Understanding where we came from to know where to go


Acts 2:41-47 is a passage that is the pinnacle of true church life, ending with verse 47, it is what happens when the Spirit is poured into the church and the congregation accept it with arms wide open. If the church is willing to accept that then each of us as individuals and part of the cell of the body will grow. But it is beholden on each member to do their bit which Ephesians tells us:-

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

The bible isn’t formulaic, we don’t do A and b to get C, we do it because it’s the best Christian life. Their was no creed or apostles teaching nor Christ’s on this being how a church should function, it was a spontaneous outpouring of the Lords summing up of “love the Lord you God with all your heart all your soul and all your mind.

I believe we need to consider these attributes the early church showed and put them into practice in our own lives, not to get V47 but to enjoy our Christian walk. Yet even though it was a spontaneous reaction to Christ teaching, it didn’t happen over night like flowers in bloom they have done some growing underground first. To understand the development of the Church in Jerusalem we have to see where they came from.

The temple mount was the scene of Abraham offering Isaac and later it was a threshing floor that David purchased to build a temple on, it was always destined to be a place of sacrifice. But not until David had its religious significance been begun and only under Solomon was it realised.

But then it became as nothing to Israel through a succession of good and bad kings treated it so until the last siege of Nebuchadnezzar and the temples destruction

Read Lamentations 1

The Letter is split into three, Jeremiahs disbelief, 1 to 11 The words of the city if it could speak 12 to 18 and finally a contemplation of how these things could come to be.

Jeremiahs ministry had been to tell the people this was going to happen. And now he was sat in the city, Its temple plundered of its wealth and destroyed. Its leaders and students, the thinkers and ideas men taken away, Its craftsmen and artisans captured for the service of other gods. Those who could lead others into worship were taken, the priests gone and no one came to serve the Lord or to offer sacrifice. Everything the city stood for was stripped away, all that it was known for taken, its strength brought low never to be recovered.

Oh the city isn’t abandoned, its not deserted, it still has many people left, but those who were born with their hands out, not their sleeves rolled up, Those who rely on others not those who others can rely on. They are bereft of ideas, they exist, they don’t thrive, they survive they don’t conquer.

I wonder if you can imagine this, a city once the jewel of the known world, praised for its skills its importance a center of excellence a hive of industry, a place of worshippers where people went to church. A place full of ideas, full of creativity a place where God moved and created a move of his wonderful presence.

Today we don’t have to struggle to imagine because many of us who were born or lived in Northern towns have seen a very similar massive decline. For many older Christians they may also remember the halcyon days of the Church in its ascendancy. But now have seen its terrible decline, where the best and the brightest seem to have left the ministry and the dross is left.

Jeremiah was in disbelief at the speediness of the fall, but we read

Jehovah is righteous, for I have rebelled against His command. I beseech you, all peoples, hear and behold my sorrow. My virgins and my young men went into exile. I called for my lovers, but they deceived me; my priests and my elders expired in the city while they sought food for them to bring back their life. Behold, O Jehovah, for I am in trouble; my inward parts ferment; my heart is turned within me, for I have grievously rebelled. On the outside the sword bereaves; in the house it is as death. Lamentations 1:18-20

But you say in your heart what evil did we do, what did we say, how can you say this, I am not guilty of the crime. I have given my tithe I have attended the house, I pray aloud and speak in tongues; therefore I do not deserve this situation. But The judgment of God although swift when it comes is deserved, The destruction of Jerusalem did not come about because of something that was done, but because of things that were done and a stubborn refusal to heed the warnings of God.

But Isaiah let us know how this fall was to happen, and at a time when the city was great a power house, he warned them.

And you said, I shall be a mistress forever; so you did not lay these things to your heart, nor remembered the latter end of it. Now then hear this, O pleasure seeker, who lives carelessly; who says in her heart, I am, and none else is; I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children. But these two things shall come to you in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come on you in their fullness for the multitude of your sorceries, and for the great power of your enchantments. Isaiah 47:7-9

And why

For you have trusted in your wickedness; you have said, No one sees me. Your wisdom and your knowledge, it has perverted you; and you have said in your heart, I am, and there is no one else. But evil shall come on you; you shall not know its origin. And mischief shall fall on you; you shall not be able to put it off. And desolation shall come on you suddenly, you shall not know. Isaiah 47:10-11

When the children of Israel went into the exile they were told, by many who thought they were speaking in God’s name that God will not allow this He will raise up and destroy our enemies. But God told them in Jeremiah 29 to wait and except and in the future he had plans to prosper and not to harm. But the people did not except the blame, they looked back with nostalgia, and a generation who refused to accept that their time of blessing had seen the leaven mixed into the meal, The fellowship of God, ruined with sin. And it was to Daniel who 70 years later fasted for weeks, sought God to the point of exhaustion and to make prayers for the sins of his people and that when the Lord Moved. I wonder do you accept your part today that up to this stage you have been a servant of two camps trying to have the best of both worlds. Because the difficulty of this series of teachings is that we will never enjoy serving the Lord until we are happy to do it willingly.

Oh but you see I had so much on and I couldn’t give to the Lord that which He wanted.

Friends whilst we to believe that we can be betrothed to the Lord and play the mistress with the world then we are as guilty as the sons of Israel and we too will be left lamenting what could have been and what has been taken away. Or will you accept that I have had my hand in this and my heart is heavy with Guilt, well then to you is the gift of salvation. Isaiah teaches us to this seeker is this promise

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat. Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you weigh silver for what is not bread? and your labor for what never satisfies? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Bow down your ear, and come to Me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Isaiah 55:1-3

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, says Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:7-9

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break out before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn, the fir tree shall come up; and instead of the brier, the myrtle tree shall come up; and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55:12-13

When Zerubabel, Ezra and Nehemiah returned Jerusalem was rebuilt, but of the people only 10% returned to the city. When they returned they rebuilt the city, the walls and the Temple and its services, But Haggai tells us what they thought of it.

Who is left among you who saw this house in her first glory? And how do you see it now? When compared to it, is it not as nothing in your eyes? Haggai 2:3

Yet there was a promise

The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, says Jehovah of Hosts. And in this place I will give peace, says Jehovah of Hosts. Haggai 2:9

The promise of restoration is one that has been given to Israel and to Jerusalem. But the next 400 yrs are difficult

You see I started talking of nostalgia; Jerusalem was a city, where the temple dwelt and within the temple was the holy place and within that was the holy of holies. In here the ark of God dwelt, in it contained the law the manna of God which represented the everlasting providence and he budding rod which represents his new life poured into those who were once dead. The lid of the ark had two cherubim that in the middle the mercy seat where blood was sprinkled to make atonement for the people. When the city was ransacked and sacked, Jeremiah took the ark and hid it, it’s still not been found, not even by Indiana Jones. When the people returned and Jerusalem once again they began to rebuild it, after their exile they had still not learnt the nature of God

Jerusalem was never the jewel again, the people wanted it to be and they followed whatever ridiculous pharisaical law the rabbis put on them, so that they may be the great nation again. Yet they did not understand that although Solomon’s temple had the ark, Zerrubabel’s temple would have the living ark walk inside it, hence why Haggai could say this temple will be better than the former. And it was the outpouring of a desire to find Jesus .which was in people like Anna and Simeon, the disciples in acts and this early church, not the grandness of colonnades and gold a wonder for foreign kings to behold, which made this the greater temple. It was the treasure built in the common people, as Mathew teaches the treasure in the field. But Israel missed that and wanted the grandeur and so looked to an Edomite king who seized that of Israel’s, Herod who made the temple grander than it had ever been. But it was a white washed wall and no desire for God was behind it, just political security

So how might that apply to us? Jerusalem is often called Zion, it could apply to what we want as a church, the external observance of being alive, or a treasure hidden in the world. But its true application would be to ourselves as individuals, we are taught we are a city upon a hill, this is Jerusalem. And the name Jerusalem is combined of two Hebrew words, Jehovah Jireh and Peace

And so we return to the words of Isaiah

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat. Yea, come; buy wine and milk without money and without price. Isaiah 55:1

The term to purchase implies an action involving a transaction. Not one purchased by great wealth but desire to seek that which was lost. Salvation is free and instantaneous, but Spirituality and spiritual food must be worked at and for. Therefore the city which was ruined by a life of sin, must be rebuilt and 1 Corinthians 3 tells us how

For of God we are fellow-workers, a field of God, and you are a building of God. According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let every man be careful how he builds on it. For any other foundation can no one lay than the one being laid, who is Jesus Christ. And if anyone builds on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, each one's work shall be revealed. For the Day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try each one's work as to what kind it is. If anyone's work which he built remains, he shall receive a reward. If anyone's work shall be burned up, he shall suffer loss. But he shall be saved, yet so as by fire. Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:9-16

The foundation can only be Jesus, everything can only be built on Him, if you don’t know Jesus as Saviour and you haven’t made Him Lord of all your life then this is the first step. Jesus is the foundation personally considered, as God-man and Mediator, on which the church, and every believer is built; he is the foundation of the covenant of grace, and of eternal salvation; of the faith and hope, peace, joy, and comfort of all the saints; and of the building of God

Our works build up others building, as others do ours, here we see 6 types of works, but all are words of something made, each to be tried by fire, the first three being refined and the second three being burnt away.

The bema seat was the umpires chair in the games, much like the umpires at Wimbledon so they could see high above and make the decisions based on seeing the competitors in action. The bema seat was a large smooth flat seat that the umpire sat upon to judge those who competed for fair play and effort with laurel wreaths. Paul shows us here that the bema is specifically for Christians to judge their work and not their sin. The loss is not fatal for those who fall short of producing good works, but in the company if so many mighty saints who went before us and the eternal sacrifice of Christ Jesus who we will have to look in the eye it will be crushing. You may of thought you have avoided the seat of Judgment meaning the great white throne, but the bema seat is where our works will be tested. Now imagine what your going to do if you don’t have any.

We don’t have to imagine. Because we have the parable of the talents

His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. And he who had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. And I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the earth. Lo, you have yours. His lord answered and said to him, Evil and slothful servant! You knew that I reaped where I did not sow, and gathered where I did not scatter, then you should have put my money to the exchangers, and coming I would have received my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will abound. But from him who has not, even that which he has shall be taken away from him. And throw the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He shall sit on the throne of His glory Mathew 25:23-31

Now works don’t save you, Christ did, but as we saw in Ephesians 2:10 we were saved for good works. Do we intend to spit in Gods eye? What this shows us is that we are stewards of what the Lord has given us, and not everyone is given in equal measure but according to ability. Therefore it cannot be salvation that was the gift. Yet they were all servants of the Lord, so none greater than the other. The conclusion we must come to is that the Lord isnt talking just about talents but about all that we have. We are stewards of what God has given to us.

For it is as if a man going abroad called his own servants and gave them his goods.

Mathew 25:14

Therefore don’t cry about what you don’t have, work with what you do. Don’t make excuses because the Lord expects a return on His investment.

The people of Acts 2 became the full realisation of Gods manifestation in Jerusalem because that was the promise for the city, a people who would seek first the kingdom of heaven. They became the buildings of God and vessels of honour because they served one another using their own God given gifts but to build on one another’s foundations, not their own.

They changed from being shirkers and wasters and lazy people to the dynamic people of God. How did they do that? Well firstly because Christ the living ark dwelled inside and secondly because they manifested this into service of one another for the purpose of seeking the kingdom, not personal glory.

Let me challenge you to spend time with the Lord and find that good work the Lord has foreordained before the beginning of time.

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