Good morning! Today with Acts 3-5, we see the increasing power and reach of the Spirit’s energy in the first disciples. However, we also run into the sharpening resistance to prophetic preaching and healing which comes from the religious authorities. We start to see even here what will lead to schism between Christ-followers and Jews only a few decades later.
The Spirit’s Pentecostal arrival moves from marvelous words into marvelous deeds as we begin Acts 3. The healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate vindicates the disciples’ power, confirming that by the Holy Spirit they have the ability to heal just as Jesus healed. Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico sounds so different from the timid man whose call from Jesus had him confessing his sinfulness (Luke 5), and who resisted the idea that Jesus’ ministry might involve suffering and death rather than mountaintop experiences alone! Peter redirects the focus of astonished onlookers from himself to the power of God at work in the world.
An impressive five thousand people are drawn to this spectacle, which draws a collective “ruh-roh!” from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. They arrest Peter and John, challenge them to explain themselves, then receive an earful about how the wrongfully crucified then resurrected Christ empowered their witness to God’s liberation. When the authorities try to censure the disciples from proclaiming further, Peter and John cast the choice as between obeying them and obeying God. In that context, there’s no real choice. Once released, Peter and John join the rest of the disciples in prayer for boldness, receiving spiritual empowerment.
We read yesterday and today about the generosity of possessions that characterizes this early church movement. People sell whatever land or goods they own so that the money can help feed those in need. Joseph the Levite (also called Barnabas) is called out by name for his impressive sale of a field and gift of the proceeds used by the apostles. However, we also read the cautionary tale of one couple who fails to be 100% generous. Ananias chooses to turn over only a portion of the proceeds of his land sale, with the assent of his wife Sapphira. Each falls dead instantly as this falsehood is propagated in Peter’s presence. Of course “great fear seized the whole church” because of this, and no doubt people thought twice about withholding money from the church for generations afterward. However, the story makes me sad because it opens the door to coercive “bribes” given to the church under threat, rather than generosity because of divine inspiration and delight at the community’s growth.
The community of Christ-followers has gone viral at this point in Acts. Sick people clamor for healing, even from Peter’s passing shadow! In response to ever-more-sensational healings, religious authorities arrest the apostles again, but it works no better than the first time. An angel opens the prison gates and lets them return to their daily preaching responsibilities. When they are detained and hauled in front of the council for questioning, Peter seizes it as an opportunity for evangelism. His bold, even foolhardy preaching brings out the ire in the group. I’ve always been impressed with Gamaliel’s wise counsel, since he suggests that taking action against this movement would either be fanning the flames of publicity without need, or resisting a movement of God’s own Spirit. Happy reading
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 6-7. Thanks for reading!