November 7, 2015.
Daily Reading: Acts 5-6.
Background: Acts 1-4.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Lying to God: At the beginning of this chapter, Luke tells a story that was sure to have set a precedent of truthfulness in the early church, teaching the disciples a lesson in pride, attention and lying. We too can learn from the story of Ananias and Sapphira. As we saw in the previous chapter, many of the early disciples were selling some possessions, such as their fields, and bringing the proceeds to the apostles so that they could distribute them among the disciples that were in need. Perhaps most notably was Barnabas, who was given this name because he was a great encourager. Ananias and Sapphira saw the notoriety that these people were getting for selling their lands, and it seemed that they wanted in on this notoriety. So they sold a piece of property like the others and brought the money to the apostles feet. The problem was, however, they had agreed beforehand to keep back a part of the price. Note here that their sin as no holding back part of the price, for Peter tells them that after they sold the land, the money was at their disposal. Their sin was lying about the amount of money that they had sold the land for, attempting to get the notoriety of bringing the money, but also profiting from the land themselves. It is important to point out that Peter tells them that they had not lied to man, but to God. Ultimately, all sin is sin against God. Yes, their lie had been to the apostles and those who saw, but it was not the apostles that they had to answer to for ultimate transgression. Thus the judgment of God in this situation was death. Both Ananias and Sapphira came in separately, told the same lie and received the same punishment. And fear came upon the whole church. Thankfully, it is not necessary for God to make a statement like this often, for we can see the results and be warned of the ultimate judgment that willing transgression will bring.
2. Signs, boldness and the power of God: After the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, the apostles continued to do many signs and wonders though the Spirit, speaking boldly in the name of Jesus. More and more people were coming to Christ and multitudes of sick and demon possessed people were being brought before the apostles to be healed. Note portion of Spirit that Peter was given, that people could be healed even by his passing shadow. But all this attention certainly wouldn’t go unnoticed by the Jewish leaders, and they were filled with jealousy and rage for the apostles. They arrested them and put them in prison, but the Lord opened the prison doors and told them to go right back to the place they were and continue preaching. This miracle did not even phase the Jewish leaders, for when they found them again speaking in the temple even though the prison was locked and the guards were still alert, they brought them again into custody (though gently for fear of the people) to question them. It would seem that they were not willing to see the signs of God. But note the boldness of Peter here, especially compared to his character before the resurrection, as when he is questioned, he tells them that the apostles must obey God rather than man. He then preaches to them Jesus, and calls them out for hanging Him on a tree! Naturally, this enraged the council, but there is an interesting turn of events for the apostles here. Gamaliel, a very prominent Jewish teacher (perhaps the top teacher of his time, at whose feet the apostle Paul learned from before he became a believer, see Acts 22:3), stands up and reasons with the council. He puts faith in God that if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then this following would soon die out just as those before had done, coming to nothing. However, if Jesus was from God, then the Jewish leaders here would be found going against the will of God! This is very interesting coming from a Pharisee, which would seem to indicate that he was not as blind to what was going on as the other Jewish leaders, which should be commended. The council takes his advice, beats the apostles, charging them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and releases them. Note here the apostles rejoicing in the situation! They were just happy they had been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. They continued teaching in the midst of persecution, never ceasing. May we learn from their great example.
Problem resolution and the preaching of Stephen: As the apostles continued to preach the word with boldness, Luke records here what would seem to be one of the first problems that arose in the early church and how they solved it. A complaint came from the Hellenists, which were Greek speaking Jews, that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Perhaps this is the first instance of a possible division in the church over different cultural groups. It would seem that this was not a purposeful neglecting (due to the resolution). When the apostles were called to address this issue, they called the full number of disciples together and told them to pick seven men, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to appoint to this service, so that the problem would be resolved and the apostles wouldn’t have to neglect their own ministry of preaching and teaching the gospel. It should be noted here that we all have different roles to serve in the kingdom, each important that we might work together to make a whole. This saying pleased the whole congregation and seven men were chosen, Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmesan and Nicolaus. The apostles laid their hands on them and prayed, and the spread of the gospel continue to increase, even gaining many of the priests to the faith. Stephen, one of the seven that were chosen above, did great wonders and signs, teaching with boldness and wisdom, so much so that those who opposed him could not withstand the wisdom and Spirit with with he taught. Thus, they had to raise false witnesses against him to lie about the things he said, which would culminate in his sermon and stoning in the next chapter. However, the Lord was with Stephen throughout this process, as is seen here as his face shown like the face of an angel in the presence of his opposers. May we have the boldness of Stephen.
Tomorrow’s Reading: James 4-5.
Be bold in the Lord.