Before the Shepherds’ Conference we were talking on Sunday mornings about the church, because we’ve had so many new people in our church, as our church continues to grow. I was concerned that everybody kind of understand the church. You’re so eager to be a part of the church, faithful to become a part, formally to join the church, to be baptized as Scripture commands us to do. And I feel it’s my responsibility as your pastor, or one of your pastors, to convey to you something of the nature of the church, so that you fully understand the church from the perspective of the Lord Himself, who has revealed the things we need to know in Scripture.
So for a number of weeks we looked at our Lord’s words in Matthew 16: “I will build My church,” and we considered all the elements of the church week, after week, after week. And then last Sunday, I gave a message on “Christ the Head of the Church.” So very, very important; a vital, significant message. We need to honor our Head. We need to worship the head of the church. We need to obey and submit to His lead through His Word.
There’s one more message that I had planned to give, and that falls for us this morning - I trust from heaven, through the Word of God - and it’s on how the church grows. How does the church grow? How does the church grow?
We hear so much in these days about church growth. And there are many, I suppose, offerings to us about how we can grow a church. There are conferences on church growth and how to grow a church. There are books on church growth, seminars.
It’s endless on how to grow a church. And we have to keep reminding ourselves that Jesus said, “I will build My church. I will build My church.” The only one who can grow a church is Jesus. He’s the only one, and He said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and I will lose none of them, but raise them at the last day.” The Lord will build His church.
Years ago, somebody asked me, “Do you have a desire to build a church?” I said, “No, I’d rather not compete with Jesus Christ. I’m not in the business of competing with Him.” He will build His church. All I want to find out is, “What does Scripture say is the means that He uses to build His church?” and then I want to follow in line with that revelation.
So I want you to turn to the book of Acts, and we’re going to be looking at the book of Acts in a little more general way than we might usually. But it’s the story of the church. The church really comes into existence in the second chapter of Acts with 120 people, then it begins to grow. And the book of Acts is the primary, the initial, the first account of the fulfillment of our Lord’s words, “I will build My church.” We come immediately from those words into the book of Acts, and we find out exactly how the church is built.
This is not theology, although it is certainly theologically true. This is not some kind of theory. This is not some kind of model for church growth. This is the story of the church growing. This is practical. This is not theoretical; this is not theological; this is reality. This is the church growing under the power of Christ through His Spirit. This is exactly how the Lord builds His church. And anybody who’s in the church needs to understand this, particularly if you’re a leader in the church. It is the Lord building His church.
In chapter 2 and verse 39, I draw your attention to sort of a foundational point here. This is the Day of Pentecost. The gospel has been preached by Peter. The promise of the gospel is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. “This promise is for you and your children for now and going forward into the future, and for all who are afar off, you” – meaning the Jews – “and your children, all who are afar off” – meaning the Gentiles. That’s a euphemism for the rest of the world. The promise of forgiveness of sins, the promise of the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which is what identifies the church. It identified the initiation of the church among the 120 in the second chapter of Acts when the Holy Spirit came. This promise of the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit is a promise going into the future for Jew and Gentile, and then this: “as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
That is the theological reality that the church is built when the Lord calls someone to Himself. Jesus said, “No man can come to Me unless the Father draws Him.” The church is the historic gathering, starting on the Day of Pentecost, of all those whom the Father calls to Himself - a saving call. And we see it begin immediately.
Two verses later in verse 41: “Those who had received his word” – that is the word of Peter regarding the gospel which he had just preached on the Day of Pentecost – “were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” There were 3,000 added that day, or about 3,000, because the Lord God called those people to Himself.
That’s how the church is built. It is not about human ingenuity. It is about the divine call, what theologians call “the effectual call,” the call that is an irresistible call. This is the great story of church growth, and the growth is explosive.
In chapter 1 there’s 120 of the believers gathered in the upper room to whom the Spirit comes, and the church is initiated. In chapter 2, verse 41 that goes from 120 to over 3,000. And then you come down to verse 47 of chapter 2, and we’ll follow the growth. We find there, “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” That is a work of God: “those who were being saved” by God. Day by day, by day, people were being saved.
Come to chapter 4, verse 4: “Many of those who had heard the message” – the gospel message, Peter’s second sermon – “believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” We can assume actually that you had 120, then 3,000, then more day by day, by day, by day. And now here is an influx of 5,000 men. And you could add women to that, and the number could be in excess of 10,000 and upwards. And this, by the way, is the last time in the book of Acts a number is given. This is astounding growth in a few weeks. The church is numbering in the tens of thousands in just a few weeks, and the Lord is building His church. It’s growing so fast, numbers fade away.
We come to chapter 5, and we find that in chapter 5, verse 14, we read this: “All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.” And now we stop counting: multitudes, too many, too fast to count.
We come to chapter 6, and verse 7, and, “The word of God [preached by the apostles] kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests” – the Jewish priests – “were becoming obedient to the faith.”
And then we come to chapter 12, and the growth of the church continues. In chapter 12, you can look at it in verse 24: “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.”
And then you come to chapter 16, and now you’re into the ministry of Paul. We’ve left Peter and John behind; we’re into the ministry of Paul, and we find in chapter 16, verse 5, “the churches now are being strengthened.” Now we not only have believers, we have churches, because a church was founded in Antioch. And then Paul went on a missionary journey from Antioch. So you have the Jerusalem church, the Antioch church. And then Paul goes across the Mediterranean, his missionary journeys planting churches as he goes; and now the churches are being strengthened in the faith, and they are all increasing in number every day. It’s more day by day. Christians by the tens of thousands are identifying with the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the land of Israel and in the Gentile world. “The promise is then extending to you,” – Jews – “and your children, and to Gentiles who are afar off,” – as chapter 2, verse 39 said.
The seventeenth chapter, Paul is in Berea, and he is preaching in verse 12: “Many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” And so it goes.
Chapter 19, down to verse 20, Paul in Ephesus; a great ministry in Ephesus, literally overturning the idol worship there. “The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” – “mightily and prevailing.” And this goes on until you come to the book of Acts in the final verse: “Paul still preaching the kingdom of God, teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”
Now that’s the story of the growth of the church in Acts. That’s the story; just explosive growth as the Lord builds His church, as the Father calls and saves people through faith in Christ and belief in the gospel. That’s the church growing. But by what means does it grow? How does it grow from a spiritual standpoint?
There are no techniques given here. There are no methodologies given. But there are spiritual disciplines, spiritual realities on which the church grows. These we must know if we’re going to be leading the church, even if we’re going to be in the church. And we have to have the discernment to recognize artificial, false efforts to make the church grow by the power and wisdom and cleverness of men. It is a work of the Lord. The Father’s involved, the Son is involved, and the Spirit is involved. The triune God is growing the church.
Now the first mark of the church as it grows is a transcendent message, a transcendent message. And I use the word transcendent, not to say that it’s a heavenly message – although it is that – but to say it transcends culture. It transcends culture. This is so obvious that it may be embarrassing to people who have forsaken it.
The church is born under the power of the gospel. “Faith comes by hearing the word concerning Christ,” Romans 10. “You,” says Peter, “were begotten again by the word of truth.” God uses the true gospel to save, and that plain gospel message transcends all cultures, all languages, all nations, all societal norms, all tribal traditions, all education status, and all economic status. It transcends everything.
Now remember in biblical times there was not a global village like we have today. Basically we’re all exposed to the world, so there is a kind of flattening out of culture. Culture is now defined by media, and media is ubiquitous. So there is a similarity among cultures that did not exist in ancient times. There were hard lines drawn between clans and tribes, and city-states and nations, and language groups. They had their own traditions. There were lines that were not crossed. They had all of their own customs, all of their own forms of expression, all of their own art forms. There were deep-seated, very distinct, very unique, cherished, ingrained cultural perspectives. Didn’t matter; the apostles preached the same gospel. It had no effect on the message. It was irrelevant to the message.
If the Jews said it was a stumblingblock, that didn’t change the message. It did not try to remove the stumblingblock by altering the gospel. If the Gentiles said it was foolishness, it was a stupid idea, it was ridiculous to say that Jesus was a god in human flesh who was killed by men, who rose from the dead and now wants you to be His lifelong slave, that’s folly in the complex imaginations of the philosophical thinking of the Greeks and the Romans. It didn’t matter if the Romans thought it was a stupid thing, or if the Jews thought it was a stumblingblock. It didn’t change; it couldn’t change. The Lord had said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” And the gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, rose again, and that salvation is in His name and His name alone. It didn’t matter where you lived.
Look again at chapter 2, verse 41: 3,000 souls come under the power of God, are called by God to Himself through the preaching of the gospel of Christ and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Who are these people? Go back to verse 8 of chapter 2. And while they were in Jerusalem because they had some connection to Judaism, still they are very diverse people. “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the districts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Jews, proselytes, Cretans, Arabs—all of them hearing in their own language the mighty deeds of God.” And “the mighty deeds of God” would be deeds of God done in the past, in the Old Testament. And then they heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ preached by Peter. It was irrelevant where they were from. The gospel didn’t change; it couldn’t change; it cannot change, whether talking to Jews familiar with the Old Testament, Gentile proselytes to Judaism somewhat familiar with the Old Testament, or whether you’re preaching in all those locations as the apostles later did; with particular interest, the apostle Paul did. But there were many others as well. The message never changed, never.
The modern call and cry for contextualizing the message of the gospel is a curse. It is a curse. The apostles and prophets of the early church took their transcendent gospel message as it was given to them from Jerusalem to Rome and all the stops in between. They took it to the literate, and they took it to the illiterate. They took it to those who knew the Old Testament and those who never knew there was an Old Testament. They took it to slaves and they took it to slave owners. They took it to tribes. They took it to the elite, educated people in the universities of the time. They crossed hard lines, national lines, social lines, cultural lines - never did the message change. All the way through the book of Acts, it is Christ, Him crucified and risen again, and faith in Him alone saves. It is the word of the Lord, and it is the only message that saves. The church grows with its proclamation of the transcendent gospel, crossing the world.
Really amazing. I don’t know anything about Chinese culture. I’ve made one trip to China. I couldn’t analyze Chinese culture. I can barely read a Chinese menu. But it really doesn’t matter. It’s not important, because the gospel crosses all lines. We need to ignore the nuances of social order and the peculiarities of style, especially never descending to wardrobe and musical styles, as if that had anything at all to do with the Father calling people. It’s nothing to do with it.
And I remind preachers, “I hope you can get your message out of your zip code. Can your message go to any person, every person, not only in your zip code, your town, your state, your country, but anywhere in the world? Does your message ignore all contemporary trends, fads, pop culture icons, and bring heaven’s truth down? Could you take your little bag of sermons and go anywhere in the world and preach them? Or should there be a warning on your message: ‘This message disintegrates in three months, or if removed from ten miles away’?” The message, the true message, is valid globally.
That’s how the church grows. People who try to contextualize live under the illusion that they are building the church.
There’s a second characteristic that we see in the church that grows. It is not only a transcendent message, a message of the gospel, but it is a regenerate congregation, a regenerate congregation.
Here’s a novel idea: the church is made up of believers. Is it too obvious to say that, that a church that the Lord builds is His body? It’s His body. It’s believers connected to the head, who is Christ. To call an assembly of nonbelievers a church is preposterous. The Lord is building His church by adding believers day by day. This is a serious defect in contemporary church ministry, thinking that the church is to be an assembly of nonbelievers that you’re trying to woo over to your side.
Modern evangelicalism seems to exhaust every imaginable and unimaginable trick to attract and collect nonbelievers into a building or an event and call it a church. It’s not a church. The church is made up, Acts 2 says, “of all those who believed.” All those who believed were added to the church. “All those with one mind,” – Acts 4 – “All those who are filled with the Holy Spirit, all those who are one heart, one soul.” It’s an assembly of regenerate believers, totally devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ, true worshipers gathered for spiritual purposes. And what are those purposes? Verse 42 of Acts 2: “Devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer.” “Apostles’ teaching” - that’s sound doctrine, that’s the revelation of God. “Fellowship” - the communication of spiritual gifts and ministries. “The breaking of bread” - the Lord’s Table. And “prayer” - prayer is prayer. The church is the gathering of believers engaged in that - forms of worship.
Interesting illustration of this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 14. Paul is writing to correct the Corinthians, because they have gotten carried away with speaking in tongues, and it is out of order and out of line. It was a true gift in the era of the apostles. But in Corinth it had been turned into some kind of madness. So Paul writes to them in verse 23 of 1 Corinthians 14: “If the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues” – or whatever it was that was falsifying that true gift of languages – “and an ungifted man comes in” – or unbeliever, some person who’s on the outside.
I just want to stop there and say here’s the assumption that when the church gathers, an unbeliever might show up. Certainly it’s not designed for him, but he might show up. The next verse, “If all preach” – prophesy, it means to preach – “and an unbeliever or ungifted man” – a man void of the Holy Spirit – “comes in, he is convicted by all, he is called to account.”
Just to point out this one thing: the church has to be aware that unbelievers may come. That’s a far cry from designing it for them. And when they come, there ought to be the preaching of the truth that makes them say, “God is in this place.”
The Lord’s church is an assembly of regenerate believers, totally devoted to Jesus Christ, worshiping Him. To design an event for unbelievers, great. It’s called an evangelistic event, an outreach. Great, we need to do that. But to design a repeated event for nonbelievers and call it a church is to misrepresent the truth. That is not a church. Church is made up of believers. It’s a spiritual crime to assemble nonbelievers and call it a church - a crime for which a minister might give account to God.
So how does the church grow? By what means does it grow? It grows by the proclamation of the transcendent message. Salvation comes through the proclamation of that message by the power of the gospel, power of the Holy Spirit. It’s marked by a regenerate congregation. The Lord builds His church with true believers.
Oh yes, there’s a false church, and false churches, and false denominations, and false forms of Christian religion. But the true church is regenerate. And if we understand the gospel and believe the gospel, then our view of the true church is it is an assembly of true believers.
Now there’s a third very important element in the means that we see in the book of Acts by which the church grows, and it is this: a faithful perseverance, a faithful perseverance. That is to say this: that the church, when it is persecuted, does not stop. It does not stop.
We do not seek to be unpopular in the world. We don’t seek that. In fact, I think you can make a case out of the book of Acts that the early church was very popular, very popular. In fact, if you’re in the second chapter of Acts, you can just look at verse 46. “Day by day” all these 3,000-plus believers are “continuing with one mind.” And they don’t have a building, so they just go to the temple and have church every day. And what are they doing? They’re having Communion. And then they go from house to house, and they’re having all their meals together. And what marks them is gladness and sincerity of heart. I mean this is an incredible group of over 3,000 people proclaiming Christ by the Lord’s Table every single day - full of gladness, full of sincerity, transformed lives, praising the Lord, and having favor with all the people. Yes. Yes, it should be that way. They should say they’re different. They’re joyful. They have peace; they have hope; they have love. Critical.
In chapter 3, we see that the world was in awe of them. When Peter and John healed the blind beggar, and he was walking and leaping and praising God, verse 9 says, “All the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him.” The folks are amazed at the power displayed by the apostles.
Chapter 5, verse 13, says that “the people held them in high esteem.” They were living at a level that life just didn’t offer the rest of the population. They admired their love. They admired their joy. They admired their grasp of truth and hope. It should be that way.
First Timothy 3:7 says if you want to be an elder in the church, you “must have a good reputation with those outside the church.” The world ought to be able to see goodness, righteousness, love, virtue, character. But alongside that - that respect for integrity and virtue - comes a very aggressive, violent hatred for the message. They’ll like you until you tell them, “Everyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ is headed for eternal hell forever,” and everything changes.
The message is narrow; it is exclusive; it is confrontive; it is condemning; it is judgmental; it generates hostility. Jesus said in John 15 and 16, “They hated Me; they will hate you. I’m just telling you they will hate you; they hated Me. They killed Me; they’ll kill you.” And what we see in the early chapter of Acts on the one hand is respect; and on the other hand, they start killing the apostles. They kill James, and they kill Stephen, and the slaughter begins, and it becomes a great slaughter very early in the book of Acts. And one of the principal motivators of that slaughter is a man named Saul.
So on the one hand, the world is in this tension that they admire the transformation in our lives, and the joy, peace, love that marks us. And if we never say anything, everything would be fine. But when we do what we’re supposed to do, which is to alarm the unconverted, when we press the issue of judgment and the gospel – and it’s the exclusivity of the gospel. When you say, “Anyone who denies the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture is on the way to eternal hell,” that is a very, very narrow message. And that’s exactly what the apostle said in chapter 4, verse 12: “There’s no salvation in any other than Jesus Christ. If you don’t come to Christ, your entire system of Judaism is absolutely a road to hell.”
That’s the message. It’s offensive; it’s exclusive. It puts all false religion in the same category; none is better than the other. In fact, none is better. In fact, none is good; they’re all bad. And we are called to alarm the sinner. We are the world’s smoke alarms, and we need to be going off. We need, on the one hand, to be admired; on the other hand, to be feared.
That’s kind of how I view myself. On the one hand, I want people to look at me with favor, because there’s a kindness there. There’s love and compassion, even for unbelievers. But I understand as soon as the message reaches them, the narrow message of the gospel, that whatever favor I might have from them is immediately mitigated by the hostility toward the gospel.
You can’t change that and be faithful. You can’t change that and be faithful. It may cost you your life, right? “Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Me. Hate your father, hate your mother, your sister, your brother, and even your own life.”
The church was called to be persecuted; it still is. Go to chapter 4 in Acts. It all seems like it’s going great in chapter 2, chapter 3. We come to chapter 4: as Peter and John are “speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” You know, they had certain admiration for them, but they hated the message of Jesus.
“So they laid hands on them,” in verse 3, “and put them in jail until the next day.” It was already evening, of course, so they did that until the next day when they could deal with them. “Many of those who had heard the message believed; the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” We commented on that. They are in a panic, because people are listening and believing their message.
So the next day finally comes. Rulers, elders, scribes gather in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest is there - Caiaphas, John Alexander, others of the high-priestly descent or family. They place these two apostles in the middle of that austere group, “began to inquire, ‘By what power and what name have you done these things?’” And they’re still talking about healing the lame man in the temple.
“Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.’” And, oh, by the way, “‘He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, which became the chief corner stone. And there is no salvation in anyone else, no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.’”
You talk about boldness. They want to talk about what power to heal the man, and he says, “You leaders crucified Christ, and He’s the only Savior.” Well, that lit the flames. They panicked.
So in verse 18, “they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge...we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the of the people,” – afraid of the people – “because they were all glorifying God for what had happened.” It didn’t take long for the bloodbath to begin. Herod launched a persecution. James is murdered. Peter’s in prison, and then the slaughter begins.
The power of God demonstrated in the early church created favor with the people when they looked at the lives of believers. But when they spoke the narrow truth of the gospel, they put themselves in harm’s way: grave, severe danger. The unbelieving world does not like the message. They might like us; they don’t like the message. The possibility that non-Christians would be comfortable in a church is absurd. It’s absurd.
Charles Spurgeon said this: “The bishops of God’s church, the professed leaders of the Lord’s hosts, the pretended followers of the Redeemer, have done more damage to the church than all the church’s enemies. If the church were not a divine thing protected by God, she must have ceased to exist merely through the failure and iniquity of her own professed friends. I do not wonder that the church of God survived martyrdom and death, but I do marvel that she has survived the unfaithfulness of her own children, and the cruel backsliding of her own members.”
And then he went on to say this, 1888: “The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world. And so include a larger area within its bounds by semi-dramatic performances. They make houses of prayer to approximate the theater. They turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues, or philosophical, psychological essays. In fact, they exchange the temple for the theater, and turn the ministers of God into actors whose business is to amuse men. Is it not so that the Lord’s Day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a place where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God. Ah, me,” says Spurgeon, “the hedges are broken down, the walls are leveled. To many there is henceforth no church, except as a portion of the world, no God, except as an unknowable force by which the laws of success and happiness work.”
And finally he said, “This then is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform Himself, His people, and His Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.” That’s destructive - deadly threat to the church.
The Lord’s not trying to fill up His church with unbelievers. The truth is He’s trying to keep them out. You say, “Are you kidding?” No.
There’s a fourth means by which the church grew: one, a transcendent message; two, a regenerate congregation; three, a valiant or faithful perseverance through persecution. They accepted that persecution, and they grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and grew. The fourth one is an evident purity, an evident purity.
Now look, with so many signs and wonders, healings at the hands of the apostles – and that happened in the apostolic era because there was no New Testament yet. So of all the teachers roaming around town, how do you know who’s telling you the truth? How do you know who’s from God? You find the one who healed the lame man; you find the one who raised the dead; you find the one who can heal people. There is evidence of God’s power, and that means God’s truth is coming from those men who possess God’s power.
So the church now is very attractive. It’s attractive to people who are sick. It’s attractive to people who are troubled in distress of any kind. They’re flooding to the church, like people do today, to fake healers. So the Lord has to protect His church. He has to protect His church, because as Paul said in Corinthians, “A little leaven, a little leaven leavens everything.” He’s got to protect His church. He’s got to stop the flow of nonbelievers. Isn’t that interesting? He’s got to stop the flow of curious nonbelievers. And it has to be pretty dramatic; and it is
Chapter 5: “A man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.” What’s the point of that? Back up one verse, two verses: “Joseph, called Barnabas...owned a tract of land, sold it, brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Here’s the problem: the Day of Pentecost you’ve got all these people who’ve come into Jerusalem for Pentecost, and they’re from other countries. And when the Holy Spirit comes and the church is formed, all of a sudden they’re in the church. And there’s no church anywhere else, so they stay. So you have all these strangers trying to find survival in Jerusalem among the believers. How were they going to care for them? They wouldn’t be employed. Even true believers who lived in the city lost their jobs. So they began to sell land to give money to the support of those who needed help. This Joseph of verse 36 sold his land, gave all the money to meet the needs of these people.
Along comes Ananias and Sapphira. He and his wife decide, “We could look good in front of everybody if we did something like that.” He sells a piece of property under the pretense that he was putting it all in front of the apostles. “But he kept back,” verse 2 says, “some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge.” He’s bringing in only a portion of it. He laid it at the apostles’ feet under the pretense that this was everything. That’s how they used to collect the offering, I guess. Everybody came up front and gave it to the apostles.
Peter stopped him and said, “‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the price of the land?’” Whoa. You really don’t want to be called out in church. None of you do. And then Peter says – he’s given divine knowledge of this apparently – “‘While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?’” You could have kept it. You didn’t have to sell it. That was voluntary. “‘After it was sold, was it not under your control?’” You could have given a part of it. “‘Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have lied, not to men, but to God.’” The lie is you said it’s everything and it’s not.
You say, “That’s a small thing, isn’t it? I mean he gave. If he sold a piece of land, it must have given a lot.” This is a big thing. Sin in the church is a big thing.
“After he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last.” What?! He died. God killed him. He was killed. He was sort of killed at the offering.
“Great fear came over all who heard of it.” And what was the fear? “God is in this place.” And are we honest? Are we truthful? What about our hearts? Are we going to survive church?
“Young men got up, covered him up, carried him out and buried him...there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife showed up.”
“What are you doing?” First of all, I love a church service being three hours long, but apart from that – “Where have you been?” How much can one woman do with her hair?
Three hours later she shows up. She doesn’t know what happened. There’s been a funeral - and she didn’t even know it - of her husband. Peter calls her out: “‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price.’ She said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in, found her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” That is some day at church. Two dead people who were generous, but lied.
But here’s the reason, verse 11: “Great fear came over the whole church.” Yes, this is serious business. This isn’t a joke; this isn’t a comedy; this isn’t theater; this is reality. The Lord killed two people in front of the entire church to show how serious He was about purity. Verse 12 - here’s the point I wanted you to see - “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people, all...in Solomon’s portico,” which was one big area in the temple courtyard. The healings went on. But look at this: “None of the rest dared to associate with them, even though the people held them in high esteem.” “You don’t want to go to that place; people died there.”
The Lord accomplished what He wanted. He stopped unbelievers coming to church for the wrong reason. He stopped unbelievers coming to church for the wrong reason. The Lord desires the holiness of His church, and that demands a believing church, come together based on the gospel.
One final comment, because time is up. In chapter 6, one other key in the growth of the church. “Disciples are increasing in number,” verse 1; they have an issue with the Hellenistic Jews. That would be the Jews from the Greek world who have come to Jerusalem, and they are there and they have to be cared for. Apparently some of their widows were not getting enough food; and most of the food was going to the local people, the local Hebrews rather than these Hellenistic Jews. So some folks came and said, “We need to feed these widows that are in our midst.” “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples, said, ‘It’s not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.’”
All right, now you have the first, the first declaration of church leadership: somebody must proclaim the Word of God; somebody else has to take care of the widows.
“Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, put them over that job. We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” And that’s the first structure of the church. You have qualified men full of faith, full of wisdom, full of the Holy Spirit, who give themselves to the Word and prayer; and then you have all the faithful folks who come around them to serve. That’s the church. That’s the church.
And when that happens, verse 7, “The word of God keeps on spreading; and the number keeps on multiplying.” That’s how the early church grew. That’s how the church always grows. Let’s pray.
Lord, again, it’s such a privilege for us to have access to Your mind and the mind of Christ through the Word of God. So thankful we are for the clarity with which You have revealed to us Your blessed, loved, blood-bought, sanctified, and one day glorified church. Thank You for making us part of it. Thank You for the privilege of being part of the body of Christ attached to our all-glorious head, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Lord, I would pray that You would even call some in this hour, right now to You, to come repenting of sin and acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and asking for forgiveness of sin and everlasting salvation; and that some today would be added to Your church. That’s our prayer. We ask this in Christ’s name. Amen.