Division in the Ministry

Studies in Acts

Lesson 10: “Division in Ministry

Acts 6:1-7

 

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

 

Even though he said that in the context of politics, there is a real sense in which it applies to the ministry also. There are many people in the world and in the church, who just assume without thinking about it, that the pastor is the central figure in the church, and that he does any kind of ministry that needs to be done. And even though there have been many years of history to back up that idea, the scripture doesn’t back it up at all; in fact, it says just the opposite! And the place where that concept is introduced is the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Acts. The chapter falls into two parts:

 

In verses 1 through 7 we see the appointment of servants And then in verses 8 through 15 we have the accusation of Stephen. Even though this may seem like a very simple chapter, it is actually the beginning of a turning point in the entire New Testament. It is a turning point in terms of the organization of the ministry, and there is a turning point in terms of the “cost” of the ministry.

 

So let’s look first at the appointment of servants as we find it in verses 1-8 And the first thing we see there is the setting of the whole incident in verse one:

 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists[Greeks] because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

 

Here is a situation which many churches would envy – “church growth” – we know that the church had grown to at least 5,000 within just a few months. This is probably the hottest topic among pastors and seminary students today. Countless books and articles and seminars have been given on the subject. But this passage shows that church growth is not without its problems – it is not always the perfect situation it is sometimes cracked up to be. But even in the midst of all that growth they were doing a lot of things right. And one of those things was a distribution of food to widows.

 

We know from chapter 3 that they were concerned with each other’s needs. And this may have been an outgrowth of the practices of the Jewish synagogue of that time. It may have included more than widows, but that is the problem focused on in this chapter arose. Women in general and widows in particular were an especially disadvantaged group in that society. First century customs and practices did not include the welfare of widows, and a widow who had no adult children was particularly in need. But its importance is shown in the fact that it was still a concern of Paul much later (near the end of his life) when he included it in his instructions to his protégé Timothy. And because it was included in the New Testament, it is still a valid concern today. Incidentally, this is another illustration of how the onset of Christianity improved the situation of many groups which had been the objects of discrimination or neglect in society in general.

 

Now the disagreement in this chapter arose in a “perceived” discrimination against the Gentile widows in favor of the Jewish widows. This at least implies that the Jews were administering the program. At this point in time there were more Jewish Christians than Gentiles. And it was the Gentiles who were complaining. There is no historical evidence that this was or was not true –  and that is really beside the point of the passage anyway. But just the “perception” of discrimination is at the root of many church problems even today.

 

So that is “the setting” out of which this situation arose, but in verses 2 through 7 we find the settlement at which the apostles arrived. The first factor in the settlement of the problem is the explanation which we find in verse 2:

 

(2) Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.

 

The importance of this situation is demonstrated in the fact that they called the whole church together (“the multitude of the disciples”) The importance was not so much in terms of the subject that was being disputed, but in terms of the action they were about to take in settling the dispute was a whole new direction in ministry. And the principles involved in that new direction in ministry were important enough for all Christians to understand (although many don’t, even today.) So there was first this “explanation,” then the second part of the settlement of the dispute is in the organization that is described in verses 3 through 6:

 

Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business, but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”

 

Here we have the first instance of “shared ministry” between the apostles and other Christians. And notice how the division is made: “business” – verse 3, and “’ministry of the word” – verse 4. And this is a division that is carried out throughout the New Testament.

 

Romans 12:3 through 12, one of the passages that deals with the doctrine of spiritual gifts, gives a good summary:

 

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (4)For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, being many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another (6) Having then gifts differing, according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8)he who exhorts in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads with diligence; he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”

 

Here we have the illustration of Christians working together like the various parts of the body do – all with different functions. And the distinction in the kinds of gifts is made in verse 7 – “ministry” and “teaching” (“prophecy” is no longer needed because of the completed canon of scripture.) Then he gives examples of each of the divisions. So obviously, God does not expect every Christian to be a pastor or a missionary. There are other valid, important, ways to serve the Lord. Another place where this distinction is taught in even more detail is I Corinthians chapters 12 through 14. Now something that is very important in understanding this new arrangement is to notice what the apostles were not saying: They were not saying “the feeding of widows is not important enough for us to fool with.” Neither were they saying “if peripheral programs cause problems we just won’t have them.” But they also were not saying this is so important that we will just have to give up our prayer and ministry time to take care of it.”

 

So what were they saying? They were saying, “this is an important issue that must be dealt with”

But there are other equally important things that must be dealt with.” Therefore, we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (even though it is largely overlooked.)

 

So what were they saying? They were saying “this is an important issue that must be dealt with. “But there are also equally important things that must be dealt with. “Therefore we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (although it is largely overlooked.) The subconscious assumption of most people is that the pastor is supposed to do everything. But the real focus of the work of the pastor is given in Ephesians 4:11-15.

 

And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (12) for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ;(13) till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (14)that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.  (15) but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in Him in all things which is the head, even Christ.”

 

Verse 11 says that Christ gave to the church men who have the gift of pastor-teacher, and men with the gift of evangelism (apostles and prophets too at first) and His purpose was “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. “Now I can just hear someone thinking, listen to that, “preachers only work one day a week,” and now they want us to do the work of the ministry.” (just kidding) but actually there is a sense in which that is what these verses are saying.

 

And the result of that arrangement will be a stable maturity where Christians are not “tossed about with every wind of doctrine” according to verse 14, but who can counsel and teach each other as newcomers to the group. Let me give you what I believe to be a pastor’s order of priorities in the ministry, based on these various passages of scripture: First and foremost is the preparation and presentation of the teaching of the Word of God (8 hours of preparation per hour of teaching should be the norm.) This would include worship services, funerals and weddings, and bible studies (home or church).

A second priority would be activities that help with the application of the teaching. This would include such things as premarital counseling and working with families about funeral services. It would include such things as encouraging people with serious illnesses or injuries in the application of scripture to their situation. Only then does the pastor’s ministry involve general visitation, public relations, community activities, etc. It is my opinion (although probably none of my business) that the large majority of pastors and churches have these priorities exactly backwards.

 

Now we have seen “the explanation” of the situation, and “the organization” designed to facilitate it. But the third aspect of the situation is the ordination of these men that took place in verses 5 and 6

 

(5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the holy Spirit and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (6) whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

 

We have a tendency to think that the pastors and Sunday School teachers have very spiritual work to do, but that other church workers (staff members and otherwise) are more of a secular nature. But look at these men. They were chosen for their godliness and set apart with a public prayer of dedication. Even though their work was not in the area of teaching and preaching, it was just as sacred as the work of the apostles. And that is demonstrated in the next point: because after the “explanation” and the “organization,” multiplication was a natural result. Look at verse 7:

 

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

 

We began our study in the context of “church growth” and now we come full circle back to it again. Do you see where church growth comes from? Not from putting on a catchy, entertaining program that will attract people who are disenchanted with the church they are going to, not by offering a class for every interest group in town, and not by having facilities that are on a par with the best shopping malls and office buildings. Those things may have their place under certain conditions, but real, biblical church growth comes from bringing people to Christ as a result of a spiritually centered, cooperating organization of spiritual gifts and abilities.

 

Although it might not appear so at first glance, what we have here in the beginning of chapter 6 is yet another attack of Satan. First he had attacked from outside – the Sanhedrin in chapter 4; then he attacked from within – Ananias and Saphira in chapter 5. But here is the most subtle attack of all: distraction from ministry by means of an argument of an argument about methods. Fortunately the apostles were able to “nip it in the bud” before it became a problem, but many ministries fall prey to this kind of thing, and it is hard to deal with because often “the good is the enemy of the best.” and it is hard to see beyond some good that is being done. And remember that this took place under the leadership of the apostles themselves! Good leadership in and of itself is not necessarily a preventative of problems. But God has His own designs for the way things should be done, and we ignore it to our peril!

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Deadly Deception

Lesson 8: “A Deadly Deception”

Acts 4:23-5:16

 

As we come to chapter 5 we come to one of those places where the chapter divisions cause the text to be a little confusing. (remember that the chapter and verse divisions, as helpful as they are, are not a part of the inspired text of scripture.) They were added later after the laborious process of deciding which of the books written by the Apostles were to be included in the New Testament. That is an important subject, but it is beyond the scope of this lesson. It would seem that it would have been better to have included verses 36 and 37 as the beginning verses of chapter 5. If that had been done, the text would have read something like this:

 

Chapter 5

 

(1) And Joses, who by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation,) a Levite and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. (2) And a certain man named Ananias with Saphira his wife also being aware of it, sold a possession and kept back a part of the proceeds, (3) But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? (4) While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (9) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (10) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all those who heard these things. (12) And through the hands of the Apostles many signs were done among the people and they were all with one accord. In Solomon’s porch (13) and yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

 

Almost everyone knows that there are certain people who have the ability to project themselves as something they are not. Sometimes it is something that they have studied and worked on, sometimes it just comes naturally. And when they do it to entertain us in the movies, on the stage or on television we applaud them. But when they do it in an “everyday” setting, we usually reject them. As we come to Acts chapter 5, we find a couple who tried to “put on an act” with their fellow Christians, but it proved to be “a deadly deception.” The word “but” as the first word of chapter 5 of the book of Acts presents a real contrast to what has gone on in the last section of chapter 4.

 

Chapters 4 and 5 are still talking about the “first things” of the church: the first public impression of it was on the day of Pentecost, as we saw, back in chapter 2. The first sermon was delivered there too. Then the first opposition was demonstrated in that chapter too. The first understanding of fellowship was in chapter 4 also – the total sharing of everything.

 

But sadly enough, the first church discipline takes place there also; and it is the primary subject of this chapter. As we look at the subject we will see: The Cause of the Discipline in 4:36 through 5:2. Then in verses 4:36 through 5:2 then in verses 5:3 through 10 we see the Course of the discipline. And finally, in chapter 5:11 through 16 we see the consequences of the Discipline. And the first thing to notice is that it was a sin that occurred within the fellowship of the church. A couple by the names of Ananias and Saphira were already members of the group, not “outside infiltrators.” And the significance of that is that Satan had just tried to attack the church with opposition from outside in the previous chapters– and it was repulsed. But this was a more dangerous form of opposition It was opposition from within. This has always been his method: to try different tactics – if he can’t get us from one angle he will try exactly the other. Interestingly enough, attacks from the outside have never hurt the church on a long-term basis – and Jesus had predicted this. He said that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” But attacks from within have been successful time and time again. Well, what was this sin that had such a powerful outcome? It was not the sin of refusing to contribute – there were no laws governing who gave what – look at verse 2:

 

And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the Apostles’ feet

 

Nor was it the sin of refusing to give at all. Look at verse 4:

 

And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.

 

(7) Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (10) And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much” She said “yes, for so much” (10) Then Peter said to her, “How is it that that you have agreed to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (10) then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men carrying her out buried her by her husband.

 

So what was the sin? Well, that is answered by looking at Peter’s statements to them. It was the sin of trying to appear what they were not – the sin of hypocrisy; trying to get praise for Godliness as Barnabas had in 4:36. This is the one thing that really made Jesus angry. Look at Matthew 23:13 and following

 

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

 

On the other hand, honesty never makes God angry, even when it seems blasphemous. For example, look at Jeremiah 20:7-9:

 

O Lord, you induced me, and I was persuaded: You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me . . . (9) Then I said I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name . . “but His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of holding it back and I could not.”

 

Or think about Habakkuk in 1:2-4

 

Oh Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out to You “Violence!” and you will not save. (3) Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises (4) therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgement proceeds.

 

Or again, Mary and Martha in John 11:20-24

 

Then Martha as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went out and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house (21) Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (22) but I know that even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give it you” (23) Jesus said to her, your brother will rise again (24) Martha said to Him I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”

 

Or Job, Jonah, Elijah, Moses, etc., all of whom spoke seemingly harshly but honestly to God about their situations.

 

This sin can only be fully understood in light of the conditions at the end of chapter 4. In those verses the disciples experienced love that drew them together in fellowship. They had spiritual insight that gave new meaning  to their relationship with Christ. They were thinking in terms of eternity’s values rather than earthly possessions. And Ananias and Saphira were the opposite of all of this. they had been thinking of self rather than love of others. They had been thinking in terms of honor for themselves rather than the honor of Christ. They were thinking about possessions rather than trusting God for their livelihood. And ironically, the sin did not profit them at all. They were operating with worldly wisdom, which said “take care of yourself.” And they lost everything . Ananias and Saphira died because they simply could not live in that rarified spiritual atmosphere. All because they pretended to be something they were not. It was awe-inspiring. Not the deaths themselves, but the purity of spiritual life that would bring recognition and death to one who was impure. And verses 4, 5, and 10 demonstrated that it was administered by God himself.

 

Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him. (6) Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out and buried him.

 

And it purified the church. People with these kinds of attitudes would have spoiled the church’s effectiveness, so they were removed. God has always done this in times when important spiritual things were being accomplished. A positive illustration of this is Gideon, who was told to send home 100 times as many soldiers as he kept. Another is “the mixed multitude” who were allowed to go with the Israelites out of Egypt – and they were always a hindrance. Don’t be too upset when someone leaves the church – it might God’s doing! people wonder why this kind of thing doesn’t continue today. The answer is two-fold: First, those were foundational times; we have the completed canon of scripture and years of experience. But second, probably because we have accepted too many of our own “mixed multitude” and therefore are not very usable by God in the first place.

 

Now we have seen the occasion of the discipline and the occurrence of it. Now lets think about the outcome of it as it is recorded in verses 11 through 16 First there was great fear on the part of unbelievers. Look at verse 5:

 

Then Ananias, hearing these words fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Then look at verse 13:

 

Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. People have a disdain for the church to the extent that the church is impure. Here is a sobering question in light of this chapter: how long has it been since you have heard of someone being afraid to join a church?

 

The second result of this discipline was similar, but somewhat different. Great fear within the church – verse 11:

 

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

 

Incidentally, here is the first use of the word “church” to describe the believers. But the effect was fear also! This is a legitimate aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about love, joy, peace, etc. – and they are legitimate. But power and purity are also a part of his work. A third result is in verses 12 through 16: Great power

 

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.

 

And the effect was two-fold. Look at verses 13 and 14. As we have already seen, it kept the wrong kind of people out of the church. But it also brought many into the body of Christ.- verse 14

And believers were increasingly added to the Lord

 

A fourth result was in verses 15 and 16: great ministry

 

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them (16) Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits and they were all healed.

 

The reference to the shadow in verse 15 is purely an eastern custom, practiced even today – people try to get in the shadow of a good man or stay our of the shadow of a bad man one. And the subconscious reason for that is that everybody knows, whether that purity has power. These people knew that supernatural power was connected with this couple’s death and that that power could heal – not the shadow itself, but the power that it represented. And notice Dr. Luke’s specification  in verse 16 that both physical and spiritual illnesses were healed.

 

In closing, just note some observations from this story: The story begins with death and ends with healing, but it was the same power in both cases. (G. Campbell Morgan, a famous English pastor from the 19th century, spoke of this chapter as a story as “the blessing and “the blasting of God.” And a review of church history will show that down through the years “the church pure is the church powerful”

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com

 

 

 

How to be A Christian without Being Religious

Studies in Acts

Lesson 7

“How to be a Christian without being Religious”

 

Acts 4:1-22

 

 

A few years ago, a teen age boy who had accepted Christ but was a member of a liberal church, got into a serious argument with his youth pastor. For every point the boy made, he quoted scripture. Finally, the Youth Pastor said “Clyde quit quoting the Bible. I want to know what YOU think, that’s what’s important! Now that little story illustrates something that we are going to see on a larger scale in Acts chapter 4, and that is the difference between “Christianity” and “Religion.” Now at first hearing that might sound a little confusing. Someone might say, “aren’t they the same thing?” But the answer to that question is an emphatic “NO.” Religion is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a particular system in which the quest for the ideal life is embodied.” The key word in that definition is the word “system.” All of the various religions of the world are merely “systems” or “programs” by which men try to reach up to God. But Christianity is a “relationship.” And that makes all the difference in the world! And what we find here in Acts chapter 4 is a head-on collision between those two ways of thought.

 

Remember the background of this chapter: Peter and John had been used by God to heal a lame man at the gate of the temple, then had preached a sermon identifying Jesus Christ as the source of their power and 5,000 Jews believed in Him. But now as we come to chapter 4, the news of this had gotten to the religious authorities – and that is where our lesson begins: The chapter falls into 3 parts: first we have The confinement of the Apostles in verses 1 through 4. Then in verses 5 through 22 we have The confrontation by the Sanhedrin  And finally in verses 23 through 37 we have The companionship of the Saints.

 

So let’s think about the confinement of the Apostles, which we find in verses 1 through 4.

 

Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, (2) being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (3) And they laid hands on them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. (4) However, many of those who heard the word believed, and the number came to be about five thousand.

 

The verses pretty well speak for themselves – the Apostles got thrown in jail. But notice that it began while Peter was still preaching in verse 1 – as they spoke to the people . . . .” (Incidentally, have you ever noticed how rude Satan and his pawns are? Satan is many things, but he is not a gentleman. The perpetrators of the situation are specifically named in the last part of verse 1: the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.”

 

These three taken together represent “the religious establishment” in Jerusalem. The priests are obvious, but what about the others mentioned here? The term “captain of the temple” indicates that this group included the Sanhedrin – the political/religious authority that Rome allowed to continue after Israel’s captivity. They were limited by the Roman government to hearing cases concerning violations “temple laws” (basically Old Testament laws). But interestingly enough, they did have the power of death in such matters. (basically, the way that Jesus got the death penalty – even though the Roman government did have supervisory power – that’s where Pilate came in to the trial of Jesus, and why he was so nervous. If he messed up something like a death penalty case, he could be held liable for whatever repercussions occurred. Then there was this third group: “the Sadducees.”  This was a group that we hear a lot about (along with the Pharisees) Surprisingly enough the two groups were very different. The Pharisees were the religious fundmentalists, who demanded strict adherence to the Old Testament. The Sadducees, on the other hand were more relaxed Actually this is another example of one of Satan’s many strategies: to unite two fundamentally different groups and get them to quarrelling with each other. Now you would think that any “religious” person would be gratified that this poor man had been helped out of his sad situation (after all, isn’t that what its all about, helping the underprivileged?) its not, but that’s what “religion” constantly tells us.) But instead verse 2 says that they were “greatly disturbed.”

 

Now, to be fair to them, it goes on to say that they were disturbed, not so much about the healing, but about the preaching that accompanied it. But after all, what does it matter, if someone has been helped? (as “religion would ordinarily say, don’t “all roads lead to Rome?” More particularly, the last part of verse 2 says that they were upset that “they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It is easy to overlook the significance of that statement. Its not just that they were preaching about Jesus’ resurrection, but that “in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead.” “for all who believe.

 

But verse 4 brings out an interesting point by way of contrast: all of the power of Rome and the most powerful Jews together couldn’t stop the power of the gospel.

 

However, many of those who heard believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

 

In verses 5 through 22 we find that the next morning, there was a confrontation by the Sanhedrin. And the first thing to notice is what an August group it was, as brought out in verses 5 and 6

 

And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders and scribes (6) as well as Annas the High Priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem

 

Here are the most important men in the religious affairs of Judaism. And this indicates that the activity of the Apostles was not just a simple flurry that they could overlook – it was something that would change the course of Jewish history if they didn’t do something about it. But not only was it an August group, it was an accusing group as well. Look at verse 7:

 

And when they had set them in the midst they asked, “By what power or what name have you done this?

 

It is obvious that they were not there to try to determine guilt or innocence, they were there to assess punishment. A literal translation of the question would be something like: “why are you guilty of this thing that we know you have done?

 

Deuteronomy 13:5 said that if a false prophet did some significant thing and then tried to get Israelites to worship some God other than Jehovah, he was to be put to death. So no doubt the Sanhedrin was trying to put Peter and John in a situation where they could call for the death penalty.

 

So this was a situation in which all the cards were stacked against the apostles right from the start. It was “an august group,” “an accusing group,” but also, to their amazement, in verses 8 through 12 they became an accused group as well! Here we have another sermon from Peter. And it demonstrated that these “religionists” didn’t know what they were dealing with: a man under the influence of the Holy Spirit (verse 8 states specifically that this was the case.) And this is always true of “religion” when it comes up against Christianity – they understand the terms, but don’t begin to understand the concepts because they know nothing about the power of the Spirit. Look at the details:

 

Then Peter, filled with the Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel (9)”If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he is made well, (10) “Let it be made known to you all, and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised up from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole (11) “This is the stone which the builders rejected by you builders which has become the chief cornerstone (12)Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”

*

This sermon comprises just 92 words in the Greek text. But in those few words Peter each one of their questions and left them with no comeback. Basically, he stated three things: First, in verse 9 he reminds them that this was a good deed in the first place – how foolish to criticize something like this! (So much of what “religion” questions about Christianity in the first place – such as Clyde Hanks quoting scripture to make his points to that youth pastor.) Second, in direct answer to their question he tells them in what name it had been done – Jesus of Nazareth. Notice that he boldly points that He was the one whom they had crucified. Then in verse 11 he points out that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. This is a quotation of Psalm 118:22 which every one of these men would have known. And it proves that Jesus was the Messiah.

 

The third thing Peter did in this sermon was to zero in on the necessity of belief in Him for salvation. Look at verse 12 again:

 

(12) Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter is a lesson in soul winning. Not only did he clarify exactly who Jesus was, but he clarified the absolutely necessity for belief in Him and Him alone for salvation. And in this particular setting this took more courage than you and I will probably ever face. Back in chapter one, verse 8 Jesus had said, “you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes.” And here in 4:8 we are told that Peter was “filled with the Spirit.” And the most significant aspect of that is that you and I have the very same promise, even today!

 

Now we have seen that these religious leaders were “an august group” an accusing group,” and an accused group. But now in verses 13 through 18  we see that they are an amazed group. Their confusion  is described in verses 13 and 14:

 

(13)when Now they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. (14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them they could say nothing against it.

 

They had come there to do away with these bumpkins once and for all. But, having heard Peter’s spirit filled message they “marveled” – couldn’t figure out how to deal with them (and religion never can figure out how to deal with a Christian)

 

And all of this is complicated by the unnerving fact that the one who had been healed was “standing” with them (- brilliant little piece of understatement) So because of that confusion we see their conference in verses 15 through 17.

 

(15) But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves (16) saying, “what shall we do to these men? For indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it.(17) But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on, they speak to no man in this name.”

 

At least they were wise enough not to deny the healing. So the best they could do was to keep it quiet (verse 17) And notice how perceptive they were. They knew that the key to keeping the news of the healing from spreading was to control the preaching in the name of Jesus. And this is still Satan’s tactic. He doesn’t mind people going to church as long as they don’t talk about Jesus. Or if they talk about Him as savior. And so out of that background comes the command in verse 18:

 

And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

 

Notice that the command was not just to preach about Jesus, but to speak of Him in any way – not to speak at all.” But in verses 19 and 20 we find the Apostles ‘counter proposal

 

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot which we have seen and heard.”

 

These are some of the best-known verses in the Bible, and at the same time some of the least known. So we need to think about them carefully. Of course, the basic underlying principle is that it is better to obey God than man. And this is the Biblical for “civil disobedience.” And that is a concept that may become more and more necessary if our nation continues to deteriorate. But there is something that is very important underlying all of this. This is not just a statement that they had seen some exciting things that they couldn’t keep quiet about. Rather, it is a statement of obedience to scripture. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20? Basically Jesus had told them to “speak the things that they had seen and heard” (the root meaning of “witness”). And the bottom line is this: Unless you have a scripture for the law you want to disobey you don’t have a right to civil disobedience. Don’t try to cloak disobedience to a law that you don’t like in this verse.

 

This passage teaches many lessons, but one overreaches them all: And that is that God intends to be a way of life – not bound in by rules and regulations, but “practicing the presence of Christ.” – even if means civil disobedience.

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com

 

 

  

The Greatest Miracle in the Bible

Studies in Acts, Lesson 6 Chapter 3

What do you think would be the most helpless feeling in the world? I’ve always thought that drowning would be. Someone else suggested that being paralyzed and blind and unable to speak would be. Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a small merchant who thought he was facing an impossible situation: he refused to sell his property to a group who wanted to build a combination drug store and supermarket, so they built the supermarket on one side of his little store and the drug store on the other side. He solved his problem, though, by having a large sign placed over the door to his little store that said “Main Entrance.”

In the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Acts, however, we come to a situation that really was impossible, and there was nothing the person involved could do about it. But in that situation God intervened with a great miracle. and I am referring to it as the greatest miracle in the Bible because it is a perfect picture of the greatest miracle that God has ever worked – your salvation and mine. Chapter 2 closes with  a description of the early days of the church. Verse 43 tells us that there was fellowship and teaching of the Word of God. And it says that everything the Christians did was accompanied by “signs and wonders” being done by the apostles. As the teaching brought more and more believers into the fellowship the signs and wonders became less and less needed, but they were very important in the beginning. And in chapter 3 we see one of those “signs” and the results it produced. Chapter 3 actually goes through the first 4 verses of chapter 4, and can be divided in this way: In verses 1 through 8 we have the sign  Then in verses 10 thru 26 we have the sermon , and in chapter 4: verses 1 thru 4 we have the sequel .

So let’s begin our study by looking at the sign  that was given by God in verses 1 thru 8.

The setting   for it is given in verses 1 and 2 . And the first factor in that setting is the place  where it took place, described in verse 1

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

Now that verse may not seem significant on the surface, but it actually contains an important reason for the great accomplishment that took place there. And that is that Peter and John in going to the temple that day were being obedient to what Jesus had told them back in chapter 1 verse 8 – be witnesses for me in Jerusalem . . .” They were following a basic principle of fishing and witnessing for Christ: “go where the fish are.” So that what on the surface seemed like a normal everyday Jewish activity was actually a way of serving the Lord.  And that is always true, The believer who is committed to being obedient to the Lord will find opportunities for service – wherever that may be. But not only was the place   where this miracle took place important, the person in the miracle  is important too. Look at verse 2:

And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple:

As I mentioned earlier, this man and the miracle that was done for him is  a picture a much more important miracle: your salvation and mine. Look at some of the parallels: First, notice that he was “lame from his mother’s womb.” this condition was not because of any wrong that he had done;  he was born that way.

Now it is true that you and I are sinners because of individual sins that we have personally committed, but it is also true that even if we had not committed sin we were born in a sinful condition. If you have a baby more than a week or two old you know how true this is – even at that age they can be rebellious and stubborn – and it is only going to get worse. There is nothing that this man could do to change that condition – no “good works” or “clean living” would bring strength to his legs.

A second thing to notice is what he was doing – laid daily at the gate . . . to ask alms. .. He wasn’t asking alms (offerings) in order to have knee surgery; he was just trying to find a way to exist from one day to the next. Here he was on the outskirts of one or the most beautiful places in the world, but he couldn’t really enjoy it. And this too, is a picture of the unsaved. There is no way they can earn enough money to fix the sin problem and buy “peace with God.” Therefore all of man’s efforts are simply to find some way to get through life with as little discomfort as possible.

Well, that is the setting for the miracle , but verses 3 through 7 give us the statement of it.

Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. (4) And fixing his eyes on him with John, Peter said “Look at us.” (5) So he gave them his attention expecting to receive something from them. (6) Then Peter said, “silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I  give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. (7) And he took him by the right hand  and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

Here is the miracle, described in detail. Think of some of the lessons we can learn from it: First, notice that it was done “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” No genuine work of God is done outside of the name of Christ.For those who are spiritually crippled, trying to find some way to get through life, no real help will come except through Christ. Nothing permanent would have been accomplished if Peter had given this man money – it would have just helped temporarily. In the same way , no eternal or spiritual good is done by joining the Rotary Club,  or donating to the United Way or delivering meals, (even though those things are fine in and of themselves.)

A second thing to notice here is that the man did not “do” anything to receive his healing  – Peter took him by the hand and he stood and walked. The same thing is true spiritually: All we have to do is turn and look at Jesus (as this man did in verse 5 – “so he gave them his attention . . .” And by that single, simple act God did everything necessary to meet his need and give him a whole new life.

Where are you on this scale of things? Are you just struggling through life trying to get something to help you through your lame existence; not doing anything  that will solve your problem? As the hymnwriter said, “there’s life for a look at the Savior” Turn to Him for spiritual healing today! And remember that this same principle is true of Christians who are out of fellowship.

Even though we have been thinking about this miracle as a picture of salvation, there are also some principles to learn here about the true nature of “faith healing.”

First, it always gives all the glory to Christ. – look at verse 6 – “I have nothing . . . “in the name of Jesus, rise and walk. Secondly, “it is immediate” – verse 7 – “immediately his feet and anklebones received strength.” Third, It is recognizable and unquestionable – verse 9 – the onlookers saw him walking around. – verse 10: and they knew that it was he who sat begging alms (as opposed to some unseen illness such as an ear infection or kidney disease, etc.)

So that is the first part of the chapter, the “sign” which God provided in healing the lame man. But, as God intended, it led to the sermon   which is found in verses 9 through 26 

Peter, like any good preacher, knew an opportunity when he saw one.Look at the reason for the sermon 

All the people saw him walking and praising God (10) Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him (11) Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s.

This is a perfect example of the reason for miracles – to get attention for a message or to validate a message already given. By the grace of God, the miracles benefitted people as well, but that was secondary to the main purpose. And that is still  true today – if God works a miracle in your life be sure to use it as a testimony. And incidentally, this also gives us guidance in whether or not to pray for a miracle – what is your motive?

So that is the reason for the sermon. But now let’s look at the reasoning in the sermon in  verses 12 through 26

The first thing Peter does in this sermon is to make clear what the power behind the miracle was in verses 12 through 16  And first, in verse 12, he very admirably makes clear where the power did not come from:

So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

Then in verse 13 he clearly ties in the power for the miracle with The identification of Jesus  

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied  in the presence of  Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.

Notice how he ties in the little carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, with the heroes of their faith, Isaac, Isaac and Jacob. And just in case there is any question about it, he stresses the fact that this was the same one whom Pilate was ready to release except for their demands. Then he carries it a step further and makes an indictment of the Jews  in verses 14 and 15 

But you denied the Holy One and the just,and asked for a murderer to be granted to you(15) and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.

Even though it is not obvious on the surface, these verses describe a miracle just as impressive as the healing of the lame man! Think about who it was who made this scorching indictment, and think about who he was saying it to. Only God could have produced this kind of courage in the heart of the man had denied his Lord under the questioning of a teen-aged girl just a few weeks before!And what is so easily overlooked  by  those who demand”signs and wonders” for our day and time is that God still performs this kind of miracle every day. Then in verse 16 Peter comes back to his main subject and specifies the ignition of the power source.

And this name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes. the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Here is another statement of the consistent message of the Bible: it is not enough to believe in the power of God or that Jesus is the Son of God as stressed in the previous verses. There must be “faith in His name.” So having explained “the power behind the miracle”, Peter makes a plea based on the miracle in verses 17 through 26 

He surrounds the plea before and after with prophecies which led up to it. But the essence of the plea is in verse 19:

Repent, therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

This is part of the same message Peter had preached in his first sermon: “change your mind about Jesus of nazareth.” and he had already explained “through faith in His name.” and the result of that faith is in the last part of verse 19. First, “your sins will be blotted out. And second, “the times of refreshing will come from the Lord.” This is an interesting description of salvation isn’t it? But how refreshing it is when we think about the fact that our sins are blotted out! And this is a good idea from time to time to pause for one of those “times of refreshing that come from the Lord.” They come when we really think about the words of a hymn that we are singing. Or when we hear some familiar truth taught a time when it fits our situation in life.