Life (and death) in the Early Church
Acts 4.32-5.16 gives us a great picture of a great church in action! Many of us today tend to slip into the awful tendency of thinking of ‘church’ as a building, whereas the Bible always uses the term for ‘a people’. But not just any people; the people of Jesus- people who are trusting in Jesus, living under his authority and who meet to worship him. In short, a Church is a Jesus saturated people who delight in their Lord and Saviour! Thus, for the Christian, Church isn’t so much a place that we go to but a people that we are.
A Great Generosity
From what I have written you will understand that unity is a hallmark of the Church, so it is no surprise to read ‘Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul’. Clearly this was no mere lip service as we immediately read- ‘Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need’. What an incredible example, these early Christians were willing to put their money where their mouths were! Why? I think CT Studd put it best; ‘If Jesus Christ be God and died for me then no sacrifice that I make for him can be too great’.
A Great Sin
However, life was not all sunshine and success for the Church. Not unlike today there were some who claimed the name of Christ but who were not the real deal. Two such people were a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some land and, perhaps wanting to look good before the Church, proclaimed that they were giving all of the money to the Church while secretly keeping back some of the money for themselves. Such deception was a sin. Sin always has consequences, and for Ananias and Sapphira the consequences were immediate; they fell at Peter’s feet having been put to death by the Lord. To one and all the message was clear- God would not tolerate wickedness within His Church.
A Great Fear
Unsurprisingly we read ‘so great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things’. To be sure, God doesn’t often seem to do such things today. However, it would be very foolish to think that He never does that kind of thing today. In truth, for those who persist in wicked rebellion, such divine intervention may happen more often than we think. The Scriptures are clear ‘Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap’. This reaping may happen in this world, but it will most certainly happen in the next on the Great Judgment Day. This is the day that God has appointed when every single person who has ever lived will stand before God to be judged for their deeds. This is a fearful subject but this massive company will include you and me. That is a rock solid fact, and to live without that understanding is to be a complete and utter fool.
A Great Salvation
Mercifully death and judgment are not God’s last word, grace is! The passage has the words ‘And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all’. The Apostles knew well the truth that we have just been looking at- all people are destined for judgment- and they knew equally clearly that there was only one remedy; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What was this message? That it would be a good idea to start attending church? Start getting religious, etc, etc? That would not have been good news!
Instead the Apostles focused on what Jesus did- his death and resurrection. For it was in Christ’s death that he took the believers’ punishment for EVERY sin that they have ever committed or will commit. This means that for the believer their sins have already been dealt with in the body of Jesus. Christ’s resurrection guarantees that God has fully accepted Christ’s work on behalf of his people.
I am so glad that I can live without being terrorised by the thought of the coming judgment day, as Jesus, on the Cross, has already gone through it on my behalf. It is this reality which makes a Gospel Church a very exciting people to be around!