After the death of Stephen, the first martyr, the believers began to be scattered because of the persecution by Saul and by others. Philip was one of the scattered believers, and chapter 8 tells us of his encounters Simon the Sorcerer and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and their very different responses to the Holy Spirit.
As Philip is preaching and performing miracles, a man named Simon the Sorcerer comes to Philip, believes and is baptized. But from here, we see that Simon’s intentions are actually selfish. As Simon follows Philip, he tries to pay the disciples in order to be able to dispense the Holy Spirit in the same way Philip does. See, Simon wants the power that comes with Continue reading
When we left off, Stephen was talking to the Jewish leaders, retelling Jesus’ story in light of the history of their own story. This ends with Stephen’s truthful accusation that they have rejected, and ultimately killed, the very Messiah that their whole history pointed towards. Given their track record, and given Stephen’s accusations, we can guess what will happen to Stephen. Up until now, those who threaten the Jewish leaders in power have been threatened, beaten and thrown in jail. At Stephen’s speaking the truth, the leaders essentially turn into a mob, drag him out of the city and stone him to death. Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. (On an interesting side note: Luke specifically tells us that Saul witnessed this whole episode with Stephen. Keep this in mind as we work through Acts…)
This whole situation of Stephen’s martyrdom and the resulting situation of wider persecution of the church is set up as a conflict between those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and those who resist the Holy Spirit. Stephen says as much in verse 51, and Luke says as much in 55. The Jewish leaders resist the Holy Spirit and Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, while the persecutors (including Saul) intended the persecution to stamp out this “false” new teaching Continue reading
We learned in the last section that one of the people who was chosen to help with the situation with the widows is a man named Stephen. Stephen begins to perform many miracles, and once again those in power begin to get afraid. They begin to bring false charges against Stephen and go so far as to persuade people to serve as false witnesses against him. The false witnesses say that Stephen has blasphemed against Moses and God. So these angry Jews bring Stephen before the Sanhedrin with the charges that Stephen “…never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law.” It’s interesting how transparent the concerns of the leaders are. The leaders are concerned because this new Jewish-Christian movement is taking the power that used to reside in the Temple and spreading it out among the whole Body of Christ. So how do they combat that? They accuse Stephen of speaking out against the Temple.
How does Stephen answer their accusations that he speaks against the Temple, Moses, God and the law? He tells the Jews Continue reading
As the disciples are faithful to preach the Gospel, God is faithful to keep adding to their number. As their numbers increase, the kinds of ministries that were needed to benefit the community also increased. It came to pass that one ministry that grew up was a ministry that helped to provide food for widows, both of Jewish heritage and non-Jewish heritage.
As often happens when there are ministries involving groups who aren’t yet used to living life together, a practical issue arises. The non-Jewish, or Hellenistic, widows claim that they are being overlooked in the distribution of food. Even in the midst of a ministry led by the Holy Spirit, these practical sorts of issues arise. Let’s look at how the Twelve handle the situation Continue reading
After the episode with Ananias and Sapphira, Luke wants to assure us that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the lives of the believers. In the end, when someone refuses to be part of the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit moves on without his or her participation.
So the apostles continue to perform many signs and wonders. The believers continue to meet together for teaching and worship, and their number continued to grow.
And, of course, those in power continued to grow more and more worried. Verse 17 tells us that the High Priest and some members of the Sadducees were full of jealousy. See, this new Jewish movement was taking their power away. We see the continuing theme that we’ve mentioned before here again–power is no longer centered in the Temple. Continue reading
The first half of this passage is in some ways very similar to Acts 2:42-47. When Peter and John get out of jail, they go back to be with the other believers. Once again, the believers are together and praying when the Holy Spirit falls on them, making the believers “one in heart and mind”. And once again, immediately after the Holy Spirit comes, Luke emphasizes the place that possessions have in their lives. First, Luke says that nobody even considered any of his possessions as his own. As though that weren’t revolutionary enough, though, Luke goes on to say that there were no needy people among them, because whenever someone had a need, people would sell their houses or lands, then bring the money to the apostles, so that those needs could be met.
Now, back in the section on Chapter 2 we talked about the differences between this and Socialism or Communism. Rather than revisit that section, I want to move on to the Story of Ananias and Sapphira. This is a familiar story, but I want us to keep it in context of Acts 4:31-37. Remember, the chapter and verse divisions were added hundreds of years after the Bible was written, so sometimes to get the full effect of a passage, we have to read past the chapter divisions.
So we have this extreme action of the early believers sharing possessions. Some would even sell possessions in order to meet the needs of other believers. We are told briefly of a man named Joseph who sold a field and then brought the money to the apostles. Then we are told of a couple named Ananias and Sapphira who sold a piece of property, except they kept some of the money back for themselves. In the end, they are each struck dead by God.
So here’s the question: Why were Ananias and Sapphira struck down by God? Continue reading
This story is the beginning of the pattern of disciples being arrested for teaching/preaching in the name of Jesus. But just what were Peter and John preaching? The priests, temple guard and Sadducees were “greatly disturbed” because Peter and John were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” According to Peter and John, this event that Jews had been waiting for, that they thought would happen at the end of time, had already begun to happen with Jesus. The rescue-by-God that was supposed to happen sometime in the future was now beginning to take place!
This is Good News, right? Any Jew should be excited that the day had finally come when God would come with power to rescue his people and set things straight, right? Well, not any Jew. Those in power don’t want their world disrupted, do they? Those in power are happy with the world as it is. Those in power don’t need God to come rescue people and set things straight. They are already doing just fine, thank you very much.
As N.T. Wright puts it in his commentary on this section, Continue reading