Have You Been Added? (Acts 2:37-42)
I. Your “Church” Box
All of us come this morning with a box labeled “church”.
What does that mean? It means all of us bring our own unique experiences and perspectives when it comes to that topic, 'church'. For some people, if you were to look in their box, you would see very little. Church simply isn't important to them, and/or they just have very little experience with church But others come with a full box. Many of you have come this morning with a full box. But we should ask, “Full of what?”
What we need most in that box is what God has revealed about this topic. Thus, we need as much Bible in that box as we can get. But inevitably, your box will also contain other things: good and bad experiences with church (or a church), misinformation and misconceptions, cultural caricatures of church, traditions, preferences, etc. Now, in some cases, certain experiences or traditions beautifully complement our biblical ideas about church. But at other times, these... 'other things' in our box actually distort our understanding of church.
Now if all of us have 'boxes' like this, the question I believe God would have you ask yourself this morning is, “Just how biblical is my 'church box'?” Or to put it another way, “How much of my conception of, feelings about, and commitment to church are shaped by things other than Scripture?” Let's bring that question to Scripture this morning as we look together at Acts 2.
II. The Passage: “And There Were Added” (2:37-42)
We're going to look this morning at verses 37-42. But before we do that, let me set the scene for you. The once-fisherman-now-apostle, Peter, is just finishing up what is, for all intents and purposes, the very first evangelistic message or sermon of the Christian church. Jesus had been crucified, raised to life on the third day, and exalted to the Father's right hand in heaven. As the writer makes clear, he is speaking to Jews from all over the Roman world who had come for the feast of Pentecost. But we also know many of those listening to his words had been present for Jesus' rejection and execution. What has Peter revealed to them here? That Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and they... they rejected him. Look at their reaction in verse 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?”  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.  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.”  And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”  So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Now the first thing I want you to see here is the progression of God's work among the individuals described in this passage. Here's what I mean: first, they were called, then they were connected, and finally, they were committed. Do you see that? Called, connected, committed. Now that order is extremely important. We'll talk about why in just a few minutes. But in order to think more carefully about your 'church box', let's go back over these verses and look at each of these points individually. Sound good? Let's start with vs. 37-40, where we read how a huge number of Peter's listeners were...
1. Called (vs. 37-40)
Why am I using that term “called”? Because Peter uses it right here at the end of verse 40. He reminds them there that God's forgiveness through Jesus, and the gift of the Spirit through Jesus, that both of these were not only promised in the Old Testament (OT), but that this promise is for everyone whom God is calling to himself. How can we know that God was in fact calling them to himself? Because of their response to the bad news, and better still, the Good News, about Jesus: “they were cut to the heart”. That means they were convicted of their sin and humbled. And their question there at the end of verse 37 makes it clear that they are now ready to do what ever God wants them to do.
For those who had not responded in this way, Peter continues to implore them in light of the mercy of God, mercy now poured out abundantly through Jesus. Verse 40: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation”; that is, 'reach out and receive the saving grace of God'.
So how many did God call to himself here in Acts 2, at that Pentecost festival so long ago? Verse 41 tells us: “about three thousand souls”. I also love how verse 41 describes their response to God's calling through Peter's message. It says they “received his word”. Acts 2 may contain the story of Peter preaching on Pentecost. But do you see your own story here as well? Has God called you to himself? Have you been “cut to the heart”? Have you received the word about Jesus? If you have, then look at what else v. 41 reveals: how this same group was also...
2. Connected (v. 41)
Look again at verse 41 as a whole: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Now what exactly is Luke, the writer, telling us here? What does he mean when he says these people (all three thousand of them) were “added”. Added to what? And by whom? Well, there's a verse in this passage that can help us with those questions. Drop down to the second half of verse 47: [we read] “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” So it seems that Luke means “added to their number”. And it was God doing the adding.
So God was not only calling individuals to himself, he was also connecting them to one another. Now think about that for a minute. The astounding work of God here brings not only spiritual liberty, but also spiritual community. There is new life from God for each individual, but also a new life with one another. I think Paul described this same reality when he wrote in 1 Cor. 12:13, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...” Just like Acts 2, Paul is talking here about the Spirit, baptism, and connection to the people of God. But notice how Paul helps us understand that this connection was more than just a new social context. No. It was a brand new, spiritual reality.
And so, if these three thousand individuals responded to Peter's words with repentance and faith expressed in baptism, how did they respond to this reality of being added; added to this community of saving faith in Jesus Christ? Well, we find the answer in verse 42. We read there that these huge group of new disciples was also...
3. Committed (v. 42)
Luke doesn't use the word “committed” in verse 42. Instead, he uses the word, “devoted”. Look at what he tells us... “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Now, remember what I said a moment ago: “God was not only calling individuals to himself, he was also connecting them to one another.” It seems pretty clear that these individuals recognized both of these realities. In fact, in this passage we see that their new devotion to Jesus is not only expressed in the waters of baptism, it's only on display here in their devotion to the four community practices Luke outlines for us: “the apostles' teaching”, “the fellowship”, “the breaking of bread”, and “the prayers”.
So as those whom God called and connected, there is a commitment to God's word, a commitment to one another in fellowship, a commitment to the Lord's Table, and a commitment to praying together. Called. Connected. Committed.
Now, think with me for a moment. How does all of this relate to the topic of church? It's not hard to 'connect the dots', is it? Did you know the Greek word for church, the word used throughout the New Testament (NT), is the word ekklesia. This root word in that word is the same word we find at the end of Acts 2, verse 40. It's the word “call”. Ekklesia, that word we translate “church”, literally means, “those called out”. So the church is a group of people that God has called to himself from out of the world, a group that he has connected through his Spirit, a group then committed to God, his word, and one another in a radically new community. And if we were to continue reading the rest of Acts 2, we would see just how radical this new community was.
III. Reflecting Their Values and Priorities
There's a lot in this passage that should challenge you to carefully examine what's in your box labeled “church”; not only challenge your conception of church, but also its place in your life.
In light of these things, my question to you this morning is simply this, “Have you been added?” “Have you been added?”. You might say, “Well, I've been called.” Wonderful. But if you've been called, you've also been connected. Others might say, “Well, I've been called and connected. I have brothers and sisters all over the world.” But if you've been called and connected, then you should also be committed; not in some vague, generic, or only universal kind of way. No. Committed in the same way these first Christians were committed: to these kinds of community practices. They were devoted to these things, weren't they?
But is this you? Is this us? Could these words be written about our lives? That should be the case. The way these realities are intertwined is not unique to this passage. We find this same progression and connection all throughout the NT. To be called is to be connected, and to be connected is to be committed. So I ask you again, “Have you been added?”
If you have, then are you living as one who was added? Are you living as one who was added in a way that lines up with God's word? Or are there things in your box that are tripping you up... that are tempting you to compromise... to rationalize?
As we begin a new chapter together, our hope at Way of Grace is to be a church with a whole lot of Bible in our boxes. If that's the case (and becoming the case more and more), then what will that look like among us? Here are some ideas:
1. We will begin with the gospel. There is no commitment to community apart from true spiritual connection. And there is no true spiritual connection apart from being called by God. So that progression, that order matters. We don't get involved with a church in order to be more connected to others in the hope of meeting God. We meet God through the gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead, which leads to real connection with God's people, and a desire and power to live as those committed to life together. So the gospel must always be central in all that we do.
2. We will enjoy a time of shared worship. We go on to read in verse 46 that these Jewish-Christians attended the Temple together. We go on to read in the rest of the NT that the church came together every Sunday for worship and encouragement. We want to do the same, guarding and giving great honor the Lord's Day and our gathering with God's people.
3. We will connect in and through life groups. Notice what else we read in verse 46 of this same chapter: these new disciples were also meeting together in homes. We believe smaller contexts like these are needed just as much today as they were then. That's why we will also meet in smaller life groups every Sunday, since we believe being the church requires vital connection with other followers of Jesus.
4. We will live for Jesus in our everyday. But our life for Jesus and with one another shouldn't be confined to Sunday morning, right? We want to serve him and share him, supported by one another, in every place God has placed us, with everyone in our own unique circles.
5. We will listen together through our Bible reading plan. As we serve and share God through Jesus, we also want to seek him everyday. We will do this together by reading through the NT together over the next twelve months. And every Sunday, I will teach from the previous week's readings, and then we'll talk about what we've heard in our life groups.
Brothers and sisters, the church is not a building or a worship service or a social organization. The church is a people. The people of God. A faith family. While our church will not look exactly like the church in Acts 2, our hope is to faithfully reflect the values and priorities of our spiritual ancestors. Will you join us on this journey? I like what the writer Collin Hansen recently wrote:
“When I talk with new church members, I make a big promise. And so far, no one has ever returned to complain that I misled them. I promise that if they show up consistently (in our church, that means corporate worship on Sunday and home group on Wednesday)[for us, shared worship and life groups] and seek to care for others, they will get everything they want out of the church. That could be spiritual growth, friendships, biblical knowledge, or practical help. They will get whatever they want from the church by fulfilling just those two simple tasks.”
I want to make you the same promise this morning. If you are called, you are connected. And if your connected, brother, sister, be committed. Let's ask God to help in all these ways.