Easter Sunday – 24th April 2022
ANZAC Day marks my personal landing in New Zealand to live and work. I originally visited New Zealand in September and October 1990. It was a survey trip. I felt God called me to New Zealand. I needed to experience that call with my boots on the ground. It was during that time that a group of Christians in West Auckland approached me about helping them start a new church. I left with God’s confirmation of his call. I returned on 25th April 1991 – 32 years ago.
When I arrived, a group of people met me at the airport. McDonalds breakfast was brand new to New Zealand at that time. So the group came early to experience a McDonald’s breakfast. That was curious to me as an American but not as much as when they told me I had arrived on a holiday. I had never heard of ANZAC Day before. As I studied, learned, and lived in New Zealand, I have come to respect the day as a holy day.
Today’s Bible readings were selected from the Lectionary’s option to recognise today as Anzac Sunday. The liturgy of today’s service has honoured those readings. Following the sermon, we will cite the Ode together, hear the Last Post played, and observe a minute of silence. However, rather than present a message specific to the Anzac theme, I want to continue the sermon series based on the Lectionary’s Easter readings.
The Lectionary takes an unusual turn during Eastertide. The first readings come from Acts instead of the Old Testament. The practice enhances Easter’s resurrection message and this week reinforces how resurrection creates faith. We are capturing the exciting spirit of the Early Church through the phrase, “Time to Grow”.
Last week we drew a parallel between St Johns Papatoetoe and the church in Acts 10. We saw how growing in Christ was possible with Fresh Soil. We have been ploughed over these past 2-3 years with Covid-19, loss of leadership, and transitions between ministers. There is fresh soil for St John’s to replant into and grow from.
Today’s text is from Acts 5. Intoxicated with the realisation that Jesus Christ is alive, the Early Church was breathing Fresh Air. We will see from the text 3 things about Growing in Christ.
- There is always opposition to Growth
- There is inspiration for Growth and
- There is a divine Source of Growth.
I appreciate our thoughts are toward Anzac, however, I believe there enough parallels to justify today’s brief message. Especially when you consider the first point:
Opposition to Growth
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Acts 5:27-28
There was so much excitement in the air! They were breathing something new – hope! Once you meet Jesus, your life is transformed. Your thinking is reconfigured. Your purpose to live is challenged. Many reject Jesus but for those of us who embraced his work of faith, we are regenerated. And we live for Jesus in a way that challenges the norm.
In our text, it was the religious leaders who were telling the Early Church to “shut up!”. They were fearful of losing their standing with the secular government. Today, religious leaders are too scared to preach the truths of scripture for fear of being cancelled. But the fact of Christian life is this: there will always be persecutions.
“The reality in the first century was that the most intense persecution of the Christian church came, not from the Romans, but from the Jewish community. The Romans and the outside world viewed the Christian Community as merely a small sect of Judaism. Christianity did not spread globally and become a world religious force until after Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered among the nations.” (R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 95).
There was opposition to the Growth of the Early Church. Its ability to withstand that opposition is explained in our second point:
Inspiration for Growth
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:29-31
There was so much excitement in the air! They were breathing something new – hope! But even more than hope, a faith had been created based on empirical evidence. The reformation texts define faith as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. The Early Church did not see the Kingdom on earth, but they saw Jesus alive from the dead. There faith had the substance of that truth. Their faith was based on evidence, not speculation. We are love God with all our heart AND mind! The Early Church was breathing FRESH AIR.
And they grew! Breathing FRESH AIR of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, they changed their entire way of being. They began Sunday worship. These were Jews, remember. For centuries they were worshipped on the Sabbath. But as Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty on the first day of the week, they began Sunday morning worship. They were inspired to change their entire way of being and obey God instead of human traditions and human regulations. They boldly preached repentance so that others could experience forgiveness of sins.
Lastly, FRESH AIR helped them to breathe their:
Source of Growth
And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:32
The FRESH AIR of hope and belief in a new tomorrow; the FRESH AIR of faith and vision of a new future; hope and faith were propagated by the Holy Spirit. The source of growth was the personal testimony of God’s people. You telling others about Jesus is how we grow. You grow in your faith as you are challenged when sharing your story. We grow as a church in number as new Christians are introduced into our congregation. We grow as a church community as we learn to assimilate new believers into St Johns Papaptoetoe culture. The source of growth is YOU. “Sheep produce sheep”. Shepherds do not produce sheep – they ensure the sheep of right conditions to produce other sheep. You are the key to St Johns future and your story is the means.
Dr. Howard Hendricks little girl promised her dad that she would grow while he was away on a trip. When he returned and stepped off the airplane she greeted him, “Daddy, come home quick! See how much I growed!” So they went home to the closet door and measured. It couldn’t have been more than a millimeter or two but the little girl jumped up and down. “Daddy, I told you! I did grow!” Later, when she had settled down, she asked, “Daddy, why do big people stop growing?” Her dad, somewhat amused, gave her an amusing answer: “Well, they stop growing up, but they start growing out.” We smile at his answer but, you know, that little girl asked a serious question. Why do big people stop growing? I don’t mean physically. I mean spiritually. 2 Peter 3:18 says to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Family Times)
Church Family, it is time to grow! You have FRESH AIR to breathe! Go and tell others about Jesus. Tell them about how he is real in your life. Tell them how his words inspire you to live.