book of Peter, chapter 1. I want us to count our blessings and thank God for what He has given us. I'm not going to comment on these verses. I'm just going to read them. And just think about them, let them sink in here before this Day of Pentecost – on this eave of Pentecost this year of 2011.
1 Peter:1:3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Verse 4 - to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
Verse 5 - You who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Verse 6 – In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
Verse 7 - that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
Verse 8 - whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
Verse 9 - receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
Verse 10 - Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,
Verse 11 - searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
Verse 12 - To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
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