On Good Friday I preached a sermon from the same text from which this study is taken. That sermon was aimed, without apology, at the conversion of the lost and at the edification of the found. I sought to draw attention to the glories as well as to the offence of the cross. I pointed out that the Bible teaches the astounding truth that the cross of Christ was an expression of the Father’s love for His Son.
I also highlighted the fact that, whilst there is no reason to believe that we live in “the last days” of human history, any one of us may in fact be living in our own personal last days. The Lord could at any moment withhold the necessary life force that He supplies for our ability to breathe, for our hearts to pump and our brains to function. At any given moment on any given day we might die. And then what? Various answers might be offered.
Some say that there is nothing to expect, that the body dies and the soul with it. In other words, there is no life after death. In the words of an ancient pagan poem, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Such paganism is alive and well today!
Others proffer that those who are right with God before they die will go to be with God in heaven while those who are not will be annihilated by the wrath of God. And so, as above, these will simply cease to exist.
Still others argue that at the end of the day, everyone will be saved and so everyone will live forever in the afterlife in bliss with God—regardless of how they responded to God in this life. Mark Driscoll calls this “a denial that holds up only until, in an ironic bummer, you die and find yourself in hell.”1
Finally, those who believe the Bible are of the persuasion that, after death, a person will spend forever in either heaven or hell and that the only deciding factor is whether or not they have been born again in this life. The issue is, were you converted in this life?
Those who have been redeemed and rescued by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ Jesus alone will be forever alive in the presence of God in glorified bodies; while those who have not been so rescued will spend forever, suffering, in hell. Those who believe the Bible are persuaded that only in this life does one have the opportunity to prepare for the next life.
Since I believe the Bible, this I am of the latter persuasion and conviction. And because I believe this, there is always an urgency to declare the gospel and to exhort people to believe the gospel and to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
One of the best opportunities to do so is in the preaching of a funeral service. And I have preached many. I have had the joy of preaching funerals for those whom I have known well and with whom I have worshipped. I have had the privilege to be able to give assurance from the Scriptures to the family and friends left behind that such an individual was in the presence of the Lord because both their lips and their life testified that they had called upon the name of the Lord and were saved. And because they were saved they are now safe. Because they were converted, those grieving can find meaningful comfort.
But I have also had the displeasure of preaching funerals of those for whom I had no evidence that they were believers. On the contrary, their lives gave evidence that they did not know the Lord. In such cases I am always careful to say something like, “I would not presume to speak to the state of so-and-so’s soul” because I do not know what happened in the final moments of their life before they died. Perhaps they were saved. However, such words do little to give comfort to those left behind. All they are left with is a kind of hope-so brand of assurance.
Now, let me ask you, if I were called upon this week to preach your funeral, what comfort could I legitimately give to your family and friends? More importantly, what real basis for assurance do you have that if you died today that you would find yourself on the comforting side of God? Would you be greeted with, “Welcome, enter my child into my presence,” or would you rather hear the frightful words, “Depart from me, I never knew you”? In other words, would you be met with God as your Father or with God as your Judge? Would you spend eternity in heaven or in hell?
If I preached your funeral, what biblical evidences are presently in your life that would make your funeral Christian? That is, is there biblical evidence in your life that you have been converted to Christ?
I once heard a preacher ask, if you lived in a country where it was against the law to be a follower of Christ, and were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Let me change that question a bit and ask: If I preached your funeral, are you leaving behind enough evidence to persuade us that you are a Christian?
I understand that, at one level, this question is irrelevant. After all, we are not the judges; God alone is. But my point in raising this is to highlight the frightening reality that there are some who attend local churches—and even our own local church—who give very little evidence that they know the Lord as their Saviour. Some of those are church members.
If such individuals died, whoever was tasked with preaching their funeral would have little evidence from their practice that they actually believed in the One whom they professed.
But again, let me make this personal: If I preached your funeral, what could I say? What evidence could I present that would indicate that you were in fact a saved person?
I raise this issue because of the very real burden that I felt on Good Friday as I preached the Word. I was struck once again with the reality that there are many who religiously attend church who are still yet in their sins. And the proof is found in the emptiness in their lives of any biblical evidence of what the Scriptures describe as a believer.
I was saddened on Good Friday to note people who paid no attention to the Word as it was preached, and who in fact while I preached seemingly made every attempt to show contempt toward the pulpit. This was not unique, for on many occasions I have noticed the same thing. In fact, in some cases when the service is over these same disinterested people have sat in their seats with heads bowed as though they were contemplating with great meaning what they had just successfully ignored! I suppose I might be wrong: Perhaps their heads were bowed because they were repenting of being so dismissive of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit.
As I left the church on Good Friday I had an overwhelming thought: What if I was called upon to preach their funeral? This has weighed heavy on me ever since and has led me to prepare this particular study.2
Before proceeding, let me say that this kind of message is not easily delivered. In fact I deliberated much over it, because there is always the danger of disturbing those who have no reason to doubt that they have been saved, while those who should be disturbed continue to defiantly and disinterestedly ignore it. Nevertheless this is a risk worth taking for the glory of God, for the good of souls and for the real growth of the church. May the disturbed be comforted and may the comfortable be disturbed!
One further point needs to be made: There are many in our church whose funeral I would be delighted to preach. (Don’t take that the wrong way!) Their lives give such wonderful evidence that they have been redeemed and rescued because their lives indicate true repentance towards and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No doubt many reading this have similar evidence of grace. But let me assure you of the relevance of this text and this study even for those who are clearly believers.
First, church members are exhorted in Scripture to examine themselves as to whether they are in the faith (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Peter 1:10). We are never to presume on God’s salvation but rather we are to continue to press on in our profession by bringing forth fruit as we persevere in our knowledge of God in Christ (see Philippians 3:8-14).
Second, we need this kind of message to help us in our work of evangelism. Just as “charity begins at home,” so does evangelism. This message should help you to ask the pertinent, though perhaps painful questions, of those whom you live with and even of those with whom you attend church. So hear this message as a means not only of self-examination but also as a means of being equipped to evangelise everyone everywhere—including your own local church.
The Meaning that Must Be Explained
Let me first deal with the question, what does it mean to be “converted”?
Peter was preaching to a captive audience. They had been attracted by the sound of a rushing mighty wind and as the multinational Jewish crowd heard the wonders of God, each in their own dialect, they stood amazed. Some became antagonistic.
Peter explained to them the reason for this amazing day: It was because the Promise of the Father had been, literally, poured out on them. The blessed third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, had come to form the new covenant church.
The advent of the Spirit in intimate power had been prophesied by several old covenant prophets, not the least of whom was Joel. Peter informed the crowd that what was occurring in their very midst was the fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32. This signified that the new era had arrived and that the reign of Messiah had begun. They were in the last days of the old covenant era, which was fading away, and which would finally come to a cataclysmic end (Hebrews 8:13). In order to avoid judgement, they needed to be converted.
This brings us to the question about the meaning of conversion. Everything that follows in the book of Acts flows from the fact of the resurrection and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostles became known as witnesses of the resurrection (v. 32; 3:15; 4:33; etc.) and they ministered the gospel with the assurance that the risen and exalted Lord was with them (see, for example, 4:29-31; etc.). Lives were transformed by the risen Lord, and those who were thus transformed demonstrated it by a new kind of living. This is precisely what being converted means: to turn about in a whole different direction. We see evidence of this in vv. 42-47.
It is here where we begin to see the difference that the Lord Jesus Christ makes in the lives of those who are convicted and truly converted. In a word, those who are saved from their sins by the Lord Jesus Christ are immediately connected to Christ. And this connection results in undeniable evidence of that fact.
Those who have been the blessed recipients of the gracious act of God in salvation will repent and be baptised. This is the evidence of the Spirit’s regeneration of their soul.
In light of this, we can put this together and conclude from the text that those who are convicted by the Spirit of God concerning their sins, those who are convinced by the Spirit of God that Jesus Christ the Lord was crucified for and by them, those who convert (“turn around”) and confess their allegiance to Christ by public declaration of baptism, are saved people because they have been called by God to call upon God. And such individuals are connected to the Body of Christ (vv. 40-41). They are no longer under condemnation (v. 40) but are now in the safe congregation of the Lord. And the evidence of this is found in vv. 42-47.
The Message that Must Be Expounded
This passage records the message to which one must be exposed if they will be converted.
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: “I foresaw the LORD always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.” Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
As Peter spoke about this new era of the Messiah these Jews would be asking, “Who then is this Messiah?” Peter had some really good news for them, but first of all they needed to hear the really bad news: The Messiah was the One whom they knew as Jesus of Nazareth, the same one whom they as a nation had turned over to the lawless Romans, by whom He was crucified and put to death. Yes, the nation of Israel—God’s covenanted nation—had murdered God’s Son. That was bad news indeed!
So, what is the good news? This was all a part of God’s plan! In fact, it was necessary that Jesus Christ be crucified if anyone—Jew or Gentile—would be saved.
Of course, what makes the crucifixion of Christ good news is that He was “raised up” (v. 24). Peter mentioned the death of Christ once in v. 23, once in v. 24 and once again in v. 36 but in between He proclaimed the risen Christ over and over in the space of some 12 verses.
Peter declared and explained the resurrection of Christ by quoting Psalm 16 and then expounding it (vv. 25-32). He then declared and expounded the exaltation of Christ by quoting and expounding Psalm 110 (vv. 33-36).
The resurrection and the exaltation of Christ was the good news that these men of Israel needed to hear in conjunction with the bad news of the crucifixion. Note that it was the resurrection and exaltation of Christ which drove home the reality of the sin that led to the crucifixion of Christ. His Lordship is what made them fearful, not a mere martyrdom. They desperately need to hear the bad news so that they would be convicted, and then they needed this very good news if they would be converted. They needed the conviction that comes with acknowledging the magnitude of sinning against God—its awfulness being demonstrated by the wrath of God upon His Son as the sin-bearer for sinners—but they also needed the confession that the Son of God was the Saviour who had risen from the dead! And because He had risen, all of those for whom He died had been raised with Him as well. The evidence of their own spiritual resurrection was repentance and confession of Jesus as Lord—not only in profession but, most importantly, in practice.
Note that, when these men asked Peter what they had to do in the light of this grave sin, Peter did not say, “Nothing.” He was not satisfied that being “cut to the heart” (v. 37) was necessarily synonymous with being converted. Rather, Peter expected some very public proof that the cut was not merely skin deep but that it went deep into the soul. Those convicted and then converted needed to confess it and confirm it.
The Means You Must Embrace
These people needed to embrace the means of conviction, concern (contrition) which will lead to the means of commitment manifested in confession.
Now 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?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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 with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”
As we examine the God-ordained means to the end of conversion it would be good to ask the question, what is behind false, empty professions?
For one thing, people make a “decision” to be a Christian without engaging their minds. It is interesting to note that Peter’s message was cerebral, in a good sense. That is, Peter appealed to the crowd that he was addressing to think. He began with identifying Christ as “Jesus of Nazareth” and appealed to verifiable evidence (“miracles, wonders, and signs”) to prove that He was “attested by God.” That is, Jesus of Nazareth was truly a good man and thus He was different from all others. His life was testimony that set Him apart from all other men. The people should have seen this; they were being held accountable by God to see this.
But further, Peter quoted from an ancient, historical document (Joel 2 and then Psalm 16 and Psalm 110) and expected words to have meaning for his hearers. He expected them to use their minds to think through the implications of what he was saying. And just what was he aiming at? For them to see that, since Jesus was raised from the dead, He was no ordinary man from Nazareth, but rather the Messiah for, of course, only the Messiah could be exalted to the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Please don’t miss the observation that though Peter was dealing with spiritual realities he did so by addressing the mind while at the same time relying on the Holy Spirit to do the work of regeneration (see v. 39).
In our evangelism we run the risk of bypassing the mind and aiming straight at the heart and the will. Though of course God has saved many in this way, those who have been truly converted in such cases nevertheless at some time along the way were first exposed to cognitive truth. For example, someone who was raised being exposed to the truths of the gospel may later come to faith because of a crisis experience. And though it may seem that it was because the heart was directly appealed to (fear of dying, smitten conscience, etc.), the fact is that the heart was working in conjunction with the facts that the individual had already been exposed to and to which he was now responding.
My point in raising this is that all too often individuals emotionally respond to an appeal to embrace Christ, but apart from the apprehension of certain historical facts of the gospel, such responses will in the end prove worthless because they will be fruitless.
Again, it is quite clear from Scripture that the Lord saves (Jonah 2:9). Sinners are dead in their sins and they can only come to spiritual life by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-9; John 3:1-5; etc.). But the Lord uses means towards His ends of giving life to sinners. And the major means is the proclaiming of objective truth that must be heard, cognitively digested and then volitionally embraced (see Romans 10:13-14).
Let me illustrate this from the conversion of Saul, who became the apostle Paul.
There is no doubt that he had an emotional and volitional experience on the road to Damascus as the Lord confronted him. Paul’s response was to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. We see this in his cry, “Who are You, Lord? . . . What do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:5-6). Paul’s life was changed from that moment onwards. His conversion was real as evidenced by a growing fruitfulness in both Christlike character and in useful, devoted service to the Lord. Some may argue that this conversion experience in Syria was clearly one that bypassed the mind and went for the spiritual jugular of the heart. But this would be a wrong deduction.
The text tells us that Paul, prior to this experience, had felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). This is what Jesus meant when He said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). Paul’s conscience was bothering him; most likely ever since his participation as a witness in the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58).
Presumably, Paul had heard the sermon by Stephen in which he laid out a biblical theology of God’s plan of salvation as it marched forward by (and in spite of!) the nation of Israel. The words that Stephen proclaimed—his exposition of God’s Word—were used by the Spirit of God to eventually bring Paul to saving faith in Christ. He was only able to call on the name of the Lord because of the revelation of who the Lord was. In other words, Paul thought before he believed. His faith in Christ was real; and that is why we see him persevering.
This is why the concept of repentance is so important. The Greek word for repentance—metanoia—means “to change one’s mind.” The mind is where the battle is. And it is a question of who is lord: you, or the Lord.
Believers, we must be careful in our presentation of the gospel. We must be urgent, but do not let this become an excuse for half measures. We must unapologetically proclaim the facts of the gospel. Sinners must be exposed to the facts of their sin against God who is holy. They must hear the truth that Jesus is the God-Man sent from heaven. They must hear that their only hope is in His perfect righteousness being a covering for their sin. They must embrace the historical truth that Christ died on a cross, accursed by God for three hours so that sinners could be delivered from God’s curse. Those with whom you share the gospel must know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that He alone is their hope for salvation. These facts are indisputable and nonnegotiable. These facts must be heard and responded to intellectually, volitionally and emotionally. In other words, the sinner who will be saved must believe with all his heart (Acts 8:37—note the context; 11:23; 16:14; Romans 6:17; 10:8-13).
This is so important, especially in a day of so much biblical illiteracy. We cannot take for granted that people in our society are clued up on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and neither should we ever assume that most people grasp the otherwise obvious reality of sin. Until there is understanding of these issues there can never be a true conversion.
Let’s sum up thus far what we have discovered from the text. For someone to be saved they must be confronted with the truth about Christ and the truth about themselves. The must be convicted of their sin against God and they must convert from their old ways in accordance with their confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and therefore Saviour. But there is more.
The Miracle that Must Be Experienced
All of the above is necessary and yet we must never lose sight of the fact that the Lord is the One who saves. We see this clearly in v. 41, where the text tells us that “that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” Let me ask, just who added them? Verse 47 tells us clearly that “the Lord added to the church.” Those who responded in faith to the message were taken out of the dominion of darkness and were transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son. The Lord did this miracle of the new birth; the Lord gave them spiritual life, thus calling them out of the world to be spiritually alive members of His church. In a word, God connected them to Christ and thus to His Body, His church. The proof is found in the characteristics that follow.
The Marks which You Must Expect
In the closing verses we have flesh-and-blood evidence of what it means to be connected by the Spirit of God to the church of the living God. It is these things practiced in the life of those who profess saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that should be proclaimed at your funeral!
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
If I was called upon to preach your funeral this week, could I with a clear conscience say that these characteristics were practiced in your life in conjunction with your local church? Could I say with confidence that your life was characterised as being connected to Christ—by the Spirit of God—as evidenced by your practicing these things? Look and evaluate: Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith.
It must be pointed out that there is always a danger when addressing a subject like this of one seeking to add fruit before the root. If you take a dead branch and tape pieces of plastic fruit on it, it remains as dead as ever. In fact, if you attach real fruit to it, it will prove just as futile. Death can neither produce nor sustain life. And so please do not respond to this message by merely resolving to add to your live some externals. Yes, the believer is responsible to persevere in these characteristics with resolve, but at issue is motivation. If the Spirit of God is not motivating you to these practices then the reason is that you have not been saved. You are still under condemnation (which is one reason why you don’t want to hear this kind of message) and you need to repent and believe the gospel.
If, however, you truly are saved, and you find a lack in these marks then you will repent and do the first works. You will not need to have your hand held indefinitely to do the right thing; that is, if you have been regenerated, then you will be converted.
If you have been called by God, convicted of your sins and sinfulness, and if you have converted to and confessed Christ, then you will feel a measure of constraint to be characterised by this fruit.
No doubt there is much by way of development in these areas and so we are to grow from strength to strength. And yet we do not want to miss the obvious point that these were apparently (super)natural by-products of God’s saving grace in their lives. This did not require a follow-up program, for it was the spontaneous follow-up program of God!
Hearing the Scriptures?
The first characteristic mentioned of these converts was that they were perseveringly eager to hear the word of God as a means of fellowship with Christ. They “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (v. 42).
Yes, their fellowship (“partnership”) was with the apostles, but it was in conjunction with what the doctrine taught them about Christ. It was their increasing devotion to Christ which led them to persevere in listening to the authoritative teaching of the apostles (and vice-versa). They saw this instruction as the means to knowing and thus loving Christ better and better.
Let me pause and ask you to consider your own attitude towards “the apostles’ doctrine.” Do you have an ear to hear?
There are a lot of humorous anecdotes about people sleeping during church. The one that I like the most regards a woman who went to her doctor and asked if there was anything that she could give to her husband to keep him from snoring. The doctor compassionately asked her, “Does his snoring keep you awake?” To which she answered, “Not just me, but the whole congregation!”
All humour aside, should you not be alarmed if every time you come to church you fall asleep? Should you not ask, why do I find the proclamation of the Bible to be of so little interest? Is it a physiological problem or a spiritual one?
Again, is reading the Bible a chore for you or are you growing in your desire to learn more and more? Does theology (speaking of God) bless you or is it a bore? Do you find yourself coming to church services merely a ritual, one which you reduce to the bare minimum requirement merely to keep your membership nose clean?
I am not saying any of these things with angst but rather with sincere concern. You either have spiritual life or you are still in spiritual death and your last day on earth will arrive. The question is, what is the state of your soul? If I preached your funeral could I testify that you loved the hearing of God’s Word and the evidence was that you actually longed to listen to it?
Harmony with the Saints
These converts also “continued steadfastly in . . . fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (v. 42). The passage is filled with this theme. The word “fellowship” implies a communion, a partnership, an intimate relationship with Christ and therefore with other believers. The “breaking of bread” and (corporate) “prayers” indicate that one of the characteristics of those who have been supernaturally connected to Christ is that they are undeniably connect to others who are also connected to Christ! That is, the saints stick together.
These believers clearly loved one another and at the same time we should have no doubts that since they were sinning saints, relationships were sometimes strained. And yet the Scriptures reveal to us time and again that these believers were of one accord. Since they were focused on their Shepherd, they stayed together as a flock. And so when they were scattered they longed to be regathered.
How is it with you? Do you have the oft-repeated attitude, “the church would be great if it were not for people”? Are you a loner by nature and, if so, does this bother you? Do you desire to overcome this sinful tendency? Are you motivated to attend church and, if so, what motivates you? Do you love to have the preeminence? Are you forgiving or are you hell bent on bitterness because, in fact, you are hell bent?
If I preached your funeral could I point to evidence that you had a heart for harmony with the saints, or were you merely a self-centred soloist?
Hungry for the Supper
The “breaking of bread” may or may not refer to the Lord’s Supper. If it does, it would mean that the church daily partook of this commemorative meal. Certainly, it this is done meaningfully, much good can result.
Sometimes believers behave like children and we need to be commanded to eat what is good for us. So it is with the Lord’s Supper. When our Lord instituted this meal (based on its prototype the Passover) He made it clear that His disciples were to partake of this meal as often as it was served. Though the Lord did not stipulate how often this meal should be eaten, it is probably fair to say that we should do so as often as we are hungry for Christ—and I would assume that this is often!
At BBC we choose to do so at least every second week and as of late we have done so more frequently. It is a blessed time of covenantal renewal and, most importantly, of covenantal remembrance of the sacrificial salvific work of Christ. It is therefore most disturbing when those who profess an interest in that work constantly reject the meal. It is sad that one can profess faith in and love for Christ and yet not hunger for Him. How can one claim Him as Saviour while practically rejecting Him as Lord? After all, it was Jesus who said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). And it was Jesus who said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
For one to consistently reject the Supper is a frightening indication that he or she is actually rejecting the Saviour.
So let me ask you, if I preached your funeral, would I be able to say that you showed a practical hunger for Christ by answering His invitation to His Supper?
Humble before the Sovereign
These who gladly received the Word of the gospel, those who were genuinely converted were brought to a very real understanding of their dependence upon the Lord. And this admission of dependence was manifested in both their prayers and in their posture. They continued “in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (vv. 42-43).
This was a praying church because it was a converted church! Those who have been brought into the family of God speak with their family members to their Father.
Does prayer figure significantly in your life? I don’t mean the kind of prayers that people pray on their way to work or to find a parking spot or in the case of an emergency. I mean biblical praying, which is primarily a family affair (see Matthew 6:9-13).
Do you make an effort to gather with the local church for prayer meetings? Are you concerned enough about your professed brothers and sisters in Christ that you gather to pray with as well as for them? Have you been so humbled by the grace of God in His work of conversion that praying for the hallowing of His name, the advancement of His kingdom and the obeying of His will are preeminent in your priorities?
Let me ask it this way, how is your fear of God?
These early converts walked in the fear of the Lord, which is what I referred to earlier as “posture.” Tim Challies gives us a helpful definition of the fear of Lord. The fear of the Lord, he says, “is not a terrified, horrified fear, as in the fear of a child for a monster or an abusive father, but a fear based on a realistic understanding of the infinite gap between God and man in holiness and knowledge.”3
Their posture before the Lord was one of reverence and thus one of joyful and hopeful confession of dependence in prayer. Does this describe you?
If I preached your funeral, what could I say about you at prayer? If prayer is to the believer as breathing, what would your attendance or lack thereof at our prayer meetings testify with regard to the true state of your soul?
Happy to Share
The early believers were happy to share what they had with one another.
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.
This is not only a well-known characteristic of the early church but has always marked the authenticity of one’s profession of faith. Those converted to Christ will share His value system; a value system characterised by self-sacrifice for the glory of God and for the good of others. This has always been the case (see Acts 11:23-30).
So let me ask, are you a giver or a taker? Are you willing to share what God has entrusted to you with others who are in need? How does your chequebook line up with the principles and precepts of God’s book? Verse 46 indicates that this particular local church paid a substantial and sacrificial price for their church life to continue (see the two verses which precede this). So let me ask again, does the way that you handle your possessions indicate that fellow-believers and the spread of the gospel matter to you? If I was called upon to preach your funeral, what could I say about that?
Holy in Your Surroundings
Finally, these early converts evidenced the genuineness of their faith before their surrounding community. Verse 47 speaks of them “praising God and having favour with all the people.” The result was that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
I don’t know all that this phrase means but certainly we can deduce that these people were so changed by the Holy Spirit that, as they increasingly turned to Christ, they became more like Christ (see Acts 11:26)! They lived differently; that is, they were holy, as Christ is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). These converts were distinctive in the way they lived and others could not but help to notice.
Again, if I preached your funeral and testified that you professed to be a Christian, would your family, friends, fellow-students, fellow-workers be surprised to hear it? That is a very fair question. I do not mean to suggest that converts to Christ live perfect, sinless lives. In fact one mark of holiness in the life of a convert is how they respond when they fail and fall. This speaks volumes regarding the sincerity of their profession of faith.
There was a day when each of these three thousand came to their last days, and finally to that ordained last day. Their funeral was arranged and their pastor was asked to do the service. His response was perhaps, “Praise God, we are going to have another truly Christian funeral! God’s name will be honoured and the power of the gospel to convert sinners will have an immediate illustration before them.”
As we close let me ask, what could be my response, if I preached your funeral?
- Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 22. ↩
- This study is taken from a sermon originally preached from the pulpit of BBC on Sunday, 1 May 2011. ↩
- Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008). ↩