Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Merritt » James Merritt - Straight Talk

James Merritt - Straight Talk

  • Watch
  • Audio
  • Donate
  • Shop
    James Merritt - Straight Talk

2,000 years ago the early church had this magnetic draw that to this day is unparalleled because the growth of the early church was so expansive and the growth of the early church was so explosive there was actually an entire book of the Bible that was written just to talk about the growth of the early church. Now let's see who knows the Bible. What book am I talking about? The book of Acts. So if you brought a copy of God's word today or a smartphone or an iPad, you want to follow along. I want you to turn to the book of Acts. Real easy to find, New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts. I want you to turn to the book of Acts, because all the book of Acts is about is how this early church grew, how this early church was formed right after the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ.

It's really an amazing story. It starts out with 120 people. That's all they had. And then in this feast called Pentecost, which was kind of like a spiritual Mardi Gras back in that day, in the Feast of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem, one of the 12, there were 11 apostles. The apostle Peter stands up to the middle of the city square of Jerusalem. He preaches the first Christian sermon that has ever been preached, ever heard anywhere in the world. It was a very simple message. If you read it, it only takes five to six minutes. If he preached it and took his time, it maybe was a 15-minute message, and yet when he got up and he preached his first Christian message, this was the result. Those that accepted his message were baptized and about 3,000 were added to their number that day. Peter gets up in the city square, preaches about 15 minutes, and, I mean, like that, the church goes from 120 people to 3,120 people.

Now, here's the amazing thing. From that moment, as you read the book of Acts, the beat goes on and on and on and on, because what you keep reading in the book of Acts is how time after time after time the growth of the church was relentless. It was like spiritual kudzu. I mean, it was just spreading everywhere, and no matter what people tried to do, you could not stop it. For example, we read this later on in that chapter: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved". In other words, it wasn't just Sunday that people were coming to church. It wasn't just Sunday that people were coming to God. Every single day, where people worked and where people lived and where people stayed, people were coming to God. Two chapters later we read this: "But many who heard the message believed, so the number of the men who believed grew to about 5,000".

It wasn't but just a couple of weeks later, now the church has gone from 3,120 to over 5,120 people. Two chapters later you read this: "So the word of God spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests become obedient to the faith". All in all, if you read the book of Acts, Luke tells us 10 different times the church grew, the church exploded, the church expanded, thousands are being added, people are coming to the Lord daily. In other words, the church back in that day was just magnetic. It was like the church was this magnet and people were iron, and they would just walk by a gathering of people meeting in this house or that house or this home or that home or even out in a city square and they would be drawn to the church, they would be drawn to the gospel, and they'd be drawn to Jesus.

What I'm asking in this series is a simple question: What was it that made the early church so magnetic? What was it about the early church that when people would just walk by they almost were literally sucked in? They'd come in and say, "I got to check this out. I want to know what is going on". Well, last week we identified the first quality we said would make an early church magnetic. You probably don't remember it. I don't even remember what I preached last week sometimes, so don't let that bother you, okay? But in case you were not here or you forgot, we said last week that the first ingredient of a church and the first ingredient of a Christian that makes us magnetic is what we called "crazy love". And we said, we went back to what Jesus said.

Jesus said, "This is how the outside world will know that you're different. This is how the outside world will know that you're my disciples. This is how the people on the outside will know those of us on the inside are", there's something different about us, and it's because Jesus has made us different. He said, "This is how they'll know it," when we love one another the way Jesus loves us. He said when people walk into a church and they automatic, they just can sense two things, number one, these people really love each other. They're not just hanging out together. They didn't just come to sit down and hear somebody get up and talk for a while. These people really love each other. And He said when they walk in and see that we love each other and when they walk out and say, "I don't understand it, but they love me. They don't even know me. They don't even know who I am, but I felt a love in that church". Jesus said, "That church will be magnetic".

So first quality, crazy love. What's the second quality? Well, I'm not going to tell you toward the end of the message, but I'm going to start seeing if you can kind of figure it out, okay? I'm going to see if you can kind of catch it. Let me just give a few verses and you just kind of see if you can catch on. Those who accepted His message were baptized. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, but many who heard the message believed, so the word of God spread. Now, I think you can see it. There was this common ingredient. There was one thing in the soup that guaranteed that the early church would be magnetic and guaranteed there would be this explosive growth, and here it is: People were attracted by the message of the word of God. That was it. They were attracted by the message of the word of God.

Now, let me tell you why I'm going to make a big deal out of this, this morning, and why it is such a big deal. As a matter of fact, the story we're going to look at in the book of Acts, chapter 6, in just a moment. The story we're going to look at is such a big deal and so important because if something had not happened in the early church that happened 2,000 years ago, we probably would not be here, there probably would not be a church, Christianity probably would have died and would have never gotten off the ground, it would have crashed and burned before it even got into the air, and we probably wouldn't even know anything about what happened in the early church.

Let me tell you what happened. Remember, now, the church is now made up of thousands of people, and it's not a homogenous crowd. I mean, they're from everywhere. They're from all over parts of the country. They're multi-cultural, they're multi-ethnic, they're from all over these areas, they speak different languages, and they come to this feast called Pentecost. They didn't intend to stay, they intended to come back to their homes, but they got to know Jesus. They got saved. They were born again, and they don't want to leave. They're so hooked into Jesus. They're so hooked into this new way of life, and now they realize they're a part of this family. They're not just a group. They're a family.

And so they don't want to leave and they decide, "We're going to stay. We're going to try to find work here. We're going to live here. We're going to try to make our way of life here. We want to know more about Jesus. We want to know more about our faith. This is not a one-and-done deal. We are in love with this Jesus. We have been radically changed. We're not going anywhere". Well, there was a problem, because in those thousands of people, there were widows. There were Jewish widows and there were Hellenistic or Greek widows. They spoke different languages, they were from different places, they had different cultures, they dressed differently, but all of these widows had one thing in common. They were hungry, not spiritually, physically. And the early church had rightfully decided: "It's our responsibility to feed these widows. It's our job to take care of them, make sure they've got food on their table".

There was a problem. Unfortunately, even back then, favoritism had kind of crept into the church, so between the Jewish widows and the Greek widows, who do you think got the white meat? Who do you think got the steak? The Jewish widows. So if there was so much food, they got the lion's share of the food, right? And the Greek widows, they didn't get much of the food. As a matter of fact, some of them were being neglected. They weren't getting any food whatsoever. The Jewish widows were always fed first. So now the early church has a problem. Let me tell you what the problem is. You think you got problems? Let me tell you about their problem. They had angry, hungry women. I don't want to hear about your problems today, okay? I just don't want to hear about your problems.

When a church has angry, hungry women, that is a problem of nuclear proportions. You're going to deal with that. It's not that you should deal with it or you ought to, you're going to deal with that problem or you're not going to make any progress whatsoever. They're angry, they're hungry, and they want to be fed. Well, what does the early church decide to do? They do what a lot of particularly smaller churches do today. They said, "Let the pastor take care of it. That's his job. That's what we pay him to do".

You know, there are people that have that mentality. Somebody's sick, the pastor ought to go see them. Somebody needs to be talked to, the pastor ought to talk to them. Somebody needs this or that, the pastor ought to do it. Somebody needs to do this or that, the pastor ought to go there. He ought to take them. I mean, that's what some people think. So the early church, these people, they turned to these 11 apostles, they were with Jesus, they were kind of the leaders of the church, and they said, "Okay, you need to solve this problem. It's not our problem. It's your problem. You need to take care of these angry, hungry women. This is what you need to do"? Well, those early apostles, those apostles, they make a decision that saved the growth of the church. As a matter of fact, it probably, it may have very well saved Christianity. It really did save the progress of the Christian faith.

All right, now, listen to what they do. We're in verse two. So the 12, that is, there were 11 and they added one more. So the 12 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". Now, this is kind of, this is really interesting. It took a lot of courage to do this, right? They said, "No, we're not going to solve the problem. We got a problem. It's not your problem. It is our problem, but we're not going to solve the problem". And they dug in their heels and they said, "We're not going to neglect this. We're not going to neglect the preaching of the word of God". Why did they do that? Why were they so adamant? Why did they dig in their heels and say, "The answer is, read our lips, no. We're not doing that". Because they knew, "if we put this on the shelf, if we neglect this, if we quit this so we can do that, if we quit preaching the word of God, the church will quit growing. If the church quits growing, Christianity will die".

So if you don't know what happens in the story, I'll go ahead and tell you. They tell the disciples, they tell the early church, "What you need to do, go find some men that are full of the Holy Spirit, that are full of wisdom, let them take care of the problem so we can continue to teach and preach the word of God". When they made that decision, when they stuck to their guns, when they said, "We're not going to give up the preaching of God's word," an absolutely amazing thing happened. Listen to what we read next? 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. It's amazing. You would have expected, if you read the story, you would have thought, okay, the next thing I'm going to read is all the widows were fed and everybody lived happily ever after. That's not what you read.

Now, all the widows did get fed and everybody was happy, but the most important thing that happened is the word of God spread, a number of the disciples, the number of the disciples exploded, and a large number of Jewish priests came to the faith, and it all happened for one reason, because of the spread of the word of God. All right, so now all that is a backdrop. What I want to do is share with you just three real quick, this is going to be short, I promise, three very brief truths. What the early church did we need to do as a church. What those individuals as believers did we need to do if we're going to be the kind of people that God can use to draw people unto Himself.

So what do we need to do? Three quick things. Ready; here we go. Number one, we should emphasize the priority of God's word. In our church and in our life, we should emphasize the priority of God's word. All right, here's what happened. Let's go back and read it again. So the word of God spread. Now, that word is an interesting word. It's the Greek word "auxanó" and it literally means to grow or to increase. Now, obviously, when he said that, he doesn't mean that the word of God literally got bigger; in other words, the scrolls got longer and the pages got wider. That's not what he's saying. What he's saying is, there was this increased exposure to the word of God.

There was more and more preaching of the word of God from the church, and more and more of the word of God was penetrating into the hearts and minds of unbelievers, and because these apostles had now been freed to preach God's word, more people had the opportunity to hear God's word, more people had the chance to be changed by God's word, and more people were added to the church, because, remember, the apostles had not just been tempted to give up preaching of the word of God, they had been requested very strongly, "Please quit preaching God's word. We want you to give all of your time and all of your attention to feeding the widows, to waiting on tables, to making sure they've got food, making sure that they're taken care of".

Okay, now, let me stop right there and call a time out. It's not that the apostles were too good to do that. It's not that that's not a good thing to do. It's a good thing to feed hungry people, especially hangry, hungry women. That's a wonderful thing to do. I'm all for it. I vote for it, okay? That's a great thing. Nothing wrong with that. That's not the point. It's not that it was not a good thing to do, but for the apostles, it was not the best thing to do. And Luke gives us a clue as to why this would have been an unmitigated disaster both for the church and for unbelievers, because, remember, when they come to the apostles and they said, "We want you to quit preaching and start waiting on tables," the apostles said, "If we do that, you're not going to like the results".

There are all kinds of ways you can draw a crowd and there are all kinds of ways you can increase numbers, and there's nothing wrong with being creative. We love to be creative here. There's nothing wrong with using technology. We use technology here. There's nothing wrong with being attractive and attractional in your ministry. But what I want you to understand is the one magnet a church can't do without is the word of God. That is the foundational magnet. That's the magnet above all magnets. That is the first magnet.

So, number one, we must emphasize the priority of God's word. All right, number two, we should emphasize the preaching of God's word, not just the priority but the preaching. Now, when the word of God is preached, we see it in the book of Acts, things happen. This is what happened in the early church. Go back to verse 7. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. That word for "increased rapidly," by the way, literally means "to multiply". In other words, Luke said... do you understand how fast the church was growing? It's not just that the church was growing by addition. The church was growing by multiplication.

How did that happen? Well, Joe Blow, John Brown, Sally Smith, they'd come out of paganism, they'd come out of Judaism, they'd come out of unbelief, and they'd give their life to Jesus, and they'd be so excited, they'd be so full of Christ and so full of the Holy Spirit, and they began to study God's word. What would they do? They would just naturally go out and they'd share the word of God with other people. They'd say to a neighbor that they live next door to or to a friend that they work with, "You have got to hear what happened to me. Hey, you're going through a tough time in your marriage. Can I ask you to just come visit with a group of people I'm meeting with? They have the answer for you".

And the word of God began to be preached and the word of God began to be spread, and so people were being multiplied to the church. And by the way, it wasn't just decisions. He doesn't say the number of decisions were multiplied. He said the number of disciples. You know what that means? The word for "disciple," let me tell you a good word to put in place of that is the word "apprentice". A disciple was not just somebody that went to class and got a degree. A disciple is not someone that just kind of learns some theology. Here's what a disciple was. He would find a teacher and he would look at that teacher and listen to that teacher and he would listen to the truths that that teacher taught and would look at the life that that teacher lived and he would say, "You know what, I want to become just like you. I want to know what you know, I want to live like you live, I want to act like you act, I want to talk like you talk, I want the power that you have. The God that you say lives in you, that's the God that I want to live in me. I'm willing to give up everything and follow you".

We should emphasize the practice of God's word. This is my favorite part of this text. Do you remember what the last part of the sentence said? It's absolutely amazing. You may have missed it, but I want to show it to you. A large number of priests became obedient to the faith. You may be sitting and you may be saying, "Well, they ought to, they're priests. That's what a priest does, right? They ought to be obedient to the faith". Do you understand what he's talking about here? He's talking about Jewish priests. Do you understand at that time, at this moment in the life of the early church there was nobody that was more against Christianity, there was nobody that hated the preaching of the gospel more, there was nobody that despised the name of Jesus more, there was nobody that wanted to see Christianity crash and burn more, there was nobody that wanted to stop the church dead in its tracks more than these Jewish priests?

As a matter of fact, Bible scholars tell us, they're pretty sure that a number of these priests probably were in the group that had Jesus killed. A number of these priests probably were at the very trial where Jesus was condemned, and what Luke says is, this is incredible. He said the word of God spread so much and the word of God was so powerful that these Jewish priests, when they heard the word of God and they heard the truth about Jesus, they took off their clerical collar, they laid down their Jewishness and they said, "We want to become followers of this man called Jesus Christ". That's why I gave the title and now I'm going to give you the second quality that makes a believer and a church magnetic. First one's crazy love.

The second one, believe it or not, is straight talk. Straight talk. Let me tell you something. Don't listen to the news on this one. In this age of political correctness and don't hurt anybody's feelings and don't offend anybody and don't get yourself out there, there is a hunger for someone that will just tell it straight. There is a hunger for someone that will just get up and have the courage to say, "This is what God says; deal with it. This is His words. Not my idea. It's not something I came up with. This is God's word". And I want you to understand what I'm talking about when I'm talking about sharing the message of God's word, because this is what was really so powerful. This is what really made the magnet so magnetic. When they preached, the number one thing they preached was the gospel, right?

That was the message that drove the early church. People were out there telling everybody, "Hey, there was this man named Jesus and He was the son of God and He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life and He died on a cross and God brought Him back from the dead. He was God in the flesh and He wants to become your Lord and your Savior, and I'm telling you, I've given Him my life and He's radically changed me and transformed me, and what He did for me He can do for you". Yeah, that message was all out there. And they talked about repentance and they talked about faith, but there was a lot more to the teaching of the word of God than that, because, remember, go back to the culture of that ancient world. Go back to that culture. There were two people that were pretty much despised and not really thought a lot about in the early church, women and children.

So you go back to that culture, and it's hard for us to understand in 2016, but you go back to that culture and married men not only could sleep with other women, they were expected to sleep with other women. That's why one of the most popular religions back in that day was prostitute religion. Didn't have a problem getting men to that church. And the women were not only just to put up with it; they were supposed to like it. Oh, children, you wanted sons so you could carry on your name, and if you had daughters, you could abort them. But my point is that was kind of the mentality that people had. Children, they're just, children are tools. Women are tools. And then the early church comes along and they began to preach things like, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. Fathers, don't exasperate your children, but raise them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord".

And they began to preach that women ought to be held in high esteem and women ought to be treated with dignity and respect and love. They began to teach that every child is valuable. It doesn't matter what sex they are or what gender; every child is valuable. And people began to say, "Wow, never heard this before". And it wasn't just what they heard was interesting or different or intellectually stimulating. It was life-changing. And because the word of God was preached, marriages were changed, culture was turned upside down, the world was turned upside down. Why? Because they emphasized the priority and the preaching and the practice of God's word. And by the way, let me just tell you this. Just listen to this. It is not just preaching that changes lives. It is preaching the word of God that changes lives.

I do understand that when you stand up and you preach the truth of this book, it will attract people, but it will also repel people. That's why I tell people, and I'm not saying this to sound arrogant. I don't mean it this way. We're just like every other church. We're not for everybody. We're not for the faint of heart. There are churches out there go along to get along. There are churches out there, there are just certain third-rail topics, so we don't talk about that. We don't touch that. We're just not going to deal with that. Because they get it, too. They say, "We get it. If we preach certain things, it will draw people, but if we preach other things, it will drive people away if they don't accept the word of God".

That's absolutely true, absolutely right. But I'll tell you one other thing I do know. I do know that when the word of God is preached and the word of God is prioritized and the word of God is practiced, I do know that when people in all walks of life have the courage to stand up and say, in love, "I'm just telling you what the Creator that made us said. I'm just telling you what God's word says. You can deal with it or not deal with it. This is what the word of God teaches. This is God's truth". I know that when the word of God is spread, people of all walks of life will be drawn to the church and they'll be drawn to Jesus and they'll become disciples and they'll become followers and we'll be drawing people to the right thing and the right person and the right principles to the right place for the right reason, and that's just straight talk.
Are you Human?:*