Jesus DNA and God-ordained Growth
Jesus only planted one church; all other local churches were planted by others. The book of Acts tells the story of many churches planted by the apostles throughout the Roman empire. But it begins with the story of the Jerusalem church - the church planted by Jesus with the men he personally trained.
Before we look at this remarkable church, let's think for a moment about DNA. DNA is the code that tells an organism how to develop. It tells elephants to be elephants and baboons to be baboons. And within humans, it is what tells our eyes to be eyes and hair to be brown or blue or ginger. We inherit DNA from our parents and pass it on to our children. That's why children have resemblance to their parents - they share some of the same DNA. In a similar way, Jesus wants his church to look like him - to share his DNA.
A Jesus church has Jesus DNA. We get Jesus DNA through the gospel.
When we look at the story of the Jerusalem church, we see that it was birth on the foundation of the gospel. In Acts 2:14-36, Peter preached the gospel to the crowd in Jerusalem gathered because the small church of 120 people had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). What were the core ingredients of this gospel message? Simply, that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God; even though the people in Jerusalem wanted to crucify him, his death was the plan of God; death could not hold him, and God raised him from the dead; not only is he the promised Messiah (Christ); he is Lord.
The people were cut to the hearts when Peter framed all of this as 'this Jesus whom you crucified' (Acts 2:36). When they asked what to do, Peter told them to repent and get baptised (Acts 2:38). And they did. We read in Acts 2:41 that they received his word and got baptised. To receive his word means that they repented and believed the gospel.
Here's the point: we often want to move on to the 'deep things of God'; but we can't move on until we have repented and believed. That's like trying to build a house without a foundation.
Progress with God is built on the foundation of faith and repentance.
As we continue reading in the story, we notice that not only did they do personal business with God through faith and repentance and getting baptised (Acts 2:41); they were also added. To be added means to 'opt in' to a local church, to identify with it more than 'a house of God', but 'my spiritual home'. It means to roll up your sleeves and go to work - to go 'all in'. It also means that the church made room for new people.
The point: the Jerusalem church was strong because it was built on the foundation of the gospel - the good news of who Jesus is, what he did, and what it means.
In Acts 2:42 we read about the inputs that nourished this young but thriving church. Picture a greenhouse - a protective environment where plants are fed appropriately to flourish and grow. For plants, that means sunshine, water, and plant food (whatever that is!). The church of Jesus flourished through a set of simple - but powerful - inputs:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
Notice that these young believers were devoted to these things. They weren't casual endeavours but passionately-pursued points of focus. Let's look at the four key inputs that nourished this young church:
1. The Apostle's Teaching
Accurate biblical doctrine is a non-negotiable ingredient in spiritual health. Jesus said, 'The truth will set you free' (John 8:32), and learning to love and appreciate biblical doctrine will set you up for success with God and in life. Here's what Paul wrote to Timothy:
If you put these things before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being nourished in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 1 Timothy 4:6
Good doctrine nourishes and strengthens us in Christ.
God has designed certain dimensions of encouragement to come from ‘each other’. That is, the Lord intends for us to derive strength for our spiritual journey from the encouragement we provide each other. Notice what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The kind of fellowship that brings encouragement is more than talking about the big rugby match that happened yesterday; it is speaking and challenging and encouraging in such a way that promotes spiritual growth. The next time you're at the hospitality table, rather than talking about how good the biscuits are, ask someone, 'So what have you been getting out of the word recently?' Remember, you reap what you sow, so show up on a Sunday ready to give life-giving encouragement.
3. Breaking of Bread
Sharing meals is one of our core practices because eating together involves a sharing of life that builds us together. Later in this chapter we read:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Acts 2:46
This isn't complicated - it's actually quite simple. But in the midst of our busy, contemporary lives, prioritising fellowship and eating together takes commitment. It's not easy - but it's worth it!
4. The Prayers
The first thing to notice is that prayers isn't singular, it's pural. That is, there are different kinds of prayers - personal praying and group praying; block praying - where you devote a block of time to connecting with God through prayer - and the conversational praying you do during the day.
Prayer is so vital to spiritual health that Paul writes, 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Spiritual connection with God throughout the day is vital for spiritual victory: begin practicing God's presence through ongoing prayer, and in addition to personal prayer, be devoted to the prayers - praying with others at prayers meetings and small groups.
Jesus intends his local church to be like a greenhouse - a place where believers flourish in their relationship with God and are successful in his mission. And this is precisely what we see in this Jerusalem church. Luke describes the outputs - the results - that came through devotion to the apostles' teaching, breaking bread, fellowship, and prayer:
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47
Imagine being part of a church where people were coming to Christ daily and were being added as participating members of the local church. Here's the point:
If we want Acts 2:47 outcomes, we need Acts 2:41 foundations and Acts 2:42 inputs.
Jesus wants his church to share his DNA - the life code from his Spirit shaped by the gospel. We will become the church of God's dreams if we are built on the foundation of the gospel, are devoted to the inputs that build health, and make room for the results of new people being added to the church. So here are four action points to take on board: