Cleansed and Empowered for Continuing the Mission

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        Last week we studied about Ananias and Sapphira, and we learned of how God took great measures to keep His church pure. By lying about the sale of their land and misrepresenting the amount they gave the church as the whole amount they had received they had lied to the Holy Spirit and God dropped them on the spot. The result of their judgment was that all of the members of the church as well as all of the people who heard of this account feared God.

            This fear provided a healthy balance to the ministry and a reality in tangible actions to the fullness of God’s character as He established His church. So far there had been many miracles showing the power and glory of God; Jesus had rose from the dead, appeared many times teaching for forty days then ascended into heaven. After which He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost at which time a great wind blew and tongues of fire fell on the heads of the apostles then they were empowered to speak the wonders of God in the original languages and dialects of people who had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world. Peter had spoken multiple sermons clearly laying out the gospel in words that both convicted people of their sin and brought the hope of salvation through the work of Christ on the cross. In addition to these miracles a lame man was healed and finally God revealed a misrepresentation of gifts to the church and punished lying to the Holy Spirit for personal gain with instant death.

            With this holistic reality of the new kingdom of God that was coming forward people were both repelled and attracted to God’s family. You see Christianity rightly taught and practiced should do both. It’s not possible for an unbeliever to hang out long term in this community because even though the people should be loving, humble, and generous as we saw back in 4:32-37 selling there possessions and giving to those in need, there is not room for hypocrisy or lukewarm faith in God’s kingdom. Ananias was trying to keep up with the Jones’ by joining in the generosity movement but his heart wasn’t in the right place and this resulted in his sin bringing about his demise. This brought two passages to mind one in the New Testament and one in the Old, which show God’s consistency in despising false worship:

            God said in Revelation “I know your works, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev 3:15-16 HCSB

      He also said to the Israelite priests back in Malachi: When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11 “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.” Malachi 1:8-11 HCSB

      Through judgment and trials God both strengthens the faith of believers and repels those who do not believe and that is what we see going forward in chapter five of Acts. With this cleansing of the church having taken place and the prayers of boldness being answered from chapter 4:23-31 the church continued to meet publicly in the temple teaching the gospel and healing the sick, as well as bringing the dead to life.

Apostolic Signs and Wonders

12 Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16 HCSB

           The power of the Holy Spirit continued to work wonders among the people proclaiming Christ in word and deed, and boldly in the Temple. Remember Peter and John had recently been arrested and ordered not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet here they are doing so and publicly in the temple. The fear we had just heard about also is fresh in the minds of the unbelievers, they liked what they saw, people being healed and miracles performed but because they didn’t believe they feared death and so they didn’t dare join the assembly. However crowds of people were coming to faith and joining the church daily. This is what I was referring to by attracting and repelling. The people on the outside were attracted to what was going on in the church, obviously good things were happening and the community was a beautiful picture of family. Even with miraculous signs and widespread a widespread healing campaign the church didn’t lower it’s standards in order to attract people. No way were they going to mess with these crazy people and chance being struck dead right. Even before the judgment there were those who made fun on the miracles at Pentecost accusing the apostles of being drunk. Without the spirit of God to reveal the truth to you the church, and scripture seems foolish and even though there may be parts of it that are appealing if the gospel is holistically being presented in word and deed unbelievers will not want to stay unless God saves them and adds them to the family. A result of the growing of the church was that many were healed of sickness both physically and spiritually. But not everyone was happy with this.

In and Out of Prison

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.

         Another result of the growing of the church and the good deeds and miracles being performed was the continued persecution of the church. In this section of the text we see the Jewish religious rulers enraged by the spreading of this new faith and they arrested the apostles and threw them in jail again. With the miraculous signs and wonders and large growth of the church they were threatening the power of the religious leaders. God then sent an angel to free them but not for the purpose of their own safety but so they could return to the temple and he ordered them to “tell the people all about this life.” Three times in this passage the evangelistic ministry of the apostles is described with the verb “teach” (didasko, vv. 21, 25, 28). There must have been a major emphasis on the content—the truth—of the gospel. Truth is communicated through what the Bible describes as preaching and teaching.[1] What was God’s mission? In acts 1:8 he had ordered them to be “His witness in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” They were to preach the gospel and make disciples, their mission was not to receive the gospel and be safe. So when we see them freed it’s for a purpose, to continue the mission, in this case to be caught again doing what they were ordered not to do by men, but to do by God.

            In addition to the attracting and repelling of people to the gospel, and the church is the presence of fear among those on both sides of this story. You see fear can be good or bad. The fear of God is a good healthy thing, but the fear of man is dangerous and reveals a lack of fear of God. Who should we fear the creator or the created? The unbelievers fear of God at least kept them safe from God’s wrath at the present time, but unless they had a change in heart and followed God, and that fear turned to reverence and fear of not being one of His they would face death eventually. However we will see the priests did not fear God, yet did fear man.

            The Apostles on Trial Again

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this.

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them.27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5:21-32 HCSB

            So the priests had them arrested and intended to try them again. I love God’s sense of humor as we find it in His revealed word. Picture this these bureaucrats arrest these annoying Christians but plan to deal with them on their own schedule. Lets arrest them now and leave them in jail over night. The get together the next morning and send for them only to find their gone! This had to heap burning coals on these guys heads, I mean they were already enraged now these guys escaped, and get this before they can even move on passed being baffled they get a report from someone else they had found the apostles. And they were found back in the same place doing the same thing they were ordered not to. You see the last words of Peter and James to these men when they were ordered not to do this was “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20 HCSB Now Peter and James were walking their talk. Their fear of God outweighed their fear of man. They had been threatened after making this proclamation, and now arrested. Yet an angel had sent them free and commanded them to go back and do that which Jesus had commanded them. They knew they would be arrested again, what they didn’t know was what would happen to them when they stood trial this time. But they acted boldly, that is without fear, not just courageously in the face of fear, but boldly towards man.

            However the priests acted in fear. They went and arrested the apostles again but out of fear they did so peacefully because they were afraid of being stoned by the people! When they reminded them they had ordered them not to preach in Jesus name, they accused them of being determined to bring Jesus blood on their head. As if it wasn’t already right? They were the ones who had Him arrested and demanded He be crucified. They had rejected Him as the Messiah and were remaining hard hearted. They wouldn’t accept that they were in the wrong, but Peter again boldly tells them how it is. Indeed His blood is on your hands is basically what he replied. You murdered Him, and cursed Him by hanging Him on a tree which was referring back to Deuteronomy 21:23. Then he declared that God had raised Him from the dead, and now He is ruling over His kingdom offering Israel forgiveness of sins. He is acting as high priest, which means He had replaced these men, and is offering them forgiveness for this very act, if they would only repent. As a result of being exalted, forgiveness and repentance were given by Christ. Repentance is triggered through the hearing of the Word, which brings the conviction of sin. But this act is not done by our own efforts; the grace to repent is given by Christ[2] He then presents themselves all as eyewitnesses to these accounts, and claims to be anointed by the Holy Spirit along with any who believe in Jesus, the Messiah. He is claiming the New Covenant promises from Jeremiah. The truth of this claim is one we to can cling to. The same Holy Spirit that was in them bearing witness to Jesus being the Christ indwells all believers today as well. Just as He empowered them, made them witnesses of His truth, and emboldened them, He does the same for us today.   The priest’s response was to become enraged rather than repent. Much like Pharaoh in Egypt God was hardening their hearts by bringing truth and offering the opportunity to obey. Then God used one man to spare the Apostles for now in order to continue the mission.

Gamaliel’s Advice

33 “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. c 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.Acts 5:31-42 HCSB

           Gamaliel was a wise famous rabbi, who Saul was studying under at the time. His advise was not to be to rash in handling this matter. A time would come later when these priests would not relent and Gamaliel’s very student would be the one to take up arms against the Christians. However for this time they decided to let them go after having them beat and threatened again. The response of the Apostles was miraculous itself. The rejoiced that they were worthy to have been dishonored, beaten on behalf of Jesus name. Wow! How often do we Pray for the opposite. We go on mission’s trips and pray for safety, pray that everyone will make it back unharmed. How often do people today rejoice for suffering for Christ. His words were pick up your cross and follow me, these men were doing that and with great joy! This brought to reminded me of Jesus prediction of Peters denial:

31 “Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. i32 But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!” 34 “I assure you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times!” 35 “Even if I have to die with You,” Peter told Him, “I will never deny You!” And all the disciples said the same thing.” Matthew 26:31-35 HCSB

      Jesus had predicted at the time of His arrest they would all abandon Him, and Peter and all the rest of the disciples had claimed they would never run from him, even if it meant death, yet then they all failed. The difference here was they now had the Holy Spirit. The game changer between being able to be constant and faithful to God is His spirit inside of us empowering us. It seems the Apostles indeed were rejoicing because finally they were able to do that which they had failed at previously. This was the same court in which Jesus had been arrested and sentenced to death, after they had abandoned Him. This time God empowered them to remain faithful, and to boldly remain faithful even if it meant death. After rejoicing they again went about their fathers business, teaching and preaching Jesus, in the temple and their homes.