God Rather Than Man

Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to say a massive thank you to those who responded to my blog post – Life Happens – yesterday. I really appreciate your support of this blog, and am so grateful to you all for reading it.

Now, on to the rest of Acts 5:

But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the apostles, then put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”

24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.

27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:17-29 (WEB)

Chapter 5 began with Ananias and Sapphira attempting to cheat the church, or rather God Himself, and were judged as a result. This event acted as a warning to those who would infiltrate the church and in some ways brought the group of believers together. In that group, many miracles were being performed and crowds were gathering, bringing their sick to the apostles.

The high priest and the Sadducees take notice of all of this, and verse 17 tells us they were filled with jealousy. Jealousy is an interesting motive here. The high priest is not arguing on points of theology, but on popularity. While of course they do not agree with the apostle’s teaching about Jesus, that is not their focus. They are more worried about the fact that people are responding to the Gospel than to their own teaching of the Law. They care more about what the people think of them, than what God thinks of them.

This jealousy drives the religious leaders to arrest Peter and the Apostles, putting them in custody. God has other plans though… Verse 19 tells us that an angel appears to them at night, opening the prison doors and leading them out. He instructs the apostles to go and teach the people in the temple. I’m intrigued by the phrase in verse 20 – “all the words of this life.”

The apostles waste no time and enter the temple at daybreak. Meanwhile, the high priest assembles the council ready to interrogate the apostles. They send for them, but the captain of the guard returns to say the prison is empty! Not only that, but the doors remain locked and the guards still at their posts. This means the angel led the apostles out through the locked door and past the standing guards. This won’t be the last miraculous prison break we read about in the book of Acts.

The gathered council are “perplexed,” which I imagine is something of an understatement!

It is reported to the council that these very men were now in the temple, proclaiming the Gospel. The captain of the guard is sent to retrieve them, and yet verse 26 informs us that he does it rather more gently this time, for fear of the people.

Peter, not for the first time, is set before the council. They remind him that they have strictly charged him not to speak in the Name of christ, and yet he continues to do so. Moreover, he is showing their guilt in Jesus’ death, and this is a particular point they mention.

Look at Peter’s response, and this is the heart of what I want to say today.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:29 (WEB)

Peter says that he (and the other apostles) must obey God rather than man.

I must confess to you that I am a natural people-pleaser. I hate conflict and my natural inclination is to do anything for a quiet life. It is one thing to live peaceably and to try to avoid conflict, but it is quite another to disobey God just to please people.

In Acts, the authorities are instructing Peter to disobey God, and he cannot do that. The same should be true for us. This does not give anyone a green light to disobey the law of the land or to cause deliberate disruption, but it says that we must prioritise what God says more than anyone or anything else.

Living in the Western world, there are very few occasions where my faith in Christ comes into conflict with the law of the land. Things are changing though, and perhaps for my children or theirs, there may be a time when faith in Christ is outlawed. I pray not, but should such a time come, Christians in that generation must be ready to choose God or man.

In everyday life though, you may be making choices about serving God or man. Let’s take a married couple for example, one of whom is a Christian and the other spouse not. Will the Christian continue to go to church? Will they be a generous giver as instructed in the Word, or will they compromise their faith in some way?

For many of us, believing in Christ may not lead to our arrest or death, but that does not free us from persecution. You could potentially be looked over for a promotion at work, or lose friends or family over your faith, or come into direct conflict with the education system over your beliefs. As each of us face these matters, we must put God and His ways first and foremost.

What does obeying God, rather than man, look like for you this week? What choices will you face or make? Pray ahead of time that you have the courage and conviction to make the right choice.

Peter says more than this, but we shall pick that up another time. God bless you this day.

Many Miracles

Today we tackle a fairly short but astonishing passage from Acts chapter 5. It again highlights to us the kind of life that these early believers lived and it is only natural to compare their experiences to our own.

Many miracles and wonders were being performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 But more and more people were added to the group—a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. 15 As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were sick or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (GNT)

Many Miracles

The passage opens by telling us that “many miracles and wonders were being performed by the apostles.” We must not miss this, as it is clear that miracles were “many” and not “few.” The Early Church saw many wonderous works and this is something to praise God for.

As i said above, it is rather natural to compare this to our own experience. I confess that my experience is not of “many” miracles at all, and they are sometimes rather few and far between.

This is partly because of what we mean by “miracle.” This passage shows that these were wondrous works, and if we do not see things that fit this category, then we assume that miracles are not occurring. This is not so! To me at least, one of the greatest miracles is to see a life changed by God. Someone coming to Christ and committing to Him fully is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

I am not trying to sidestep the passage however, and it is a genuine question as to why we do not see the frequency of miracles the Early Church saw. There are many answers to this question, but I do not think it is because miracles are now extinct – far from it.

A few suggestions:

  • We fail to ask for or expect miracles.
  • We are afraid of failure if we step out in faith.
  • Little of value is taught on the subject (in my experience).

From the Outside Looking In

Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them.

Acts 5:13 (GNT)

I have read this passage many times, and yet this is perhaps the first time I’ve really picked up on this verse. Those outside the group dare not join them – why not? Churches are sadly known for their cliques’ at times, and is this the first example of it? I think not.

In reality, the events at the start of this chapter probably have a lot to do with it. If you recall, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for their deceptiveness before God and the church. This story would have gone around like wildfire and I imagine put many off trying to infiltrate the group. For me, it lends credence to the idea that what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was an act of defending the church from those who would harm it.

Note that all the people spoke highly of the early believers. This is a real challenge to us. Some churches do not have a great reputation among their community. This can be for many reasons. Yet we should aim to have a good reputation as it can only strengthen our witness. This is not to say we should water down our beliefs or be swayed by the winds of the world, but as much as we can, we should strive to be well thought of.

A Crowd of Men and Women

Verses 14-16 clearly show that the Early Church was no impenetrable clique. Many were being added to the group due to the acts of the Apostles – hence the name given to this book of the Bible. These men and women, responding to the teaching and miracles of the Apostles, “believed in the Lord.”

Those who were sick were brought in on beds and mats, and verse 16 says that people were coming in from the towns around Jerusalem. The word was getting out about the church, and the things it was doing in the Name of Christ.

Our passage today closes with the words “and they were healed.” We should not gloss overr this fact. The picture is painted of many sick people coming to the apostles, and the passage does not suggest that many went away empty-handed.

We see the same was true for Jesus in Matthew 8:

When evening came, people brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 He did this to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said, “He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:16-17 (GNT)

Acts 5 also describes how the people crowded around, hoping that even Peter’s shadow would fall on them. This is reminiscent of the woman who wanted to just clasp the edge of Jesus’ garment so that she might be healed. In a time when there were no hospitals and medical science was yet to be invented, people strained to receive healing from the Lord. That too may be a reason we do not see these kind of signs and wonders – few are willing to go to great lengths to reach Jesus.

As I finish today’s post, let me encourage you to meditate on this passage. Use your mind’s eye to put yourself in the middle of the scene. What would it have been like to be in that crowd and to see the miracles right before you? Imagine striving through the masses gathered to let Peter’s shadow fall on you.

Praise the Lord for such wonderous works!

Justice (Audio)

Andy shares about the subject of justice, and considers one of the Proverbs given below.

Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go—both are hateful to the Lord.

Proverbs 17:15 (GNT)

This audio will also be uploaded to the podcast feed for those who prefer to listen to it there. You can find the podcast “The Andy Brown Podcast” on all good podcasting apps, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

A Protective Father

At long last, we move on to Acts 5. This chapter opens with a rather disturbing set of events, and I want to try to shed some light on what is happening here. This particular passage is a difficult one, and I admit to having struggled with it for many years. I will explain why, if not obvious, and point you to some insights I now have on it.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, 2 and kept back part of the price, his wife also being aware of it, then brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”

5 Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and died. Great fear came on all who heard these things. 6 The young men arose and wrapped him up, and they carried him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9 But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

10 She fell down immediately at his feet and died. The young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. 11 Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.

Acts 5:1-11 (WEB)

God’s Grace Gone Missing?

In my early Christian days, I was taught very strongly about the grace of God. Jesus dealt with sin at the cross, and God no longer holds that sin against us. God no longer punishes us for our wrongdoing, because He punished Jesus at the cross. If that is all true however, how do we reconcile this passage? Why was God’s grace not extended to cover Ananias and Sapphira? Clearly they were punished for their sin here?

A quick sidebar to say that there is a distinction between punishment and discipline. While Jesus took on the full punishment for our sin, that does not mean that God no longer disciplines us as dearly loved children. If a child does something wrong, there is a world of difference between putting them in a “time out” and breaking their leg! The first is discipline, but the latter is abuse!

So how do we read this passage? Were Ananias and Sapphira punished for their sin, and where does that leave the grace teaching? Has God’s grace gone missing?

What Did They Do Wrong?

Before trying to explain this, let’s be really clear about what they did wrong.

Ananias and Sapphira sold a field, and kept some of the proceeds for themselves instead of giving it all to the Apostles. This, I do not think, is the problem however. They were entitled to sell the field and give whatever portion they liked to the Apostles. The issue came when they lied about it. They told Peter and the others that they were giving the whole amount, and this is a deception.

Who did they lie to? Verses 3 and 4 tell us.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 While you kept it, didn’t it remain your own? After it was sold, wasn’t it in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You haven’t lied to men, but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4 (WEB)

They lie to the Holy Spirit, and that is the critical sin. Peter points out that they are entitled to buy and sell the field as they wish, and give whatever portion they want. They cross a serious line when they deceive people into thinking they are giving it all, and that God will not know about it.

Attempting to deceive God is a very bad idea!

A Word of Knowledge

How did Peter know that they were acting deceptively? The passage actually does not tell us.

It is conceivable that someone knew about it, and let Peter know in advance. Given the result of their lie i.e. their deaths, it may be that Peter was given a word of knowledge by the Holy Spirit Himself.

A Word of knowledge is a spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8. It is a gift where the believer can gain a piece of information direct from the Holy Spirit, which they would otherwise not have known. This is always done for the benefit of the church, which is true for all of the gifts. It may be that Peter was given a word by the Holy Spirit to warn him of this deception.

A Certain Man

Given all of this, how do we balance the grace of God and the severe punishment inflicted on this man and woman for attempting to deceive the church? I believe the key is found in verse 1 – “a certain man.”

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, is very precise and consistent. Almost without exception, when Luke says “a certain man,” he is referring to someone outside the church. For those inside the church, he uses the phrase “a certain disciple.” Different translations of course may render this in different ways, and in the WEB version quoted above, the only obvious exception is Justus from Acts 18. He is described as a “certain man” but is apparently a believer in the Lord. However, the text may be referring to him prior to accepting Christ.

If we accept this as a rule of thumb, then we see that Ananias was perhaps not part of the church at all, but instead a wolf in sheep’s clothing trying to infiltrate the church for his own gain. If he was not willing to put all the money in and lie about it, I can certainly imagine him taking as much out of the group as he could.

If this is true, then it puts quite a different spin on the passage at hand. This is not a church member caught in sin, but an outsider attempting to take advantage of this fledgling group of believers.

I believe that god is fiercely protective of His family. This passage does not question God’s grace, but in fact demonstrates it. God is protecting those in the church from those who would take from it.

Over recent days I have been mulling over the life of the early church in Acts 4, as you well know! One argument for not living as they did is perhaps those who would take advantage and not do their fair share. If I share all that I have with the church, and others do not, then I am at a disadvantage. The events of Acts 5 serve as a warning to those who might consider this .

Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things.

Acts 5:11 (WEB)

We see from verse 11 that a great fear came over the whole assembly. I have little doubt that those who were intending to try and deceive the church, and indeed the Spirit of God, had second thoughts after seeing both Ananias and Sapphira carried out and buried.

God is indeed a gracious and loving God. As I have said before though, God is not just loving, but just as well. A loving God has to be just in fact.

Let us all pray against the temptation to lie to the Spirit, and pray that God would protect us and our church family from those who would seek to harm or steal from us. Praise God the Father, Son and Spirit for His generous grace and loving kindness! Thank Him for being a protective Father over His dear children. Amen.

The Early Church and Podcasts

It has been a bit difficult to write over the last few days. This is largely down to the demands of everyday life, and I sometimes under estimate the time it takes to put a post together. As long as I am able to however, I will continue to post daily. It has been nearly three months since I started to write each day and that is not a bad streak!

I do want to continue with the book of Acts, and we are up to chapter 5 which carries on the narrative of events from chapters 3 and 4. To be perfectly honest though, I am still rather stuck on the following verses which concluded the fourth chapter.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV)

Digression

I do not want to “go on and on” about it, as you’ve probably heard enough from me on this. The post on these verses – One Heart and Soul – came out last week, and then I put up a podcast mulling over some similar issues on Saturday.

Did you know I had a podcast? As I developed this blog further, and as I started to include some audio of sermons etc. I set up a podcast feed as well. The podcasts are replicated on the Audio page here too, but some prefer a pod-catching app to a website, so thought I would offer both.

If you are interested in subscribing, you can find “The Andy Brown Podcast” in your app of choice. It is available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify and where all good podcast are found!

Alternatively, you can find the podcast at the following link: https://anchor.fm/andy-brown2/episodes/Help-the-poor-efcjr3

While I am on the subject, and sorry for digressing from actually discussing the Bible, could I ask you – the reader – how often you read the blog? Would you prefer audio or video content to my written ramblings? I’ve noticed that Facebook videos seem to get more views than a typical blog post, but perhaps that’s because it is easier to just watch the video for a few seconds rather than read an entire 1,000 word post.

In my mind, it may be that the blog stays with its biblical study focus, and I use the podcast for more opinion or “Andy’s musings!” Whatever I do, of course I will seek the Lord about it first, but would also appreciate your views, so please comment below if you have any strong feelings one way or the other!

Anyway, I digress…

Early Church Life

It is fair to say that I have been rather challenged by the way the Early Church lived. It looks so drastically different to how we live today, and while that does not necessarily mean we ought to try to mimic them precisely, I think there is a great deal we should learn from them.

How do we implement their way of life in our modern world? This is something I have been thinking about and yet not necessarily come up with clear answers. As much as I love to teach what the Bible says, I am regularly forced to recognise that I do not know it all and so some of my writing is less instructional and more conversational. I find I can work out my thoughts as I write them, but apologies I cannot tell you to do this or do that.

Verse 32 says that they did not consider any of the things they owned as theirs. Everything they had became shared with the family. One of the problems the modern day church faces in this respect, is that we are not so closely connected as they were. We may refer to one another as “church family” yet, in my experience at least, we still have barriers between our church life and our personal life.

Does verse 32 require me, as a member of Christ’s church, to sell my home and give the money to the church? If I did, where would my family and I live? I think that common sense must apply here, and we ought not to be reckless or irresponsible when it comes to providing for those we care for.

I’ve been wondering about communal living arrangements and shared housing. I have heard and read lots about communal housing and property, where people pool their resources and share responsibility for all the necessary elements of running a large home. For example, they share cooking responsibilities or have a rota to cover the garden or farming work. Perhaps such an arrangement with a group of close-knit believers is a step closer towards the kind of Early Church life we see described.

To be clear, I am not telling you that the Bible or God is insisting you do this. Do not go out, sell your home and buy into a communal living arrangement based on my thoughts here today! I am perhaps “thinking out loud” and wondering if we are falling short of what God intended for His church.

The persecution the early believers faced is certainly a factor in their lifestyle. They had to unite to stay safe in a way that we, in the West, can only imagine. They also lived like people who believed Jesus would return soon. They did not cling to their possessions because they simply did not expect to be here that long. I am not certain we think or live that way either.

One final thought on this subject before moving on. Many would be reluctant to share their possessions in the way described in this passage for fear of being taken advantage of. If I give up all I have, what’s to stop someone else holding back? That question is answered in no small way in chapter 5! But note the passage said there no needy people among them at all!

If you have read this far into the post, then I am hoping it is a sign you do not mind my musings on this subject! It is rare for something to grab me so strongly as this passage has over recent days. Part of me is hesitant to move on for fear that I will forget its impact or just carry on as normal without any change. Keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts at least ensures I won’t forget!

Normal service will resume tomorrow… Lord willing!

Help The Poor (Audio)

Today Andy shares a brief audio message thinking about how Christians should be helping the poor, and indeed, one another as well.

Andy has been reflecting on the life of the early church from Acts 4, and also this proverb:

Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14:21 (ESV)

We hope you have enjoyed this audio message. You can find other messages on the Audio page.

Graves Into Gardens

I was having a bad day last week, and not the first during this lockdown period either I’m afraid to say. Work was proving difficult, the children were not exactly enthusiastic about their education that day, and I really wasn’t being the best Christian witness. I came away feeling pretty low if I’m honest. Part of that was due to tiredness, so let me add that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get an early night!

I decided to put on some worship music and a particular song began to play and it really moved me, where I was in that moment. It was called “Graves Into Gardens” and is by Elevation Worship. You can hear it on your music platform of choice or else watch it here on YouTube.

It is a song about our Transforming God – not that he transforms, as He never changes, but rather how He transforms us and the situations we face.

Graves Into Gardens

The title of the song, and the begining of the chorus states how our God changes graves into gardens. It is a picture of resurrection, and how God can bring life even into a graveyard full of death.

In my own mind, I picture this from Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.

51 Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:50-53 (WEB)

As Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was divided, many of the dead saints rose to new life. This is a point we sometimes miss when thinking about the death and resurrection of Christ. Imagine being in that graveyard that evening…!

Bones Into Armies

In a similar way, God also turns dry bones into armies of flesh! He takes the dead and dry, and breathes new life into them. He is a God or restoration!

Again he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them, ‘You dry bones, hear Yahweh’s word. 5 The Lord Yahweh says to these bones: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you will live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.”’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. As I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, there was an earthquake. Then the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I saw, and, behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.

Ezekiel 37:4-8 (WEB)

Seas into Highways

Our God can do the impossible. No matter the size or inertia of the obstacle before you, God can make a way!

As the Israelites approached the sea, with the entirety of Pharoah’s army behind them, it looked like there was no way out. We dare not limit our Limitless God!

Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today; for you will never again see the Egyptians whom you have seen today. 14 Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.”

15 Yahweh said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. 16 Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. Then the children of Israel shall go into the middle of the sea on dry ground. 17 Behold, I myself will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will go in after them. I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen.” 19 The angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them. 20 It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. There was the cloud and the darkness, yet it gave light by night. One didn’t come near the other all night.

21 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 The children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground; and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Exodus 14:13-22 (WEB)

Nothing is Better Than You

The repetitive refrain of the song echoes that nothing is better than God. Our God is the greatest, the highest, the most wonderful Being in existence! We chase after all this world has to offer, and yet the maker of all things stands ready to be in relationship with us. The sin that separated us has been dealt with at the cross of Christ, and through faith in Him, we can rest in the very presence of the Father.

As I sang this song that day, it moved me as I realised all the cares and worries of this life are literally nothing next to the surpassing greatness of knowing God through Christ. In my weakness and failure, I can still enter into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. All my failures are forgotten and forgiven, and I can worship Him without fear.

I do not deserve the wonders of the Father’s grace, but if I did, it would cease to be grace. At times, I glimpse the glory of God, the depth of my sin, and the lengths He went to to save me from it. There is only one response to this – worship!

Join me today in worshipping our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who transforms us, giving us beauty for ashes. Sing with me that there is nothing, not one single thing, bettter than Him! Hallelujah!

One Heart and Soul

We conclude Acts 4 today, thinking about verses 31-37.

When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need. 36 Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts :31-37 (WEB)

Answered Prayer

In yesterday’s post – Praying Under Persecution – we thought about the kind of prayer Peter prayed in response to the persecution they faced from the authorities. Peter did not ask for the trouble to be removed from them, but instead asked for boldness to speak the Gospel in the face of that resistance. Perhaps I should have included verse 31 in that post?

Verse 31 clearly tells us that God faithfully answered the prayer. The Father’s power is released and the place where they were was shaken. I must admit that such a thing has never happened to me! Wouldn’t it be amazing if every time we uttered the “Amen!” that we would see a physical sign like this – a kind of “read receipt” acknowledging our prayer had been heard.

Yet, on the other hand, we need no such sign to be assured that God has heard our prayers. We live by faith, and not by sight, and we trust that God has heard and naswwered our prayers irrespective of whether we feel or see anything in that moment. We know when the answer comes, even if it is not the answer we had in mind.

Without the shaking of the place, we would still know that the Father has responded. All who were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then began to speak with boldness. The very thing they had askked for was given immediately.

One Heart and Soul

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

Acts 4:32 (WEB)

Sometimes, when we hear of church division and in-fighting, we can only dream of the unity described in these verses. It tells us they were of one heart and soul, the very epitome of teamwork and unison. They worked together for the Gospel, sharing and supporting one another.

It says that not one of them claimed ownership of the things they possessed, and instead shared everything. This is very hard for us to imagine. For us, who have so very much, it is hard to comprehend the idea of owning nothing and sharing everything.

This kind of selfless lifestyle goes far beyond mere giving. It describes a people who have truly crucified the flesh, letting go of their own desires and living for the benefit of the whole. The modern church in the West has moved so far from these values it is virtually impossible to see a way back.

We might be excused for thinking that perhaps these disciples had very little to share, so maybe it was easier for them to do so. If you have little, then sharing and benefitting from the whole makes sense. yet the passage corrects this view too. It says those who had lands sold them, and placed the money at the apostle’s feet.

Those who had more, shared with those who had less. There was no longer “me” and “mine”, just “ours.” Such a way of life requires all to obey the rules. Everyone must do the same, pooling their resources such that “no one lacked anything.” Imagine lacking nothing… we work hard for what we get, and we keep it all, yet few of us can claim we lack nothing. This family of believers gave up everything for each other, and yet had all they needed. That is God’s economy in action!

And look at the result highlighted in verse 33 – “With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all.” We want the power and the grace, we want the success in ministry and to see God at work in our lives, yet are we willing to live like these beleivers did?

Son of Encouragement

Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37 (WEB)

The passage and the chapter ends with these words about Joses, also known as Barnabas. Bar means Son, and so they call him a Son of Encouragement. I imagine he must have been one who constantly built up those around him with affirming words. Encouragement is a spiritual gift, and yet is something we can all practice in our lives. A rightly placed word of encouragement can make a person’s day and costs us nothing.

Barnabas had a field and he sold it, giving the proceeds to the apostles for the work of the faith. He held nothing back. He may have had plans for that field, perhaps wanting to farm or some other activity. Instead, he gave it up for the good of the family of believers. He chose to have less so that others might have more. What a humbling lesson for us!

Note these actions of Barnabas, because they will be important as we understand the events of chapter 5. Will any successful group, there will always be those who want to get in on the action for their own gain. We see such an example next time.

I have been quite humbled as I’ve read this passage and written these words. My life seemingly falls far short of the life that these believers lived. How can I explain the extra TV I bought, or the bigger house I purchased, when I knew of believers in need around me? I am not telling you to sell all you have and give it away, let me be clear, but all of us ought to look at the Early Church’s example and assess our own faithfulness.

Does this passage challenge us to live differently? I’ll leave that one between you and God.

Praying Under Persecution

It had been my plan to complete Acts 4 today, but as I read through the remainder of the passage, I felt that what I wanted to say about the first part should stand alone. We will cover verses 23-30 today, and then complete Acts 4 tomorrow – God willing.

Being let go, they came to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant, David, said,

‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot a vain thing?
26 The kings of the earth take a stand,
and the rulers take council together,
against the Lord, and against his Christ.’ Psalm 2:1-2

27 “For truly, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:23-30 (WEB)

In case you have not read my posts on Acts 3 and the first part of chapter 4, let me catch you up. Peter and John went to the temple one morning, and encountered a man unable to walk and begging at the temple entrance. They healed this man before all the people, and it caused a stir! Peter shared the Good News about Christ, and was promptly arrested and detained overnight with John. The next day, the chief priests and religious leaders questioned them and strictly warned them to no longer speak in the Name of Christ.

The “Being let go…” in verse 23 above, refers to Peter and John being released, and we see them returning to the other disciples which was now quite a number. Peter and John tell them of what has taken place, and the group respond in unison. Note that phrase again in verse 24 “with one accord.”

In the face of this persecution from the religious leaders, the community of believers pray. The focus of my post today is that prayer. As we, too, face persecution in this world for our faith, how should we pray and what can we learn from the early disciples?

Recognition

They open their prayer, as all good prayers should, in recognition of Who God is. They acknowledge that God is He who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them. We were no cosmic accident or roll of the dice, we were skillfully and wonderfulloy made! The One who shaped the stars in the sky is the same One who formed us from the dust of the ground. It is indeed right that we worship and praise Him!

In continuing that recognition, they quote Psalm 2 where King David asks why the nations plot in vain and the kings of the earth gather together against the Lord? It is an act of complete futility, and yet they persist in taking their own council and taking their stand against God and His Anointed One! utter foolishness!

Despite all good sense and evidence to the contrary, there will always be those who stand against God and His Kingdom. There will be those who persecute and kill the church as best they can, and while they may inflict much damage on us, they will never succeed.

Verse 28 says that they gathered “to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen” to the Messiah – Jesus Christ. They acted in vanity against God, hating Him and yet were acting in line with His will and purpose. They were His instruments to bring about God’s will, yet are not innocent of their crimes.

The Request

As they bore the brunt of this persecution, they conclude their prayer petitioning God. What do they ask for? If it were you or I, we might ask for that resistance to be removed from us. They do not.

Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:29-30 (WEB)

They do not ask for the “threats” to be thwarted, but instead for the power to be bold and to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of that trouble. They ask God to stretch out His hand to heal, that as they preach the Good News, they are backed up by the power of signs and wonders authenticating their message.

It is not in their power that they do these things, but in the Name and power of God’s Servant – Jesus Christ.

In the West, we have been largely free of persecution for some time. We have had freedom to worship God without “threats.” Times are changing, as I mentioned yesterday.

This came as something of a shock to me when I started to share this blog on social media. In the large part, many were supportive and enjoyed the posts. As I shared it more widely, I encountered those who mocked the faith and made fun of the message I gave. Don’t misundestand me, I was in no fear of my life as many Christians are across the world, and I do not compare this mockery to the physical threats many face today.

In recent days, a fellow Christian blogger had his posts removed from Facebook without reason or explanation. I saw nothing offensive in his writing, nor have I read anything which covered controversial areas of the faith. So why would Facebook remove it without apparent cause? I can think of no other reason than it is Christian in nature.

This, too, is persecution. Post on social media about all manner of sinfulness or any other religion, and it is fine. But post about the Risen Lord…? It is becoming unacceptable, but let that not prevent us from spreading the Gospel!

If you want to support that fellow blogger, you can check out his blog here – Devotional Treasures.

Persecution

Persecution will come, and in many forms. There will always be those who mock or slander God and the faith of those who follow Him.

Like Peter and John, we must pray and ask God the Father to give us “all boldness” as we speak His word. Not to be deliberately offensive, but to not allow fear to prevent us from standing up for what we believe in. May He also ordain signs and wonders to follow our proclamation of Christ, that He may be glorified and as many as possible turn to Him.

Persecuted we may be at times, but we are also a praying people, and we will stand firm! This world offers its trouble and trials, but we follow the One who has overcome the world! Amen

Salvation In No One Else

Our passage for today is Acts 4:1-22, and you can read the full text at that link. I’ll refer to various verses throughout the post.

Acts 4 continues the events we discussed in chapter 3 so it is useful to familiarise yourself with those first. In summary, Peter and John went to the temple and while there, healed a man who it says was “lame from birth.” This caused something of a stir among the crowds gathered, and Peter seized the opportunity to speak. He did not preach on the topic of healing, as you might expect, but used it to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not Everyone Is Happy To Hear Good News

As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, 2 being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

Acts 4:1-2 (WEB)

The “they” in the first line is referring to Peter and John. We see that not all were happy to hear Peter’s message, and the priests and other “religious” leaders were upset by what they were teaching. The word “upset” here is the Greek word – diapomeomai – and I won’t try to pronounce it! It means to be troubled, displeased, or offended, and to the point of being worked up about it. One of the reasons for this would have been the claim that Jesus was the Resurrection, as the Sadducees did not believe in a bodily resurrection.

We believe the message about Jesus to be good news, but there are many who do not. Not everyone will be happy when we share our faith, and as we see in verse 3, they reacted very strongly indeed and arrested Peter and John, holding them in custody overnight.

Yet in the midst of such strong opposition, we see a great number turning to Christ. In fact, we observe more people joining the faith than did on the day of Pentecost!

But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Acts 4:4 (WEB)

Silly Questions

The next day, you might hope that the religious leaders had had a chance to sleep on things and be a little more reasonable about it. But sadly not!

They gather together all manner of important people, including the high priest and apparently several members of his family (see verses 5-6). It must have been some kind of court hearing, as they bring out Peter and John, and place them in the midst of them all.

When they had stood Peter and John in the middle of them, they inquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

Acts 4:7 (WEB)

It is time to begin the questioning… imagine one of your favourite TV legal dramas… The prosecution stands to their feet, gathers their papers, and addresses the witness… and what do they ask? A pretty daft question in my opinion!

They ask Peter and John by what power, or in what name, they have performed this miracle. it is a rather silly question because Peter made it abundantly clear the day before in what name and power he had performed the miracle!

By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:16 (WEB)

The “he” above is Jesus Christ. Had the religious leaders been listening to what Peter was saying in front of them all, they would already have known the answer to this question.

Despite this, and continuing our courtroom example, Peter launches into his own defence, which is really no defence of him at all, but of the Gospel of Christ.

Salvation In No One Else

Verses 8-12 tells us what Peter tells them. He very clearly spells out that they are being “tried” for doing a good deed, which is the healing of this lame man. Peter sets out that the miracle was done in the Name of Jesus, and in that Name this man now stands before them all – whole and healed.

Peter states the facts of the case, but also cites Old Testament Scripture, quoting from Psalm 118 that Jesus was indeed the stone that the builders rejected, and yet He became the Cornerstone.

The pinnacle of Peter’s words is found in verse 12:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”

Acts 4:12 (WEB)

Salvation is found in no one else, and there is indeed no other Name by which we can be saved. Jesus is the One and only way to Heaven, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

The religious leaders are astonished by Peter’s boldness, which is really inspired by the Holy Spirit (see verse 8). They recognise that these men are not educated in the religious Law, and yet can speak with confidence and effectively witness for Christ. The leaders cannot deny the miracle, which many have seen, yet they do not want this teaching about Christ spread about. They were the ones who killed Him after all!

Sending Peter and John out, they discuss what they can do. They realise they have few options and so, calling them back in, demand that they no longer speak in the Name of Christ.

Whether It Is Right

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, 20 for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.”

Acts 4:19-20 (WEB)

Peter and John now have a choice to make. Do they obey the religious leaders, or do they obey God? Peter responds by putting the ball firmly in their court. Is it right to listen to you or to God, he asks. They have no answer to this at all, only offer further threats. They have no legal recourse and they fear the people who witnessed the miracle.

Under normal circumstances, we are to follow the commands of our leaders and authorities. When those commands directly contradict the Word of God, then we have a choice to make.

In the UK, we are largely able to practice our faith without harassment but things are changing. Christian values are no longer popular, and our Government continues to make ungodly decisions. I praise God for the freedom we have in this nation, and pray it may last. If it does not however, let us boldly proclaim the truth that salvation is found in no one else, no matter the cost.

I Thank God For You

Each morning on my Facebook page – which you can find here Andy Brown on Facebook – I try to share a daily Scripture. These are just verses from the Bible which I feel are relevant for the day ahead, and go in no particular order.

Today’s verse was from Romans.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Romans 1:8 (KJV)

Paul is writing to the Roman church, obviously, and is telling them how thankful he is for each and every one of them. He prays in thanks giving to the Father, through Jesus Christ, that their faith is spoken of the world over.

It is proving to be one of those days today for me. I woke with something of a migraine and the computer i’m working on, which was absolutely fine yesterday evening, is now doing some very odd things. The screen looks as though it is stretched in one direction, and the entire left hand side is missing presumed lost! The screen issues are not exactly helping the aforementioned headache!

We had a very busy day yesterday, as it was my eldest daughter’s birthday. They had quite a late night in the end, so today the children haven’t exactly been totally co-operative…

It would have been all too easy to just give the blog a miss today, but as I’ve posted every day since 17th March, I didn’t want to break the posting streak!

Why am I telling you this? Firstly, I think it is important to be open and honest with people where you are. It can be all too easy to read a blog or listen to a Bible teacher and mistakenly believe that all is well in their lives. Our nature somehow convinces us that everyone else is better and isn’t facing the same issues we are.

Bible teachers, while absolutely should be setting a good example, are human too and have problems like everyone else.

So, when I sat down to write after lunch, I was not exactly in the right frame of mind to do so.

As I pondered at the keyboard for a few minutes, I got to thinking about the verse above from Romans, which I had shared that morning. I cannot say that God “spoke to me” but felt perhaps it was enough to say to – the reader – that, like Paul, I thank God for you too.

To each and every reader of this blog, and to every follower of the Facebook page and social media, I say a massive thank you. It means a great deal to me when people read this blog and make the effort to get in touch. I read every comment and message, and I do my best to respond where I can.

Not only do I thank you, but I thank God for each of you. Most people who read this blog are seeking a deeper journey in their faith and walk with God, and I am humbled that these words can play even a small part in that. I am honoured that you would take time to read, and I pray that this blog encourages you and helps you draw closer to Jesus.

If you like what you see here, do let me know and please do pass it on to anyone else you think may benefit. I notice when people share my posts, as I see a bump in the page views and it is really encouraging. I do not want fame or fortune of course, but it is uplifting to see readers and sharers alike.

Thank you again, and I will be praying for every reader. It is an immense privilege to pray for you, so if you have any requests, then please do pass them along to me as well.

God bless you, and I hope normal service will resume tomorrow – stretchy screen permitting!

Peter Preaches… Again

In yesterday’s post – Miracle at the Gates – we spent some time thinking about the miracle performed by Peter and John at the entrance to the temple. This miracle created a lot of attention, and Peter did not hesitate to speak to those gathered. Today we will have a look at what he had to say. Notice this is the second time Peter preaches, hence the title. You can read about the first time he spoke (at Pentecost) in my post – Peter Preaches.

You can find Peter’s words in Acts 3:12-26, and as it’s quite a lengthy passage, I won’t quote it all here. Hit the link above if you want to read the full text, and I’ll quote parts of it throughout the post.

Open With a Question

Peter begins his sermon by asking the crowd a few questions. It can be a good way to start a message, as it gets us thinking about the subject at hand.

When Peter saw it, he responded to the people, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk?

Acts 3:12 (WEB)

Peter gets straight to it, asking why they are so interested in what has happened. He is challenging their surprise, as if this man becoming well is a perfectly normal thing to have happened. And indeed, when in the presence and power of Christ, the supernatural becomes the natural.

Peter asks the group why they “fasten their eyes” on them, which is the same phrase used in verse 4 when peter looked on the man prior to the healing.

He is crystal clear with the people that this man was not healed by his or John’s power or godliness, and therefore the crowd’s interest should not be on them, but on the source of that power. And that is…?

The Answer

Verse 13 begins “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus,” and points very clearly to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter names the Jewish forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob leaving the people in no doubt about Who has performed this amazing feat of healing.

Peter pulls no punches as he tells them that they are responsible for killing the prince of Life. Pilate offered them a chance to release Christ, but they chose a murderer instead, denying and rejecting the Messiah.

By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:16 (WEB)

Verse 16 implies it is both faith in the Name of Jesus, and the very Name itself which has given this man “perfect soundness” of body. What miracles can be brought about by the Name of Christ! We must never underestimate that Name, nor use it in vain. Power is released as we utter the Name of Jesus, and is the reason we pray in that Name alone.

What Shall We Do?

Verses 17 and 18 tell us that Peter acknowledged their ignorance of what they had done. They knew not who Jesus really was, and neither did their leaders. Yet the prophets had foretold that the Christ would have to suffer and die, and so Christ fulfilled their words.

Peter goes on to tell the people what they now need to do.

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,

Acts 3:19 (WEB)

To repent, as Peter says, is to turn – to turn away from sin and wrongdoing, and to turn to God. We must all do this. Few churches seem to remind their congregants of the need to repent these days. Yet, each one of us, must turn from our sin and turn to Christ. In doing so, our sins will be blotted out – crossed out of the book if you prefer – never to be mentioned again.

Peter tells not just his audience, but us as well, of the terrible consequences of not turning to Christ in verse 23.

And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’

Acts 3:23 (ESV)

We must take this warning seriously. There will come a time when it is too late to turn back, and their is no better time than now to give your life to Christ. He is the only way to Heaven and their are no shortcuts. Surrender to Him right here and now, ask Him to forgive you and to be in charge of your life from here on out. It will be the best decision you ever make!

Closing Words

Peter closes his sermon by telling the people that Christ will remain in Heaven until the time comes to restore all things. When that day comes, He will return and put all things right! This was spoken of by the prophets of old, and Peter points out several Scriptures to them.

He reminds them of the covenant God made with Abraham, and that it would never be forgotten. God is not slow in keeping His promises, nor will He ever break a single one of them.

Peter finishes in verse 26 with the following words, and I think it is a great place to finish our post today also.

Praise God our Father who sent His Son to us to bless us, and to turn us from our wickedness!

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Acts 3:26 (ESV)