It’s as if they’ve stopped talking about adding and now they’re talking about multiplying. Then persecution fell on the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered all over the place. They went to various cities, and wherever they went they communicated the Gospel. In Antioch, for instance, it says a great number believed. Then from Antioch they went to various cities around the world and there it says the churches grew daily in numbers. One thing is unavoidable about this record of the early church. They had dramatic numerical growth. A healthy church should be growing numerically.
Of course, you can grow numerically in a variety of ways. You can have a good music program, and people who like music come to hear the music. You can put on a great children’s program, and people who are looking for good programming for their kids will come because of that. You can have a good counseling program, and people who are looking for some emotional integration will come for counseling. You can have a live singles program and singles will come around because they’ll meet other singles. All these things are perfectly appropriate, but I want you to notice something about all this — it is not necessarily what was happening in the Church in Jerusalem.
In the Church in Jerusalem their growth came because the Lord was adding to their number those who were being saved. I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when I say this — it’s possible to be involved in a music program or some other programs and not be interested in being saved. The problem that we have in churches sometimes, is that we put on excellent programs in different areas, but the people who are coming are not necessarily being saved. That must be the overwhelming concern! Not to suggest that we’re unconcerned about other aspects of people’s lives; not to suggest that all the other ministries are not valid. They clearly are. We must never get so wrapped up in the means that we ignore the end, which is that people are being saved and added to their number. So the key words here are: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The word “saved” is clearly related to the word “Savior” and the word “Salvation.” You remember the situation in Egypt: the people were in bondage and God sent a Savior or a Rescuer. So a Savior is somebody who moves into a situation where people are in bondage and frees them from it. That’s the first idea in the word “Savior” or the first idea in what it means to be saved. If you look further into the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see instances of people who were ill and the question is asked of them, “Do you want to be made whole, or do you just want to be healed?” This word is saved. The idea here is that when there are people whose lives are less than whole, or who feel that there is something fundamentally wrong inside, beyond the concept of a physical problem, then the question they need to ask is, “Do I need to be saved?”
So “saved” means to be rescued from bondage. It means to be made whole when there is something lacking. It means to be healed when there’s something fundamentally wrong.
We talk about addictive behavior. Addictive behavior can be nothing more or less than people in bondage to sin. They need a rescuer. There are people who will tell you frankly, “I feel as if there’s something wrong inside.” It can mean they’re simply suffering from a disease called sin that has never been dealt with.
Sometimes people talk about something missing in their lives. What they mean is they are less than whole. There’s something about their attitude showing independence of God, and disobedience to God which is another way of describing sin. This is leaving them less than a complete person. The tragedy of it is this: if sin is not dealt with, the disease continues, the addictive behavior continues, and the sense of lack of well being and integration continues. Ultimately we stand before God, and it’s as if the storm comes upon our ship, and we head straight for the bottom. We come under the wrath of God. We need to be saved.
What was happening in the early church was very simple and basic. They went around telling people: “a Savior has come who can touch your life at the point of your bondage. He can touch your life at the point where you need spiritual or physical healing. He can touch your life where there’s a lack of integration and bring it together. He can deal with you about the whole issue of ultimately standing before God. You will inevitably come under His judgment and you won’t have a leg to stand on.”
There’s nothing you can do about your addictive behavior. There’s nothing you can do about the lack of integration in your life. There’s nothing you can do about healing what is fundamentally wrong with you, and there’s nothing you can do to turn away the wrath of God for your sin. But a Savior has come to save you! This was the message they proclaimed in the early church. As a result people responded and were saved. Notice the basis of their church growth — “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (
The question that will automatically arise then is, “How do you get saved?” “How does that happen?” Notice, in
Those two things need to be held in tension. They need to be held in R.S.V.P., which is an abbreviation of a French expression — repondez s’il vous plait. That means if you wouldn’t mind, we’d deeply appreciate an answer, please respond. That’s all that means, but it’s rude if you don’t express a response. Notice what it says here: God calls, and we are to return His call. God extends a message, and it is we who should respond. If we understand that God is extending the message with an R.S.V.P., and we return His call, we’ll be saved.
Let me give it you another way. We’ve got a new phone system here at the church. It is absolutely the last word, which means it is practically totally incomprehensible to people my age. We’ve got wonderful seminars to teach us how to use it. Of course, I missed the seminar. I sat down at my phone one day, after returning to this area and started pressing all the buttons. You would not believe how many buttons there are on this animal! I press the button and suddenly to my amazement a lady’s voice came out of my phone saying, “You have reached Phone Mail. We have 17 messages for you. Your first message was dated ten days earlier. If you press…” I pressed all the buttons, and felt very stupid sitting there doing what a little voice inside the telephone was telling me to do.
I did it obediently. I did all these things and the first message was something like this: “Hello Stuart! This is so and so speaking from southern California. I need you to get back to me as quickly as possible. Hey, thank you, here’s my number. You can get me before, you know, three o’clock this afternoon” or something like that — ten days ago. I hadn’t returned his call. It was a matter of ignorance.
Here’s the problem. God extends the call and invites you to be saved. He says, “Now, if you return my call, you will be saved.”
Yet some people have never understood that they’re supposed to return the call. Some people are not taking the trouble to listen to the message. But there are some other people, who get a call and when asked to return the call, they look at it, screw up the message, throw it away and say, “I won’t bother to call Him.”
Where are you in this? “Whoever will call on the Name of the Lord will be saved — whoever will call. On the basis of His initial extension of a call, these people were getting saved. These people were beginning to discover Christ in their lives, changing their lives because God had taken an initiative, and they’d returned the call. The desire to be saved must be there.
There is another story in Acts — Paul and Silas were in prison. You remember the story? At midnight they were singing hymns, doing their best. Their singing, not very good, brings on an earthquake. The chains fall off their wrists, the doors fall away, the roof caves in and the whole prison falls apart. The jailer is upset and about to commit suicide. Paul takes charge and says, “Don’t commit suicide. Stay in your cells.” The jailer comes in, throws himself down in front of Paul and Silas and asked an incredible question — What Must I Do to Be Saved?
The desire was certainly there. This jailer is not interested in anything else! He’s heard the call of God! It took an earthquake in his case. It takes a divorce in some other people’s case. It takes a mortal illness in some people’s case. It takes a loss of a job. It takes a kid going off the rails. It takes some people getting their third citation for drunken driving. It’s hard for God to get some people’s attention, but when He eventually gets their attention, they hear His call, the desire to respond is there, and they say, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer comes loudly and clearly “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be –saved.” There’s that word again.
We must be very careful here, because a lot of people have the idea that if they just say, “Sure, I believe in the Lord Jesus!” they will be saved.
What do they or you believe about Him? “Why I don’t know what I believe about Him. I just believe” and they think that’s enough. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you believe Jesus is Lord, you trust yourself to Jesus to be your Lord, then there is going to be an act of trusting of yourself to His saving Lordship in your life. He becomes the Savior, and He becomes the Lord. He cannot save you from what He is not Lord over. Do you expect Him to save you from death? You want Him to save you from hell, don’t you? How can He do that if He hasn’t mastered hell?
He wants to save you from your addictive behavior. He wants to save you from all the things that are ruining and marring your life. How in the wide world can He do that if you don’t give Him the right to be Lord of what you want to be saved from? That is why it says that a great crowd of priests were obedient to the faith. It isn’t just a case of nodding your head and saying, “Sure, I believe that!” It is a case of believing into a position of trusting obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do that you will be saved.
A wonderful thing to remember is that the initiative is with God. This is exciting for us, because it is only of His grace that it is possible for us to be saved. Notice that it is the Lord who added to their number daily those who were being saved. In
We need to be able to say, “There came a time in my life, when I accepted the Lord Jesus.” The overwhelming thing is not so much that we were gracious enough to accept Him, but that He was gracious enough to call us to Himself, to grant us repentance and to give us the offer of salvation. Don’t ever think that you can sit around with God dangling on a string until you’re ready to give Him your attention. That diminishes God. Recognize that it is God who gives you a window of opportunity, to return His call.
Question: Are you saved? There’s that word again! I’m not asking you if you’re in the music program. I’m not asking if you’re getting counseling here, or if you’ve found some friendly singles. I’m not asking if you are happy to come to worship service — regularly or spasmodically; you wouldn’t really be here if that were not the case. What I am asking you through all these things is, “Has God, in one way or another, extended His call and did you return the call?”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, at the end of one sermon said to his congregation, “I want you all to go home and take a piece of paper and write on it in big letters one of these two words, Saved or Lost.” I’m suggesting you do the same thing also!
How was it that so many people were getting saved? You say, “Poor old Peter must be preaching from morning till night, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and no vacations. To have all these crowds of people getting saved, he must have been run ragged.” No! Certainly Peter was preaching, and certainly he had the gift of an evangelist, but what was happening was that the people as a whole were engaging in evangelism, and the Lord was adding to their numbers daily those who were being saved.
I want to hold evangelism high, I want to hold the position of anybody who communicates the Gospel up high, but what can possibly be wrong about communicating good news? The only thing wrong would be if you know the good news, and you don’t tell it. That was not the case with these people in the early church. They were highly motivated to share the good news. Their motivation, of course, came from a sense of being called to be witnesses. The Lord Jesus had told them as recorded in
Some people get all excited about the Spirit because they want power. Some people get excited about the Spirit because they want gifts. Well, the Spirit brings power and the Spirit brings gifts, but they are not toys, they are tools. The power and the gifts are given in order that we might witness about Him with a view to people being saved. That’s the whole and only point!
These early Christians understood this, and they had a sense of calling. But it wasn’t a case of having something put on them in an onerous fashion; they did it out of sheer delight as well. If you have enjoyed something that is essentially joyful, you don’t need your arm twisted to talk about it. In the same way, these people were enjoying the favor of the people because they were praising God. They were exuberant about the good news and the sheer enjoyment of what they’d discovered in Christ and they shared it.
Peter had a clear sense of obligation as he goes up to the Beautiful Gate of The Temple. He sees a handicapped person there. The man asks for some money. Peter, being very straightforward said, “I don’t have any money, but what I have I’ll give you.” There’s the attitude — what I don’t have I can’t give to you, but what I do have I’ll give you! The sense of obligation comes because, as Jesus is quoted in Acts, “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” If I’ve received the message, and if I’ve received salvation, and I have the joy of His salvation in my heart, then out of a sheer sense of calling and obligation, privilege and exuberant joy, intuitively in a disciplined manner, I will seek out of obligation to share what I have.
Clearly these people were highly motivated even when terribly persecuted. They had to flee for their lives and leave their homes, leave their businesses, leave their resources and goods, and go everywhere preaching the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Such was the motivation of these people. Isn’t it a tragedy today in the church of Jesus Christ, when you’re hard put sometimes to get some people in a New Members Class made up of Christians to talk about their experience of Christ?
What in the world has gone wrong? Where’s the motivation? Back then their methodology was very simple. They were open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Ananias was prompted by the Holy Spirit to go and talk to Saul of Tarsus. I’m sure he said, “You have to be kidding, Lord, Saul of Tarsus?” but he went anyway. Peter was prompted — “poked” would be a better word — by the Spirit to go talk to Cornelius, but he went. Philip was prodded by the Holy Spirit to go and talk to the Ethiopian. It sounded like a crazy assignment, but he went. There was a sense of obligation prompted by the Holy Spirit. There was also the ability to recognize and grab these opportunities.
We get ourselves so hung up on needs that sometimes we can’t see a real need when it’s openly staring us in the face. The disciples were hauled in front of the Sanhedrin in defense of their behavior and beliefs. That was too good an opportunity to miss, so they proclaimed Christ. Ships were sinking under Paul, and he gathered everybody together, gives them a little homily, and he gets the message across. He gets himself thrown into prison and in no time at all the prisoners are sitting around having a Bible study.
These guys could see an opportunity because they keenly sensed the promptings of the Spirit. It didn’t matter whether it was one person or a crowd of people. It didn’t matter whether everybody was giving them their attention, but they simply had to grab the opportunity to witness. They sensed the promptings of the Spirit, and they were able to show the relevance and the excitement of Jesus Christ — a healthy church this one — because the Lord was working in their lives. As a result of their communication of the reality of the Lord Jesus, people were getting saved!
What’s the significance of all this for us today? Where does this leave us? What are our churches doing today? Where is our enthusiasm? Are we healthy? We should be looking at the Scriptures and finding out what they were doing in their Operation Evangelism — the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Do you have a story to tell of the saving power of Jesus Christ in your life? If not, let me remind you of something. All the things that are going on in the church should be designed to bring people to the point of being saved, so that then they can begin to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and also to be knit into the fabric of the body of Christ. Don’t confuse the means with the end.
What about “being added”? What’s the significance of that? We are very much into “individualism” in this wonderful country, aren’t we? This is the land of the individual, the freedom of the individual. All of this is wonderful but the flip side is rank individualism, which means that people want to “go it alone.” No shortage of loners, no shortage of lone rangers, no shortage of spiritual mavericks, and no shortage of spiritual lone rangers. But we’ve got to understand something! God’s method is still the church — those who were being saved were added to their number daily.” Why? Because every individual believer needs the nourishing and the nurturing of the corporate body of Christ, and every corporate body of Christ needs new members added so that their peculiar, unique abilities might be invested for the common good to the Glory of God.
So the questions we need to ask ourselves are, first of all, “What do I know about being saved?” and secondly, “What do I know about realistically being added to a fellowship of believers? In what way do I count on them? In what way can they count on me?” Thirdly, “What do I understand about being evangelistic?” A lot of people, I have discovered, are absolutely frightened to death when it comes to talking to people about the Lord Jesus. They will talk about anything other than the Lord Jesus.
In the center of London there’s a famous church — Westminster Chapel. Two very famous British preachers, both Welsh, were there for many years. Campbell Morgan and then Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and following them for a very brief time was another Welshman called Glynoyne. You didn’t have to be Welsh to be the Minister at Westminster Chapel, but it sure helped. However, a remarkable thing happened. They called an American who is having a very effective ministry there now. R. T. Kendall went over to England to do a doctorate at Oxford, learned the English language, and is now having a good ministry at Westminster.
His wife was out in St. James’ Park near Buckingham Palace one day with a team from the church, talking to people about Jesus. She didn’t want to go. She saw a young man coming toward her who was wearing a Che Guevara shirt. For those of you who lead sheltered lives, Che Guevara was a Latin American Marxist revolutionary who was killed, who is now sort of an idol of the young Marxists. She sees this young guy wearing this identifying tee shirt coming toward her, and she didn’t want to talk to him.
The Spirit prompted her to do it anyway, so she went up toward him, and said, “Would you like a piece of Christian literature? He said, “I’m a Marxist.” Then he added, “Ten minutes ago for the first time in my life, I entered a church. I knelt down in that church, and as an atheist, I prayed, “God, if you’re there, put me in touch with a Christian.”
Mrs. Kendall said, “A few minutes ago, I prayed a prayer, “God, if you really want me to do this, will you give me a sign that You are in it.”
You don’t have to be frightened, because it’s not you doing it, it’s God who calls and seeks us out. It’s God who grants repentance. It’s God who saves. It’s God who adds to the Church daily. He just gives you the incredible privilege of being a partner in what He’s doing — adding to the Church daily those who are being saved.
Our points to ponder are very simple. Number one, How real is my salvation experience? Point number two, How effective is my witness? Point number three, How deep is my concern for evangelism?