Acts: For the Cause of Christ #13

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #13

Title: Church leaders

Acts 6:1-7

Introduction:

We saw last week how the Apostles again claimed their obedience to God over the disobedient Jewish Leadership, how they again proclaimed to a large portion of the Ruling Council that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and that they had Him killed, but God raised Him from the dead making Him the Savior.

We saw how Gamaliel reminded his colleagues that if the Apostles were not obeying God, they would fail as many others have. We saw that the Apostles were beaten for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah against the wishes of the Sanhedrin, and how the Apostles rejoiced for being able to suffer for the sake of Christ.

Today we move on and see some strife brewing in the early church from factions within the church. How the Apostles handled it, and how it was resolved.

Hellenists against Hebrews v 1

We see two factions within the Church here. We need to remember that first the entire church was Jewish at this point. Every believer was either born a Jew or was a convert to Judaism, and these factions actually continued into the Church from Judaism.

Hellenistic Jews were Jewish descendants from the dispersion of Jews along the Mediterranean coastal cities. These Jews spoke Greek and more than likely attended Greek speaking synagogues even in Judea and Jerusalem. The Hebraic Jews or Hebrews were those Jews that were from the Palestinian region. They speak Hebrew or Aramaic and attended synagogues where Hebrew was spoke.

There was probably several minor, social and cultural differences between the two factions as well. In the whole of the Jewish Realm there were tensions between these two groups, and as many were beginning to follow Jesus as Messiah, the tension obviously continued into the Church as well.

The complaint that is brought up is over a practical matter, rather than a theological issue. Which speaks to the fact that everyone in Church was believing and following the same teaching and doctrines taught by the Apostles. The Hellenists were complaining that during the daily giving out of goods, possibly money to purchase food and other things, their widows either weren’t receiving enough or weren’t receiving anything.

Remember wealthier members have sold off items and property and those funds went into some sort of common account to assist the poorer members, it was the distribution of these goods that was happening daily and was creating the issue.

Factions in churches are never a good thing. Factions begin over silly little things. The color of the carpet, pews or chairs, hymnals or songs projected on screen, what the bulletin looks like, who is on what committee. In our passage it was affecting the livelihood of some the the church members. Are we holding onto things too closely for our own good? Remember anything that replaces God in the heart is an idol.

Apostolic Delegation vv 2-4

The trouble was brought to the Apostles’ attention and they decided to intervene and delegate. The summoned the church body together, they called a special business meeting, and instructed the Church members to choose 7 men to oversee this issue.

The Apostles told the people that they had to continue to preach and evangelize within city and that it would not be right to for them to give up this ministry they had been commissioned to do to distribute goods.

They gave the people a few qualifications to use to choose the seven men for this duty:

The men had to be of good reputation – if the men were of good reputation, then their integrity and decisions wouldn’t be questioned by the rest of the church members.

The men should be full of wisdom – this way they people knew that the men could administer competently and handle interpersonal issues like the one the church was facing.

The men also had to be full of the Spirit – this was the most important qualification, they had to be godly men. If someone was asked what does a godly man look like, they should be able to Stephen or Phillip or the rest of the Seven as an answer without thinking.

Notice the Apostles’ didn’t specify if these men had to be Hellenists or Hebrews. The qualifications they listed went beyond where someone was born. They didn’t dictate who was going to oversee the ministry. Apostles’ as the formal leadership let the body choose from themselves leaders to assist the Apostles’ with this ministry.

This is one passage that is commonly used to show a congregational government of the church. The Apostles’ knew they could not do everything that would be asked or demanded of them. They knew their primary responsibility was to prayer, preaching and teaching of the Word of God, so they went to the church membership and had them choose from amongst themselves men who would care for this needed ministry they had. Promoting a church, growing a church, financing a church is the work of all the members of the church. It cannot be just on the shoulders of the church leadership. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he himself [that is Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,”. When church leadership is expected to and do everything, they burn themselves out, or they lose focus from what they are supposed to do: equipping the saints, devoting themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word.

As Vice President, Richard Nixon came upon President Eisenhower one day signing an immense stack of mail in his office. Mr. Nixon watched quietly for a moment and then asked the General how, with all that mail, he ever found time to think about the big problems of the country.

Ike replied: “Dick, I really haven’t spent that much time on these letters. In fact, in some instances they probably don’t even say exactly what I want them to. But you’ve got to learn that, if you get bogged down in all the fine print and little detail you’ll never get anything accomplished as President.

Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992

Seven Selected and Church Growth vv 5-7

The members agreed with the Apostles’ proposal. The seven chosen were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, all these men appear to be Hellenists and were probably leaders within the church already.

Stephen, being listed first, may have been prominent within the church already and is distinguished as being full of the Spirit and faith. Stephen plays a large role in the rest of this chapter, and the next, he is remembered and recorded in Scripture as the first martyr of Christianity. As we will see, Stephen’s death cause the church to spread out from Jerusalem.

Philip is mentioned later in Acts, first in chapter 8 during the dispersion, probably a number of the  significant leaders and teachers had to leave Jerusalem and Philip was among them. We will also see Philip many years later in Acts 21 hosting the Apostle Paul and his companions for many days.

The other five are not mentioned again in Acts or the NT. There is tradition that Prochorus was bishop in Nicomedia. Tradition says that Parmenas was martyred at Philippi and may have been the bishop of Soli. Nothing is really known of Nicolaus other than he was originally from Antioch. Antioch playing an important role in spreading the Gospel around the Mediterranean by sending Paul on his journeys. Some believe that this Nicolaus founded the heretical sect of Nicolaitans that Christ condemns in Revelation chapter 2, but there is no positive evidence of that.  Nothing further is known of Nicanor or Timon.

The whole body chose these men and presented them to the Apostles. There is no record of how these men were selected, if it was a unanimous vote or how many other men were considered, if any. These men obviously met the qualifications the Apostles had given, and met the approval of the Apostles as they prayed over them and laid their hands on these men.

The laying on of hands here is not the giving of special blessings or giving the Holy Spirit to them. Remember, the men selected for this position was supposed to be full of the Spirit already. There was no mystical meaning with the action here. This was simply the Apostles installing the Seven and formally associating these men to the duty they have been given charge over.

This passage is generally considered to be the origination of the office of Deacon. The word we derive “deacon” from is not used in this passage, but two related forms are. One of the words used is a noun that is translated “distribution” in verse 1 and “ministry” in verse 4. I personally don’t have an issue with viewing this as the beginnings of the office, but it is incorrect to read into the passage the office we know today and we need to remember that the list of qualifications had been added to later in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.

The Seven were charged with care for some finances of the church, and the distribution of some common goods to the poorer members of the church. However, we see that their responsibilities were not confined to that duty. Stephen and Philip at least were general leaders in the church and were able to teach and preach. Stephen will defend the gospel before the Jewish Leadership and Philip will travel and evangelize in other cities.

Verse 7 is kind of a break in the narrative for Luke to give a sort of progress report. There are five other reports like this in Acts, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, and 28:31. One source says that Acts is divided into six sections by these progress reports, and that each section averages 5 years.

Here Luke is showing us the growth and popularity of the church in Jerusalem. Their numbers were growing greatly in Jerusalem through the preaching of the gospel and the work of Holy Spirit through the Apostles. We also see that a large number of priests were believing and joining the disciples. This would increase the ties between the disciples and the temple. It is probable that many of these priests were separated from the wealthier chief-priestly families, and would be more like the common Jew in Jerusalem.  It is also possible these men did not give up their duties at the temple. No doubt these men were like John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, holy and humble and persuaded by the truth of the gospel.

Here we saw that the whole church body selected godly men to be leaders in the church, and to relieve the suspected partiality that was at the heart of the incident. We saw how though these men had a specific duty they were selected to do, they continued the primary objective of the church to preach the gospel and honor God.

Though you are involved in part of a ministry at the church, we are all involved in the overall mission of the church: to share the gospel at home and abroad. To talk about our faith and live godly lives before the world.

Conclusion:

Factions in churches are never a good thing. There are enough politics in the world, let’s keep it out of the church.

The Apostles’ knew they could not do everything that would be asked or demanded of them. They knew their primary responsibility was to prayer, preaching and teaching of the Word of God, so they went to the church membership and had them choose from amongst themselves men who would care for this needed ministry they had. Promoting a church, growing a church, financing a church is the work of all the members of the church. It cannot be just on the shoulders of the church leadership.

Though we  are all involved in part of a ministry at the church, we are all responsible to the overall mission of the church: to share the gospel at home and abroad. To talk about our faith and live godly lives before the world.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #12

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #12

Title: Following God’s Leading

Acts 5:27-42

Introduction:

People are always seeking God’s will for their lives. “A man was driving in Washington D.C., he was searching for God’s will for his future. His car ran out of gas in front of the Philippines embassy. He took it as a sign of God’s will he should go to the Philippines as a missionary. I wonder what he would do if he were single and stuck on an elevator with a single young lady named Mary” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. © 1998, p247).

The point is, that we need to follow God’s leading, while that story was humorous, I would counsel that man to pray for awhile before buying a plane ticket to Manilla. But there are times when God is directing us and we need to follow His leading.

The Obedience of the Apostles – vv 27-32

After the Apostles were brought back into custody and set before the Sanhedrin the High Priest addresses them. He reminds them with a rhetorical question that the Apostles had been ordered to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. He said that all of Jerusalem had heard the Apostles’ teaching, and it appeared that the Apostles were trying to lay the blame and responsibility of Jesus’ death on the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. The Apostles reply was shocking!

Peter, once again, seems to be the spokesman for the group and repeats what he said in previously 4:19, just more succinctly, or more to Peter’s style of blunt truth, so there would be no confusion about what the Apostles believed about Jesus or where their obedience lie. He also repeats what he and the others had been teaching since Pentecost.

Peter reminds the Jewish Leadership that the Apostles were also Jewish by calling God “the God of our ancestors” or “our fathers”. He says that the same God of the Patriarchs raised up Jesus. This may be a reference  to God raising up David as king over Saul (Acts 13:22), therefore recently God had raised up Jesus as Messiah. This is a reference back to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

He tells the ruling Council that they are responsible for the death of Jesus. Though the Romans were the ones to carry out the crucifixion, these Leaders were the ones who handed Jesus over to Romans. By doing this they were pronouncing a curse of the Law onto Jesus. Deut 21:22-23 and Paul references this in Galatians 3:13. The Jewish Leadership had inflicted as much disgrace and shame as they could on Jesus, but God exalted Jesus to His right hand and made Him ruler and savior to give repentance to His people and forgiveness of sins.

Peter ends his statement telling the Council that he and the other Apostles are not just heralds proclaiming Jesus, but witnesses of Jesus, death and resurrection, and that they are witnesses with the Holy Spirit who has been given to them and anyone who obeys God and believes on Jesus. This correlates back to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit in John 15:26-27.

“Mark Twain encountered a ruthless businessman in Boston during his travels who boasted that nobody ever go in his wa once he determined to do something, He said, ‘Before I die mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’m going to climb Mount Sinai. And when I’m up there I’m gonna read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top of my voice!’ Unimpressed, Twin responded, ‘I got a better idea. Stay in Boston and keep ‘em’” (Swindoll, p413). What’s the point? The point is that to follow God’s will, to follow His leading, we must be obedient to Him. King Saul was disobedient, so David was made King. The People of Israel were disobedient, so they were sent into exile. The Jewish Leadership was disobedient, so God has put Israel on hold and raised up the Church. The Apostles may have been disobedient to the Jewish Leaders, but civil disobedience is always shown as an exception in Scripture. The Apostles knew that the commission they received from Jesus to testify about Him and teach what He taught, was the command they had to obey.

Are you obeying God’s commands? Are you obeying Scripture? We have no higher authority than the Bible. What is God leading you to do?

God blesses faithful, obedient ministry – vv 33-39

Peter’s reply enraged the High Priest and the Sadducees to the point of wanting to kill them, probably had stones picked out already. However since the Apostles had the respect of the general population, the Sadducees needed the Pharisees’ support since the Pharisees had more public respect. But a calm voice took control. A Pharisee called Gamaliel the Elder. Gamaliel would be later known as the greatest teach of his day, he was remembered by later generations as the embodiment of Pharisaism. We find out in Acts 22:3 that Paul was a pupil of Gamaliel. He sent the Apostles out of the room so he could address the rest of the Council.

Gamaliel warns them not to be to rash, and then gives them a couple of illustrations.

First he reminds them of an insurgent leader called Theudas who made large claims about himself, gathered 400 men, and gained nothing. He died and his followers fled. There is no other information about this man, though he is probably 1 of many insurgent leaders that came to power after the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.

Then Gamaliel reminds them of another revolt that was led by Judas the Galilean. In A.D. 6 another census was ordered to determine the tribute amount for the Province of Judea. Judas led a religious and nationalist revolt claiming that the Jewish people should have to pay a pagan ruler when their true king was God and they were in the land He had given them. Rome crushed this rebellion, but history shows us that the spirit of this revolt lived on in the part of the Zealots who led the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66.

Gamaliel then makes his point by telling the Council that if the Apostles and their teaching were of men’s wisdom or scheme the Apostles would fail. But if the Apostles were from God, they would not fail,  and the Sanhedrin would not be able to stop them. The Sanhedrin might even been seen as fighting God. As we will see in a few chapters, Paul of Tarsus had a different mindset, but the Council saw Gamaliel’s wisdom and did not kill the Apostles.

Connecting Dundee and Wormit, the center section of Tay Bridge collapsed in 1879. A train running on the bridge’s track fell into the Firth of Tay, killing all 75 passengers on board. Top-heavy, susceptible to high winds and built with low-quality support columns, inspectors noted that the bridge was poorly designed and shoddily constructed. Evidence of deterioration in the months prior to failure indicated that the bridge was also badly maintained. (https://www.complex.com/style/2011/12/the-50-worst-architecture-fails/17 – 10/20/18)

Like an inept architect designing a bridge that fails, many plans of men will fail if God allows to it. Sometimes things last that shouldn’t, and things we think should last, don’t. But God is sovereign and allows plans, movements, and ministries to succeed or failure as He wills. Gamaliel’s point is that if God is behind the Apostles, they will flourish and be blessed despite what the Sanhedrin do or don’t do. The Jewish Leaders, should sit and watch and see if the Apostles fail on their own.

No matter what we do. No matter what we plan, or think should work, or ministry we try, if it is outside God’s will, it will fail. And sometimes we are right, and we just need to continue to obey God, pray for His leading and will. In the bulletin, I have added purpose and direction for the church to the Prayer section. I trust we are all praying for God’s leading and direction for our church as well as our own lives and ministries.

Rejoicing in hard times – vv 40-42

Gamaliel’s view may have represented the majority of the Pharisees, but it was enough to persaud the rest of Council to not execute the Apostles, mere flog them for disobeying the Council’s order. This flogging may have been the 39 lashes (40 lashes, save one) from a whip or something else may have been done for the “minor” offense of disobeying a ban on teaching, either why Luke doesn’t specify. After having the Apostles beaten, the Sanhedrin re-issue their ban on the Apostles teaching in the Name of Jesus. The Apostles were then released.

When the Apostles were released they rejoiced. They didn’t rejoice over being released, but over being beaten and disgraced for the Name of Jesus. Paul says something similar in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings”. The Bible teaches that Christians will suffer persecution for Christ. Paul and the other Apostles rejoiced in their persecution, because they knew they were doing what they were supposed to do. In the case of the Twelve here they knew that the beating they endured here and anything else that would follow would be minor compared to the disgrace and beating Jesus endured. This was a part of their participation in Jesus’ sufferings. Jesus warned the Apostles, and by extension us, in John 15:18-25 about the world hating Jesus and His disciples. The Apostles knew they were doing what they were supposed to do, they were obeying God’s commands, and following His leading. They continued to teach and preach that Jesus is the Messiah in homes around Jerusalem and back in the Temple. They knew this might lead to further arrests, further beatings, or death. But proclaiming the gospel, as they had been commissioned to do by Christ, was what they had to do, no matter the cost.

The Apostles were following God’s direction. They knew what the cost might be and they rejoiced in the fact they were suffering for Christ. The Apostles didn’t play it safe, they didn’t hesitate. They continued to preach the gospel. They continued to follow God’s leading. The Apostles knew they were following direct leading and commands from God, sometimes discerning God’s leading can be difficult. But, if we are obedient to God and the Scripture, and pray for wisdom God will give direction clearly.

Conclusion:

God wants us to follow His leading. In the passage today, we saw the example of the Apostles obediently following what they knew God expected them to do, though they were beaten, they didn’t hesitate to continue to follow God’s leading.

We also saw through Gamaliel’s examples that if God is not behind the endeavor or if steps are taken outside of His will, it will fail. Sometimes, for reasons known only to God, He allows somethings to fail that we think shouldn’t and sometimes He allows somethings to succeed that we think shouldn’t.

No matter where God leads us, no matter what hardships, no matter what success, God wants obedient disciples. We need to seek God’s will before our own. We need to seek His glory before our own. We need to pray for clear direction, and then take steps in obedience when the direction is clear.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #11

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #11

Title: Faithful Witness

Acts 5:12-26

Introduction:

Our last time in Acts we saw how the church was living and giving to one another. Those that could would sell property or houses to help those in need when they could as they could. We were introduced to Barnabas and were shown how he was an example of what the church was doing. We were also shown Ananias and Sapphira as a negative example that holiness and honesty are important within God’s church.

This week we pick up the next section, we don’t how much time has passed since God judged Ananias and Sapphira, but we see that the Apostles haven’t stopped their evangelical preaching and teaching in the Temple. To open I wanted to give the lyrics to part of a song recorded by Steve Green in 1986, the song is titled “We Have Seen His Glory”.

“There they are again The witness of Jesus take their stand Twelve amazing men Their testimony spreads across their land Such a story told How can they believe That God has walked upon the earth Could they be deceived? But how their words persuade The truth is in their eyes And many hearts are won to faith As they testify:

Chorus: We have seen God’s glory We have lived and walked with Christ the King We have seen Him heal the wounded We have heard the brokenhearted sing We have seen God’s glory We have seen Him dead and raised to life We will worship Him forever We have seen God’s glory, Jesus Christ!”

(https://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/steve_green/we_have_seen_gods_glory.html)

The Apostles’ Faithful Ministry – vv12-16

The Apostles continue to be witnesses of Jesus in the temple. They are still preaching and doing signs and wonders before the people of Jerusalem. The Apostles were meeting in Solomon’s Colonnade (or Portico or Porch). This was a well known place in the the Temple Complex, but I think that the healing of the crippled beggar and Peter’s addressing the crowd may have made it even more well known and had been associated with Peter and the other Apostles.

We see that “no one else” joined them at the temple. Who are theses people? There are a couple of view, but I think it is probable that this is referring to other believers.  It is possible that the other believers hesitated to engage in ministry at the temple from fear of the Jewish leadership. The view may have been, ‘why place ourselves at unnecessary risk?’ Basically, why seek out persecution if it’s not necessary, especially if others are working a successful ministry of healing.

We also see that the people of Jerusalem still regarded the Apostles with respect.

The healing ministry was drawing attention to the message of the Apostles. People from all over Jerusalem were bringing their sick friends and family members, laying their bed rolls or cots down lining the streets hoping that even if Peter’s shadow passed over the the sick, the sick would be healed. This speaks to the power of the Lord working through Peter and the crowds view of how to access the power. In this time the shadow of a person was viewed as an extension of that person. The crowd’s expectation shows the atteton the Apostles’ work had drawn and the excitement it created. The signs and wonders had made a real impression on the people of Jerusalem.

Demon possession was also being healed along with the sick, but Luke tells us that some these were coming from the outlying towns and communities of  Jerusalem. People were coming from the suburbs of Jerusalem to the city. It’s a bit like going from Bloomington to Minneapolis. The reputation of the Apostles, the news of the wonders God had done through them was drawing people, not only in Jerusalem, but also from outside of the city.

So far we have seen that the Apostles were continuing to be faithful witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem and God is blessing them. God, through the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of theses 12 men, has shown signs and wonders to the Jewish people to validate that what these men are saying is true. God has worked in the hearts of men and women to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and growing His church, His called out ones, to continue to testify. These men were influencing the culture they were living in.

How are you doing? How is your testimony? Remember last week I remind you that as Christians we stand on trial before the unsaved world everyday. Are you being a faithful witness for Jesus Christ? We tend to think of these men, Peter, James and John, and later on Paul, as super-Christians. We think, “I can never be that good”. You don’t have to be Peter. You don’t have to be Paul. These men were flawed sinners saved by grace just like you and I. How are you influencing the culture around you? Are you faithfully testifying?

The Arrest of the Apostles – vv 17-21a

The high priest and the rest of the Sadducees acted for three reasons. 1.) The Apostles’ growing popularity. Jealousy. Jealousy has been defined as misguided zeal. This ties into Paul’s comments about the Jewish people in general in Romans 10 [1-4]. 2.) The signs and wonders. Remember the Sadducees are a religious party within Judaism, and they denied  physical resurrection and supernatural beings such as angels. 3.) The Apostles were also disobeying their order to stop teaching in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, as we see in verse 28.

In short, the Sadducees authority is being challenged. They were the current ruling party in the Sanhedrin and had made deals with the Roman authorities. We see in Acts that the Sadducees were hostile to the Apostles, while in Luke’s gospel the Pharisees were the primary opponents to Jesus’ ministry.  This is likely due to a shift in location for Luke’s narrative. Jesus had focused in the cities throughout the country (where the Pharisees would have more power), and the Apostles original focus was in the city of Jerusalem (where the Sadducees had more control).

The Sadducees were sensing a loss of authority and control that they wished to reassert, so they acted out of theology and power politics. They had the Apostles arrested and placed in a public jail. This arrest and jailing was done to make a clear public point, they were attempting to reassert their authority and at the same time shame and silence the Apostles. Though the Apostles were placed in a public jail, verse 23 makes it clear that a special guard was placed over the Apostles. The Sadducees were trying to silence the Apostles and keep anyone else to start preaching.

Though the Sadducees were asserting their authority in the Temple and what could and could not be taught in the Temple, God issued the ultimate cosmic overrule on the Jewish leadership. God sent an angel (a being the Sadducees denied existed) to free the Apostles. The leadership is shown as powerless before God’s action.

This is the first of 3 supernatural jailbreaks recorded in Acts. (12:6-10 with Peter, and 16:25-26 with Paul and Silas). This is God’s sovereign choice to release the Apostles. Later in Acts, God chooses not to free Paul from captivity, and Paul goes to Rome as a result. This angel is not to be confused with or viewed as Jesus. Luke is very explicit in Acts when Jesus is present (Acts 9).

After freeing the Apostles the angel tells them to go back to the Temple and preach to the Jewish people. Despite disobedient leadership, God was trying to reach His wandering people. The message is “this life”, which seems to refer to the unique life God provides through Jesus. Jesus has already been referred to as the source or author of life in chapter 3:15.

So what do the Apostles do? They obey and go back to the Temple at daybreak. They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t say, “hold on, we just spent a portion of the night in jail. Peter and John have now spent two nights in jail, we aren’t going back to the temple. Why bother? We have enough converts to start several satellite churches all over Jerusalem and the neighboring towns, that’s good enough.” They didn’t stop and hold a vote to decide if they should obey. They did stop and form a committee to investigate if this was good idea or not. They acted on the instructions they were given. They went to the Temple at daybreak and started teaching again.

Their arrest was public, would the people see God’s providence in the Apostles’ release?

The Apostles knew the risk. They knew that the Jewish leadership would not forget the order they had issued to Peter and John to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. They also knew that the commision that the Lord had given them superseded any order that was contrary to that mission. They knew that had to preach and teach and tell everyone in Jerusalem everything that Jesus had taught them. Were they scared? Possibly. Remember that after Peter and John were threatened and released, they had prayed for boldness and that the Lord would continue the signs to validate the message.

Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to proclaim the Gospel? Are you praying for boldness? Or are you shrinking back in fear from what God has commanded? Or are you satisfied with sending others into the field to do the work of God while the harvest is ripe here as well?

The Confusion of the Sanhedrin – vv 21b-26

That morning as the Apostles were teaching in the temple again, the Sadducees had convened the Sanhedrin. The wording tells us that the High Priest called every available member of every level of the council. Their concern over the teaching of the Apostles was so great that a majority, if not the whole, governing leadership council gathers. The Apostles were essentially going to Federal court.

The escape of the Apostles was unknown to the Sadducees and the High Priest. Verse 23 tells us that the doors were closed and locked, the guards were still on duty having not seen a thing. The servants sent to bring the Apostles to court were Levites, who were most likely under the authority of the Captain of the Temple Guard. The went, and they returned reporting what they saw. Locked doors, guards on duty. Basically everything was as it was supposed to be, except when they opened the doors the Apostles were not there.

The Captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were confused. They couldn’t figure out what happened. How it happened. Or what the result of all this would be. Remember Sadducees believe less in divine intervention, so they were very confused or perplexed about this. The question as to the whereabouts of the Apostles was answered by an unnamed witness who told the Council that the Apostles were back in the Temple teaching the people.

This was bad news for the Sadducees that wanted this message silenced and had acted very publicly to stop it. The Leadership was powerless to stop the the spread of the Word as the Apostles were obeying God’s calling and instructions. The Captain and his servants were sent to re-arrest the Apostles. This was done without violence as they were afraid of the people. Apparently some level of violence was routine when these men arrested someone in the temple.

Why were they afraid of the people? They were afraid of being stoned? The reference to stoning seems to indicate that the people had a better idea of who Jesus is than the Leadership. The Leadership feared a public reaction. They feared the people would view their actions as almost blasphemous. They feared a reaction from the people if great care was not taken when arresting these messengers of God.

The Apostles obediently submitted, nonviolently, to the arrest to appear before the Sanhedrin. Peter no longer carries a sword. They probably learned to go peacefully from Jesus’ example. There seems to be a portrayal of the people as viewing the Apostles as true prophets of God. The respected the Apostles, whether they believed their message or not, but they did not view them as religious criminals.

Sometimes God works things out. No matter what everything happens within His sovereign will. Sometimes, He stops a certain level of persecution. Sometimes He doesn’t. The Apostles trusted the Lord enough, that no matter what happened, they knew they had obeyed, and remained faithful to their calling. Are you willing to remain faithful? Are you living faithfully before the Lord?

Conclusion:

So far we have seen that the Apostles were continuing to be faithful witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem and God is blessing them. These men were influencing the culture they were living in. How are you doing? How is your testimony? Remember as Christians we stand on trial before the unsaved world everyday. Are you being a faithful witness for Jesus Christ?

Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to proclaim the Gospel? Are you praying for boldness? Or are you shrinking back in fear from what God has commanded? Or are you satisfied with sending others into the field to do the work of God while the harvest is ripe here as well?

I opened with the first verse of the song “We Have Seen God’s Glory”, I want to end with the second verse:

“Here we are again The witnesses of Jesus take their stand May it never end Through us let God keep stretching out His hand Reaching those who doubt Touching those who cry Lifting up the word of God As we testify:

Chorus: We have seen God’s glory We have lived and walked with Christ the King We have seen Him heal the wounded We have heard the brokenhearted sing We have seen God’s glory We have seen Him dead and raised to life We will worship Him forever We have seen God’s glory, Jesus Christ!”

(https://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/steve_green/we_have_seen_gods_glory.html)

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #10

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #10

Title: The Right Spirit

Acts 4:32-5:11

Introduction:

Last week we saw how the church reacted after the Jewish Leadership had threatened them and forbade them to teach in Jesus’ name any longer, the church prayed for boldness to keep witnessing in the face of the opposition by God’s power. They were going to do what they knew the Lord wanted them to do. The Lord responded by showing His power by shaking their meeting place, filling them with the Holy Spirit again, which gave them the boldness they requested.

This week we take a brief look at the life of the early church. How they functioned. How they gave of themselves, and we’ll look at a couple of individuals more closely.

Common Goods and Divine Grace – 4:32-35

We see in this section a similar passage to chapter 2 verses 42 through 47, however there are different purposes for these passages.

2:42-47 concluded the account of Pentecost and showed what life in the infant church community was like.

4:32-35 introduces the contrasting accounts of Barnabas with Ananias and Sapphira, by once again showing us how the community lived.

The selling of property and giving to the community was a voluntary action taken by the believers. The believers viewed the private property for the use by or at the disposal of the community. We see that they were unified on this point. “One heart and mind”. We’ll see in a little bit how some of this was done, but remember that this was all voluntary, no one pressured to sell off anything or donate anything.

We see in verses 34 and 35 that the wealthier members were selling property to help provide for the poorer members as they had a need. The community was imitating Christ’s sacrificial love. Christ’s love is seen in His dying for our sins on the the cross. These believers were acting out of Christian love, sacrificial love, by selling and giving of their livelihoods for each other. In a few years when a famine comes through this church will rely on other churches outside the area chapter 11:28-29 This shows that God was providing for the church, and the church was receiving great grace from God.

We see the leadership of the Apostles in the community. The proceeds or offerings that were brought in were laid at the feet of the Apostles. This doesn’t mean that the Apostles were distributing, or taking a portion for their own livelihood, but they were the leaders of the community so the offerings were brought to them. The Apostles likely delegated to others to distribute the funds or goods that were needed. I say this because we see in verse 33 that the Apostles continued to do their primary calling of preaching and evangelizing. We also see that God was validating the Apostles preaching with great power.

Though this model isn’t prescribed for us to adopt into our church life, what is implied is that the church helps her members as they can. We see Acts 11:28-29 and 1 Tim 5:3 and 16 giving direction and further examples of how churches can care financially for their members.

Contrasting Characters – 4:36-5:11

Luke introduces – Barnabas – 4:36-37

Barnabas is referred to in Acts twenty-three times, the first being here. (Chapters 4; 9; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15). We see his given name is Joseph. Joseph was a very common name, so Apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which as we see means, “Son of Encouragement”. This was  a common Jewish custom of using “son of” fill-in-the-blank to describe someone’s characteristics. For Barnabas to receive such nickname, he must have shown himself as an encourager. Certainly we see this in a number of ways during the remaining accounts of him in Acts.

Barnabas was Jew from the island of Cyprus and was a Levite (this piece of information may be given to show that not everyone connected to the Temple was opposing the disciples of Jesus), we also know he had relatives in Jerusalem and was wealthy enough to own some land, probably a field, as well. Relatives (John Mark) – Acts 12:12; 15:36-39; 2 Tim 4:11; Col 4:10. The land size, nature, and location are not given is Scripture. But the idea is that the land was probably a field as a different word was used here as was used in verse 34. It is possible this field may have been of Cyprus which would have made it very desirable to own, so he may have gotten a large sum for the sale. The implication is that he gave the entire amount to the community. The idea of discussing Barnabas is to show that he was fully involved and invested in the community.

Luke introduces – Ananias and Sapphira – 5:1-6

Luke now introduces us to a couple in the community and their account is given in contrast to Barnabas’. The husband’s name is Ananias, this is probably the Greek form of either Hananiah (Jehovah has favored/been gracious too) or Ananiah (Jehovah has protected). We are told that this couple also sold a piece of property as others in the community did. However, this couple decided not give the whole profit to the community. They had every right to do this, as we’ll see in minute. Ananias goes by himself to wherever the community was meeting, and goes before Peter to give over the money. Peter, probably being led by the Spirit, sees through Ananias’ lie and confronts him. The idea of Satan filling his heart refers to the control Satan has to influence such a decision. This filling is opposite to what we’ve seen earlier with being filled by the Holy Spirit. Here we are seeing that spiritual forces are at play along with the human element.

Ananias should have been honest before and to God, but he had compromised his integrity. His lie was dangerous to the infant church and dishonored God. Peter points out that Ananias didn’t have to lie. Ananias controlled the land before he sold it, and controlled the profits after he sold the land. Ananias could have given as much or as little of the profits as he wanted too.

“…The dreadful act was completely premeditated, apparently motivated by the desire of Ananias and Sapphira to appear more generous than they truly are. The desire for human praise is more important to them than being faithful to God” (Bock, Darrell L., BECNT:Acts © 2007, p223). This was an act of defiance and disobedience. As Peter was speaking to him, Ananias’ sin caught up to him and he died. There is no record he was ill, Peter did not strike him or call on God to strike Ananias. Ananias’ death was instant and was clearly divine discipline.

After he died, we see that younger men in the church carried Ananias out to bury him. Embalming was not customary in the region and burial was often done the same day as the death. These men were not professional buriers, but fellow members in the community. While they were preparing the body and burying it, they must have been discussing it amongst themselves or had a need to describe what happened to Ananias, for news of his death must have started to spread as fear was on everybody who heard what happened. But apparently nobody was able to get a hold of Sapphira. There isn’t even evidence that Peter and the others tried to inform her.

Sapphira – 5:7-11

Apparently on her own, Sapphira arrived at the meeting house 3 hours after Ananias had died, and Peter begins to question her as well.

Peter asks her to confirm the amount that was received from the sale of their land. The language makes it clear that he is referring to the same amount that Ananias had presented three hours before.

Peter is giving her an opportunity to tell the truth. She could answer no and say that there was more and maybe that would have been enough, she could have been restored to fellowship. But she perpetuated the lie, confirmed the conspiracy, and will pay for it. Peter then confronts her as well in verse 9. He asks her why she agreed to test the Holy Spirit. The point is that the Spirit know everything that happens in the community. The wording for testing the Spirit is similar to Exodus 17:2 and Deuteronomy 6:16. Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the Holy Spirit and were met with immediate accountability for their sin. They committed a sin of arrogance.

Peter tells her that the men that just finished burying her husband were returning and would go bury her. Verse 10 echoes verse 5 and 6 with Sapphira’s immediate death which was also clearly divine judgment. As Peter had announced, the men entered the meeting place found Sapphira in the same condition as Ananias and immediately went to bury her next to her husband.

Verses 5 and 11 show that even those not in the church heard of these events and feared. Verse 11 makes it clear that those in the church feared as well. These events seemed to serve as a reminder that God was present and would act in judgment if needed. Verse 11 is the first of twenty-three uses of the word ekklesia in Acts. The word actually means assembly, not church. And not every use in Acts is a reference to the church. Some are general civil assemblies of people.

This word is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew word for assembly, the other word is synagoge and only refers to the Jewish Synagogues when used in the NT. Ekklesia here refers to the local community of Christ followers in a gathering. The word will later become a technical and theological term and would be used for distinct local communities of Christians around the world.

The first thing we can gather from Ananias and Sapphira is that they seemed to be more concerned how good they looked before the rest of the community and with their own wealth over others and especially over God. I came across this story in my preparation this week.

“An old, rich man with a cranky, miserable attitude visited a rabbi who lived a simple life. They weren’t together very long before the rabbi got a wonderful idea on how to illustrate to the man that his cranky attitude was wrong. He took him by the hand and led him over to his window and he said, ‘Now look out the window and tell me what you see.’ As the man stood there, he said, ‘Well, I see some men and some women and I see a few children.’ ‘Fine.’ the rabbi then took him by the hand and led him across the room to a mirror. ‘Now, look and tell me what you see.’ the man frowned and said, ‘Well, obviously I see myself.’ ‘Interesting,’ the rabbi replied. ‘In the window there is glass, in the mirror there is glass, but the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silber added than you cease to see others, only yourself.’”

It has been suggested that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers. However, I think they were believers. Partly because they were obviously included in the community, partly because lying to the Holy Spirit is more easily understood of Christians that have a special relationship with the Holy Spirit vs unbelievers who have not relationship with God. And that physical death is a discipline applied to some believers (1 Cor 11:30-32).

The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira revealed God’s attitude toward sin to the infant church and maintained the church’s purity. Physical death is referenced elsewhere in the NT as discipline on believers (1 Cor 11:30-32; 1 Jn 5:16) it apparently did and does not always happen in so immediately and dramatically as here. This passage is also compared to Leviticus 10:1-3 where Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered burnt incense that was not prescribed by the Lord at the Tabernacle and they were immediately killed in judgement by fire from Heaven. Leviticus 10:3 says, ‘Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has spoken: I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.” And Aaron remained silent. ‘

Conclusion:

We see here that the church is to care for its members. We can do that in many ways. But clearly there is a financial element to that as well. The church is supposed to help her members when they can as best they can.

God demands personal holiness from believers and holiness from the church. We each need to take a long look at ourselves and see if there is some sin we have become complacent with, or something we are letting rule our lives.