In Awe of Him Who Died and Lives
Our portion of Scripture reveals to us what happens when a body of believers devote themselves to worshipping God the way He wants to be worshipped. It displays for us what occurs when God’s people persevere in the Word of Life by studying it, and letting it richly dwell within their hearts and minds informing them how they are to think and to live, so that they might do so as living sacrifices to the glory of God. It shows us the product of heartfelt dedication to His people in fellowship, and His Supper in remembrance of Him and His vicarious death upon the cross in our stead, as well as to prayer in dependence upon His being all-sufficient. In other words, what we see in our text is the fruit of simple and sincere devotion to worshipping God in spirit and in truth.
We have before us a gathering of people who Luke describes for us as having a perpetual “sense of awe,” or as some translations render a “fear” which “came upon every soul.” Those who devoted themselves to the Living God were left in a continual state of reverential fear. This is the natural response one experiences when they conclude that God is nearby.
There are far too many examples of this in the Scripture, so we will focus only on a couple. Just think of the people’s response the time Jesus healed the paralytic who had been laid down at His feet through the roof:
“26 They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Think also of the crowd’s reaction when Jesus raised a dead man back to life by touching his coffin and saying, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” Luke records that:
“16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!”
Again, reverential fear is always the response when one realizes that God is nigh.
Now, the sense of awe among the church in Acts had to do with the “many wonders and signs” that “were taking place through the apostles.” Only the Twelve, the Apostle Paul, and those closely associated with either of these, were endowed with such a gifting. The fact that only the Apostles were given such an empowerment is seen when Paul gave a defense of his apostleship to the Corinthians saying:
“The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”
We see it as well in Acts 5:12, which says:
“At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.”
We should take a moment to consider at least two things being accomplished by these miraculous works:
- The Signs and wonders validated the Apostle’s teaching. In other words, they verified the veritas. That is to say that the signs and wonders confirmed the truth that was spoken. This was one of the greatest reasons for Jesus’ works. Listen to what He says in John 14:10-11:
“10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”
The works of Christ confirmed who He was and what He said. The same is true of the Apostle’s. Hebrews 2:4 says that God testified:
“With them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
We see this with Paul on one of his missionary journeys in Acts 14:1-3 when Luke records for us that:
“1 In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”
In Romans 15:18-19, Paul himself affirms that his gifting was intended to confirm the message preached, thus urging people to conform to it:
“18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
The signs and wonders of the apostles, and those closely associated with them, demonstrated that their message was true and must, therefore, be heeded by all; for the One they preached was crucified for sin, and rose again from the dead so that He might freely give eternal life to all who turn from themselves and trust in Him. He will save them, and He will one day appear a second time without reference to sin, for those who eagerly wait for Him. To those, however, who do not know God and who do not obey His gospel, he will deal out retribution when He returns. As the Scripture says:
“9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”
God confirmed this message by the works He did through His Apostle’s.
- The Signs and wonders validated the vitality of Christ. We should recall that the book of Acts is a historical narrative which has been rightly called by some as The Acts of the Lord Jesus through His People by the Holy Spirit for the Accomplishment of the Father’s Purpose. As one person says:
“All through the narrative we see the ever-present, all-controlling power of the ever-living Savior. He worketh all and in all in spreading abroad his truth among men by his Spirit and through the instrumentality of his apostles.”
The signs and wonders worked through these men demonstrated that Jesus Christ is not rotting away in some tomb, but that He is alive and well reigning on His throne. Though He was not physically seen, His presence was evident through His power in His apostles. This left the church in awe and prodded them on to do as the Scripture instructs all of us in Christ to do, which is to work out our “salvation with fear and trembling” realizing that “it is God who is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Again, the signs and wonders through the Apostles validate He lives.
The gift of Apostleship has ceased, and it has been done away with for some time, but that does not mean that God has ceased doing miraculous and wonderful things in the lives of people. We should understand that the salvation of a sinner is the greatest miracle God ever performs, and continues to, even more than physical healing. Salvation is that miraculous act where God takes a valley of dry bones and causes breath to enter into them so that they may come to life. He removes a heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh. He saves a person incapable of saving themselves. When they are dead in their sin, walking according to the course of the world, and living in the lust of the flesh, He makes them live. He saves them because of His love for them, and not theirs for Him. He saves them not merely from the penalty of their sin, but from its power over them so that they might walk in the newness of life. Though their outer person deteriorates with time, He continues to renew the inner person day by day into His image.
This means that when we see the lost come to saving faith in Christ, and those in Him being sanctified by Him, we should be in a state of awe, just as the church in Acts was, for it reminds us that the Living God is at work among us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Fear and trembling should, therefore, consume us entirely. It should prompt us to holiness of life, and it should also encourage us as it testifies to us that He who died on our behalf, and now lives on our behalf has neither left us nor forsaken us. He will be with us always. He has begun a good work in us which He will perfect until we either return to Him, or He for us. It reminds us that we are His and He is yours and there is nothing that can separate us from His love. Our lives are no longer our own but His, and we must glorify Him with our bodies.
Christ’s continued work in Acts calls to our attention that He truly is working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for we have been predestined to be conformed to His image. We, therefore, ought to be filled with reverence for the One with whom we have to do for He is the source and sustainer of our lives, and He is always near.
The Qualities of a Reverential Church
As we can see in our text, a church that is filled with a perpetual sense of awe will possess certain qualities about it. We want to consider at least three of them so that we might examine our own gathering to discern whether we are branded by the same marks. We want to ask ourselves, is the same fruit being born among us? Do we possess the qualities which naturally flow from deep reverence for God? If we concern ourselves with the question of whether there is fruit among us, it is then necessary for us to ask, from where does this fruit flow? What generates it? What produces that which is necessary for it? We want to ask this question because if we find ourselves lacking fruit, we need to know where to turn.
Three qualities we see among the church are:
- Genuine Generosity – Acts 2:44-45 says:
“44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
Luke tells us that the believers were together and had all things in common and were sharing with all as anyone might have need. We see this again in Acts 4:32-35:
“32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”
This was not communal living as some have suggested. The members of the church were not selling absolutely everything they possessed, pooling the money, and living together.
What is being conveyed here is the churches unity of heart and purpose. They understood that they had all been baptized into one body. Just as they each individually were inextricably linked with Christ, they were also united everyone else who was united with Him, therefore if one member suffers all the members suffer for we are Christ’s body and individually members of it.
We see in Acts is the putting to practice what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 about proving the sincerity of their love:
“12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
The Scripture say that “God loves a cheerful giver.” This is someone who is hospitable without complaining.  They do not give grudgingly or under compulsion. They happily give knowing that God can give them everything they need, so that they may always have enough both for themselves and for giving away to other people. Paul tells Timothy to:
“17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
It was Calvin that said:
“When our Lord permits some people to enjoy a greater abundance of goods than others, it is so they can be generous toward those who lack. Just as we wish to be recognized as children of God, so must we show by our actions not only that our lips are not uttering idle words, but that our hearts seek what our lips request.”
The church in Acts was full of genuine generosity by giving to anyone of them who might have need. May we see this among us. The Macedonians provide for us the greatest example of generosity. They gave of their own accord according to their own ability, and well beyond it in a desire to support the saints. Paul says that:
“That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.”
- Genuine Joy – Acts 2:46 says:
“46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”
The church in its infant stage was doing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16 instructs, and this is to “rejoice always.” The Christian has every reason to always “rejoice in the Lord.” He has delivered us from the domain of darkness by shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
When we were dead in sin, drifting along in the world’s ideas of living and following the impulses and imaginations of our evil natures, completely unaware of our condition, God breathed life into us.
When we were separate from Christ, without hope and without God in the world completely cut off from His life, we were brought near by the blood of Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. He made Him who knew no sin to become sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
When we were dead in our transgression against God, He made us:
“Alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
He bore our sin on His body on the cross and died for us, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.
As Peter says:
“8 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
As Paul says to the Corinthian believers, I say to you:
“11 Rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
What we see among this body of believers is not community for the sake of community. It is not shallow or superficial. It is not artificial, contrived, pretended, forced, falsified, or feigned. It is not unnatural, but sincere. It is free from all pretense or deceit, and proceeds from genuine love for one another. It is the outworking of Paul’s instructions to the church in Philippians 2:1-8:
“1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Just as Jesus said in Mark 10:43-45:
“43 Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
John says in 1 John 3:16-18:
“We know and, to some extent realize, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!”
We must ask ourselves, from where does sincere love for one another flow? It flows from a sincere love for God! From where does this love flow? From eyes and hearts fixed on Christ and His gospel! It, therefore, should not surprise us that the third quality the church possess is the very quality from which every other quality comes from. The church in Acts possessed:
- Genuine Gratitude – The beginning of verse 47 shows that day by day, those who had believed were continuing with one mind “praising God”. They were grateful to God who demonstrated His love towards them in that while they were yet sinners, Christ died for them. Is this not what John teaches us? 1 John 4:7-11
“7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Truly, what A.W. Tozer said many years ago about the necessity of sound theology rings true today. He said:
“Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them… What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…The gravest question before the church is always God Himself…The Christian church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him…”
I hope we see that both genuine heartfelt generosity, and sincere joy are the product of sound Christ centered theology. If you struggle with generosity. If you struggle with joy. Look to Christ who was rich, yet for our sake became poor so that we mighty become rich through His poverty. We have every reason to rejoice. We have every reason to be generous. We have every reasons to live to the praise of God’s glory.
Day by day the church in Acts lived in gratitude towards God. As Acts 2:47 reveals, as the church was praising God not only with their lips, but with their lives, they were:
“Having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The church had an attractiveness, not because they were like the world, but because their love for one another was distinct from it, and it was distinct because it was theologically driven and Christ centered. There is nothing attractive about a church that wants to utilize worldly means in an attempt to appeal to worldly people. It will always have to diminish the qualities of God, and once this is done you have lost that which produces true generosity, and joy, and gratitude. You have lost the lofty view of God, and therefore a clear understanding of love.
Draw Near to God
Perhaps it came to your mind as we were reading our the Scripture today, but our text in Acts epitomizes Ephesians 4, when Paul says:
“11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
The Puritan, Nathaniel Vincent once said:
“O love! How much want is there of you in the Church of Christ! And how much does the Church feel for this want! It groans, it languishes, it dies daily because of your absence. Return, O love, return! Repair breaches, restore paths to dwell in, edify the old ways and places, and raise up the foundations of many generations.”
What are we without love? The Scripture tells us:
“If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.”
The Scripture says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Let us draw near to the Living God who is love. May this produce in us genuine gratitude for who He is and what He has graciously done for us in His Son. May this in turn generate in us a joy unspeakable and a generosity which is not forced, falsified, or feigned, but natural and sincere. May we be “imitators of God” as Ephesians 5:1 tells us, and “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” As John says, “19 We love, because He first loved us.” By this all people will know that we are His disciples, if we love one another.
 Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:16
 Luke 5:26
 Luke 7:11-15
 Luke 7:16
 Hebrews 9:28
 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10
 Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Acts of the Apostles – Easton’s Bible Dictionary (blueletterbible.org)
 Philippians 2:12-13
 Ezekiel 37:1-10
 Ezekiel 36:26-27
 Ephesians 2:1-5
 Romans 6:1-4
 2 Corinthians 4:16
 Hebrews 13:5
 Matthew 28:20
 Philippians 1:6
 Romans 8:35-39
 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
 Romans 8:28-30
 1 Corinthians 12:13
 1 Corinthians 12:26-27
 2 Corinthians 9:7
 1 Peter 4:9
 2 Corinthians 9:8-9
 1 Timothy 6:17-19
 Sermons on The Acts of the Apostles: Chapter 1-7; John Calvin; Page 77
 2 Corinthians 8:3-4
 2 Corinthians 8:2
 Philippians 3:1
 2 Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter
 Ephesians 2:1-3
 Ephesians 2:
 2 Corinthians 5:18
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 1 Peter 2:24;3:18
 1 Peter 1:8-9
 J.B. Philipps New Testament
 Romans 5:8
 2 Corinthians 8:9
 Ephesians 4:11-16
 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; J.B. Philipps New Testament
 James 4:8
 Ephesians 5:2
 John 13:35