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.

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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 3:11-18, “His Name”

11] Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed.  12] So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness, we had made this man walk?  13] The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our Fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.  14] But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15] and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.  16] And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know.  Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

17] “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18] But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

Our last post looked at the healing of the man born unable to walk, and the amazement of the crowd which witnessed the healing.  Today we look at Peter’s refusal to “take credit” for it and some of the other things which happened.

In the first place, Peter did indeed refuse to “take credit” for it.  He said, “Why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” v. 12, emphasis added.  Instead, he turned the attention of the crowd away from himself and John and even from the miracle and the healing back to what he had preached at Pentecost.  “They,” that is, the nation as represented by the rulers and leaders, and perhaps some of Peter’s present crowd had been there at the Crucifixion as well – “they” had delivered up and denied the One who ultimately had healed the man.  Added to their guilt was the fact the Pilate was determined to let Him go, but the crowd that was there insisted with a great uproar, cf. John 19:12-16.  The fact that Pilate himself was weak took nothing away from the guilt of the crowd, v. 13.

They denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, v. 14.  This denial is mentioned twice.  To make it worse, they denied their own Messiah in the presence of a Gentile ruler.  Not only that, but they preferred a murderer.

This denial was further intensified by Who He was whom they denied:  “the Holy One and the Just” or “righteous,” a clear reference to Deity.  This One was the “Giver” of life, as opposed to Barabbas, who was a “taker” of life.

“They” may have denied the Lord Jesus, but God glorified His Servant Jesus, and raised Him from the dead, vs. 13, 14.  Some people might be bothered by our Lord being called a servant, but that’s how Isaiah 53:11 portrays Him, My righteous Servant.

He Himself once said,  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28.

Further, “God…raised Him from the dead.”  As the NT emphasizes, the Resurrection is the distinguishing mark of Christianity.  It is the reason for the hope we have, 1 Corinthians 15.

In v. 16, Peter said that it was “His name, through faith in His name, that has made this man strong.”  Through the crucifixion, the “name” of Jesus has acquired “infamy.”  Yet it was this very name, or rather the Person whose name it is, that provided the power to heal this man.  This DOES NOT mean simply “saying” the name of Jesus, as some sort of magic talisman or abracadabra.  It is not a ritual or an exorcism.  It is a recognition of and submission to that Name to which Scripture tells us every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Philippians 2:9-11.

Men today may argue over “the Lordship of Jesus” or what they deride as “Lordship salvation,” as if they can receive salvation from our Lord, but reject the Lord Himself.  The time is coming when that will not be possible.

Acts 3:1-10, An Incident of Healing.

1] Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer.  2] And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of those who entered the temple;  3] who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.  4]  And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”  5] So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.  6] Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  7] And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.  8] So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God.  9] And all the people who saw him walking and praising God.  10] Then they knew it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 

Our post today isn’t so much about this man and his miraculous healing, though we look at it, but about the idea of healing and those who claim to have that gift and ministry.  Before we start, I do believe in divine healing.  God can heal any disease or deformity.  He often does.  I just don’t believe in “divine healers,” for reasons given in the post.

In ch. 2:42-47, we have a general statement about the activity of the early church, as well as the attitude of the people and rulers toward it.  We believe chapters 3 and 4 give only one incident out of many which could have been given.

Some general observations:

1. It is obvious that God can, and does, “heal.”  This isn’t in question at all.  What is questionable is the way some approach it as a “ministry.”

2. Whether in the Gospels or in Acts, healing seem to have been given to those obviously and absolutely without hope, humanly speaking, Luke 8:43; John 5:2-5, etc.  The Lord or the disciples never just cured a cold.

3. Perhaps because of this “selectivity,” as well as their obviousness, these healings were indisputable.  The evidence was open and available to all, cf. Acts 4:14.

4. These healings were almost always public.  In our text, it was right in the temple area, a place thronged with people, v. 1.  Even in the raising of Dorcas, Acts 9:36-42, though the actual miracle was done privately, v. 40, there was a public presentation of her immediately afterward, v. 41.

5. From this incident in Acts 3, we note a certain decorum, if you will.  Even though the healings were public, there was a certain restraint.  There was no sensationalism, no “circus atmosphere.”  The early church did not mount an advertising campaign to capitalize on these marvels.  There were none who wanted to be known as “healers.”

6. In line with the above, these healings were spontaneous.  There was no advance preparation, publicity or promotion by the church.  They did not get together a “healing crusade.”  There seems almost to be an “off-handedness” about the whole things, as if “healing” were not preeminently important.  In the case before us, Peter and John were on their way to worship and, if there had been no commotion, would have  simply continued on their way.

7. The healings were done in order that Christ might be glorified and the Gospel verified, Acts 3:13; Mark 16:18.

8. Perhaps most importantly, these healings were healings.  There was nothing like what I heard about from a preacher friend.  One of his friends, in a wheelchair, was complaining of a certain ache.  He went to a “healing meeting.”  When my friend next saw him, still in the wheelchair, he exclaimed, “I’ve been healed!”
“What do you mean?” questioned my friend.
“I don’t ache any more!” was the reply.
If this gentleman had truly been healed after the New Testament manner, he would not have needed the wheelchair!

Acts 2:14-23, The Truth Is….

14] But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and heed my words.  15] For these are not drunk, as you supposed, since it is only the third hour of the day.  16] But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17] ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God
That I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18] And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19] I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20] The sun will be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
21] And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.’

22] “Men of Israel, hear these words:  Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – 23] Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

Our title comes from a question asked as a the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The crowd was perplexed by these Galileans, considered uncouth and ignorant by others, but who were speaking a number of other, intelligible tongues, understood by those who heard them.  Some were amazed, but others made fun of it.

When this happened, Peter immediately stood up and began to explain what was happening.  Just in passing, it seems that “tongues” aren’t an end in themselves.  Indeed, Scripture tells us that, even if they are for today, not every believer will receive them, 1 Corinthians 12, though every believer has one or more gifts.  Further, Scripture indicates that tongues are ultimately not for the believer at all, but for unbelievers, 1 Corinthians 14:21-22.  There are a number of other things governing the “gifts of the Spirit,” but that’s another post.

Another thing:  notice all the Scriptures Peter quoted.  He didn’t talk about tradition or custom, or what others thought about all this.  He didn’t take a poll or start a study group.  He went directly to the Scriptures.  That’s always the best place to begin:  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

As soon as some began to mock, Peter raised his voice, v. 14, and began to explain what was going on.  Remember, it is through the foolishness of preaching that is the means God chose to save people, 1 Corinthians 1:21 (KJV).  Newer versions have it as the foolishness of the message preached.  It doesn’t matter.  Except through the power and grace of God, it’s all foolishness to the natural mind, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

So, the truth is, as Peter brought out, that these men weren’t drunk at all.  After all, it was only 9 AM.  Instead, it was a fulfillment of prophecy, vs. 17-21.  He quotes from Joel 2:28-32, although he doesn’t finish the quotation.  Joel refers to the ultimate salvation of Israel and it wasn’t yet time for that to happen.

Having explained the truth about what was happening, Peter seems to go off on a tangent.  After all, what did the execution of a criminal, as He was believed to be, have to do with anything?

But this Man was no ordinary criminal.  His was a life of miracles, wonders, and signs.   These signs indicated that He was no ordinary Man, but rather that He was who He said He was, the Son of God and His life was attested by God. 

I know that many skeptics and unbelievers deny any such thing, and some even deny that our Lord existed.  As far as they, and for all practical purposes, much of the rest of the world, are concerned, Jesus of Nazareth is dead and gone.  And if that truly is the story, then there is no hope for any of us.

I’m thankful that the truth is that He lives, as Peter goes on to say.  Lord willing, we’ll look at this in our next post.

Acts 2:1-13: Pentecost…Fully Come

1] When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  3] Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5] And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.  6] And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in their own language.  7] Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?  8] And how is it that we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?  9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoing Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11] Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  12] So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

13] Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” 

Acts 2 records a watershed event in the history of the church:  the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Unlike those instances in the OT where the Spirit came upon God’s people for a limited time and a specific task, for example, 2 Chronicles 15:1, the Spirit came upon these believers to indwell them permanently.  Like the Crucifixion, it was a one-time event.  Christ doesn’t have to die for each new generation and the Spirit doesn’t have to come in such an overt way for them.  Christ has died and the Spirit has come.  He indwells each believer as a guarantee of each believer’s final arrival in heaven and as the “firstfruits” of our relationship with God as His children:

2 Corinthians 1:22, who [God] also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing [the victory of eternal life over mortality, vs, 1-4] is God, who also has give us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1:14, who [the Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these three verses, the KJV has “earnest” for “guarantee.”  I think I like this word better.  An “earnest” is a down-payment on something, or at least that’s what it used to be called.  At least to me “guarantee” doesn’t really have the same impact.  When my wife and I bought our present house, we had to give the owner some money to seal the deal, as it were.  It was our “earnest.”  This was our promise to buy the house, which we did.  It was also his promise to sell us the house.  By the grace of God, we now own it free and clear.

The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment, if you will, on the eternal blessings He has promised to His people.  But, unlike our lengthy time of paying for the house, the payment for our redemption was made all at once by the Lord Jesus on Calvary.  By the grace of God, salvation is ours, free and clear.

In the case of the house, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t “upkeep”.  I need to get out and mow the yard once more before winter gets here.  We recently had the house painted.  We’ve had the roof replaced and the sewer lines cleaned out.  But the house is ours.

So it is with salvation.  There is “upkeep”.  This does NOT mean that we have to “keep” it or else we might lose it.  It’s ours, free and clear.  But, as with the house, there are things to do as Christians:  prayer, Bible study, fellowshiping with other believers, faithfulness during the week and not just on Sunday.

On this first Pentecost, what happened to the believers?  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, v. 4.

“Other tongues.”  What does this mean?  Was it just gibberish, or “angel tongues,” or something else?   Luke clearly tells us.  In v. 5, the crowd drawn by the sound of the “rushing mighty wind,” v. 2, heard them speak in their own language, v. 6.  Then Luke lists 17 languages understood by those who heard the disciples.

This astonished the crowd because it was evident that these disciples were Galileans, v. 7.  Galilee was in the northern part of Israel, next to Gentile territory.  In fact, it was called Galilee of the Gentiles, Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15.  Galileans were considered uncouth and ignorant, without learning and speaking even their own language clumsily and without grace.  Yet here were these men, speaking foreign languages, and, we might imagine, doing so quite fluently, though Luke doesn’t specifically tell us that.

This brings us to what they were talking about: the wonderful works of God, v. 11.

“The wonderful works of God.”

We’re not told which of these works are included, but I think there’s a lesson here, nonetheless.  Our world and culture is awash with skepticism and unbelief.  We’re told that this world just happened, that it evolved from nothing into the wonder we see all around us.  There is no God, no rhyme or reason for anything, it just happens.  The Bible is just another religious book, subject to human wisdom and scholarship.  There are no absolutes (except that one!), everything is just what culture and society say and accept.  We see the results of that teaching in the degeneracy and violence all around us.

We need to return to a Biblically-based preaching and teaching.  This world didn’t just happen; in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  Man didn’t “evolve” from lesser creatures; he was created as a direct and unique act of God, Genesis 1:26, 27.  Death entered for no other reason than man sinned, Romans 5:12.  There are absolutes; man is accountable.  There are a heaven and a hell, and there’s only one way to enter the one and to escape the other:  faith in the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:12.

Some received the message, others mocked, saying, “These men are drunk!”

Lord willing, we’ll see Peter’s response to this jibe in our next post.  Continue reading

Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.