The Book of Acts (Chapter 4:23-37) (Part 10)
Peter and John had just been released by the religious establishment for preaching, teaching and healing in Jesus name. They had caused quite a stir in Jerusalem and news had spread quickly all over the city about what had happened to the 40 plus year old man crippled from birth who had been miraculously healed. Many in Jerusalem would have seen this beggar day after day for years at the gate of the Temple sitting in the dust covered with dirt and swamped by flies begging for money. Everyone was actually glad he had been healed and gave glory to God, all except the religious leaders who had tried to put a lid on this whole affair but had failed to do so. Even though there were well over 5,000 men, women and children born again, Spirit filled believers meeting in home fellowships around the city they were now aware that persecution from the religious establishment was a future reality for them. And so we read what happened next…
(Vs.23) “When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
Fellowship in the Spirit and with other believers in Jesus is always important and especially important as we see the end of this age rapidly approaching. The arrest of Peter and John had sent shockwaves through the fellowship and had been a reality check for the believers in Jerusalem. The Euphoria and joy of seeing the Lord Jesus move among them by His Spirit had encouraged them all but they also saw persecution looming on the horizon and felt threatened by this incident concerning Peter and John. So what did they do? They prayed!
(Vs. 24) “And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them,”
The first thing they did was to praise God and to acknowledge that He was in control of all things in the universe and in doing this they were encouraging themselves in that if God made everything and controlled things overall then the situation they now faced was also under God’s control. Also they lifted their voices to God “with one accord” in other words they were completely united in their request to the LORD One of the things that will hinder corporate prayer is disunity in a fellowship. When the pressure is on being unified in the Spirit’s power is what counts. Petty squabbles and differences over non-essential matters are soon forgotten as the believers face the common threat together as a fellowship. If we persevere in the Spirit and stay in fellowship with those we worship with when we are not facing persecution then we will be able to stand when the real persecution comes. If we cannot stand together we will never stand alone. And so they continued to pray…
(Vs.25 -28) “…who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
Not only were these believers praising God but they were praying the Word of God. They knew that any prayer that lined up with His Word would be answered. They did not pray haphazardly but were specific in their request, based it on the Word of God and expected God to hear and to answer them. In times of crisis or uncertainty in our Christian walk if we pray according to what God has said in His Word the Bible then our prayers will be answered. Also God is sovereign in these matters and in all things works them together for our good. He will always answer the prayers of His children especially those who cry out to Him day and night when the adversary (Satan) is putting on the pressure. He will answer them speedily. (Luke 18:1-8) Also we have the assurance from His Word that when we pray in line with God’s Will He will always answer but it will always be in His time and in His way, but He will answer! As John later wrote; “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
God cannot deny His Word! He has set His Word even above His name. (Psalm 138:2) In their prayer these believers recognized the sovereign hand of God even in regards to the nations. Furthermore, they also recognized His fore-ordained purposes for His Son the Lord Jesus. It was all planned from before the beginning of time for our sakes. No matter what we face in life God is still on the throne. As it is written; “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King for ever. The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:10-11). The devil may send a flood against us at times but when God sends one back to him it far outmatches anything Satan can do. As it is written; “When the enemy shall come in; like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a (battle) standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). This is precisely what He did for the fellowship facing persecution. Peter and John were with them as well.
(Vs.29-30) “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
Now these first century believers expected the LORD to work His supernatural miracles, signs and wonders among them as a witness to his power among them. While they expected God to work His wonders through the name of the Lord Jesus they firstly prayed that God would consider the threats against them but that He would give them boldness to speak His word with confidence. They did not primarily pray for protection, although this will also be necessary at times when facing sever persecution. Their main focus of these believers in the book of Acts was that God and His Word was proclaimed despite the opposition they faced. Notice they acknowledged that they were “bond-servants.” This was one of the keys to their success in preaching the Word of God. The Lord Jesus was their Lord and only doing His will mattered to them even above their circumstances which were not good. They understood that the signs, miracles and wonders followed the preaching of the Word and were not substitutes for the preaching of the Word.
In these last days as the spirit of Antichrist moves across the face of the earth and especially within the institutionalised Church system the faithful followers of the Lord Jesus will need the gifts of the Spirit more than ever as spiritual deception spreads like gangrene through the professing Christian Church. We also know that “the one who is coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness.” Without the gifts of the Spirit the local Body of Messiah is like soldiers without weapons and armour. Having said this, the emphasis must first and foremost be on the preaching of God’s Word. They also prayed in expectancy. They not only believed the LORD would grant their requests but counted upon Him to do it! Well we read what happened next…
(Vs.31) “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Once again they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly and unashamedly and Peter and John were filled for the third time. This is the way it should be. In Ephesians 5:18 we are commanded to be continuously filled with the Spirit at all times. For every new avenue of service or ministry we must make sure we are filled with the Spirit for the task assigned to us. Notice again that they were all filled as a group like they were on the Day of Pentecost. While there are cases where individuals were filled with the Spirit we must always keep in mind that the Lord Jesus works through His Body the faithful Church corporately. Without the empowering of the Holy Spirit first all ministry and service will not be effective or accomplish the purposes of God.
It is an amazing thing that so many churches, especially in the western democracies, try to evangelise and disciple others without using the spiritual gifts. One of the tragedies today is that there are two extremes within the Body of Messiah. There are those churches that always emphasize the Word of God but do not accept or embrace the gifts of the Spirit, consequently, their services and ministry lack real spiritual power. On the other hand there are those churches that emphasize the gifts of the Spirit but neglect the regular exposition of God’s word. They emphasize the gifts above the preaching of the Word and in some cases the gifts above the giver.
Having said this, a local fellowship that has both the regular exposition of the Word and are open to the gifts of the Spirit practiced Biblically will have great power in their ministry and service for the Lord and make Satan and his hordes from hell very nervous indeed! When Satan sees a Spirit filled, Word based, believer coming down the road swinging the sword of the Spirit he backs off very quickly. He is scared that the sword will inflict injury and it will indeed. When persecution comes it means Satan is worried sick and is trying to do everything in his power to stop what God is doing.
(Vs.32-37) “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brought about true unity in the fellowship. We are commanded in scripture “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Once again as on the Day of Pentecost they were “of one heart and soul.” They shared all things in common. When the Holy Spirit really empowers a local fellowship everyone will be willing to share what they have with others. In every fellowship there will always be ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots.’ We are told in Romans 5:5 that “the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
While every believer in the local fellowship has the capacity and responsibility to respond to that love from God it will be demonstrated in a powerful way when that fellowship is filled with the Spirit corporately. James writes that this kind of love expressed practically is the mark of those who really know and have encountered the Love of God for themselves. James writes; “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
(Vs.33) “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.
Once again the Holy Spirit went into action empowering the apostles to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This would have encouraged the fellowship and helped them focus on the fact that the Lord Jesus would come back for them. We also read that “abundant grace was upon them all.” The Lord Jesus had heard their prayer and done exceedingly above anything they could ask or think by the power that was at work within them and among them. In the last days the resurrection of the Lord Jesus will be a powerful emphasis in those fellowships that are eagerly waiting for Him to come back. In times of persecution when believers have lost everything or are being persecuted and oppressed the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a wonderful comfort and source of strength to His Body, the faithful Church.
(Vs.34-27) “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Once again we see that no one went without in the fellowship. They sold their land and property and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. Barnabas was also there in the fellowship who would later accompany the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. The believers knew that the City of Jerusalem would be captured and the Temple destroyed so they knew that hanging on to their property was not going to have any lasting benefit in the future so they shared everything they had. As an example if you had money in the bank but had foreknowledge ahead of time that the bank was going to ‘go bust’ would you leave your money in that bank? The believers in Jerusalem knew that the city was doomed.
Years later between 66AD-70AD when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem Simeon, the head pastor of the Church who had replaced James because James had been killed by Herod, led the believers out of the city. There was a break in the siege and the believers were able to pass through the enemy picket lines without being seen and escape. Very soon after that the siege was recommenced in earnest and the city fell. Only those who had believed what the Lord Jesus had said 40 years before about the sacking of Jerusalem escaped the city. The rest of the people did not escape the final holocaust and blood bath at the hands of the Roman armies.
Their escape teaches us about the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church at the end. The believers were there when the siege started and were suffering also from this siege but they were taken out just before the city fell. The faithful Body of Messiah goes into the Great tribulation but is taken out just prior to the bowls of God’s wrath being poured out. No true believer will ever experience the wrath of God. As Paul writes; “For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9) (1 Thessalonians 1:10). So then, they had all things in common and sold their houses and land.
This was a specific situation at this time where there was no point in hanging on to property, lands and even investments because soon it would soon all be destroyed. Now it does not mean that every believer in every fellowship should sell up their houses and lands but what it does teach us is that judgment is coming and things will not remain the same and that we should hold our possessions lightly. The Lord Jesus Himself said; “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
In the future when the faithful Body of Messiah in the western democracies faces persecution from the Antichrist beast empire believers will need to have a different attitude to their possessions. What counts will be “a faith that works by love.” There will be those who will have more than others but will have to share what they have with their brothers and sisters. If we hold on tightly to our possessions now it will be more difficult to let go of them when opposition and persecution comes.
The day will come when fellowship will be all that is left for the faithful bride waiting for the bridegroom to come for them. We can still preach the Gospel of the Kingdom at present but the time will come when it will become hard to preach because the restraining power of the Holy Spirit will have been removed and the man of sin revealed. Until this happens we still have an open door to preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. Even during the Great Tribulation the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached but not many will listen because of the dark spiritual deception in the world and in the professing Christian Church as a whole. As our Lord Jesus foretold; “While it is daytime, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).