Imagine God looking down two thousand years ago, while Jesus knelt and prayed. Everyone had rejected Jesus, and God looked and saw the crowd. They were coming to arrest Jesus, full of false accusers with no one to defend him. God saw his son lowered into a black hole, spit on and mocked by sinners. He was tortured, nailed to a wooden cross, then God gave him the cup of our sins.
As Jesus drank it, he cried out to God, "Why have you left me here to die?" He was shattered with pain, and God himself was split in two at that time.
A few short days later, in a burst of blinding light, Jesus was raised from the dead. As his followers were praying, a blinding sheet of light came down upon them. Tongues of fire anointed them, they went out into the temple courts and preached. 3,000 were baptized, and the church that Jesus died for was born.
What is the church that Jesus died for?
1. A Church Led by God
All through the Old Testament, the Scriptures teach that the battle is God's. God sent the mission team leader, Jesus Christ, and he guides its steps. In Acts 1, 2, 3 they were praying. The church is persecuted in Acts 4. What do they do? Pray to be more bold, not for the persecution to end.
Read the sermons of the early church. They're full of God. They didn't preach so much about what men needed to do, but about what God is. Let's look at the early Jerusalem church, and learn a few things from them.
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them
4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
The number of disciples was increasing. The church had a problem. Our churches always have problems. There's one thing that's not right in this situation, though. That's to get distracted. There's no valid excuse to neglect the ministry of the Word and prayer. Is our church led by problems, or is it led by God? Stephen is chosen here not to lead an awesome ministry, but to feed the widows.
A church led by God is humble. It's also a church where miracles happen. Every convert is a miracle. Within a few weeks, they change everything. They break up with years-old relationships, tell you their deepest secrets . . . get baptized and change their whole life, all within a few weeks of friendship. Every single conversion is a miracle, which means we really need God. There are miracles all around you waiting to happen. They'll only happen if we allow God to lead the situation instead of we taking over.
2. A Church Led by Heroes
If God leads the church and he's a hero, then we need to be heroes as well. Every time God sends a prophet, materialistic people always reject him.
Acts 7:54 - 8:3
54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
What a hero. The church that Jesus died for was led by heroes full of love. Stephen dies and everybody's heart was broken. Are you a hero today, or is that in the past?
If we're devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word, we'll be fruitful. I am a sinful man. d long time.
3. A Church Led to Conquest
I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.
20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
21 The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
This church was outwardly focused. They were going all over the place. Who cares? If it's in the Bible, let's do it. That's the attitude we all need to have.
19 "'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you.
20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'
21 "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
These brothers never stopped preaching the Word, publicly and from house to house. They filled Jerusalem with the teaching, turned the entire world upside down.
That's the church that Jesus died for. If people see it, they'll join it. People like the church that Jesus died for. A song goes like this?. "If I die, let me die in the service of the Lord." Our intensity level makes all the difference. Let it slip slightly . . . After 20 or 30 years, it could make the difference between life and death. It doesn't just affect the numbers, but it affects everybody's attitude.
We can't be the church that Jesus died for by ourselves, but God can do it. Let's be the church that Jesus died for.