Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Tonight we focus on verse 33 in particular on the phrase “Great Grace.” It seems as though more grace, fresh grace, greater grace, rested on the early church after the imprisonment and deliverance of their leaders. We are to understand that the holy fervor manifested by them at this time at this time was not accounted for by such things as the incoming of wealthy members or the multiplying of their numbers, but by the increase and enlargement of the grace that rested on them. Great grace is the one secret of great spiritual power.
This was not the first bestowment of grace on this early church / Pentecost/ miraculous gifts. This outpouring of the Spirit was well received and used. Because it was well received and used, more grace was given. The further grace enabled them to suffer nobly and well; to testify for Christ even before governors and kings, and to pray together and live together and work together, in loving union and mutual forbearance, and charity. The Bible says that "To him that hath shall more be given;" God's grace is indeed "free," absolutely free, but God has added this promise to it, that if we use it wisely and well, more grace will be added. One author in the Pulpit Commentary writes, “ To those who are faithful in using grace the promise applies, "He giveth more grace." Then, if we feel the need of and long for "great grace," let us see that we deal rightly in response to the leadings and movings of the grace we have. Empty the vessel in service for others, and God will be sure to refill it. Trim the lamp, and let its light shine brightly all around, and God will be sure to replenish it with abundance of fresh oil. - R.T.”
LCMS emphasis: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”:
“Witness” means the testimony that is given, specifically, telling the good news about Jesus--bearing witness to Christ and the salvation that is found in him. For “Witness” you see the Greek word “Martyria,” because “Witness” or “Testimony” is how that word is always translated.
“Mercy” is the term used to cover works of Christian love and service that benefit persons in need in a very practical way. Next you see the word “Diakonia,” which is generally translated not as “Mercy” but as “Service.” However, “Diakonia” still is a good word to associate with the church’s works of mercy, since “diaconal” ministry is practical service done for the neighbor in need.
And “Life Together” refers to the church’s common life as brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity as God’s family in the life that we share. “Koinonia,” “Fellowship,” the “Common Life,” the “Life Together” that the church shares. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” Whichever way you say it, these words describe what we do and how we live as Christ’s church.
Trinity Lutheran / Annual Voters’ Meeting / 26 baptisms / 15 weddings / 16 deaths / 24 junior confirmations /11 adult confirmations /1726 baptized members / 1289 confirmed members / 534 average attendance / 79 gained by transfer, profession of faith, baptism and 77 lost to death or transfer or release / $1,249,905 budget. Numbers / part of the story.
First, “Witness,” “Martyria.” We find this emphasis in verse 33 of our text: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The apostles were giving their “testimony.” That’s how the “martyria” word is translated in this verse, as “testimony.” The apostles were giving their “testimony” or “witness” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” That’s why this text has been selected for use during this Easter season, because it shows the apostles bearing witness to the resurrection. You will see this in just about all the readings from Acts that are used in the Easter season--they all have to do with the church’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the heart of the Christian message. That Jesus died and rose again and what that means for us--this is the gospel itself. This gospel is what makes Christians. It’s what forms and gives life to and expands the church--the witness or testimony to the resurrection of Christ. You would not be a Christian and saved and going to heaven if it were not for this preaching of the Lord’s resurrection. There would not be a TLC/TLS were not for the apostolic witness to the resurrection.
Jesus had to die for you if you were going to live. It is Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for you, as your substitute . . . it is the holy Son of God, dying for all the sins and all the sinners of the world, in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, the righteous for the unrighteous . . . it is this sacrificial death of Christ that is the only way any of us has redemption from the fallen sinful nature we share, forgiveness for the countless sins we commit, and righteousness to enter into God’s heaven. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus by definition means that Jesus rose from the dead. He died, and the reason he died was this: to save us from our sins and eternal death. The message of Christ’s resurrection is tied to the meaning of his death. But now has Christ arisen, and we rise with him! We rise to newness of life, and when that happens to a whole bunch of us, there is the church! “Witness,” then, “Martyria,” is essential to the formation and the expansion of the church.
Now this word “Witness” literally has to do with eyewitnesses, people giving testimony to things they themselves have seen and heard. Notice, it is the apostles who are giving their witness, because those men had literally seen the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. Thomas and the rest of the apostles actually saw and heard Jesus in person standing there in their midst. The apostle John starts his letter by speaking of that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands”--John is talking about Jesus himself, in the flesh--“we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life.” The apostles were literal eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ.
We have the apostles’ own testimony in the pages of the New Testament. And we have seen and heard, too, in a sense. We see Christ with the eyes of faith that the Holy Spirit has given us. We hear the saving message that is still proclaimed to this day. Remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The church today still gives witness, testimony, “martyria,” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Every day we witness to Christ as individuals / church. Some days we fall short, other days way short. Other days, we witness well, and other days better yet. Some days our bad habits are really bad, and other days worst yet. Other days our good habits seem to be ruling reasonably well, other days even better yet. Debi and story of bad angels / good angels. At end of day, pray, Lord forgive any bad I have done or good I have failed to do. Bless anything good I may have accomplished.
Let’s go next to “Mercy.” “Diakonia” is the word used, “Service,” but in the sense of diaconal service, that is, works of mercy. It’s right here in our text. Verses 34 and 35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Now what’s the first thing you think of when you hear these verses? Be honest. That the early Christians were Communists? And that this was some sort of “failed experiment” that didn’t last? Wrong on both counts. The Christians were not Communists, or even Socialists. The difference is this: Communism or Socialism or forced governmental redistribution of wealth, taking people’s money away from them, against their will, and giving it to others: that is wrong, that is immoral, that is a form of stealing--it’s a form of involuntary servitude, really. But that is not what was going on here. No, the Christians’ helping of those in need was entirely voluntary. It was done out of love, the mercy engendered in Christians’ hearts by the mercy God has showered upon us. So this type of “redistribution of wealth” is very good, it is highly commendable, and it is true to the church’s character. (Good stewardship message – we are managers instead of owners / Dan and Kendra Hoehn benefit coming up)
When there are people in need here in our own community, especially in our own congregation, we help them out in whatever ways we can. Look around you. Do you see people with needs? Whom can you help? How can you help? Look also at the people who are not here tonight. What are their needs? Illness, loneliness, financial need? These are your opportunities, this week, this month--these are our opportunities as church--for putting into action acts of mercy done in Christ’s name. Food Shelf / Caring Fund / story of lost dog Tucker / At end of every day, pray, Lord forgive all the bad I have done and all the good I have failed to do, bless anything I may have done right.
“Witness.” “Mercy.” Finally, “Life Together.” “Koinonia” is the Greek term. It means “having things in common.” And that’s what we see in the Book of Acts. Verse 32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Now we’ve already said that the church “had everything in common,” in the sense of their willingness to give to those who were in need. But their Life Together, their Koinonia, was more than just shared wealth. The things that those Christians had in common, the things that we have in common, start with the things of God. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This is what we have in common. One bread, one cup, the body and blood of Christ--this Holy Communion, this Koinonia, is what makes us the communion of saints. These are the things we have in common--God’s gifts, the things of the gospel--that form us into a united community. And then the love and the mercy and the life together flow from that. “Those who believed were of one heart and soul.” That’s us, because our heart and soul are being knit together with cords of love, the love of God we all have received and believe.
“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: It’s not just a slogan. It’s the banner under which we live and move and have our being. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that falls short of God’s glory in every one of their days, but their Savior has gone before them. He has gone the distance and has done it in a perfect way. Some days their witness is winsome and other days it is awful. Some days they show mercy in a way that is beautiful to see, and other days you just want to cringe and back away. Once in awhile their life together is smooth and pleasant and full of great grace, and other days the Lord sees fit to discipline them in a painful way. In every one of their days, they have developed a habit of praying before they go to sleep, Lord forgive what we have done wrong and the good we have failed to do. Bless anything we may have done right today. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther