We’re in a series wrapping our hearts and minds and lives around the role of the church.
Whether you’re currently going to church or not, it’s likely there are some missing pieces in your mind on what it is and what our relationship should be to it.
The more I study this topic, the more I realize how much is at stake. It’s a big deal that you’re here. Our challenge is to be a better community for anyone who comes.
We’re laying the groundwork, tracing the book of Acts. We’re looking at the organic grassroots of how it came about. It’s your history, the history of Christianity.
I hope we’re seeing how the church is central to God’s plan to form a new humanity and reconcile the world to himself.
The headquarters of everything God is doing in the world is the church. There’s nothing else like it.
Ephesians is the premier book on the church, but it has a sister book: Colossians. One emphasizes the church and the other emphasizes Christ. You can’t have one without the other.
In chapter 1 of Colossians, it talks about Christ’s power and authority and how he created all things and he’s over all things.
Similar to Ephesians, this shows Christ as the head.
He rules the whole world, but that rule is demonstrated through the church.
The witness of the church is not just to the world, but to all the cosmic powers and authorities of the universe. Why bring the church together? God wants the whole universe to see his wisdom and how he reconciles the world and brings people together. The church is the showcase for that.
The chapter closes with glory in the church and in Christ. Don’t try to pick one. You can’t be in on Jesus and out on the church.
The church is at the center of everything God is doing in the universe.
It’s important to recognize, nothing in that day brought Jews and Gentiles together. No political decisions or powers were going to do it. There was no way to bring these two groups together at the peak of their animosity, yet the church comes in and you start to see them together. Radically countercultural.
You can’t run from the church in the New Testament. There’s no depiction of a believer on his own. That’s one of the reasons you have the book of Acts. That’s a massive task to bring all these people together.
You see the hypocrisy in chapter 5, the hurt in Acts 6, and then you’ll see a doctrinal problem.
When we’re looking at the book of Acts, we see how God promised to build the church.
In Acts, there’s just one church on the scene. But it can’t stay in Jerusalem. It’s not just for Jerusalem, but everyone in the uttermost parts of the world.
You have the Jerusalem church thriving pretty well. They’ve dealt with hypocrisy and hurt and gathered leaders to help with the widows. Then persecution is what really launches this.
Stephen is chosen to help take care of the widows in the church. He is sharp, godly, knows his history, and has caught onto the vision of how the Old Testament promised that God would reach more people than Israel.
It’s not just the theory of reconciliation. It doesn’t just sound great. God is actually going to reconcile people.
If it’s going to leave Jerusalem, someone is going to die.
Stephen gives the longest speech in Acts when he’s questioned by the religious leaders. There’s a debate in our world on whether the Old Testament really matters. Read Acts 7 and it’ll solve that for you.
He gave the sermon and they killed him. He talked about how God moved through all the patriarchs and how God is working in a fresh way. They don’t need all these religious things, but a changed heart. That’s at the center of what the church carries.
Wherever you came from, God can change your heart.
Stephen is preaching this message, in some ways upholding Judaism and in other ways dismantling it. You can’t keep God in a box and lock him up. God is not confined to Israel. That’s the message. But it isn’t going over well.
Then they pick up stones to kill him. Hear his words.
This moment is far more consequential than we can grasp. They’re about to kill him for this message that God’s not in a box and the message is for everyone.
“Glory of God” is important. Remember the glory of God shining on Moses? There’s glory now on what Christ brings.
What does Jesus do when he gets to heaven? Sits on the throne. We saw that in Colossians 1 that he’s on his throne ruling.
The heavens open and we see Jesus standing.
What would get Jesus up from his throne in this moment? In Acts 2, Jesus dispenses the Spirit and forms the church. The Son of Man language from the Old Testament has the idea of judgment and approval. What I approve of and don’t approve of. For Jesus to stand in this moment, you’re about to see what he approves of. It’s a sacred moment. In this moment, he’s about to validate everything Stephen said. It’s not just for Jerusalem, and Jesus is affirming it here by standing up.
That’s how connected and supportive Christ is of who the church is and what they’re supposed to be doing in the world.
The message of Stephen that you need a new heart is about to be confirmed in Saul/Paul.
In chapter 8, you start to see the function of the church.
The “church” is how Christians were identified, so that’s where he went to persecute them.
Persecution is not keeping them away from church. That’s a really strong statement. Then in chapter 9, Paul gets converted.
Saul was persecuting the church, but Jesus says he’s really persecuting him. This is Jesus’ identification with the church. Good luck if you want Jesus but you don’t want the church.
Now the church gets a little relief and can start looking at how to reach Gentiles.
There’s another conversion that has to happen in Acts 10 to Peter. He gets a vision. He’s a quintessential Jew through and through, but he gets a vision from God that he needs to go into a Gentile’s house and eat with him and bring him the gospel.
God is going to change hearts. He’s going to convert the guys who are self-righteous and have opinions and hangups. You don’t really know who is harder to reach in Acts 9 or Acts 10. That’s us.
A big vision of a sheet has to come down from heaven. The vision has to come three times. A visual aid to show how hard it is to get into our heads that the gospel is for everybody.
Everyone in this room probably has someone they would not want the gospel to go to.
What keeps the gospel from going out? Stubborn and judgmental hearts and minds that the gospel hasn’t transformed. So the gospel gets stuck.
The basic message to Peter was that the unclean food was made clean. The food laws separated Israel from all the other nations. You couldn’t eat with Gentiles because they didn’t eat your food, and nothing shows intimacy like eating together.
If God removed the food boundaries, it would show there’s nowhere he’s unwilling to go. The early church has to solve the problem of kosher food before they could go on mission to the Gentiles.
Imagine getting a vision three times from heaven and thinking, I’m not touching that stuff. But he goes to Cornelius’ house, walks in the door of a Gentile, which is unheard of. He’s standing in the house and essentially says, you know how awful it is for me to be here.
Whatever you come to Christ with, he starts to transform your heart. The gospel isn’t going out from you if your heart is in any other position than that.
Peter said when he was sent for, he came without objection. The vision wasn’t just for him. It was to take that vision over to Cornelius’ house and walk in the door.
Reconciliation is not pictured in theories and visions. It happens by marching yourself over there.
Some people are going to India only because Jesus told them to. You have to actually walk in the door. You have to go there. Cross boundaries, enter homes, reach people. It’s absolutely impossible without him.
The difficulty of community and relating has to be faced if God is going to show the world how we are to reconcile with one another.
A lot of you feel this way that you’ll come to a big service, but don’t want to be face to face with people.
Don’t tell me theoretically that you believe all the right things but won’t walk through the door. Any barrier, any difference, any hatred, you have to walk through the door. The risk and sacrifices and cost, all the aggravation.
Can the church flourish in the crazy culture we’re in now? It can if you let him change your heart.
It’s not just a theory of reconciliation. You don’t just sit around and talk about how the church should be doing it. You have to actually walk through the door. It’s messy when you move from theory to action.
Andy Crouch talks about Low Friction relationships. Don’t we all want these low friction relationships? If this is going to work, we need high friction relationships. Don’t let the culture shape you. Don’t let your traditions and your background shape you. We tend to only want the people we connect with and no one else. That’s not going to work in the church. We need friction. Some of you have to reconstruct community you used to have and walk back through the door.
How many things keep you out of that room? How hard is it to walk into a life group and deal with people who are different from you? You have to overcome barriers and hatred.
You may think theoretically that your heart is changed, but you have to walk through the door.
Can the church really flourish in this culture? The only way it can happen is if hearts like Peter’s are transformed.
Cornelius wasn’t the problem. Peter was the problem. He had to overcome his prejudices.
Some of us are like Saul and have never surrendered our lives to Christ.
Some of us are like Peter. Just stubborn and religious and thinking you have it all figured out. You need to walk through doors because God said you could do it.