Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

12] And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  13] Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  14] And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15] so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.  16] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17] Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadduccees), and they were filled with indignation, 18] and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  19] But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20] “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21] And when they heard that, the entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

22] But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23] “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24] Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome might be. 25] So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26] Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27] And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28] saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  (NKJV)

This portion seems like deja vu all over again.  Sometimes, instead of going away, trouble just gets worse.  This time, all the apostles were arrested.  However, God was pleased to intervene and the men were freed from their imprisonment, vs. 17-20.  They were told to resume their preaching.  Circumstances do not change responsibility.

We can well imagine the shock, astonishment and frustration caused by this deliverance.  To all appearances, everything was normal.  Gates were closed and locked; guards were at their stations, but “there was no one inside!” v. 23.

While the officials were pondering this unexpected turn of events, someone came and told them that the escaped prisoners were “standing in the temple and teaching the people!” v, 25.

Arrested once more, but peacefully because the people held them in high esteem, v. 26, the apostles were brought before the council.  The high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but, instead of obeying that injunction, the apostles had “filled” Jerusalem with their doctrine.  This is described in vs. 14-16.  He then blamed them for trying to fix the blame for the death of Jesus on him and his fellows.  By this, we see that he totally missed the point of the apostles’ preaching.  It wasn’t about assigning “blame” at all, but about revealing the purpose of that death, which was “to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins,” v. 32.

People today still “miss the point.”  As I write these words, we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, with all its festivities and frivolity.  But in the midst of all that, with the exception of an occasional Christmas carol or maybe a nativity scene tucked in among all the decorations, there is still no room for the Lord Jesus.

Advertisements

Acts 4:34-5:11: …Greed

34] for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of that things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5:1] But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.  2] And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  4] While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?  Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”

5] Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.  So great fear came upon all those who heard those things.  6] And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7] Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8] And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9] Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10] Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.  And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  11] So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.  (NKJV)

We’ve already seen the general description of the unity, selflessness and generosity of the early church in 4:34-37, first with the believers themselves and then with a particular individual:  Joses, or as he was named later, Barnabas.  Right now, he’s just one of them; later on, God will single him out for special service.

No doubt, Joses’ gift was received favorably, but….

Among the believers was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.  They, too, sold a possession, but brought only a part of the proceeds from it to the apostles.  We’re not told what their thinking was or why they did this, but it got them into trouble.

1. Their falsehood, vs. 1-3.

They brought only a part of what they had received from the sale of their land.  Apparently they made it seem as if they donated the whole amount, not just a part of it.

2. Their freedom, vs. 4.

As we mentioned before, this sharing of possessions was voluntary, not compulsory.  There was no requirement that it be done, or that any certain amount had to be given.  Peter said to Ananias that while he and his wife had owned the property, it was theirs to do with as they wished.  And even after they had sold it, they were in control of what they had received.  If they wanted to give only part of the proceeds, they could have.  There was no need to lie about it.

3. Their forgetfulness, vs. 4-9.

They forgot one important fact:  they weren’t just dealing with men.  They were dealing with God.  They hadn’t just lied to others about this sale; they had lied to God.  I think we’ve forgotten this to a large degree in our culture.  We go by current social or cultural norms instead of by the word of God.  Even in church, too often it’s more about tradition than truth.   We mold our beliefs by the catechism or confession of faith than from the Scriptures.  These may be useful and helpful, but we must always say, “What does the Scripture say,” Romans 4:3, not what does the catechism say.  Even as I write these posts, it isn’t or at least shouldn’t be just to get more visits to the blog or favorable comments.  Yes, they have their place, but if God doesn’t bless these efforts to those who read them, nothing of lasting value is accomplished.

4. Their fate, vs. 5-10.

God killed them for their presumption.

We don’t like that.  The god of contemporary Christianity loves everybody and wants to bless them.  Everybody’s going to a better place.  Everyone is a child of God.

That God is love is a wonderful Bible truth, 1 John 4:8, but it is not the only Bible truth.  Earlier in 1 John, he said, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  He goes on to say, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Hebrews 12:29 puts it like this:  Our God is a consuming fire.  This after the admonition in v. 28, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear.

“Godly fear.”

This leads to our next thought.

5. The fear, v. 11.

Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think perhaps we tend to make too little of it.  A common definition of “the fear of God” is “reverential awe.”  Is that what these people who had seen or heard of Ananias and Sapphira being struck down for their sin – is that what these people felt?  Just “awe”?

Or was it an actual fear coming from divine judgment?

By this, I do not mean that we should come cringing into the presence of God, expecting Him to hit us up side the head if we don’t do everything just right.  He is the God who has saved us and brought us into His family.  He has exhibited a great deal of patience with our fallibility and fallenness.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That’s something we should remember this “Christmas.”  Jesus wasn’t born on that long ago morning so we could give each other presents, have family get-togethers and eat too much.  He was born into this world because there is not a single thing we can do to redeem ourselves.  Without that birth, there would be no death.  Without that death, there is no salvation.  God did all that, things way beyond our understanding, in order that sinners like us might be saved.

At the same time and for all that He has blessed us, God is God, not our buddy.

Acts 4:32-37: Generosity….

32] Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.  33] And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And great grace was upon them all.  34] Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (NKJV)

These verses have been used by some to promote communal living, whether voluntary or required, as in communism.  We saw in Soviet Russia that communism doesn’t work, though there are increasing numbers, mostly younger people never exposed to the evils of that system, who want a socialist form of government.  As for voluntary forms of community living, there is no particular Scripture forbidding it, but neither is there a Scripture requiring it.  In the case in Acts, we will see that it didn’t work.

In Acts, the shared experiences of these people gave them a bond and a unity.  Remember, it still hadn’t been all that long since Pentecost.  Quite possibly, many of these had seen and heard the Lord Jesus and had witnessed the horror of His crucifixion.  Some of them might even have been among the 500 who saw the resurrected Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Further, there is a bond in the Spirit that the world cannot duplicate.  This bond has nothing to do with material things or ideas and philosophies put forth by the world.  It has to do with the Lord Jesus, who He was and what He did.  This is the bond these believers in Acts had.

This bond opened their hearts and their hands so that there was an open sharing of their possessions.  No one said, “This is mine!”  Though these words have been used to justify communism or other socialist ideas, nothing could be farther from the truth.  In the first place, this was voluntary.  No one was forced to do this.  Second, there was no government involvement or intrusion.  There was no outside compulsion for these believers.  Nor did they require others than themselves to do this.  And, it did not work, as we’ve said.

But it wasn’t just about “possessions.”  With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, v. 33.  As I write these words, it is Sunday, the day the early church rejoiced in the Resurrection.  Perhaps there was also an anticipation that the Lord was going to return very soon.  Perhaps this was part of what was in the mind of the early believers; the Lord was coming back and they wouldn’t need “things.”  Their hope was in the next world, not this one, cf. Philippians 3:19-21.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I toured the mansion that had belonged to the owner of the Oliver Plow Co.  In this day when too many people think that milk comes from the dairy section of the store and vegetables from the produce section, that may not mean much, but the Oliver Plow was a giant in farm implements in its day.  Oliver was a competitor with John Deere, perhaps a more familiar name.  Anyway, this house was ornate and beautiful and filled with treasures.  It bore the marks and personality of the lady who had lived there until her late 90s.  But nobody lived there anymore.

Our house is much more modest, and is not likely to be turned into a museum.  But there is coming a day, perhaps not so far off, when a “for sale” sign will be out in the front yard, and someone else will sit in this room and look out the window at the cardinal, the blue jays, the red-headed woodpecker, and the robins, sparrows and squirrels who share the yard with us.  Perhaps other children or grandchildren will run up and down the hill in back.  I don’t know.  We won’t live here anymore.

I don’t know where that lady is as I write about her.  She’s been dead for 20 or more years.  If the unbeliever and skeptic is right, she isn’t anywhere and her bodily remains have decayed into dust and bones.  (If you have recently suffered a loss, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your grief.)

For the believer, Scripture has a much brighter promise:

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens….For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,
2 Corinthians 5:1, 4-8, emphasis added.

“The resurrection.”

These early believers had a hope beyond this world and the grave.  But they had something else as well, something I don’t think we value like we should in this day of “free will,” and “human potential.”  Great grace was upon them all, v. 33.  Without the grace of God, we’re just animated bodies, capable perhaps of doing great things, but still wrapped up in this world.  Even if we believe in some sort of “higher power,” the most we’ll ever have is “religion.”  Without the grace of God, the Bible is just another holy book and Christianity is just another world religion.

But the grace of God comes in with resurrecting and creating power, and, in some incomprehensible way we are made new.   To one degree or another, we see that the Bible is truth, and this world is just a bus stop on the way to eternity.

The practical effect of all this to the early church was that there was not anyone among them who lacked, v. 34.  Needs were met and there was no lack to any of them.

Sadly, that’s not the end of the story.

Acts 4:18-31, Birds of a Feather

18]  So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

19] But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  20] For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  21] So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.  22] For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

23] And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  24] So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25] who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
26] The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

27] “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28] to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.  29] Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30] by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

31] After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  (NKJV)

Peter and John have stood before the Council, given their testimony as to the healing of the impotent man, that it was not they who healed him, but the Lord Jesus, and have been forbidden even to mention that Name.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the rulers admitted that the man had been healed.  They couldn’t deny it!  He was standing with Peter and John and a whole crowd could testify of his healing, v. 15.  And for the most part, they couldn’t argue with the substance of what Peter said.  They couldn’t refute anything said or done, but neither would they receive it!  They would only reject and try to suppress it, vs. 16-22, as early man had done before them, cf. Roman 1:18b.

Peter’s response was that he and John were more concerned with what God thought than with what they thought.  They could only speak what they had seen and heard.  I think we’ve forgotten that to a large extent.  “Social justice,” which is largely a denial of God’s word, or some program or personality or political agenda, has come to the forefront, and we follow man rather than God.  There are some who are still faithful to the Word, but I fear their number is dwindling.  Our concern must ever be, “What does the Scripture say?” Romans 4:3.

This should have something to say to those who are concerned about presenting “the evidence” to unbelievers.  Yes, there is “evidence.”  In spite of what some claim, Christianity does not exist or function on a fictitious basis or in a vacuum, but this incident ought to put to rest forever the idea that “evidence” is enough.  Besides, who had more “evidence” than those who demanded the Lord Jesus be put to death?

Being freed, the disciples went back to their own people, v. 23.  As I wrote in an earlier post, “The feathers with whom you flock show what kind of a bird you are.”  Hence the title of this post.  The rulers wanted nothing to do with the disciples, and the disciples wanted only to be with “their own people.”  The people we want to be around say a great deal about who we are.

Though rejoicing in the freedom of Peter and John, these early believers recognized that their problems were not over.  They prayed.

Notice in this prayer how they addressed God:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them…,” v. 24.

“You made the heavens….”

As I read Scripture, I’m impressed by how often this refrain is repeated – at least 17 times – all through the Scripture.  “That’s not very many,” you say.  Maybe, but when was the last time you heard someone in church pray like this?  God is viewed in Scripture as Creator of all; it didn’t just about through some “fortuitous concurrence of circumstances”!

We tend to forget that there are no “big” problems for God.  After all, He made the heavens and the earth.

Notice, too, that the believers did not pray for their problems to go away!  They had been forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus; they prayed for great boldness to speak  that name.  They also recognized that they were not sufficient for this, so they prayed for God “to stretch out your hand,” v. 30.  They know that God would have to intervene.

V. 31 says, after they prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

What about them praying that “signs and wonders may be done…”?  There are groups which say that we also pray for these things and expect them to be done.  We’ve dealt with this before.  In the very early days of the church, since there was yet no written word, these things were necessary as evidence of the truth of the message it preached.  However, as the NT canon closed with the writings of John, such things became unnecessary.  They are not necessary today.  We have the written word of God.  We don’t need and aren’t to expect further revelation.  The early church prayed for these things; they aren’t ours to pray for.  Further –

They had prayed for boldness.  God gave them boldness.

What are we praying for?