Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reading Through the Acts of the Apostles #2 (3-5)

Larkin ActsThis is my second post on my reading through the book of Acts accompanied by Acts, vol. 5, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by William J. Larkin Jr..Acts 3-5 records the initial phenomenal growth of the Jerusalem church. The main factor was the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit through the apostles and other followers of Jesus. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapters 3-4 record an incident which explains why the church was to grow so fast and persist as a movement until now. The entire passage revolves around the life and resurrection of Jesus and the apostolic witness to it in the words and actions of the apostles. John and Peter heal a lame man in the "name of Jesus." Peter explains that this powerful miracle was done in the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and that this means that the promised age of salvation had arrived. The needed response was to repent of their rejection of Jesus and place their trust in Him. This creates opposition from the established powers. The Sadducees cannot deny the miracle that happened in front of them, nor do they deny the resurrection of Jesus. They try to use their authority to command them to stop preaching, but the disciples will not recognize authority that forbids them to do what God commands. This leads to their arrest, but the rulers are afraid to hold them because of their popularity with the people. The church has grown in a just a few weeks from 120 to 5000 people. The church gathers together and reminds themselves of God's promise that his kingdom will be victorious in the end despite the persecution they will face. The church's faith in the face of threats, persecution and even murder, itself becomes a powerful means for the church to grow.

A name is an expression of a person’s very essence. The power of the person is present and available in the name. In the case of Jesus, the invocation of his name is a direct link between earth and heaven. It is not a magic formula but a simple recognition that if any salvation blessings are to come, they must arrive in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus so commissioned his disciples and the disciples so preached and ministered. Acts 3.1-16

Witnessing miracles may contribute to a person’s embrace of faith, but it cannot produce faith. That is why God’s Word must now be preached. It will interpret the extraordinary and call for a decision. By the Spirit’s power this proclamation will work repentance and saving faith in its hearers. Acts 3,17-26

Today the church faces the same challenge when confronted with human authorities that demand that it stop advancing in its mission. The church’s willingness to keep spreading the Word despite threats of peril is clear evidence that its message is truly from God. 4:1-31

4.32-5.11 provide a brief glimpse into the life of the Jerusalem church. The people looked at themselves as God's community on earth and focused their priorities on God's mission and lovingly taking care of one another. This is seen as members of the community sold property and gave it to the apostles to distribute to those who had needs. Luke says that this resulted in there being no needy person among them. This kind of unity must have been a powerful draw into the church, so much so that some would fake it to get in. Ananias and Sapphira provide an example of this and their punishment was a powerful warning to those who would use the church for their selfish benefit. Giving was not mandatory, but devotion to Christ should compel us to see his blessings as not our own and make us willing to share whatever he gives us to further Jesus' mission and to help those in need.

From this unity comes a mindset. Each member chooses not to look at his possessions as first and foremost his own. Rather, he chooses to see them as first of all available for common use. Acts 4:32-37

Christians must realize that the selfless, transparent fellowship of the church must never be violated by selfish hypocrisy. Further, it is proper to employ discipline to guard the church’s integrity, unity and purity. For the non-Christian, this account is a warning: Think twice before joining this holy fellowship. Are you willing to pay the price—fully renouncing wicked ways and full-heartedly embracing Christ and other believers in his body, the church? Acts 5:1-11

The rest of chapter 5 continues this look at the Jerusalem church and its growth. The main factor in the church's growth is God's supernatural power through the Holy Spirit who empowers the bold gospel preaching of the apostles and great miracles through their hands that brought glory to God throughout the city. This also caused persecution from the leadership which threatened the lives of the church leaders. But even the persecution becomes the opportunity for God to reveal His glory, this time through miraculous deliverance for the apostles. Whatever is done in God's power will accomplish his purposes and, ultimately, bless his people.

A church alive with the power of God will be a growing church, with individuals regularly coming to the Lord for salvation and incorporation into his body. Taking note of the circumstances, but even more taking hold of God’s power, would you say that your own church is thriving in this way? Acts 5.12-16

Who’s in charge? In no uncertain terms Luke lets us know it is God who desires to save. What does he want of us? An obedience that embraces the good news and knows the presence of the Spirit...Who’s in charge? A God who empowers and leads his church in carrying out his mission in spite of opposition. Acts 5.17-42

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