Key Verse: 4:33
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”
Last week we learned that only Jesus saves us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The early Christian church was born when the Holy Spirit was poured out. The early Christian church grew in number daily. The Sanhedrin persecuted the apostles not to preach the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Their persecutions were no match with the Holy Spirit. But they prayed together and were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. The Christian church grew stronger through the external persecutions. Today, we see the beautiful Christian fellowship among the believers inside the early Christian church. It was like a preview of the kingdom of God. But where God is working mightily, Satan also works. Satan attacked the church from within. The young church confronted the internal problem of sin. The first corruption of church members occurred and the Holy Spirit dealt the matter seriously to protect the young growing church. The Christian church is not the place of human gatherings but God’s dwelling place. We must come to church to honor God and to have fellowship with God and grow in his holiness. The Holy Spirit purified the young church from corruption and the church grew in power. Last night one shepherd asked me, “How can our ministry be like the early Christian church?” I thought that was a good question. But at the same time I thought it is impossible because we live in the 21st America. Then I repented of my unbelief and decided to learn the spirit of the early Christian church. Today, I would like to share three news-good news, bad news, and good news. Which one should I share first? I would like to share the good news first. May God bless our fellowship to be one in heart and mind so that we may preach the gospel of the resurrection to students boldly.
PART I. MUCH GRACE WAS UPON THEM ALL (4:32-37).
Through the persecutions the early Christian church was united in prayer and spirit. They spoke the word with great boldness. Look at verse 32. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” Their spiritual unity was nothing but the work of the Holy Spirit. When they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they could be one in mind and heart. The Holy Spirit is one, but he dwells in each person’s heart. He fills each one with the love of God and true joy and peace. This love of the Spirit united the early Christians as one; they built a beautiful Christian community under Jesus, our capstone. As a result, they shared their possessions together. Many secular people compared the early Christian church to the communists because they both shared everything together. But they are different. The communists force people to share under the gun point but the believers share out of their brotherly love voluntarily. The center of our Christian fellowship is Jesus Christ. The believers practiced Jesus’ new command, “love one another.” (John 13:34) They did not claim that their possessions were their own. They did not say, “That’s mine!” Instead, they said, “Everything belongs to God. If the Lord needs it, please take it, brother.” Nobody was selfish among them. Nobody was greedy and individualistic. In this way they formed a beautiful Christian community based on the love of Christ. Helping each other was the emblem of the Christian fellowship in the early church. Their spiritual unity came from the Holy Spirit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. One shepherd from NIU drove with his sheep all the way from Illinois to College Park out of his love. When he arrived here, he made sure that his sheep had place to sleep and a Bible teacher to nurture him in a spiritual environment. He had a beautiful Christian fellowship.
Look at verse 33. “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” This verse reveals the main function of the Christian church. It is to become the witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus commanded his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8) They were obeying Jesus’ command faithfully. The apostles were testifying that the Lord Jesus had risen and was alive and was ruling the church and the world. The Sanhedrin tried to silence them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But they were not afraid of men in high positions. The more they were persecuted, the stronger their faith grew. The more they were threatened, the bolder and more powerful they became. They were ready to give their lives to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The resurrection message, as well as their life-giving spirit, influenced the early church to be bold in its witness and sacrificial in its giving. Though we engage in many fellowship activities, our main mission is to go campus fishing to preach the gospel of Jesus. Though we may be rejected by many, we must continue to testify the resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 33 ends, “...and much grace was upon them all.” This grace has many aspects, but it is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. This grace means the grace of forgiveness of sins. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he declared that sinners are justified by faith in Jesus (Ro 4:25). This grace also means the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Ro 8:11). He is God living in us and among us. In the Old Testament, God’s dwelling place was the Jerusalem temple. Now Jesus is the Temple. Once Jesus was asked for a miraculous sign to prove his authority. He replied, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). The temple he was referring to was his body. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit on his people. In this way, he came to live in our hearts. Each believer is like a temple. As the Lord Jesus gathers us together in his name, we form a spiritual community, which we call the Christian church. The church is the dwelling place of our Lord Jesus Christ. The church is not a building or organization. The church is a community of believers who honor Christ as Lord with one heart and mind.
The wonderful grace of Jesus overwhelmed the first Christian church. When much grace was upon them all, people experienced the heavenly paradise among them. The Holy Spirit transformed them into spiritual men and women. Former tax collectors became sacrificial men of God. Many women became holy mothers of prayer. Former demon possessed men became obedient servants of God. Former religious leaders tasted the love of God and gained a true shepherd's heart for others. They were so happy that they would do anything for Jesus. They were filled with inexpressible joy. Their hearts were bursting to please God and be a blessing to others. As soon as they noticed someone in need, they were ready to help without reservation. When the widows needed the baby sitters, they provided the baby-sitting. When some of them lost jobs, they helped them out. When someone was hungry, they served with delicious food. When someone needs a ride, they gave a free ride. So there were no needy persons among them. Those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the money to the apostles, who distributed to anyone as he had need. Some people sold their retirement home trusting God for their future security. Those who gave had the joy of giving. Those who received tasted the deep grace of Jesus on them personally. The love of God and true joy and peace were overflowing among the believers. How can we describe the early Christian church? They were sharing, preaching, serving, building, enduring, encouraging, giving, loving, praying, and studying the word of God. As a result, the church was full of God’s grace and love.
Luke introduces one of the believers. Look at verses 36-37. “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” The grace of Jesus had a profound effect on Barnabas. He could see the kingdom of God in Jesus. He could find the meaning of life in Jesus’ holy mission. He wanted to give his life for Jesus and the gospel. He began by selling a field he owned and bringing the money to the apostles. His giving spirit grew until he became a leader in the church and a fruitful missionary.
We meet Barnabas again several times in the book of Acts. When Apostle Paul was first converted, none of the disciples were willing to accept him because he persecuted the church. But Barnabas saw the work of Jesus in Paul and accepted him and brought him to the Jerusalem church by faith (9:26,27). Because of Barnabas’ good recommendation, Paul was accepted as a Bible teacher. Later, Barnabas established Paul as a powerful Bible teacher for the Antioch church (11:26). We can say that without Barnabas there would be no Paul. Barnabas was also a good shepherd for Mark. Mark, a city boy and a mommy’s boy, lacked discipline and deserted the first mission journey team (13:13). It was a great failure. No one wanted to accept Mark, or even look at him, especially Paul. Here Barnabas was a mother-like shepherd while Paul was a father-like shepherd. One young man lacked discipline and failed school many times in spite of his desire to succeed. It is easy to ignore this kind of person. But we must embrace him with grace of Jesus and encourage him to try again. Paul wanted to discipline Mark strongly for his past failure but Barnabas embraced Mark at a high cost (15:39). Barnabas gave him a second chance. Through Barnabas’ spiritual encouragement, Mark was raised as a great servant of Jesus, the author of Mark’s gospel. Indeed, Barnabas knew the grace of Jesus. He saw others with the grace of Jesus. He did not impose his own righteousness on others. He was like a figure people were comfortable to share their problems and to receive encouragement. He embodies the spirit and faith of the early Christians. Here we learn that as the Risen Christ dwells in his church, his grace transforms ordinary people into great servants of God for world mission. Where is Barnabas among us? Many people want to become like Paul but not many people want to become like Barnabas. We should name our children Barnabas, the son of encouragement. Of course, we see many Barnabas among us. I cannot list them all. Our senior missionaries are my Barnabas because they endured my weaknesses for 27 years. CBF teachers are enduring young children like Barnabas.
Missionary Mo Chang came to Pittsburgh as a missionary 29 years ago. He encouraged S. Pat to live by faith. When he came to Washington UBF 15 years ago, Pat followed him because he saw God’s grace in Moses’ life. M. Moses’ humble life of faith was a source of great encouragement to all Washington coworkers. Now God established him as a leader of Prince Moses’ fellowship.
God has used his one-to-one Bible study to raise spiritual leaders for America. At his age he should think about retirement to sunny Florida. But he wants to give more. Now he is praying to go to Latin America as a missionary. He is learning Spanish faithfully from S. Belssi every Wednesday. His spirit of giving never ends because he tasted the grace of Jesus. M. Abe Lee learned the spirit of giving from Mark 6:37 and became the first second generation missionary to China offering the golden age for China mission. The giving spirit that sprouted in Korea over 40 years ago has produced more than 1600 missionaries to 90 countries.
PART II. GREAT FEAR SEIZED THE WHOLE CHURCH (5:1-11)
I shared the good news first and now I have to share the bad news. The believers were filled with God’s grace. Now in this passage they were filled with the fear of the Lord. We can see two contrasting elements of Christianity here. What was the main problem in this event? Spiritual corruption had infiltrated to the young church like yeast. Look at 5:1. A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.” When Barnabas sold a field and brought the money for the church, Ananias and Sapphira wanted to copy his act. They did it with impure motive. They happened to own a piece of property and sold it and brought the money to the apostles. They offered a large amount of the money to the church. Then what was wrong with them? Look at verse 2. “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Maybe he sold the property $100, 000 and brought $50,000 and kept other $50,000 for himself. Then he said, “This is all the money I got.” The problem was that he tried to deceive the church members into thinking that he had offered the whole amount when he had not. We don’t know when he decided to keep back part of the money for himself before the sale of the property or after the sale. Probably he planned to keep some of the money for himself with his wife’s full knowledge.
Look at verse 3. “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?’” Peter filled with the Holy Spirit recognized the work of Satan through Ananias. Peter realized that Satan entered the growing church through Ananias’ impure desire. Peter knew that Satan made him a liar. Satan wanted to turn the Christ-centered fellowship into a human fellowship. Perhaps Peter remembered Jesus’ warning to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Lk 12:1). This bad yeast of lying could spread through their fellowship like gangrene and ruin their Christ-centered spirit. He rebuked Anannias for lying to the Holy Spirit. Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God.” (4b) What happened to him? Verse 5 says he fell down and died. Lying to the Holy Spirit is a most serious sin indeed. Why was lying a big deal? Everybody lies. It was a big deal because he lied to God’s servant, to the Holy Spirit. He did not have the fear of the Lord. He saw the people in the church but did not see the holy God dwelling among the church members. He divided and discouraged the church community. The judgment was immediate and final. The punishment for Ananias seems to be too severe and harsh. But the Holy Spirit protected the young church from corruption and sin. We always examine our motive among the body of believers. Am I acting selfishly hurting the Christian community or not? For example, the Israel army was victorious when they conquered the fortified city of Jericho under general Joshua’s leadership. But one man Achan’s sin brought a total defeat in the battle of the small city Ai because he stole the devoted things for himself. (Joshua 7) One man’s sin brought a big trouble to the whole community. When Achan was removed, they won the victory once again. As a member of Christian community, our action can strengthen the church or weaken it. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit everyday so that we can bring unity among the body of the believers like Barnabas.
When Sapphira first heard about her husband’s plan to hide some of the money for himself, she should have rebuked his unholy motive and stood on God’s side to help him repent as a suitable helper. But she agreed with him. She did not stop him to deceive the church community and God. She not only approved his deception but also participated in this unholy action. It is a great blessing for a man to have a spiritual helper who can stand in the side of God in any spiritual crisis. Also we must acknowledge that our money belongs to God because it comes from God. When God needs it, we should offer it freely trusting that God will provide what we need. What happened to Sapphira? About three hours later, she came in. Their hidden conspiracy was exposed openly as the work of Satan. Peter said, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” At that moment she also fell down and died.
What was the effect on the church? Verse 11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” This fear was the fear of God. The fear of God is awesome respect for the holiness and majesty of God. God is love but he is holy also. Leviticus 19:2 says, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Isaiah 6:3 says, “And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah felt dying when he saw the holy God. God revealed his holiness to the people of Israel through Moses in the Old Testament. Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:1-9 died because he touched the ark of God when the oxen stumbled. Prov. 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Though we received grace of God, we must fear God in his holiness. In the New Testament God revealed himself through his church. The words “great fear” repeated twice here. We must know that God is the Judge of men’s hearts. God has the power of life and death. God does not allow Satan into his holy dwelling. We must fear God and resist Satan. This event gives us a clear warning to us that we should live before the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit when we come to our center.
The Christian church is God’s dwelling place. Those who try to make use of God’s church for their own benefit are not good. One person was using our center’s computer for playing games. After he studied this passage, he stopped using it for a personal gain. The Christian church is also the dwelling place of the truth. We must confess our sins and write testimonies with repentant hearts before God. May God help us to honor the word of God in the Christian church. May God help us to recognize the Christian church as God’s dwelling place.
PART III. THE APOSTLES HEAL MANY (5:12-16).
We may have expected that the church membership would have shrunk as this fearful news spread. But that did not happen. After the early church was purified by the Holy Spirit, the great spiritual revival followed. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. Many miraculous signs were the direct result of the previous passage. When God purged the sin of two couples, the Jerusalem church grew stronger. Verse 13 says that no one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. People began to respect the church membership highly. Nevertheless more and more men and women believed in the Lord. Many sincerely repented and accepted Christ as Lord. God purifies his church for them. Through the purified church, God was pleased to pour out his grace all the more. Verses 15-16 say, “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” The Holy Spirit established Apostle Peter’s spiritual leadership firmly through this event. Once Peter was occupied with his own future security and denied Jesus three times in order to save his own life before a little girl. He became a man of no courage. But once he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became a bold witness of Jesus to the Sanhedrin members. Now he rebuked the work of Satan firmly and removed the weeds among the wheat. He did not compromise with sin. He stood firm in crisis. Then the Holy Spirit empowered to heal all kinds of sick people. Even people tried to catch the shadow of Peter. Peter was recognized as the powerful servant of God from the towns around Jerusalem. God’s servants must be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to bring healing ministry among sick people.
In this passage we learn that the Christian church is not a human organization. The Christian church is God’s dwelling place. He invites us to come for grace to have fellowship with him. It is true that we come to God because he is gracious to us. At the same time we must come to God with awesome respect and holiness so that we can grow in his image. We must not come for petty personal benefit. We must listen to his word and repent of our sins. Then we can grow in Christ and be happy in his grace. Let’s read the key verse 33.