Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Acts, Jealousy & Honor (part 1)

Now the high priest rose up, and all those with him (that is, the religious party of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. – Acts 5:17  (NET)

The Book of Acts tells a wonderful story.  The opening chapters, especially, are fast-paced and action-packed, detailing the movement of the Spirit of God and the way in which the kingdom of God came to be manifested on earth and began to spread, bringing new creation in its inspirational wake.  In chapter one, the disciples are given a promise by Jesus, they watch Him ascend, they return to Jerusalem, and appoint another man to take the place of Judas.  Chapter two begins in the same breath, as Pentecost brings with it the reversal of the language confusion of the tower of Babel, with people from many nations able to exclaim “we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!” (2:11b)  With an ironic nod to the story of the ill-fated tower and the astonishment and confusion that no doubt took place when the languages were confounded, Luke writes “All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (2:12)  It is upon this occasion that Peter delivers what is looked to as the first “sermon” of the church (post earthly life of Jesus), explaining the coming of the Spirit and the kingdom, saying “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (2:36). 

What was an immediate effect of the announcement of the advent of the kingdom of God, as it was ensconced within the proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection?  The author writes: “Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles.  All who believed were together and held everything in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need” (2:43-45).  This was a significant mark of the worshipers of Jesus, and this significances leads to a repetition in the fourth chapter, where we can read “The group of those who believed were one of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common.  With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all” (4:32-33).  What was the testimony to the Resurrection and the kingdom it portended?  What was the evidence of the great grace?  The next verse provides the answer: “For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet” (4:34-35a).  What was the purpose and result of this testifying, grace-evidencing and manifesting activity?  “The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need” (4:35).  The apostles didn’t simply sit on the proceeds or allow the proceeds to pile up, going un-used.  They were distributed to each, as anyone had need.  It is key to note that the sharing of goods led to needs of the people being met---the needs of the people being met.    

Returning to the second chapter, we see that this type of activity occurred in association with the fact that “Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the Temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts” (2:46).  The conclusion of this report tells us of the effects of this regular gathering, which allowed the body of Christ to learn about and meet needs, as they were “praising God and having the good will of all the people” (2:47a).  This fueled the growth of the church, as “the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved” (2:47b).  Hearing these words, it would only be with some difficulty that we could separate the saving of people with the distribution that sought to meet the needs of all, without discrimination. 

Echoing the ministry of Jesus, chapter three sees the healing of a lame man at the gates of the Temple, with the accompanying “astonishment and amazement” (3:10) of those who witnessed the result of the healing.  This provides yet another opportunity for the public proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, crucified and resurrected as the harbinger of the general resurrection, the assertion that Jesus was and is the long-awaited prophet like Moses, and a reminder of the all-important Abrahamic covenant by which the people largely defined themselves, along with its fulfillment in Jesus and in the movement that bore His name.  This leads to the record of the opening of chapter four, which tells us that “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests and the commander of the Temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, angry because they were teaching the people and announcing in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  So they seized them and put them in jail until the next day” (4:1-3).  This leads into the first examination of the disciples before the leaders of the people, and the order to discontinue their revolutionary proclamation of Jesus as Lord and His kingdom as present.  Clearly, the issue at hand was power, and those in power were threatened by the upstart from Galilee, though He had been crucified at their instigation, viewed as being accursed because He had been hung on a tree, and subject to the scorning and the horror of the greatest shame.  Lest we believe that power was not the issue, the disciples, via Luke, provide us with a sober reminder, relaying the response of the disciples and their understanding of the threat that their growing movement had become, and saying “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things?  The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against His Christ” (4:25b-26). 

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