GOD ESTABLISHES HIS CHURCH IN THE WORLD
How to Handle Persecution
Jerry A Collins
When does the church display the power of God best?
How does God display that power today?
How should we view suffering and the gospel?
In the current copy of sports illustrated is a 2003 preview of baseball. The article about the Detroit Tigers focuses on Carlos Pena the first basemen. In spite of the prospects for last place Pena carries with him a worn out copy of the greatest salesman in the world; a motivational guide with ĎI will persist until I succeedí marked as his favorite line in it. While Detroit has itís work cut out for them, Pena remains optimistic and hopeful. The apostles took a page out of that book but for a completely different reason and for a completely different cause. Here we have a series of events which center around the confrontation of the apostles with the Sanhedrin. In spite of it the apostles will persist until they succeed in witnessing of Jesus Christ to those in Jerusalem and beyond. There are lessons here for us facing similar peril in our own day as witnesses of Jesus Christ.
1. THE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH MAGNIFIES THE POWER OF GOD IN ITíS MINISTRY 11-16
Tho a tragedy for Ananias and Sapphira themselves, few events were more beneficial for the Church herself. The reason is that toleration of evil within the assembly is a deadly blow to a healthy fear of God and to the permeation of it into the world around. First, a holy church is one thru which the power of God works 12a, 15-16. Signs and wonders describe the powerful miraculous effects of Godís work thru His apostles. Signs point men to spiritual truth and wonders is a way of showing how people responded to them. All of this confirms the apostles claims as Godís messengers. The early church was not a miracle-working church--it was a church with miracle-working apostles. So widespread and public was this work that people carried the sick into the streets on small beds and even mattresses hoping at least that Peters shadow mite fall on any of them. It does not say his shadow healed anyone and any healing that happened was the power of God. Not limited to Jerusalem we have first record of churches influence spreading beyond Jerusalem vs. 16.†† (1) these were done by hands of apostles not believers generally. (2) done in answer to apostles prayers (4:29-30) where Peter and John prayed for this. (3) Jesus predicted these signs would accompany their ministry (Mark 16:17-19). (4) Paul says these signs authenticate apostles identity and authenticity (2 Cor 12:12ff). (5) these signs were intended as part of the foundation ministry the apostles laid of the church (Eph 2:20). Second, a holy church maintains her distinctiveness from the world 12b-14. Here we have a parenthesis. Solomonís portico is the site of Peters 1st sermon (Acts 3:1ff) and the Lordís discourses (Jn 10:23ff). None of the rest in vs. 13 a reference to unbelievers (Lk 8:10; Rom 11:7; Eph 2:3; 1 Thess 4:13; 5:6). If God judged hypocrisy about property so sternly what would He do with hypocritical faith? The holiness of the church is greatest protection against mixture with the unsaved. However, they magnified the believers. That means to make it large. So thru the magnifying glass of Godís holy presence among believers, unbelievers respected that power. In spite of reluctance† of many, others in large numbers were added to the community of faith. Man may build numbers with a tolerance of sin but the Lord builds His church among people who love holiness and hate and expose sin.
2. GODíS AUTHORITY HAS PRIORITY OVER MANíS† 17-32
This whole section can be titledí the first Xian jailbreakí. A pure and powerful church will inevitably provoke a hostile reaction from satanic world system. (1) Compelled by jealousy the religious authorities had the apostles imprisoned vs. 17-18. (2) However, they were miraculously released by an angel and continued preaching until they were re-arrested 19-26. (3) Then the apostles said they would continue preaching in Jesus name in spite of ant authority that said otherwise 27-32. (4) This whole passage is built around a collision of divine & human authority. When apostles finally apprehended the† council† condemns them†† †for disobeying its commands 28. Christís commands Ďyou shall be my witnessesí. Councils commands Ďyou shall not be His witnesses.í (5) The release from jail serves as background for the key statement of passage 29. The angel opened doors of prison 19 and evidently closed them 23. (6) So God left the prison intact just as tho nothing happened. Altho Godís people are set free from human authority when that authority conflicts with Godís, God does not, in freeing them, demolish that authority. He leaves it intact & we are still responsible to it under His will. (7) This is 2nd time an angel opens something (Mt 28:2) & both connected with life, Prince of life & preachers of life. Opened tomb speaks of xianity as life triumphant over death and opened prison of life triumphant over bondage.† True freedom found only in Xian life (Jn 8:31-36). (8) The theme of obedience dominates passage (29, 32). The Spirit, who is a witness to this message, is given to those who obey God. Faith in the gospel is an act of obedience to God Who commands man everywhere to repent. (9) In 28 the pronoun Ďthisí twice underscores high priestís unwillingness to pronounce name of Jesus. Hatred for Christ was deep. (10) This authority was in opposition to God not in league with Him 30 & needed to repent. God still extends mercy and grace to his antagonists. 3. UNBELIEF RESPONDS WITH VIOLENT HOSTILITY OR TOLERANT INDECISION TO GODíS AUTHORITY 33-40 First, unbelief responds with violent hostility 33. The fury of the religious unbelieving leadership was the same pattern of hostility to the Lord a few weeks earlier vs. 33. Instead of yielding to the truth these leaders hardened their hearts as they had done with Jesus (Jn 5:16; 7:32; 8:59; 10:31; 11:57) in spite of the evidence. They are enraged: (1) apostles denied their doctrine (2) defied their authority (3) assaulted their spirituality (4) threatened their domination. Paul would later face the same hostility. Second, unbelief responds with tolerant indecision 34-39. Gamaliel did not speak from sympathy for the church but from his insite into Godís sovereign working on earth 39. (1) He was respected 34. (2) His council reflects belief God in control of events giving illustration of this in 36-37. (3) Urges a wait & see policy to ensure they were not fighting against God in this. (4) His most famous student was Paul 22:3. (5) His advice was listened to 40. Gamaliel was pragmatist & notion that whatever succeeds has Godís favor is false. The evidence was already there: resurrection of Jesus, an empty tomb, the miracles of Jesus & the apostles! Cults and false religions have millions of followers. Apparently he had no problem with the lashing the apostles received. 4. REJOICING OVER SHAME ASSOCIATED WITH WITNESS IS RESPONSE OF FAITHFUL 41-42 Again theme of joy in Acts (2:46-47). A pure, powerful, prioritized church rejoices in Gods working even on account of persecution. (1) Supernatural deliverance: It was work of God caused Gamaliels council to stand. (2) Supernatural Joy: Natural to be happy over escape from death: Supernatural to rejoice over experience of shame† (3) Supernatural Courage: Natural to be more cautious. But† daily in Temple & houses supernatural! ††