Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Acts 3 and 4

We tend to focus on Acts 1 and 2 when we are learning about the early church, but have you read chapters 3 and 4? They will blow your mind. Clearly I have read these before, since there are several passages underlined, but I wonder if I have ever read the whole story together before. You should read it for yourself before you go on to my commentary.

Peter and John are going to the temple, this is not that remarkable an act in itself, it was a normal practice of Jewish people and the early believers as well. So they were just following their normal routine when they are stopped by this man who is crippled. It says he is put in this place every day. Suddenly I read this short little story as I would a letter or e-mail from PLC. This is a real person, with a heartbreaking story of captivity to his physical brokenness.

When he asks them for money, which he is accustomed to doing, this is his only way to live, They reply that they have none. This is easily skipped over when I have heard it before, but when you reach the end of chapter 4 you will see that there is so much more to this statement than meets the eye. Instead they give him something better. Can you imagine, if you got a letter in the mail about a child dying of heart disease, the pain tearing their family apart, and you were able to give them something better than money?

Peter heals the man and he goes walking around, people are naturally astonished, and Peter responds to them, "It is Jesus' name, and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him." Some times we try to make things so complicated, but all of the power is in knowing Jesus. Peter goes on to share a powerful gospel message with the people who are gathered around, and the scripture says that, in spite of guards coming in to bring Peter and John before the religious officials, many believed- probably several hundred since in addition to the 3,000 from Pentecost, and those who the Lord had been adding to their number daily the total is now counted at 5,000.

When Peter and John appear before the Sanhedrin, and are questioned about their behavior, they are given words by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised in Luke 12:11-12. Thank goodness. Annas and Caiaphas are sitting right before them. These men crucified Jesus probably less than 2 months ago. Can you imagine what they would have said if they had prepared something on their own? Probably not something very spiritual and uplifting. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter again shares the gospel, very simply. The Sanhedrin are appalled that after killing Jesus to keep themselves safe from Roman suspicion of rebellion, people are still calling attention to his name. They threaten John and Peter, but are not sure what to do because so many people are excited about the miracle which they have seen.

This is the part I have never noticed before, even though I have a few verses in it underlined. Although we are given insight into the thinking of the Sanhedrin and their bewilderment, Peter and John clearly did not see their threats as empty, in light of the persecution that follows shortly, neither should we. They go back to the other believers very aware that, although they know that God has given them a word to share, the threat is very great if they do so. So they pray.

Their prayer goes something like this:

Lord, you are all powerful, you made everything, and you control it all, you even knew that this would happen. So why does everyone still plot against you? It seems like every earthly ruler has taken a stand against the name of Jesus, all that we stand for.

As a matter of fact they just killed him, and you allowed them to do it.

So, Father, consider all of the things against us now, all of the threat that we face. We don't pray that you remove these dangers, Lord, but that you give us boldness to act in spite of them and continue to reach out and heal people in ways that cannot be denied.

And he did, and they did. They were again filled with the Holy Spirit, just as they had been a few days before at Pentecost (so this is not a one time thing, the church is to pray for and receive this filling over and over), and they went out and spoke the words he had given them boldly- in the face of every kind of threat and opposition.

Is this not where we are today? We can gather in our churches and live a life that looks close enough to following Jesus, but is not offensive to anyone. Everyone will like us, and we can all be happy. But the truth is that Jesus, the truth about him and all that his life means, is a stumbling block. If we place the truth before people they will fall, either in submission or defeat. If we live as Jesus truly called us to live, people around us will be offended in one way or another. If we truly follow Christ we are surrounded by threat.

Will we ask the Holy Spirit for the boldness to live the word that God has given us in the face of all that is in opposition to his truth?

I think the next bit is there just to show how radically opposite they were to those around them, how much their obedience was likely to draw attention all on it's own. It says, "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."..."There were no needy persons among them." In a culture, that just like our own, revolved around an economy of want and consumption, where the money was the god, Peter truly had no silver or gold. I think a lot of time we pass over verse 3:6, because it is not uncommon for us not to have any cash on our person, or even to "be low on funds". But this is not a day of checking accounts and debit cards. If Peter had no silver or gold, he really had no financial possessions. It was all given to the collective body. They met a man who's only hope was money to spend, and gave him instead a father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, actually on every hill. Today as our financial burden seems impossible to bear, and resentfully it seems that is sometimes all we ever have to think about, this means everything.

This is another way in which God both made the believers so offensive to the culture around them, and simultaneously made them immune to it. They had nothing to lose.

I always end up with no words to explain. Just read it for yourself and see the power of knowing (the name) Jesus, and the Kingdom that is born in the hearts of those who believe.

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