Some Resolutions for the New Year Based on a Growing Church
Acts 2:42-47

By Paul Robison

Isn't it wonderful to see how God can prophesy something hundreds of years earlier, and then make it come to pass?  For example, the prophet Jeremiah said in 31:31: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."  Then, in Hebrews 8:13, written around 600 years later, we find these words: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away!"  A new covenant promised 600 years earlier, and God makes it all happen through His Son Jesus Christ!  Let's look at a second example.  Notice what Ezekiel says in 36:26-27: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you ... I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them."  Now look at Galatians 4:6, written again about 600 years later, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'"  A new heart and spirit were promised 600 years earlier, and God makes it all happen through His Son Jesus Christ!  Let's look at one last example in Hosea 2:23: "And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy.  Then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are my people!' And they shall say, 'You are my God!"  Then the apostle Paul writes 700 years later in Romans 9:25-26 these very verses and shows how the Gentiles becoming God's children is the fulfillment of this prophecy!  A new people was promised 700 years earlier, and God makes it all happen through His Son Jesus Christ!  A new covenant, a new heart and spirit, and a new people—aren't we glad that God keeps His resolutions for new things!  God has another resolution that we'll return to at the conclusion of our message this morning.

Speaking of New Year’s resolution, did you hear about the son who called his parents to wish them a happy new year, and when his Dad answered the phone, He asked his dad, "Well Dad, what’s your new year’s resolution?" His dad replied, "To make your mother as happy as I can all year."  When his mom got on the phone, he asked the same question.  His mom replied, "My resolution is to see that your dad keeps his new year’s resolution" (Litchfield).  Then there was another man who wrote to his preacher: "Dear Brother White, You often stress attendance at worship as being very important for a Christian, but I think a person has a right to miss now and then.  I think every person ought to be excused for the following reasons and the number of times indicated: all holidays (8 times), school openings and closings (2), family reunions (2), deaths in the family (2), sickness (5), business trips (4), sleep late (6), vacation (6), bad weather (2), ball games (6), unexpected company (2), time changes (2), and specials on TV (3).  So, dear brother, that leaves two Sundays per year.  So, we resolve that we'll be in attendance on the 4th Sunday in February and the 3rd Sunday in August unless we are providentially hindered.  Sincerely, A Faithful Member" (Ibid.).  All humor aside, you know what the real problem with New Year's resolutions?  It's us.  They're made by humans and rarely do we ask for Divine help.  We try to do it all ourselves, and never seek the strength which Christ could provide!

Today's reading was about the church in Jerusalem.  It was the first example of that new covenant, new heart and new spirit, and new people that God had resolved to make a reality!  Although Luke probably didn't have in mind in his description of this church any New Year's resolutions, we can still imitate their actions and make them our New Year's resolutions.  But for these resolutions, let's be sure to ask for the Holy Spirit's help; otherwise, we are bound to failure.  Now let's look at several resolutions based on verses 42-43.

First of all, Acts 2:42 states: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." We see from this verse, that the members at the church in Jerusalem were devoted to following the teachings of the apostles.  Now remember, these were Jews who had been devoted to keeping the Law of Moses and the regulations of the Old Testament for thousands of years!  Now, God had brought something new into history! Certainly, obeying the apostles' teachings was now the righteous course for them to pursue. Jesus was the truth, and He had promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). The apostles did not make up fables, but they were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, they saw His life of service, and they heard His inspired teachings!  To follow the apostles' teachings was to follow God's new will for their lives!  So many things were now to change: the animal sacrifices were no longer needed since Jesus was perfect sacrifice; no Sabbath services at the synagogues were now needed, but Christians could meet in homes throughout the city on Sundays; no more looking at other nations as separated and unclean for now all people could be united and purified through Christ!  We also must stay with the apostles' teachings, so the first resolution for us is: Read the Word!  Bro. Jim has made a new Bible reading schedule for us.  Will we ignore this good help or will we try to utilize it?  Let's read a passage from the Psalms in just a moment, and as we read it, look at the author's attitude towards God's Word.  In fact, if you ever get discouraged as you read through the Bible this year, reread this passage.  It is Psalm 119:9-16: "How can a young man cleanse his way?  By taking heed according to Your word.  With my whole heart I have sought You, Oh let me not wander from Your commandments!  Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!"  Isn't that beautiful—"Your word is a safeguard against my living a sinful life"? "Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes.  With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.  I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches."  Now how's that for an attitude—The joys I have known from a paycheck have now been felt just as strongly when I come to know Your precepts! "I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.  I will delight myself in Your statues, I will not forget Your word."  "My delight, my pleasure is in watching the Razorbacks play; therefore, I will not forget to buy season tickets.  My delight, my pleasure is in deer hunting, therefore, I will not forget to purchase a license, to set up a stand, and to avail myself of the opportunity when the season opens.  My delight, my pleasure is in cooking, therefore, I will not forget to watch the food channel."  You see, our attitude is so important, and our attitude will help to sustain our action!  Remember Psalm 119:9-16; maybe it can keep you reading!  Jesus put it this way: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed" (John 8:31).  Read the Word; it can strengthen, encourage, comfort, warn, prick, and transform us!

Secondly, Acts 2:42 states that they also continued steadfastly in fellowship.  These early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem weren't isolated from other religions.  Every nation around them had their own gods and goddesses.  Those religions often focused on rituals, and especially sexually-oriented rituals and human sacrifices.  That's why God warned the Israelites so strongly against idolatry because it usually led to perverted sexual addictions as well as the slaying of innocent children! Judaism was to be focused on God and the Law, but by the apostles' day, the traditions of the fathers, the temple and its upkeep, and the focus of majoring in minors had created a legalistic way of life very different from that which God had intended.  That new people under a new covenant with a new heart and new spirit were offering something very different to their world!  All of this came about because there is a new Lord, described in Phil. 2:5ff: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross.” You see, in most religions, mankind in reaching up to the gods or to God, but in Christianity, it is God reaching down to mankind.  There's the incarnation and the redemption; the King of the Jews from Nazareth is our sacrificial substitute Who paid the price with His blood on that old rugged cross to free us from Satan and sin's slavery! “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on the earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  For Jesus' obedience, we now see His exaltation and glorification; His name is above all so called gods and all earthly rulers and religious leaders! Everyone knee should bow before Him to acknowledge His kingship, and every tongue should confess before Him to acknowledge His lordship!  We see that Jesus is unique and reigns supreme!  He is not to be incorporated with other gods; He is exclusive!  Have you bowed your knee to Him and confessed Him as your Lord?  Notice, through His incarnation, He was God with us, but now at His exaltation, He longs to be God over us.  Now for all those who exalt Him as Lord, there is a deep and profound bond of holy love that unites us.  His mindset of becoming a bondservant who was obedient to God's will unto death also becomes our mindset.  And He taught us to wash one another's feet, to bear one another's burdens, to forgive one another's trespasses, and to provide for one another's needs! It's just like Jesus Himself had prophesied in John 10:16: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold [a reference to the Gentiles], them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd."  The one Shepherd is Jesus, and the one flock is His church!  How does one become a member of this one church?  Well, let's look back out the verse prior to our text—Acts 2:41: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day 3000 souls were added to them."  Those who heard the Gospel and were baptized in Jesus' name were added to others who made up the one flock!  Have you been immersed into Christ's name in order to be added to His church?  And this brings us to another resolution.  Just as these members in Jerusalem enjoyed their fellowship, united around the One Shepherd in His one flock, let's enjoy the saints!  How can we enjoy the saints more in 2010? Here are three suggestions.  First of all, participate in our small group program.  Those directing this program are constantly working to improve it.  They have already ordered some interesting and practical materials for our edification.  But beyond the studying that we do together, the small group is a wonderful time to get real—to confess sins, to ask for prayers, to share heavy burdens, to seek collective wisdom, to edify one another on a very personal level!  So, participate in a small group! Secondly, get involved in our S.O.S. (Spirit of Service) program!  Some information and sign up sheets are on the table by the map in the foyer! You'll get to work with a team of a few other members to make a difference in someone's world and life!  You're going to find that being a blessing is going to be useful, beneficial, and maybe even enjoyable!  So, participate in our S.O.S. Program!  Lastly, one of the best ways that you can enjoy other saints is to visit them.  Our ladies have a visitation program and so do our elders.  Debbie Harris and Diana Avery can give you more details, and the elders meet each Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. Both groups would love to see others involved in these great ministries! You know, there may be a few exceptions, but most members really enjoy having you drop by for brief visit.  They are usually very hospitable! And I know for a fact that our members out in the nursing homes, really appreciate such visits!  They get so lonely at times!  So, participate in one of our visitation programs!  Enjoy the saints—participate in a small group, participate in our service program, participate in one of our visitation programs!  You'll be strengthened in 2010 if you do!

Thirdly, Acts 2:42 states that they continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread. "'Breaking of bread is Luke's term for what Paul calls the Lord's Supper" (Marshall).  Acts 20:7 informs us that disciples gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread.  In contrast to the Jews usual assemblies in the synagogues on each Sabbath, we now see that these Christians in Jerusalem gathered together each Sunday to partake of the Lord's Supper, so that they could remember Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and promise to one day come again to bring about final judgment and eternal rewards.  We need to follow these disciples' good precedent, and put into practice a third resolution for 2010: attend the services!  Back in the days of the Greeks, a town's citizens would often gather together to determine what course of action should be taken.  Luke describes an unlawful mob that gathered together at the city's huge amphitheater (Acts 19:29).  The Jews had times when they came together for festivals and times of worship.  In all these cases, these gatherings were called assemblies.  And the word for "assembly" is the Greek word from which we get our word “church”! So by its very definition, the church is an assembly of Christ people.  One good brother had made this good observation: "To be a church, it must meet. ... The church may survive where there is a poor program of religious education, little evangelism, virtually no benevolence; but it will not survive where it does not meet. ... The assembly allows the church to emerge in its true nature: a redeemed community. ... As redeemed, it is separated from the world, and the assembly in God's presence makes the church aware of its [break] from the world.  In the experience of reconciliation with God, the people know reconciliation also with one another and express this be being together in unity.  As a community, the church has a life of its own. It is a people called together by God (and not by human choice).  The assembly is the community's celebration of its life, its faith, and its fellowship.  The church is a people, and a people must manifest itself as such by assembling" (Ferguson).  You see, when we fail to attend the services, we fail to show our true nature as a redeemed community called together by God.  A church will not survive when we fail to meet together.  Do you think Satan is aware of this truth?  He is most aware and will use every tactic he can employ to discourage you from attending the services.  Every time that he can persuade members NOT to attend, he knows that he is getting closer to total victory because the church by its very nature is to be an assembly of the redeemed.  No assembly by no members will then equal no church in Prescott!  Look a moment at Acts 15:30-32: "So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch, and when they had gathered the multitude together [when they had assembled the church], they delivered the letter [this letter contained an important decision made by the apostles in Jerusalem]. When they had read it, they [the brethren in Antioch] rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words."  The brethren, who assembled to hear the letter, rejoiced, were encouraged, and were strengthen! Question: What would have happened to those Christians in Antioch if they had failed to assemble?  That's exactly right; they would have missed out on the joy, the encouragement, and the strengthening!  You see, when you fail to attend the services, you miss our on the wonderful blessings that take place only when the whole church assembles together as God's redeemed people!

Fourthly, Acts 2:42 shows that the saints in Jerusalem continued steadfastly in prayers. "Christian prayer is rooted in the example and teaching of Christ" (Ferguson).  Just as Jesus prayed at crucial times in His life, so the early Christians prayed at crucial times in the church's history.  Jesus also encouraged His followers to pray in His name (John 16:24-26).  We see how the Christians in Jerusalem once prayed for boldness to speak God's Word, and God answered their prayer immediately (Acts 4:29-31)!  Here are three suggestions for 2010 concerning prayer: pray specifically, pray dangerously, and pray collectively.  There is a specific prayer in Colossians 4:3 that we need to be praying: "Praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ."  Please pray specifically that God will open doors into people's lives so that the Gospel might be shared with them.  "Lord, open doors so that the Gospel might advance in this city."  Will you prayer that specific prayer?  "Lord, open doors so that the Gospel might advance in this city."  Pray dangerously.  If God can do more than what we ask or think (and according to Eph. 3:20, He can), then let's not settle for the tame prayers for security and comfort.  No, indeed, let's pray dangerous prayers that will take us out of comfort zones, and who knows where that He might lead us!  If you think watching a ballgame can be exciting, just see how exciting it might be to watch God answer one of your dangerous prayers!  Let's keep the “push” on—remember push means to pray until something happens!  Lastly, let's pray collectively.  We already do this to some extent.  Lynn's class does this on Wednesdays.  Sometimes before we go out as a group on a workday, it happens.  Let's just be aware that whenever we are together, that may be a wonderful opportunity to just pause a few minutes and pray—for this city, for our neighbors, for this congregation, for our elders and one another. Just like the church in Jerusalem, a powerful church is a praying church!  Let's pray specifically, dangerously, and collectively!

Next, verse 43 states: "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders were done through the apostles." Commentators point out how verses 43-47 serve as a summary from Luke about the situation.  Some also point out that certain manuscripts also add the words "Then fear came upon every soul in Jerusalem," and they note how the apostles and believers are contrasted with the townspeople.  Whoever was fearful, the townspeople or the Christians, they were in awe of what God had achieved with the preaching of Gospel and the establishment of the church!  Remember 3000 Jews had become Christians, and their lives had been changed for the better!  And this suggests another resolution for us—respect the Lord!  In modern America, respect for authorities continues to diminish.  In our culture, the mass media often presents authority figures as klutzes who are worthy of our ridicule—policemen, military leaders, politicians, preachers, administrators, and managers. They are all put down, so that everybody is put on an equal level, and nobody is made to appear worthy of our respect.  One person has even written a book entitled The Trivialization of God where they argue that something similar has happened to God.  We no longer focus on God's transcendence, power, majesty, awesomeness, and otherness, but He again is depicted as an old man who acts very much like human beings. Reading the Bible helps us to see very clearly that God is worthy of our respect.  He is above His creation, He is the Almighty God without limits, He is the Supreme Rulers who holds the power of life and death in His hands, He is the Eternal One who is not limited by time and space, He is the Righteous One who is preparing hell for the devil and his angels and who is preparing heaven for Christ and the redeemed!  "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come" is continually said of this Being (Rev. 4:9).  Jesus Himself told us: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  As we are on the threshold of a new year, where is God in our lives?  Was He a part of our New Year's celebration?  Are we trusting Him to guide us and to make us a stronger body of His people during this next year?  Are we adopting as our motto: "Expect great things from God!  Do great things for God!  Overcome evil things with God!"  Our Almighty God specializes in impossibilities and is longing for us to put our faith in Him to make things happen to His glory! "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him" (Psalm 18:30)! Let's respect the Lord!

A new covenant, a new heart and spirit, and a new people—aren't we glad that God keeps His resolutions for new things!  And the apostle Peter tells us that God has another resolution that He is presently working on: "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."  As surely as God fulfilled His previous resolutions, He will fulfill this one too!  We long for the new eternal dimension called heaven, where there will be no evil and corruption.  Meanwhile, as we wait for this promise, let's resolve that during 2010, we will read the Word, enjoy the saints, attend the services, detail the prayers together, and respect the Lord!  May the Holy Spirit help us to keep these resolutions!