Friday, March 18, 2011

Building the Church

 This post is linked to Sunday Snippets

Y'all remember from last week Jesus rose from the dead on...Easter Sunday, yes, and after a certain amount of time...40 days, yes again, will go to...heaven. Yes. Let's look at two more things Jesus did before He "ascended to His Father."

What did the apostles do for a living? They were apostles. I mean before they followed Jesus, what did they do? What did Peter do? He was a fisherman. Yes. They were regular guys with regular jobs, not Scripture experts like the scribes, priests, and Pharisees. So after Jesus was alive again, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Jesus had to explain to the apostles how prophecies (like all the Christmas prophecies) made by men such as Isaiah were true about Jesus.  "...he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures..." I don't think they would have figured it all out on their own.

Remember that even though the Risen Jesus was on earth between Easter and the Ascension, he wasn't here the whole 40 days, only occasionally. And He didn't give the apostles clear instructions about what they should be doing. They were at loose ends. One evening Peter was with some of the disciples. "Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." Doesn't that sound sad? "Guess I'll go fishing, go back to my old job..."

"They went out and got into the boat." How many fish do you think they caught? Not any! Yes. "...but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" Well? No! Right. "He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat..." Then what? They caught a lot! Yes! "So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish." Then they recognized Jesus- why? 'Cause they caught all the fish. Yes; it was like the first time Peter met Jesus three years before, after fishing all night and catching nothing.

After they got all the fish to shore, they had breakfast with Jesus. Remind me, on the Thursday night Jesus was arrested, what did Peter do when people recognized him as a friend of Jesus? He said he wasn't His friend. Yes, how many times? Three! Yes, which means Peter...broke...the contract! Yes: "I ain't no Rock, I'm Silly-Putty!" Poor Peter. But "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Peter is so sorry he abandoned Jesus. How many times...three!  yes, Jesus asked Peter three times. And how many... three times!  yes, three times Peter said he loved Jesus. Which means? They have the contract again. Yes, in front of witnesses. And each time Peter said he loved Jesus, Jesus said  "Feed my lambs." So the contract is pretty specific now. Who is the Good Shepherd? Peter! Is he?, Jesus is! Yes! Is Jesus going to be around much longer? No! Where's he going? Heaven. And while Jesus will be away he...puts somebody in charge! Yes. By the way, did Jesus give all the apostles his authority to forgive sins? Yes? Yes, they were all together in one room when he breathed on them. But did Jesus tell them all to feed his lambs? No, just Peter. Yes, Peter is the #1 apostle-in-charge.

That's the end of the Gospels.

The next book in the New Testament is about the acts of the Apostles, the things they did. What's the name of this book?  The Acts of the Apostles? Yes. Whatta gimme that was. As we know from the Gospels, Jesus has resurrected, but he really belongs in...Heaven. Yes. Chapter 1 of Acts says: "So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" See, even after all this Resurrection business, the apostles are still expecting Jesus to restore the kingdom that had been built by...King David, yes, and...King Solomon. But Jesus wants them to quit obsessing about politics.  "He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." " shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." Bam, just like that, gone.

Imagine the apostles standing there, with their mouths open, gaping at the sky: wow...wouldja just look at that. "And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes..." who would be...angels? Yes. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." How did Jesus go up? On a cloud. So how will he come back? On a cloud? Yes, we assume so: "in the same way."

The apostles went back to Jerusalem and waited for the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, they had a problem. How many apostles were there? Twelve? Oh. Who betrayed Jesus, a monkey? No, Judas! Yes, who was a monkey? No, an apostle! And Judas the slimy traitor was still part of the Apostle Club? No, he killed himself. Yes, so how many ap...eleven! Yes, there were only eleven apostles now. How many should there be? Twelve. So they have to...make another apostle? Yes. "Peter stood up among the brethren..." see, Peter's in charge; and he says, "May another take his office." Tell me, if my brother dies, can I get another brother? No. But if the mayor or the president dies, what then? We get another one. Yes. Being a mayor or a president makes someone an office-holder. Even if the person in the office dies, the office goes on. And Peter says being an apostle is an office, so they should get another. "So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us; one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." They pick from the disciples who had been with Jesus the whole three years. "And they put forward two, Joseph...and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship..." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles." Casting lots is like drawing straws or rolling dice. I think the apostles weren't too sure of themselves yet to just out-and-out pick someone.

Remind me how many days it was from Easter Sunday to the Ascension. 40. Yes. So the Ascension is always on a Thursday. There's another event 10 days after the Ascension...? What's 40 plus 10? 50. Yes. What's this called [I draw a pentagon]? A pentagon. Yes; P-e-n-t-e [on the board] means...five! Yes, so the the event 50 days after Easter Sunday is...Pentecost? Yes, Pentecost Sunday, it's the birthday of the Church; like the Last Supper was the birthday of the priesthood. Let's look at Pentecost now.

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. "Y'all have probably seen paintings of the apostles with the little birthday-candle sort of flames above their heads...I think of them as getting FIRED UP! No more "Jesus, we're too scared to stick with you; Jesus, we're too tired to watch and pray; Jesus, which one of us do you like the best; Jesus, explain that to us again; Jesus, we don't know what to do next." Instead, like John the Baptist said, they were baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit. From then on they spread the Gospel, the Good News, fearlessly; so fearlessly that they were all eventually martyred except for John.

"Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?" People can't believe these hicks from Galilee know any foreign languages. This is one of their gifts of the Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News in other languages.

The Church started in Jerusalem. Before too long there got to be so many new Christians that the apostles needed some help with the daily work of the Church, such as feeding the poor. "And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen..." and six others. "These they set before the apostles" and what did the apostles do? Lay their hands on them! Yes!  "...they prayed and laid their hands upon them." They "handed" over some of their authority to these helpers.

Now let's learn about a man who is sometimes called the 13th apostle. His name is Saul...Yes? His name got changed to...Stop! Don't give it away yet! So, there was this man named Saul. He may have been a Pharisee: knew the Scriptures up and down, back and forth, way better than the apostles did. And he knew all the rules about the Sabbath and so forth. Well, Saul didn't like this new Christ-Messiah business that the apostles wouldn't shut up about. They were aggravating scribes, Pharisees and Levites at the Temple just like Jesus used to do! So Saul had it in for the Christ-followers, the Christians: "...Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." And if that's not bad enough, he was there when Stephen, who was just made one of the apostles' helpers, was stoned to death. The book of Acts says "And Saul was consenting to his death."

Stephen is the first of many martyrs.

Then "...Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." Saul wasn't satisfied with nailing Christians in Jerusalem; he had to go root them out in Damascus, which is still the capital of Syria, right next to Israel. "Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" So...who was it? Jesus? Yes. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus."

Some paintings of the moment that Jesus appeared to Saul in that blinding flash of light show Saul knocked off a horse he had been riding. Acts doesn't say if he was on a horse or not, but I like the idea that Jesus knocked Saul off his high horse to get his attention and teach him some humility.

After a few days, Jesus sent a disciple named Ananias to heal Saul's'd he do it? Laid hands on him! Yes. "Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened. For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, "He is the Son of God." Saul was converted to faith in Jesus in just a few days; of course having Jesus personally appear to Saul and knock him silly helped with that.

And today if someone has a rapid change of mind about something important, people will say they had a Damascus Road conversion.

Saul was such a great preacher about his new faith in Jesus that he aggravated people in Damascus; some were aggravated enough to...kill him? Yes. But his friends lowered him over the city walls in a basket, and he made it back to Jerusalem.  Saul needed some time to persuade the Christians in Jerusalem that he had had a change...of...heart! Yes, and that he could be trusted. But once the Church was satisfied, Saul and his friend Barnabas were sent out on their own:  "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." Being "set apart" means Saul is especially dedicated to his job of evangelizing. In Saul's case being set apart meant that like Jesus, he never got married. What people are like that today? Priests? Yes, and ...nuns. Yes. Priests, nuns, and Saul all imitate...Jesus. Yes.

Now after Saul got hands laid on him and was set apart, the Bible never calls him Saul again. OK you can tell me, from now on he's called...Paul! Yes, his name was changed, like Simon's named was changed to...Peter, yes which means...rock, or...stone. Yes.

continued in the next post