Acts 2:42 The devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
On Good Shepherd Sunday we think about Jesus as the good shepherd, and we are the sheep, and how he takes care of us, both physically and spiritually. He knows his sheep personally and calls them by name, and then he leads them to the place where they go. We also think about the false shepherds and how we are to avoid them.
That is the picture of the early Christian Church after Jesus returned to heaven. Acts 2 says the disciples were devoted. In the original language, to be devoted means to hold fast to something, to continue in it, or to persevere.
There are people who know how to persevere. Farmers have to persevere right now, waiting for the ground to dry so they can get into their fields. The people who lost their homes in recent tornadoes can't give up. They have to start all over again, find someplace to live and clothing to wear. They must continue with their lives, and we should all pray and do what we can to help and encourage them.
What did the early Christians devote themselves to and persevere in? Four things are mentioned. The Apostles' teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.
The Apostle's teaching has been delivered to us in the Gospels. It is what Jesus taught his disciples. Are we devoted to that? We say we believe in God and in the Bible. But are we devoted to it the way the early church was? Do we hold fast to what the Scriptures say? Gallup polls say 77% of Americans identify with some form of Christianity. That's down from 91% from 60 years ago. Many of us live our lives in direct opposition to how the Bible says we should live.
Most churches only see ½ to 1/3 of their members on any Sunday. What is more important than gathering to hear the reading of Scripture? You tell me. Will that other thing deliver you from death?
Most think if you believe, you are saved, so being devoted isn't that important. Luther said we should fear and love God so we do not despise preaching and God's word, but GLADLY hear and learn it. I hope you are here today not by compulsion, but because you are thankful for God's love and forgiveness, and you are ready to be devoted to His word that gives you salvation and that sense of peace that you search for.
The early Christians were devoted to the fellowship. That's more than what happens when we have coffee with some friends in the morning. In the Bible fellowship is when we have a oneness with others because of Jesus. We all receive the same gifts, like forgiveness, peace, God's love, fortitude for living, and eternal life. When we are devoted to these things, we are in fellowship with one another.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Now that can mean two things. When they ate together, there was a bond. Like one of our potluck means or funeral lunches. We bring food and share it together. There's a bond, a chance to visit. We came to the meal for a purpose. The disciples met together.
The breaking of bread can also mean Holy Communion, a sharing of the body of Christ. That's something that we should devote ourselves to. Meeting Jesus in the bread and wine. When we come to the Lord's supper in faith, we want to have good relations with our brothers and sisters in the congregation. Let go of grudges and rivalries, and spread peace among the congregation.
The fourth thing was the prayers. Luke refers to specific prayers with the word "the." What prayers would the early Christians know? Certainly the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught. We pray that whenever we gather here. We learn it's meaning and meditate upon it. Also the psalms, the prayer book of the Old Testament, and the songs of Scripture. A famous pastor once said our prayers should be enriched by the treasury of scripture and not by the poverty of our hearts. So it's important to gather together here each week to offer our prayers to God for the church, the nation, and specific needs of people we know.
There was a reaction to the dedication of the early Christians. Awe came upon them. Signs and wonders were done by the Apostles. They shared their possessions, even selling some things and sharing with the poor. Now I don't suggest you sell your house and give the money to the offering plate, for then you would be a burden on all of us. But surely we all have something out of the abundance that God provides us with that we can set aside and bring to God though the offering of our congregation. The early church did this with glad and generous hearts. There was no need for lectures on duty. They overflowed with thanks because they were devoted.
When I was a kid I had a chance to look at the check my father put into the envelop. It was $30. I thought of all the things I could do with that money. I asked him why he gave so much. He said he made $300 that week, and this was 10%. I'll never forget that. Show your kids what you put into the plate. It will help them be devoted to God also.
God was devoted to us when he gave his son over to die for us. Jesus rose from the dead to show us how he defeated death and all that we are afraid of. He calls us to devote ourselves to him, hearing and learning his Word, as our Good Shepherd. He calls us by name, and leads us to that quiet pasture. He warns us about the false shepherds and the wolf, who try to steal us away and kill us for their own good. He is our Shepherd, and calls us to be his devoted sheep.
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