Thursday, June 14, 2012

There was not a needy person among them - Acts 4 - Make affluence history

(Click here to read Acts 4)

Acts 4:1-37 (ESV)
 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

Peter and the other apostles are preaching the message of the Kingdom in the name of Jesus in Jerusalem, only a few weeks after the crowds had first arrived with him and taken over the temple courts, resulting in his execution. Thousands are beginning to believe and live in this new freedom in only a short time. Now this radical new community is performing miraculous healings in Jerusalem, just as Jesus did. The authorities are not pleased.

They pointedly ask the apostles the same question they had asked Jesus when he occupied the courtyard. By whose authority did they do such a thing? When they asked Jesus, he had wisely avoided their question. When they ask the apostles, they answer boldly and directly. Peter tells them plainly that it is by Jesus' authority this man was healed. It is by the authority of the one who was rejected, despised, and killed. Furthermore, his is now the highest authority, and the only authority that brings freedom.

Acts 4:12 (ESV)
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

The power of the miracle could not be mistaken. A resistance group could protest the powers of the religious elite or the empire, but they couldn't heal a man who could not walk, as these did. To heal is an authority above protest, above simple organizing. These communities were not common people fighting the system. These communities were representing a new authority on earth. This was the Kingdom of God among them.

Acts 4:13-14, 16-17 (ESV)
13  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
16  . . . “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

Jesus had warned his disciples that the authorities of the old order would not give up their power easily. He also told them that the Holy Spirit, the same one that gives them the power to preach with boldness and heal the sick, would give them the words to say when brought before the courts. Peter and apostles are told the church must no longer speak in the name (by the authority) of Jesus.

But Jesus is their authority. He is the King of the Kingdom of which they are now citizens. These religious leaders are only the beginning. These Kingdom communities were ready to resist Rome itself. They would not obey this command to stop.

Acts 4:19-21 (ESV)
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

Just as the authorities had been afraid of Jesus when he occupied the temple, they were now afraid of these his followers. They could not argue against the reality of their authority. Just as with Jesus, they were afraid of the crowds. The masses were affecting the policy of the corrupt elite. Everything was changing now, just as Jesus said.

The authorities had the apostles beaten before releasing them.

The apostles left their presence excited, and returned to the community praising God (see also James 1:2-3). An arrest and detention wasn't something to fear. They were excited by the opportunity to continue to share the truth of the Kingdom of God. With their beating, they shared in the suffering of Jesus. Together with all the believers, they prayed for more boldness to speak the Gospel in the face of threats and opposition.

Acts 4:31 (ESV)
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Here is the second time Acts says they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” (see Acts 2:4). The first time, they are filled and “begin to speak with other tongues”. This time they are filled and “speak the word of God with boldness”. The community is continuously being empowered by the Holy Spirit with the authority of the Kingdom of God to live and speak daily as free citizens under the flag of the cross.

This is the power by which they could live truly free and just lives, sharing generously together as though they had no need to carry judgment or power or control or wealth for themselves. With the authority of the Kingdom planted in their hearts, none of them needed to seek or use power or acclaim or wealth to manipulate or demand their own way. Each was submitted under the One King, and all were provided for.

Acts 4:32-35 (ESV)
32 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.

This is the powerful testimony of a Kingdom community. Citizens of the Kingdom are of one heart. The Gospel of the Kingdom really is Good News for the poor, just as Jesus said. Let there be no misunderstanding that followers of the Way needed to be poor or seek poverty. The Good News was that in the Kingdom, no one needed to be poor anymore.

In Jesus' community, this isn't because of some independent self-sufficiency on the part of the poor, nor a special doctrine of wealth that they believed that would cause money to magically come to them. Just as there were no needy among them, there were no exceedingly wealthy among them either. The landowners and asset holders opened their hands and gave generously. This community held nothing for themselves. They held their lives loosely, because they knew they were held firmly in the arms of their King.

The principle of radical, voluntary, generosity without coercion shown in Acts 2:42-47 does not stop with the early church. Later, Paul writes to a church of means about a church of less means, and says it is their responsibility as Kingdom family to meet their needs. Paul tells the church that it is Jesus' example and the Father's promise of provision that leads to this generosity.

2 Corinthians 8:9-15 (ESV)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgement: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

This is exactly the message John the Baptist had brought at the beginning of Luke. Those who had two coats were told they must give one away. For those who desire to hang onto their wealth, such a symbol of surrender and common unity may be frightening. But Jesus himself had warned the rich in Luke 6 that the Kingdom would bring a Great Reversal, and that they would mourn at its coming. This is only the beginning, an invitation and a portent of things to come.


v2 – The miracle gave authority to the apostle’s message. The ruling religious elite did not want to lose their power.
v4 – The gospel could not be jailed
v7 – What authority do you have?
v10 – Jesus’ authority
v12 – Key verse
v13 – see 2 Corinthians 4:7
v19 – Jesus’ authority is higher than yours. They DID NOT submit to this command. They were submitted to Jesus.
v26 – The Kings and Rulers rebel against Jesus. We resist their rebellion.
v30 – praying for miracles
vv32-37 – Common ownership again. See 2:42-48
v32 – Open handed ownership
v34 – No Christian was poor

(Click here to read Acts 4)

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