5 P’s

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It’s good to get along with people – with as many people as you can. Nobody sets out to become the object ridicule, scorn or mockery. Most of us try to avoid confrontation and seek the approval, tacit or otherwise, of people. The idea of being singled out for special treatment – think persecution – gives us pause. It is something to be avoided. The apostle Paul believed this to be true and made it part of his teachings:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

However, sometimes the Christian just can’t “be at peace” with some people. An unfortunate and overriding idea throughout the New Testament is that from time to time Christians may expect persecution, but that experience should be considered a blessing.

I demand that you love each other, for you get enough hate from the world! But then, it hated me before it hated you. (John 15:17, 18 TLB)

When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers—wonderful! Be happy about it! Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted too. (Matthew 5:11, 12 TLB)

If that weren’t bad enough, later on Peter got into the persecution bandwagon and wrote that Christians ought to rejoice – be happy, mind you – when they are persecuted on account of their faith.

Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. Instead, be really glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed. (1 Peter 4:12, 13 TLB)

Now, lest you think that Christians should run around actively looking to be persecuted, that’s not the idea at all. Hopefully times of persecution will be few and far between. But, if you as a Christian face some kind of persecution because of your belief in Jesus Christ, then that’s actually a good thing because it means that your life, in some way, resembles that of Jesus Christ’s. If the world persecuted Him, and the world persecutes you, then you must be doing something right.

Power and preaching, Acts 3:1 – 21

But Peter said, “We don’t have any money for you! But I’ll give you something else! I command you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk! ”

Then Peter took the lame man by the hand and pulled him to his feet. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankle bones were healed and strengthened so that he came up with a leap, stood there a moment and began walking! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. (Acts 3:6 – 8 TLB)

This incident reminds of an earlier verse in Acts:

A deep sense of awe was on them all, and the apostles did many miracles. (Acts 2:43 TLB)

No wonder people in Jerusalem, and especially members of the fledgling church there, were in “awe.” Miracles of the type in Acts 3 don’t happen every day! That’s why they’re called “miracles.” The circumstances surrounding this miracle were really the intersection of two habits. One was the habit of Peter and John visiting the temple; the other was the habit of the lame man being carried to the temple to beg. It’s interesting (and fortunate for the lame beggar!) that even after the formation of the new church the disciples continued to attend services at the temple. This tells us that in spite of their faith in Jesus Christ, they continued to faithfully observe the obligations of their Jewish faith. Josephus tells us that even during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the priests continued this religious tradition of going twice a day to the temple, in the morning and in the evening, to pray and offer their sacrifices on the altar.

This miracle was completely unexpected. God frequently does the unexpected to get the attention of people. Jim Cymbala notes:

People pay attention when they see that God actually changes persons and sets them free. When someone is healed or released from a life-controlling bondage, everyone takes notice.

He’s right about that, of course. This lame man got far more than he bargained for this day! He was gloriously healed “in the name of Jesus Christ.” That interesting phrase is used to this day and a lot of people, even those who use it when they pray, don’t know what it means. A name stands for all that the person is. So the name of Christ would include all the power and authority of Christ. When Peter, then, exercised the healing power “in the name of Christ,” he was, as it were, standing in place of Christ, representing Him and His authority and power. The man was healed, completely and instantaneously. His faith responded to Peter’s words and the grip of his hand. This is a powerful illustration of what happens to the helpless sinner, who is a spiritual cripple unable to help himself. When he responds in faith and obedience, as this lame man did, he finds new life and power to stand and walk upright in the way of righteousness.

There were three consequences of this remarkable miracle. First, the lame man was filled with joy. This is understandable; you’d be filled with joy to if all of a sudden your bones straightened out and for the first time you could stand up and walk like everybody else! Second, God received praise. The man stopped his begging and accompanied Peter and John into the temple. This suggests that he knew this miracle came from the power of God. Third, the people that witnessed this miracle were amazed and testified about what they had seen.

Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, just like he did on the Day of Pentecost, Peter took advantage of what happened to preach a sermon. He took a current event and used it as an object lesson to exalt the name of Jesus. The people were doubtlessly impressed with these two apostles, but Peter put them in their place, rebuking them for not understanding how the healing happened. It wasn’t Peter or John who did it, it was Jesus, the one they killed.

Almost as remarkable as the healing of the lame man was the astounding spiritual transformation of Peter. Here was the cowardly man who, just weeks earlier, denied that he even knew Jesus, standing up in front of people proclaiming Him to be the Messiah.

Purity and purging, Acts 5:1 – 11

The opening verses Acts 5 record the sad story of a husband and wife, members of the church in Jerusalem. These very early days of the church were heady indeed. The church grew in leaps and bounds, propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit and the unrestrained preaching of the Word of God. This new “movement” attracted all kinds of people, including, in the case of this couple, liars.

What happened to Ananias and Sapphira reminds of what Peter himself would write later:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? (1 Peter 4:17 TLB)

The church was growing and was influential, and Satan wouldn’t have any of that! In chapter 4 he tried by means of some outward persecution to stifle the Word of God. We are told that the authorities came and, even while Peter was still preaching, arrested him and tossed him and John into jail. It was a futile attempt; these men were guilty of nothing. Satan’s attempt to stop the Gospel by attacking the church from without failed. Now he would attack from within.

But there was a man named Ananias (with his wife Sapphira) who sold some property and brought only part of the money, claiming it was the full price. (His wife had agreed to this deception.)But Peter said, “Ananias, Satan has filled your heart. When you claimed this was the full price, you were lying to the Holy Spirit. The property was yours to sell or not, as you wished. And after selling it, it was yours to decide how much to give. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God.” (Acts 5:1 – 4 TLB)

This couple had lied and they both paid the ultimate price. Their lives were taken. God intervened in this situation to preserve the purity of the words and work of this church by purging out some of the weak members of the group. Subtraction is better than addition, sometimes. If this divine judgment seems a bit harsh, keep in mind that Ananias and Sapphira lied to the whole church. If they could do that, God knew what else they were capable of doing. Dishonesty among believers can lead to all kinds of trouble, not the least of which is a ruined testimony in the community. This God would not allow. One Bible scholar wrote:

The offense of Ananias and Sapphira showed contempt for God, vanity and ambition in the offenders, and utter disregard of the corruption which they were bringing into the church. They thought more of the display made at the Apostle’s feet than of the offense before God’s eyes.

Indeed. Still, it’s hard to understand how there could have been such hypocrites in the Early Church so soon after the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it’s is hard to comprehend why selfish, insincere people would join a church today, only to cause trouble and division.

Nothing will kill the power of a church’s testimony faster than a church filled with sinning Christians. There is no substitute for personal purity. But that kind of purity is expensive.

The Lord’s intervention apparently had the desired effect:

Terror gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened. (Acts 5:11 TLB)

This is an important verse because it’s the very first time the group of believers in Jerusalem was referred to as a “church.” The use of this word by the Christians implied that they, not the Jews, were the “true people of God.”

As a result of this purging three things happened. First, the purity of the church remained intact. Second, godly fear and reverence came upon all the members. They realized it was a serious thing (if not dangerous!) to be a follower of Christ. Lastly, a new power was experienced by the church. Signs and wonders filled the assembly.

Persecution, Acts 5:17-24

The High Priest and his relatives and friends among the Sadducees reacted with violent jealousy and arrested the apostles, and put them in the public jail. (Acts 5:17, 18 TLB)

The Saducess were behind this. The preaching of the resurrection, something this Jewish religious sect steadfastly denied, angered them and the apostles were unceremonially cast into jail. God, however, had other plans:

But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail and brought them out. Then he told them, “Go over to the Temple and preach about this Life!” (Acts 5:19, 20 TLB)

Thomas Watson made this keen observation:

The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.

An astute observation. It’s the prayers of the faithful that move the hand of God. In this case, the Lord set His preachers free and commanded them to back to doing the very thing that got them arrested in the first place!

This whole incident must have really aggravated those Saducees. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, and that’s all these Christians were talking about, and they didn’t believe in angels, and here an angel set the preachers free! God does indeed have a sense of humor.

Just like the night before, they were arrested again and imprisoned. The leaders of the nation began to accuse the apostles. Apparently all twelve of them were tried together, and had it not been for the timely intervention of Gamaliel, these Christian preachers would have been killed.

It was Peter who made the famous statement:

“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b TLB)

God had specifically told the apostles to do exactly what the church and political leaders told them not to do. And this brings us back to what Paul wrote:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

Peter, John, and the rest of the members of the early church had a moral obligation to obey God. Certainly God through the angel had ordered the preaching to resume, but our Lord issued His Great Commission and it is still in force two millennia later. All of Christ’s followers are to do what the apostles and members of the early church did: preach the Gospel, share their faith with the lost, and make converts.

So, yes it is good to get along with people. But it’s better to get along with God. It’s certainly safer in the long run.

That is why we can say without any doubt or fear, “The Lord is my Helper, and I am not afraid of anything that mere man can do to me.” (Hebrews 13:6 TLB)

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