Drawing above: When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.
Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, February 10, Chapter 1
Writing sometime around 390 AD, John Chrysostom remarked, “To many people this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists.” He then did his best to bring the Acts of the Apostles to light. Remember that he was writing only about 200 years after the last Apostle died and before the books of the New Testament were agreed upon. Many did not accept Acts as scripture, only as an interesting read.
We will find it more than just interesting. Luke, having written a Gospel, now describes events of the early church. Beginning in verse 2, he stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in that experience.
When we read the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, we find no contradictions. The Gospel account is a quick summary, expanded in Acts. Now we see Jesus rising into a cloud, but not just any cloud, He rose into the Cloud of God, the Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.
In verse 14 we read that the 120 apostles met every day in prayer. In the Gospel, Luke adds that they met continually in the Temple. There was no other place indoors where that many people could gather, not even in Herod’s palace.
Since Jesus chose the Twelve to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and since Judas killed himself, the Eleven suggested two men to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias. We can speculate that Jesus treated both men with special favor, but we do not know anything about them. Lots were cast and Matthias became an Apostle, much the way we decide which goal a team will defend. Neither man appears again in the Bible.
Tuesday, February 11, Chapter 2
Pentecost deserves some explanation. The word is Greek, meaning 50, because it took place 50 days after the Saturday following Passover. In Hebrew it was, and is, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), also sometimes Feast of Harvest or First Fruits. On the first day of the festival, priest harvested wheat, ground it, made it into bread, and offered it at the Temple as the first fruit of the harvest. An earlier first fruit harvest of barley took place earlier on the first Sunday after Passover. We as Christians should celebrate it because Jesus rose from the grave that very day, becoming the First Fruit of the Eternal Harvest.
Forth-nine days later, the Holy Spirit filled 120 followers with a power that must have felt like fire. Peter preached his best sermon and thousands of lives were changed forever. All of the followers spread throughout the city like a flood, preaching and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit. They could speak Aramaic but be understood by a Greek speaker as speaking in Greek and a Syrian in his language at the same time. The Holy Spirit became a universal translator.
In the days that followed, only the Twelve did the miracles, but all joined together in complete trust, sharing all that they had. The phrase, ‘breaking bread’, simply means they ate together. Spreading the Word all started just as Jesus said it would, in Jerusalem, then Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and the world. It is fitting that the Romans aided the rapid spread of the Way, as it was first called. Their transportation system was one of the best known before modern times.
Wednesday, February 12, Chapter 3
Peter and John healed a crippled man, well, not really. Jesus through the Holy Spirit healed a man, a man who accepted the power of God on faith. The message of this chapter is that everyone is crippled and in need of the healing power of Jesus. Peter said, ‘Repent, then and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.’ It is sin that cripples us; it is sin that we need to repent. Understand though that God forgives sin and we are healed in that, but we still live in a world with worldly bodies that decay and die. Asking God to cure a disease will only postpone the death all Christians look forward to.
Thursday, February 13, Chapter 4
Remember that the Apostles and disciples were preaching and teaching in the Temple and in the synagogues to Jews almost exclusively. They were not peddling a new religion, but rather claiming that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures and that he rose from the grave. The religious leaders believed they were rid of the problem when they had Jesus killed, but his followers continued to spread the same message, adding the resurrection to what the leaders perceived as blasphemy. When Peter and John healed the crippled man, the leaders decided to go on the attack once again.
A note on the high priest. In the days of Jewish kings, the high priest was the second most powerful person in the land because the nation was ruled by the religion, somewhat like Iran today. In the time of Jesus, the political rulers were Roman, so the high priest was the most powerful Jewish leader. Annas had been appointed to the position at the time of Jesus birth and held it for 21 years when the Romans forced his removal.
However, Annas was rich and powerful and able to control the office through the next six office holders, five of whom where his sons and one his son-in-law. In the years of Jesus ministry and the beginnings of the church, the high priest was the son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.
The Captain of the Temple Guard was the highest ranking officer of the small Jewish army, small because the Romans kept it that way. He, none-the-less, held a powerful position, in part because he worked closely with both the high priest and the Roman legions.
Notice in verse seven the leaders get right to the issue of blasphemy. The scriptures say that only God can heal, so it they claimed they did it or that Jesus did it, they would be guilty of blasphemy. Peter threw it in their faces, ‘it is by Jesus the Messiah, the one you murdered.’ The leaders had a problem: healing comes from God and the man was clearly healed. He was a man they had all seen before. To claim it was faked was absurd. In the end they warned Peter and John to stop preaching and let them go.
The response of Peter and John was to pray for even more of the Holy Spirit to speak the bold words they knew angered the authorities and put their own lives in jeopardy.
Luke reminds us of how the Followers of the Way lived. It was a true commune, each sharing what they had as it was needed. We are introduced to Barnabas who will later become one of Paul’s closest associates.
Friday, February 14, Chapter 5
What was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? The answer takes us back to Luke’s first book when Jesus spoke with the rich young ruler.
18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Note that in verses 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, Luke uses the same phrase, ‘put it at the apostles’ feet.’ An important Greek word is used here, nosphizein, meaning to misappropriate. The difference is that Ananias tried to pass it off as the full amount. All he had to do was announce, ‘Here is part of the sale. I can give you more as needed.’ Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matt 6:2-4. Ananias was being a hypocrite.
The Greek word translated ‘died’ was used in ancient times only to describe a person struck down by God. Why was the penalty so heavy? Ananias and his wife were no longer controlled by the Holy Spirit but by Satan, by greed. The Holy Spirit is Life, Satan is death.
In verse 11, the Greek word, ekklesia, is used for the first time. In English it is church.
Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico, located along the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles, was used by many groups for teaching and meetings. The followers of the Way seem to have taken control of a portion of it.
Verse 17 starts the first great escape. We see the leaders filled with jealousy. That tells us much about the true nature of their attacks on the still tiny Messianic movement. Nothing is said about the jailers here, but remember that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was killed. Later, we are told they were still at their posts.
In verse 20, the angel tells the Twelve to ‘stand firm’ in the Temple. They had to wait for sunrise when the gates were opened again. While they were teaching, the captain took his men to bring them, carefully, to the Sanhedrin to be questioned.
Notice in verse 28 the leaders will not even speak the name ‘Jesus’, perhaps out of fear the very name contains powers they cannot control. Peter speaks for the group and claims Jesus to be the Prince of God and the Savior of man. The word for savior is used in the Old Testament only of God and of those defeating evil.
Gamaliel was important because he is still considered the greatest teacher of the Law. He is important to the early church because Saul who became Paul was his student. Later, in Acts 22:3, Paul claimed he was well trained by Gamaliel. Here in chapter 5, Gamaliel, perhaps with Saul standing beside him, suggests that the Sanhedrin allow Peter and crew to destroy themselves as did all the other would be Messiahs.
Pay special attention to verse 39 and compare it to Deut 18:20-22.
They were flogged according to Deut 25:2-3. We do not know how many lashes their ‘crime’ required. It did not matter to the Twelve, they rejoiced for their bloody backs.
Be righteous and do good.