“19) Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20) and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21) whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” Acts 3:19-21
Moses and the Promise Land Analogy: Acts 3:21-26
“21) whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22) Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23) And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24) And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25) It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26) For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”” Acts 3:21-26
It is very important that Peter’s second message was focused entirely on Jesus Christ. After looking at His public ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, Peter then boldly proclaimed that the entire Old Testament pointed to Jesus Christ and His future time of restoration of all things.
In verses 22-23, he quoted Moses promising a future prophet and restorer that was even greater than himself. Think about this, God raised up Moses to deliver His people from slavery to Egypt and lead them to the promised land. By contrast, Jesus delivered all mankind from slavery to sin, Satan and death and is leading them to a future eternal Kingdom. This is the true Promised Land for the future redemption of all mankind.
Then Peter included all the prophets from Samual onward. (See verse 24) He pointed out that their unified voice and message pointed to Jesus Christ and a time of restoration. In other words, all the Old Testament prophets pointed to Jesus Christ.
Over time this mystery became clearer and clearer to Peter. Look what he said in 1 Peter 1:10-12; “10) As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11) seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”
Don’t go too fast lest you miss the significance of what Peter was saying. The Old Testament prophets faithfully pointed to the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow, but they could not grasp it.
But wait, then in Acts 3:25, Peter takes another giant step backward. He pointed to Abraham and the covenant God made with him. Listen to the specific words of the covenant; “… And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The “seed” that was going to bless the whole world pointed to Jesus Christ.
Look at how Peter wraps up this message; “ 26) For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”” Peter was saying to the crowd; “everything the Old Testament promised is happening right before your eyes.” Jesus wants to save you from your wicked ways.
Let me take a moment and dig a little deeper. Are you ready for this? Every example, analogy, sign, type, shadow, festival, promise and prophecy in the Old Testament is being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 8:5; 9:24) I am speculating, but that might mean that the Exodus under Moses, the wandering in the wilderness and the conquest of the Promised Land might be a pattern for what God is doing right now and in the future.
Have you noticed the signs and wonders that took place under Moses? The same wording is attributed to the public ministry of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. So let’s see if the Old Testament analogy fits and speculate where we might be at in the story.
The signs and wonders under Moses in Egypt right through the Passover meal obviously related to the ministry of Jesus Christ, including His death, burial and resurrection. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and He was crucified on the Passover.
Entering the promised land under Joshua may look forward to the future period of restoration referred to by Peter in Acts 3:21. That will be fulfilled in the millennium kingdom with the future reign of Jesus Christ on earth.
What was between these two events in the Old Testament? Forty long years of wandering in the wilderness and learning how to walk with God. This time was accompanied by the pillar of fire to lead them and amazing provisions by God. There were many signs and wonders during this time as well including crossing the Red Sea and daily manna. This may be a picture of the current church age and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is working to cleanse and purge the bride of Christ for His return, just like God purged the whole generation that came out of Egypt under Moses.
So where are we on the Old Testament calendar right now? After 2,000 years of wandering through the wilderness of church history, I suspect we are standing at the Jordan River ready to enter the Promised Land. Jesus is about to return and fulfill what Joshua failed to deliver; a totally Restored Kingdom. Ironically, the analogy fits and fulfills everything Peter was saying in his second message.
Time hinders us from going deeper, but I trust the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart to the mysteries and wonders in the Word of God and your walk in the Spirit. We are living in amazing days!
The Public Confrontation: Acts 4:1-4
“1) As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2) being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3) And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4) But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Acts 4:1-4
Peter’s Second message took place on the temple ground. By way of review, the healing of the lame beggar paved the way for an open air gospel meeting. As the crowd gathered, Peter seized the opportunity to preach the gospel. The people were very attentive because the Holy Spirit was working.
This provoked wrath from the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees. The scene had all the elements of a great open air meeting. There was a miracle that caught the attention of the crowd, a vocal preacher who eloquently shared the gospel, intense opposition from adversaries of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work persuading people.
The group that opposed the preaching of Peter and John were the key players in crucifying Jesus. Let’s look at the motives of each of the opposition party briefly. What motivated them?
The priests were there fighting for their jobs. Jesus was about to displace them as the new High Priest and His sacrifice totally fulfilled the sacrificial system making it obsolete. This transition from the old to the new is the core focus of Hebrews 3-10. They were trying to stop the gospel because it pointed to the new and living way for people to go directly to God through Jesus Christ without a human mediator.
The captain of the temple guard was there fighting for his reputation. He had been entrusted with the task of guarding the tomb and then paid to spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15) Now he was desperately trying to stop the preaching of the gospel, because its core message focused on his failure.
The Sadducees were there fighting for their theological dogma. Their core belief system was based on denial of life after death, a resurrection or any form of eternal judgement. (See Acts 23:8) The message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gospel challenged, exposed and obliterated their false teachings.
God not only allowed their opposition, He used the controversy to draw greater attention to the gospel. What a contrast! When Jesus or His disciples laid hands on people, it was to anoint or heal them. When this group laid hands on people it was to assault or arrest them. Peter and John preached faith. The religious leaders resorted to force. The crowd could clearly see the difference.
The end result was the direct fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8. The power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed to undergird the preaching of the gospel so that thousands were converted. Look at Acts 4:4; “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
So many were becoming believers that they resorted to a different counting system. Instead of counting every conversion, they now start counting the men. When the women and children are factored into this verse, a conservative estimate might be 15,000 to 20,000 believers. The gospel was exploding and many were coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
How can this be explained? There is only one answer. As Jesus pointed out in Acts 1:8, the primary ministry and power of the Holy Spirit would be to undergird the spread of the gospel. This observation is consistent throughout the whole book of Acts. Every extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts was in some way connected to the spread of the gospel.
I fully recognize the Holy Spirit has numerous roles, but His primary ministry is connected closely to the spread of the gospel. If your spiritual life is mundane and dry it’s probably because you have distanced yourself from actively sharing the gospel. The power of God always shows up on the front lines of spreading the gospel just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8.
Let me give a clarification; you can be busy with good stuff and even do humanitarian work with a packed schedule and still be dry, powerless and barren. You can be religious and empty. You can play church and still seldom see God work. You can even be a theologian and still be an agnostic about the power of God. That describes the priests and Sadducees in this story! They were on the wrong side of the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is most active and the power of God is most evident when Jesus is being lifted up and the gospel is actually being shared through Gods anointed messengers! God doesn’t waste miracles, signs or wonders. They are not for human entertainment; they are for Divine engagement. (Consult Matthew 12:38-39 & Matthew 16:1-4) The New Testament screams that signs, wonders and miracles are very purposeful and are used to promote Jesus, advance the gospel or confirm Gods approved messengers. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
These four verses at the beginning of Acts 4 set the stage for Peter’s third message and a show down between the religious elite and the Spirit anointed disciples of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned as the drama builds.
The Council of Intimidation: Acts 4:5-7
“5) On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6) and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7) When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”” Acts 4:5-7
This reads like the guest list to the Emmy Awards. They took their time, waited until the next day and assemble with pomp and confidence. There may have even been some formal protocol to celebrate Annas, Caiaphas, John and Alexander as they entered the council chambers. This was the same Sanhedrin that had assembled and conspired to crucify Jesus a few months earlier.
But there was a growing rift among them. Joseph, a member of the Council prepared the body of Jesus for burial. (Luke 23:50-54) Nicodemus “the ruler of the Jews” had become a secret follower of Jesus and even helped prepare His body for burial. He personally contributed a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to wrap the body. (John 19:39) Even Gamaliel “the teacher of the Law” was beginning to suspect much deeper significance to what God was doing through Jesus Christ and His followers. ( Acts 5:33-40) The seeds of the gospel were beginning to take root and sprout even in a growing number of the priests. (Acts 6:7) The Holy Spirit was at work even among their ranks.
It was in this assembly that Peter and John were ushered in and placed in the center for interrogation. Jesus Himself stood in that very spot during His trial. What a prolific reminder that we are called to share in the sufferings of Christ. (Philippians 3:10)
Their questioning was aimed at intimidation. They demanded to know “by what power or in what name have you done this?” (Vs 7) They were referring to the healing of the lame beggar.
The question was actually profound, because what had happened was beyond the scope of their authority and power. They could not perform miracles, signs or wonders. It was like the magicians of Egypt standing before Pharaoh and concluding that “this is the finger of God.” (Exodus 8:18-19) Biblical history has a way of repeating itself. Unfortunately, a number of the religious leaders were as blind and hard as Pharaoh.
We are now beginning to see one of the purposes for signs and wonders accompanying the preaching of the gospel. I point you once more to Hebrews 2:4. Throughout biblical history God has always filled the role of bearing witness of Himself through the use of signs and wonders. He alone sits in the seat of “God.” He judges and humiliates all challengers and skeptics of His glory, majesty and power.
The context of Hebrews 2:1-4 changed me from a skeptic to a believer of signs and wonders accompanying the spread of the gospel. I cannot deny the clear teaching of the Word of God! I now expect God to work and validate the gospel. My personal faith and motto has become; “It is our job to tell the story, it is Gods job to move the mountain.”
I no longer quench the Spirit nor do I put God in the small box of my theological bias. He is sovereign and powerful to do whatever, wherever and whenever He wants within the boundaries of His own moral character. The Bible puts no limits on His will, power, sovereignty or timing. However, He defines Himself as holy, righteous and pure. There is no sin or compromise in Him. He is the measure of truth, justice and morality. He is the Judge.
This text contains an eerie shadow of many scholars, theologians, seminaries and denominations today. They celebrate themselves while falsely thinking that God bends to their rationalism, ideologies, theological bias, morals and control. Like many of the religious Jewish leaders of first century Judaism, they merely exempt themselves from the glory and power of what God is doing all around them.
They are blind guides of the blind dressed in religious garb while having no presence or power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. They willingly twist scripture to embrace anti-Christ morals and values. They fail to measure themselves by texts like 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.
The spokesman for the Sanhedrin was throwing the best pitch he had! Peter through the filling of the Holy Spirit was about to knock it out of the ball park. Stay tuned for the third message from Peter recorded in the Acts 2-4.
A Spirit Filled Demeanor: Acts 4:8
“8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people,” Acts 4:8
Before moving into Peter’s message, I want to pause and make a crucial observation. Pentecost had radically changed Peter. The filling of the Holy Spirit changed his demeanor. A few months earlier, Peter melted when two different servant girls accused him of being with Jesus. Shortly thereafter, when a few other bystanders associated him with Jesus, Peter started cursing and denied that he even knew Jesus. (See Matthew 26:69-75)
Yet in this text in Acts 4:1-12, Peter and John were standing before the Sanhedrin and they were trying desperately to intimidate them, but it had zero negative affect on them. They were bold, courageous and filled with confidence. What had changed?
The answer points to the Promise of the Father. They had been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. As Jesus said in Acts 1:8, the Holy Spirit filled them with power to be witnesses. They were anointed and had unction. The tables were totally turned on the elite religious leaders. Peter’s words penetrated them like a sword.
Let me make an observation. According to Matthew 16:13-20, Peter believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. His theology was right. Then, according to John 21:15-17, he told Jesus three times that he loved Him. His heart was right. What was missing? His spirit was empty. He was living according to the flesh.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost radically changed his demeanor. He was like a new man. Acts 4:8 says; “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” Do not miss the significance of that phrase.
Two things came together in his messages. First, his focus on the gospel was right. His message had the right content. He was speaking the word of God in truth. But second, he was filled and anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God was working through him with power.
The combination of these two things are usually present when the Holy Spirit works in extraordinary ways. The message has to be right and the messenger should to be right with God and dependent on the Holy Spirit.
However, Jonah was an exception to this principle. He was out of step with God and yet God accomplished great things. Philippians 1:15-18 also gives an exception to this principle. Paul said that some were preaching from wrong motives, yet the gospel was going out. God is not limited by the messenger. After all, He used a dumb ass to speak to Balaam in numbers 22. Sad to say, but some preachers fit that description only to well. But Balaam proved to be a total disaster. Have you noticed that there is no record that Jonah had any ministry after Nineveh. There is no value for being in the flesh instead of the Spirit. It is counterproductive.
The book of Acts shows what amazing things that can happen when both the message and the messenger are anointed by the Holy Spirit. There is no excuse for fleshly ministry. When people are distracted, bored or sleeping during the message it is self evident that the Spirit of God has been grieved, quenched or ignored by the messenger. Prayer-less ministry is powerless ministry. After over 45 years of ministry, I am more desperate for the filling and anointing of the Holy Spirit than any time in my past.
Only One Name: Acts 4:8-12
“8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9) if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10) let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11) He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12) And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”” Acts 4:8-12
Peter addresses the Rulers and elders of the people with a very bold and direct charge. He turns the table and puts them on trail. He goes on offense.
He insinuated that being put on trial for healing a lame man was both spiritually and morally repugnant. Especially because the man had been lame from his mothers womb. Even infrequent visitors to Jerusalem knew him, because he had sat for years at the Beautiful gate of the temple begging for alms.
The miracle had an uncanny resemblance to the man born blind from his mothers womb whom Jesus healed as recorded in John 9:1-41. The disciples asked Jesus; “2) … Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus then set the stage for the miracle; “3)… it was neither that this man sinned , nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.” His healing turned into the same kind of scrutiny by the religious leaders. History was repeating itself.
Peter seized the opportunity to preach Jesus Christ and the gospel to them. In so doing he made three strong points.
First, in verse 10 he pointed out that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene the healing happened. He was the very one they had crucified but God had raised from the dead. To drive his point home, he said: “… by this name this man stands here in good health!”
According to the text, the formerly lame man was standing next to Peter and John. The evidence was obvious and indisputable. A lame man cannot stand or walk on his own. But the man was totally whole and in good health… and standing right in front of them!
Second, Peter quoted from Psalm 118:22-24 and charged that the Rulers and elders had fulfilled this prophetic text by rejecting Jesus Christ. Acts 4:11; “He is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, but which has become the very corner stone.”
The story of the healing was spreading far and wide. So was the crucial detail that he was healed “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.” (Compare Acts 3:6 and Acts 4:10) Jesus Christ had indeed been rejected by them, “the builders”, but He was now quickly becoming the very corner stone. He was the focus of Peter’s message!
Finally, in verse 12, Peter makes the bold claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation! “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Make no mistake, the gospel is very exclusive. Peter stated that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation!
This verse is equivalent to John 10:7-9 where Jesus claimed to be both the door of the sheep and the good shepherd. All who enter through Him are saved. How could He be both the door and the shepherd? Because at night the good shepherd would lay as the door of the corral. There was only one way in… and it was through Him.
Peter was saying the same thing in Acts 4:12. Salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ! His point was absolutely clear to the Rulers and elders of the people. Salvation is not through the name of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. It is not through Moses, Joshua or Elijah. It is not through David, Daniel or John the Baptist. They all pointed people to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. It is not through Buddha, Mohammad or the Dalai Lama. It is not through the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church or Baptist Church. It is not through the philosopher, psychologist or politician. It is not through the medicine man, witch doctor or warlock. It is not through Christian Science, Mormonism or Scientology. It is not through mythology, mysticism or new age religions. It is not through good works, religious rituals or philanthropy. Salvation is only through personal saving faith in Jesus Christ. He alone died on the cross to pay for the sins of humanity and He alone rose from the dead proving His claim of Deity. Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ for your salvation?
Peter exposes and explodes a common myth and lie that says; “All roads lead to God!” Let me close by quoting him one more time; “12) And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12)
Stamped by the Presence of God: Acts 4:13
“13) Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Spending time with Jesus has an affect on people. As the council listened to Peter and John, they understood they were untrained and uneducated men, but they had unusual confidence, passion and profound insight into the Scriptures. They reminded them of Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was upon them.
To grasp the difference, it may be helpful to review how the crowd responded to Jesus after He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to their reaction; “28) When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29) for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:28-29 His teaching with authority and the confidence of Peter and John was related. It was not the punchless style of the highly educated scribes and Pharisees.
There is a difference between a “God trained man” and a “man trained man.” There is also a difference between people “sent from God” and those who are merely doing a job or hired for a position. Paul made this point about himself in Galatians 1:1. Take a moment and read his credentials.
Those whom God sends He also anoints. There is a holy unction upon them. There is a fire burning within them. They are clothed with the fruit of the Spirit. Like Moses coming down from the mountain, there is a radiance stamped on their countenance. They are empty vessels that God works “in” and “through” for His glory and purpose in the world.
This quality cannot be learned or acquired by reading books or taking classes. It comes from spending time in the presence of God and being filled with His Spirit. It is not rational, it is spiritual. It is not an acquired skill, it is the mark of God’s presence.
Paul made the case for these men and women in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. God works through them to shame the wise and display His power. While the world looks for a great resume to fill positions, God has a better plan. God raises up men and women stamped with His Spirit, power and glory.
I am not impressed with human credentials when looking for a leader. Yes, I look for men and women who who have the right skills, but are also anointed by the Holy Spirit and have godly maturity from spending quality time with Jesus.
I do not care how impressive the academic resume, if there is no fire for Jesus burning from within… they are not qualified! They need to be stamped by the presence of God!
I am not moved by men or women who are carnal minded, worldly trained and void of Spirit. Such was the case of the rulers and elders of the people. They were empty wells. They were blind guides. They were wolves in sheep clothing. They lacked Gods presence and anointing. They were not qualified to lead God’s people or pour fuel on the movement of the Spirit.
Do not recruit them to lead your church or Christian organization. They promote self and not God. They have their own agenda and not Gods agenda. They get man sized results instead of God sized results. There is no fire within them.
Introduction to the Doctrine of Suffering: Acts 4:14-17
“14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15) But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16) saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 16) But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.”” Acts 4:14-17
It is counter productive to threaten those who are mighty in spirit with physical harm or punishment. They have already crucified the flesh in order to walk in the Spirit. They have set their minds on things above and not the things on earth. They have made Jesus Christ Lord and Master of their lives.
The rulers and elders of the people should have learned this lesson from their dealings with Jesus. He chose the cross above their threats. The resolve of His followers was multiplied many times over after Pentecost. Those truly filled with the Holy Spirit function at a different level than carnal men.
It is here, in the face of threats of physical harm and punishment that Satan’s ploys are exposed. He can only threaten on the level of the physical, but the redeemed have already forsaken the fleshly pleasures of this life to pursue God and what is called “Zoe” life in the Spirit. They have moved beyond mere “bio” life.
Jesus said; “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Satan’s reach is limited. It is temporal and not eternal.
I must conceded, all of the disciples feared for their own lives and safety before Pentecost. The event of being baptized in the Holy Spirit radically changed them. This fact was instrumental in my reconsidering the meaning and importance of the Promise of the Father as recorded in Acts 1:4-5. I believed in Jesus and loved Jesus, but I lived by my own fleshy efforts. I often failed and lived in fear.
Peter and John were no longer carnal. After Pentecost, they began to live and function on the level of the Spirit. They exemplified the teaching of Paul found in 1 Corinthians 2:1-3:3. God used this text to cut me open and expose that I was void of Spirit.
In this text, Paul argues that there are three kinds of people. There is the 1) spiritual man, 2) the natural man, and 3) the carnal man. Physical treats like those coming from the religious rulers are very effective against the natural man and the carnal man, but they are counter productive against the spiritual man or woman.
Paul presented the case that inner ministry of the Holy Spirit separates the spiritual man from the carnal man. They can share the same basic theology, but the inner man is very different. The carnal Christan is dependent on self effort, intellectual reason and self discipline to live the Christan life. The spiritual Christian is dependent on the inner ministry of the Holy Spirit for personal transformation and power for living.
The western church fears persecution. The persecuted church values persecution because it separates the sheep from the goats. Leaders in the underground church in China are not honored because of academic achievements, they are revered based on the suffering they have endured for the cause of Christ. Those tested by fire have a purity of devotion to Christ.
Acts 4 contains the introductory material on the doctrine of suffering for the Christian Church. Sadly, the doctrine of suffering is absent from the modern western church. Carnality reigns in the absence of teaching about crucifying the flesh to embrace the walk in the Spirit.
An Anti-Christ Agenda: Acts 4:14-20
“14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15) But when they had ordered them to go outside of the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16) saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17) But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18) And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19) But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20) for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”” Acts 4:17-20
The healing of the lame beggar was so complete and noteworthy that not even the critics could deny its authenticity. “They had nothing to say in reply.”
All of Gods works are that way! Creation is a great example. The deeper you dive into what God created the more order, design and beautify unfolds. From the microscopic the telescopic, everything points to Gods superior intelligence, power and glory. The Laws of Physics adorn the character and nature of the Creator.
So it was with the healing of this lame beggar. A noteworthy miracle had taken place. You would think the Council would yield to this sign from God. It was undeniable! Instead, what they did was very clever. They simply rejected the premise that it was done in the name of Jesus Christ or added any validity to the claim of His resurrection. They defended their anti-Christ bias.
Let me make a strong observation from the text. The Council had no problem with the miracle; they simply refused to connect it to faith in Jesus Christ. They rejected the gospel. They believed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob performed miracles. The Old Testament is full of them. They were objecting to Peter and John tying the miracle to Jesus Christ and the gospel.
Let me underline this in your thinking one more time! In the New Testament, God performed signs and wonders for the sole purpose of validating Jesus Christ and the gospel. (Study Hebrews 2:1-4 to punctuate this point)
Do you doubt me? Let’s examine the nature of the threat by the Council against Peter and John. Ironically, they did not command them to stop healing or performing miracles. Instead, they commanded them to stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. They wanted them to stop sharing the gospel. Beware of any ministry that minimizes the importance of sharing of the gospel.
This story punctuates my deep conviction that the primary purpose of healings and miracles in the early church was to undergird the preaching of the gospel! Satan has no problem with signs and wonders as long as Jesus Christ and the gospel are set aside.
In fact, in the end times, Satan is going to give all kinds of false signs and wonders to mislead people. Just take a moment and study 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10. The anti-Christ agenda is getting people fixated on signs and wonders apart from any focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel. This translates to deception and confusion.
Some of my Charismatic and Pentecostal friends accuse me of limiting the power of God because I do not embrace a doctrine of universal healing. I simply observe that God did not heal everyone in the New Testament.
However, we do see that signs, wonders and healings were deeply connected to the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel. Even the context of Acts 5:16 is connected to the exhalation of Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel.
I refuse to put God in any box or within parameter’s that the Bible does not clearly establish. One example is found in James 1:13 where it says; “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” We also know that God does not lie. These are biblical parameters God puts around Himself.
When it comes to miracles, signs and wonders, the Bible drops us off at the sovereignty and providence of God. It is equally as erroneous to say; “God does not do miracles today”, as it is to say; “Gods will is to heal everyone.” Neither view is taught or illustrated in the Bible.
However, there is one truth that seems constant in the New Testament. When God did perform signs, wonders or miracles, they consistently exalted Jesus Christ or were used to spread the gospel. Again, this is the punch line of Hebrews 2:1-4.
So let’s come back to our text. I stress again that the Council did not dispute the miracle. What they objected to was tying the miracle to Jesus Christ and the gospel.
We learn from this text that miracles are not about miracles. Healing is not about healing. They are given for two reasons. First, they validate the identity of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Second, they open doors for the gospel and underline the importance of faith in Jesus Christ. They are powerful and amazing affirmations from God to glorify Jesus Christ and advance the gospel.
We need to adopt this New Testament standard today. It is prudent to stand aloft from any ministry that focuses on signs and wonders but totally ignores Jesus Christ and the gospel. As shown earlier, this agenda is the end time scheme of the anti-Christ.
The Secret to Unshakable Faith: Acts 4:18-20
“18) And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19) But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20) for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”” Acts 4:18-20
This text captures the power, confidence and boldness imparted by the Holy Spirit. They were not concerned about their own thoughts, feelings or personal welfare. They did not conduct an opinion poll to see what the majority of Christian’s thought. The only opinion that mattered was Gods!
They had spent close to three years with Jesus during His public ministry. The Living Word Himself had taught them the written Word. They watched Jesus willingly suffer and die on the cross at the hands of this same Council. Jesus had spent forty days with them on numerous occasions after His resurrection. They were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s response was classic; “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard!”
This response became the standard for the New Testament Doctrine of suffering. Take a moment and read 1 Peter 4:12-19. When we are suffer for the name of Christ while doing right and displaying godly character, then the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. (See 1 Peter 4:14-16)
There is a big difference between suffering for stupidity sake and suffering for the gospel. Joseph and Daniel both suffered for their unwavering godly convictions, but they did it with respect and honor. They were not mouthy, rebellious or rude. The same was true of Peter and John in this story. They made their stand based solely on what was right in the sight of God. They were willing to suffer for their convictions.
Notice Acts 4:20; “for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” John used these same words in 1 John 1:3; “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also might have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
This takes the conversation to the next level. They were driven by something higher than personal convictions. They were motivated by intimacy and fellowship with God. They were walking with God and therefore were wrapped in agape love.
They were consistent. They were willing to suffer for Christ and the gospel because they were living every day for Christ and the gospel. Their focus was not on dying for Christ, their focus was on living in sweet communion with Him. Their mindset was not “suffering for Christ”; their mindset was “fellowship with Christ.” As Paul said in Philippians 3:8, his surpassing value was knowing Christ… and that intimate relationship took the sting out of suffering.
On the rare occasions that I have been privileged to associate with the underground church, I observed that moment by moment intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ was the common denominator among them. They were deeply rooted in personal fellowship and intimacy with God. They sincerely loved Jesus Christ and walked in His Spirit.
This invitation is for every believer. We are called into deep fellowship and communion with God irregardless of our outward circumferences. The walk in the Spirit can be summarized as intimacy with God.
There was no mystical secret behind the boldness of Peter and John as they stood before the Council. Acts 4:13 says they were marveling at their confidence and then began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Their demeanor was the overflow of their inner fellowship and relationship with Jesus Christ. The Doctrine of Suffering is rooted in the greater calling to intimacy with God.
The Unforeseen Benefit of Persecution and Suffering: Acts 4:21-22
“21) When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22) for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.” Acts 4:21-22
God does not bow to human threats, nor should His disciples. In Matthew 28:18-20, the resurrected Christ gave authority to His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples and teach all that He had commanded them. He promised to be with them.
Here, in Acts 4:19-23 we encounter a battle between two authorities. The command of the Council not to teach or preach in the name of Jesus Christ was in direct opposition to the command of the resurrected Christ to preach and teach the gospel to the whole world. To obey one was to deny the other.
Peter and John put the Council on notice that they were going to obey God rather than man. They refused to back down. ( See Acts 4:18-20) When we align with God rather than men we trigger the principle that God steps up and does the fighting for us. But let me give a caution; doing this means that we are prepared to suffer for righteousness sake. This is the hallmark of disobedience to false or liberal religious authorities for the sake of obedience to God.
Daniel 3:13-30 is the foundation text for religious disobedience. When King Nebuchadnezzar built his image and issued a command for all to bow down and worship, it placed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in opposition to the religious order of the king.
Their answer to the king was classic. It is found in Daniel 3:16-18. Let me quote; 16) “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17) If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18) But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.””
Sure enough, the king accepted their challenge and bound them hand and foot and had them thrown into the furnace of fire. They were willing to suffer and die for allegiance to God. That’s when God stepped up and intervened. But what if he hadn’t? Obeying God with a clear conscience was a higher value to them than life. This is the cornerstone to the doctrine of suffering. God meant more to them than life.
There is a subliminal subtext to this doctrine. It comes in the form of two words for “life” in the Greek language. There is difference between “bio-life” and “zoe-life.” The first refers to mere physical life. The second refers to Spirit life.
The early Christians were willing to give up physical life for the greater value of embracing the higher spiritual life found through faith in Jesus Christ. “Zoe” is the word for life found in John 1:4; “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” Jesus had deeper life in Him than mere physical life. The concept of “eternal life” in texts like John 3:16 is also based on the Greek word “Zoe.”
When I first heard the concept of “Zoe life” it seemed strange and even awkward for me. Over time it has become very precious. I now equate Zoe life with the walk in the Spirit. This is the deeper abundant inner spirit life Jesus promised to give His followers in John 10:10.
So what does “Zoe life” have to do with the doctrine of suffering? The early Christians understood that threats against biological or physical life could not affect the deeper “Spirit life” found “in Christ.” Persecution and martyrdom could destroy the physical body, but they had no affect on the soul or spirit. To the contrary, outward suffering can enrich the soul and spirit. This physical suffering principle also applies to physical ailments and aging. (See 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
We could spend considerable time on this theme, but this is why the threats from the council had no negative affect on Peter and John. They were no longer living according to the flesh but rather according to the Spirit. To the contrary, they understood that physical suffering throws spiritual gasoline on inner spirit life. This can happen no matter the source of physical suffering. Pruning the flesh can always produces fruit in the spirit… if we respond to it properly.
After they were released, we discover the full extent to which the threats from the Council fueled the awakening that was unfolding. The next section of the story is very profound and enlightening. It shows how to cry out to God in the face of persecution and suffering. God is always magnified through the storm!
Seeing The Bigger Picture: Acts 4:23-38
“23) 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 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 Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? 26) The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27) For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28) to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Acts 4:23-28
Upon being released from the Council, they went to their companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When you squeeze the text about the meaning of the word “they”, something beautiful emerges. The broader context indicates that Peter and John were accompanied by the former beggar when they stood before the Council. He was most likely included in the word “they.” This reunion included the healed beggar meeting his new family for the first time as a believer. He was being assimilated into the family of God.
After reporting the warnings from the chief priests and elders to their companions, the group with one accord lifted their voices to God. They didn’t call a committee meeting, instead they launched into a spontaneous prayer meeting. They were a praying church! They brought the matter to God.
This prayer meeting focused on two things. First, they focused on God and His extraordinary works. They called upon Him as the Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all life forms that inhabit these three realms. They addressed Him as both Creator and Supreme Lord. Instead of focusing on the size of their opposition, they zeroed in on the immensity of God.
This point should not be minimized. Like Joshua and Caleb, they measured their opposition by the size of God. This is the starting point of prevailing faith. Make God and not your external circumstances your focus.
Second, they focused on the Word of God and its prophetic significance to their situation. In their case, the Holy Spirit brought Psalm 2:1-2 into focus. They understood that biblical prophecy was unfolding in front of them. They were actors in a drama much bigger than their immediate problems. Divine Providence had written the script. Gods plan of human redemption was being fulfilled.
This is always the case. We are involved in a story much bigger than ourselves. We may not understand our circumstances, but faith recognizes that God is at work behind them. It is crucial to yield ourselves to the greater plans and purposes of God.
I will resist the temptation of going on a tangent, but current events today are very similar to the days of the early church. They were key actors in the first advent of Christ and His birth, earthly ministry, death on the cross, resurrection, ascension and the beginning of the church age. The Holy Spirit helped them perceive the greater spiritual and prophetic climate unfolding around them.
By contrast, we are standing on the threshold of the second return of Christ and all the prophecies related to the end times. Things are happening in our world today of Epic proportions. We are also part of a prophetic story much greater than ourselves. It is crucial for the church today to again cry out to God for grace, power and understanding. You are not an island unto yourself. Let me emphasize again, we are part of a much bigger story. We have come full circle. Current events are again major prophetic events. It is crucial that we set our focus on God and His Word. We need to adopt a biblical world view that includes the signs of the times unfolding around us.
It is important that we learn from the early church. We need to pray like they prayed… and in the days to come we will need to discover the importance of Christian community. The book of Acts contains vital insights for our days.
Profound Prayer: Acts 4:29-30
“29) And 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 signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31) Acts 4:29-30
These are some of my favorite verses in the book of Acts. The early church faced opposition through prayer. They asked for grace and confidence in speaking the Word while they trusted God step up and confirm their message with His mighty deeds.
As my years in ministry have extended into five decades, my philosophy of ministry has changed. It has gotten much simpler, more biblical, less stressful and more joyous. I now firmly believe that it is my job to tell the story, but it is Gods job to move the mountain. It is my job to share the gospel, but it is Gods job to save people. It is my job to share the vision, but it is Gods job to provide in miraculous ways. It is my job to pray for healing, but it is Gods job to heal people. It is my job to invite people to join us in ministry as supporters or volunteers, it is Gods job to move them to action.
I came to recognize that I am small, but God is big. I am weak, but God is powerful. I am restricted to time and space, but God is omnipresent. I have limited knowledge and strength, but God is infinite in both. I cannot fix people or their circumstances, but God can transform both. I am called to point people to God, but He has to prove to them that He exists, that He cares, that He is powerful and that He invites them into personal relationship with Himself. I stopped trying to play god in peoples lives.
All of this is wrapped up in this simple prayer recorded in Acts 4:29-31. They were asking God for the courage and grace to go on preaching and teaching the Gospel, while leaving the healings, miracles, signs and wonders to Him. They anticipated, expected, believed and trusted that He would not abandon them. In this text, they were accepting their job description to preach and teach while reminding God that His Job description was to extend His hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.
This simple formula has been true for Gods servants throughout biblical history. Review Psalms 78:43; Psalm 135:9; Isaiah 8:18; Jeremiah 32:16-22; Daniel 4:3 and Daniel 6:25-27. His servants were called to share His message while He stepped up and confirmed His existence and power.
Actually, times of silence from God and periods of inactivity in the Old Testament were indications of judgement. The way Elijah humiliated the prophets of Baal was through calling fire down from heaven. His God did what their god could not. It should not surprise us that fire came down at Pentecost.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. What was the difference between the ministry of Jesus and the scribes, priests and Pharisees? It came down to the manifestation of the power of God through Him. He performed signs and wonders while they were absolutely impotent.
The same thing happened in the book of Acts. The rulers of Israel had clout, institutional authority and dominion over the people, but zero spiritual power. The lame beggar had sat for years at the gate of the temple under their jurisdiction and they could do nothing to help him. But then one day Peter and John came along in the name of Jesus and everything changed.
God was confirming His anointed leaders. Just like the rod of Moses and Aaron blossomed over night, so the ministry of the apostles was blossoming. (Numbers 17) God was confirming His messengers in extraordinary ways. The contrast between the Sanhedrin and the Apostles was obvious for everyone to see.
This prayer in Acts 4:29-30 was both profound and simple. They were saying; “God, give us the confidence to keep preaching and teaching while You continue to confirm the gospel message with your great signs and wonders.” Another way of saying it might be; “Give us the grace to write the sentences while You add the punctuation marks!”
These two verses have challenged me for years. Early in my ministry, I was a “fix it” pastor. I wanted to help people, but soon realized my strength and resources were tragically limited. I almost burned out! Then God graciously used verses like these to reveal my sin and self sufficiency.
That’s when I developed the motto; “It is my job to tell the story, it is God’s job to move the mountain.” My praying changed. My preaching changed. My faith changed. My focus changed. Instead of trying to explain away these verses, I started aligning myself with the biblical principle taught in Acts 4:29-30. I started seeking God’s grace in fulfilling my calling while trusting Him to fulfill His promises. To my surprise, mountains started moving in extraordinary ways.
It is now up to you to capture the spiritual principle exemplified in this simple but profound prayer. This is where faith meets the power of God. This is where we become co-laborers with Christ.
The Filling of the Holy Spirit: Acts 4:31
“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.” Acts 4:31
I like earth shaking prayer meetings. I confess, I’ve never been in one where the physical ground trembled, but I have be in numerous prayer meetings where the presence of God was powerfully felt. During some of these prayer times, I am confident that the powers of darkness were shaken. Never underestimate the importance of prayer and worship in the spiritual realm.
The key phrase I want to zero in on in this verse is; “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Peter and John and their companions for the most part represented the group that were present on the day of Pentecost and were baptized by the Holy Spirit. This illustrates the biblical teaching that there is “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit but “many fillings.”
This can be established by looking at Ephesians 4:5 and 5:18 side by side. The Greek in Ephesians 5:18 should be translated “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus wants to freshly fill and anoint His servants with the Holy Spirit for every task, witnessing opportunity or preaching event. Notice in Acts 4:31, the filling of the Holy Spirit was directly connected to prayer and seeking Gods power. I maintain that prayerless ministry is powerless ministry. When we neglect seeking God in prayer, we are automatically trusting our fleshly talents, abilities or clever programs for the results.
This is why much church activity today leaves people bored as compared to the sense of “awe and wonder” felt by people in the early church. (See Acts 2:43) They took prayer and seeking the filling, anointing and outpouring of the Holy Spirit seriously.
Modern ministry is often void of sincere and urgent prayer. I watch this as I am invited to speak at many churches and events. I am always pleased when leadership meets to pray with me as the speaker for a few minutes before a service, But honestly, I don’t expect much of the presence of God during the service from this kind of shallow praying. I am more blessed when they actually lay hands on me and pray for the filling and anointing of the Holy Spirit over me and my message. It shows they are on the target.
On the rare occasions when the intercessors are on duty and the prayer warriors are watchfully praying over the venue during the service, I expect a kiss from heaven. During these services the presence and power of God is so strong that the Holy Spirit wrestles with people before the message begins and long after the service has ended. I relish being in the presence and power of God. Some churches build this kind of “God seeking” into their fabric. The church at Antioch certainly did. (See Acts 13:1-4) I have been in churches like this and experienced the sense of awe and wonder because of the presence of God.
Like the manna in the wilderness, the bread of heaven must be sought daily. Yesterdays filling and anointing runs out. The inner cup goes dry and must be filled again. Yesterdays filling does not carry over into the next day or week. I seek the filling of the Holy Spirit every time I preach or teach… no matter how big or small the event. Those occasions when I neglected seeking God in this way have been dry, empty and disastrous.
But there is another secret. We can pray for divine appointments and the filling of the Holy Spirit every day and throughout the day. I don’t want to go through the motions of life and miss what God is doing around me.
This is what happened to the disciples in John 4:1-45. They spent much of the day shopping in the city of Sychar and didn’t talk to a single person about spiritual things. They concluded the town was closed to God.
Meanwhile, the Samaritan woman spent so much time with Jesus that her spiritual cup was overflowing. She left her physical water pots behind and went into the city and talked to everyone about Jesus. She soon returned with a crowd that was eager to meet Jesus.
Here is the point, ordinary days can become extraordinary days when our spiritual cups are full. I believe this daily walk in the Spirit accounted for the mystery recorded in Acts 2:47; “… and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Don’t be deceived into thinking that the Holy Spirit cannot work through you or that He is only on duty for an hour on Sunday morning.
The Holy Spirit is not restricted by time or space. He is always present and active, but we are not always “tuned in.” Acts 4:24-31 praying might not be as much about inviting God into our midst as it is about us entering into His presence and power. Whatever the mystery, we are called to seek God through prayer and there is a notable difference between prayerless living and prayerful living. The difference is the filling and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking the Word of God with Boldness: Acts 4:31
“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.” Acts 4:31
The end result of being filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak the Word of God with boldness.” The confidence and courage they pleaded for in prayer was granted. They were no longer timid, fearful or ashamed of the gospel.
This is a direct fulfillment of the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8; “ “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The mission is world evangelization. The means is the power of the Holy Spirit. The message is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At some point, God wants His people to start talking about Jesus Christ and verbally share the gospel. The emphasis in Acts 4:31 is on “speaking” the Word. This was the validation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
I have emphasized this point previously; miracles and signs and wonders are not random. They are given by God to either open the door for a verbal gospel witness or confirm the message and the messenger.
If your Christian life or church has become mundane and powerless, I guarantee two things have happened. First, prayer has been displaced and squeezed out by other “stuff.” Second, the gospel has been set aside and ignored.
Satan doesn’t care how spiritual you look or how busy you become as long as you neglect prayer and never open your mouth to verbally share the gospel. The filling and power of the Holy Spirit is generated through prayer and aimed at speaking the word of God with boldness. It’s that simple! It’s that powerful! It’s that profound! It’s that important! It’s that biblical!
Let me quote Hebrews 2:3-4 one more time; “3) how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4) God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” It’s our job to speak and tell the story of salvation, it’s God’s job to miraculously confirm the message and save lost people.
Stop separating God’s miraculous power from the spread of the gospel. They walk hand in hand through the New Testament. Stop being timid and ashamed of the gospel.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus connected the power of the Holy Spirit to the spread of the gospel. In Romans 1:16, Paul connected the gospel with the power of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul again connected the word of the cross with the power of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 guess what happens? Paul again connects the gospel message to the power of God. I will resist the temptation to again connect Hebrews 2:1-4 to this discussion.
If you are zealous to see signs and wonders, start praying like the early Christians and ask God for boldness to speak the gospel. Then catch every wave God sends past you for sharing the gospel. Soon you will be surfing on the wake of the Supernatural just like the early church did in the book of Acts.
One Heart and Soul: Acts 4:32
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Acts 4:32
The wording of “one heart and soul” was an ancient expression of deep bounding, trust and friendship. The old Hebrew definition of true friendship was “two bodies, one soul.” Even Aristotle when being asked what is a friend, answered; “it is one soul dwelling in two bodies.”
It can be concluded that the quality the ancients longed for in just one true platonic friendship, the early Christians experienced. But in this verse, the ancient value of “two being of one soul” was being stretched to an unfathomable level. It was present in the whole congregation of believers. Luke was treating this as “extraordinary!”
This phenomenon was so present and real among the early believers that Luke placed it in the category of the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles in the very next verse. (Read Acts 4:32 and 33 together.) The expression of genuine agape love among the early Christians was indeed a validation of the “extraordinary” work of the Holy Spirit among them.
Jesus foretold this phenomenon in John 13:34-35; “34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35) By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.””
Paul also describes the phenomenon of an outpouring of agape love by the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:5; “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
I can biblically make an argument that the spontaneous flow of genuine agape love from the indwelling Holy Spirit became one of the measuring sticks of true conversion in the early church. In fact, it became more important than the manifestation of sign gifts as the New Testament unfolds. This is exemplified by 1 Corinthians 13 being right in the center of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts. Agape love become his measuring stick of Christian maturity.
If you want to pursue this concept, take some time and study Philippians 1:9, Colossians 1:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:5 and 2 Peter 1:5-7. Add to this list the discussion the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24 and Paul’s dialogue on agape love in 1 Corinthians 13 and this argument becomes very compelling.
But let’s get back to our context in the book of Acts. If you take time and carefully read Acts 2-4, Luke was very moved by this phenomenon of agape love and fellowship among the early Christians. He described it in Acts 2:42-47 and then returned to it again in Acts 4:32-37. He actually placed it on the level of signs and wonders in the early church. He treated being of “one heart and soul” as being truly miraculous.
If this level of agape love and fellowship is missing in your life or church, you have compelling reason to pray for revival and awakening. For some reason, you are out of step with God and the Holy Spirit.
The Focus of the Early Church: Acts 4:33
“And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” Acts 4:33
This verse is worthy of carful study. Let me state the obvious; the “great power” was tied to the message of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. These two are intimately connected in this verse. But you ask; “why the resurrection?” What makes it so important? Let me give a few brief insights.
First, it is the resurrection that separates Jesus Christ from every other world religious leader. Romans 1:4 tells us that Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. In other words, the resurrection is the proof of His Deity. The founder of every other world religion is dead and decayed.
Second, it is the resurrection that validates the gospel message. This is what adds the punch to John 3:16-17; “16) For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17) For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” God did not leave His Son in the grave.
Third, it is the resurrection that highlights the mission of Jesus Christ to give life to those who believe in Him. Take a moment and review John 11:25-26; “25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26) and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Finally, it is the resurrection that seals Jesus Christ as the only way to God. This was the message of Peter and John in Acts 4:9-12 to the religious leaders. It might surprise some people, but there is only one way that leads to God and that is through Jesus Christ. The gospel is very exclusive.
No wonder the “great power” was directly tied directly to giving witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us. This is exactly what Jesus said in Acts 1:8. He clearly stated that the power of the Holy Spirit would be intimately tied to the spread of the gospel.
God’s grace and power always converge at validating the identity of Jesus Christ and spreading of the gospel. To the extent that Jesus Christ is left out of the message, the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit diminishes and abundant grace evaporates.
I want to state the obvious one more time; healings, miracles, signs and wonders in the book of Acts and the New Testament were directly tied to lifting up Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel. They were not an end in themself.
The problem with powerless Christianity today is not a lack of faith, it is a lack of focus! Jesus Christ and the gospel are being displaced and obscured by all kinds of stuff. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith.” This verse has the cure for spiritual impotency today!
Agape Based Christian Community: Acts 4:34-35
“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 proceeds of the sales 35) and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” Acts 4:34-35
In the development of Christian community, agape love translated into action. It happened inwardly toward fellow believers and outwardly toward the world. In the process it dignified people. They quickly took on more value than monetary possessions.
It seems that the sale of excess lands and houses was voluntary and it may have been a fulfillment of the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21. He turned away grieved because he was one who owned much property. He valued much property more than God or people.
It appears that this sense of agape based Christian community emerged in opposition to the Jewish practice of exploiting people for personal profit. The Jewish business model would often gain wealth by charging excessive interest on loans while quickly seizing the property of widows, orphans and the poor for lack of payment. The practice perpetuated poverty. Meanwhile, the Jewish merchants would exploit strangers and aliens visiting Jerusalem for festivals with excessive prices on everything. It can be assumed that Joseph and Mary paid a premium for their humble abode in the manger.
The tragic usury of Nehemiah 5:1-13 had become rampant within the Jewish nation again. As you read this shocking text, you discover it included the trafficking of the poor and needy. The rise of agape based Christian community in the first century led to the eradication of slavery, human trafficking, forced prostitution for debt payment and orphan exploitation.
A survey of the whole New Testament reveals that the early church stressed both caring for the poor and needy while at the same time stressing the development of a noble work ethic. James talked about faith taking action in the face of genuine needs. (James 2:14-26) Paul stressed dealing with exploiters and freeloaders by giving them a job so they could learn self sustainability. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-13; Ephesians 4:28) It takes both sides of the coin for agape based Christian community to thrive.
The development of agape based Christian community also prepared the early church for coming persecution and suffering. This allowed the church to endure severe stretches of persecution and injustice. This is the biblical recipe for the suffering church. We need to learn how to provide and care for one another.
As the modern church debates how to deal with social injustice, the answer is right before our eyes. Things will not change until we as Christians return to the model of agape based Christian community. Secular government and social welfare started as a biblical value, but they are not fueled by agape love. The world will never be able to replace the church.
The Son of Encouragement: Acts 4:36-37
“36) Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37) and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts 4:36-37
Joseph, who went by the name Barnabas was the real deal. He was a born-again Levite who came to faith in Jesus Christ through the gospel. The very translation of his name meant, “Son of Encouragement.” He went on to become a leader in the early church and was “sent out” to help the church in Antioch. (See Acts 11:22-26)
As to the significance of him selling a tract of land and laying it at the apostles feet, it appears that this showed that he was both sincere and single minded in following Jesus. What he did was voluntary and in response to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. He was a giver and not a taker. It proved that he was not motivated by greed or self interest.
Later in Acts 11:24, he had the reputation of being “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” This brief mention in Acts 4:36-37 of him selling a tract of land displayed his single minded devotion to live by faith. He was “all in” when it came to following Jesus.
The condition of many today is more like Ananias and Sapphira in the next paragraph. We want to present the picture of being “sold out” for Jesus, but the truth is that we are double minded and inwardly embrace fleshly and worldly values. These two were motivated by greed and deception and not faith and truth. They wanted recognition and leadership bestowed on them but they were fakes and frauds. They were motivated by a false and twisted agenda.
By contrast, Barnabas was honest, sincere and genuine. He wasn’t campaigning for recognition or self promotion. He was following the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. He was a humble servant of Jesus Christ. As his name indicated, he become a source of great encouragement to the early church. He was the man that embraced Saul and mentored him into ministry. (See Acts 9:26-30; Acts 11:25-26; Galatians 2:1) Barnabas was an effective disciple maker.
I am motivated by leaders who are willing to sacrifice much to follow and serve Jesus. At some point the glamour of living by faith can wear thin. Barnabas most likely was not married and was free to follow Jesus with unusual freedom, flexibility and abandonment. He was willing to work when needed to pay his own way in ministry. (1 Corinthians 9:4-7) It is no wonder that he was sent out with Paul by the Holy Spirit to carry the gospel to the regions beyond. (Acts 13:2-4) I really admire this guy!
Reverence For God: Acts 5:1-11
“1) But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2) and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3) 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? 4) While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5) And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6) The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7) Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8) And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9) 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.” Acts 5:1-11
This story is shocking! It stands in stark contrast to the story of Barnabas at the end of the previous chapter. They both voluntarily sold a piece of property and laid the proceeds at the apostles feet. There seemed to be something about this public act that indicated total consecration to God.
But there was a problem with Ananias and Sapphira. They wanted the public honor and recognition of this act of consecration to God, but they were deceitful. Like Judas, they were secretly stealing from God. They made a pact to keep back a portion of the money for themselves. They were worse than double minded, they were lying to both God and men. They practiced premeditated deceit, deception and fraud.
When questioned by Peter, they outrightly lied about their actions. Peter made it clear that they were free to do whatever they wanted with their land and the proceeds, but they were not free to lie to God and treat Him as unholy. Their offense of lying to God was in the same category of the sons of Aaron who burned strange incense on the altar and Uzzah who reached out to stable the ark which was wrongly being transported on a cart. They were all met with instant death.
This biblical comparison may include a hint that Ananias and Sapphira were publicly saying they were being set aside for full time ministry. That was true of Barnabas in the previous chapter. It was also true of the sons of Aaron and Uzzah. James made it clear that teachers will be held to a higher standard. (James 3:1) If leaders have no integrity or reverence for God, there will be no moral restraint by the people.
God is holy and must be treated with fear and reverence. Peter addressed this theme in 1 Peter 1:14-19) He made it clear that addressing God as “Father” is no excuse for irreverence, because He impartially judges according to each man’s work. To the contrary, those closest to God should have greater fear and reverence for God.
The conclusion to this story catches my attention; “13) And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” The early church stood in awe of more than just the power of God. This event sent shock waves through the entire region. They quickly developed fear and reverence for the holiness and justice of God.
At some point our focus must shift from “what God does” to “who God is!” This event accelerated that vital shift in the early church.
Momentum Builds: Acts 5:12-16
“12) 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 people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.” Acts 5:12-16
Solomons portico was a column that ran the full length of the eastern side of the temple and was open to the court of the Gentiles. It made for a perfect stage for open air meetings facing the court. The stone wall of the temple on the inner side of the porch made for perfect acoustics for large crowds to hear the preaching and teaching of the apostles. This is where the crowd gather to see the lame beggar and where Peter preached to the crowd. (See Acts 3:11)
The open court was large enough to accommodate several thousand people. This is where many tourists visiting the temple mound loitered about and where merchants tried selling their goods to the crowd. It was the hub of much activity and was not considered holy as the name “court of the Gentiles” implies. Activity there was not closely monitored by the religious leaders. It was for all people from any nation. Isn’t that coincidental!
By default, this became the initial gathering place for the early believers. Throughout the day, the apostles would preach and minister to the crowds. There was usually a constant turnover of the crowd, but a phenomenon started taking place. It quickly become the destination of people seeking healing and listening to the gospel. Those who believed were most likely directed to home churches that were springing up throughout the city for teaching, fellowship, worship, prayer and keeping the ordinances. (See Acts 2:42-47)
God was working in extraordinary ways through the Apostles. Many signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the gospel. Like in the case of all awakenings, momentum was building day by day. This became the new attraction and destination of people visiting the temple. Multitudes of both men and women were added to the number of the believers.
The text seems to draw a contrast between two kinds of healings in verses 15-16. The first described in verse 15, could be understood as relating to healings from natural causes. These were conditions stemming from such things as diseases, viruses, germs, bacteria or injuries. Because Jesus is the Great Physician, these healings are well within His power, but not necessarily universal. God created the human body with natural healing ability to heal from many of these conditions.
The second were healings related to conditions caused by unclean spirits. The wording in verse 16 is unique. These healings extended to the sick “or” those afflicted by unclean spirits. (Vs 16) The wording indicates that all sickness or affliction caused by unclean spirits were healed. It was universal! It happened in every case. It should be noted that the body has no natural defense or healing ability against these afflictions. They will persist until the unclean spirit or spirits are dealt with.
This second category of healing is based on the fact that Jesus utterly destroyed and disarmed all the works of the devil and unclean spirits on the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 3:7-8) They can be overcome, renounced, resisted, rebuked and removed by the authority “in Christ” given to every believer.
There should be no exception to these healings because there is no exception to the defeat of Satan or his workers by Jesus Christ. This is a theological issue! Anyone who rejects this notion rejects the sufficiency of the cross. These conditions persist only because of ignorance or an unwillingness to recognize the enemy and take authority in the name, blood and cross of Christ. (James 4:7)
Angelic Deliverance: Acts 5:17-20
“17) But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 19) They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 20) But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”” Acts 5:17-20
When God is working in extraordinary and fruitful ways, it often sparks Jealousy in some people. In this case, it was other religious leaders who became jealous. The result was that they “laid hands on the apostles and put them in public jail.”
Have you ever noticed how frequently biblical leaders spent time in jail? The trend started in the book of Genesis with Joseph and continues through the book of Revelation. The adversaries of the gospel can lock up Gods people, but no prison is secure or strong enough to contain God.
Sometimes God sends an angel to open prison doors. Other times the prison leads to the gallows for Gods choice servants. God is sovereign. He can be glorified by either deliverance or death. Every Apostle but John eventually died a martyrs death.
The text is not clear if there were a few of the apostles or all of the apostles gathered into the public jail, but God had big plans for them. An angel open the prison doors and told them to go stand in the temple and preach to the people “the message of this life.” Angelic activity was common in the New Testament.
Stop for a moment and imagine the scene in these verses. They include a contrast between life and death. The apostles were offering the people new life in Jesus name while the high priests and his associates were threatening the apostles with death. The people were choosing the road that leads to life.
Upon hearing this, the apostles entered the temple about daybreak and began to teach. They had a commendable work ethic!
I can only imagine the stir of activity around the temple. Merchants were busy preparing their goods for the daily crowd. The levites were putting their final touches on cleaning the temple grounds. A few lower ranked priests were changing the show bread and preparing the morning sacrifice. The crowds were already buzzing with chat about current events and the arrest of the Christian Leaders. The apostles were on duty and teaching about anyone who would listen about Jesus Christ and the gospel. Where was chief priest and his associates? They were still in their bed chambers with soft pillows wrapped around their ears.
Answering the call to follow Jesus does not lead to a life of ease. To the contrary, there will be plenty of sleepless nights followed by early mornings. Give of your best to the Master.