June 2, 2016: Day 4 – Acts 4

You need to remember where we were yesterday in order to pick up the flow from today.  Remember Peter and John are hanging out in Jerusalem and they heal a man, a beggar, who was crippled.  He got up and walked and jumped for joy and then clung to Peter refusing to let him go.  That is where we find ourselves today.  Peter and John are in the Temple with this man who was healed and a crowd of curious onlookers have gathered.  The disciples take this opportunity to preach about Jesus.  There is an important aspect of 1st century Christianity that we need to remember.  To the outside world there was hardly any distinction between the Jews of the temple and the Jews who believed in Jesus.  Belief in Jesus was to many just another manifestation of a Jewish thought and theology.  It fell squarely within Jewish practice, and so when the believers in Jesus were in the temple they worshipped and prayed and acted as any other Jewish person would have.  This is crucial but it is here where Christians begin to take on a distinction that would eventually force them out of the temple and out of the synagogues, and out of mainstream Judaism forever.

But at this stage Peter and John  were just Jewish men who believed in Jesus which really didn’t make them all that different.  From the very beginning of today’s verses we find an encounter between these disciples and the Sadducees.  It might be helpful at this time to read Matthew 22:23-46.  We find that one of the points of contention between the Pharisees and the Sadducees is this issue of the resurrection.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.  Luke points out very directly that what they took issue with in regards to Peter and John here is not that they are preaching Jesus, they could deal with that, but that they were preaching the resurrection of Jesus.  This was a real problem for them.  Big problem.  Oh, in case you missed it, 5,000 people came to believe as a result of the healing and the words and work of Peter and John.  It seems like Luke adds this as an afterthought.  Can you imagine the headlines if this were to take place today?  But Luke here just casually mentions it.  It really isn’t about numbers, it is about the possibilities that we are given to let people know about who Jesus is and who he can be in our lives…if we would just give him a chance.

So Peter and John are put into prison overnight.  The next day they are put on trial and asked by what power are they preaching and performing these miraculous acts.  They say by the power of Jesus.  In fact, in vs. 12 we find the exclusive claim once again, as we see in John 14:6 that solely in Jesus is there salvation.  John states no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.  Here it is a similar approach as Luke has Peter state: “There is salvation in no one else.”  Remember the word for salvation can also mean wholeness and healing.  So really there is a double message here in Peter’s words.  There is no healing, there is no completeness, there is no reconciliation, there is no peace, there is no eternal life, there is no…” you get the picture and there is probably more than just a double message.  This exclusive claim can be disconcerting to some who want to cast a wide net and have an open tent for all to enter the kingdom of God.  That is my prayer every night that my understanding of salvation is wrong and that God’s grace far exceeds my limited understanding.  In fact, just yesterday, or the day before, I said never, ever judge who is saved or not saved.  That is not our job.  This is all still true, but we have words in Scripture that point to an exclusive claim in salvation in Jesus and in Jesus alone.  There are not many paths to God, there is only one, and that is the path of our Savior Jesus Christ.  

I hope you also recognize that this exclusive claim to salvation has as its partner the inclusive net of those for whom Jesus came in the first place.  For God came to save the world.  This is as inclusive as it gets.  So here is the tension.  There is this enormously inclusive welcome and invitation for all to come and live under the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  But there is this exclusive claim that only those who do claim that promise will get to the Father.  It is a tension, but it makes sense to me and it works for my limited understanding.

Now Luke sets the stage for what is going to happen in chapter 5, and it is one of the more disturbing chapters in the Bible.  Remember Acts 2:43-47 where we get a glimpse into the life of the earliest disciples.  They had everything in common, they met every day for worship and praise.  Here in chapter 4:32-37 we are introduced to some of the details of what living together and having everything in common actually looked like.  Everyone sold what they had, laid it at the apostles’ feet, and then the apostles’ distributed the proceeds according to the needs of people.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster doesn’t it.  Can you imagine if we did that at First Presbyterian?  I don’t think we would need to worry about new members classes.  Often people ask me why we don’t do certain things when theologically we seem to be commanded to do them.  Unfortunately, the answer often is because we are pragmatists, we tend to do that which is the most convenient and the least uncomfortable for those around us.  We are called to live like the earliest disciples, but we don’t because it isn’t practical.  This really isn’t a complaint, just a recognition that we simply do not live up to what we espouse as our ideals and our goals.  Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone say that we have compromised our principles.  Yes, you are right, we have, and every single day every single person makes decisions on how much we will compromise, and how little.  Again, this is not a justification, just reality.

We are also now introduced to Barnabas.  We will see much more of him later.  Just remember what his name means – the encourager.  He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he lives out his name time and time again.  We will see how we all need to have a Barnabas in our lives, as well as the times that we need to be the Barnabas in someone else’s life.  On to the next day, just brace yourself for chapter 5.  It is a doozy.

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3 Responses to June 2, 2016: Day 4 – Acts 4

  1. Susan Roe says:

    I am so glad you remind us that this early church is populated by Jews that just happen to believe in Jesus. It is so easy for us to just think that after Jesus’ resurrection, the church went from Jews to Christians. When did Gentiles enter into the mix? Would any of the 5,000 in this chapter have been Gentiles?

  2. kcooper says:

    It would seem that the 5,000 were probably all Jewish. Remember this event took place in the temple and so the vast majority of the people in the temple would have been Jewish. The gentiles come into the mix en masse later on, once Paul gets into the fray. At the Jerusalem council, Acts 15, this was the primary issue on the agenda. What do we do with gentiles who want to believe in Jesus but don’t want to become Jewish first. That was a huge problem. Once we get there we will see how the council decided and how even today we face similar challenges as a church in regards to how much do people have to become more like us in order to be in the church.

  3. Holly Miller says:

    Your 3rd & 4th paragraphs describe well the dichotomy of exclusivity/inclusivity: “this exclusive claim to salvation has as its partner the inclusive net of those for whom Jesus came in the first place.” This is a challenge today, exhibited either by a lack of understanding of this core essential – “There is salvation in no one else” – or what seems to be simply ignoring the words of Scripture. At the very least those who don’t regard this exclusive claim to salvation as essential seem to elevate other Scripture above it, the inclusive net above the exclusive claim. Hmm…this seems to lead to your thought that “we tend to do what is most convenient and the least uncomfortable for those around us.”

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