The Faith of the First Christians

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

The Faith of the First Christians

Dr. Jim Denison

Acts 1

A friend once sent me some statements taken from performance evaluation sheets of government employees. Among them:

“His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.”

“Got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn’t watching.”

“Got a full six-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold it all together.”

“Donated his brain to science before he was done using it.”

“If he were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week.”

“Some drink from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.”

“Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.”

“This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”

Fortunately, the Lord feels very differently about those you will teach this Sunday. They are his answer to the world’s crying need for hope, help, and home. They are his salt and light, his hands and feet. Each person you will teach is called to be his disciple—a fully functioning follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord has called you to be their discipler. Your ministry exists to help them find and fulfill theirs. You are the one person in our congregation most responsible for the spiritual development of those you teach and serve.

The first followers of Jesus were in exactly your position. It would be their job to bring all who would follow their Lord into full maturity in the faith. How would they do it? How will we?

Walk with the Lord personally (Acts 1:1-5)

First, we must possess that which we intend to give. We cannot lead others further than we are willing to go. I still remember the impact Henri Nouwen’s statement made on me when I first encountered it: “The great fallacy of our age is to believe we can be led out of the desert by a person who’s never been there.” Your class will heed your words only if they can first follow your example. We must be what we wish others to become.

Luke begins his second book with the same dedication which began his gospel (see last week’s introduction to Acts). His purpose in the first volume was to tell Theophilus about Jesus’ earthly ministry, all that he “began to do and to teach” (v. 1). Jesus knew the importance of setting an example, as did Luke. He recorded first our Lord’s actions, then his teachings.

His Gospel ended with the ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:2; cf. Luke 24:50-53). His second volume picks up where the first left off: with the coming of the Spirit. Before Pentecost, however, the Master Teacher spent 40 more days with his followers. He proved his resurrection to them (v. 3), as it would be the crucial fact upon which the faith would be built (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17-20). Then he taught them further on the Kingdom of God, the central subject of his life and work (v. 3a).

Finally, he urged them not to leave Jerusalem to begin their ministries until they possessed the “gift my Father promised” (v. 4), the “Holy Spirit” (v. 5). They could not serve their Master until they possessed his power.

Neither can we. We must walk with Jesus as fully as did his first disciples. He proves his resurrection to us when we meet with him each morning in prayer, Bible study, and worship. During the turbulent 60s, a reporter asked Billy Graham what he thought about the popular assertion, “God is dead.” Dr. Graham replied, “God is not dead—I spoke with him this morning.” We learn that our Lord is risen and alive every time we meet with him.

As we commune with him, he teaches us more about his Kingdom through his word. And he empowers us to live in that Kingdom and extend its reach as we depend upon his Spirit. Each day we are to ask the Holy Spirit to show us our sins, then confess them by faith (1 John 1:9). Then we are to yield that day to the Spirit’s control and guidance (Ephesians 5:18). When we take these daily steps, we experience the presence and power of Jesus as fully as did his first followers.

In the midst of a stormy sea voyage, one young soldier could stand the dread and anxiety of the ship no longer. He rushed to the control room and watched the captain wrestle with the controls of the huge ship. With skill and strength, he guided the vessel to clear water. Then he turned slightly, looked at the frightened sailor, and smiled. The young sailor returned below deck and assured the crew that the danger was over. “How do you know?” they asked. He answered, “I saw the face of the captain, and he smiled at me.”

Look on his face daily. And those you teach and influence will want the faith and joy you possess.

Seek his purpose passionately (vs. 6-8)

Perhaps you’ve heard the old story about the famous country farmer marksman. His aim with bow and arrow was legendary—he never missed the bulls-eye of his targets. A reporter went to investigate. He found arrows stuck all over the side of the farmer’s barn, dead-center in the bulls-eye. Then he watched the farmer shoot. He would let fly the arrow, then paint the target around it. The axiom is still true: if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Only when we seek God’s purpose passionately can we fulfill it.

Jesus wanted his followers to understand clearly this purpose. They, like us, were more interested in predicting the future (v. 6); he is always more interested in redeeming the present (v. 7). None of us was placed on the planning committee, but on the preparation committee. We are to live each day as though our Lord will return this day. And one day we’ll all be right.

Remember the essentials of God’s plan for his people: