Welcome to week 2 of “To Be Continued”. I have a lot to cover today, so let’s get to it!
Last week I covered the first two chapters of Acts where Jesus ascended, and then the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost. Peter gave a riveting speech and 3,000 were saved and baptized on the spot. God had launched his new church and at the end of chapter 2 we saw that this new church was devoted to four, really five things. And I’ll read that passage to you because I just love it so much.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
And that’s where we left off last week. Today we are going to cover Acts 3, 4, and 5 and you will see that the amazing display of God’s power did not stop with the impressive tongues of fire and the apostles speaking in different languages. God was doing something new and he was going to make it clearly known to all who would listen.
Let’s pick it up in Acts 3. Since I’m covering three chapters of Acts today, which is a good amount of reading, I thought I would change things up a bit and found a dramatic reading of these chapters that I’ll use for part of the message today. I also added some pictures to go with it.
So let’s listen to Acts chapter 3 together.
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.
We are not sure how long after pentecost this was. Probably pretty soon after as they are all still in Jerusalem. But Peter and John, now filled with the Holy Spirit, are walking around in the Spirit. Meaning, they have their hearts and minds “listening” for what God would have them do at any moment. And in this moment, the Spirit told them to go heal this paralyzed man.
A man who had never walked for 40 years. Had really no use of his legs, which were no doubt completely atrophied and couldn’t support his weight even if he could move them. But by the name of Jesus, his legs become as healthy as yours and mine in an instant. And not only that, but the grown man who had never taken a step is immediately able to walk, run, and leap! How did he know how to do that, or have the coordination or muscle memory. Clearly, this was an amazing display of the power of God.
Word spread quickly and a large crowd gathered.
Then, Peter, who ever since Pentecost never wasted an opportunity for a speech, begins to talk to the amazed crowd and delivers another scathing rebuke of these people who had participated in killing Jesus.
But his purpose was not to condemn them, but to convict them so they would open their hearts to the truth and be saved!
So, he tells them: Repent – change your minds. Admit your guilt and turn to God, turn to Jesus, and He will forgive you.
Chapter 4 continues the story, which I’ll read myself and show select portions on the screen. Feel free to follow along in your own bible.
1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
What a contrast of reactions.
Many of the listeners are like those on the day of Pentecost. They are cut to the heart and they repent. They change their mind and decide to believe in this Jesus after all. Now the church numbered 5,000 men (and likely equal number of women) – so maybe 10,000. And that was mostly there in Jerusalem. This is the last time we hear of a specific count, but throughout the book of Acts Luke refers to the church growing.
But at the same time that these people are finally seeing and believing that these miracles can really only mean one thing, those in power see all of this and want to put an end to it. They thought they were done with Jesus when they got him crucified a few months ago. But here are his followers preaching in his name and doing miracles they can’t deny. What are they to do?
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Notice again the boldness of Peter. Again the same man who had denied Christ three times and given up to go back to fishing. What’s the difference? He was filled with the Holy Spirit! Nothing is beyond God’s power in a willing vessel.
And again Peter is being very direct and making it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him!
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 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. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
Simply amazing! Doesn’t it boggle the mind the stubbornness and hard heartedness of these people? They cannot deny the miracle. They cannot deny the amazing change in Peter. In fact, they cannot even deny the resurrection! Notice they don’t even bother trying to refute that.
If they wanted to stop this thing, all they had to do was produce the corpse, or maybe the guards they paid to lie about the disciples stealing the body. Oh yea, remember that part? Remember that they were among the first to know about the angel coming down and rolling the stone away?
But instead of believing the clear miracle, they paid the guards to lie. So, these people actually KNEW that Jesus had risen and all this was from God, and yet they wanted nothing to do with it. How many are like that today?
Pride! It’s a killer. It says three times in Scripture that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I spoke on that on Wednesday night and posted the notes on our website if you want to read more.
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
Upon their release, Peter and John and the others do what is appropriate. They go to their God in prayer.
“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Their prayer was a prayer of praise, and honor, and admiration of God and their only request was for the strength to continue in the work he had appointed them for. Then God answered.
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Many people wonder why we don’t see these kinds of displays of power today. The truth is that we do, just generally not on the world stage. There is still miraculous healing happening, and people are still preaching the name of Jesus boldly. But we don’t see the ground being shaken after prayer or tongues of fire and people speaking known foreign languages anymore.
That’s because God was starting something new here, and this is how he made it known. Through signs and wonders. Through great displays of power, so there would be no doubt. Or at least no reasonable doubt. Clearly many would refuse to believe even if the risen Jesus smacked them in the face!
God was establishing his church, and there needed to be a clear sign that all that the apostles were doing was from him. What we have today is the witness of scripture that tells us about these amazing things. And the personal stories of the lives that Christ is still touching.
Back to Acts. This wasn’t the last recording of the power of God on display. The next thing Luke records is another impressive display of power, but this one has a different purpose than the others.
First he sets the stage.
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
This is another picture of that early church. It’s not saying that they all lived in a commune and gave up normal life. It simply says that everyone lived with open hearts and open hands. And it was all voluntary, not compulsory. Many try to use this as justification for communism or socialism, but clearly that is not what is happening here. No one is taking from the rich to give to the poor. They are all doing it of their own free will out of love for God and love for each other. And because of that, no one was in need.
Then Luke introduces Barnabas.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
So, it was a common thing for those who could to sell some property and bring the money to the apostles. They were not required to do it. And they didn’t have to give all of what they made. It was all completely voluntary. And while most were doing it for the right reasons, there were some who did not.
Acts 5 tells the story of just such a couple, let’s listen…
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 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.
3 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? 4 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 just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
No doubt people were afraid! Could you imagine if everyone in church today who pretended to be something they were not suddenly dropped dead?
I’m pretty sure we’d all be safe in here, but I would feel pretty sorry for all those other churches.
Hypocrisy! That was their sin. And God was making a bold statement in his fledgling church that hypocrisy was not to be tolerated. Or did you think it was because they didn’t give enough?
It had nothing to do with money, and everything to do with these two people trying to look spiritual and get all the accolades that came with it, but in reality it was all a BIG LIE. And what’s crazy is that if they’d just been honest in giving only part of what came it, that would have been perfectly fine! They were never under any pressure to even give anything, much less all of it. But because they wanted to look better than they were willing to actually be, they LIED.
They intentionally pretended to be something they were not. That’s hypocrisy. And Peter made it clear that hypocrisy is not just lying to people, it’s lying to God.
And God made it clear hypocrisy was not going to fly in His new church.
And while God may not execute hypocrites much anymore (or we would probably all be dead already), it doesn’t mean that He’s ok with it now. A hypocrite is someone who has missed the whole point of all of this.
A hypocrite is NOT a Christian who still struggles with sin. A hypocrite is a person who claims the name of Christ and plays the part, but in their heart rejects His Lordship over their life.
A true hypocrite is only interested in earthy treasures, and the praise of men, so they will do whatever is necessary to look the part on the outside where people can see. But God sees into the heart and all hypocrites will receive their due reward eventually.
Some may think this was a bit severe. It’s not like they killed anyone. Why would God kill them for this?
Actually a better question is why does God allow any of us to live after the first time we sin? Scripture tells us that the moment we sin we are marked for death, and that, in fact we deserve to die on the spot. But instead, God gives us mercy and grace and allows even the most sinful of us to keep on living. And why does he do that?
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God bears with us, giving us every chance to come to him. But in this case, Ananias and Sapphira picked the wrong time to try to test God. It is uncertain if they were believers or not. They were certainly among the believers, but whether they were truly saved or not is unknown to us.
Either way, with this action God was making it clear that He was still a God that judges sin. And we today should remember that too.
The story continues..
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, 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. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
Again, power like we never see today. Peter’s shadow could heal people! But it wasn’t the shadow or Peter doing it. It was the Holy Spirit saying, “Listen to these guys, they speak for GOD!” It’s no wonder that these mere men came to be nearly worshipped as gods themselves by certain parts of Christianity. But they were only men. Flesh and blood just like you and I, but they had inside of them the Spirit of God himself! The same Spirit that lives inside of you and me, and those who truly make Jesus their Lord, Master, and King!
But not only was the Holy Spirit in them, but they were willing vessels. Willing tools to be used by God at any and all times. They obeyed without hesitation, and God was able to do amazing things through them. And God can do the same with you and with me as we let the Spirit work through us. Like I said on Wednesday night, we are simply tools for God’s purpose, not our own. And the more you come to realize that and let God call the shots instead of you, you will be amazed at what God will do.
I know I am as I look out on this crowd today. I claim no credit for what this church has become over the past year other than I have said “Yes, Lord, Yes, to your will and to your way” every day (an old hymn). And He has done the rest. It can happen for you too.
Back to the story…
So, God was doing some amazing things through the Apostles, and people were being saved by the thousands…
Just as Jesus had predicted throughout his ministry, people either loved and accepted the good news with gladness, or it made them angry and defiant and even more determined to snuff it out. And that’s exactly what we see happen next.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “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.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their 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 furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 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. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged.Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courtsand from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Another fascinating public display of God’s power!
After all of the success of the apostles and how the people were converting by the hundreds over to this Jesus movement, the religious big-dogs are getting jealous that they aren’t the center of attention anymore. So, they put the apostles in jail. But God sends an angel and gets them out of the jail without the guards even noticing and sends them back into the temple to preach some more.
Pretty much God saying, “nana nan boo boo” to the chief priests as they go to get the prisoners and they are gone. The guards have no idea how it happened. Then they get the word that they are back preaching in the temple courts where they had just been arrested the day before!
But instead of believing a miracle, they just go arrest them again.
Clearly they’re not getting the hint.
When the apostles are before them, the high priest sticks out his chest and tells them to stop trying to make him look guilty (even though he knew he actually was guilty)! But instead Peter throws right back that He must obey the real God, not some pompous wind bag who thinks he’s god (my version). The high priest and his officials are so mad at this that they want to kill the apostles, but a wise old Pharisee talks some sense into them and makes a very valid point.
If all of this had been of human origin we wouldn’t be talking about it today. But instead we know it is from God because despite 2,000 years of the world trying to crush it, Jesus and the church are still alive!
And why? Because when God’s church is filled with His Spirit, there is truly no stopping us!
Just look at this first resistance. The apostles were flogged. That’s no small matter. That’s what happened to Jesus, though it’s likely less severe as they were not going to be executed. But still a painful bloody affair and instead of it stopping them, they leave the jail rejoicing! REJOICING!!
If this had been a lie, that would have stopped them right there, but it didn’t!
Why? Because they had something in them that the world could not understand or recognize. That the world could not stop. And as you will see next week, things did not get easier. But the power of God prevailed in those early days just as it can prevail today!
My friends if you look around, we are not getting whipped for our faith yet, but I believe there is a storm coming. Our nation is practically the last “Christian” nation left, and we are falling farther and farther away from God by the minute.
But the good news is that despite the world around us swirling around the drain of godlessness – our God is still on the throne! Jesus Christ is still alive! And the Holy Spirit is still at work in His church! And perhaps we too will be so fortunate as to have the privilege of suffering for his name.
But in order for that to even happen, we must do what these first followers did. We must not blend into the world so well that there is no difference between us and them. We must be SO devoted to God’s Word that even when the world tries to tell us that what it says is wrong, that we would rather be wrong in the world’s eyes and right in God’s eyes than the other way around.
We must be so devoted to fellowship and the breaking of bread, to the doing life together, so that we have brothers and sisters who will hold us up when the world is trying to knock us down.
And we must remain devoted to prayer, for our strength comes from nowhere else.
I don’t mean to be fatalistic, but Jesus made it clear that because the world hated him, then the world will also hate his true followers. Because we have the audacity to claim such a thing as one truth, one life, and one way – namely Jesus Christ.
And not the buddy Jesus that the world has tried to soften him up to be who just loves everyone and will let us all into heaven if we’re super tolerant of everyone, but the Jesus of the Bible who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The same Jesus who said there is a wide path to destruction but a narrow path to life, and few there are that find it.
The same Jesus who said that you are either with me or you are against me.
My friends, this is not a game.
It wasn’t for Ananias and Sapphira, and it’s not for us today.
What God you worship is not equivalent to your favorite color. We may all be able to CO-EXIST on this life, but we will not all CO-HABITATE in the next.
Jesus made it clear he was the only path to heaven. And Peter repeated it:
11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
My calling as your pastor is to equip you and build you up to the full knowledge and full measure of Christ,
so that we will no longer be infants, tossed about by every wind of new teaching, but we will be mature in the Lord, knowing who He really is and what He really teaches,
so that we will not be tricked by the lies of the enemy that are so clever they sound like the truth. And trust me, my friends, they are everywhere, and they are very clever – just look what he’s done to the definition of love – so many lies, and I know that many of YOU still believe some of them and don’t even realize it.
And the only way you will figure that out is by staying in the word, with the fellowship, and in prayer.
So, let us not be lazy, or indifferent, or noncommittal in our devotion to these things that the early church practiced so fervently and many even died for.
But let us be filled with the same Spirit as the first believers, and let us be just as bold in proclaiming the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!