April 3, 2022

THE BOOK OF THE APOSTLES

Passage: Acts 5:12-42

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
— Acts 5:12-42, ESV

While the divine and human star of the Gospels is the Lord Jesus Christ, in both cases, the cast shifts in the book of Acts.  The primary divine presence is the Holy Spirit, and the human actors who steal the show are the Apostles, with a capital “A.”

The scene featured in this text is significant because it is the last time we get to see the Apostles working as a group (although they do gather for a conference in the fifteenth chapter).  A storm of persecution is about to gather that will blow them around the known world, after which Luke’s second volume will focus on only two Apostles: the first among equals, Simon Peter; and, the last one installed, Saul of Tarsus, better known as Paul.

For now, however, the twelve are still in Jerusalem.  They, led by Peter, are carrying the baton of Jesus.  They are helping and healing, preaching and teaching, and serving as the first Pastors or Elders of the church.  This long text can be expounded into a short book, with four chapters.

Signs and Wonders

The Apostles of the early church were a small, finite number of men personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ and endowed with special powers by God.  I have likened them before to Moses and Aaron, and Elijah and Elisha.  They were exceptional men granted exceptional gifts during an exceptional period in redemptive history.

Like the immortal Jesus and the few mortals mentioned above, the Apostles could do “signs and wonders” upon people who were “all healed.”  It was not a show, it was not hit or miss, it was bonafide.  The miracles gave these special men the credibility of Christ, which was used to promote the gospel of Christ, and resulted in many new followers of Christ.

But note this: “None of the rest dared join them.”  Luke was certainly was not speaking about the church, for during this time, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord.”  He was speaking specifically about the Apostles.  Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord can be a Christian, but only those whom the Lord calls can be an Apostle, with a capital “A.”

The Lord did not call many, and those He called He did so in person, and when those persons died and left the scene, the office of Apostle, and the gifts that go with it, ceased.  There is no proof otherwise.  Therefore, any man who claims to be an Apostle today, or who claims he can heal people with a word or a touch, is a false prophet and a fraud.

By the way, I am a cessationist.  I could be wrong, but I doubt it.  Bring me an actual Apostle and miracle worker.  If he can restore my myopic eyesight, take arthritis out of my bones, and make hair grow back on the top of my head, I will admit I am wrong and shout hallelujah!

You cannot be an Apostle unless Jesus personally calls you.  For that matter you cannot be a Pastor or Elder, unless the Lord calls you, and many false practitioners abound.  Furthermore, you cannot be a Christian unless Christ calls you, by grace through faith in Himself, and if you claim to be one, you’d better count the cost.  For the sign and wonder of a true Christian, like these true Apostles, is persevering in the faith without health and wealth, but with persecution and suffering instead.

Catch and Release 

As they stood in the ring to ply their trade as Apostles, Simon Peter and the boys had to absorb their second punch of persecution, once again from the gloves of the Sadducees.  Like the first round, it was a soft blow that did not land.  No sooner had the high priest put the Apostles in jail, an angel of the Lord let them out.  This is ironic, since those sad old Sadducees did not believe in angels in the first place.

The good news is that they got out of jail.  The bad news is the angel ordered them to go out and keep doing the very thing that had gotten them persecuted in the first place.  “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

In this scene, Christianity is interestingly called the “Life.”  A few volumes later on it will be referred to as the “Way” (ref. Acts 9:2, 19:9).  You remember in the book of John, Jesus called it “the way and the truth and the life” (ref. John 14:6).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Way people hear the Truth that gives them eternal Life.  Clearly, it is the only way to live.  And nobody lived it and shared it better than the Apostles.

Preaching and Teaching

The causes of their arrests were the principal tasks of the Apostles, and remain the main things of the church today.  They are preaching and teaching.  The word used for preaching (euangelizō) is where we get our English word “evangelize” and the word used for teaching (didaskō) is where we get out English word “doctrine.”

To preach is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is fairly simple and most profound.  When their arrest cooked up an opportunity to preach a sermon, look at the ingredients sprinkled in by chef Simon Peter.  He preached about Jesus’ person, “Leader (Lord) and Savior.”  He preached about Jesus’ work, “raised” after being “killed” on a cross.  He preached about the necessity of faith and “repentance” in order to receive “forgiveness of sins” and eternal life.  He preached the agent of salvation is the “Holy Spirit” and the result of salvation is a changed life charged with the desire to learn and “obey” God’s Spirit and God’s word.  That’s the full gospel in any language!  That’s preaching!

To teach, on the other hand, is to explain God’s word to God’s people.  It is a life-long project for the Christian and the Christian church.  It puts shoes on gospel feet and walks in the doctrines of God and man, sin and salvation, the church and the world, and the world to come for the church.  Teaching exegetically and theologically is indispensable, interesting, and integral for a true Christian and true Christian church.  The Apostles never stopped, in spite of threats and persecutions.  They said, “We must obey God rather than man,” and “They did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”

Evangelism and teaching the Bible (the Apostles had the Old Testament and wrote the New Testament) built the early church.  Lack of either one will starve and kill the church of today.  We must take them seriously, for the Apostles certainly did.  And for it they paid a high price.

Suffering and Rejoicing 

This short book on the Apostles contains not one, but two arrests.  The angel interrupts the first, but after a brief period of freedom, “The officers brought them [and] set them before the council.”  Here we go again.  This is the third punch of persecution, if you will, and this one hit hard.

The initial arrest was soft, because public opinion was with the Apostles at the moment.  The officers peacefully brought them in for questioning before the Sadducee dominated Jewish Council.  If it had not been for a famous Pharisee member, Gamaliel the Elder, the Apostles would have probably been executed.  In another irony, one of Gamaliel’s principle students, Saul of Tarsus, was with him in Jerusalem at the time.  Saul would later unleash a murderous rampage against the church that sent the Apostles and early Christians to the four corners of the earth.

Heeding the Pharisee’s advice, the Sadducees relented and sentenced the Apostles to censorship and corporal punishment.  Of course, no Christian can keep silent about Christ.  But the paddling they received was not light.  The word for “beat” literally means to break the skin and bring forth blood.  It made them hurt.  It made them cry.  It made them remember.  It made them rejoice, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name,” the name of Jesus.

John Stott wrote, “Sometimes the church has to bleed to be a blessing.”  Christ bought the church with His own blood.  The Apostles grew the church with their own blood.  What are you willing to bleed for today?  Like the heroes of this story, I hope it is Christ and His church.

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