“Jesus Lives … Now What? – Part 2” (Acts 2:42-47)
Last week’s sermon began with a question: JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT? Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles helped us answer that question. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter preached to the crowd gathered for the festival of Pentecost that they had killed the one who was the promised Messiah, who now was risen from the dead. In response to this, the people asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” In other words, “Jesus lives … now what?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That’s exactly what happened. Three thousand people were baptized and were added to God’s Kingdom that day.
For us who already are baptized, the question “Jesus lives … now what?” is answered a bit differently. Daily we turn from our sin and turn to the Lord who paid for our sins at the cross. Each new day, we remember who we are as God’s baptized, beloved children. Each new day, we return to the promises that God once bestowed upon us in baptism and still gives us in His word of absolution. Each new day we renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. In the power of the Holy Spirit, each new day we return in trust to our Redeemer. Every time we hear the Good News of Jesus, every time we hear that our sins are forgiven, it’s as if we are brought right back to the font and washed clean once again by the one who first called us to himself when we were baptized.
But the answer to the question “Jesus lives … now what?” also affects the way we live together as God’s people, the Church. So today’s sermon is really a continuation of last week. This is “Jesus lives … now what? – Part 2.”
After Peter’s sermon and the response of the three thousand who repented and were baptized, the Church did not stop asking the question “Jesus lives … now what?” The Church kept on responding to the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The last paragraph of today’s text tells us of the church’s response. This is also our ongoing response to the Good News of Christ crucified and risen:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
JESUS LIVES, and we respond by devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. For the first Christians in Jerusalem, they heard for themselves from the very mouths of the apostles. And what the apostles had heard was directly from Christ. Their word was the Word of God. Today, we devote ourselves to the apostle’s teaching when we devote ourselves to hearing and studying God’s Word. The creeds and confessions of the church are expositions of that apostolic teaching, and so it is good for us to study them, too. We don’t invent new doctrines. Rather, we believe, teach, and confess only what the church has taught over the centuries as being the apostolic teaching.
JESUS LIVES, and we respond by devoting ourselves to the fellowship. Note how the text does not say “they devoted themselves to fellowship” but rather “to THE fellowship.” This indicates that fellowship is more than just potlucks and pinochle. Fellowship is primarily doctrinal. When we remain faithful to the apostles’ teaching, this preserves our fellowship. We are united with one voice in what we believe, teach, and confess. This is pleasing to God, as Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 1, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)
Another way of translating “the fellowship” here is “communion” or “sharing something in common.” We are united in a common faith and love toward our Lord and toward each other. We are united in prayer as we bring our common petitions before the Lord’s throne of grace. This fellowship or communion finds its fulfillment in “the breaking of bread,” which is another way of speaking about “the Holy Communion” … the Lord’s Supper. Here, we share most intimately our fellowship with Jesus and with one another. Here, at the Lord’s table, we kneel together in a common confession of faith. Here, at the table we kneel together to receive in common our Lord’s true body and true blood. That is true fellowship.
Now, I said fellowship is primarily doctrinal, but I don’t want to deny that fellowship is secondarily social. Potlucks and pinochle and coffee and cookies and retreats and birthday dinners with goofy games are important. It is good to get to know our Christian brothers and sisters in our own congregation. In so doing, we will better learn how to serve them and love them. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about someone just by sitting across the table from them at a potluck.
JESUS LIVES, and we are filled with awe. The text says of the first Christians that “awe came upon every soul.” They were filled with awe. They had a holy reverence. They acknowledged the presence of the risen Christ among them. Also, when the apostles were alive, they did many wonders and miraculous signs. These were their badges of authority, you might say. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that they are the things that mark an apostle.
We don’t get to see those spectacular signs and wonders among us today. But the presence of the risen Christ is still among us. And His signs and wonders are still done, although in more subdued ways, such as in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. These are still miracles just as much as the healings and speaking in other languages that the apostles did. And so we, too, can come into worship with a holy reverence and be filled with awe. And we can leave in awe, knowing that we have been in the presence of the Risen Christ. His presence goes with us. He cares for us as our Good Shepherd.
JESUS LIVES, and therefore we share lovingly with each other and especially with those in need. The text says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Now this, of course, does not mean that we are to live like communists. The early Christians still owned their own goods and property. But they certainly acknowledged the use and benefits of their possessions for the common good. For us, the point lies in our willingness to share with those who need our help, especially those who are of our own household of faith. God has given us our possessions to be a blessing to others. Jesus was willing to give up His own life for us, and this motivates us to give to others. In comparison to His sacrifice, it is a small thing to feed those who are hungry, to support those who are ill, and to clothe those who are without adequate clothing.
The early church responded this way to the Good News about Jesus, and the Lord blessed them. St. Luke writes, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Our Lord does the same for us. When we hear and receive the message of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross, when we acknowledge that He is risen indeed and is even among us now, when we come before Him with awe and reverence, He blesses us with glad and generous hearts. We share his blessings together here in this house. We share his blessings together in our homes. We tell the Good News about Jesus, and the Lord will adds to our number those who are being saved, for He promises that His word will not return void, but will go out and achieve the purposes for which He sent it.