Easter 2 – April 11, 2021

“The Acts of… US – Not a Needy Person” – Acts 4:32-35


Introduction – Season of Easter & Book of Acts

Let me explain something about what we call our Church Year Calendar. Lent is that six-Sunday long season that leads us through a time of repentance as we follow Jesus’ suffering into and all the way through Holy Week, where we see Jesus die on the cross sacrificially for our sins. Now we are in the seven-Sunday long season of Easter that celebrates that Jesus rose from the dead, conquering our enemies of sin, death and the devil. The Gospel readings generally feature some of the resurrection appearances of Jesus until the Fourth Sunday of Easter which focuses on Jesus being the Good Shepherd. Then there are some readings that prepare us for the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day.

During the Easter season our first Bible reading, which is generally from the Old Testament, is replaced by a reading from the Book of Acts.  This year those Acts readings specifically describe some of the actions and ministry of the early church. We are going to direct our attention on these next few Sundays to the Acts readings, and to how that ministry of the early church applies to us.

First, let me give you a little bit of an introduction to the Book of Acts, and this is thanks to Bible teacher and commentator, John Stott. We start by understanding that Luke, the Gospel writer, is also the author of Acts. He addresses both volumes to a man named Theophilus. His Gospel was an orderly account of the things that were fulfilled by Jesus in His life and ministry, His death and resurrection. Luke acknowledges that as he begins his second volume: “In my former book, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven.” Now, as he writes the sequel, he implies that he will write about what Jesus continued to do and to teach after His ascension, especially through the apostles whose sermons and signs and wonders Luke will faithfully record. So, Jesus’ ministry on earth, which was carried out personally and publicly, was followed by His ministry from heaven, exercised through His Holy Spirit by His apostles. The glue between the two ministries was His ascension – recorded in both the Gospel and the Book of Acts. The ascension was the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly one. Some Bibles call this book “The Acts of the Apostles,” but that doesn’t give enough credit to the Holy Spirit. So, perhaps the most accurate title, doing justice to all the players, would be “The Continuing Words and Acts of Jesus by His Spirit through the Apostles.” And because this book of the Bible really has no proper close to it, it waits for new chapters to be added throughout the ages as the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through those who believe in Jesus. That’s why I have chosen the title for this and the subsequent Easter season sermons to be: “The Acts of… US,” for we, along with all Christians the world over, are writing the next chapters of the book.

So, with that rather long introduction to the Easter Season, and to the Book of Acts, we turn our attention to today’s reading, which is only four verses long, but which is packed with LOTS of stuff for us to consider as we seek to be the church in our world, in our time. So, let’s dive in…


1. Unity

The first thing we notice is that there is unity in that early church. Let me remind you what that early church looked like already by Acts 4. In Acts 1, we read about 120 faithful followers of Jesus gathered together for prayer as they waited for God’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Included in that group were the 11 remaining disciples (who are named in that first chapter). There were obviously some unnamed followers, too. The women believers are mentioned – probably the ones named who went to the tomb on Easter morning. Jesus’ mother, Mary, is named, and the last group in that Acts 1 list is that of Jesus’ brothers, who had finally come around to believe in Him.

In Acts 2, we read about the sending of the Holy Spirit, and Peter’s powerful proclamation – “This Jesus, God raised up from the dead to be both Lord and Christ.” In response, some 3,000 people received Peter’s message with joy, repented of their sins, believed in Jesus and were baptized. By the end of the chapter we hear that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Chapter 3 features the healing of a lame man at the gate of the temple, and Peter’s explanation that “it is by faith in the name of Jesus that this man was made well.” Chapter 4 tells of the result of that healing and that message – “many [more] who heard the word believed, and the number of men came to about 5,000.” Add in the woman and children and you have a church community in Jerusalem of maybe 10,000 – 20,000 people.

It is of that group of people that our reading speaks when it says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Isn’t that amazing? “The full number of those who believed” experienced unity. That’s amazing because… sometimes it’s hard to get a husband and wife to agree on something, or a parent and a child, or a committee of 4 or 5. There always seem to be contrasting opinions, or different perspectives on things, and that leads to disagreement and conflict. I know you know what I’m talking about. We have all experienced it – at home, at our place of work, with our friends, and yes… even in the church. And in one way, that’s OK, because we are all different. But in each of those contexts, disagreement is most helpful when it leads to learning and growth, clarification and understanding. So, for instance, despite differences between husband and wife, it is of vital importance that there be unity when it comes to how to raise children, or what values you want in your home, or how you deal with money. At a place of work, if you can’t agree on the important things like what is our company all about and how do we operate to serve our clientele, then maybe you aren’t at the right place of work. In the church, disagreeing on the style of carpet in the sanctuary or the time of the worship services are not “hills to die on.” It is of utmost importance, however, to agree on the teachings about Jesus as we read them in the Bible. Together, we express our unity on issues of faith each Sunday by our proclamation of the Apostle’s Creed. We believe that Jesus was true God, born of the virgin Mary, who suffered and died to forgive us of all our sins, and who rose from the dead so that one day we, too, will rise to live with Him forever. That kind of unity was evident in the early church in Acts 4 – unity of heart and soul, unity of faith, unity with respect to the crucified and risen Jesus. We hear that specifically in v. 33: “With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” But in the Jerusalem church, that unity wasn’t limited to issues of faith and teaching. And that’s what we hear about next.


2. Sharing and Caring

Luke tells us in v. 34 that “there was not a needy person among them.” Why? Because there was a genuine sense of caring among the believers, a caring that went far beyond what they had known in their Jewish community. That caring was shown by sharing the goods with which they had been blessed. Maybe you know the saying: “Sharing is caring.” We don’t hear so many specific examples right here. And we certainly don’t want to assume that those early believers lived in a commune kind of setting, but their attitude was not selfish. They considered that the things they owned were available to others as they had need. And we do have the one model of people – presumably wealthy people – selling lands or houses to provide for those in need. This was a voluntary sharing of one’s own goods to provide for those who did not have the essentials for daily living. Sharing your food or your clothing or your financial means was a visible way to show that you cared for a brother or sister in Christ so that there truly “was not a needy person among them.”

Although we don’t hear those practical ways to do that in Acts 4, we hear the implications for that caring in other passages relating to Jesus and living life for Him.

John the Baptist answered the question of how to live out a life of repentance and faith. One of his answers was to share extra clothing with someone who didn’t have enough. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also talked about giving generously (and without fanfare) to those in need. He also calls us to “do to others what you would have them do to you.” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” That was precisely what was happening in Acts 4 – people were doing good to one another, especially in that community of Christ-followers. In his first letter, the disciple John would call on us to love others because God first loved us. And the letter from James points out that true faith follows through by providing food and clothes to one in need.

Max Lucado, in his book A Gentle Thunder weaves the story of a Christian man whose life had changed and become unhappy. His children were grown, the neighbourhood was different, the city seemed harsher. He decided to talk with his pastor.

“Am I unhappy for some sin I have committed?”

“Yes,” the wise pastor replied. “You have sinned.”

“And what sin might that be?”

“Ignorance.” After a brief pause, the pastor continued, “One of your neighbours is the Messiah, and you have not seen Him.”

The man left wondering who the Messiah might be. He thought of several people he ran into in the course of everyday life, but every one of those people had noticeable defects, and couldn’t truly be the Messiah. But the man determined to look for Him. He began to notice noble things in people that he hadn’t seen before – an unprovoked smile, a genuine act of kindness, a caring embrace.

With time, the man’s outlook began to change. The bounce returned to his step. His eyes took on a friendly sparkle. When others spoke, he listened. After all, He might be listening to the Messiah. When others asked for help, he responded, for it might be the Messiah needing assistance in some way. When asked now why he was so happy, he said: “I don’t know. All I know is that things changed when I started looking for God.”

That story seems to spring from Jesus’ picture of the final judgement in Matthew 25. There He invites people into His heavenly kingdom because their faith was evident in obvious actions of kindness to those in need – giving food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, giving clothes to the needy, welcoming a stranger, visiting those who were sick or in prison. Without knowing it, they were helping the Messiah, for Jesus identified with the needy: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, whatever you did for the underprivileged and disadvantaged, that you were truly doing for me.” Like the man in Lucado’s story, we can find true happiness, joy, contentment, as we look for Jesus in those around us and as we respond with generosity and love.

We had an example of that in our congregation in the past year. Someone in our midst was in a position of distinct need a year ago once Covid hit. A number of people were made aware of the situation and responded with the same kind of sharing that we heard about in Acts 4. No one sold their house or their land, but people offered sacrificial gifts – both in kind and money. In so doing, a stranger was warmly welcomed into our midst, a family was provided with food and drink and clothing, and an individual was showered with compassion in the name of Jesus. I love it!!

Let me wrap up this section on sharing and caring by saying that it is virtually impossible for us at Hope Lutheran Church to respond to all the needy people in our world, not even in our community of Port Coquitlam. But the Acts of Jesus by His Holy Spirit through US can certainly respond to the needs of people in our own community of believers so that strangers continue to be welcomed warmly, the sick are visited compassionately, the poor are provided for generously, and the love of Jesus is shown genuinely. And of course we want that genuine love of Jesus to seep out from our community of believers into our friendships neighbourhoods so that others will see Jesus in us and sense a longing to get to know this Saviour that we know and trust.


3. The Body of Christ

One more thing that I want to draw out of this passage is the sense of the believers being the Body of Christ. That terminology is not used here as it is in places like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. But the sense is here. There was a sense in the early church of being part of something bigger.  There was a sense of working together for the good of all. There was a sense of everyone being important. There was a sense of everyone having something to contribute to the overall good and health of the body. That’s what it means to be part of the Body. When you think of the human body, hands and eyes and feet all work together, nervous system, respiratory system, and digestive system all work together, skeleton, muscles and circulatory system all work together. You take away any one of those things, and the body begins to fail. Every part of the body is important – just ask anyone who has failing eyesight or hearing how important those things are. Just ask one of my former curling team members in Calgary. He said the hardest thing about the game of curling was delivering the rock. You see, he had lost the big toe on his left foot, and that was crucial for keeping his balance while throwing the rock. Every one of those body parts I have mentioned plays its part in the functioning of the body.

So it is in the church. Every one of YOU is important. First, please know that You are important to God. You were so important that God sent Jesus to die for YOU! He did not want to leave you stumbling and struggling in your own sin and in the evil of this world. Jesus came to sacrifice Himself and die to forgive you all your sins, and He rose from the dead to deliver you to His heavenly home. So, that’s first and foremost – YOU are important to God, YOU are loved by God.

But secondly you have been placed by God in the church, in the Body of Christ, and you have a role to play. Oh, I know those roles have been reduced by our worship restrictions during the past year. But there are still some things you can do – serving on a team or committee or board, phoning people to care and encourage and stay connected within our little Body of Christ, studying the Bible together in a small group, being a Greader. In fact, right now I’m looking for people to offer the Greetings each Sunday and to read the Bible lessons. If you’re interested in doing that some Sunday soon, let me know and I’ll get you onto my schedule.

It’s by working together that we become and are the Body of Christ with the Continuing Acts of Jesus being lived out in and through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of others, so that there will not be a needy person among us. May the Holy Spirit set us on fire to live with that kind of love and compassion. Amen.

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