Thursday, May 25th

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Acts 4

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Christians must always face reality and do what is right. Yes, we fail at times. But, our central theme in life should be to do whatever God commands. After all, this is what proves our love for Him, said Jesus.

Very often this means giving sacrificially, not to gain approval amongst our peers, but to show our love for God and fellow Believers, though it is rarely found today in Christians who have been brought up on self and self-improvement.

In this chapter we come across the way the world reacts to godliness. What we see in these words is no different from what happens today, when Christians act in a godly way. It is a fact that most Christians never come across controversy, or ruin, or aggression, or hatred from others, or disapproval from ‘authorities’. Why? Because they live in a cocoon, as do their fellows. They do not step out in faith and do whatever is necessary. They do not stand to be counted. But, they dare to criticize and scorn those who do!

Peter and John met with hostility just because they healed a man! Though the Sanhedrin recognized a miracle had occurred they still wanted to punish them! Why? Because they were preaching truth and not the dead lies of their day. What does that tell us about supposed spiritual leaders of our day, who do similar things, shunning fellow Christians who do what they are called to do by God?

Yet, no matter how shunned Christians are, even by their fellows, those Christians are approved of God, not men, and what they do is good and true, regardless of what their peers think. We wonder why the world is getting so bad. Let us look no further than our own selfish selves. If we had hearts and minds open to God instead of opened to a limited degree by our selective forms of spirituality, we would see many wonders and the death of many false movements. Read about the early Christian mind, and then apply it to your life.

Verses 1 - 4

  1. And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,

  2. Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

  3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.

  4. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

Whilst Peter and John were still preaching to the people thronging them in Solomon’s Porch, they had visitors! Like dogs looking to tear a weaker animal apart, along came the lower-order Temple priests, the captain of the Temple, who commanded the Levites and dealt with security, and the Sadducees.

The Sadducees ‘played second fiddle’ to the Pharisees, but they still had great authority. They were angry that the apostles preached to the people that Jesus was resurrected and ascended. This is because, as sect, they did not believe in such teachings.

Their guards roughly caught hold of the two men and threw them into the Temple hold or prison. It makes us wonder why ‘holy’ men should build a prison into a Temple dedicated to the worship of God! We might muse that the Temple prison was a symbol of the kind of religion these leaders forced upon the people.

Because it was evening, the two were kept there until the next day. Though their intention was to stop the men preaching, of those who heard the message, five thousand men believed and were added to the Church! Wicked men throughout the ages have murdered preachers in an effort to stop preaching. They think that if they stop men speaking, Christianity will die. They do not know that Christian belief spreads by men, but is commanded by God, so preaching and the Christian faith can never be eradicated from the earth. Even in times of historical quiet, men of faith exist.

Today, several factions are trying to ruin the earth with their vile affections or words, and destruction of Christians or their faith is topmost. This is because the only thing between them and a clear course of action, is Christ. Do not be deceived – just one man, at the right time and right place, can overturn and stop wicked men in their tracks. Prayer is their weapon, but they still need to speak out, and stand to be counted. When they do this, in whatever situation they are in, they have the power of the lord and His authority.

Verses 5 - 7

  1. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,

  2. And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

  3. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

Next day, the apostles were brought before many of the Sanhedrin… rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and most families of the high priest. All gathered to condemn the two men. Caiaphas had tried his best to destroy the work of Christ, but it did not work!

Annas is called ‘high priest’, but by his was an honorary title, because he was once high priest, elected by governor of Syria, Quirinius, in about 6 or 7 AD. Another governor replaced him with Ismael, son of Phabi. Then came Eleazar, son of Annas, then Simon. Caiaphas was appointed in 18 AD, but Annas continued to enjoy great influence in the Temple and in civil affairs.

We know nothing of the ‘John’ who was a Sanhedrin member, but he must have been important at the time to be mentioned. As was Alexander, who seems to have been a family member.

This condemnatory crowd now had the two men brought before them and asked “By what power, or by what name, have you done this?” Were they just acting on their own initiative, or were they subject to someone or something else? They were mainly referring to the means by which the men had healed the cripple. If they said ‘God’ that would be fine. But, pity help them if they said ‘Jesus’!

Verses 8 - 12

  1. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

  2. If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;

  3. Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

  4. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

  5. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

We are told that when he answered, Peter was “filled with the Holy ghost”. It does not mean that the Spirit suddenly filled him at that time, but that because he already had the Holy Spirit within, he spoke with His authority and power. By ‘filled’ is simply meant that the Spirit gave him special power to speak.

This power gave Peter a boldness and clarity suitable for the occasion and it is probable that his mouth merely opened and the Spirit spoke through him, giving him the very words. I remember at least one occasion when the Lords did this to me. Though my voice and mouth were used to speak, the words coming out of my mouth were unknown to me. I just said it. (I am not referring to supposed ‘angelic language’! I mean that the Spirit spoke directly through me for a particular reason to a particular person). And what the Spirit said through me actually came about immediately. It is likely, then, that this is what happened with Peter.

What Peter was about to say would cause uproar, but when God decides to speak, it does not matter! Peter addressed them formally as the “rulers of the people, and elders of Israel”. In a sense though his opening words were correct, it could be seen as a judgment upon them, for as leaders and elders they should have known better!

‘If you are examining me because of a good deed done to a crippled man,’ said Peter, ‘let it be known to you, and to all of Israel, that this miracle was performed by the same Jesus whom you killed and who God resurrected from the dead. It is He Who caused this man who stands before you to be healed!’

Though you claim to be the builders of Israel, you rejected the stone, Jesus, Who is now the chief corner stone. No other man can give you salvation! No other name is recognized as Saviour, by Whom we are saved.

Today - and I say this to their shame - many Christians are very careful not to offend people of ‘other faiths’. Firstly, these other faiths are false and are treated with contempt by God. Secondly, all ‘other faiths’ are anathema, because they do not preach the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, we are not to preach or uphold or give credence to any other religion on earth, for it is blasphemy. Fourthly, by giving such deference to other religions we demean the name and work of Jesus Christ. It is not our duty to treat other religions as equal, for they are not. They are devices of the devil, to turn people away from Christ! It is our duty, rather, to tell the truth, albeit in peace and with grace, but also with boldness and firm resolve.

The reason we are now overrun by false religions is that Christians pretend they are balanced! We are not called to be ‘balanced’ about falsity, but to witness to truth and the Lord. Every time we allow even the smallest falsity to stay, it adds to other bits of falsity until a monolithic untruth stands before us. It is also why gays have removed freedom of speech, and Muslims have overtaken us in our own country. The devil has gained ground through many false Christian resolves. Only Jesus saves. No other name, including Allah, can save.

It is not our duty to give space to false religions. They have freedom on civil eyes to speak, but they are not equal. We may not solemnly shake their hands in greeting as we do our fellow believers. Their religion is sin! We must never accept their teachings, or treat their teachings with respect. We may treat them, as created beings, with respect, so long as they do not betray this basic human bond and act wickedly. If they do, we may not respect them, even as people.  

Verses 13 - 18

  1. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

  2. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

  3. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,

  4. Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.

  5. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.

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

Peter’s and John’s hearers were taken aback by their boldness. Here were simple Galileans daring to teach them theology! Yet, they were amazed that such simple souls could speak with such firm understanding and forthrightness. Then, they were told that the two had been followers of Jesus.

The pious listeners looked at the once crippled man and could not deny that a miracle had taken place. So, they could not rail against the disciples for that. So, they ordered the three men to leave their presence and wait, under guard.

The wicked rulers discussed what they would do with the disciples. They tried to kill-off the emerging new religion but failed. Now, two more men were preaching doctrine that opposed their own! They acknowledged that a mighty miracle had been done. But what caused them more anger was that all of Jerusalem knew about it. They could not cover it up!

So, they decided to threaten the two disciples. The men must not spread news of the miracle, nor may they preach again in the name of Jesus. Or else! They recalled Peter and John and gave their verdict and judgment.

Verses 19 & 20

  1. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

  2. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

But, Peter and John would not be silenced. They said that the Sanhedrin must choose – is it right for the disciples to obey God, or them? They told them: We are only telling others what we have seen and heard, having witnessed these things first hand.

This, then, is our duty. If we are genuine believers we will not help witnessing to others. If we are not genuine, then we will probably remain silent. So, why, then, do most of us stay silent along with fake Christians? It is because we are untaught Gentiles. In scripture the word ‘barbarian’ means untaught and unskilled in scripture. Are we barbarians?

It is a sad fact that most Christians cannot bother to learn more. A basic Sunday sermon does them fine! They do not want real involvement or a deeper knowledge of God – just enough to get them through the week. And if they come across a problem, they just ask the pastor! Very few Christians learn what scripture truly says; they are ‘doctrinally challenged’ and are easy game for marauding false religions and the devil. Many do not even know how to describe what salvation really is. I know because I have asked them, including trainee pastors. But, genuine Christians have seen and heard Christ in His words. If Christ is their true Head, they cannot help but speak about it.

Examine yourselves, friends. These notes go out to thousands, not just to those I know well. If we (I include myself in this) all knew the Lord we profess to follow, the world would change, just as it did in the time of the Apostles.

Verses 21 - 23

  1. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.

  2. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.

  3. And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.

The Sanhedrin further threatened the disciples and let them go free. They wanted to punish them, but found no legal reason to do so. They did not want to free them, but they had to, because everyone knew about the miracle and glorified God for it. If they now acted against Peter and John they would prove their own scriptural heresy! The man who was healed was more than forty years of age, and many knew him, so no-one could act against the disciples at that time.

Peter and John immediately left the Temple and went to where the others were waiting. They then reported exactly what had happened and what the Sanhedrin had commanded them. Many Christians think it honourable to stay silent when wicked men go against them. I know many pastors who will never speak out publicly against evil ministers and fakes!

But it is not honourable to remain silent when God or His people are under attack. We should keep everything above board and honest, open to view. If the wicked attack us, we should proclaim it. It is only when we remain silent that such evil men gain ground and win over us. Just report the facts.

Verses 24 - 30

  1. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:

  2. Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

  3. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

  4. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,

  5. For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

  6. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

  7. By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

This act of God that stopped the mouths of the Sanhedrin was with the company in great power! They all cried to God with one voice, praising Him and saying that He can silence any who stand against Him, and Christ, even kings and rulers.

It is true that everyone stood against Christ and tried to bring about His downfall, from Herod to Pilate, to the Gentiles and God’s chosen people, the Israelites. They acted exactly as God had predetermined, so that His plan would be advanced. That is why Christ’s death was a monumental triumph.

The disciples prayed that now the rulers were threatening them for preaching the truth. Now, they needed Him to grant them the gift of boldness to speak. Let Him allow them to perform miracles of healing, and other signs and wonders done in the name of Jesus, as proof of their holy calling. They all prayed with one accord – something we rarely see today, making almost all ‘prayer meetings’ fake, without God’s power and authority.

Verses 31 - 33

  1. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

  2. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

  3. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

When they finished calling upon God, the whole building shook and they knew the special power given to them by God. They already had the Spirit within. Now, He gave them gifts to enable them to go out with great power. It was not a ‘second blessing’, but an increase and enabling of what they already had.

Note that when they asked for gifts of healing, they said “By stretching forth thine hand to heal”. Not for one moment did they think they had gifts that gave them personal power. They knew and acknowledged that they were only the conduits through which the Holy Spirit acted. God had the power, not them; they were only the agents of God, with delegated powers.

This was authentic to those at the time. However, all Christians share the same power and authority. It is just that God empowers or not according to His will. That is why we see reformation, or revival, or miracles, at various times but not at all times. It all depends on God, not us.

All of the disciples were of “one heart and of one soul (spirit)” and shared everything they had. This oneness of heart and spirit is hardly ever found nowadays, because most Christians stay within their own walls. Beliefs are not common but personalized, sometimes by the individuals and sometimes by their pastors, or even their denominations.

But, not all who call out the name of Christ are brethren. And not all brethren share the same beliefs, let alone physical things! It is somehow thought that we can believe whatever we wish, so long as we are ‘sincere’. This is an error, for scripture contains specific meanings, and doctrine can only have one interpretation.

Today, ecumenism has rotted the churches and true Biblical thought. We are expected to just accept a superficial claim to Christianity, and brush aside various examples of untenable or even unscriptural beliefs, for the sake of ‘unity’ and ‘love’. But both are false if not under the strict and everlasting banner of truth. I often speak against Arminianism. This is not because I personally dislike the theory, but because real Arminianism preaches a false gospel. This means that those who preach it are not my brethren (unless they are genuine but badly taught, and repent), and those supposedly ‘saved’ by it are not my brethren, either. I am, then, under no command to love them as my spiritual kin, or to listen to their prattling, which can only be godless. Nor may I treat them as my equals, or as people worthy of praise or joining. I will not join with heretics and false preachers or their congregations. 

The disciples left that house with immense spiritual power and authority, spreading the true Gospel as far as they were led by God. Remember that at this time this was limited to the Jews. Gentiles may inadvertently have heard the preaching, and it is possible that a small number joined the band of Israelite believers as saved men and women. But they would have been few. The time of the Gentiles was yet to come. The preaching emphasized the resurrection, for as Paul was to say much later, without it there would be no hope. And all were covered by God’s amazing grace.

Verses 34 - 37

  1. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,

  2. And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

  3. 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,

  4. Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

The Christians at that time gave the ultimate earthly sign of their love for each other and for God. They did not think of themselves, but only of the fact that God owns everything, therefore they own nothing. They could not give it back, so they gave it to each other, making sure that no Christian had a physical need. Thus, the lowly and poor were raised up, and the rich were brought down to a position of equality.

This amazing trust in God and love for each other is described here as fact, as something done at that time. It is not documented as prescriptive for all ages. On the other hand, the principles it teaches should be part of our spiritual lives. Let me remove finance and ownership from the equation and give a parallel example of the principles: A man is out walking and sees a child in the river, floundering and obviously in trouble. He can walk past and mutter “It’s all his own fault for being stupid!” (without knowing if the child had been stupid in the first place). Or, he can jump in and save him. Or, he can run for a telephone and call for emergency services and just wait. Or, he can shout for help because he cannot swim. Meanwhile, the child is drowning.

What is the real answer? It is that the child needs immediate help and emergency services will not arrive in time. The man should attempt some kind of rescue, even if he cannot himself swim.

Or, a man lives next door to a decent couple who have children. The man loses his job through no fault of his own and cannot, no matter what he tries, get another job. The family is about to ‘go under’. But, the man next door has plenty of money and could save them. He does not and watches as a perfectly decent family lose everything. Can you see the principles involved?

So, the principles in the text are self-evident, even if we try to hide from them or just ignore them. God helps His children even when they sin. He gives us everything. Those who have wealth have it not because of their work, but because God gave them the ability and opportunity to obtain their riches. As human beings we own nothing, because God owns us. We have a ‘loan’ of whatever is good in our lives and should treat it as God’s, not ours.

In the time of Peter and John, the selling up of everything and pooling of resources in a common purse, was a response to being saved and seeing the need amongst the people of God. Love for God and fellow believers was genuine, and was shown in the denial of self. Did it mean people no longer had their own homes? The text is not clear about that. The wealthier might have sold lands and homes they had extra. On the other hand, they might have sold everything… but they would still need to live somewhere. Possibly, everyone lived in communal homes, like apartments, the size depending on how many rooms they needed. But we do not know.

Poor Christians may not have had a home to begin with and might have lived ‘rough’. Or, they lived in hovels. In which case they gained by being offered better rooms and food. Used to eating the lowest type of foods (as do many on very low incomes today), and the very least of amounts, they were unused to eating well. Therefore, a better room with better food and suitable amounts to live on, was a definite improvement in their lives which, up to that time, may have been quite miserable. The wealthier Christians were used to eating well, having a nice place to live and being able to pay their way. Even if they sold everything, this would still be the case. The only difference is that others share their favoured position in life. So, the overall situation was very good for all!

The apostles gave out resources to people as they needed it (which was different in every case). Those who owed money would have their debts paid. Food was given to those unable to buy it. Homes were provided where poorer folks did not have one. Once the needs were taken care of, everyone then lived in comfort, and poorer people could contribute to their own kind. The general picture is then one of improved social conditions for all. No doubt this helped to also improve health for all. It seems right to say that if anyone did not want to work or continually brought their own demise upon themselves, then the apostles withheld resources from them, because it would otherwise be wasteful. However, the tone of the text implies that everyone had a genuine Christian mind.

Special mention is made of Barnabas (‘son of rest’) also known as Joses, (‘exalted’), a well-known Christian teacher who came from Cyprus. He was a Levite. This either meant he was of the tribe of Levi, or, that he served in the Temple. He had land and sold it, giving all the money to the apostles for redistribution. We are not told that he also sold his house, though this may just not be included in the description.

It is my view that the selling of everything is not the main issue. What matters is that every Christian should see his good fortune as belonging to God. Anything he owns or has belongs to God, even his intelligence. Therefore, every Christian should accept that God might remove everything he has for a particular purpose known to God alone. He should see his money, home and resources as belonging to God, and should be willing to divest himself of everything. It is this inward willingness to hand everything over that matters. It matters most because it shows the heart to be true and holy. It shows a love for the brethren and God. Such a person may not be asked to sell up everything, but he might be called upon to help others, with money, resources, skills, or time.

Imagine Christian carpenters and builders who help poorer Christians to repair their homes! Very few would do that. Do you know of any? Even if it meant less profit? Other Christians have different skills. Do they help poorer Christians who need those skills? I doubt it. As I have observed many times before, most people, including Christians, only give from what they have extra and not from their ordinary resources. Thus, there is no sacrificial giving and giving becomes a matter of checking on one’s own position rather than an action arising from the heart of God. Imagine an older Christian with a house but no family… do they will that home for the use of others who need it? Or do they give to silly charities such as the dog’s home?

I hope you can see that I am not trying to tell fellow Christians what they must do! I am just pointing out the obvious, based on what this text tells us. Only yesterday I attended a family function. It involved firstly going to a church I had left 20 years ago. Yet, I felt a stranger there and the place felt ‘dead’. One or two politely greeted me, but most simply kept to themselves, either saying nothing, or briefly saying ‘hello’ and uncomfortably moving on.

At the next part of the function, a pastor I knew well avoided me like the plague! Others from that church did not really bother with us. So, my family left early. How does that square with the text before us? It does not. And that is why I doubt if the conditions in the text would be found amongst us today. Modern Christians seem to be reluctant to be friendly, let alone gracious and charitable. Should these conditions be met today? Yes. If they did not apply today they would not be found in scripture.

What, then, is the answer? I believe that these Christians act out of ignorance. They are so familiar with distancing themselves from each other (except for those they like) that when they get together they form cliques, and ignore others. They are not taught to be sacrificial or to love all the brethren. So modern Christians live apart from each other, in mind and spirit, and this erodes common care.

Modern Christians need reminding. There is a need to teach through meetings. There must be a breakthrough to consciences rusted-up over time and silenced by turning our eyes the other way. If someone is in need, then provide that need. Simple as that. Mere acknowledgement does wonders! Actual help is better.

There is much more we could say about this topic, and it all arises naturally (or, rather, divinely) from the text and from souls saved by grace.

I can guarantee that if this were preached from a pulpit everyone would say ‘Amen’. They would shake my hand at the door and say “Lovely sermon” and walk away. Some might even be sincere. But do they enact what they hear in sermons? Rarely. Only the soul seared by conscience or sudden Holy Spirit revelation will do what they hear. The rest will sink below spiritual duvets, comfortable and warm, keeping their heads under so as to avoid contact with need or God’s eye. Let us all change!

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