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The Acts of the Apostles and the Work of the Church

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The Acts of the Apostles and the Work of the Church

MP3 Audio (15.76 MB)


The Acts of the Apostles and the Work of the Church

MP3 Audio (15.76 MB)

God's church is the means by which He is now preparing this world for Christ's return. He's preparing the future teachers and the future leaders of His kingdom. God is laying a foundation for the world for tomorrow through each of us today.


Well, unbeknownst to almost all of mankind, there is a great master plan being worked out on this planet that is pictured by the seven annual holy festivals. Why are we in here, and they're out there? What is so different about us right now? As this Feast of Pentecost pictures, we are now in the age of the church. We're not in the age of kings or judges or prophets or the age of the ancient patriarchs. We are now living, you and I, in the age of the church in the next step of God's plan. God is working through a small group of perhaps a few tens of thousands of people of spirit-begotten humans organized and unified by His laws, ways and truth into His church. We're in the age of the church now, and have been since 31 A.D.

God's church is the means by which He is now preparing this world for Christ's return. He's working through us now toward that goal, and it is through us that He's preparing the future teachers and the future leaders of His kingdom. God is laying a foundation, and He is now beginning to build a world for tomorrow through each of us today.

Those now called into God's church are part of His spiritual first fruits. As we heard about this morning, the first group to be offered salvation, although not the last, by any means. Those now in God's church have been called first, but for a special purpose.

There's a reason behind it. We have been called for the special service of eventually helping to bring God's truth to all of mankind, all who have ever lived or ever will live. But, how did this church of God begin? What traits and characteristics do we see in the early church members? What were their congregations like? What can we learn from the early congregations and those first church members? What was so important to them? And what should be important to us?

The first fruits of salvation are pictured by God's third annual festival, the Feast of First Fruits, which is called Pentecost in the New Testament. In the sermon today, let's take a closer look at early Christianity and come to understand a little better what motivated those early church members. We'll understand more fully what motivated our brothers and sisters in the faith, what motivated them to fulfill the work of God from the very beginning of the church. And I've titled this sermon this afternoon: "The Book of Acts and Work of the Church."

For us now, it is imperative that we understand that we have been called for more than just spiritual salvation, more than just to save their own skins from what may be to come, more than just our own eternal life. We are called, every one of us, for a part in preparing for the kingdom of God on this earth, and our part includes loyally backing up the commission, the proclaiming the true gospel of the kingdom to the whole world, and then caring for the flock that God calls. And our work is not finished until Christ returns, and perhaps even then, it will take on a bigger impact.

The church right now has a job to do. It has work at hand, so let's notice how the early church tackled this concept, and throughout the sermon this afternoon, we're going to use scriptures exclusively from the book of Acts. I have four sections for us to focus on today, in fact, we're going to go through the book of Acts even in order, so the kids here will have no problem following along, keeping up with us from page to page, in fact, even the teenagers should be able to keep up with this one as we keep it in order, and we'll keep it in just one book of the Bible, all right, guys?

But first of all, number one, the work of the church started on this day of Pentecost. The work of the church started on this day of Pentecost. As Christians, we sometimes forget that a great miracle has taken place in all of our lives, those of us who are now being led by the Holy Spirit. It is one of the greatest miracles of all time, the giving of God's Holy Spirit, that melding of mind and spirit, our heart, our mind, our conscience, the Spirit in man being combined with the Spirit of God, and then being able to understand spiritual things of God.

The work of God's church started on the day of Pentecost recorded in the first few chapters of the book of Acts, and the Feast of Pentecost shows that God works in us through His Spirit. That's the power, the influence that He has with us. And for humans to be changed and led by God's Spirit is one of the greatest miracles of all. It is truly a germination process, enabling human beings to understand God's eternal plan.

When we study the day of Pentecost in the Bible, we find the beginnings of this great miracle. Let's turn to Acts 1:8 here, hopefully, you're already on page one of Acts, as we read Christ's instructions to His disciples. This is right before Christ ascended to heaven not to return for approximately two thousand years. And here's what He left them with in Acts 1:8.

Acts 1:8 - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;" So it's going to be noticed; it's going to be powerful. ". . .and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Now if you're one of those eleven disciples standing there when He said that, you'd say, "Yeah, right. The end of the earth? Come on."

Christ said, "No, this is going to be the beginning of something much larger than just the eleven of you. The Holy Spirit is going to give you power to do great things, and you'll be witnesses to Me, not just here in this one city, but around the world eventually."

The Greek word here for power is dunamis, from which we get the terms "dynamo" and "dynamite." This is powerful stuff. This is stuff to be treated with care. It's powerful. It can be used for tremendous good, and this promise from Christ was dramatically fulfilled within just a few days of this statement. He said, "The power of the Holy Spirit will come, " and then it did. This occurred on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.

And after seeing the physical manifestations that are described in the first verses of Acts 2, we find the Holy Spirit descending upon a large group of people, and then their lives were changed dramatically. And the book of Acts is replete with stories of these people's lives and the impact they had on the society of their day. The change was so evident that they were accused of having turned the world upside down. That's in Acts 17:6. They were accused of turning the world upside down. Such was the dramatic, dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. Of course in Australia, we've been trying to turn the world back up the right way ever since, so…

No Pentecost sermon would be complete without a reference here to Acts 2:37-39.

Acts 2:37 - Of course they were led to repentance, and ". . .when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'

Verse 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.

Verse 39 - " 'For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' " And then the work of the church started. The Holy Spirit came upon the early people of God. In Acts 3 we see a lame man dramatically healed. It wasn't just something that a human did; it was the power of God's Holy Spirit working through Peter to heal that lame man, and he got up and walked, and he'd been lame for all his life. It was a dramatic miracle that got some notice in the community, and then later, the apostle Peter preached a powerful sermon from the location named Solomon's porch. And then, they got into big trouble with the authorities. They were being noticed. The world was being turned upside down in their neighborhood. Notice Acts 4:1. The Holy Spirit has now come upon the church, sermons are beginning to be preached, people are being healed, and they're getting noticed.

Acts 4:1 - "Now as they. . ." This is Peter and John, as Peter and John ". . . spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them.

Verse 2 - "being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead." The Sadducees here were a high priestly order of Jews that helped keep law and order for the Romans in the temple area. They stopped riots; they stopped upsets by the people, and in this case preaching about the resurrection caused a stir.

Verse 3 - So, ". . .they laid hands on (them). . ." (Peter and John), ". . . and put them in custody until the next day," ) threw them into prison for the night, trying to keep the peace. "And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

Verse 4 - "However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men (just the men) came to be about five thousand." You see, there's something happening here. We go from eleven to a hundred and twenty to five thousand.

Verse 5 - "And it came to pass on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes," This is quite a group of people here.

Verse 6 - "as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem." That list we just read in verse 6 is the same council that brought Jesus Christ to his death, that led Him towards His crucifixion. A seemly bunch of individuals, if you're on God's side.

Verse 7 - "And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?'

Verse 8 - "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them," And here we see basically a sermon; he preaches. Just the fact that Peter now is filled with the Holy Spirit is a miracle in itself. Do you remember how Peter last reacted when asked if he knew anything about Jesus? He skipped out the back door; said he didn't know Him. Three times. Now he is going to be a witness of what he has been taught. Christ said, "You'll be My witnesses," and they were. "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them," And here's a stinging sermon, ". . . 'Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:

Verse 9 - " 'If we this day are judged for a good deed done to the helpless man, by what means he has been made well,

Verse 10 - " 'let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.

Verse 11 - " 'This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.

Verse 12 - " 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.'

Verse 13 - "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter. . ." This wasn't the same Peter that was in the garden earlier. ". . .when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

Verse 14 - "And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they (could say nothing) (couldn't say anything) against it." Especially with the great multitude there.

Verse 15 - "But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves." So now the council had an executive session, you see. They closed the door and started whispering amongst themselves to figure out what they were going to do here.

Verse 16 - "saying, 'What shall we do to these men?' For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident. . ." You know, we saw the guy over here that can walk. " '. . .is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.

Verse 17 - " 'But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them. . .' " Let's scare the pants off them, one good time. " '. . .that from now on they speak to no man in (this) (Jesus') name.' "

All right, the door opens up, come out of executive session and Verse 18:

Verse 18 - ". . .they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Verse 19 - "But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.

Verse 20 - " 'For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.' And so what Christ prophesied of them being witnesses to the ends of the earth was starting to take place. Peter said, "We can't be quiet about this. I'm sorry." "'For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'

Verse 21 - "So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done." And so the work of the church gets underway. The beginning of the church now continues and gathers some more steam. And then we see a famous, powerful, congregational prayer asking God for Peter and John to be able to preach boldly the word of God. The prayer concludes in Acts 4:29 here with these words as the congregation prayed:

Acts 4:29 - "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.

Verse 30 - "by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.

Verse 31 - "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." And so you have to ask yourself, "Do we pray for the work of the church like that today? Are our prayers like that, asking for boldness and conviction as we preach the word of God like the early church did?" It's a good question. And as we'll now see in Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles didn't give up. Of course a couple of them had been in prison; they've gotten out, but they didn't give up. They've been threatened. They continued on with strength and boldness as we'll see.

The world needs to know that there is an alternative to what exists today. They need to know that there is such a thing as the kingdom of God. Nobody else is preaching it like God's church is preaching it. They need to know that the kingdom of God does not just exist in the hearts and minds of people. That it didn't just exist in Jesus Christ as He stood among them. People need to know the reality of an actual kingdom to be established on this earth beginning in Jerusalem. So now we move forward to Acts 5. We see the apostles getting into some trouble with the authorities once again.

Acts 5:17 - Because of course Peter and the others had continued to preach when they'd been told not to. "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." You know, I thought we told these guys to be quiet, and they're out directly, you know, disobeying what we said. And so Verse 18:

Verse 18 - ". . .they laid hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

Verse 19 - "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.' (Deep sigh,) okay. . .

Verse 21 - "And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, (once again), with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought." They had conferred about it; let's go get them out of prison, and let's talk to them one more time.

Verse 22 - "but 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 (was going to be this time).

Verse 25 - "So one came and told them, saying, 'Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!' (What?)

Verse 26 - "Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned." (Lest they'd throw stones.)

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? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!' " Of course, "this Man" being Jesus Christ, capital "M." Doesn't it make you wonder what we would do? If the civil authorities told us not to teach in Jesus' name? When we walked out of here today, they'd say "I don't want to hear one more word from you guys about the kingdom of God." Would we continue to preach the gospel of the kingdom, even if it was illegal to do so? Would we go to prison for it? Would we suffer persecution for it? Once again, a very good question for us.

Verse 29 - ". . . Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men." You see, they were following through on the orders given to them by their king, by their high priest, by Jesus Christ. "We ought to obey God rather than men.

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, 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.' " You see, we can't not preach this. We are witnesses of what we understand and what we know.

Verse 33 - "When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them."

Verse 40 - ". . .And when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go." So this time, they didn't just let them go. They beat them up first, and then let them go, and said, "Now, don't talk about this anymore."

Verse 41 - "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Yoo-Hoo! We just got beat up! (Laughter from the audience) No, they were so convicted, you see, that the truth, what they could see on the horizon, the kingdom of God was worth suffering for, like we heard this morning. When you have the end in mind, you can go through a lot in the meantime.

Verse 42 - "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." They continued. They went on with it. And so the work of the church of God started on this first day of Pentecost as recorded here in the book of Acts. The early congregations were fired up with zeal for the truth of the kingdom. They weren't about to stop now. We are the descendants of those early church members. The church of God continues to this day, and the gates of the grave cannot prevail against it.

The second point I have down here as we continue through the book of Acts is the role of the first fruits must be taken seriously. The role of the first fruits must be taken seriously.

Our job is to let the world, all nations, know of the possibility of the kingdom of God actually being established on this earth, not when it's going to come, but that it will come. And to instruct people and give people some hope. There is precious little hope in this world for mankind. We must give people more hope, something to look forward to. We must not back away from the urgency and the drive to do the work of God. This is why we're a part of the first fruits now, and this role must be taken seriously. Acts 6 and 7 cover the powerful sermon given by a newly ordained deacon, Stephen, and then his subsequent stoning. How many deacons do we have here in the room today? See, we've got a few deacons in here today. It's an incredible story of faith and fortitude, a stirring sermon by a deacon that lays out the history of the plan of God before that whole council, before the whole family of the high priest. Let's go to Acts 8 now because Stephen was stoned for preaching the truth, and he was a newly ordained deacon. Acts 8:1-6.

Acts 8:1 - "Now Saul was consenting to his death." So come on the scene a new player in the play now, Saul. "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." So the church was getting scattered by persecution. They were having a hard time.

Verse 2 - "And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him." In verse one where it says "Now Saul was consenting to (his) (Stephen's) death," some translations say that Saul was having pleasure in the death of Stephen.

But you notice now in the subsequent chapters that show Saul's conversion and his name changed to Paul; here we see one of the most astonishing accounts of repentance and conversion on record. You know, Peter was one thing, saying, "I don't know the guy," but here's Saul actually persecuting the church, and then becoming converted.

Talk about turning the world upside down, the name Saul can mean destroyer. The name Paul means builder, the very opposite.

Verse 3 - "As for Saul, he made havoc," Some translations say, "He ravished the church." ". . .entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Verse 4 - "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." So as fellow church members got dragged off through the hallway here, into prison, the rest of us are out preaching the gospel even more loudly proclaiming the truth of God's kingdom and repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ.

You notice that even under extreme pressure, even when deacons are murdered, and the congregations are scattered by the authorities, the preaching goes on. So, Bart Bornhorst, Floyd Phelps and Bob Tanner were dragged off out of here right now, would we go home and hide? Would we sneak out the back and get into our vehicle and try not to be noticed by the police as we headed out? Or would we be even more faithful in doing what was required to preach the gospel of the kingdom more forcefully.

Verse 5 - "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.

Verse 6 - "And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." And now Acts 8:25.

Verse 25 - "So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans." So now we see the gospel being preached to the Samaritans. The Samaritans believed in a Babylonian, Assyrian religious philosophy long before the appearance of Christianity, and some of their beliefs were patterned after Old Testament teachings. And if you wanted to, you could read about the Samaritans in II Kings 17. So, now the Samaritans were being preached the truth of Jesus Christ.

Let's skip forward a couple of chapters towards Acts 10. We see the recording of Peter's vision in Acts 10 of the food he thought he was commanded to eat, much of it unclean for human consumption. However this was not a commandment to eat unclean food, as he first thought, but a vision that showed Peter that God was now calling Gentiles to the faith. God showed Peter that no man should be considered common or unclean. That's in Acts 10:28. And so then now we see the very first sermon preached to the Gentile group by the apostle Peter. Cornelius was there, converted Gentile.

Acts 10:34 - "Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth. . .' " You see, now he understands the vision. " '. . .I perceive that God shows no partiality.

Verse 35 - " 'But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Verse 36 - " 'The word which God sent to the Children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ - He is Lord of all -

Verse 37 - " 'that word you know, which was proclaimed through all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached:

Verse 38 - " 'how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

Verse 39 - " 'And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.

Verse 40 - " 'Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly,

Verse 41 - " 'not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

Verse 42 - " 'And He commanded us to preach to the people. . .' " You see why they're not giving up on this. " 'He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.' " And verse 43 in the middle of this sermon:

Verse 43 - " 'To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.

Verse 44 - " 'While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.' " So right here, in the middle of the sermon, the Holy Spirit descended upon this group of Gentiles; these weren't Jews.

Verse 45 - "And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Verse 46 - "For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered," And of course, in Acts 2:4, we saw Jews speaking in tongues, and now we see Gentiles speaking in tongues. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to salvation. And so Peter said:

Verse 47 - " 'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?

Verse 48 - "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay (for) a few (more) days. And so now, obviously, through a dramatic miracle, the Gentiles also received the Holy Spirit; they were baptized and became part of the church of God.

As we can see, the early church took its responsibility, its first fruits, very seriously. The ministry and the brethren proclaimed the gospel with strength and vigor even while under great duress. Each of us have a part to play in that mission. We have to prepare the people of God and preach the gospel message. How seriously do we take the job? Are we half-hearted?

Note this anecdotal piece titled, "Something to Ponder" that I came across; the author was unknown. It's called, "Something to Ponder."

"After years of working for the same company, an elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go, and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor.

"The carpenter said, 'Yes.' But in time, it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

"When the carpenter finished his work; when the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front door key to the carpenter. 'This is your house,' he said. "My gift to you.' What a shock; what a shame. If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently."

And so, is each of us, taking the role of being a first fruit seriously. What quality of home are we building? After all, the home we are constructing as the church of God is our home. We are the ones that are going to live in it, that are living in it. Are we following the lead of God's Holy Spirit to be part of a residence that has a foundation built upon Jesus Christ? You see, the early church took the responsibility very seriously.

Let's take a look now at a little part of Paul's direct ministry. He's since been converted as we get to this point in the book of Acts, and he's now one of the loudest proponents of the gospel of the kingdom of God. His heart and mind have been changed from one direction to the very opposite.

First of all, we see the Gentiles keeping the Sabbath day holy. I'm moving forward to Acts 13:42 where we see Gentiles keeping the Sabbath day holy. It's not just a Jewish observance; it's for all mankind, and the early church members knew that. Acts 13 starts off Paul's first journey to various outposts to the Roman empire.

Acts 13:42 - "So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

Verse 43 - "Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas. . ." Now we see Barnabas on the scene. ". . . who (was) speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

Verse 44 - "On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.

Verse 45 - "But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.

Verse 46 - "Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold. . ." They grew bold. "And said. . ." another stinging indictment. " ' It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

Verse 47 - " 'For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.

Verse 48 - "Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Verse 49 - "And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region." So now we see the word of God not just being in small towns, just in Jerusalem, just in, you know, Galilee, now it's spreading out throughout the region. Back then, it was the region. Today, it's the world. We've got to work a worldwide work to all nations as we are able. The avenue is open for participation that has not been opened before. You might be able to reach the mind of a certain person the certain way due to your background, due to your family upbringing, due to your family origin of the way you've been born or raised. Somebody may relate to you. We need people from around the world to participate in this process so that we mold and shape a message that people can relate to.

The world is so diverse today. The communications systems available are so incredible, one person on the other side of the globe can feel like he has something really important to say, so he types it up and dumps it on the internet, from the other side of the world, and then we are forced to answer his questions in personal correspondence in Cincinnati. You see, the communication system is incredible today. We could do the work from the North Pole, almost, if we had a need in that connection. You know, send our printing files on down, and have them printed in Kentucky, you know. The communication system is so vast, and it's global. That wouldn't have happened twenty years ago in the magnitude that it's happening now. We've got some incredible possibilities, and we must realize we've got a work to do and do it. It's a work of making disciples. God, the Father, is the One who determines who those disciples are.

We have to sow the seed broadly, then God will determine where that fertile soil is, where the seed will germinate. Now not everybody is going to respond; we know that because just by the fact that they are our first fruits, just by the fact that there is a little flock means that not everybody can be called right now. And so part of it is a witness as well. Not only are we looking for the fertile soil, the fertile ground for the seeds to germinate, there's also a witness to others who are not responding at this time.

Acts 14:1 "Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.

Verse 2 - "But the unbelieving Jews. . ." We've got some jealous Jews again here. ". . . stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.

Verse 3 - "Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands." Once again, a witness of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, just as Christ said they would do back in Acts 1:8.

Verse 4 - "But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles." You know what the word apostles here; it's an interesting side note; there are now sixteen or seventeen apostles at this point in the story. There was the original eleven, of course, twelve minus one, plus Judas' replacement, Matthias, made up the twelve, and then we have James, Jude, Paul and Barnabas. So sixteen or seventeen apostles at this point.

Verse 5 - "And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them." So a violent attempt was made to kill them.

Verse 6 - "they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.

Verse 7 - "And they (were preaching) (will preach) the gospel there." So they had trouble in one city, they moved on and preached the gospel in the next city. And so Paul's first journey comes to a close at Acts 14:26 actually. And so the job of the first fruits must be taken seriously by us today just as much as it was by our early membership, ministry and congregations.

Thirdly, it is faith that carries the work forward. It is faith that carries the work forward. We're going to pass over the ministerial conference in Acts 15 here, and go to Acts 16, where we find the apostles in the region of Galatia. We then see what is basically here a trip to Europe with Christ directing His church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Holy Spirit directing and guiding what He wanted His church to do, and this is the beginning of Paul's second journey. Of course, he had three long journeys all together.

Acts 15:36 - ". . .Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go (back) (again) and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.' " Let's go check on them; we were there once before; let's go check on them and see how they're doing. So then Acts 16:5, this is a good verse to remember that it's faith that carries the work forward, of course, faith in Jesus Christ.

Acts 16:5 - "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Verse 6 - "Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia." So somehow they knew that they weren't supposed to go that direction.

Verse 7 - "After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them." Okay, let's try a different way; let's see what happens here.

Verse 8 - "So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

Verse 9 - "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'

Verse 10 - "Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia. . ." Of course, "we" here is Luke, the author of the book of Acts and Paul. So Luke and Paul said, "Hey, I think we'd better go to Macedonia." ". . .concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." And every once in a while, even here in United we get pleas from various areas. One example of this would be the Remnant Church of God in Ghana, which really sought affiliation with us. They are now part of United, and we periodically get calls from other areas, too, asking us to come over and help them. And so as we have the resources, when we can we do whatever is available to us to help out various areas around the globe.

Verse 11 - "Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis.

Verse 12 - "and from there to Philippi, which is in the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days." So they made it to Macedonia where Paul had had the dream that they were supposed to go.

Verse 13 - "And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside. . ." The word for Sabbath day here is interesting; in the Greek, it means "day of Sabbaths." It's not the normal Greek word used for the weekly Sabbath. It's sometimes used in reference to the feast of Pentecost, actually. ". . .on the Sabbath day (or the day of Sabbaths) we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

Verse 14 - "Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

Verse 15 - "And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." (And so) "she persuaded us." So with the baptism of Lydia, we see the beginning of the church at Philippi. We'll skip over Paul preaching in Athens and Corinth and move to his message given at Ephesus where he stayed for two years. Paul stayed a little longer here in Ephesus. He ended his second journey in Acts 18:22, and started his third journey in Acts 18:23. And then we get into Acts 19, as he's now into his third journey after staying there at Philippi for a little longer, Ephesus for a little longer. As in any city, there are various strange and pagan beliefs including black magic, as we'll see. And some people were possessed of demons in Ephesus.

Acts 19:18 - "And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds." They realized they were sinners; they needed to repent and change.

Verse 19 - "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Verse 20 - "So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed." So here we see like a pagan cult being converted, throwing in their magic books and being converted and turning to their Lord, Jesus Christ. So how much is our faith driving the work forward? Are our prayers carrying the work forward? Is the word of the Lord growing mightily, like we read here in Acts 19:20?

There's a trend in human nature to turn to God in earnest when things aren't going right, when we get into trouble. When things are going well; when things are going smoothly, we tend to forget who gives us our blessings. When we need something; then we turn to Him.

There was a book and a movie that you'll recall many years ago titled, The Bridge Over the River Kwai. In fact, my grandfather helped build the bridge on the river Kwai. This is the story of a lieutenant who was captured by the Japanese and put into a prisoner of war camp. There is an interesting section of this book that speaks to the same thought of turning to God when we're in dire circumstances.

Now this fellow who wrote the book contracted a number of diseases, and he was so near death in this POW camp that they put him in the morgue with the dead bodies figuring that he was about to die anyway. While he was lying there in the morgue, he wrote down these words, which of course became part of his book later on. He says, "The atmosphere of the death house was anti-life, the atmosphere of decay of the potential to be ebbing away. You're part of this," said reason. "There is no escape. The battle between life and death goes on all the time," I said to myself. "Life has to be cherished, not let go. I've made up my mind. I am not going to surrender. Then I ask myself, " 'Well, what do I do about it?' And as a last resort, I turn to God." That was when he finally realized he really needed help, lying in the morgue, and he turned to God, and he's here now to talk about it, or to write about it, to this day.

Sometimes you would have to admit that there'd been times when we did turn to God as a last resort. It wasn't a daily relationship. There was a problem; there was a difficulty, or a tragedy, or an illness, a trauma, or whatever it was, and we turned to God as a last resort.

Our goal as a Christian is to develop a relationship with God so that we depended on Him every day for everything, to continually have faith in our Father. And if we are to succeed collectively in the broader sense of taking the gospel to the world, we must be succeeding individually in developing a relationship with God, because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Each of us have to do our part to be a good link in that chain, having a strong relationship with God, so that we move the church forward in faith as the early church did.

Are our prayers carrying the work forward? Is the word of the Lord growing mightily because of us? Remember, it is the faith of Jesus Christ in us that carries the work of the church forward.

And then the fourth point: The church demonstrated faith and was willing to give all for Jesus Christ. The church was willing to give all for Jesus Christ. People need to know, truly know, the reality of the kingdom of God to be established on this earth. It's not a myth; it's not a fantasy. This is something that is actually going to happen. Do we in the church truly understand the importance of this? We are so familiar with the term - kingdom of God. It rolls off our tongues all the time. We are so familiar with the understanding of the millennium, of Christ's one-thousand-year rule on this earth setting up a kingdom, but is mankind familiar with that truth? Is mankind familiar with the truth of the kingdom of God?

We have a job before us to proclaim this truth, because it is not understood. I have here quotes from two publications from two different churches. One is a Sabbath-keeping church, and one is the Catholic church. Here's an explanation of their beliefs when it comes to the kingdom of God.

First of all from the Sabbath-keeping group. Here's a question: What will happen to the righteous people when Jesus comes the second time? Here's the answer: "The righteous dead will be raised from their graves, given perfect immortal bodies like that of Christ, caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord, and the righteous living will also be given bodies like Christ and will be caught up to meet the lord in the air, right? And Jesus will take them all to heaven with Him." And then they say: "Note that Jesus does not actually touch the earth at His second coming." I read that the Mount of Olives kind of figures in there somewhere. "No, He doesn't even touch the earth, and He takes everybody to heaven." That's the Sabbath-keeping group.

Here's another question: How will Christ's second coming affect the earth itself? "The earth will be seized by a great earthquake at the coming of the Lord. This earthquake will be of such a devastating nature that it will leave the world in a state of total destruction." So this is their message of the kingdom of God. The earth is going to be in utter destruction, and the good guys are going to be up in heaven.

Here's a question people ask about the Catholic church: What is the Catholic doctrine about Christ's second coming? Here's the answer: "In the apostles' creed, all Catholics profess, as part of their faith, that Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and that from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. The Catholics certainly teach, therefore, that as surely as there was a first coming of Christ to this world by His birth in Bethlehem, so there will be a second coming of Christ in His majesty and glory as the eternal Son of God to judge all mankind." So far, so good.

"That judgment will put an end to human history on this earth as we know it resulting in one of two possible destinies in eternity for human beings." I guess one's up; one's down, right? That's your choice. ". . .for those human beings who have attained the age of responsibility for their conduct. There will be no setting up any kingdom of Christ on this earth over which He will rule for a thousand years, often spoken of as the millennium." The Catholic church rejects any idea of that as erroneous and based on misinterpretation of scripture. Very opposite of what we teach.

Do you have any idea of the number of people on this earth that have no concept of the kingdom of God being on this earth, as we teach, as the Bible teaches, as Christ taught?

And the redemptive nature of the kingdom of God, the chance for salvation for all mankind? Like I said earlier, we're the only ones, the Church of God is the only one preaching that truth.

Do we appreciate the mystery that has been revealed to us, to the Church of God? We are, as Paul said in Colossians 1, to stand up and warn and teach about Christ and be part of a redemptive work. Let's look now a little more at the perseverance demonstrated by the early church as they gave all for the task at hand. In Acts 20 because point four is the fact that the church gave all for the task at hand to make sure the gospel message of the kingdom of God was preached.

Acts 20:18 - I'm going to read from Acts 20:18 to Acts 20:38 here, because Paul, as we heard actually in the sermonette, is about to come to a true reckoning of his life here.

Acts 20:18 - ". . .when they came to him, (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 he taught, went to various church members' homes teaching from house to house.

Verse 21 - " 'testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 22 - " 'And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,' " So Paul is concerned about his safety. He's bound; he's being taken to Jerusalem.

Verse 23 - " 'except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.' " He's expecting to be captured.

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.

Verse 28 - " ' Therefore take heed to yourselves. . .' " You see, he's talking to the elders, as you see in Verse 17; he's telling the elders, " '. . .take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Verse 29 - " 'For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

Verse 30 - " 'Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to drive away the disciples after themselves.

Verse 31 - " 'Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.' " He cried, and he hurt for the pain that he saw in the world, for the pain he saw in the church, and he warned people and taught people and preached the gospel of the kingdom.

Verse 36 - " 'And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Verse 37 - "Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him,

Verse 38 - "sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship." And this is basically the end of Paul's third journey. It actually ends in Acts 21:17.

But how much would you and I be willing to give for the Church of God and to see the truth of His kingdom preached? Do we have the zeal of the early membership in this regard? What does it mean to be a part of the Church of God? This is not just any church. Like we said at the beginning, why are we in here, and they're out there?

There's a special calling for the first fruits, and we've been given a job to do. We are preparing to be teachers and helpers and leaders when Christ returns, to help bring God's truth to all of mankind.

The church demonstrated its faith and was willing to give its all for Jesus Christ, as we saw Paul here in his final moments with the brethren there before going on the ship. It's like a mother giving all for her children. Paul lived each day with the protection of the flock in mind, as we saw there in Verse 31. He was concerned for the people, for the church, just like a mother watches out for her children.

The church is described metaphorically as a mother, the mother of us all, a place for safety, nurturing, a place for education and learning, a place for compassion. That's our church. That's God's church. This is the place we call home, and as Paul warned and taught night and day with tears for the brethren, so much more so today.

It might be good for us to dwell for a moment on the role of a mother, and how the church should care for and be concerned about its membership. Our congregations are a place where membership should feel at home, literally; this is our home. I have here a letter from a mother. It's a little bit long, but I think you'll appreciate it as I read through it, and think of the role of the church as the mother of us all as I read this to you. Think of how we should have compassion and concern for those amongst us like a mother does for her child. It's called, "Thoughts of a Mother," and it's by a Dr. Elaine Richardson, and she says:

"We're sitting at lunch when my friend casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of starting a family. 'We're taking a survey,' she says, half joking. 'Do you think I should have a baby?'

'It will change your life,' I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

" 'I know,' she says. 'No more sleeping in on the weekends, no more spontaneous vacations.' But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my friend, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she'll never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of childbearing will heal, but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw, that she will be forever vulnerable.

"I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, 'What if that had been my child?' That every plane crash, every house fire, will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die. I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.

"That urgent call of, 'Mom!' will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation. I feel I should warn her that no how many years she has invested in her career, she'll be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for child care, but one day she'll be going into an important business meeting and she'll think of her baby's sweet smell. She'll have to use every ounce of her discipline to keep from running home just to make sure her baby is all right.

"I want my friend to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine, that a five-year-old boy's desire to go to the men's room, rather than the women's at McDonald's, will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

"Looking at my attractive friend, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child, that she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs. I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My friend's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish you could understand how much more you can love a man who's careful to powder the baby, who never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

"I wish my friend could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stopped war, prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she'll understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children's future. I want to describe to my friend the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real that it actually hurts. My friend's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes.

" 'You'll never regret it,' I finally say. Then I reach across the table, squeeze my friend's hand and offer a silent prayer for her and for me and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings, the blessed gift of God in that of being a mother." From Dr. Elaine Richardson.

The Church of God is the mother of us all. Is the church, as we are a part of it, truly a nurturing, educational and warm place for future members of God's family? How well is our congregation fulfilling the role of "the mother of us all?" After all the church is made up of individual members, you and me, and it's overall representation is the sum total of all of us as we are led by God's Holy Spirit. Are we demonstrating the faith of Jesus Christ in giving our all to ensure that this is a place to call home for the members of God's family, both for today and for tomorrow? Remember the early church demonstrated its faith and was willing to give all for Jesus Christ.

We have been given a job to do. Each of us individually have our part to play in the plan of God. We have been called to understand God's truth now as first fruits in His plan of salvation, but for a reason. Not just to save our own skins; not just to receive salvation ourselves, but for a reason. God has given His church a job to do, a work to do, as we call it. The first fruits have a commission. God has some business that He wants us to take care of before our resurrection to immortal life ourselves. We've been given our marching orders, and I'm going to read just one scripture outside the book of Acts. Let's turn to Matt. 28:18-20.

Matt 28:18 - "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Verse 19 - " 'Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Verse 20 - " 'teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." The very power and authority of Jesus Christ is being given to his disciples, and that's you and me. We are members of the same church that began in 31 A. D., and He tells us, "You go, therefore, and do the job at hand. Make disciples, teach, preach, baptize."

As I conclude here, let me read a letter that is rather revealing about the work of the church in our age, but it's the beginning of the church in our age, about sixty years ago. And it's something Herbert Armstrong wrote back in 1944. The letter is dated March 20, 1944. It was a general member letter that he wrote at that time, and he says, "Now we come to the real question: Why should you brethren assemble together every Sabbath as a local church congregation? What is our divine purpose and mission? Do we have one? Yes, we do. The individual is called to a calling. He's to become in the kingdom a king or a priest. There is a dual purpose in the Christian life; one is to prepare and train to assume the responsibilities given to him then, but also he's to have part in this present evangelism before the end of this age. The first duty, function, purpose and commission of the church is to proclaim the message. Each of you brethren has put his hand to the plow. You must have your part in it; let us not turn back. How thankful we are that we have this light that God has revealed to us, His divine purpose that our churches are not social clubs. Our purpose is not to get, but to give. We do not have churches just to enjoy ourselves and be ministered to. The ministry cannot carry the evangelism alone; all our hands are to the plow."

And so that was back in 1944, the purpose of the church. Yes, for God to call people to salvation, but also to give, to take care of a job, to preach the gospel. And we ought to seek first the kingdom of God, Matt. 6:33, but on a day to day basis, God expects us to carry out the work He commissioned to us through His disciples, that is to you and me.

God's church is the means by which He is now preparing this world for Christ's return. Christ will return to the Mount of Olives to establish God's kingdom in Jerusalem. People will not be whisked away somewhere else, and so God's church has a job to do.

He is now beginning to build a world for tomorrow through His church today. We've seen the zeal of the early church members and the ministry as we've looked at some of the books and the passages in the book of Acts. And then I've just asked, do we have the same zeal today. We saw the suffering, the zeal, the persecution, the trials, the tribulation the people went through to preach the truth. God's first fruits have been called for the special service of eventually helping to bring the knowledge of salvation to all the world, all the while being led by the gift of God's Holy Spirit, which was given to the church on this day back in 31 A.D.