A Church that Acts – When Negatives Become Positives

 

Today we continue with our journey through the book of Acts. Remember, our objective here is to rediscover the origins, history, divine influences and governing principles which drove the first century church and followers of Jesus through the centuries to follow in order to discover some practical lessons which are relevant to our walk of faith today.

Central to what we hope to glean from the book of Acts is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. Apart from this event the early followers of Jesus would have been committed but powerless. The arrival of the Holy Spirit is THE defining catalyst for the success of these early believers.

Acts, chapter 4, continues the narrative from the third chapter but now the Apostles have rocked the boat. They are a threat to the status quo. And when that happens there are often consequences.

Acts 4:1-4
1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.
2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

Now if we look objectively at the events which had just occurred the obvious conclusion is that the healing of the lame man was only a good thing. Peter and John offered a man who was helpless the healing which transformed his life in the moment and for all his future moments.

Peter and John did not incite the crowd to rebellion or insurrection; they did not belittle the temple or the Roman government; they did not use the event as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves or to create a following. So why was so much tension created? Why were those who should be celebrating this miracle reacting so negatively?

The answer seems to lie with the way in which this act was perceived. And as we will discover, this reaction was not unique to this event nor this time in history. It was not a matter limited to good versus evil or spiritual versus secular. It came down to a matter of power and control and conformity.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression with regard to the power, control and conformity. There are instances in which each and all of these have a rightful and beneficial application. For instance, all three are essential to the effective operation of a military force. Without the power to exercise a chain of command, to control the mental and physical development of the armed forces and to insist on conformity in discipline and operation, most military undertakings would fail.

Parenting in a similar fashion also often requires the application of power, control and conformity.

In the case of Peter and John, the matter was not whether or not the healing was a good thing, the matter was whether or not the influence of the church and the government would be impacted.  What Peter and John did was perceived as a threat to the established order. Once again, order and governance are not bad things. In fact, they are often essential. But when the status quo and the exercise of power become agents of unnecessary control they are no longer neutral and beneficial. They become oppressive.

Notice the reaction from the temple leaders, the religious government and those with a philosophical argument as word of what had happened spread.

“The priests (church), the captain of the temple guards (religious government) and the Sadducees (religious zealots who denied the resurrection of Jesus) came to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”

Why were these leaders concerned?

They perceived the teachings of Peter and John about Jesus to be a threat to each of their areas of influence.

The temple and the priesthood had a cushy gig getting wealthy by interpreting and enforcing the Jewish laws and exercising influence over the population.

The temple guards were agents of the priesthood who benefitted from the power and prestige of a high appointment and their control over the Jewish people.

The Sadducees taught that there was no such thing as the resurrection from the dead and in so doing discredited the claims that Jesus was the Messiah and resurrected Savior.

The best way to maintain the status quo for all these entities was to silence all these references to Jesus, His resurrection and his ongoing power to do miracles. As a result, they reasoned that the best way to control the narrative was to silence the narrators. So they had Peter and John put in jail.

The problem for them, however, wasn’t just what Peter and John had been saying, it was what the people had actually witnessed. They had seen an undeniable miracle and were deeply impacted by the power of Jesus which had accomplished this. So in spite of efforts to control the narrative the result was that around 5000 more men became believers in Jesus…that day. I should note that only men were counted in such tallies, so the actual number of converts was likely much larger when women believers were included.

So what should we take away from this account? What is the present day application?

Here’s what I would suggest might be a valuable lesson.

Jesus taught that we should follow Him. We base our beliefs and our conduct on the teachings of Jesus. We also must be reliant upon His Holy Spirit when the scriptures are silent with regard to our specific circumstances. Remember, principles are far superior to rules in that principles allow us to find guidance regardless of the specific circumstance while rules are only relevant to a certain application. When in doubt look for the principles Jesus and the New Testament scriptures teach.

There will always be those who wish to wield power, exercise control and impose conformity over us whether it be the government or a zealous advocate for some issue or viewpoint. Sadly, the church has not been exempt from employing these measures as well. Throughout history the church in various iterations has exerted undue influence in order to insure doctrinal conformity and denominational dominance. Neither of these roles were advocated by Jesus or the New Testament writers. Unfortunately, however, our human impulses and other forces conspire to undermine the purity of Jesus’ teachings.

The good news, of course, is that God uses all things for our good. Even that which we deem to be a negative and a loss and even a defeat is just one divine revelation from becoming our greatest victory. God doesn’t see our circumstances the way we do. His perspective is eternal and all-encompassing. Therefore, when you’re faced with a negative in your life keep an eye open for the good God is doing and soon you may realize that God has done something miraculous.

Sitting in jail Peter and John may have only seen fear and uncertainty but God was revealing Himself to more than 5000 souls because these Christ followers had reached out and touched a desperate lame man.

Who you touch this week with God’s love may be God’s miracle to make Himself known as well. You may not see the results right away, or in a year or in a decade or ever, but God is always at work to accomplish His purposes.

So remember,  the negatives you experience are never as negative as you initially believe them to be.

The following blog post by Regie Hamm is a perfect example.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/full-circle-33914300

 

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