Acts 9 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, comforted by the Holy Spirit who is the Comforter, the church increased in numbers. There were two important causes of the growth of the early church. The first was the fearless preaching of the gospel. We can read the messages Peter and John and other apostles and church leaders like Stephen and Philip preached in the book of Acts. And countless ordinary Christians also took the good news about Jesus all across the known world. Everywhere they went they gossiped the gospel, in synagogues and marketplaces with strangers and in their own homes with their friends. Despite fierce persecution, the first Christians boldly testified to the truth that Jesus was risen from the dead and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Ordinary Christians just talking about Jesus.
But at the same time as the gospel was being preached, God the Holy Spirit was at work. And the miraculous activities of the Holy Spirit always led to people being saved. We see that in two separate places in our reading from Acts 9 today. The leader of the apostles, Peter, had travelled up about 30 miles north west of Jerusalem to Lydda. There was already a group of Christians there, probably as a result of the preaching of unnamed Christians who had fled there to escape Saul’s persecution of the church in Jerusalem.
Acts 9 32 As Peter travelled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralysed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
It was a miracle. God healed Aeneas. And it sounds like the whole town turned to God and were saved. The work of the Holy Spirit brought people to Jesus. And news of that miracle soon spread to the whole region, including to Joppa which was a dozen miles further up on the Mediterranean coast. In Joppa a disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, had died. Tabitha is singled out for us because she is the only woman in the whole of the New Testament who is actually given the description of “disciple”. She devoted her life to caring for the poor, and all the good works God had prepared beforehand for her to do. But Tabitha became ill and died. But after she was dead the church sent messengers to bring Peter to come to her before her body would have to be buried. Peter arrived and then the Holy Spirit worked an even greater miracle.
Acts 9 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning towards the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.
We don’t know why the people were sent out of the room before Peter prayed for Tabitha. But it is interesting to note that Jesus did exactly the same when he brought Jairus’s daughter back to life again (Mark 5). And it is also remarkable that with Jairus’s daughter, Jesus said Talitha qum, ‘Little girl, get up’. But here, if as is likely he was speaking in Aramaic, Peter says Tabitha qum. Almost identical words – with the same result. Jesus had brought dead people back to life again. And in the Early Church the Holy Spirit continued to bring the dead back to life again! People like Tabitha. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
The Early Church grew in numbers because the Holy Spirit was working miracles. Think about the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It should really be called the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Throughout Acts you find the same thing happening whichever chapter you turn to. The witness of the early church was very simple. Time after time God did something extraordinary in their midst, the people around asked “how did that happen?” and the first Christians simply replied, “God did that!” And people turned to the Lord and got saved. The ending of Mark’s Gospel sums up the life of the Early Church like this.
Mark 16 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate God sending the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers in a new way. Pentecost was indeed the birth of the church! And from Pentecost onwards we see the Holy Spirit doing amazing things in the lives of the first Christians. Starting on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire and the believers began to praise God in languages they had not learned. Peter preached and around 3000 people became Christians that day. And we read in Acts 2 what happened in the days and weeks and months that followed.
Acts 2 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. …. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The Holy Spirit worked in signs and wonders, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. On to Acts 3 and the healing of a man who had been lame since birth.
Acts 3 6 Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
And Peter preached the gospel. Acts 3 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
The Jewish leaders threw Peter and John into jail. But people were still respond to the preaching.
Acts 4 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
Signs and wonders – and people getting saved! So it continued in Acts 5.
Acts 5 12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought those who were ill into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
Signs and wonders and people believing in the Lord and added to the church. Persecution continued and the apostles were put in prison, but God sent an angel which miraculously opened the doors to the jail. And despite being flogged and told not to speak about Jesus again, we read
Acts 5 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
It wasn’t just the apostles who the Holy Spirit was using to work miracles. Stephen was one of the Seven people known to be full of the Holy Spirit who were chosen to oversee the distribution of food among the widows of the church.
Acts 6 8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Stephen, and then in Samaria the evangelist Philip, who was not the same as the apostle Philip.
Acts 8 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Signs and wonders: miracles of healing and deliverance. And the Holy Spirit was at work in the Early Church in other ways as well. In particular God was speaking directly to very many Christians. We saw last week how God spoke both to Ananias and to Saul in visions.
Acts 9 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
There are other dreams and visions and prophecies in the first 8 chapters of the Book of Acts as well. In Acts 5 God gives Peter words of knowledge when a couple lied to the apostles. In Acts 7 Stephen saw a vision of Jesus. At the end of Acts 8 God spoke to the evangelist Philip through an angel. All these were examples of the fulfilment of God’s promise in the book of Joel which Peter quoted in his first sermon on Pentecost Day.
Acts 2:17 “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Holy Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will have dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on those who serve me, both men and women. When I do, they will prophesy,
Visions, dreams and prophecies. And I’ve only talked about the first part of Acts up to Peter bringing Tabitha back to life. Of course the same pattern continues through the rest of the book. That was the life and witness of the first Christians. Signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance, God speaking in dreams and visions. And all the time people were becoming believers and being saved. Lives were being changed by the transforming power of God which can save from the guttermost to the uttermost. As we saw last week – Saul the greatest enemy of the church saved to become the apostle to the Gentiles Paul. God did all these things! That was the witness of the Early Church – “God did that!”
There’s a lovely phrase which sums up what we are saying. Soul Survivor are using it as the name for their summer camps and there are books with the same title. “Naturally supernatural.” The first Christians were naturally supernatural. The Holy Spirit was at work among them in supernatural ways and all they had to do was point to what was happening and say, “God did that!”
That was the witness of the Early Church and that is the principal witness of Christians in the world today. Not just looking back in history to the saving life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But testifying to events in our own lives and in our church where we can say “God did that!” Answers to prayer. Signs and wonders. Miracles of healing and deliverance. Naturally supernatural. God speaking to us not only through His Word the Bible but also in dreams and visions and words of prophecy and knowledge and wisdom and discernment. And lives dramatically transformed. God did that! This is the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary Christians even today. Naturally supernatural! Over the last 40 years and more I have seen all these things happening in each of the churches I have belonged to and led. Today when you get home, take a little time to reflect. What has happened in your life and in this church which we can point to and say, “God did that”? Think back and be thankful! God did that!
Every Christian needs the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We can all be naturally supernatural, if we will only let God do what He longs to do in and through us. But it was A.W.Tozer who observed that “if God had taken the Holy Spirit out of the Early Church 95% of their activities would have stopped and everybody would have noticed the difference. But if God took the Holy Spirit out of the Church today 95% of our activities would go on as usual and nobody would notice the difference!”
We must continually open our lives to God working among us. A person can’t be a Christian without the work of the Holy Spirit bringing Christ’s resurrection life. A church isn’t a church if the Holy Spirit isn’t at work in the people making them into the Body of Christ. We need to find out what it means to be naturally supernatural. We all need to open our lives to the Holy Spirit – to let God work among us as He did among the first Christians. The Bible commands us, “Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) We all need God to fill us afresh every day with His Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, we welcome You.
Please accomplish in me today, Some new work of loving grace, I pray;
Unreservedly have Your way. Holy Spirit, we welcome You.
Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.