Sunday, March 1, 2015

Acts Sermon

My sermon on Acts 2:42-47 from this morning.  Some slight additions(mainly the quotes) and some polishing on grammar and punctuation...but it is still rough.  Readable though, so I figured I would post for both of my readers. :-D
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Acts 2:42-47(14-47 for context)
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
            17       “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
                  that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
                  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
      and your young men shall see visions,
      and your old men shall dream dreams;
            18       even on my male servants and female servants
      in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
            19       And I will show wonders in the heavens above
      and signs on the earth below,
      blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
            20       the sun shall be turned to darkness
      and the moon to blood,
      before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
            21       And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
                  “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me,
      for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
            26       therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
      my flesh also will dwell in hope.
            27       For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
      or let your Holy One see corruption.
            28       You have made known to me the paths of life;
      you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
                  “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
                  “Sit at my right hand,
            35       until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:14-27)


This is the word of the Lord.  Blessed be his name.  Let’s pray. 
Almighty God,
Whose people are knit together in one holy church,
The body of Christ, our Lord:
Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment,
And to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you,
through your Son, Jesus Christ , our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen. (The Worship Sourcebook, 753)

Verse 40 moves us out of the sermon Peter is preaching and back into the narrative of Acts that Luke is recording.  When we look at a narrative passage we examine it as a narrative.  We look and see a subject, an action, and the results. Or, to put it another way, we can study it by asking and answering three basic questions.  This will not in any way exhaust the passage, but it will give us a good overall understanding of what is happening.  We can ask, “Who is this passage about?”, “What happens in this passage?”, and “What is the result from what happens in this passage?”.  Subject, Action, Result.  And this passage in Acts lends itself to this format as well as any other passage in the bible. 
First is the "Who" question? Who is this passage about?  This is simple.  Verse 42 tells us exactly who.  They.  Now, tempting as it might be to move to the next question, we might want to venture just a bit deeper than “they!”  Who is “they?”  Pronouns are used to refer to the immediately preceding nouns and in this context we see the “they” just a couple words back.  They are the souls that were added.
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)
 “They” are the ones who heard Peter’s sermon.  “They” are the ones who saw the sign of the sign of the Spirit proclaiming the Gospel in different known languages.  “They” are those who were unimpressed by and initially mocked those who were Spirit filled.  But, "they" were “cut to the heart” by the preached word of God.  “They” are the ones who cried out “Brothers, what shall we do.” “They” are the ones who received Peter’s word as the word of the Lord.  “They” were the ones baptized as a sign and seal of God’s promise to save all who would believe.  “They” were the three thousand souls added to the Church on the day of Pentecost.
“They” were converted, baptized believers.  But, as we look at what the “they” were engaged in, it would be good to remind ourselves that the “they” also included the households of those who believed.  Peter’s emphasis that the promise of salvation for those who believe extended not just to the hearer, but to their children and to the ends of the earth would be more than enough for those who repented and believed to bring their household into the community of faith.  Add to that the massive Jewish emphasis on household and family and we can easily and accurately assume that as these souls went about living and worshiping and giving and evangelizing, their children and servants were included in all of this.
But, what is the “this” in which they were included.  This brings us to the second question we seek to answer as we study this passage.  The “who” question was easy, it was “they.”  But the first “what” question is a bit more detailed. 
What happens in this passage?  Quite a bit!  First we see that the believers devote themselves to certain activities.  Before we look at the specifics of what they were doing, let’s not miss the word “devoted.”  These were not just some things to do every now and again.  These were not just parts of their life that fit in well with the life they were already living.  They “devoted” themselves to these things.  The original word backs this up. It literally means “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.” (Louw, 662) 
So, to what were they devoted?  About what were they so persistent?  Verse 41 lists 4 things that they were devoted to (Acts 2:41).  What we find here is the four pillars of early church worship.
First we see that there was proclamation.  What was proclaimed?  These early Christians were devoted to the Apostle’s teaching.  They gathered together to hear the Gospel.  They gathered together to hear God’s Word, the Apostle’s teaching proclaimed to them.  What was this teaching?  We are blessed to have a perfect little summary in the preceding verses.
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:36–39.)
Peter proclaimed much in just a few words.  Peter proclaims the need for a Savior, the provision of the Savior, the proper response to the Savior and the continuing promise of the Savior. 
“This Jesus, whom you crucified.”  Much wasted ink and many vile words have been spent in anti-Semitic rhetoric about how the “Jews killed Jesus.”  Scripture is clear that it is our sin that led to the cross.  Paul’s point in the first few chapters of Romans is that it was Jewish sin, it was Gentile sin, it was the world’s sin that led to the death of Jesus.  It was sin.  It was rebellion.  It was idolatry.  It was hate.  It was sin.  Mine.  Yours.  The world’s that led the Lord to the cross.  Peter’s message was that you have sinned in the most grievous manner possible.  You have rebelled against the perfect, holy, righteous God of all and your sin has brought God’s wrath.
But.  This is an important conjunction.  An amazingly, awesomely, critical, super-duper-crazy-awesome word because it takes us from the precipice of an eternity of justly bearing the wrath of God for our sins and places us in the warm embrace of a Savior who loved to the point of shedding his own blood, to the point of giving his own life.  This Jesus who was crucified has been made both Lord and Christ.  Peter did not just proclaim the need for a Savior, he spoke of God’s provision of a Savior. 
In Philippians Paul quotes an early hymn that these believer may have even sung together that displays this truth that God made this Jesus Lord of all. 
Philippians 2, speaking of Jesus, reads:
(T)hough he was in the form of God, (Jesus)did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)
But God did not just make him Lord, that is ruler over all.  This Jesus is also the Christ, the anointed one, the Savior.  So that Peter, in his sermon, and the devoted believers, in their worship, could echo here the words of John that
11 (This Jesus) came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:11-17)
But the Apostle’s teaching was not just the need of the Savior, and not just the provision of the Savior, but also the proper response to the Savior.  The teaching of the Apostles included a call to respond to the Gospel, as does any proper presentation of the Gospel.  The call was to repent and be baptized, to turn from sin and live in obedient faith to the one true God. 
Finally, the Apostle’s teaching did not culminate with the salvation of a sinner.  There was no, “Oh good, I have my ticket to heaven now I’ll just go live my life.”  The proclamation of the Apostle’s teaching included the continuing promise of a Savior.  “This promise is for you,” meaning that any who hear and respond in faith can expect to receive the promised rewards earned by Christ.  But this promise did not end with you.  It was a promise to you AND.  You AND your children.  You AND the ends of the earth.  This was a continuing promise, in the life of the believer, their household, and the entire world and would have been proclaimed as such. 
They were devoted to fellowship.  This is why earlier I said we could look at this and see what early corporate worship entailed.  When it speaks here of being devoted to fellowship it is referring to their constant and consistent habit of gathering together to worship the Lord as a community.  When they gathered together they heard the Gospel proclaimed but they also saw the Gospel presented.
They were devoted to The Breaking of Bread. They did not just hear the Gospel, they gathered together to see it.  The definite article in front of “breaking of bread” and the context of corporate worship makes it explicit that this is a reference to observing the Lord’s Supper together.  As often as they gathered they celebrated the broken body and shed blood of the Lord.  There is a limit to what we can hear and perceive, and the Lord knows that.  We are not much different than Thomas, who upon hearing the glorious truth of the Gospel said, “Unless I see the scars.  Unless I touch the wounds…”  We are often as weak in our faith as Thomas was and that is no surprise to our great God.  By instituting something like the Lord’s Supper, where we hold and taste and see the truths of broken body and shed blood, albeit in an analogous way, and by encouraging us to observe this often, the Lord was once again coming down to meet us in our weakness and help us through it.  The early church enjoyed this blessing and they were strengthened because of it.
And they were devoted to the Prayers.  “The Prayers” is an interesting phrase and I do not have much insight on the use of the article before prayer.  It would seem to indicate that there was some form to their prayers (like reciting the Lord’s prayer or something similar) or maybe that there was organized and set times and order to their times of prayer.  What we can see is that prayer was not just an add-on or a “we’ve always done that” sort of thing.  They were devoted to the prayers.  They persisted in prayers.  The struggled through prayers. 
What did they pray for?  While we don’t have a specific example here, we could probably surmise a bit from what they received and what they engaged in.  I am sure they prayed for their daily needs to be met.  I am they prayed for safety and provision of all sorts.  I am certain they lifted up unbelieving friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers and sought their salvation.  I am sure they prayed for those who persecuted them and any of theirs being persecuted.  I am sure they prayed for personal needs and desires.  The what of their prayers is of secondary concern compared to the prominent place they gave to prayer.  Prayer was important, not just for them as individuals but for the church as a whole.
Daniel Block remarks that,
The book of Acts highlights the importance of prayer in the early church.  The earliest followers of Jesus met regularly to pray: in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension (1:14), before selecting a successor to Judas (1:24–25), in the temple at “the time of prayer” (3:1), to ask for boldness (4:23–31), while dying as martyrs (7:59–60), when Samaritans were to receive the Holy Spirit (8:14–18), in response to a meeting with God (9:11), when they were persecuted and imprisoned (12:5–16), at special places of prayer (16:13, 16), and to pray for one another (20:32–36). Acts 2:42 identifies prayer as one of the four pillars on which the church was built, along with teaching, fellowship, and the breaking of bread. Describing the response to the first great persecution, the arrest and release of Peter and John, and a warning by the Sanhedrin to stop proclaiming Christ (4:1–22), Acts 4:23–31 preserves the most complete prayer in the book. This corporate prayer bears remarkable structural similarity to First Testament prayers.
            1. The invocative address “Sovereign Lord . . .” (v. 24). Remarkably, here the disciples do not address God as “Father,” as practiced and taught by Jesus.
            2. The description (vv. 24–28). The bulk of the prayer acknowledges God as Creator of all and quotes God’s declaration through David that the gentiles have raged against YHWH and his Anointed. In a shocking inversion of the image of raging gentiles, Peter and John speak of the Jewish leaders as enemies of God and his Messiah.
            3. The petition (vv. 29–30). Identifying themselves with God and his Anointed, the disciples pray for boldness to speak God’s message and for God to perform miracles, signs, and wonders through the name of his holy servant Jesus.
            The effect of this prayer is striking: the house shakes; the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly declare the word of God; and they are united in their charity and testify to the resurrection of Jesus (vv. 31–35). Luke viewed prayer not only as the natural response of believers to their experiences but also as an opportunity to proclaim profound theology. The present rage against Jesus Christ was part and parcel of the rage of the gentiles against God and his Anointed. Prayer was the key to a new and dramatic work of God. (Block)
And as they were devoted to public, corporate worship, awe came upon souls.  Mighty signs were given through the Apostles.  The saints of God, those set apart by the Lord, grew in reverence and fear and intimacy and faith.  As they heard the Gospel proclaimed in the presence of other believers, as they saw the Gospel portrayed in the Supper, as they offered prayers of praise to their God through their great High Priest, awe came upon every soul.  True worship of the true God produced, by the Spirit of God, great faith and greater conformity to the image of the eternal Son of God.  Michael Bird, in referencing early church worship, makes some good points.
If we take Act 2:42–47 as the ideal picture of the church, we can surmise that the ideal life of the church is one that is nurtured on Spirit, Word, and sacrament. We need a diet of all three to have a healthy and holistic Christian community.
            Many churches are logocentric by having a heavy priority on the teaching and preaching of the Word, but at the neglect of the other means of grace. The problem is that if you have a church so fixated on the Word, with no room for the Spirit to move, and if you push the sacraments into a corner, you have effectively turned the church into a mosque. Islam is all about “word”; the Qu’ran is a dictated revelation and that is it. There is no symbol or sacrament of God to draw people closer, no Spirit of God to move in their midst; it is just word, word, word.
            Alternatively, if you have a church that is all for the Spirit, seeking to be filled with the Spirit, trying to walk in the Spirit, yet reduces the Word to sound bites of cheesy advice and ignores the sacraments, you have effectively moved into mysticism. The emotional release of worship and the empowering of the Spirit for work become disconnected from instruction in the Word. Yet it is the Word that the spiritual life thirsts for. The Spirit binds together worship, word, and sacraments, so a healthy yearning for the Spirit should naturally leave us hungering for God’s holy Word and the signs of his grace.
            Then again, if you have a church focused almost exclusively on the sacraments, who explain away the Spirit on the grounds that it leads to volatile religious enthusiasm and pay lipservice to the Word, you’ve reduced the service to a magic show. Here God becomes a jack-in-the-box, who jumps out when the bread and the wine land on the table. The elements become substitutes for faith and obedience. The sacraments only have their power in the union of Word and Spirit, so feasting on the blood and body of Christ is possible only by the Spirit, who connects us together with Christ, and by the Word, by which the elements receive their true meaning.
A healthy church needs a steady diet of Spirit, Word, and sacrament. A church without the Word, without good biblically based preaching, will soon have a shriveled mind, then a wayward heart, next an unquiet soul, and finally a misdirected strength. Without the Word you’ll be starved of learning, you won’t be challenged, and there will be no discipleship. A church without the Spirit will be boring and banal. You might even end up with a bibliolatrous Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Such a church will degenerate into a tomb that is lush and pretty on the outside, but spiritually dead on the inside. Apart from the Spirit we are left to waver and work in our own insufficient strength that will quickly die out. Without the Spirit you’ll be starved of spiritual vitality, devoid of divine empowerment, and end up in a lethargic spiritual wasteland. A church without the sacraments will be hungry for fellowship and lack the unity provided by the Lord’s table. The church that eats together and prays together, stays together. Without the sacraments you’ll be starved of godly fellowship and spiritual nourishment. (Bird, 8.3.5)
But gathering together to worship was not the end of what was happening in this passage.  Those souls who were devoted to the Lord in worship were all together and none of their number had need, even if it meant sharing and sacrifice.
They were “all together.”  This is an important phrase.  For these believers, this fellowship that they enjoyed with each other, this koinonia, did not cease to exist when the prayer of benediction was offered and their corporate time of worship came to an end.  This was not a “Well, 12pm.  I’ll see ya’ll next week,” fellowship.  The fellowship they enjoyed as they gathered as a body to hear the Gospel proclaimed and see it portrayed and offer up prayers in response flowed over into the entirety of their lives.  They were together.  They were together in their homes and together in the public square.  They were together in their sufferings and their successes.
They were together.  Unlike a couple of verses earlier, this “breaking of bread” is not communion.  You can tell the difference by the absence of the definite article and the private nature of it.  They were together breaking bread in their homes.  This is rather simple.  They lived lives together.  They ate meals together.  They spent time with each other.  They enjoyed each other.  They loved each other.  And they loved to be with each other.  They were together in their private lives.
They were together in their public lives as well.  This was more than just that they were willing to be seen at the same store or restaurant.  They identified with each other.  They were not ashamed to be around those Jesus people because, well because they were also those Jesus people.  So as they went about, specifically as they went together to the temple to proclaim the message Peter had just proclaimed, the message that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, the Savior, they were in one accord.  Can you imagine?  3100 people rolling up to the temple in one Honda?  :-D  Sorry, that joke had to be made or it just wouldn’t be right.  They were together.
Not just were they physically together.  They didn’t just occupy the same proximity. They were together. And this is seen best in the fact that they were together financially.   They were together in their successes and shortcomings, victories and failures.  They rejoiced together and wept together.  This is seen because Luke is clear that they shared with each other and sacrificed for each other.  There was none in the Church who went without.  If there was extra, people shared.  If there was a need, brothers and sisters even sold what they had to distribute to the poor.  This was not Karl Marx or Che Guevera.  No one was coming along and forcing others to give.  The fact that this was not an imposed wealth distribution is seen in Peter’s interaction with Ananias and Sapphira later in Acts 5.  However, this was people being together and feeling the needs of others and seeking to love and help and serve and be a reflection of just what Christ has done in all of their lives. They were together.  Michael Horton, commenting on Acts 2, adds:
A great deal happens in Acts 2. From the throne of the ascended Christ the Spirit is sent, creating and indwelling a body that will witness to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (vv. 1–13). Its first sign is Peter’s sermon, which announces that the Old Testament promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the sending of the Spirit (vv. 14–36). From this announcement a new covenant community is born. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38–39). While individuals—“about three thousand souls”—were “cut to the heart” by this message, repented, believed, and were baptized, they were organized by the Spirit into a human community. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). From this shared union with Christ, these pilgrims from faraway regions were so united with each other that the worshiping community itself was a witness to the world. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47).
Though converts entered as individuals, they were added to the church. Henceforth they would be “catholic” persons: no longer mere individuals but living parts of Christ’s ecclesial body. This new creation was never as fully realized even in Christ’s earthly ministry as it was at Pentecost and has been ever since. The Spirit has come to apply the benefits of Christ, making all things new. Furthermore, the promise is for believers and for their children. As in its Old Testament administration, the covenant of grace includes the children of believers. Yet it also reaches outside of this community, to bring the gospel to those who are far off. (Horton, 535-536)
So the who question was pretty straightforward, right?  It was “they,” those souls added to the Church on the day of Pentecost.  The question of what happened is, while more detailed, still pretty straightforward.  Those added to the Church on the day of Pentecost were filled and led by the Holy Spirit and 1) devoted themselves to the worship of the Lord and 2) were together, in a multitude of ways.  As we come to the end of the passage we get to see the answer to the question, “What are the results of all of this?”
The results are as straightforward as they are amazing. (Acts 2:46-47).  God was praised, by believers and unbelievers.  Believers grew in grace, being conformed to the image of the Son. Unbelievers, confronted in their sin, heard the Gospel and responded in faith so that people were saved day by day by day. 
First and foremost, and also true in the next two points, the results of this passage is that God is praised.  The believers received the love of their brothers and sisters and as they received what they needed, and as they gave what was needed, they praised God.  Pretty simple but still a big deal.  The honored, worshipped, praised, glorified, loved the Lord their God.  Our God deserves our worship.  He provides for us.  Everything.  And it is those times of need and want, of lack and fear, that we see most clearly that it is He who meets our every need.  These Christians knew that and praised him appropriately.
What is neat is that it wasn’t just the believers who praised God.  It was even those who had not received the Gospel who praised the Lord, albeit a bit unwittingly. (Acts 2:47)  The believers “had favor” with all.  There was a recognition of something different.  As the world saw how much they cared for their own, and how that care overflowed even to those who opposed them, the world took notice.  Those who opposed the Way, those who sought to silence the message that Jesus is Lord, and those who just didn’t much care about a Messiah at all, saw the example of the lives of these people and took notice.  Jesus spoke directly to this issue multiple times.
14You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
The people saw their good works and glorified God for it.  The world knew that they were witnessing the people of God because of the vast love they were displaying for each other.  Jesus said in the Gospel of John that,
34 A new commandment I give to you,  that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John  :34-35)
They loved each other.  They took care of each other.  And the world took notice and looked upon them with favor, giving glory to the one true God.
Not only was God honored and praised in this way, he was glorified by the spiritual growth shown by these, his children.  Luke records that they received their food with glad and generous hearts.  This is a great pairing of words because it shows that these believers were growing in their faith as demonstrated by their heart-level obedience to the law of God. 
Jesus said that if we love him, we will keep his commandments.  The letters of John point out that this is loving God, to obey his commands and that they are not a burden..  James, the brother of Jesus, encourages us to not just hear the word, but to be doers of the word.  Throughout the Scriptures it is clear that we are justified by faith alone but that faith that justifies is never alone.  We love the Lord not just in words and feelings, but in our heart-level obedience to him.
So what does that have to do with glad and generous hearts, you are asking.  Jesus summarized the law of God as this.  We shall love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and that we will love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) That is the law of God.  The law of love.  Love the Lord and love our neighbor.  Or as Luke summarizes the heart of that law here, receive from the Lord with glad and generous hearts.
Receive from the Lord with gladness.  Praise him.  Recognize him.  Love him.  But not just glad hearts, the second is like it. Receive from the Lord with a generous heart, looking for ways to bless your neighbor, care for your neighbor, love your neighbor.  Those who belonged to the church were being transformed in the Spirit, conformed to the image of the perfect law keeper, the only sinless one, Jesus Christ. 
But God is not solely concerned with those he has already called from darkness to light.  He came to seek and to save that which was lost and that is exactly what happens.  Unbelievers are coming to a saving faith by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony of believers.  Believers who are devoted to worship.  Believers who are living differently.  Believers who are loving sacrificially.  Believers who obey the Lord by loving him and loving their neighbors.  These believers properly adorn the Gospel message so that when they proclaim the perfect holiness of the creator God, people listen.  When they speak of this Jesus, God incarnate, who came to live without sin so that he might be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, people listen.  When they speak of this Jesus, who was buried in a borrowed tomb people listen.  When they speak of this Jesus who always returns what he has borrowed, including that tomb, people listen.  When they speak of this Jesus, who after rising from the dead ascended to a throne in heaven from whence he will return, they listen.  And they hear.  And they respond as the Lord gives life.  And all who call upon the name of the Lord, all who seek forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, all who bow their need in humble adoration are receieved and rasied to newness of life.  All who believe and are baptized are received into the people of God and are added to that number. 
That is not simply a truth we read in this particular narrative, that is a truth that is 100% true today.  For each one of us.  The admonition for all of us is the same.  Unbeliever here today, separating from the love of God by your sin, repent and believe the Gospel today.  Believer here today, recognize the residual sin that we hang onto today.  Repent and believe the Gospel today, and every day.
May the Lord add to our number daily.  May the Lord add to our number today.  Let us pray. 
Almighty God,
You have knit together your (people) in one communion and fellowship
In the body of your Son, Christ, our Lord:
Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints
In all virtuous and godly living
That we may come to those ineffable joys
you have prepared for those who truly love you,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
One God, in glory everlasting.  Amen. (The Worship Sourcebook, 761)


Works Cited
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Print.
The Worship Sourcebook. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2004.
Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : n. pag. Print.
Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. Print.
Bird, Michael. Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. Print.
Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.