Same Playbook

1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. Acts 4:1–4

On cue, the same cast of characters who convicted Jesus descended upon Peter and John, greatly annoyed that they were discussing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They laid hands on them and put them in jail, since evening was approaching, and by law, a trial could not be held at night. Why now, I ask, are they following the rules? But lest we worry about the squelching of the spread of the gospel, Luke sends a chyron across the screen reporting that the church (counting men only) had now swollen to 5,000 in number.

The rulers had been in containment mode from the beginning, first paying off the soldiers at the tomb to lie about what had happened (Matthew 28:12-15), and now trying to keep the lid on a rapidly expanding existential threat to their control. Their efforts would be frustrated, though, as they had a leaping and dancing “Exhibit A” in the now fully healthy “lame beggar,” and a spirit-filled Galilean fisher of men to contend with.

Here are some initial takeaways from Luke’s account in Acts 4:1-12.

  1. Satan, despite his dismal batting average, always seems to swing and miss at the same pitches.
  2. To propel the gospel further, preaching in the context of persecution is always more persuasive.
  3. The power of the resurrection will always win out in the end. Acts 4:10
  4. It is the Holy Spirit who strings our sentences together for maximum impact. This is the original “artificial intelligence.” Acts 4:8
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Maybe I’m Amazed

While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? Acts 3:11-12

While many had repented and been baptized, there must have been plenty in the vicinity of the temple who had not, those who on that fateful day Jesus stood before Pilate, yelled out, “Crucify him!”

It’s one thing to simply remain in your unbelief, another to have played an active role in Jesus’ condemnation and death. In other words, Peter would use this miracle (healing the lame beggar at the Beautiful gate) to call these fugitives to account. These same people who were callous enough to refuse Pilate’s offer to release Jesus, were now gawking with amazement at the display of miraculous power at the hands of Peter and John, the same power they’d witnessed in Jesus.

Peter first removed all doubt as to what power caused this man to be healed. It certainly wasn’t his “power or piety” that played any part of the event. The “Prince of life” (i.e., Author of life, verse 15) in this case was none other than Jesus, whom they crucified and God raised from the dead, a fact attested to by many eye witnesses, including Peter.

And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16

What these people lacked was faith in Jesus. They remained ignorant of his role. He was the embodiment and fulfillment of what they’d prayed for down through ages, the exact person of whom the prophets spoke (verse 21). And they rejected him!

19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Acts 3:19-21

The healing of this man was just a foretaste of the refreshing that awaited their souls if they’d simply recognize their Savior and repent of their sin of unbelief. As such, restoration awaited.

We all when we sin want to return to the good graces of the one offended. You’ll never commit a more egregious sin then to reject the Savior. We’ve all at one time actually or symbolically yelled out, “Crucify him!” Peter did in essence in the courtyard three times.

Peter was tired of the fickleness of the people (maybe I’m amazed, maybe I’m not). Without a true change of heart and mind they’d likely be voting to condemn Jesus’ witnesses, including Peter and John, to death soon, and there’d be many chances to do so in the very near future (Acts 4:1). It was time to come clean.

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Wise Spending

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2 And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4 But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” 5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Acts 3:1–6

The man in question was lame from birth. He needed to be physically taken to his place by the Beautiful gate to beg. He therefore required and depended on the assistance and alms of others. We’ve all seen the homeless by the road. They’re almost in a catonic state as they pace up and down the side of the road like a soldier on watch. They seem surprised when someone catches their attention to give them a few dollars. Similarly, this man was taken aback to hear Peter and John exclaim, “Look at us!” He then riveted his attention on them fully expecting charity in return, but the wealth Peter and John possessed did not consist of “silver and gold,” but of the riches and power of the risen Christ. It was his gift to them through his Spirit to be passed on to others for His glory.

While there is much to say about the exuberant response of this man to his healing, let’s not miss the lesson on true wealth. What more could we ever want then God’s Spirit within us? We can lose everything and still be rich beyond measure. We spend all our lives pursuing silver and gold. We should be looking for ways to lavishly spend the countless riches we already possess.

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Doing Church

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

I’ve always considered this passage (and the verses that follow) as the description of a well-oiled, fully functioning church. Every necessary element is here. Persistent attentiveness to one another’s needs and to the didactic teaching of the word of God, to the taking of meals together symbolized richly by the breaking of bread and passing it to one another, and to the prayers of anyone who would offer one up to God at any time.

So often we have no clue as to what our brothers and sisters are going through, our sermons are not detailed and definitive discourses on the word of God, but homilies, spun stories, or comic routines, rarely is there ever a meal taken with another in one’s private homes, and prayer is mentioned in the abstract, not as an actionable immediate means of connecting or communicating with an omnipresent God.

Somehow we need to do these things it we want to do church. Think of all we’re missing if we don’t. Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that this particular church was already of “megachurch” proportions and growing “day by day.” Acts 2:47

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Repentance

37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.Acts 2:37–41

Immediately, upon reading this, you wonder if baptism is a requirement for salvation. It seems quite clear at first reading. It also seems that it’s the only way to acquire the Holy Spirit.

No, the only way to be saved is to repent, to change your mind about Jesus.

I always think about the thief on the cross beside Jesus. He changed his mind about him, and the other thief didn’t. Immediately, without baptism, only the repentant thief was ushered into paradise. As for the Spirit, his new Savior was by his side.

In a redeemed state, baptism becomes a compelling means to obey God and to testify to your new life in Him. It is one of two ordinances in Christianity, along with communion.

The Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit is received at true repentance, and that baptism serves to authenticate to others and to oneself the reality of the salvation experience. For the Jews in Jerusalem at that time, baptism would have been a bold and courageous ostracizing step, truly instigated by a powerful new internal force.

Conveniently, at the temple were large vessels of water (mikvahs) for ceremonial cleansing before entering, making it quite convenient for 3,000 new souls to be baptized.

It is important to note that the roll out of this new faith differed initially in order to limit potential squabbles. For example, the onset of the Spirit was delayed in the case of the Samaritans until Peter and John arrived (Acts 8:14-15). These exceptions were one-offs.

The key has been and forever will be true repentance. Without a sincere change of mind and heart about Jesus, baptism will be meaningless and fraudulent, and the Spirit will not be granted. (See Acts 8:21, more on this story in the days ahead).

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Peter’s First Sermon

“And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 (see Joel 2:28-32)

Peter rose in defense of the Spirit’s outworking (Acts 2:14-21). No, those speaking in diverse tougues were not drunk. His proof was that it was only 9:00 a.m. Now the time of day, though relevant, was hardly a good argument if one was attempting to win a debate, so he followed with a passage from the Old Testament prophet Joel, which was indeed relevant. Elements of Joel’s prophecy were fulfilled at Pentecost, but were contingent upon Peter’s listeners’ responses. (verse 21 above)

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. Acts 2:22-23

Not one to sugarcoat what had transpired a little more than 40 days ago, Peter then launched into a stinging indictment of those who caused or assented to the crucifixion of Christ. How could they do this after witnessing his “miracles and wonders and signs,” or as Luke earlier put it in Acts 1:3, “many convincing truths?” Nevertheless, it was by the Father’s predetermined plan that Jesus met this fate at the hands of “godless men,” and by his power that he raised him up from the dead only a few days later, ending the “agony of death” for all those who “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved.

“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Acts 2:24

Theoretically, death’s hold would seem no match in Jesus’ case, a man who knew no sin, but far greater in our cases as those who know sin well. Yet to be accurate, you have to lay all the world’s sin on Jesus’ shoulders, therefore making the feat all the more incredible. To state this point yet another way, “it was impossible for Him to be held in its power,” as God’s power was always going to be infinitely greater.

25 “For David says of Him,
‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
27 Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
28 ‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’ Acts 2:25–28

This passage refers to Psalm 16:8-11. It’s always been confusing to me as to who the players are here. It still is, and I must always get my bearings. But lacking the time, space, and clarity to launch into a technical discussion (see Matthew 22:42–45 for assistance), the gist is that Jesus was not abandoned to Hades, the place of death, but now resides at the right hand of God. As such, there is gladness, hope and life for those who call on his name.

29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 “And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Acts 2:29–32

Peter follows with additional support. David did indeed die and was buried, so he’s not in view here. He was promised that his descendant would someday occupy his throne, which was now possible because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:33

Those who were manifesting his Spirit by speaking foreign languages that morning were eyewitnesses to all this, especially his resurrection, the lynchpin of the gospel message.

Peter then began his descent into his conclusion by foretelling the fate of all Jesus’ enemies.

34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, 35 until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’” Acts 2:34-35 (Psalm 110:1)

This statement should be both foreboding and encouraging.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36

The house of Israel was caught dead to rights, and must reckon with the fact that God made Jesus both Lord (Jehovah God) and Christ (the long awaited Messiah). For impact, I would have concluded the sermon as I began, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” but Peter’s audience was now “pierced to the heart” (verse 37), or “wounded in conscience,” and sorely in need of the altar call to come.

Not bad for a Galilean fisherman!

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Speak Easy

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Acts 2:1–13

The Holy Spirit’s first topic was the mighty deeds of God, not a salvation message (verse 11). However, Peter would soon address this subject in a dynamic sermon (verses 14-36).

For now, in many languages, the 120 or so who had dramatically received the spirit of God within them were singing God’s praises to the Jews congregated in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or who had resettled there from some 15 countries or regions over time. If studied, you’ll find countries in all directions from Jerusalem, “Judea” signifying all parts in between, including Syria.

At least three things are important, or are particularly interesting to me here. First, the gift of “speaking in tongues” is speaking (and perhaps understanding) a language you do not speak. That was what all the buzz was about. Galileans, known for their thick guttural accents, were certainly not sophisticated enough to speak in such a way! In these foundational days of the church, this phenomenon was used as a sign of salvation, and to facilitate the spreading of the gospel. We infer this, at least, from this event.

Second, you build an evangelical message—like the one that was soon to come from Peter—on the mighty deeds of God (verse 11). Perhaps the Galileans were saying something like this.

Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. Psalm 40:5

If God is to save you, he must possess the infinite power to do so. It is this predicate upon which we base our salvation. Indeed, as the song says, he is “mighty to save!”

Third, when God began the mighty work of establishing his church and strategically spreading the gospel, he created a means by which there would be understandable communication. At Babel, to disrupt the evil machinations of man, he did the opposite. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Here was the birth of the church of Jesus Christ, and on cue its mockery. In typical fashion, while the founding members praised a mighty God, the critics claimed they came forth from their meeting place filled with “sweet wine.” Little did they know there’d be no prohibition of the gospel of God going forward.

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The Chosen

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. Acts 1:12 (Read Acts 1:12-26)

On the mount called Olivet, the apostles and at least 120 faithful followers and family members, had just heard the “last charge” of Jesus, witnessed his breathtaking ascension into the clouds, and received the angels’ final benediction, that he would return at a later date in the same manner in which he left. While hopeful that the wait would not be too long, the feeling had to be his absence would be longer than shorter. There was no thundering applause, but a sobering silent walk back to Jerusalem, less than a mile down the dusty hill.

They had adopted the Upper Room as their center of operations going forward. Peter was now noticeably in charge, with the disciples in familiar couplets according to a now well established pecking order. There was a noticeable gap in their ranks left by the stunning betrayal and gruesome death of Judas Iscariot. Once settled, Peter dealt with the open position created by the absence of Judas as his first order of business.

But first, consider this. The inglorious fate of Judas, the manner in which he was paid for his treachery, the ultimate use of the “blood” money (to buy a Potter’s Field), and the subsequent opening in the ranks of the apostles, were all foretold in Scripture (see Psalm 109:8) or by the Lord himself, and then recalled by a once rough and tumble fisherman. In this context, what are the odds that what the angels said on the mount following the Lord’s ascension will come true? This particular prophecy, of course, is yet unfulfilled.

So, Peter was led to bring forth two faithful men who were with them from the beginning, that is who witnessed John’s baptism of Jesus, and his ascension mere moments ago. Two men were nominated who met these qualifications, Joseph called Barsabbas and sometimes Justus, and Matthias. Think about it for a minute, while not among the twelve, these men were faithfully by Jesus side and trailed him despite not being among the chosen for three years. They were probably a couplet of their own. This brief competition was going to be difficult, but the Holy Spirit through prayer would decide.

24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” Acts 1:24–25

I am happy for Matthias but sad for Joseph. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? To suffer bitter disappointment for not having been chosen, especially since God did the choosing! Yet, I have to believe the believers there made sure both men realized it was unquestionably God’s doing, and that the mission would still be the same. That it was not about the office they held but the message they carried. Besides, in a few days Joseph called Barsabbas would be filled with Spirit of Jesus, and he would not look back. If he did have a few “heart” complications (“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men.”) they were likely dealt with at that time.

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Fire in the Hole

6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:6–8

Just like the apostles, we must operate in the world not knowing when Jesus will return. He, in fact, does not know his return date either. Only the Father knows. But we know this, that the day and time is fixed, and it will come about.

32 “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. Mark 13:32-33

In the meantime, the same power (dynamin, from which we get dynamite) that Jesus possessed would be given to the witnesses he left behind, to carry on his work to the “remotest part of the earth.” This power would come in the form of the Holy Spirit, the “comforter,” the “helper,” the “teacher,” who leads us, who guides us into all truth.

We read about Jesus retreating to a secluded place by himself (Mark 1:35) or sending his men to row on the high seas without him (Matthew 14:22). Not any more. They’d possess his power and presence internally, at the ready, in some cases described as “great power.”

They’d stare down leaders, withstand the stones hurled at them, gladly receive stripes on their backs, even death, sing songs in prison, and sleep while chained between two guards. Most of all, they’d mightily share Jesus.

And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them. Acts 4:33

It is important to understand that this spirit can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieved (Ephesians 4:30) by its holder, but it cannot be lost or removed, and it will not be taken from us even under the most grievous of circumstances. In reality, Jesus resides permanently within each believer, empowering him or her to do his work, share his gospel, and live victoriously. We are urged then to “walk in the spirit.” We’ve got the power, but it is released by getting “in step with it,” (i.e., Jesus) just like the disciples would physically do in their many sojourns with him.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

Ironically, living a simple “holy life” you’d think would not require “great power,” but perhaps consistently through thick and thin it does!

Jesus encouraged the disciples with the promise of receiving this resident power in a few short days. The same spirit of power Jesus possessed and promised is installed in all of us at salvation. But many of us simply haven’t used it to its fullest extent! But it has not lost its potency in its latency. The powder is still dry. Allow him to light the fuse.

Let this be your constant prayer, to keep the fire burning.

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Shedding Some Light

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

God is white light. Not a beacon in the distance. When you are close to him the light is so blinding you can see no other.

Yet we allow ourselves for some reason to grope around in the darkness. For the sinner but saved, there can be a temporary, ill-conceived, unwise separation, with the correction coming from a simple step back into the light.

For those who know him, the desire should always be to bask in the light of his glory!

Some good verses shedding light on this subject.

“But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:23

“The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.” Luke 11:34

“For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” Ephesians 5:8

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17

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