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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Advent: Jesus is Greater! Greater Priest

12/10 Advent: Jesus is Greater! Greater Priest ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171210_advent-greater-priest.mp3

This Christmas season, we are looking at Jesus. Jesus is greater! 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us that ‘all the promises of God find their Yes in him.’ This Advent we are looking at some of the sweeping themes of the Old Testament and how Jesus is the Yes to all the promises of God. Jesus is the greater Prophet, the greater Priest, the greater King, Jesus is the greater Man, the greater Israel. Last week we saw that Jesus is the greater Prophet, the one who faithfully speaks God’s words to his people. Jesus is the Prophet greater than Moses. Jesus is the one who communicates God’s words to us; Jesus is the Word made flesh!

Today we will look at Jesus the greater Priest, the greater Tabernacle, the greater Sacrifice.

Priests and the Presence of God

In the beginning, God made man to be in relationship with him, to enjoy his presence. But man rebelled and was forced to leave the garden, and the presence of God. God covered the shame of the first man and woman with skins, presuming that a death occurred to satisfy the wages of their disobedience. Man must now approach God with sacrifice.

In the Exodus, God took Israel to be his people, to be in relationship with him; God intended to dwell among his people and again be with them. In Exodus 29, God gave instructions to consecrate Aaron and his sons, those who would serve him as priests.

Exodus 29:42 …at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

God intended to dwell among the people and be their God, but for sinful man to be in the presence of the holy God is dangerous. So God set apart Aaron and his sons as priests who would approach him with the necessary sacrifices. The first chapters of Leviticus elaborate in detail the sacrifices necessary to approach God, and by chapter 9 Aaron and his sons have been set apart and Aaron offers sacrifices to God, and God accepts those sacrifices. Then in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered something God had not proscribed, and fire from the Lord consumed them.

Leviticus 10:3…“This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”…

It is dangerous for sinful man to approach the holy God. We must approach on God’s terms, not our own.

In Leviticus 16,

Leviticus 16:1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, 2 and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

Only one man, the high priest, and only once a year, on the day of atonement, was allowed to enter in behind the veil, into the very presence of God, and only with the appropriate sacrifices.

Distinction between Prophet and Priest

God appointed priests in under the old Covenant to minister and mediate his presence. Where Moses the prophet went into God’s presence to listen to his voice and bring his word back to the people, Aaron was the one who officiated at the altar of sacrifice, and carried the blood of the sacrifices in to the presence of God to make satisfaction for the sins of the people.

Hebrews looks back on the old system and gives us a concise description of the role of a priest.

Hebrews 5:1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Where a prophet was one who spoke on behalf of God to man, a priest was one who acted on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Imperfection of the Old Covenant

The Old Testament priest was the one who mediated God’s presence, who offered gifts and sacrifices for sin. But the old system was flawed. As Hebrews points out, the Old Testament priests were flawed. Hebrews 7:27-28 tells us that every priest appointed under the old system was himself a sinner, so it was required that he first offer sacrifices for himself and then he could offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. And Hebrews 7:23 says that every priest was mortal, so they were interrupted by death from performing their duties. There were many successive high priests, some better, some worse.

And the sacrifices they offered were insufficient and ineffective. Hebrews 10:4 tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. In Hebrews 10:1-3, 11 the sacrifices had to be repeated day by day, year by year. The sacrifices effected no lasting change. Hebrews 7:18-19 calls them weak, useless, sacrifices that could made nothing perfect; Hebrews 9:9 says “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.” Hebrews 10:1-2 says it “can never …make perfect those who draw near;” they cannot cleanse; they cannot take away consciousness of sin. The sacrifices offered were ineffective. They temporarily covered sins, but they could not change the heart of the worshipers.

Under the old system only the high priest was allowed access behind the veil, into the very presence of God, and only once a year. The old system, Hebrews 9:8 tells us, failed to open the way into the holy places to us (cf. Heb.6:19-20).

The Old Testament left us longing for something more, something better, something more powerful. Someone; a greater High Priest, a greater sacrifice, a better covenant.

Jesus the Lamb of God

Jesus is introduced to us in John’s gospel this way:

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Behold, the Lamb of God! A lamb that takes away sin, every Israelite would understand, is a sacrificial lamb, a lamb that would die in place of a sinner. But this is the Lamb. The one Lamb. When Solomon brought the Ark of the covenant to the temple, they were “sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.” (1Ki.8:5); when he dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (1Ki.8:63). And John says of Jesus “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Jesus is the singular Lamb of God.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is God’s Lamb. This takes us back long before the temple, back to the time of Abraham. God had promised Abraham a son with Sarah his wife. Finally, when Abraham is 100 years old, he has Isaac. It is through this promised son that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.18:18; 22:18). And then God says:

Genesis 22:2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Sacrifice your son. Your only son. Your beloved son. Offer him as a burnt offering. Abraham lays the wood for the offering on his son, and they walk alone together to the mountain, Abraham carrying the fire and the knife. Isaac asks “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

Genesis 22:8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

God will provide for himself the lamb. After the Angel of the Lord intervened and stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son,

Genesis 22:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

God will provide for himself the lamb. The Lord will provide. Jesus comes to John and John declares “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The sacrifice to end all sacrifices. For Abraham, God provided a lamb in place of his only son. In Jesus, God provided his beloved only Son in place of all the sacrificial lambs. Jesus is the greater sacrifice.

The Greater Priest; Healer, Teacher

Jesus is the greater Sacrifice, but Jesus is also the greater Priest. If we go back to Leviticus, we see one of the main duties of the priest was judging, diagnosing, distinguishing, and teaching. The LORD told Aaron:

Leviticus 10:10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.”

The priest was to differentiate between clean and unclean. Much of Leviticus lays out criteria for what is clean and what is unclean; what we may eat, and what we are not to eat; what health conditions or actions are permissible and what prevents one from entering the presence of the Lord. Childbirth, skin diseases, mold, bodily discharges; the priest had the authority to differentiate and diagnose, and to teach. But he had no power to change the condition of anyone. He could inspect and identify a condition that would deny access to the tabernacle, or even exclude from the community, but he could do nothing about the condition.

Enter Jesus.

Luke 5:12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (cf. Mt.8:2; Mk.1:40)

What a presumptuous request! No Old Testament priest could do that! They could diagnose, but they had no power to cure. But this man looks to Jesus, calls him Lord, and says ‘you can make me clean.’

Luke 5:13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Jesus does what no priest would do. He touches a leper. To come into contact with anything unclean would be to contract uncleanness. But Jesus is greater! Jesus by a touch and by a word transmits holiness to this man who was full of leprosy! Jesus is the greater priest who came not to diagnose, but to cure.

Jesus taught the people God’s standards. He came as the authoritative interpreter of the law. He unfolded the real intent of the law. He said things like ‘you have heard that it was said …but I say to you’ (Mt.5). When accused by the pharisees that his disciples ate with unwashed hands, he charged them with “rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mk.7:9). Then he declared to the people:

Mark 7:14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

When his disciples asked him what he meant,

Mark 7:18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, …

A priest had authority to teach the people what foods were clean and what were unclean. But Jesus is greater! Jesus authoritatively teaches that it is the heart God is concerned about, not what you eat or don’t eat. Jesus declared all foods clean. Jesus cleanses foods, cleanses lepers, raises the dead, even forgives sinners with a word. Jesus is the greater priest!

The Greater Priest; Mediator

But the most important way Jesus fulfilled the role of priest was as mediator, the one who offered the sacrifice on behalf of man to God.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

The amazing thing about Jesus our great High Priest is that he is at the same time both priest and sacrifice.

The Old Testament priests were sinners; but Jesus is “a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Heb.7:26); he had no sin of his own to atone for. Other priests were were interrupted by death, but Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Heb.7:24).

The blood of animal sacrifices could never take away sins.

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

The old sacrifices had to be repeated; but

Hebrews 10:10 …we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The old sacrifices effected no lasting change. But Jesus’ sacrifice of himself ‘has perfected us for all time.’ He, as ‘a merciful and faithful high priest made propitiation for the sins of the people’ (Heb.2:17). ‘The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’ (Heb.9:14). ‘He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb.9:26). The once for all sacrifice of Jesus brings about a real inner transformation in the hearts of his people.

The old system failed to open the way into the holy places to us. Only the high priest was allowed access behind the veil, into the very presence of God. But in Jesus, our greater High Priest, ‘we can draw near to God through him’ (Heb.7:25).

Hebrews 6:19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…

We have a hope that enters in.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Because of Jesus, our greater High Priest, we can enter in. The way is opened to us through the curtain. We can now draw near.

Jesus the greater Tabernacle

Jesus is not only the way in to the Father, he is the greater Tabernacle, the greater meeting place with God. Remember, in John 1:14, where we are told that:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word ‘dwelt’ is actually the word ‘tabernacled’ or ‘pitched his tent.’ Jesus, very God in the flesh, has become the tabernacle, the meeting place of God and man. When challenged by the religious leaders to give a sign of his authority to cleanse the temple,

John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” …21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus said:

Matthew 12:6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

Jesus is the greater High Priest; Jesus is the greater Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Jesus is the greater Tabernacle and Temple, the meeting place between God and man; because of his sacrifice, the veil was torn from top to bottom. Jesus is the Word made flesh, God come down to pitch his tent among us; he is Immanuel, God with us (Mt.1:23). Jesus is greater!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 12, 2017 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devoted To Prayer

01/04 Devoted To Prayer; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150104_devoted-to-prayer.mp3

As I began my readings for the new year, a word in Acts 1 intrigued me. It is translated ‘were devoting themselves to’

The Greek word behind the English ‘devoted to’ is [προσκαρτερέω proskartereo]. Here is how some of the dictionaries define it:

[Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries]

G4342 προσκαρτερέω proskartereo (pros-kar-ter-eh’-o) v.

1. to be earnest towards

2. (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent

3. (in a place) to attend assiduously all the exercises

4. (to a person) to adhere closely to (as a servitor)

[from G4314πρός pros (pros’) prep.1. forward to, i.e. toward and G2594 καρτερέω kartereo (kar-ter-eh’-o) v.1. to be strong 2. (figuratively) to endure]

[Thayer] – Original: προσκαρτερέω; Transliteration: Proskartereo; Phonetic: pros-kar-ter-eh’-o

– Definition:

1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one

2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing

3. to continue all the time in a place

4. to persevere and not to faint

5. to show one’s self courageous for

6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly

This is a strong word. It appears only 10 times in the New Testament. What is it that the early believers were devoted to, what were they earnest toward or constantly diligent or steadfastly attentive to; what is it they gave their unremitting care to? As we evaluate the successes and failures of a past year and look forward to a new year and seek to re-prioritize and re-purpose for the new year, it would do us well to look to what the early church was passionately committed to. Twice we find this word connected to another word. In Acts 1:14 and in Acts 2:46 we find the word translated ‘devoted to’ with the word [ὁμοθυμαδόν homothumadon], which is translated ‘together’ or ‘with one accord’ or ‘with one mind’

[Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries]

G3661 ὁμοθυμαδόν homothumadon (hom-oth-oo-mad-on’) adv.

1. unanimously

[adverb from a compound of the base of G3674 and G2372]

Whatever it is that the early church was unanimously constantly diligent and steadfastly attentive to, is probably important for us to resolve to devote ourselves to as well.

Let’s look at some of the verses, see if we can pick up some themes, and think together about what we should do about it.

Acts 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

The early believers unanimously constantly diligent in prayer. Acts 2:42 adds three things to prayer.

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

They were earnest towards the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayers.

Acts 2:46 has both of these words together.

[ESV] Acts 2:46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

It comes through more clearly in the Lexham English Bible, another literal translation.

[LEB] Acts 2:46 And every day, devoting themselves to meeting with one purpose in the temple courts and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their food with joy and simplicity of heart,

They unanimously gathered to meet together in public, and they gathered in homes to break bread and to eat together. The next verse is telling.

Acts 2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

As the early church was passionately committed to these things, God was saving people and connecting them with the growing church. There seems to be a connection between the unanimous devotion of the believers and the fruitfulness of the gospel in their communities.

Here is why the Apostles appointed others to oversee the charitable activities of the church:

Acts 6:2 …“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. …4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The same word is used in Romans 12 and Colossians 4.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

So we see repeatedly that the early church devoted themselves to prayer. We also see that they devoted themselves to preaching and hearing the word, to breaking bread, to fellowship, to eating together. If these are things the early Christians were earnestly and unanimously devoted to, these are things we to ought to be faithfully passionate about.

Why These Things?

But why have the followers of Jesus throughout history been committed to hearing and teaching the word, to table fellowship with the believers, to remembering Jesus in the breaking of bread, and primarily to prayer? What is it about these things that captured the heart and the attention of the church? What is it about prayer that is so clearly foundational and central to the Christian life?

Prayer

First, what is prayer? Simply put, prayer is our communication with God. When we address God with worship, with thanksgiving, with confession, with requests, that is prayer. Prayer is our side of communication with God. Jesus had much to say about prayer. He exhorted his disciples to pray, he taught them how to pray (and how not to pray), he told them parables about prayer, and he modeled for them a life devoted to prayer.

Prayer, the way Jesus taught it, is humbling. If you think of the four aspects of prayer, worship is telling God how awesome he is, that he is greater than all else, including me. Worship is telling God all the things I admire about him, most of which are not true of me, and those things that are true of me in some degree are true in me only in an imperfect and flawed reflection of who he is. Worship is turning my attention away from me an to God, paying attention to him, celebrating and enjoying him for who he is. Confession is agreeing with God about the perfect standard and acknowledging how far I fall short of that standard. Thanksgiving is looking at the good things he gives that I don’t deserve and couldn’t earn and expressing gratitude as a humble recipient of great and glorious gifts. Requests are an expression of my need and his overwhelming generosity, of my emptiness and his fullness, of my brokenness and his wholeness, of my lack and his infinite supply. Being devoted to prayer means being constantly humbled in his presence.

And yet the privilege of prayer is amazing beyond comprehension. I can approach the all holy God in prayer because he so loved me that he gave his only Son to die in my place, pay my price, and purchase me as his own prized possession. Jesus opened to me the way of prayer through his own blood. I have been forgiven and cleansed and made new, and I can stand before him as a saint, a holy one. I have been adopted into the family of God, and can now address him as Father. He has taken me into his confidence, and I can address him as Friend. I have been granted bold access to the throne of grace. That is a humbling amazing reality that I am reminded of when I pray.

Prayer is our necessary connection to Jesus. Jesus used the metaphor of a vine with branches. He said:

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

We must stay constantly connected to Jesus in order to be alive and to bear fruit. The circulatory system must carry away waste and deliver nutrients to the branch and or the branch will die. We are to pray as if our life depended on it, because it does! We are to be devoted to prayer. A branch disconnected from the root will not last long. Prayer is to be as natural and constant as breathing; taking in life giving oxygen, exhaling to carry away dangerous waste. Our connection with Jesus is directly related to our life and fruitfulness. A Christian who is not constantly connected with Jesus will not grow or produce fruit.

The Apostles,

Acts 1:13 …Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

These men had been with Jesus. When Jesus had called them to follow him, they gladly left everything. They enjoyed being with him. They had spent time with Jesus. Jesus had poured into them, invested in them, spent time with them. He taught them, trained them, answered their questions, calmed their fears, assuaged their doubts, prepared them for the future. When Jesus told them that he was going away, ‘sorrow filled their hearts’ (Jn.16:6). They wanted nothing more than to be with Jesus. They longed to spend time in his company, being part of what he was doing, remaining connected. Jesus said:

John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. …24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Jesus was crucified and his disciples scattered. But he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. Their hearts rejoiced and no one could take their joy. Before Jesus ascended bodily to the right hand of his Father, he said

Matthew 28:20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We abide in Jesus, we maintain that intimate connection with Jesus through prayer, through worship, confession, thanksgiving and requests. We depend on him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him and his word abides in us, we will bear much fruit.

The Word

Our side of the communication is called prayer. God’s side of the communication is called divine revelation, and this happens primarily through the preaching and hearing of the word. This is why we see an unswerving commitment to the proclamation of biblical truth among the followers of Jesus. We want his word to abide in us. Jesus said to the religious leaders,

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The Apostles were Jews who had heard the Scriptures read all their lives. But they had met Jesus, and he created in them a new appetite for God’s word. When Jesus appeared to his disciples,

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Because we have been with Jesus, because we have experienced him as the Word made flesh, we have a new appetite for Jesus, a hunger for his words. We want to hear him speak. His words are life and they are light. We are to be devoted to, steadfastly attentive to the Apostles’ teaching.

The Gospel

The early followers were devoted to the breaking of bread. Jesus broke bread and said ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk.22:19). Remembering Jesus by breaking bread is a way to keep our eyes fixed on the gospel. We must not lose sight of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus took bread.

1 Corinthians 11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus intended for us to remember him by breaking bread together. The early church was constantly diligent to break bread together. We too, should be devoted to the breaking of bread whereby we remember Jesus and keep our focus on the gospel.

Table Fellowship

The early church was devoted to fellowship. They ate together. They took food with joy and simplicity of heart. They ate at one another’s homes. Why eating together? The Corinthian church was rebuked for the way they ate together, each one going ahead with his own meal, not sharing and not waiting for one another. The purpose is not food, the purpose is building relationships. Eating together with joy and thankfulness is a way to build relationships. Having a meal together is a way of loving one another, and it can be a way to care for the needy. Discipleship, as Jesus did it, happened through the daily routines of life, walking, talking, traveling, fishing, eating, spending time caring for broken hurting people. The early church was devoted to table fellowship because our vertical relationship with God must bend outward to other people. Jesus said:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

The early disciples were earnest toward eating together as an expression of love. We too must be devoted to fellowship with other believers.

Devoted to Unity in Community

The early church was unanimous in their devotion to fellowship, breaking bread, the word and prayer. These were not only individual exercises. They were together devoted – praying together, listening together ‘with one accord’, eating together, ‘house to house’. The early church was devoted to unity in the context of community. They were together in public, and they were together in their homes. The early church valued one another. Their relationship with Jesus found expression in their attitudes and actions toward one another.

Hindrances to Unanimous Devotion

Why aren’t we devoted to the same things that the followers of Jesus passionately committed themselves to? What keeps us from being earnest toward the things of Christ? If we can identify some of the things that prevent our devotion to Christ, we can begin to weed them out and cultivate a deeper devotion to the things that we are called to be devoted to.

We live in an individualistic society. Our culture does not encourage us to spend time face to face with other human beings, interacting, doing things together, caring for one another, being involved in the lives of others. We have been trained with a consumer worldview, where we ask the question ‘what can I get out of this’ and ‘how does this benefit me’ rather than, ‘what can I give’ and ‘how can I benefit others?’ If we can root out the individualism and self-focus that prevents us from living in genuine community with others, we will be more free to devote ourselves to these things.

Sin clearly will hinder us from being devoted to the things of Christ. When we fill our souls with counterfeit food, we ruin our appetites for that which gives life. Our desires need to be transformed. We have an empty gaping hole in our souls, and we seek to cram it full of stuff to satisfy our longings. We need to unpack the junk so that we can recognize that our true longings can only be satisfied by a relationship with God. When we crowd our lives with busyness we are simply being pulled in too many directions to be devoted to anything. When we fill our lives with noise, it drowns out any opportunity to listen to his voice. We need to take a hard look. Some things may have to go so that we can devote ourselves to prayer, to the word, to the gospel, to love.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 4, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Church Leaders

01/19/14 Church Leaders Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140119_church-leaders.mp3

We have been looking at the church, the assembly of Jesus-followers, the blood-bought possession of our Lord Jesus, those who acknowledge him as King, who proclaim the good news that Jesus was crucified for sinners, those who make disciples, those who gather together to devote themselves to the apostolic teaching, to the fellowship, to remembering Jesus through the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

We looked at church members; that every believer is a member who belongs to the body of Christ, a body part intended to be a connected, healthy, functioning part of the body, each uniquely equipped and enabled to function as a vital part of the body of Christ.

Today I would like to look at those parts of the church body who have leadership responsibilities. What is the relationship between leaders and the rest of the body, and what are the responsibilities of the body to their leaders? What does God expect of leaders in his church, and what should we expect of them? We will look at a number of biblical passages to piece together what it should look like to be a leader in the church.

Pay Careful Attention

Paul addresses the elders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20. He prepares them for his absence, and charges them:

Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Feel the weight of responsibility laid on the leadership of the church. Wolves are coming. Fierce wolves who will not spare the flock. The responsibility of the leaders of the church is that of a shepherd with a flock. It is imperative that they be alert, diligently persevering in watchfulness. Pay careful attention. First, pay careful attention to yourselves, because he says that it is from among your own selves that men will arise distorting and dragging disciples away. I must keep vigilant watch first over my own heart so that I am not veering off course. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to the flock. Leaders are to watch over the sheep that have been entrusted to their care. Notice the gravity of this responsibility: care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. If God paid the ultimate price for his church, he would expect us to guard his bride with no less passion and commitment. Notice also where this responsibility comes from. This is no man-made authority; there are no self-appointed leaders. The Holy Spirit has made you overseers. This is a responsibility given by God, and recognized by his church. In this verse we see the care of the triune God for his church. The church was purchased with the blood of the Son, the church belongs to the Father, and the Holy Spirit establishes and enables leaders to care for and protect the church.

Feed my Sheep

After his resurrection, Jesus entrusted Peter with responsibility over the sheep.

John 21:15 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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Notice well, the sheep do not belong to Peter. Jesus claims them as his own. Jesus says they are ‘my sheep, my lambs’. Jesus entrusts Peter with their care; feeding and tending. The leader who loves Jesus first of all will be sure to keep his sheep well fed.

The Priority of Prayer and the Word over Physical Needs

As the early church grew, tension arose between the physical and spiritual needs of the followers of Jesus. Acts 6 records how they addressed some of these issues.

Acts 6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

People began to complain, to grumble, to murmur, and the focus of attention of the leaders was being diverted to address their grievances. Notice, by the way, that it was not the widows themselves who were doing the grumbling. Others complained on their behalf. The apostles said ‘it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.’ Pure religion, James tells us, is to visit orphans and widows (James 1:27). But here we see the priority of the spiritual over physical needs. Prayer and the preaching of the word must not be neglected or interrupted. So they appointed deacons to address complaints and meet physical needs, Spirit-filled men, wise men, men of good reputation. This freed the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

Paul tells Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Preaching and teaching is hard work. It is critical work. It must be a priority in the church. In 1 Timothy 3, a passage we will look at later that outlines the necessary character of church leadership, Paul refers to “the church of the living God” as “a pillar and buttress of the truth”. Truth must be defined, defended, and held to tenaciously. The word must be taught.

Equipping the Saints

Look with me at Ephesians 4. God poured out his undeserved grace on each part of his body to fulfill the purpose he designed for each one.

Ephesians 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

…11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Here he clearly defines the goal of church leaders. The purpose of gifted leadership in the church body is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Pay close attention to what this is saying: who is doing the work of the ministry? The saints, the body of Christ, every believer is doing the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry is not delegated to a few professionals. The work of the ministry is the work of the body of Christ, functioning together in unity, each member doing its unique part.

By his grace, God has given gifted leadership to his church to equip the saints. The role of leadership is primarily one of equipping. Equipping the saints for the work of ministry. This word means to mend, to restore, to perfect, to fit or frame together, to prepare, to perfectly join together. Equipping for growth in the body, equipping for unity, equipping to know Jesus better, equipping for maturity, equipping in Christ-likeness, equipping to detect and resist false teaching, equipping for love. Equipping for the work of the ministry. Every saint, every follower of Jesus is a minister, called to do the work of the ministry. You and I are ministers, servants, intended to serve others for the glory of Christ. The main purpose of those gifted to lead is to equip every believer for the work that they as a part of the body of Christ are called and gifted to do. Think of this as the base where you are issued equipment, where you assemble for tactical training, where you receive marching orders, where you are prepared to be sent out on mission. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 14 as Paul lists the gifts, he repeatedly emphasizes that the gifts are given for the building up of the church.

1 Corinthians 14:3 …one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 …one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 … so that the church may be built up. 6 … how will I benefit you …? …12 …strive to excel in building up the church. …17 … but the other person is not being built up. …19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others …26 … Let all things be done for building up. …31 … so that all may learn and all be encouraged, …40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

Each part of the body is functioning properly when each part is all about building up the whole body in love.

Selfish Shepherds of Israel

In the Old Testament,God incriminated the selfish leaders of Israel for not doing what they were called to do.

Ezekiel 34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Notice on what grounds he accuses these greedy shepherds. They do not feed the sheep. They feed only themselves, they eat the sheep, they use the sheep for their own benefit. They fail to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, or seek the lost. They have failed to protect the sheep from predators, becoming predators themselves. They rule with force and harshness. God will judge these shepherds. They will be held accountable.

10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

God himself will shepherd his people

11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out … and gather them… And I will feed them … 14 I will feed them with good pasture,… There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. …19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? …22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. …23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. …

27 …And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 … they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, … 30 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.”

God will seek for and rescue, gather and feed, give rest, bind up, strengthen, bring back, deliver, protect.

Servant Leadership

Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything a shepherd was meant to be. Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Jesus instructs his disciples to follow his example.

Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Leadership in the church is not about position or power or prestige. Leadership in the church is not about being served; leadership in the church is defined by self-sacrificial service for the good of others.

Qualifications for Leaders

That is why we find the character qualifications for leadership in Christ’s church.

1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

In his instructions to Titus, he adds:

Titus 1:7 … He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Leaders in the church must be men of character, men who have proven themselves responsible, men who are sound in doctrine, men who are selfless, eager to serve. Leadership in the church is not at all about what you can get; rather it is all about what you can give.

Shepherd the Flock

Peter says this to the leadership in the churches.

1 Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Peter tells the leaders to shepherd willingly, eagerly, as examples; not under compulsion, not for shameful gain, not in a domineering way.

He tells those who are younger be subject to the elders; and he tells everyone to be clothed with humility toward one another. Church leaders are to shepherd God’s flock as under-shepherds responsible to the chief Shepherd, the one to whom they will ultimately give account.

Obey, Submit to, and Pray for your Leaders

The author of Hebrews gives instruction to the church.

Hebrews 13:15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In this passage he points to the responsibility of the leaders to keep watch over your souls, and he reminds that they will have to give an account. In light of this weight of responsibility of leadership, He commands all of us to be continual in worship, to do good, to share, to obey our leaders, to submit to them, and to pray for them; to make their job pleasant and not painful. He reminds us that God is the great shepherd of the sheep; and God is the one who ultimately will equip you with everything good so that you can do his will. By his unmerited grace, he sees fit to equip the saints for the work of the ministry through the instrumentality of church leaders. God himself is the one who through Jesus Christ will work in each one of us that which is pleasing in his sight. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 19, 2014 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church Functions; What The Church Does

01/12/14 Church Functions; what the church does Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140112_church-functions.mp3

Last time we looked at what it means to be a church member. We defined church as an assembly of Jesus-followers; the church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. When we talk about church membership, we are not talking about membership in a society or club where there are member benefits, perks and privileges. Being a member of the church is language taken from the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians. As members of the body of Christ, we are to be connected, functional parts of the whole, each uniquely equipped to fulfill the role God has assigned to us.

Today I would like to explore some of the functions the church is meant to carry out. If we are to be functional parts of the whole, it is essential that we all have a clear vision of the goal. What is the purpose of the church? If each part has a clear understanding of the mission, we can move in unity toward the common goal, valuing the contribution of each member.

Last time we said that the clear objective of the church in encapsulated in the great commandment and the great commission. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples.

Evangelism and Baptism

Let’s see how this played out in the formation of the new covenant church in Acts 2. Jesus had presented himself alive to his disciples, and commissioned them as eye-witnesses to testify to his death and resurrection. He charged them with the task of making disciples of all nations, and then he told them to wait. Wait until you are clothed with power from on high. Wait for the promise of the Father, the promised Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit filled them and they began to proclaim the mighty works of God to the crowds in Jerusalem. They were supernaturally enabled to communicate with the crowd in all the languages that were represented. All were amazed, but some mocked. Peter explained what was happening by referring to the prophesy in Joel:

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Peter connects this proclamation of the mighty works of God by the apostles to the promised outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. He concludes his quotation with these words from the prophet Joel:

Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Everyone. Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved.

We get a taste of the content of this gospel proclamation of the mighty works of God in the following verses.

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Then he gives some Old Testament evidence to prove his point.

…32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. … 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. This Jesus, the one who did mighty works, this Jesus whom you crucified, this Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, this Jesus is YHWH, Lord and Christ, Messiah. Call on this Jesus as Lord and Christ, Jesus who died for you and was raised and you will be saved.

Notice carefully the response of his hearers:

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

They were cut to the heart. They were convicted of their sin. They were responsible for the crucifixion of God’s Messiah. They felt the weight of their guilt. They had crucified the Lord of glory! “Brothers, what shall we do?” This was broken-hearted recognition of their offense before God. We too are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus; it was our sin that made it necessary for him to suffer and die, it was my sin that he came to pay for.

38 And Peter said to them, “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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Repent simply means to have a change of heart and mind. Turn from your hostility toward God, turn from your rebellion, turn from your sin which nailed Christ to the cross. Turn away from whatever false religious hopes you were holding on to, and turn to Jesus. Demonstrate this turning by baptism, the outward sign of the inward truth, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, declaring publicly that your heart and mind have been transformed, that you have become a follower of Jesus. There is hope for you who by your rebellion have crucified the Lord of glory. There is forgiveness for your sins. You can never do anything to earn it. You must receive it as a gift. Turn to Jesus and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s promise for you, no matter how far you have strayed. God is calling you to himself.

40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Peter proclaimed the good news that Jesus is God, that he is the promised Messiah, that the Father authenticated his identity with supernatural signs, that Jesus was crucified, and that he rose from the dead. They were cut to the heart, convicted of their sinfulness, and asked what they should do. Peter told them to repent, to change their minds, to turn to Jesus, and they would be forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who received his word, those who believed, who turned to Jesus, were baptized, publicly demonstrating their faith. 3,000 were added that day to the church through belief and baptism. The church grew from 120 to over 3,000. Let’s look at what the early church did.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:42 is very instructive. It tells us what the early church emphasized, what they were devoted to, what they were diligent in and earnest about. Four definite things the early church was committed to. Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. Two things we have already seen in this passage that the early church did and we see them doing throughout the book of Acts: evangelism and baptism. They were proclaiming the good news about Jesus, making disciples, and baptizing into the church those who were believing.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Those who became followers of Jesus were devoted to the apostle’s teaching. Jesus commissioned his 12 disciples to be his eye-witnesses in a unique and unrepeatable way. He spent 40 days with them after his resurrection. He promised them the Holy Spirit who would continue to teach and guide them.

Ephesians 2:19 …you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The apostle’s teaching formed the foundation of the church, centered around Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, …14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

God gave the apostles to the church to equip them for ministry and to give them a stable foundation of doctrine so they would not be led astray. The apostle’s teaching was a big deal. The early church was warned against any deviation or distortion of the apostle’s teaching.

Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

The apostle Paul warned young pastor Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, …6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

…13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to [the] exhortation, to [the] teaching. …16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Do not depart from the faith. You have been trained in the words of the faith, in the good doctrine that you have followed, so devote yourself to the teaching.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul exhorted him to:

2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Titus was left in Crete to appoint elders in every town. One of the necessary characteristics of a church leader was:

Titus 1:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

The apostle John wrote:

2 John 1:8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,

We must abide in the teaching of Christ. The apostle Peter, aware that he would soon die, wrote a letter. He said:

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Because of the diligence of the Lord’s apostles, we have their teaching today in written form. We as the church must be devoted to the apostle’s teaching.

The Fellowship

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The second thing that the early church was devoted to is the fellowship. Fellowship is a broad word that can mean partnership, sharing, participation, communion. It comes from a root word that means common. In some contexts it means sharing financially (Rom.15:26; 2Cor.8:4, 9:13; Phil.1:5; Heb.13:16; root word in Acts 2:44, 4:32); it can mean oneness of spirit with God or with people (1 Cor.1:9; 2Cor.6:14, 13:14; Gal.2:9; Phil.2:1; 1Jn.1:3,6,7); or it can mean participation or sharing in something (suffering: Phil.3:10; blood and body of Christ in communion 1Cor.10:16; faith Philemon 6; root word: faith Tit.1:4; salvation Jude3).

John writes:

1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. …6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The fellowship of believers took sin seriously. They confronted each other, exhorted, admonished and encouraged one another, confessed to one another, and were quick to forgive one another. The early church was devoted to fellowship, partnership, relationship, unity of spirit with God and one another. They shared life together. They sang together. They ate together. They enjoyed a common relationship with God and with one another. They fought sin together. They shared financially with one another as people had needs. They partnered in gospel missions with their money and their prayers. There was a true sense of community spiritually, socially, and financially. They cared for one another in practical ways. The early church was committed to the fellowship.

The Breaking of Bread

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The third thing the early church was devoted to was the breaking of bread. To break bread together simply mean to have a meal together. When Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves, he gave thanks to his Father and broke the bread so that it could be distributed it to each person (Mt.14:19; 15:36). This common form of eating together took on special significance at his final passover meal with his disciples before the crucifixion.

Matthew 26:26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

After his resurrection, Jesus joined some of the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. …35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

We find in 1 Corinthians that breaking bread was something the church did when they met together. Paul writes to correct the abuses of this meal that was intended to remind them of Jesus. They called it the Lord’s supper.

1 Corinthians 11:18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

The early church was diligent to remember Jesus through the breaking of bread.

The Prayers

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The fourth thing that this passage tells us the early church devoted themselves to were the prayers. Prayer is communication with God. Jesus, by his example taught us the importance of intimacy with God. He taught his followers to pray for God’s name to be worshiped, God’s rule to be realized, for God’s purposes to be accomplished. He taught us to ask in dependence for our basic physical and spiritual needs, and for rescue from temptation (Mt.6:9-13). Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Mt.5:44).

The church in Acts gathered together to pray for their leaders.

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. …12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

In fact, I counted at least 10 places in the New Testament where the author either referred to or specifically asked for the people to pray for him. Prayer for rescue, for freedom, prayer for effective ministry, prayer for gospel opportunities and clarity in declaring the gospel, prayer for boldness. That’s about the same frequency of the author saying that he was praying for the people he was writing to.

Jesus prayed when he selected his 12 apostles (Lk.6:12). The early church prayed when they appointed leaders in the churches.

Acts 13:2 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.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

We are instructed to pray for gospel opportunities and salvation for all people:

1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. …8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

We are to pray for the needs of one another:

James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Conclusion

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The early church was active in proclaiming the good news about Jesus. They were active in making disciples. They were serious about preserving, proclaiming, and living out the truth once for all delivered to the saints. They were connected in community with one another. They were committed to keeping Jesus central to everything, remembering and reminding one another what Jesus did for them. They were characterized by their relationship with God, constantly communicating with him and depending on him in everything. The early church brought much glory to God by loving him, loving one another, and making disciples. This is how the church functioned. We would do well to follow their example.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 12, 2014 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment