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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART ELEVEN

SERMON DELIVERED ON 04-28-18

       Last time we took an in-depth look at the healing of the man crippled from birth as recorded in Acts three.  We saw how this was a sign to show the people and the religious leaders that the man Jesus whom they had crucified was indeed resurrected and that in his name the cripple was healed.  We discussed how the various miracles performed by Jesus were seen as signs confirming He was who He said He was. We discussed the seven miraculous signs recorded in the Gospel of John.  Now in Acts, we see it was necessary for such signs to continue after the resurrection of Jesus in order to confirm He was indeed resurrected.  

       The religious leaders had told the people that the body of Jesus had been stolen and not resurrected as claimed by His followers.  The healing of the cripple in the name of Jesus got the attention of the people and because of this miracle many came to believe Jesus had indeed been resurrected and was alive in the heavenly realm.  It’s recorded that “the number of men grew to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4) as a result of this miracle.

       The religious leaders were furious about this but could do little because the healed cripple was standing before them totally healed.  After having jailed Peter and John, the religious leaders brought them before the Sanhedrin the next day and inquired of them how they were able to perform this miracle.  As covered last time, Peter minced no words in telling them it was through the power of the resurrected Christ this cripple was healed and that salvation is in no other than Jesus.  In other words, this miracle provided the opportunity for Peter to preach the gospel to the religious leaders. 

       It is recorded that when the religious leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  I conclude last time with a discussion of what is meant by “unschooled, ordinary men” and showed this is best understood as they having no formal rabbinic training and not that they were illiterate and uneducated.    

       Let’s now pick up where we left off in Acts 4.  As discussed last time, the religious leaders didn’t quite know what to with Peter and John because it is recorded all the people were praising God because of this miracle. After hearing from them how the cripple was healed, they had Peter and John leave the room and debated among themselves what to do. 

       Acts 4:16-18:  "What are we going to do with these men?" they asked. "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name." Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

       Really?  Did they really think that warning them not to speak in the name of Jesus was going to prevent them from doing so?  The Sanhedrin was a powerful religious ruling body.  They were greatly feared by the people. They exercised a great deal of influence and virtually determined what and how the people were to think about their religious beliefs and their behavior as Jews.  They may have been pompous enough to believe that their warnings would be taken seriously by Peter and John.  Well, Peter quickly put any such expectations to rest.

       Acts 4:18-20: Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

       You will recall from Acts 1:8, that before His ascension to the Father, Jesus had told His disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and they would give witness to the Gospel message in Jerusalem all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

       In Mark 16:15-18, just before His ascension, Jesus is seen as instructing the eleven to go into all the world and preach the good news and that signs would accompany those who believe in that they will cast out demons, speak in new tongues, will pick up snakes and not be harmed, drink deadly poison and not be hurt and place their hands on sick people and facilitate their healing.

       Mark 16:15-18: He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

       While Mark 16:9-23 is not found in the oldest extant Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and is a much disputed passage among NT scholars, it must be noted that if this narrative reflects oral tradition or lost written material that came to be incorporated in later manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, it provides an additional account of what Jesus had instructed His disciples to do after His ascension.      

       It’s to be noted that what is instructed is noteworthy for several reasons. Jesus speaks in terms of what signs will follow them that believe.  The Greek word rendered “signs” is seemion and has the basic meaning of “a distinguishing mark by which something is known.” The implication is that believers would be known as followers of Jesus by what they were observed as doing.  It is also instructive that not only the eleven He was addressing at the time would demonstrate these signs but those who believe.   

       In is interesting that the signs Jesus is quoted as speaking of are all events the NT records as happening among the believers. We see demons being driven out by several of the Apostles.  We see tongues spoken at Pentecost and in the Corinthian Church as we covered earlier in this series.  Acts 28 records a snake attached itself to Paul’s hand but did not hurt him.  And we see many healings occurring. 

       These were all signs to follow those who believed and the purpose was to give witness to Jesus being alive and working through his servants to facilitate the signs that were seen.  Having performed this great sign of healing a man crippled from birth, the religious leaders were between the rock and the hard place.  They couldn’t deny what just happed as the healed cripple was standing before them.  All they could do was try to intimidate Peter and John and let them go.

       Acts 4:21-22: After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.   For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

       After being released Peter and John returned to share with other believers all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  Upon hearing this, the believers offered a heartfelt prayer to God.  They asked God to consider their threats and to enable them to speak the word with great boldness.  They asked God to stretch out His hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.

       It is recorded that after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  It is recorded that with great power the Apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

       It is further recorded that all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the Apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

        Some have looked at this and determined the early Christians were practicing communal living were nobody owned anything and everything was held in common.  However, this is not what the Scriptures are saying.

       Acts 4:32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

       Acts 4:34-35: There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

        The general context here is that of meeting the needs of those who had needs and doing all possible to insure that everyone is being looked after. Communal living is not what this is revealing.  There is nothing anywhere in the NT to suggest that the developing Christian Church was living as a commune.  There were already thousands of converts to Christianity scattered throughout the region and no indication they were all living together.  There is nothing here to suggest that there was some king of mandate to give up everything you owned. This is clearly demonstrated by what happened next.

       Acts 5:1-5: Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.

       Note that these two sold a piece of property.  The indication is they had more property but decided to sell a piece of it.  They apparently brought only some of the money from the sale to Peter while apparently telling Peter this was the full price of the piece of property.  Peter clearly says that the money was theirs to do with as they pleased which indicates there was no mandate that Christians had to give all they had to a common fund. 

       The sin here was not that these two didn’t give the entire price of the property to Peter but that they made it look as though they did.  They were trying to look good in front of Peter and the other Christians and were caught in their lie. When Peter points this out, the mental shock was so great it caused the death of Ananias and a little later His wife Sapphira who also lied about the price of the property.  

       The great lesson to be learned here is to not try to deceive others into thinking you are something you are not.  This unfortunately is a common behavior among us humans and something we need to always guard against. 

       It is recorded that great fear fell upon the whole Church and all those who learned of this event. I bet it did. Can you picture yourself standing there taking all this in.  I am sure I would feel fearful and become very careful as to my own behavior. Maybe a little of this kind of thing would be useful today to wake people out of their acceptance of lying as a normal and acceptable behavior.  Maybe we need a few politicians drop dead in their tracts when confronted with clear evidence they have lied to the American people.

       It is recorded in Acts 5:12-16 that subsequent to this event the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. The result was that more and more men and women came to believe in the teaching of the Apostles and were consequently added to the Church.  It’s recorded that the power manifested in Peter was so great that people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  

       While it is not recorded whether these folks who had Peter’s shadow fall on them were healed, the assumption must be that they were.  Acts 5:16, records that people came from towns all around Jerusalem, bringing their sick with them and those tormented by evil spirits.  It’s recorded that all of them were healed.  These were indeed some pretty heady times for the developing Christian community.

       There is one statement in this segment of Scripture that appears a little puzzling

       Acts 5:12-13: The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.

       Once again we see the phrase “miraculous signs” use to describe what it was the Apostles were doing.  Again we have here the Greek word seemion which means: “a distinguishing mark by which something is known.”  The Apostles were clearly making it known that the man Jesus who had been put to death was alive and well and it was through His name these signs were taking place. 

        The believers congregated at the temple where they would have been in full view of the religious leaders.  But what does it mean to say, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.”

       The best explanation appears to be that those who were non-believers or who had not yet become believers were afraid to be seen as directly associating with the believers because of their fear it could cost them religiously.  Remember, the Jewish religious authority had great power over the people.  The average Jew was very fearful of the religious leadership. 

       We see recorded in John that many leaders among the Jews came to believe in Jesus but because of the Pharisees, who we know by and large rejected Jesus, these leaders were afraid to confess their faith.

       John 12:42-43: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. 

       The lesson for us here is that we need to be bold in standing up for what we have come to understand about Christ and His teachings and not succumb to the pressures of the society we live in or to compromise the standards of behavior we have come to believe are God given.

       As we all know, there is currently great pressure being put on the Christian community to accept certain modes of behavior that where once considered scripturally taboo but are now being widely accepted even by many Christians.  Well guess what, these modes of behavior are still scripturally taboo.  The only question for us is do we surrender God’s standards to political correctness or do we stand firm on the standards revealed in Scripture.  This is all something we have to personally determine. 

        Getting back to Acts, it is apparent that what the Apostles, especially Peter, were doing was having quite an impact. Thousands were coming to believe in the raisin Christ and to change their lives accordingly.  Believing in the raisin Christ meant believing what He taught and what the Apostles were teaching about what He taught. 

       Believing in Jesus meant believing He was indeed the promised Messiah to Israel.  Believing in Jesus meant acknowledging Him as Lord over their lives. Believing in Jesus meant a reevaluation of the Old Covenant religious system that they grew up in and was still an integral part of their lives. While it would be some time before they would remove themselves from Old Covenant practices, they now had added Jesus and His teachings to the mix.  This obviously did not set well with the religious leaders.

       Acts 5:17-18: Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.

       As discussed in the last sermon in this series, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection.  They were extremely upset with Peter and John for teaching the resurrection of Jesus.  It is to be noted that the Sadducees were the religious sect responsible for the facilitation of the sacrificial system at the temple and about everything else that went on at the temple.  The High Priest was a Sadducee. 

       As we saw earlier, the believers were meeting daily at the temple grounds.  This is where the Apostles were teaching the people.  This is where miraculous signs were taking place.  This is where people were being taught that it is through the shed blood of Jesus salvation is obtained and not through the shed blood of animals.  All this was happening right under the nose of the Sadducees who were always at the Temple doing what they did.  This was all happening in the virtual wheelhouse of the religious leaders.

       They were outraged.  They became very jealous.  Here were these upstart followers of a man they believed was resurrected from the dead preaching a new doctrine and performing miracles to back up what they were saying.  So the religious leaders felt they had no choice but to arrest the Apostles.  You see the level of authority they had.  They had the power to arrest and put people in jail.  They had the power and authority to kill people.  We will see this in the stoning of Stephen later in this series.

       The Romans pretty much let the Jews self govern themselves and the governing authority was the religious leadership. They weren’t allowed to crucify anyone.   Only the Romans had authority to do that.  That is why they needed the Romans to become involved with the trial of Jesus because they wanted Jesus crucified. 

       But short of crucifying someone, they could do pretty much what they wanted to do.  And what they wanted to do was shut down the Apostles and put an end to what was becoming for them an alarming situation.  Well, we known what happened next.

       During the night an angel opened the doors of the jail and brought the apostles out.  The angel instructed them to go and stand in the temple courts and preach the Gospel.  Well they did exactly that.  At daybreak they entered the temple courts, and began to teach the people.  In the meantime, apparently unaware of the Apostles teaching the people, the high priest and his associates arrived at a different area of the Temple and called together the Sanhedrin including the full assembly of the elders of Israel.  They then sent officers to the jail to bring the Apostles.

       When the officers arrived, they of course did not find them there even though the jail was securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors. On reporting this to the Sanhedrin, they didn’t know what to make of this. Then someone reported to them that the Apostles were standing in the temple courts teaching the people.  This must have been rather shocking.  How could this be?  Now they had another problem.  How can they bring the Apostles before them without causing a riot?  They knew the people were responding positively to the Apostles message. So they sent a contingent of officers and brought the apostles before them. It is recorded they didn’t use force because they feared they would be stoned by the people.  So even though they had authority and power over the people, they also were politically astute enough to recognize when enough was enough.

       This tells us how serious of a situation this had become for the religious leaders. They saw themselves as being on shaky ground as to this matter and they were trying to be politically correct as to how they handled things so that they wouldn’t make a bad situation even worse.  It is apparent the Apostles did not resist being brought before the ruling council.  I bet they were looking forward to it as they would have another opportunity to be a witness to the Christ event.

       Acts 5:27-28: Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."

       Of course they were guilty of the crime they had committed in having Jesus put to death and they knew they were guilty.  But their mindset was that they had done the right thing in putting to death someone they considered a fraud, someone they considered a disruption to the status quo and a threat to their positions of power and authority.  Now they found themselves facing the same situation. The Apostles were challenging their authority by refusing to submit to their orders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. 

       Acts 5:29-32: Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

       So here we have what appears to be a composite of how the Apostles responded. I am sure they probably said a great deal more. We are not told how many Apostles were present or who they were other than Peter.  But we see they responded with great boldness and fearlessness before the religious leaders who they new held great power over the people.  They also knew that they had power as well. They had been performing miraculous signs of healing.  They knew God was with them and that the Spirit of God was empowering them. 

       They also knew they held a power card of their own, the people to whom they had been preaching.  Remember how cautious the religious leadership was in bringing them in to be questioned by the High Priest.  The religious leadership was well aware they had a budding movement that they were confronted with and that there already had been somewhat of a power shift.  Multiple thousands had already become followers of Christ and the Apostles who were standing before them. The religious leadership knew they had to be careful how they treated the Apostles and I am sure the Apostles were well aware of this and knew they had a great deal of support from Jewish converts to Christianity. 

       However, the religious leaders were so beside themselves over this matter that they wanted the Apostles put to death.  They were ready to have them stoned even though they must have realized such action on their part would have cause an uprising which would have invited Roman intervention which the Jews would rather avoid. So their reaction can be seen as a strongly emotional one but possibly lacking teeth.

       Acts 5:33-34: When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.

PART TWELVE