Acts Lesson Thirteen

Acts Lesson Thirteen: 6:8-15 – Stephen’s Witness

Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking. 

11 Then they persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (HCSB)

Today’s passage serves as a deeper introduction of Stephen and lays the groundwork for the events that occur in chapter seven. Before we start today’s lesson, let’s list six features of his character and ministry, with a couple of them stated in the previous lesson.

  • He was full of faith – 6:5.
  • He was full of the Holy Spirit – 6:5.
  • He was full of God’s grace and power – 6:8.
  • His opponents were members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up to Stephen’s wisdom.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up against the Holy Spirit, who spoke through him.

Opposition to Servants: Acts 6:8-11 When a person is selected for church leadership, the type of ministry experiences may be different from what they expected.

Verse 8

Up until this point, Scripture only mentions the Apostles performing miracles (Acts 2:43; 5:12). But we read that Stephen also had the power to perform miracles. Since it’s clear that the performing of miracles was not restricted to an Apostle, what conclusion can we draw? It would seem that it was the level of faith and filling of the Holy Spirit that empowered Stephen to perform miracles for the glory of God. If that is true, and Scripture leads one to believe it is, then miracles can still be performed today. However, why do we rarely, or ever, see miracles in the Western church, but we do sometimes hear about miracles in the mission field? This is my position, based upon what is contained in Scripture and the characteristics of the church today.

  • The Holy Spirit is not emphasized or even mentioned in many churches. In some cases, this may be deliberate as a counterbalance to those churches that may overemphasize the working of the Spirit. Both positions are wrong. God exists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is clear from our journey through Acts so far that the Spirit was the source of power, just as Jesus claimed, for the events that were occurring. 
  • Faith has been replaced with consumerism and materialism in the congregation and leadership. Ministry leaders have wrongly determined that their church and service must be attractively marketed to persuade people to attend. God doesn’t need marketing; He needs faithful shepherd leaders who follow Scripture. Congregation members are often concerned with having their needs met instead of worshipping God and contributing to their church. Appearance and reputation have replaced content and substance as the most important “measurable” of the church.
  • Those in the mission field often have a higher reliance on the Spirit and an understanding of the evil spiritual forces opposed to their work. Their level of faith and reliance on the Spirit is often higher. 
  • The modern church could see miracles occur if they follow the blueprint in Acts.

Verse 9

First, let’s define the Freedmen’s Synagogue. 

  • Historical records indicate that sections in Jerusalem were comprised primarily of Jews who had settled in the city from various nations in the area. The freedmen were descendants of Jews previously held as slaves but who were now free from Rome. 
  • This particular synagogue was comprised of people from Cyrenians and Alexandrians. Both of these people groups came from locations in North Africa. People from Cilicia and Asia. The second people group, Cilicians and Asians, were from areas in modern-day Turkey and Syria.
  • Thinking ahead in the book of Acts, it’s possible that Paul may have been in this synagogue since Paul came from Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). However, there is no historical data to prove this position conclusively.

During this period, Judaism had four key symbols, and challenging any of them could provoke a confrontation.

  • The Temple.
  • The Law or Torah.
  • The holy land focused predominately on Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • The national, ethnic identity of all Jews and proselytes.

Because paganism was rampant in the areas around Israel, even with the nation itself, faithful Jews knew they had to zealously guard their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not tolerate any new ideas that could result in a compromise or idol worship.

We don’t know the basis of the dispute between Stephen and this particular synagogue, but based on the context of what had occurred since Jesus’ ministry and the early church so far in Acts, it seems reasonable to conclude that the synagogue felt that Stephen’s message undermined at least one of the four key symbols listed above. Their conclusion was that Stephen was committing blasphemy.

Verse 10

This is a short but powerful verse. Those who chose to debate Stephen about the Gospel message were sorely outmatched. A quick explanation of the Jewish understanding of wisdom, based upon cultural and Old Testament concepts.

  • Wisdom refers to a person’s approach to life.
  • This approach came from a life in the covenant given by God and was considered a gift from God.

The Greek word used here for wisdom occurs only four times in Acts (6:3, 10; 7:10, 22), and it refers to inspired wisdom through the power of the Spirit. This would verify what Jesus said in Luke 21:15, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Regardless of the motivation of the Freemen Synagogue, they no put into place a plan to kill Stephen. In many ways, what transpires is similar to what happened to Jesus leading up to His crucifixion.

Verse 11

Now the plot against Stephen begins to unfold. We can speculate about the reasoning behind the plot, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if it was jealousy or, like the case with Paul (Saul), they felt they were the ones being faithful to God, and Stephen wasn’t. The Greek word hypoballo, translated here as “persuaded,” actually evokes a much stronger meaning. The Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to hire a person to act in a particular way, often involving dishonest activities – to hire, to bribe, to induce. The bribe was to spread a rumor throughout Jerusalem that Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God, a grave charge in first-century Israel and the only case where capital punishment administered by the Jews was allowed by the occupying Romans.

We should take a moment and consider why would displaced Jews who returned to Jerusalem act in such a vehement way. In general, Hellenistic Jews tended to be less dogmatic than Hebraic Jews. However, they were highly nationalistic and were highly zealous when it came to the Law and the Temple. In some academic circles, they were labeled as “Zionists.” 

The false charges brought against Stephen are quite similar to what the religious leaders tried to do with Jesus. However, in Jesus’ case, they couldn’t produce any evidence that He had violated the sanctity of the Temple, Law, or God. Therefore, they couldn’t execute Him themselves, so they brought Him to Pilate and had Jesus executed by the occupying Romans. As events unfold in Stephen’s case, the Sanhedrin is able to falsely convict Stephen of the charge of blasphemy.

Persecution of Servants: Acts 6:12-15 Even in the most difficult of circumstances, God can provide comfort and peace – even in the face of death.

Verse 12

The end result is for the first time, the general population of Jerusalem began to oppose the young church. In addition to the residents of Jerusalem, the elders (representing the Sadducees) and the scribes (representing the Pharisees) were involved. The third arrest of Christians now took place, soon to be followed by a third trial before the Sanhedrin.

Verses 13-14

The false charges are now presented before the Sanhedrin. In addition to those previously against Stephen, false witnesses are now produced to add more weight to the false claims presented against him. The charges are focused on two areas.

  • Blasphemous words against the Law.
    • To speak against Moses was to speak against the Law.
    • The false witnesses claimed they heard Stephen preaching that Jesus would change the customs of Moses, hence the Law which they held sacred would be changed.
  • Blasphemous words against the holy place.
    • The holy place was the temple.
    • To first-century Jews, this was viewed as the dwelling place of God, with His very presence in the holy of holies.
    • An attack against the temple was considered an attack against God.

Although the charges were false, they stirred up the people as well as the Sanhedrin because of the perceived seriousness of the accusations. As previously stated, the entire situation bears a striking resemblance to the charges brought against Jesus. While it is true that Jesus desired to bring change to Jewish society, He never threatened to destroy the temple, and He affirmed the Law by stating that He came to fulfill the Law.

Verse 15

Now that the charges were stated, they turned to Stephen to see how he would respond. We can only wonder if Stephen’s reaction caused any surprise on the part of the Sanhedrin. On the one hand, there was doubt about the seriousness of the charges brought against him. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin had already had two trials with Christians as defendants, and they had yet to instill any sense of fear or remorse on the defendant’s part.

Let’s define one phrase before we go further in this verse. The phrase is “looked intently.” The Greek word is atenizo, and from the Greek-English Lexicon, we see that it means: to fix one’s eyes on some object continually and intensely—to look straight at, to stare at, to keep one’s eyes fixed on. The entire Sanhedrin was now focused on Stephen and what his response would be to the charges. It is very likely that Stephen was intensely staring back at the high priest.

There are several possible reasons and characteristics for Stephen’s appearance to resemble an angel.

  • Stephen was filled with the Spirit and had no fear.
  • He wasn’t angry.
  • He wasn’t fearful.
  • He held no bitterness.
  • He possessed a quiet confidence.
  • He looked peaceful.
  • He felt secure.
  • He had courage.
  • It is possible that his face reflected divine glory, just as Moses’ face did in Exodus 34:29 and referenced in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.
    • Both Moses and Stephen bore the mark of having been with God.
    • However, Stephen was accused of speaking against both Moses and God.

This sets the stage for what will transpire in the next lesson.

Applications.

  • Develop your spiritual life and gifts so that you are ready when God calls you. We also need to be flexible as the calling may not be where we expect it. 
  • Allow yourself to be used in various kinds of ministry. Although we should serve predominately in the area(s) of our gifting, we may be called to serve temporarily in other areas. Regardless of what area you’re called to serve in, at the forefront or in the background, serve faithfully.
  • Don’t try and serve God without proper preparation or qualifications. Serving in this way will likely result in disappointment and maybe even hurt the ministry.
  • If you are involved in any type of public ministry, expect opposition. Scripture is filled with faithful and godly men and women who faced opposition. To think that we would escape opposition for faithful work is wishful thinking.

Acts Lesson Twelve

Acts 6:1-7  Chosen for Service

In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 

So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith. (HCSB)

Before we look at this short passage in detail, it will be helpful to try and determine a timeline for the events that have taken place so far in Acts. There are various interpretations and positions on when these events took place, and it is impossible to know the dates exactly. However, a reasonable estimate is that the events that occurred at the beginning of chapter six took place anywhere from two to five years after Pentecost. This indicates is that the church had been in existence for a period of time now, was continuing to grow, and was starting to exhibit growing pains as the number of believers increased. Still, the leadership team, or at least the organizational structure, had not changed. We now see the church adapting and growing to meet the needs of the people.

Verse 1

The first thing to note in this verse is that the church was experiencing rapid growth. The Greek used here is plethyno. The Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to increase greatly in number or extent—‘to grow, to increase greatly, to multiply. Whatever the number of believers was at this point, we can only estimate what that would be; the church had experienced significant growth. As with any organization, growth presents both opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest challenges is organizational structure. A similar situation occurs in Exodus, with Moses trying to administer to the entire nation of Israel as they travel to the promised land. Moses’ father-in-law advised him to set up a hierarchy to meet the needs of the people effectively. Although the circumstances surrounding the events here in chapter six are not on the same scale, they do represent a situation where more structure and workers are needed.

The second thing to note is there was a danger of a division occurring within the church. 

  • Hellenistic Jews were the Greek-speaking Jews who had moved to Palestine from other countries in the region. They may have spoken Aramaic as a second language, but it is reasonable to believe that many didn’t speak Aramaic. 
  • Hebraic Jews were the people who grew up in Israel and spoke both Aramaic and Greek. 

A few points to remember as we read this verse.

  • The Hellenistic Jews could be viewed as the “outsiders” in the young community of believers.
  • Those that were being overlooked were the “outsiders.”
  • The vast majority of believers were likely Jews. The exceptions would be the proselytes, Gentiles who converted to Judaism such as Nicolaus, but they were few in number as the mission to the Gentiles had not begun yet. The church could be viewed as a Jewish Christian community.
  • As with any large group, it is easy for “cliques” to develop. In this case, it is highly probable that Hellenistic Jews tended to meet with others from their cultural group, while the Hebraic Jews met with others from their group. This doesn’t mean there was disunity in the church, only the separation that is normal due to language and cultural differences.
  • This separation now became evident in how the charity was being practiced within the community. The Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in this. It is possible that there were a significant number of Hellenistic widows, as is alluded to in 1 Timothy 5.
  • There were two types of charity practiced by the Jews, and the early church probably followed the same practices.
    • Guppah – this was a weekly allowance for needy residents. It was given out every Friday and consisted of enough money to buy fourteen meals.
    • Tamhuy – this was a daily distribution for nonresidents and transient people. It consisted of food and drink delivered house-to-house where the needy were known to dwell.
    • It seems that the early church combined elements of both practices with a daily distribution to those in need.
  • From Acts 2:44f and 4:32f, it is apparent that the early church firmly believed that there should be no needy people in the family of Christ.

The Apostles were presented with a challenge to the unity of the church. How would they react to this potential threat?

Verse 2

They acted promptly to address the unintended slight to the Hellenistic Jewish community. They also understand that they had dropped the ball on this and needed to take responsibility to correct the situation.

A few points to note here.

  • The entire group of Apostles, all twelve, convened a meeting of all the believers. 
  • They wanted the entire community of believers to be aware of the situation and be involved in the solution to the problem. 
    • This would remove any perception of disunity or discrimination between the two groups of believers. They were equal in the eyes of the church’s leadership.
    • The voice of every believer was important in the decision the church would make regarding the situation.
  • The Apostles were not sending the message that taking care of the needy was beneath them. They were sending a very clear message that this was an essential part of ministry, but as leaders of the church, they were responsible for teaching and shepherding the flock.

Verses 3-4

The first question that begs to be asked is, “why seven men?” Here a historical/cultural review reveals that there’s nothing mysterious about this number. Jewish courts typically consisted of seven members. The early church was following what an accepted cultural practice was. The same reason applies for choosing only men; this would be the standard cultural practice. 

Next, the Apostles outline the requirements for those that would serve the community.

  • They needed to have a good reputation. This would be important for both serving those in the community as well as demonstrating a faithful witness to those outside the community.
  • They needed to be full of the Spirit. Being filled and led by the Holy Spirit was an integral component of the early church, especially those in leadership. The Spirit would need to work in and through them to carry out the ministry the Apostles were expecting of them.
  • They needed to be full of wisdom. Wisdom is essential when administering funds and ensuring that financial matters are handled above reproach.

Just as choosing the Apostles was a pivotal moment, choosing these seven men would also be a key moment. If mistakes were made in choosing one or more of them, it could potentially seriously harm the members of the church as well as tarnish their high standing within the local community. This could have given a timely opportunity for Satan to damage the church from within. However, this didn’t occur.

The result of appointing seven men to carry out this ministry function would enable the Apostles to continue concentrating on their primary task; evangelism, teaching, and shepherding the church.

Verse 5

There are two important points in this verse. 

  • First, the proposal from the Apostles to the congregation was pleasing to the “whole” company. It wasn’t a majority decision; it was a unanimous decision to support the proposal.
  • Second, the congregation chose the seven who would serve. Although the Apostles set out the requirements to fill the function, it was the members who would make the decision on who would fill them.

We could speculate as to why the seven men were all Hellenistic Christians, but there is nothing significant to be gained by that discussion. It could be as simple as the problem involved the Hellenistic widows, the Hellenistic Christians wanted to serve them, and the Hebraic Christians saw no reason not to let them serve in this manner.

Although we have some further information on several of the men chosen, others are never mentioned again.

  • Stephen – being listed first is really not a surprise as he will be the primary character in chapters six through eight.
  • Philip – he would also play a significant role in the story of the expanding Christian witness as outlined in Acts 8:5-40.
  • Prochorus – early tradition connects him with the Apostle John. In particular, it is thought that he was the writer who took dictation from John when the fourth Gospel was written. He later became the bishop of Nicomedia in Bithynia and was martyred in Antioch.
  • Nicanor/Timon/Parmenas – nothing further is known about these men.
  • Nicolaus – some scholars believe he may have been Luke’s primary source of information about the Hellenists, especially what is noted in Acts 11:19-21. It is also likely that the Gnostic sect known as the Nicolaitans borrowed his name to gain authority for their teaching. However, there is no evidence that Nicolaus himself had any connection to them.

Verse 6

The selection of the men to fulfill the responsibilities outlined earlier in the passage is now followed by a simple installation ceremony. The men were brought before the Apostles, who prayed over them and laid hands on them. This simple act signified that the Apostles confirmed the selections made by the congregation. 

The question begs to be asked as to whether the practice of laying on of hands is a prescriptive or descriptive practice for the church? The idea of a commissioning ceremony with the laying on of hands goes back to Old Testament practices in Exodus 18:13-27 (without laying on of hands) and Numbers 27:16-23 (with laying on of hands). Therefore, from a cultural standpoint, it was an accepted practice. Additionally, Luke uses the practice of laying on of hands to illustrate different concepts in the book of Acts.

  • 9:17 – healing.
  • 8:18 – giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • 13:3 – commissioning to a task.

The overwhelming emphasis is on the designation for a task and not for an appointment to an office.

Another issue that crops up with this passage is the assumption that this is the first designation of the office of deacon within the church. However, that is an incorrect understanding of the passage. The Greek word used in verse one (daily distribution) and verse four (preaching ministry) is diakonia. The proper understanding of this word in verse two is, “a procedure for taking care of the needs of people—‘provision for taking care of, arrangement for support.” In verse four, the meaning is “the role or position of serving—‘ministry, task.” In both cases, the emphasis is on the action, serving, and not an office. The Greek word for a deacon, diakonos, never occurs in this passage. However, it does occur in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, where deacons are explicitly discussed. Therefore, we should not understand this section of the passage as the inauguration of the office of deacon within the church. We should understand it as the selection of seven men to function as faithful servants for the needs of the church, which would free the Apostles to continue their responsibility as teachers and shepherds to the young church.

Verse 7

Luke continues the good news in verse seven. 

  • First, the Apostles could concentrate on evangelism, and the Gospel message was spreading because of their efforts. 
  • Second, the church continued to multiply in Jerusalem. The Greek word used for multiply is the same one that was used in 6:1. The was continuing to experience exciting growth.
  • Third, a large group of priests became followers of Jesus. Some clarification is needed on this point.
    • We should identify these “priests” with the members of the Sanhedrin from Acts 4:1.
    • Priests served in rotational “teams” throughout the year.
    • The service included all the tasks that were required to be completed, not just the function of the Sanhedrin and the high priests family.
    • At this particular point in history, it is estimated that there were as many as 8,000 priests and 10,000 Levites who were involved in temple functions.
    • The majority of these men were considerably poorer and likely practiced sincere piety and devotion to God.
    • The message of a risen Messiah would have attracted them.
    • We don’t have an estimate of how many priests became followers, but it would appear to be a significant number since Luke mentions it here.

As we review this passage, lets’ consider some characteristics that identified the early church.

  • They were able to synthesize the matters of spiritual and material concerns. It was not just an evangelism center; it was a congregation that recognized the genuine needs of its members and designed and implemented practical, biblical plans to take care of these needs.
  • They were flexible in being able to adjust their organizational structure to meet the needs. The modern church often can be inflexible in meeting needs if the structure doesn’t have a plan to address the need. In the New Testament church, structure only developed to meet needs.
  • They practiced positive attitudes of restraint. In this case, they didn’t place blame on anyone for the Hellenistic widows being overlooked. Also, the Apostles didn’t demonstrate autocratic leadership in the search for a solution.

Applications

  • Are the needs of everyone in your local body of Christ being met? If not, bring up your concern to leadership to address the issue. If you are in a leadership position, take action on the  problem.
  • Don’t point fingers when problems arise. Instead, work with a spirit of unity and humility to find a solution to the problems. Also, don’t seek after glory in the search for a solution. Only God deserves the glory.
  • Decisions within a church or ministry organization should be corporate in nature. Autocracy has no place in a biblical church. If you see that happening in your church, challenge those in charge with a humble but uncompromising spirit.
  • Regardless of our gifting or role in our church, we are all called to serve one another. Don’t be a consumer Christian, be a participating and serving Christian.

Acts Lesson Eleven

Acts Lesson Eleven: 5:17-42 – Truth and Consequences

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this. 

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” 

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” 

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men  to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

In this lesson, we’ll see how the persecution against the church grows. Still, at the same time, the church stands firm in its beliefs and conviction, denying the religious establishment to continue proclaiming the Gospel.

Let’s do a quick summary of Acts to this point before diving further into this passage. After the events at Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus spread rapidly throughout Jerusalem, as well as the surrounding area. This led to many professing faith in Jesus. The Apostles not only preached the Gospel, but they also performed many signs and wonders. Their work left little doubt that God was behind this new movement. However, as is often the case, the established order was not happy with this new movement. The religious leaders had opposed Jesus, crucified Him, and were now starting to fight against the Apostles as they saw their grip on religious teaching and authority slipping. There is a quote by a Christian martyr, Hugh Latimer, who said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”

I will break this passage into four sections with corresponding themes.

  • The religious council was attacking the truth, 5:17-28.
  • The Apostles were affirming the truth, 5:29-32.
  • Gamaliel was avoiding the truth, 5:33-39.
  • The church was announcing the truth, 5:40-42.

Attacking the Truth: Acts 5:17-28

There were three reasons that the religious leaders, the Sadducees, arrested the Apostles.

  • Peter and John had not obeyed the official order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. By refusing to obey, they were guilty of defying the law of the nation.
  • The message of the church was in direct conflict with the doctrine of the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a resurrection, by teaching and giving evidence that Jesus had, in fact, been resurrected.
  • The religious leaders were filled with jealousy because of the success and acceptance of these uneducated and unauthorized men. 

This time it wasn’t just Peter and John who were arrested; it was all twelve of the Apostles. The passage indicates that they were put in a “city jail.” This would be a structure where those incarcerated would be visible to anyone passing by. The irony is that even while being detained in an openly visible structure, they would still be released by God’s hand. 

The faith displayed by the Apostles is an example to all of us. They knew that they had been ordered to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, they knew they had disobeyed the Sanhedrin’s order, they knew that this was a serious offense, but most importantly they knew that they were being obedient to God and Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. This knowledge gave them unshakeable faith and determination regardless of the consequences.

Their faith was rewarded as during the night, an angel set them free. This fact pours more irony on the already stoked fire. Not only don’t Sadducees believe in the resurrection, but they also don’t believe in angels (Acts 23:8). However, the angel didn’t just set the Apostles free; they were told to go right back to preaching the Gospel, the very act that put them in the jail they were just freed from. What did they do? They obediently went back to the same location and continued to preach the same message. How many of us would follow in their footsteps, going from freedom right back to the actions that got us jailed in the first place?

In the meantime, the Sanhedrin had convened and asked for the “prisoners” to be brought before the council. One can only imagine their astonishment as they went to the jail, with the guards on duty, in full view of everyone, and the Apostles were nowhere to be found. This astonishment was likely compounded when the situation was explained to the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were trying to stop the Apostles from performing miracles, but another miracle had occurred because the religious leaders had put them in jail!

Let’s take a moment to contrast the two groups.

  • Sanhedrin.
    • Educated.
    • Ordained.
    • Approved.
    • Lacking in a ministry of power.
  • Apostles.
    • Ordinary laymen.
    • Uneducated.
    • Ministry powered by the Holy Spirit.

The religious council was desperately trying to protect themselves, their positions, and hold on to their dead traditions. The Apostles were risking their physical lives to share the Gospel. The church was proclaiming the new; the religious council was defending the old.

There are numerous emotions in this section.

  • Jealousy – verse 17.
  • Baffled – verse 24.
  • Fear – verse 26.

Still, the high priest accuses them of defying the law and stirring up trouble. The high priest wouldn’t even mention Jesus’ name, instead saying “in this name” and “this man’s blood.” However, even this was an admission that the church was growing. It’s possible that the high priest may have sensed a critical moment here. If the Apostles were correct, then the Sanhedrin was guilty of unjustly executing Jesus, and His blood was on their hands. As the trial progresses, the Apostles become the judges, and the council is on trial.

Affirming the Truth: Acts 5:29-32

The conviction of the Apostles didn’t waver from Peter had stated in Acts 4:19-20. They continued to obey God and trust Him, regardless of their circumstances or perceived danger. They stood firm in serving only one master, God. Diplomats try to reach an agreeable outcome for everyone; ambassadors faithfully represent those who sent them. The Apostles acted as faithful ambassadors to God; 2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 

Paul restates the charges he made in chapters three and four and then declares other facts on the events happening in Jerusalem.

  • The Sanhedrin was responsible for the death of Jesus.
  • Jesus has been raised from the dead.
  • Not only was Jesus resurrected, but He also sits at God’s right hand.
    • The place of honor, power, and authority.
    • Stephen would see Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit is evidence that Jesus kept His promise that He would send the Helper.

The statement that Jesus had been raised from the dead must have been particularly unsettling to the Sadducees as that was in direct conflict with their theology. 

Peter once again calls on the Sanhedrin to repent, submit to the lordship of Jesus, and receive salvation. Once again, the council ignores the very message that would lead to their eternal rescue. If we take a moment to reflect on the Apostle’s challenge to the Sanhedrin, it is really quite remarkable. The very organization that held the power of religious authority and religious punishment in Israel is being challenged to their face by a group of common folk. 

Avoiding the Truth: Acts 5:33-39

The main player in this section is Gamaliel, a highly respected Pharisee. Since the Pharisees and Sadducees were often at odds with each other, it is not a stretch to think Gamaliel’s position was at least partly motivated by a desire to see the Sadducees not accomplish what they had set out by arresting the Apostles and bringing them before the Sanhedrin. Let’s consider some facts regarding this man.

  • He was a scholar who was highly respected by the people.
  • He was rather liberal in his application of the Law.
  • He was moderate in how he approached problems, as evidence by this event.
  • He was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3).
  • He was the grandson of the famous rabbi, Hillel.
  • Rabbinic tradition stated he had the title of president of the high court.
  • His power within the Sanhedrin is evidenced by him and not the high priest, ordering the Apostles to be removed from the proceedings.
  • As a Pharisee, he would have at least had sympathy with the Apostles theologically.
    • A belief in the coming Messiah, resurrection, and life after death.
    • Oral tradition that gave them flexibility and openness to change.
  • When the Sadducees agreed to his advice, this was an indication of how well respected and distinguished he was in Jewish society.

We might think that what Gamaliel did was wise and helpful to the young church. However, there were several aspects of his advice that demonstrated a lack of wisdom and understanding.

  • He grouped Jesus together with two rebels. 
    • This is evidence that he had already rejected the evidence that the Apostles presented.
    • To him, Jesus was just another zealous Jew who was trying to free Israel from Rome.
    • Theudas and Judas never did the things attributed to Jesus. Neither were raised from the dead.
  • Gamaliel assumed that history would repeat itself.
    • Both Theudas and Judas had rebelled against the establishment.
      • Both were subdued.
      • Their followers abandoned the cause and fled.
    • If the Sanhedrin were patient, the same thing would happen again.
    • While it is true that cycles occur in history, the events taking place were breaking into new territory.
      • Ministry on the level of what Jesus accomplished had never occurred before. 
      • The events surrounding His crucifixion were new; darkness, earthquake, the veil being torn in two in the temple.
      • Jesus was resurrected and seen by hundreds before being seen ascending to heaven.
      • The events surrounding Pentecost were new.
      • God had visited the earth in the form of a man.
    • Gamaliel’s assumption is that if something is not from God, it must fail. This fails to take into account man’s sinful nature and the presence of Satan in the world.
      • Cults often grow faster than the church and cause many to be trapped in lies.
        • Mormons.
        • Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      • False religions.
        • Islam.
        • Buddhism.
        • Hinduism.
      • It is true that in the end, they will all fail. However, in the meantime, these false religions are leading millions to eternal damnation.
  • His motivation.
    • The council was facing an issue that demanded a decision, and he was promoting a position of neutrality.
      • However, neutrality is a decision.
      • Each person is either for or against God; there is no middle ground.
      • His vote could be interpreted as “no,” but maybe someday he would believe…if the movement persevered.
    • Jesus made it clear that one can’t be neutral about Him and His message. Matthew 12:30 Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters. 
    • The council knew what Elijah said in 1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.
    • Being neutral is often a quiet and cowardly decision to reject God. The first group destined for hell is the cowards. Revelation 21:8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
  • If Gamaliel was really afraid of fighting against God, he should have honestly investigated the evidence presented, searched through Scripture, listened to the eyewitnesses, and asked God for wisdom. 
    • He was presented with the opportunity of eternal salvation but rejected it.
    • Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, stated that nobody was born a coward. “Truth makes a man of courage and guilt makes that man of courage a coward.”
    • What some would call caution, God would call cowardice.
    • The Apostles were ambassadors.
    • Gamaliel was a religious politician.

Announcing the Truth: Acts 5:40-42

There were at least some in the Sanhedrin that wanted to kill the Apostles. However, Gamaliel’s speech tempered the flames, and they reached a compromise. The compromise was that they would receive a flogging, likely thirty-nine lashes, they were commanded to no longer speak in the name of Jesus, and they were released. 

  • Deuteronomy 25:1-3 “If there is a dispute between men, they are to go to court, and the judges will hear their case. They will clear the innocent and condemn the guilty. If the guilty party deserves to be flogged, the judge will make him lie down and be flogged in his presence with the number of lashes appropriate for his crime. He may be flogged with 40 lashes, but no more. Otherwise, if he is flogged with more lashes than these, your brother will be degraded in your sight. 
  • 2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
  • There were strict guidelines for carrying out this punishment.
    • Although Deuteronomy 25:3 states forty lashes, over time, the standard practice was to give thirty-nine in case of a miscount. 
    • Regardless of how many lashes were given, it was a severe punishment.
    • The recipient was placed in a kneeling position with their upper body bare.
    • The lash was a triple strap of calf hide.
    • Two lashes were given across the back and then one across the chest, with the cycle repeated as necessary to reach the number required by the punishment.
    • People had been known to die during the punishment.

As brutal as the punishment was, it still wasn’t enough to stop them from obeying God. Much to the contrary, they left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they were worthy of sharing in the suffering of their Lord. Also, they continued to meet in homes and gather in the temple area, teaching and proclaiming the Gospel message.

Applications.

  • No matter how difficult your circumstances, do you trust that God is with you, and do you have faith to follow Him? There were numerous times that it would have been easier for the Apostles to fall away, yet they held firm. Have you taken the necessary spiritual steps to prepare yourself for persecution? Do you spend time in the Word daily, pray without ceasing, gather with other believers, and hold firm to obedience to God? Reassess these areas of your life and prepare yourself to face persecution. None of us desire it, many will not face it to the level in this passage, but some of us will.
  • When confronted with falsehood, stand firm in the truth. A practice of mine is that whenever I’m in a discussion with others about spiritual matters, usually unbelievers, but it can be with other believers over doctrinal issues, as much as possible, I let Scripture do the arguing/convincing. If I try and support a position with my words, it becomes an opinion. However, if I use Scripture, more weight is added to the discussion. Additionally, if the other parties in the conversation continue to reject what Scripture says, they are rejecting God. 
  • If you do face actual persecution, whatever the form, rejoice that you have been permitted to share this with Jesus, knowing that He is walking with you during the experience.
  • Don’t be neutral in your Christian walk. Your actions either align with or go against God. There are no gray areas. Be firm yet gentle in your actions, always letting the light of Christ shine through you, penetrating the darkness of this world and reaching the lost with the saving message of the Gospel.

Acts Lesson Ten

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and Wonders

12 Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (HCSB)

After the sobering incident with Ananias and Sapphira, we see the church continue to grow and the Apostles performing many signs and wonders. Satan attempted to disrupt the work of the church, but if anything, the incident in the preceding passage brought attention to the power and work of the church resulting in more people hearing about it and increased curiosity with this new movement.

Verse 12

God gave the Apostles the power that allowed them to perform miracles (signs and wonders). Although the miracles were predominately done by the Apostles, there were other believers who were able to perform miracles through the power of the Spirit. Acts 6:8 Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 

The reason that the Apostles performed the majority of the miracles is that this was how their authority and the ministry of the church as authenticated.

  • Romans 15:18-19 For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, 19 by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of an apostle were performed with great endurance among you—not only signs but also wonders and miracles.
  • Hebrews 2:4  At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will.

When we look back through the Bible, we see miracles performed at the beginning of a new era.

  • Moses performed great signs and wonders a the beginning of the age of Law.
  • Elijah and Elisha performed miracles at the beginning of the era of the Prophets.
  • Jesus and the Apostles performed miracles when the New Covenant began.

In each case, God called our attention to the new era. It was His way of saying, “follow these leaders because I have sent them.”

These wonders were also the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would do greater works in answer to believing prayer. John 14:12-13 I assure you: The one who believes in Me  will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

When Jesus performed miracles, He has three purposes in mind.

  • To show compassion and meet human needs.
  • To present His credentials as the Son of God.
  • To convey spiritual truth.
  • An example would be when Jesus fed the 5,000. This miracle met their physical need, revealed that He was the Son of God, and presented an opportunity to preach a sermon about the Bread of Life.

The Apostolic miracles followed a similar pattern. An example is the healing of the crippled beggar.

  • Healing the crippled man met his need.
  • The healing proved to the people that Peter and John were servants of the living Christ, thus verifying their credentials to carry on Jesus’ work.
  • The Gospel message that Peter preached resulted in more people coming saving belief in Jesus.

Before we proceed, let’s quickly discuss the issue of the Apostolic age and the requirements to be an Apostle. The key requirement that can no longer be fulfilled is to have seen the risen Christ. The one exception was Paul. However, in his case, Jesus gave a direct commandment for Paul to preach the Gospel. Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!”

If anyone claims to be an Apostle today, I would be highly skeptical of that claim. The meaning of the Greek word for “Apostle” means “one who fulfills the role of being a special messenger (generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus Christ, but also extended, as in the case of Paul, to other early Christians active in proclaiming the message of the Gospel) of Jesus Christ. [Taken from the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains.]

When we consider the context of Acts and the New Testament church, it is not difficult to see that the original followers were, in effect, special messengers commissioned to spread the Gospel and birth the church. For someone to claim today that they were a “special messenger” would beg the question of what their specific commission from Jesus entailed. All followers of Christ are directed by the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Those who claim to be present-day Apostles would need to give justification for calling themselves an Apostle. I realize many may not agree with this. Still, it is important to highlight the requirements and definition of an Apostle since Satan utilizes many different methods to undermine the church, and false teachers often are very damaging.

Peter, and presumably the rest of the twelve Apostles, would gather in Solomon’s Colonnade to share the Gospel with those who were going to the temple. We need to remember that the temple in Jerusalem was not one single building. It covered a sizable area that contained various buildings, gates, and porches. What was likely occurring is that Jesus’ early followers would worship in the temple and then gather at Solomon’s Colonnade to preach. This would ensure a steady stream of people going to and from the temple. 

Verse 13

This verse can be confusing when connected to the following verse. Here it says, “none of the rest dared to join them,” but in the next verse, it says, “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers.” How do we resolve this seeming contradiction? There are two resolutions to this question.

  • The first is that not all of the believers would gather at Solomon’s Colonnade since that seemed to be the focal point for the persecution from the religious leaders in their attempt to crush this new movement. However, given the power and zeal of the early church, it seems unreasonable that any true believer would be afraid of being arrested. 
  • The second is that all of the true believers in Jesus would gather, and those who hadn’t become fully committed followers were afraid to be associated with them. For many in countries with religious freedom or at least religious tolerance, this may not resonate. But for those in countries where persecution is real, it would hit home. Only fully committed followers of Jesus would have the courage and faith to gather with fellow believers, not worrying about the consequences. For those who live in persecuted countries or have met people from those countries, there is a rock-solid aspect of their faith in Jesus. I believe that this second possibility is the correct one.

There was a paradox at work here. First, there was no doubting the power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by the healings that were occurring. It is natural that the display of healing power would be attractive. Second, there was the judgmental power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. This power demands commitment and responsibility from those who profess allegiance to the Spirit.

Another thing to note is that even among those who were not followers of Jesus, they praised them for the miracles that were being performed. 

Verse 14

Even though the power of the Spirit was both wondrous and terrifying, the number of those who believed in the Gospel continued to grow. This growth was an indication of the success of the evangelism of the early church as it was powered by the Spirit. This illustrates an important point as we share the Gospel. We should never try to hide the challenging aspects of living as a follower of Christ; facing persecution, not being popular, and being rejected are just a few. Even though it was widely known that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying, the church continued to grow. It was this manifestation of power that leads directly into the final two verses in this passage.

Verses 15-16

The people of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas may have been fearful of the power on display in the early church, but that didn’t mean that they were afraid to tap into the benefits. We see that those who were sick or those who had sick family members or friends would move them into the streets so that even with the mere passing of Peter’s shadow would heal them. This aligns with an accepted cultural/historical belief regarding a person’s shadow. A shadow was viewed with superstition and was thought to be an extension of the person, representing their power and personality. A similar event is the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ robe in Luke 8:44. Even though Luke doesn’t explicitly state that Peter’s shadow healed anyone, it does underline the healing reputation of the Apostles.

 Although the passage doesn’t mention any of the other Apostles by name, but considering the context of what has occurred so far in Acts, it is reasonable to think that this same belief would be manifested by the shadow of any of the twelve. One can only imagine what people were thinking and talking about as they witnessed this amazing display of healing power manifested through ordinary men. It is also easy to consider how the religious leaders felt about this display. The church was displaying the powerful work of the Spirit as the religious leaders were focused on stopping this very work. It would be interesting to know what the average citizen of Jerusalem felt regarding this dichotomy. The official religious leaders who weren’t able to perform these miracles and a group of uneducated laborers healing numerous people while standing up to and confronting those who were supposed to shepherd the people.

However, not were the residents of Jerusalem being healed, but people from all the towns around Jerusalem were bringing those who were sick as well as those who were tormented by evil spirits. This reminds us of what is recorded in Mark 6:53-56 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and beached the boat. 54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Him. 55 They hurried throughout that vicinity and began to carry the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. 56 Wherever He would go, into villages, towns, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged Him that they might touch just the tassel  of His robe. And everyone who touched it was made well. 

The main difference at this point is, unlike Jesus, their ministry was confined to Jerusalem, and the people came to them instead of them going to the people. This would change by Acts 9 when the Apostles began to venture forth from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas.

The passage ends with the phrase, “and they were all healed.” It wasn’t just some of them or most of them…it was all of them.

On the heels of the shocking and frightening events of Acts 5:1-11, the young church continued to grow and to spread the life-giving message of the Gospel throughout Jerusalem, with the news reaching locations outside of the capital. There is a principle contained here which all believers should remember. A church that is firmly rooted in Jesus, has unshakeable faith, is characterized by holiness, lives out the call to evangelize the lost, and is unified in spirit and purpose is a church that can’t be stopped and one that has nothing to fear, regardless of the persecution that is hurled at it. 

Applications.

  • Are you a “closet Christian” or do people around you know that you are a follower of Christ? That doesn’t mean we should act in an overbearing manner, but it does mean that people around us should see a difference in how we act. If not, prayerfully consider why that is the case. Are you afraid of what others may think or do? Do you feel that you are lacking in some areas of your walk? Whatever it may be, ask for that area to be strengthened and let your light shine to those around you.
  • Meet with other believers on a regular basis. The absolute minimum is during the weekly worship service. But honestly, that isn’t what Christian fellowship is meant to be. Meet with others on a more frequent basis to encourage and pray for each other. Join a small group for Bible study and prayer. If you are comfortable and feel led, lead a small group and disciple others. 
  • Is your life something that others would praise or think highly of? Our goal should be to share the Gospel, shine the light, make Jesus known to those around us. All of this is done for His glory, not ours. 
  • We may not have a “healing touch” as described in this passage, but all of us can to pray for those in need around us. Make it a habit to pray for others. Think of one or two who don’t know Jesus and pray daily that they would come to know Christ. Pray for the sick that you know. Pray for the leaders in your church. Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel.

Acts Lesson Nine

Acts Lesson Nine – 5:1-11 Don’t Test the Spirit

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God!” When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. 

There was an interval of about three hours; then his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the field for this price?” 

“Yes,” she said, “for that price.” 

Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree 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 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things. (HCSB)

The last lesson ended with a display of generosity by Barnabas. In this lesson, we will see a polar opposite, greed, and jealousy by Ananias and Sapphira, which leads to their physical death. There are a couple of interesting points regarding their names; Ananias means “God is gracious” while Sapphira means “beautiful.” We may think that the punishment handed out to them was too severe for the crime. However, as we dig into this passage, we will see that our infinitely holy God was following a pattern of judgment that goes back to the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Here are some examples of divine judgment on seemingly minor offenses.

  • Nadab and Abihu were killed for presenting false fire in Leviticus 10.
  • Achan was killed for disobeying orders after Israel entered the Promised Land in Joshua 7.
  • Uzzah was touching the ark as it was being transported in 2 Samuel 6.

In each of these cases, it may seem that the punishment was too severe. However, judgment is passed according to an infinitely holy God’s standards and not ours. Another thing to note regarding each case above and the one in this passage is that God judges sin severely at the beginning of a new period in salvation history. 

Today’s passage will be broken into two parts. The first covering Ananias and background/general information, with the second part covering Sapphira and concluding thoughts.

Verses 1-6

In this section, we see that Satan was the culprit behind the couple’s actions. This doesn’t remove the guilt from them or us if we also follow Satan’s direction. But it does point to the issue of spiritual warfare that believers face. Up until this point, the young church was thriving and resisting the spiritual attacks from the outside, primarily from the Jewish religious leaders up to this point. Now, Satan changes his focus and decides to try and undermine the church from the inside by using members of the church to discredit it. If we fast-forward to Acts 20:28-31, we read where Paul warns the church leaders to be on the lookout for these attacks from the inside. Often these are the most difficult to see and the most damaging. Nothing discredits a church more than one of its leaders or prominent members involved in a public scandal. Believers need to read and apply Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:10-18 to continually put on our spiritual armor and be prepared for spiritual warfare.

As we look at the sin they committed, there are three distinct features.

  • It was energized and directed by Satan. 
  • It was motivated by pride.
    • They were possibly jealous of Barnabas’ gift at the conclusion of chapter four and wanted everyone to see that they were just as generous. We could call this religious “keeping up with the neighbor.”
    • God hates pride. Proverbs 8:13b I hate arrogant pride, evil conduct.
    • Jesus made it clear that how we give is essential. Is it for God’s glory or ours? See Matthew 6:1-4 and 19-34.
    • All that we have we have received from God. We are stewards of His possessions.
  • Their sin was directed against God’s church.
    • There is no reason to doubt that they were followers of Jesus.
      • The young church had such a high spiritual level that it is doubtful that a fake Christian could have invaded the church at this point.
      • They also lied to the Spirit (verse 3) and tested the Spirit (verse 9). This indicates that they had the Spirit living within them.
    • God loves His church and jealously guards it. The church was purchased by the blood of Jesus. The church has been put on the earth to glorify Him and complete His work. 
      • Satan wants to destroy and discredit the church. The easiest way is from the inside.
      • The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15.
      • The church is God’s temple in which He dwells. 1 Corinthians 3:16.
      • The church is God’s army. 2 Timothy 2:1-4.
      • The church is safe as long as Satan is attacking from the outside. When Satan gets a foothold within the church, that’s when danger is present.

Their sin was not withholding the money, essential robbing God. It was in lying to Him and robbing Him of the glory of selfless giving among the believers. There was no mandate that they had to sell the property; it was purely voluntary. Even after selling it, there was no stipulation that any or all of the money must be donated to the church. It was their overwhelming desire for recognition that contributed to their actions.

There are numerous interpretations of how Ananias died; zapped, heart attack, fear, overwhelming guilt. The how isn’t important when we look at this passage. What we can determine from the context of the passage is that it wasn’t an ordinary death; they saw God’s hand in his death. Otherwise, there would be no reason for great fear among the believers. The Greek word for fear in this passage means “great respect and awe for God.” 

The speed at which the burial was conducted also sheds some light on the circumstances. Burials were usually not lengthy affairs, but three hours or less would be considered fast in that culture. However, a hasty burial was the norm for deaths surrounded by unusual circumstances, such as suicides, executed criminals, and judgments from God.

Verses 7-11

We now move to the second participant in the conspiracy, Sapphira. There are several things to note in this section.

  • Sapphira was unaware of what had happened to Ananias. Although it wouldn’t accomplish anything, it is interesting to speculate what her actions would have been had she known what had happened a few hours earlier.
    • Would she have tried to continue the deception, thinking it couldn’t happen to her?
    • Would she have run away or disappeared out of fear?
    • Would she have come before the church with a repentant heart?
  • What we do know is that Peter gave her one last chance to come clean when he asked, “did you sell the field for this price?”
    • We need to note and follow Peter’s role in this encounter. Peter was not the judge; he was merely confronting both individuals with a question and allowing, at least with Sapphira, an opportunity to repent.
    • God was the judge, and swift consequences resulted from her refusal to repent.
  • There is great irony in this passage. First, Ananias laid the money at the feet of the Apostles. Second, both ended up dying at the feet of the Apostles. 
  • The church is intended to be a holy body, a place where the Spirit resides within the people who make up the church.
  • The church depicted at the beginning of Acts worked miracles, evangelized without fear, and was blessed with extraordinary growth. The Spirit was the power behind the unity and the unity as the power behind its witness.
  • This is the first time the Greek word for church, ekklesia, occurs in Acts. The word signifies the people of God gathered together as a religious community. It is probably no coincidence that it first appears in this passage. The church only thrives when it lives in the trust of its members, where there is unified trust the church flourishes in the power of the Spirit. When distrust appears, its witness fades.
  • Although Ananias and Sapphira experienced divine judgment, there is nothing to suggest their death was more than a physical one. 

Now let’s look at some general concepts and conclusions from this passage.

  • As strong, vibrant, and Spirit-filled as the early church was, it still was not a perfect church. We will never find a perfect church on this side of eternity. That doesn’t mean churches shouldn’t strive for that, but it’s unreasonable to expect it. Since there is no perfect church, we shouldn’t engage in “church shopping” once we’ve settled into a community of believers. The only exception to that is if the church, church leadership, or teaching becomes heretical and refuses to repent and return to being a biblically-based church.
  • The use of possessions and money. Using these in the wrong way or with the wrong intention is a serious sin in God’s sight. As we journey through Acts, we’ll see that there a quite a few instances where economic issues are dealt with in the Christian community. As we take a survey of churches today, we’d probably see quite a bit of the “health and wealth” or “prosperity gospel” heresy being proclaimed in churches. When we look at the New Testament, we’ll see an abundance of teaching on the dangers of wealth. Although wealth and possessions are not inherently wrong or evil, the proper biblical attitude is to understand that they are a blessing from God to be used to bless others.
  • Lying to make ourselves appear to be something that we aren’t. Ananias’s goal was to enhance his self-esteem and prestige within the church. How often do we see that in today’s church? This leads us to be dishonest with ourselves. A key component to receiving God’s grace is acknowledging our need for Him. Pride can slam shut the door that allows God’s grace to enter our lives.
  • A reverential fear of God and the consequences of sin. Sin and scandals will occur within the body of believers. How that is dealt with is an indicator of whether or not the church has a reverential fear of God. The early church dealt with the issue of sin quickly. In today’s world of tolerance and acceptance, the opposite often occurs. The example of Ananias and Sapphira’s behavior was a cancer that needed to be removed from the church for it to be healthy. We are all sinners, but the sin must be confronted and not condoned.
  • The demonization of believers. Although believers can’t be possessed by Satan, the Holy Spirit lives inside believers and is stronger than Satan; we can allow ourselves to be directed and used by Satan. It happened to Ananias and Sapphira. We’ve probably all read of Christian leaders who have had moral failures. Often it can start as an innocent mistake, but then it snowballs out of control. These moral failures aren’t limited to the area of sexual misconduct. It can also occur when we feel wronged and plan an appropriate response. It can happen in professional ambition. There are countless examples that could be listed here. We must never forget that we are engaged in spiritual warfare with an unseen enemy. This can lead us to become complacent and not consider the spiritual realm. 

Applications

  • As we bring our offerings, we need to stop and examine our hearts and our motivation for giving. Is there any selfish motivation behind our gift, or is our gift meant to glorify God? If there is any selfish motivation, we need to stop, repent, and prayerfully reconsider our giving. Once our motivations are pure, then we can continue with our giving.
  • If we knowingly or unknowingly have impure motivations and a Christian brother or sister confronts us, we need to repent. We should also thank them for holding us accountable to pure living. This is one example of why an accountability partner is essential for our spiritual health.
  • If we see a Christian brother or sister sinning, do we gracefully confront them in a timely manner, or do we avoid and condone the behavior? Scripture indicates that we need to take action for their benefit as well as the church’s benefit.
  • We need to have a reverent fear for God and His holiness. This reverence needs to be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions.

Acts Lesson Eight

Acts Lesson Eight: 4:32-37 – Unified Believers

32 Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common.  33 And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed for each person’s basic needs. 36 Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (HCSB)

Although this is a short passage to study, four main themes will be discussed.

  • Unity of believers – verse 32.
  • Evangelism – verse 33.
  • Generosity and care for each other – verses 34-35.
  • Introduction of Barnabas – verses 36-37.

What we see in these six verses is a snapshot of what the early church looked like.

Verse 32 – The unity of the believers.

In a previous lesson covering part of chapter two, we studied how the early church was involved in studying Scripture and prayer, both corporate and personal prayer. Now we see that the church was unified in thought. I believe that because of the characteristics outlined in chapter two, we see the characteristic of unity in this passage. When a group of people dig into Scripture together and spend large segments of time in prayer together, it leads to a spirit of unity and togetherness that would not be found if study and prayer were absent from the corporate body of Christ. 

What makes the description of the early church even more remarkable is that it was made up of sinners, just like you and me! They were no different than any modern follower of Jesus. We may think this level of unity and trust is impossible in today’s world, and honestly, that thought challenges my faith, but Scripture proves that sinners, albeit redeemed, can be unified in thought, deed, and word towards each other. That thought alone should give us hope as we see the world around us becoming increasingly chaotic. 

The phrase “were of one heart and mind” is deeper than the surface understanding of the phrase. The original Greek reads, “one in heart and soul,” and leads to a couple of conclusions regarding the phrase. 

  • They were united in heart. They had unbreakable emotional bonds with each other. They loved each other with unconditional love.
  • They were thinking in unity. They had the same theology. There was no discord or disagreement with activities or practices within the fledgling church. They concentrated on what was important; evangelism and loving each other with agape love.
  • They were experiencing what Jesus prayed for before His crucifixion. John 17:20-23 2I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. 21 May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. 22 I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. 23 I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Not only were they unified, but they were also generous to and cared for each other. This is an extremely rare quality in the world today, even in Christian circles, where many are only looking out for themselves, either implicitly or explicitly. Often to get something done, the cooperation of others is required. Cooperation requires that people are treated well; otherwise, they probably won’t cooperate. It’s also important to keep them happy. Happy people who are treated well are often more cooperative. However, often the underlying motivation is not generosity; it is selfishness. We want something to happen, so we “use” others to that end. As a Christian, we should never forget what God has done for each of us, we’ve been forgiven, and our nature has been changed. The early church realized that God had been generous to them, far beyond what they deserved, and they extended that generosity to those around them. 

Verse 33

Now we have a sudden shift from the unity and generosity of the church to evangelism and teaching. We should ponder why this shift occurs. I believe it signifies a critical element of what is expected of the church, evangelism and spreading the Gospel.

Evangelism, as understood in biblical characteristics, is a concept that seems to be fading in some segments of the modern Christian church. The focus of the early church was on going and spreading the Gospel message. Too often today, the focus is on “come and see” the church. To make this method effective, the church needs to devise ways to attract people to church. The labels attached to these types of churches are “attractional” or “seeker sensitive.” The church tries to find ways to make the church “attractive” or cater to the whims of those they are trying to bring into the spiritual body of Christ. When looked at honestly, the Gospel is not an “attractive” message as it is challenging. It doesn’t promise anything except for persecution. Oh wait, it does promise eternal security, but we need to be faithful through the persecution. It’s not a message that sinners would be excited to follow until they’re brought to their knees by the weight of their sinful nature and realize they need redemption.

Francis Chan, in his book Letters to the Church, conducts a simple exercise with church leaders. He asks them to list all the things that people expect when they come to church. The list often includes:

  • A really good service.
  • Strong, age-specific ministry.
  • A certain type of music/volume/number of songs.
  • A professionally polished sermon.
  • Convenient parking.
  • A clean building.
  • Coffee, maybe even a cafe within the church.
  • Childcare.

He then asks them to list the commands that God gave to the church from Scripture.

  • Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
  • Visit orphans and widows. James 1:27
  • Make disciples. Matthew 28:19.
  • Bear one another’s burdens. Galatians 6:2.

If we asked the same question to those we know in church or even ourselves, would our answer look like the first list or the second?

The early church knew what God commanded it to do. The modern church too often resembles what we want in church and not what Scripture commands. The church needs to have an outward focus if it is to be a biblical church. The “country club” mentality church is not a church that honors God or follows His commands.

At the conclusion of the verse, we see how the church was blessed for its faithfulness. It says, “and great grace was on all of them.” I don’t know about you, but I always want to be part of a church that experiences great grace. There is no church without evangelism. Jesus didn’t command His followers to plant churches. He commanded them to make disciples. A church was a natural outgrowth of effective evangelism. We see the same concept in Paul’s missionary journeys. He would go to a town and share the Gospel. As people would come to faith, he would spend additional time there, often raising up leaders (elders) for the new flock before moving on. His primary focus was on making disciples. Once that was complete, a new church was birthed.

Verses 34-35

When we read these two verses, we need to understand that selling all of one’s possessions and laying the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles are descriptive and not prescriptive. This means that although they describe a characteristic of the early church, they are not a specific command for us today. There are other passages in the New Testament that outline the principles of Christian giving, with 2 Corinthians 8-9 being one good example. Now that the discussion of descriptive versus prescriptive is finished let’s look at these two verses in some detail.

The first part of verse 34 illustrates an Old Testament concept found in Deuteronomy 15:4a There will be no poor among you. If Israel would keep God’s commands, then God would bless them, and there wouldn’t be any poor among them. The early church viewed the passage in Deuteronomy as describing the ideal final age when Israel would be entirely faithful to God, and there would be no poverty in the land. The early Christians viewed themselves as the people of God in the final times, seen in Acts 2:17, they were experiencing God’s blessings, Acts 4:33, and were striving to reach the ideal of the people of God with no poor in their midst. 

The land and houses described as being sold were not their primary residence or plot of land. This may not be readily apparent, but when looked at in the context of the passage, it would make no sense if it was referring to their only house. If they sold that, then they would become one of the needy. Instead, they liquidated their “extra” resources and used that to help those in need. 

Clarification is needed for the phrase, “laid them at the apostles’ feet.” This was not some act of worship towards the apostles or payment for the leaders of the church. But it was a gesture of submission to each other. The twelve apostles were appointed by Jesus to continue His mission. The submission and giving of funds were not to them but to the one they represented. To lay the gifts at the feet of the apostles was to give them to Jesus. This was likely a role that they didn’t relish, and we read later in Acts 6:2, where the financial responsibility in the church was handed over to a new position created by the Apostles. We would know that position today as the role of a deacon.

There are some who have labeled the practices described here as “Christian Communism.” However, that is completely misunderstanding the nature of how the church worked and the evil of political communism we see in the world today. Let’s compare the two.


Political CommunismChurch in Acts
Required actionsMandated by the state.Completely voluntary.
MotivationPower and greed.Love.
OwnershipState owned.Private ownership.

Private ownership continues in New Testament Scripture, with another example in Acts 12:12, which mentions the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Throughout the book of Acts and the New Testament Epistles, there are numerous accounts of churches meeting in the homes of believers. A proper understanding of the early church would dispel any notions that it resembled political communism in its design and practice.

Verses 36-37

The final two verses in chapter four may seem out of place with the introduction of Barnabas. However, there are several reasons for Luke to introduce him at this point. 

  • Barnabas’ action of selling one of his properties and bringing all the proceeds to the Apostles was a demonstration of the widespread activity of the church described in the preceding two verses.
  • His action could have produced envy in Ananias and Sapphira, leading them to make a show of their selling land and giving a portion of the sale while secretly keeping the rest for themselves. 
  • Barnabas plays a significant role in the early church and is mentioned repeatedly in Acts as well as in Colossians. 
    • Barnabas was an encouragement to and supported Paul. After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, many of the Christians didn’t believe his conversion was genuine. They thought he was still plotting to arrest and kill Christians. Barnabas interceded and became an advocate for Paul’s acceptance into the early church.
      • Acts 9:26-27 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27 Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.
      • Acts 11:25 Then he  went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
      • Acts 13:2 As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”
    • Barnabas also encouraged John Mark after his failure on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas.
      • Acts 15:36-39 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.
      • Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark,  Barnabas’s  cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).

As we reflect on this passage, especially the ideas of selling and giving, we need to understand that these ideas are descriptive and not prescriptive for each believer. They describe general concepts or characteristics of Christians and black and white rules. It should be viewed in light of our attitude towards each other and our attitude towards wealth. If we understand that everything we have comes from God, then we also understand it doesn’t really belong to us in the first place. We have stewardship responsibility over it, and we are expected to use these blessings wisely. When a Christian brother or sister is in need, it should be second nature on our part to help when and where we can. 

When we place this idea side-by-side with cultural norms, we clearly see that the church needs to be countercultural. The church (people) need to be united in purpose, thought, and action. There are five biblical principles for a unified body of Christ.

  • Each member must crucify themselves. Philippians 2:1-11 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth — 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
  • Leaders should endeavor to make unity a priority. Ephesians 4:3 diligently keeping the unity  of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.
  • Believers should meet often and share openly. 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
  • Christian fellowship is spiritual unity in Christ. Spiritual disciplines enable us to have spiritual unity in Christ.
    • Worship.
    • Reading Scripture.
    • Prayer.
    • Fasting.
    • Serving.
  • Strive for agreement over the course of action. See Acts 15 for an example of this. Don’t rush to reach a result. Reach the result in God’s time.

Applications

  • Do you strive for unity with your Christian brothers and sisters, or are you the type that looks for conflict? We should strive for unity in purpose while not letting the ways of the world seep into the church. Conflict should only be started when the church or members of the church are clearly against what Scripture says.
  • Do you consider your possessions, money/stuff/time, yours or Gods? Your answer to this question will shape your actions regarding your possessions.
  • Are you involved in evangelism, either directly or in a supporting role? In the midst of our often busy lives, we are still called to share the Gospel.
  • Are you known as a son/daughter of encouragement or one of discouragement? We can be a person who builds others up, or we can be a person that tears others down. We control our actions in this area.

Acts Lesson Seven

Acts 4:13-31 – The Sanhedrin’s Dilemma

13 When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response. 15 After they had ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it! 17 However, so this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again.” 18 So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

21 After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them, because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done; 22 for this sign of healing had been performed on a man over 40 years old. 

23 After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant: 

Why did the Gentiles rage 

and the peoples plot futile things? 

26 The kings of the earth took their stand 

and the rulers assembled together 

against the Lord and against His Messiah.

27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness, 30 while You stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness. (HCSB)

In the previous lesson, we covered Peter’s defense to the charges and how the Sanhedrin’s case contained no foundation. Now, the ball is firmly back in the Sanhedrin’s court. What were they going to do in response to the healing of the lame man and Peter’s defense of the situation?

Verses 13-14

The Sanhedrin faced a serious dilemma. Since they had publicly arrested Peter and John and placed them in jail the previous day, they now had to figure out how to proceed. However, the “trial” had not gone according to their plans. They probably expected these “uneducated” men to crumble after being brought before the council. Instead, Peter and John challenged the religious leaders. Here are some facts that the council needed to consider as they continued with this charade.

  • They couldn’t deny that a miracle had occurred. The man who had been lame since birth, a man who was easily recognized by many, possibly even some on the religious council, was standing before them with no physical disability.
  • How could uneducated and untrained men perform this miracle? They were ordinary fishermen, not scribes or authorized priests in the Jewish religious circle.
  • Peter and John were disciples of Jesus, but Jesus was dead.
  • The council was likely surprised by the courage and confidence that Peter and John displayed before them.
  • Miracles, by themself, are not proof of Jesus’ resurrection or the truth of Peter’s message.
  • Satan can perform miracles – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved.
  • False prophets can do wonders – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 If a prophet or someone who has dreams  arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.
  • The miracle, the message, and the events that had occurred since Pentecost were all supporting evidence that Jesus was alive and the church was powered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Peter used the Old Testament in both sermons to support his claims. This is evidence of a true prophet, as shown above in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
  • The Sanhedrin was left speechless after Peter’s defense and the healed man standing before them.

Verses 15-18

Asking Peter and John to leave the council was a standard procedure once all the evidence and arguments were finished. This allowed the council to have an open discussion among itself, with no outside distractions or interruptions. From the short narrative in these verses, we see the following facts.

  • With the statement “what should we do with these men,” it was clear that they were indecisive about how to proceed.
  • They acknowledged that a miracle had occurred.
  • The miracle was widely known. There was no way the council could cover it up or deny that it happened.
  • Jesus’ disciples were popular with the people, as witnessed by the explosive growth of the church and that people came to hear their message.
  • There was no charge the council could pin on Peter and John.
  • The only thing the council could do was use their position and power to threaten this new religious movement. They would forbid any teaching that referred to Jesus.

There is one other significant point to consider in this section. It’s contained in verse 17, and depending on your translation, it appears as “this” (HCSB), “it” (ESV), or “thing” (NIV). What is “this” referring to? Does the Sanhedrin want to stop the further spread of the knowledge of the miracle that occurred? That is not possible; that “cat was out of the bag.” What the council was concerned about was the Gospel, the preaching of Jesus, and His resurrection. The focus of their attention was stopping this fledgling movement in its infancy. 

Verses 19-22

Peter and John continue down the courageous road they started on when they presented the defense of their actions. They refused to accept the decision of the council. Their response made it clear that they would follow God and not what the council was telling them. There was no way that they would stop preaching about Jesus. We can all learn from the boldness of the Apostles in rejecting instruction from man that conflicted with what God or Scripture proclaimed. At the same time, we need to make sure that civil disobedience or our personal crusades are actions that don’t tarnish Jesus’ Kingdom. At this point, let’s take a short history lesson from Scripture on civil disobedience.

  • The Jewish midwives were disobeying the pharaoh and not killing the babies in Exodus 1.
  • Moses’ parents in Hebrews 11:23.
  • Daniel in chapters one and six.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.
  • In each of these cases, there was clear direction from God.
    • The midwives and Moses’ parents knew it was wrong to kill children.
    • Daniel and his friends knew it was wrong to eat food offered to idols or bow down to idols.
    • Peter and John knew that they were under orders to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
    • In each case, the people were following instructions from God and not a personal agenda.
  • In each case, they also acted with courtesy and respect even as they defied the instructions of man. It is possible to both respect and disobey authority when authority runs contrary to God’s instruction.
    • Romans 13.
    • Titus 3:1-2.
    • 1 Peter 2:13-25.

 The greatest example of unjust suffering is Jesus. In His suffering, Jesus taught us three things.

  • Righteous protest against injustice always involves suffering.
  • Righteous protest against injustice always requires sacrifice.
  • Righteous protest must be motivated by love.

As followers of Jesus, we need to be careful not to wrap our prejudice as righteous indignation and make ourselves look like courageous soldiers. We must always examine our hearts to ensure we are not starting a “holy war” to satisfy our inner frustrations.

Another way to look at this problem is to examine four possible courses of action that Christians can take. Only one of these is biblical.

  • Monastic – views the world and all governments as corrupt, and the only solution is to retreat from the world. 
  • Secular – the world is the only source of authority, and God is denied. This option is foolish as there is no counterbalance to an evil or tyrannical government.
  • Cowardly – authority rests in both the world and in God, but the world has the predominant position. Pilate chose this option when he handed Jesus over to be crucified.
  • Biblical – authority rests in the world and God, with God in the predominant position. The government has authority but is not independent from God. When the two conflict, we must follow God.

Christians with courage should be law-abiding citizens until that law contradicts the clearly written law of God, at which point the higher authority (God) takes over.

Verses 23-31

Peter and John go back to the rest of the disciples and report the details on what happened. After this, they all joined together in praise and prayer to God. They were united in prayer. There’s a lesson here on the early church that the modern church all too often forgets, the importance of prayer. The early church understood that prayer was necessary to defeat the plans of the enemy. Prayer meetings in modern churches, if they even have prayer meetings, often resemble a party or concert. The meeting contains little sense of urgency or the danger we face because most of us live a “comfortable” Christian walk. If followers of Jesus were more intentional about following the Great Commission and being bold, there would be more urgency and need for prayer.

As we examine their prayer, we notice that they didn’t ask for their circumstances to be changed or for the religious rulers who were hostile to the Gospel to be removed from their positions. Instead, they asked for power to make the best of their circumstances and accomplish what He had already predestined. They desired to glorify Jesus, not themselves.

Their prayer was based on Scripture; they used the beginning of Psalm 2 for their prayer. Through Scripture, God speaks to us and tells us what He wants us to do. In prayer, we talk to God and make ourselves available to do His will. Prayer is not telling God what to do or what we want; it is asking God to do His will through our lives. 

1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.

The contextual setting of Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against Yahweh and the Messiah, but it originated in the crowning of an Israelite king and the subsequent refusal of some of the vassal leaders to pay homage and submit to the king. Now, the early church is applying this psalm to their situation with Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and some of the Jews as the disobedient vassal rulers.

In response, God shook the place where they had gathered, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to boldly preach the Gospel. We mustn’t misunderstand the concept of them being filled again with the Holy Spirit. This was not another Pentecost. This demonstrates that believers must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s work, and it is possible for our “tank to run dry” if we are not in right fellowship with God. If we are living in sin, if we are not reading Scripture, if we are not praying to God, if we are not using our gifts in service can all lead to our spiritual tank running dry. However, we see in this example the opposite. The believers were in a healthy and faithful relationship with God, and they were continually being filled with God’s power, the Holy Spirit.

Christian courage depends upon biblical praying grounded in the sovereignty of God.

A summary of this passage reveals several key points.

  • Strength to face suffering.
    • They were united in fellowship. This is a recurring theme in Acts, the united fellowship of believers. For those of us who live in individualistic countries, this theme often runs counter to our culture.
    • The sovereignty of God. Because God is in control of all things, we have nothing to fear if we walk in obedience.
    • Their united prayer was saturated with Scripture. We must spend time daily in God’s Word and let it soak into our innermost being. Psalm 119:11 I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.
  • Fellowship helps in times of crisis.
    • When we gather with like-minded believers, we gain strength and encouragement, knowing we are not alone. 
    • When we share our situation with our support group, we unburden ourselves. We can receive wise counsel and not act on our emotions.
    • When we gather with our support group, we can spend time in prayer together. Being together helps us to focus on God and His sovereignty instead of being overwhelmed by our problems.
  • Acknowledging God’s sovereignty helps in times of crisis.
    • When we are experiencing a crisis, the enemy seems powerful and seem weak in comparison.
    • We may experience suffering, and some could be quite severe. But in the end, God will turn it into good.
    • Evil is a reality, but God is a deeper and more powerful reality.

Applications.

  • Don’t let a lack of formal seminary training prevent you from being a bold witness for Christ. Instead, submit and let the Holy Spirit fill and guide you each day. For those who do have formal seminary training, don’t let the education make you arrogant and forget that without the Holy Spirit, your words will ring hollow.
  • Be bold in the face of persecution. We serve the highest power in the universe, the living God, and we have nothing to fear when we walk in accordance with His will.
  • Gather together with other believers in unity. We desperately need each other for support, encouragement, and correction. Lone-ranger Christians are ineffective Christians. 
  • Pray. Pray together, pray alone, pray without ceasing. It is our most effective weapon in spiritual warfare. Nothing else stops the efforts of the enemy as much as prayer. 

Acts Lesson Six

Acts Lesson Six – 4:1-12: Persecution Begins

4 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 

The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family.  After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?” 

Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is 

the stone rejected by you builders, 

which has become the cornerstone. 

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (HCSB)

In chapter four of Acts, the official persecution of the New Testament church begins, which Jesus had predicted would occur.

  • Matthew 10:17-20 – 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
  • Luke 21:12-15 – 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. 14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Peter’s message produced two very different results.

  • Approximately 2,000 more came to faith in Jesus.
  • The religious leaders rejected the message and tried to silence the Apostles.

Now let’s look at each group that is referenced in the first verse. It would be easy to skim over this, but it speaks to the level of attention and persecution that is beginning.

  • Priests.
    • The priestly caste in general.
    • They were opposed to Jesus before His crucifixion.
    • They were now opposed to the witness of Jesus’ followers.
    • Their teaching was being undermined by the Apostle’s teaching.
  • Commander of the Temple Police.
    • Not Roman troops.
    • These were the people who arrested Jesus.
    • Apart from the Roman governor and the Roman army, he was the second most powerful person in Jerusalem.
      • Romans first.
      • High Priest second.
      • Commander of the Temple Police third.
  • Sadducees.
    • Not the numerically biggest group in the Sanhedrin.
    • Upper class.
    • Powerful in position and with significant financial backing.
    • They understood that to survive the Roman occupation; they would have to cooperate with the occupiers. Hence, they had established close ties with the Roman authorities and would do anything to keep that influence.

So we see that power-brokers in the Jewish religious system were united in an effort to crush this new religious movement which threatened the stability and the positions of power that they now occupied. Instead of pursuing the truth, they were more concerned with preserving their prestige, status, and wealth.

We see in verse two what it was that was really bothering the religious leaders.

  • The Apostles were teaching the people.
    • Religious teaching was reserved for the priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, rulers, elders, and teachers of the Law.
    • In their minds, teaching was reserved for those who had attended a rabbinical academy and received the approval to begin teaching independently.
      • This was a point about Jesus that had really bothered them.
      • Still, Jesus had intrinsic authority in His teaching.
        • The people marveled at His teaching and followed Him to hear more.
        • His teaching was so powerful that at one point, when the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned to the religious leaders and explained their failure (John 7:46.
      • Now they didn’t have one man to deal with; they had a group who spoke with the same level of authority.
        • The Apostles never attended rabbinical schools.
        • They came from simple backgrounds.
          • Fishermen.
          • Tax-collectors.
          • Untaught people. 
        • But they were teaching like Jesus, with authority, and the people were listening.
  • The Apostles were teaching about Jesus and God the Father raising Him from the dead.
    • Teaching only about resurrection would likely not have resulted in the persecution that now starts.
      • The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection.
        • This split in belief was later used by Paul to divide the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-9).
    • The Apostles were teaching about a resurrection on the last day.
    • They were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus.
      • If true, this would lead to several conclusions.
        • It would validate Jesus’ identity.
        • It would prove His nature and the value of what He came to do.
        • It would indict the religious leaders in the murder of their Messiah.

The religious leaders now resorted to a common, worldly method of retaining control. They used power in an attempt to intimidate and control the Apostles.

  • Power.
    • Economic power.
    • Authoritarian power – courts, legal system, and military.
    • Positional power.
      • You can preach when we allow it.
      • We can stop you anytime we feel like it.
      • We can arrest you without just cause.
  • Intimidation.
    • Putting them in jail was not necessary.
    • The Apostles were preaching in the open and not hiding.
    • They could have had brought them before the Sanhedrin the following morning.

The following day, as the Sanhedrin met, reveals additional powerful forces brought against the fledgling church.

  • Rulers – most likely those in positions of authority within the Jewish government.
  • Elders – distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and wielding great influence.
  • Scribes – teachers of the Law.
  • Annas – the high priest.
    • Although the Romans had removed him from the official position years earlier, he was still the power behind the position of the high priest.
    • In Israel, the high priest occupied that position for life. The Jews would consider Annas the true high priest until he died.
    • He connived to have his five sons and one son-in-law become high priest after he was removed from the position.
  • Caiaphas – the son-in-law and acting high priest.
    • He conspired along with Annas to have Jesus killed.
    • They may have begun to devise a similar plot against Jesus’ followers.
  • John and Alexander – not much is known about them. Most likely, they were members of the priestly family.

As we consider what had taken place so far, we need to review the responsibility of the Sanhedrin in Jewish life.

  • They were responsible for protecting the Jewish faith.
  • They were required to examine any new teacher or teaching within Israel (Deuteronomy 13).
  • They had the right to investigate what the fledgling church was doing, but they didn’t have the right to arrest innocent men and refuse to examine the evidence that was presented honestly.

The council now asks by what power, authority, or name they had healed the lame man. They unwittingly presented Peter with an opportunity to witness, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Peter now begins his defense.

  • Peter demonstrates respect for the council as he explains how the lame man was healed.
  • There is also a not-so-subtle jab at the religious leaders regarding their arrest.
    • Since the question that they ask is about the healing of the lame man, Peter is implying that the only reason they could have been arrested was for healing him.
    • Healing the man is not a crime.
  • Peter then says it was through the name of Jesus that the lame man was healed. 
    • The religious council likely thought they had heard the last of Jesus after His crucifixion.
      • But the Apostles were teaching that Jesus was alive.
      • To the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, this would have been tantamount to a heavy religious slap in the face.
  • Peter’s defense is guided by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had told them.
    • Luke 21:15 For I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 
    • Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, a direct messianic reference that Jesus also quoted in Matthew 21:42.
    • Peter tells the council that they are the builder, but they rejected God’s stone, Jesus.
    • The image of a stone or rock is scattered throughout the Old Testament and is often symbolic of God. 
    • The stone can be a blessing or a stumbling block.
      • A blessing to those who place their faith in Jesus.
      • A stumbling block to those who reject Jesus.
  • Peter concludes his defense by stating that not only was the lame man healed in the name of Jesus but that Jesus is the only way to salvation and restoration with God.
  • In Peter’s short defense, we see a tactic that Paul would also use later. Not only did Peter speak in defense of their actions, but he also used it as an opportunity to witness to the truth of Jesus to the religious council, the very ones who should have already known who Jesus is.
  • Peter’s sermon can be summarized around four points.
    • The religious leaders were guilty of killing Jesus. 
    • Jesus rose from the dead; He was alive! The very God that the religious leaders worshiped is the God who raised Jesus and placed Him at His right hand, proving that Jesus is God the Son, the savior of the world.
    • God’s purpose was fulfilled despite the opposition of the religious leaders. 
    • Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A point to remember as we continue our journey through Acts, after chapter three, only three other chapters in total don’t mention persecution. This would imply that persecution, at some level, might be a necessary part of every believer’s life. Scripture would seem to confirm this.

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
  • John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

There is an essential point for the modern church to consider here. How often did we/do we hear about suffering as being an expected part of the Christian life? I know that was never mentioned to me before I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I understand it now and don’t run from it. When we look at the shallowness of the modern church, especially in the affluent West, we need to consider whether the church’s neglect in this area has led to a significant number of shallow Christians who view salvation as a “get out of hell, free” card, but who otherwise don’t live as a faithful follower of Jesus. As Jesus said, we must count the cost.

Applications

  • The church must teach that persecution will occur. As we witness to the lost, we must talk about persecution. As we walk with Jesus, we must prepare ourselves for persecution. For many of us, persecution is something we read about. However, we have many brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution on a daily basis. And according to Scripture, those of us who don’t currently face persecution may soon find out circumstances rapidly changing, especially as we view what’s happening around the world.
  • We should never fear persecution. As followers of Jesus, we are to walk in His footsteps. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Walk and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The power behind the early church was the Holy Spirit. Ordinary, uneducated men were accomplishing remarkable things powered by God. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “forgotten God,” because the modern church often doesn’t rely on Him. 
  • No matter the circumstances or challenges we face, let the Holy Spirit lead you as you share the Gospel with the lost around you. Jesus is the only path to salvation.

Acts Lesson Five

Acts Lesson Five – Acts 3:1-26 Miraculous Healing, Powerful Preaching

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 

11 While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you. 

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18 But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled  in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22 Moses said: 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23 And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.

24 “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” (HCSB)

As we look at this passage, it can be divided into two main parts:

  • Verses 1-11 centered around the power of Jesus.
  • Verses 12-26 centered around Peter’s message to the crowd.

Also, keep in mind the following ideas as we dig into this passage:

  • Verses 1-5: As we are involved in ministry, it may require us to see the opportunities and to determine the real needs of the people we minister to, and identify any resources we may have to help them.
  • Verses 6-11: As we serve, our service can’t be conducted in our own strength. It is only through divine power according to God’s will that will count in the end.
  • Verses 12-16: Our service for Jesus begins first with self-denial, centers on Him, and proclaims faith in His name.
  • Verses 17-26: By God’s grace, repentance brings forgiveness through Jesus, and that forgiveness is available to all who would call on His mighty name.

Verses 1-5

We’ll look at these verses in light of two key ideas. One idea is correctly understanding the needs around us. The second idea is a correct understanding of the rabbinical view on charity.

  • Correctly understanding the needs around us.
    • The lame man.
      • The man was born lame; all of us are born sinners.
      • The man couldn’t walk; no sinner can walk in a way that pleases God.
      • The man was outside the temple; sinners are outside God’s temple, the church.
      • The man was begging; sinners are beggars; they are searching for the fix that will satisfy their wants.
    • The need wasn’t money.
      • The man needed healing.
      • The man needed restoration to corporate worship. According to Old Testament Law, those who were crippled were not allowed inside the temple. Leviticus 21:18 No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed.
    • Peter and John were presented with an opportunity for ministry.
      • Peter didn’t perform the miracle to remove the man’s handicap.
      • Peter did it for two reasons.
        • To save the man’s soul.
        • To demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • The man illustrates the state of each of us who has not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Correctly understanding the rabbinical view on charity.
    • There were three pillars in the Jewish faith; the Torah, worship, and charity.
      • Charity was one of the main ways of kindness.
      • Charity was considered a major expression of a person’s devotion to God.
      • Worshippers entering the temple would be drawn to giving charity to a lame beggar, thus demonstrating their piety.
    • Charity was not just a characteristic of the Jewish faith; it was an expected part of their worship life.

These first five verses illustrate how we, as believers, can practice charity in a lost world.

  • We can share the greatest gift possible, the Gospel message.
  • The lame man represents those who are in disobedience to God, sinners.
  • Each of us has opportunities, maybe daily, to be a “Peter” to a lame man.

Verses 6-11

The first section set the stage; a lame man in need of healing. However, from the study of the first section, we understand that he only looked at the surface need, money, so that he could eat. He didn’t understand his deeper need. If he were healed of his disability, he would be able to work and no longer have to beg.

You can almost feel the anticipation-the man begging for alms. Peter and John were staring intently at him and telling him to look at them. No doubt in his mind he was going to receive a gift, maybe even a large one since they engaged him in that manner. However, the gift he received was not what he was expecting, yet it went far beyond his grandest imagination. He was instantly and completely healed of his disability. 

Peter, in the name of Jesus, commanded the lame man to walk! In a biblical context, a name is more than a label. It is a representation of the person and is an extension of the person’s being and personality. To call in to use the name of Jesus is a call upon the authority and power of Jesus. Jesus, through Peter, was continuing the healing ministry He conducted while walking the earth. The healing power spread from his feet to his ankles. He jumped up and began to walk. Not only that, he entered the temple with Peter and John. Previously, as a lame beggar, he sat outside the temple begging for alms. Now, not only was he healed of his physical impairment, he was given spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time in his life, he was considered worthy to enter the house of worship.

There is little wonder that the man was not only walking, but he was leaping and praising God in God’s house. The word for “leap” used here is a rare one. It is the same word used in Isaiah 35:6a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer.” The people inside the temple recognized the man; doubtless, they had seen him hundreds of times, yet here he was inside the temple, and he was not only walking, but he was also leaping for joy and praising God. At the sight, they were filled with awe and astonishment, which prepared them for the message that Peter would now speak.

Verses 12-26

Peter now uses the opportunity presented to share the Gospel and for the members of the crowd to receive forgiveness for their sins. Just as in verses 2:14, 22, Peter addresses them as “Men of Israel.” Peter had preached Jesus to them and accused them of denying their Messiah. Just a few weeks earlier, Peter had denied Jesus three times. However, Peter has confessed his sin and was restored to Jesus; he was able to forget and move on from his failure.

In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he needed to refute the accusation that Jesus’ followers were drunk. Here, Peter needed to refute the idea that Peter and John had healed the man by their own power. Jesus was the true source of the power that healed the lame man. Not only that, Jesus was glorified by the God of their fathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Before a sinner can be lead to repentance, there must be conviction. Imagine a sick patient. Before they will accept treatment, they must believe that they are sick. Only then will they take treatment from the doctor. Peter now turns the temple into a courtroom, laying out the evidence that Jesus is God. How could two ordinary fishermen perform a healing miracle unless God was working through them? Nobody could deny the fact of the miracle. They had seen the lame man countless times at the entrance to the temple. Yet, here he was leaping and praising God in the temple. To deny the miracle was not an option. This left only one choice. Accept the miracle as genuine, and since the miracle was done in the name of Jesus to admit that Jesus is the living Son of God and that His name has power.

This section also deals with the Jewish responsibility in the death of Jesus. There are four points regarding this topic contained in this section of the passage.

  • They did it in ignorance. In the Old Testament, there was a difference between unintentional and deliberate sins; Leviticus 4-5, Numbers 15:22-31.
    • Those who sin deliberately were a rebel against God and were to be cut off from their people.
    • Those who sinned unintentionally were given an opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Ignorance doesn’t remove the guilt, but it does alter the circumstances.
  • Nowhere in Acts is there a blanket condemnation of the Jews for the death of Jesus. Only the Jews in Jerusalem are given that responsibility.
  • Gentiles shared in the blame; lawless men 2:23, Pilate 3:13.
  • The suffering of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for mankind, 3:18.

Peter now draws on the Old Testament, and the greatest prophet found there, Moses. Any Jew who had even a slight understanding and knowledge of Scripture would see the link Peter was making. Belief in Moses should produce belief in Jesus. At the same time, belief in Jesus does not nullify the belief in Moses. Peter demonstrates that Moses pointed to Jesus in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Peter closes the sermon by reminding them that they are the natural heirs of the promises that date back to Genesis 22:18, “And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” Every prophet of Yahweh looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist.

The “offspring” referred to in verse 25 is singular. The Abrahamic covenant points to Jesus. Jesus is the sole offspring through which the blessing would come. He was Israel’s Messiah.

As we look back on this passage, there are two points we would do well to remember.

  • Ministry is meant to be done in teams. Lone rangers often do not last long in ministry.
    • Throughout Acts, we see ministry done in teams.
    • When Jesus sent out the twelve along with the seventy, they were sent out in pairs; Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
    • When Peter addressed the crows at Pentecost, he stood up with the eleven; Acts 2:14.
    • When Peter went to the home of Cornelius, he took six brothers with him; Acts 10:23 and 11:12.
    • Biblical context dictates that ministry is done with teams.
    • Each believer has one or more spiritual gifts to equip the team to function as a whole.
    • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives four benefits of teams:
      • Greater fruitfulness – Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.
      • Help in times of personal failure – For if either falls, his companion can lift him up, but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
      • Warmth of affirmation in times of need – Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?
      • Strength to face attacks – And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
  • Ministry is meant to be done in power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Throughout Acts and much of the New Testament, we see the power of the Holy Spirit evident in the life of the church.
    • In the example in this passage of the lame man, we see that spiritual poverty is a greater curse than economic poverty. An economically poor church that is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit is, in reality, a rich church.
    • With the increase in affluence within much of the church community in the West, the dependence on God has declined. The church is identified with its ornate building, its famous pastor, a worship team that could perform in any major theater, or any other worldly measure of richness. But it may not have any spiritual richness.

Applications

  • As we engage with individuals in the world around us, pray for wisdom and discernment for their actual needs, not their surface needs. Just as the example in this passage, there may be a distinct difference between the two.
  • As we are involved in ministry, do we try and do it in our own power, or do we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and work through His power?
  • Do we glorify Jesus in our work? We may never perform a miraculous healing, but whatever ministry work we are engaged in, we should always give glory where it is due, Jesus.
  • Do we try and engage in ministry by ourselves, or are we part of a team? Being a lone ranger is dangerous on a couple of points. First, it is easier to take the credit for success instead of glorifying Jesus with success. Second, it is much easier to succumb to sinful temptations when we go it alone. 

Acts Lesson Four

Acts Lesson Four – Acts 2:14-47 The Sermon, the Response, the Church

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 And it will be in the last days, says God, 

that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; 

then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, 

your young men will see visions, 

and your old men will dream dreams. 

18 I will even pour out My Spirit 

on My male and female slaves in those days, 

and they will prophesy. 

19 I will display wonders in the heaven above 

and signs on the earth below: 

blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 

20 The sun will be turned to darkness 

and the moon to blood 

before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. 

21 Then everyone who calls 

on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. 23 Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. 24 God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. 25 For David says of Him: 

I saw the Lord ever before me; 

because He is at my right hand, 

I will not be shaken. 

26 Therefore my heart was glad, 

and my tongue rejoiced. 

Moreover, my flesh will rest in hope, 

27 because You will not leave me in Hades 

or allow Your Holy One to see decay. 

28 You have revealed the paths of life to me; 

You will fill me with gladness 

in Your presence. 

29 “Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: 

He was not left in Hades, 

and His flesh did not experience decay.

32 “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. 33 Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says: 

The Lord declared to my Lord, 

‘Sit at My right hand 

35 until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” 

37 When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 

38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!”

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. 

43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common.  45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.  46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. (HCSB)

The passage we will study today can be split into three sections. The first is verses 14-21, and the second is verses 22-41, and the final one in verses 42-47.

The Introduction: verses 14-21.

Peter refutes the claim of the scoffers that they were drunk. A Jew wouldn’t eat or drink anything before 9 AM on a Sabbath or feast day. Therefore, what the pilgrims were witnessing was not caused by drunken behavior. Another point to note is that throughout this passage, Peter only addresses the Jews (resident or pilgrim) who witnessed the event. Peter is addressing the Jewish nation and proving to them that the Messiah has been raised from the dead. He quotes Joel 2:28-32 in verses 17-21, not to say that the entire prophecy had been fulfilled, but that the first part, verses 2:17-18, had just occurred and that verses 19-21 would occur when Jesus returns. Between those two events is the age of the Church.

Here are some points to note in this section.

  • Raised his voice – a common Semitic expression when beginning to speak.
  • Proclaimed to them – means to speak seriously and with gravity. It was often used for prophetic or inspired speeches.
  • “Men of Judah” and “residents of Jerusalem” – refer to the same group. This is a typical Semitic style of speech or writing.
  • Peter directs them away from the faulty thinking that the pilgrims were witnessing drunken behavior to the correct understanding that they were witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy before their eyes.

In verses 17-21, Peter quotes from Joel 2:28-32. Some points to note about the setting when Joel uttered this prophecy.

  • It was given after a locust plague had devastated the land, creating a severe famine.
  • Joel called the people to repentance.
  • Repentance would lead to the restoration of their prosperity.
  • In turn, this would lead to the event that happened here, at Pentecost.

Peter now applies this passage to the current situation.

  • Peter is convinced that the Messianic Age began with the resurrection of Jesus.
  • They were now living in the last days.
  • The rabbinic consensus was that the Spirit would return as a universal gift at the end times.
  • The pouring out of the Spirit on the believers at Pentecost was evidence that the end times had begun.
  • Support for all 120 of the believers, male and female, receiving the Spirit was Joel’s statement that sons and daughters would prophesy.
  • The Spirit was not just for the Jews. God will pour out His Spirit on all humanity. The Gentiles could now be included in God’s family.

Verse 21 must be viewed as the most crucial verse in this section of the passage.

  • “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • In the sermon that Peter gives, the “Lord” was Jesus.
    • It tells of His death.
    • It tells of His resurrection.
    • It tells of His exaltation.
  • Whoever calls on His name or whoever confesses Jesus as Lord will be saved.

The Sermon: verses 22-41. 

Many scholars and theologians believe that this section of the passage reflects the most basic form of the Christian kerygma, the death of Jesus linked to His resurrection. It is found throughout the book of Acts and follows the basic formula, “Jesus of Nazareth whom you killed…but God raised.” Peter includes a prelude here to reflect on Jesus’ earthly ministry.

  • Miracles – the mighty acts of Jesus.
  • Wonders – points to a deeper reality and in Acts is only found in conjunction with “signs.”
  • Signs.

Peter is stressing to the audience that they should have understood that the miracles, wonders, and signs that Jesus performed should have led them to recognize that Jesus was the appointed Messiah. Verses 22-23 establishes the guilt of the Jewish crowd and puts them under conviction. This would lead to a large number repenting and professing faith in Jesus.

Now that Peter has stated the basic Christian confession that Jesus is God’s appointed Messiah, Peter sets out to support this claim with scriptural proof from Psalm 16:8-11. Let’s look at some points behind Peter’s usage of the passage from Psalms.

  • This psalm is written by David, which is important as its application to Jesus is based on the Davidic descent of the Messiah.
  • It may appear that the psalm was a plea to God for vindication and avoidance of death and Hades.
  • However, Peter applies this psalm messianically as it’s a prophecy that David can’t apply to himself.
  • Verse 27 is the key. 
    • David expresses confidence that he would not be abandoned to the grave. Yet, he did die and was buried.
    • The “Holy One” refers to Jesus as He was resurrected, and His body suffered no decay.
  • Verse 28 doesn’t add to the argument about the resurrection, but it does refer to Jesus as the “source of life” (Acts 3:15) and the path to a new life through His resurrection.

In verses 29-31, Peter explains his application of this psalm to Jesus.

  • David died, so the psalm can’t apply to him.
  • It is a prophecy David intended for a descendant who would sit on the Davidic throne.
  • It applies to Jesus, who has risen and is, therefore, the messianic descendant David spoke about.
  • The psalm is used to prove the messianic status of Jesus, not His resurrection.
  • The proof of the resurrection is the eyewitness account of the disciples.
  • It depicts David’s vision that the Messiah would not be bound by death.
  • Since Jesus burst the shackles of death by His resurrection, He is the Messiah that David saw.

Another point to remember about the crowd in general. Many would have been familiar with what had transpired two months earlier at Passover, Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter reminds them that they were witnesses to the entire process; crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection.

In verses 32-35, Peter gives an exaltation to Jesus.

  • God resurrected Jesus from the dead.
  • The resurrection fulfilled the prophecy of David.
  • The Apostle’s eyewitness accounts are proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • God has exalted Jesus to sit at His right hand.
  • God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus.
  • Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit on mankind.
  • The Apostles were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The crowds were witnesses to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • Only Jesus, exalted at God’s right hand, has the authority to dispense the Spirit.
  • Peter uses Psalm 110:1 as scriptural proof.
    • David spoke of someone ascending to heaven and sitting at God’s right hand. David didn’t ascend to heaven, so he couldn’t have been talking about himself.
    • David must have been speaking of a future descendent, the Messiah. 
    • The outpouring of the Spirit affirms that the Messiah ascended to heaven.
    • David predicted this ascent.
    • Therefore, Jesus is the Messiah.

Verse 36

The conclusion of Peter’s sermon comes full circle to the beginning point, Jesus is Lord. Peter’s use of the psalms was designed to resonate with the Jewish audience and their understanding of the Messiah. There was no doubt that Jesus was the prophesied living Lord, Master, and Messiah.

Verses 37-40

The Jewish crowd heard Peter’s point loud and clear. They were guilty of rejecting Jesus, and in some cases, implicitly or explicitly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. The phrase “cut to the heart” is uncommon, in the original Greek, but an extremely strong term. Peter’s sermon had clearly impacted the audience, and now they desired to know what they could do in response. Peter’s response contains four elements:

  • Repent – turn from disobedience to God.
  • Be baptized – signifying dying to your old self and being raised a new creation.
  • Forgiveness – the person’s sins are forgiven.
  • Receive the Holy Spirit – all believers receive the Holy Spirit after submitting to Jesus.

Peter concludes with a promise; all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved! This promise is universal. It is not exclusive to any people group or country. The poorest believer is equal to the richest. God’s plan of salvation is for all to enjoy.

We can also surmise from the context that Peter’s sermon was longer than what is recorded here using the phrase “and with many other words.” We don’t know what those words were, but the essential portion is recorded for us. Additionally, his use of the phrase “corrupt generation” harkens back to the Old Testament that was used to depict stubborn, rebellious, and faithless people. The crowd was part of that generation. They had witnessed the Messiah and had rejected Him. 

Verse 41

Peter’s sermon and appeal to leave a corrupt generation resulted in around 3,000 new believers who were baptized and added to the original 120 believers. That is miraculous multiplication within the church.

First Characteristics of the New Testament Church: verses 42-47.

This section could be further subdivided; verse 42 and verses 43-47.

Verse 42

Not only does this show how the new converts were brought into the new church, but it also is an indication of the bare minimum but still essential components of any church and is still applicable today.

  • Teaching – the faithful teaching of Scripture is a foundational aspect of any church. It is also a key component of discipleship. If we don’t know what’s in Scripture, how are we supposed to follow Jesus?
  • Fellowship – the basic meaning of the Greek word used here is “association, communion, fellowship, and close relationship.” In secular Greek, it could also denote the sharing of goods. From the context within this passage, it is clear this was intended for the early believers.
  • Breaking of bread – the primary meaning is participating in communion. It could also mean sharing a normal meal together, reminiscent of a pot-luck dinner. Everybody contributed as they could, and everybody enjoyed it together.
  • Prayers – there is no doubt that prayer was a key component of the early church. This could have involved keeping the formal prayer hours of Judaism, but most likely was an indicator of a vibrant personal and corporate prayer life among the believers.

Verses 43-47

Points to note from this section.

  • The Apostles were performing miracles (signs and wonders).
    • The people displayed reverent fear because of the miracles that they witnessed.
    • The word “everyone” indicates that even non-believers were impacted by what they witnessed.
  • The church enjoyed fellowship.
    • The Greek indicates a gathered community.
    • There was a strong sense of unity.
    • They shared with and took care of each other.
    • Shared resources were in keeping with the Old Testament ideal of community equality…no poor among them found in Deuteronomy 15:4.
  • They remained faithful to their Jewish heritage.
    • They devoted themselves to worshipping together.
    • They worshipped with a unity of purpose guided by the Holy Spirit.
    • By worshipping in the temple, they were able to present a recurring witness to the lost around them.
  • The temple may have been the place of worship, but the home was the place of fellowship.
    • Sharing a meal together.
    • A shared time of rejoicing.
    • A time of sharing burdens.
  • God responds to faithfulness.
    • The early church was blessed.
    • Their numbers grew exponentially.
    • They found favor with God and with their community.

This was a time of perfect innocence for the early church. They existed in unity, trusting each other and being truthful in their actions. They also had not yet experienced the dishonesty that would appear within the young church. Finally, opposition and persecution had not arisen.

Peter’s sermon, the first evangelistic sermon of the New Testament church, contains the following points. Each of the points is vital as we share the Gospel and should be included in our message.

  • Jesus’ life and ministry made it possible for Him to be our Savior (verse 22). It demonstrated that He was not a mere man; He was God’s answer to the issue of sin.
  • His death on the cross achieved salvation (verse 23).
  • His resurrection confirmed the success of over sin and death and validated His work (verses 24-25).
  • His exaltation enabled Him to send the Holy Spirit, who makes our salvation a reality in our daily lives.
  • His present exalted state confirms His Lordship and Messianic title representing His reign. During this period, He will defeat all rebellion to God (verses 34-36).
  • His second coming will complete His work (implied in verse 35).
  • In light of who Jesus is and what He has done, our salvation depends entirely on Him (verses 36, 38). Our receiving salvation requires us to admit our need through repentance and submitting to Jesus as Savior and Lord. This results in us receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized in His name (verse 38).

Applications

  • Do we let the Holy Spirit lead and direct us, or do we work blindly in our flesh?
  • When we share the Gospel, do we include the elements that Peter used? Look back at the section covering this and craft your witness around this structure. 
  • When possible, let Scripture speak for Scripture. God’s Word is powerful, much more powerful than any message we could ever craft. 
  • Do our churches and small groups incorporate the elements listed in Acts 2:42? If they don’t, they should. If they won’t, find new ones.
  • We should be generous when fellow brothers and sisters have genuine needs. If we trust God, He will take care of us when our needs arise.