Acts 6:8 - 7:60 : Stephen's Story

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel. 

The high priest said, “Are these things so?”
And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in [a]Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in [b]Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would [c]be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and [d]serve Me in this place.’ And He gave him [e]the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.
11 “Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers [f]could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph [g]made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five [h]persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16 From there they were removed to [i]Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of [j]Hamor in [k]Shechem.
17 “But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18 until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would [l]expose their infants and they would not survive. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely [m]in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. 21 And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter [n]took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. 23 But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his [o]mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25 And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them [p]deliverance [q]through him, but they did not understand. 26 On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28 You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ 29 At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of [r]Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33 But the Lord said to him,Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; [s]come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God [t]sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the [u]help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and [v]signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet [w]like me from your brethren.’ 38 This is the one who was in the [x]congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39 Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egyptwe do not know what happened to him.’ 41 [y]At that time they made a [z]calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and delivered them up to [aa]serve the [ab]host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? 43 You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god [ac]Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with [ad]Joshua upon dispossessing the [ae]nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the [af]God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:
49 Heaven is My throne,
And earth is the footstool of My feet;
What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord,
Or what place is there for My repose?
50 Was it not My hand which made all these things?’
51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he [ag]fell asleep.


***

An incredible story. I had to include it in full on this blog for today simply because there was nothing that could be left out; we had to read the whole story in all its detail.

At the very outset, I have to mention something that might not have been picked up, but it most definitely is something that I am wrestling with. I need to point out that Stephen is not doing what the Apostles set out for him to do. I find this fascinating. 

Never in a million years am I suggesting that Stephen is being disobedient, and yet I do still feel the need to point this out for one specific reason: What one would think as the 'main ministry' of another, often can squelch the persons' potential. The text that we looked at previously had nothing at all to suggest that the Apostles were uncaring or unkind in their approval of Stephen who they believed was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (6:5). They clearly delegated Stephen to a very specific task, but he, clearly, was filled with the Spirit, to do another. 

Please note that the very thing that the Apostles didn't want to neglect was the very thing that Stephen clearly had a gift in - teaching and preaching the Word. If we would ever want a good, solid lesson on the link between the Old & New Testaments, we would have to look no further than this text today. So what do we do with this text?

I could very easily go down the dangerous road of 'what ifs' and say that because of Stephen's disobedience, he was the first martyr - if only he did was he was 'commissioned' to do, he would have not been put in this situation and the Church would not have, in its history, the first martyr by the name of Stephen (because of his disobedience). But I cannot agree with my line of thinking, simply because it is very clear to me that the Spirit was very much a part of what Stephen was doing; he was leaning very heavily on His leading (see vs. 8). So what do we do with this text? Is God the kind of God who leads people to disobey a clear calling set out by the Apostles? Stephen, in his new position, clearly had other responsibilities that the Apostles didn't even know about. Can we say that they made a mistake in praying for him and laying their hands on him?

It remains to be seen at this point exactly the outcome of Stephen's martyr, but I know enough of Scripture to know that the LORD often uses circumstances that we would see as pointless to shine His glory into the situation. This concept is all through Scripture - God restoring, rebuilding, reviving through uncommon means. 

Here we have the first martyr recorded in Scripture effectively through the ministry of the Apostles. Let us continue to trust in the LORD as we read through the Acts of the Apostles. Though the death of Stephen may look to our eyes as senseless, it is clear that the LORD is at work.

Acts 6:1-7 : Don't Overlook the Widows

Now [a]at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the [b]Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the [c]congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the [d]ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole [e]congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and [f]Nicolas, a [g]proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

***

There's going to be conflict. I can guarantee it. The question is, what do we do with it? What I read very clearly in this text for us today is that there was conflict, yet people clearly knew what the conflict was because they chose to talk about it and desired to solve it together.

It was a simple complaint, really - not too complicated. It was a valid complaint too. The widows were being overlooked. This is a very touching part of this early Church. They cared for widows and they didn't want them to be overlooked. What they saw was that the widows were not being given their share of food. To put it bluntly, they were starving because people were forgetting about them. And so the Apostles stepped in. But how did they solve it? Their statements fly in the face of our 'cultured churches' today.

So many leaders and members alike see a problem and attempt to solve it themselves. The essence of this problem is that we simply cannot do everything. It's impossible. Far too many leaders in ministry are getting burnt out because they either don't know how to delegate (and leave the responsibility effectively) to others or don't know how to communicate clearly what their responsibilities are to others (and what they are not). A wise man knows both what he can and can't do and who are present that can fulfill what he cannot accomplish on his own. 

In this passage of Scripture, it is very clear to me that these apostles were not explaining that this complaint meant nothing by 'passing it off' but their reasoning to delegate we should all take notice of and exemplify. They clearly said that they did not have the time to devote to this need (again, not communicating it wasn't an important need) because they did not want to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables (vs. 2). And so they passed off the responsibility to others. And the Church grew (see vs. 7).

The Apostles clearly had their hand in what qualifications should be present in these 'servants' and clearly communicated this - they said, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task (vs. 3). Yet note that this was in 'command form' - [you] select from among you - as if to say, we want you to take charge of this decision. No where do I see in these qualifications a 'passing off' as if this concern was not valid or unimportant. These are high qualifications. Clearly the Apostles saw this as important and needed men of good report to fulfill this task. And so they were appointed and the church grew.

There are a lot of good lessons here. We see in this text a very wise response from the Apostles. Note they didn't try to over-extend themselves but saw the value of this concern and met both their own needs as well as the peoples'. And as a result, the widows were not overlooked. Everyone remained happy and content because of this wisdom. A great example for us today as how we solve our emminent conflict.

Acts 5:17-42 : Acts of a Houdini

But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and [i]speak to the people in the temple [j]the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the [k]Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what [l]would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them [m]before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and [n]yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, [o]whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a [p]cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted [q]to His right hand as a [r]Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses [s]of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

33 But when they heard this, they were cut [t]to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. [u]But he was killed, and all who [v]followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who [w]followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or [x]action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
40 They [y]took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to [z]speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the [aa]Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and [ab]from house to house, they [ac]kept right on teaching and [ad]preaching Jesus as the [ae]Christ.

***

I sincerely hope you see by now that the Acts of the Apostles are a great example to us of a 'walk of faith'. We have seen this phrase countless times already - these apostles being 'witnesses of His resurrection' (see vs. 32) - and it is through this witness that they have the boldness of faith that they live in. Because they have been eye-witnesses of Jesus' resurrection and now have been confirmed by the Holy Spirit, they go in obedience, proclaiming this truth without worrying even of their own welfare.

They explain to the rulers that they must obey God rather than men (see vs. 29) and through this obedience, they are thrown into prison. Yet, as we will find out in a few verses, it is impossible to hold down the Truth of Jesus Christ. As I described in the blog-post title, these apostles become Houdini's - escaping with nothing to show for how they did it. Yet I assure you that this is no trick. We clearly read that the apostles were able to escape with the help of an angel and were found at daybreak preaching in the temple. An amazing escape. An amazing God.

The leaders gather together thinking all is well, and find out very quickly that the rug has been whipped out from under them. And in steps Gamaliel. He describes a concept that I believe we would all do well to sit up and take notice of. It is clear to me that this man is full of wisdom. It is not clear whether he actually is a believer in the risen Christ, but his words certainly help us to understand a very real truth about the Gospel: If it truly is the Gospel that is spreading, you cannot stop it. God's saving message is too powerful, too good, too glorious, too irresistible for any power, any throne, any authority to thwart it. Even the power of darkness is no match for it (see Matt. 16:18). And yet, there is still suffering.

Please note that even though the apostles have been set free from the bondage of a prison and now from the rulers of their day, they are not free from suffering. It is my belief that the climax of this story is in verses 41and following:

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

I cannot begin to tell you the implications of this as I believe that I am at the very beginning of this lesson in my own life. Yet I can tell you that these words are real. These words, breathed from the Holy Spirit into our souls, bring life. Suffering for His Name is a privilege. I cannot explain it nor would I even desire it, but the truth is, two themes in the Acts of the Apostles are very clearly presented to us: they were witnesses of Jesus resurrection and were target of suffering. We hold these two in separate hands and wonder how they fit together in the grand scheme of our lives that the LORD is painting for us. Yet all the answers will not be revealed until we are met face to face with our Saviour.

And yet, I am one that believes that in His presence, our answers will no longer be required. And that is what I long for. These Apostles clearly believed and lived out their belief in a daring way, even at their own physical expense. They rejoiced and considered themselves worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Incredible. Are we willing to do the same?

Acts 5:12-16 : The Ministry of Healing

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the [g]people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick [h]or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

***

This was an incredible time in the lives of these new believers. No where else do we see such outflow of the Spirit in peoples' lives. The power of healing was so evident, people superstitiously placed their sick out in the streets for Peter's shadow to be cast over them to be healed. And they were all healed (vs. 16).

The question we must ask ourselves today is whether this was a special occurrence or can this same ministry be present in our fellowships today. Wiersbe explains,

"One of the qualifications for an apostle was that he had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1), and, since nobody can claim that experience today, there are no apostles in the church. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20), and the pastors, teachers, and evangelists are building on it. If there are no apostles, there can be no “signs of an apostle” as are found in the book of Acts (2 Cor. 12:12). This certainly does not mean that God is limited and can no longer perform miracles for His people! But it does mean that the need for confirming miracles has passed away."

This is an important distinction. The time in which these miracles were taking place was clearly a special season in the history of the Church, but I do believe Wiersbe is correct. The time for 'confirming miracles' has passed away because we now have the written Word of God. It does thrust me into the knowledge of the Truth that is found there. Yet I am caught with my own belief of the Word and am forced to ask myself, 'Is the Word of God that powerful to me that I would take it over a healing?' Wiersbe says yes. 

We have all we need for growth as Christ-followers today. As Jesus said to Peter while on the waves, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?' (Matt. 14:31), we can be given the same question by our Saviour today. Jesus saw a budding faith in the person of Peter and fanned it into a raging fire and the ministry that we have the privilege of reading about today fans our faith into a flame as well.

The question remains, is the Word of God enough for us? Can we stake our lives on it? Is there hope in our despairing situations because we can cling to its truths?  

May these words bring much hope to our souls - the LORD was, is and forever will be, our Great Master and LORD who is drawing many to Himself. We are a privileged people to have the Word of God in our hands. May we read it with expectation and rejoicing.

Acts 4:36-5:11 - The Danger of Lying to God

Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of [ab]Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s [a]full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not [b]under your control? Why is it that you have [c]conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land [d]for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, [e]that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

***

Wiersbe writes in his New Testament Commentary:

"Do we really mean everything we pray about in public? Do we sing the hymns and gospel songs sincerely or routinely? If God killed “religious deceivers” today, how many church members would be left?" 

These questions pack a punch, don't they? All of a sudden, the realities of deception come very close to home and all we are left with is feelings of doubt and guilt. But may these feelings bring us to repentance!

Note the contrast between Barnabas and Ananias & Sapphira. Both freely offered but one did it for the LORD's glory and the other for selfish gain. Barnabas' story is written so simply - he owned a tract of land, sold it, brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. No lies, no deception. He simply laid the money at the apostles' feet - all the money - and desired them to do with it as they wished, for the LORD's glory. Notice the focus of his gift. He gave freely and released it freely. Not Ananias & Sapphira. This couple clearly had a mind to cheat people and to lust for recognition. To say it was one person's idea would be false. Luke clearly describes for us that Ananias' wife clearly understood what they were doing and agreed (see vs. 2). 

We need to keep in mind that this drastic action was not because of their gift or even what they gave, but because they desired recognition and, in that desire, lied to the Holy Spirit. Again, note the contrast with Barnabas. He desired no recognition. He needed no praise. He simply gave freely for the LORD's work. And yet, isn't it always the way that there is one in the crowd that desires the same praise, the same lime-light, so in steps Ananias & Sapphira.

Wiersbe explains, "They were not required to sell the property, and, having sold it, they were not required to give any of the money to the church (Acts 5:4). Their lust for recognition conceived sin in their hearts (Acts 5:4, 9), and that sin eventually produced death (James 1:15)"

This is a powerful picture for us of how essential it is to watch our motivations - not just when we give (though this is paramount) but in all that we do. Stealing 'the lime-light' from God does not go unpunished. It is clear to me that this explanation Luke describes for us is a warning to each of us. As the people were overcome with great fear (vs. 11), we would do well to react the same, with a healthy fear, believing that to give should not be for dishonest gain, but for the LORD's glory.

Acts 4:32-35 : Powerful Testimony

And the [y]congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them [z]claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the [aa]proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

***

Here we have yet another synopsis by Luke. The first synopsis, similar to this one, is found in Acts 2:43-47, yet there is a special emphasis that doesn't appear in the first synopsis by Luke. This time, Luke clearly wanted to demonstrate that there is a powerful testimony of Jesus' resurrection.

Comparing the two synopses, the first clearly communicates the people were in awe of the signs that were taking place in their midst. As a result of this awe, they celebrated their unity and freely gave to those in need. Luke writes for us that they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (2:45). Luke also summarizes for us that they met continually from house to house, breaking break and sharing together with sincerity of heart (vs. 46). This is an incredible moment in time where the Spirit of the the LORD was very present!

This passage we are looking at today helps us see a greater picture of exactly what was happening. As a diamond is turned to reflect a greater beauty, Luke turns this beautiful picture of unity for us to reveal a greater beauty. In short, he answers for us why these people were having a sense of awe and giving freely to all who had need. The answer is the powerful testimony of the risen Christ. Note, it was the apostles who shared with the people: And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all (vs. 33)

Note where this sentence appears. Luke describes for us that the gathering congregation were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own. Then we have this statement that the apostles gave testimony of the resurrection of Jesus and, as a response, we read there was not a needy person among them. This is an incredible picture of the reaction to the resurrection of Jesus in our own lives.

How quickly do we reflect on Jesus' life within us and then, as a response, see the things that we have as no longer our own? I can honestly say I have never noticed this link to giving in Scripture before, but it is an incredible reality that we would do well to reflect on more. Because of Jesus' resurrection, we, too, can be resurrected from the earthly-bondage that we find ourselves in. Because of His life, earthly possessions are no longer things that weigh us down or give us a sense of worth or value. This is a perfect response to Jesus' teaching that we find in Matthew 6:19, 20:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So the next time you put money into the offering plate, give a cup of cold water in His Name, or sit with a person in need of love, remember that your actions are an outflow of the giving that can be offered because of the insurmountable weight of Jesus' gift of Life He gives to us through His resurrection.

Acts 4:23-31 : An Incredible Prayer

When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O [p]Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
Why did the [q]Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 The kings of the earth [r]took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His [s]Christ.’
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy [t]servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the [u]Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And [v]now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and [w]signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy [x]servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

***

It's incredible, isn't it? So early on in their ministry and Peter and John are already experiencing threats from the leaders of the day. But what is more incredible is the peoples' response.

Imagining being amongst these people, I could hear our voices 'with one accord', as we read in verse 24, but I hear us praying a different prayer. I can almost hear the echo of us, with one voice, crying out, 'O LORD, take it away...make these awful experiences flee from us! We can no longer take this opposition. Please take it away!' But that is not what we read, is it? And because that is not what we read, I think we would all do well to listen very closely for the lesson of this incredible prayer.

Note that Peter and John, after being released, made their way back to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them (vs. 23). I think this is significant on a number of levels, but the most important, in my mind, is that they desired to be with 'their own' for companionship. I think far too often in ministry, we see it as a 'lone soldier' work-place, but I have not read that model in Scripture. In fact, I have seen far too many places where we have been called to go out together (esp. Jesus' calling out the 72 - see Luke 10:1ff). And so, it is because of this, I believe Peter and John had returned to their own for comfort - and what comfort they received!

Read through this prayer again of the people and you will notice that they knew every detail of what Peter and John experienced. Not at any time could Peter and John say they didn't understand. These people clearly knew what was happening, yet notice the theme of their prayer. In verse 29, they called on the LORD to take note of their threats but, as I eluded before, they did not ask the LORD to take the threats away, as we are so prone to do; they actually prayed for a perspective shift. These Godly people prayed that in the circumstances that Peter and John found themselves in, not in spite of, but because of these threats, they asked that they would speak with more confidence! I cannot help but stop and reflect on this. They went on to pray that they believed that the LORD could continue to extend His hand to heal (the very thing that got the Apostles in trouble in the first place) in the Name of Jesus. Incredible! What was the outcome? The place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (vs. 31).

If that isn't a confirmation of the LORD's pleasure, I don't know what is.

May we dare to pray these kinds of prayers - not asking the LORD to take the difficulty away, but through them, become even more bold for the purposes of many knowing the Saviour.