The early church didn’t have any of the advantages that some ministries boast and depend on today. They didn’t have big budgets provided by wealthy donors. Their pastors lacked any credentials from accredited universities and none of them had written any best-selling books (well, at least not yet). Most of their preaching ministers had arrest records and would probably have a hard time joining our churches today, let alone leading them.
I’m not the first one to notice this by the way. Peter and John had to stand before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Court of Israel if you will, and here is what they said about these disciples.
The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Despite their lack of training or expertise, Peter and John led the early church on a history-making, world-changing mission. The truth is…throughout history, God has often used farmers, merchants, and simple folks to build his church and change the world. People whose only qualification was they wanted to make every day count for the Lord!
As we continue today in the book of Acts, I think we will see some further insight into what I had mentioned a few weeks ago… the passion, priorities, and principles that drove the early church. Today sticking with my system of three points, I want us to see three powerful examples that, if we follow today, I believe will help us live our lives in such a way to make every day count!
Now the first three chapters of Acts have been exciting and powerful times….The early church has enjoyed smooth sailing. The Pentecost miracle harvested three thousand followers. The church gave birth to acts of kindness, compassion, and fellowship. Their good deeds proved their good news and the number of their followers grew.
In Acts 3, Peter and John had performed a miracle of healing, in the name of Jesus and used that miracle as a springboard to share about Jesus. But as we enter into chapter 4, the church will get its first taste of trouble and we will find our first example worth following…the Apostles were fearless in the face of persecution.
- Fearless in Persecution
When God used Peter and John to heal the lame beggar, it gathered the attention of everyone around…some good and some not so good. They saw the crowds and took advantage of the situation to share the truth about Jesus. That got the attention of the religious elite and their temple guards
Acts 4: 1-4
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. 2 These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. 3 They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. 4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.
Another 2000 men added to their number because of the miracle, more people all of a sudden set on fire for God so when Peter and John are standing before all the religious leaders Peter asked a simple and thought provoking question….
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed?
This little inquisition was only the beginning. During the infancy of the church, apostate Jews aligned themselves with Rome in an attempt to completely wipe out the Jesus movement. Under the authority of emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians were hunted, killed by the sword, thrown to the lions, crucified, and even burned alive to give light to Roman parties. Modern-day martyrdom is no less frequent. Around the world, there are more Christian martyrs today than there were in 100 AD, during the days of the Roman Empire.
Peter not missing a beat, used the persecution as an opportunity to share the Gospel and challenge the thinking of the people.
This type of scrutiny is happening in the US in many ways too
Just a couple of years ago, Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and then Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., posed snaring questions to Brian Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. As a Catholic, Buescher adheres to traditional religious values. Yet, he was subjected to scrutiny and specifically targeted for his faith in order to cast doubt on his ability to serve in public office.*
At campuses throughout the country, outspoken Christians are regularly demeaned, debased and targeted for their beliefs. Academics, social groups, and college organizations regularly ridicule Christians by calling them hateful, bigoted, and privileged, among other labels. They conveniently forget that Christians have historically been among the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are still persecuted at ever-increasing levels throughout countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.*
*article on Faith and Values by Kent Ingle
Whether you agree with vaccine mandates or not it should worry you that corporation have now been given the power to judge what is faith and what is not….in my book that is a big leap toward the persecution of Christians as a common thing. I believe it is for times like this that our nation’s founders wrote the first amendment
Don’t you just love free speech? Is it any wonder that Paul wrote…
2 Timothy 3:12
Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
So what do we do knowing that persecution is around us? Let’s take a lesson from Peter’s playbook….how did Peter responded when he had his day in court?
Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.
If you are a committed follower of Jesus and you have never encountered some form of persecution, you will. It’s not a matter of if, but when. But like Peter, we need to be fearless in the face of persecution. If we back down, we will never make a difference. If we’re going to change the world, we have to stand strong in the face opposition and continue to lift up the name of Jesus.
The next key helps us overcome so much because it truly reveals the Father’s heart!
- Faithful in prayer
I guarantee that Peter and John never would have allowed a Federal Court Judge to tell them when and where they could pray in the name of Jesus. Once they left their persecutors they went right to a prayer meeting
As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said.
I was able to visit David Wilkerson at Time Square church in New York City a number of years ago. This powerful preacher, spent some quality time with me. I asked him a number of questions, one was what role did prayer play in his ministry and personal life. He took me to the basement where hundreds were gathered in prayer throughout Sunday praying for God’s purpose and will to be accomplish in each service. One of the secrets of the effectiveness of the early church was prayer in Acts 4:24-30 is a very powerful prayer…I can’t take the time to have it read now but the last few lines I want you to hear today…
And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
They didn’t ask the Lord to change their circumstances instead they ask the Lord to empower them to overcome and make the best of their circumstances… They didn’t ask for escape, but enablement. They didn’t ask for protection, they asked for power.
The Lord answered that prayer with a re-infilling of the Holy Spirit and power so they had the boldness they needed….
Faithful, fervent prayer changes things, changes circumstances and changes us! (BTW I would encourage you to read their prayer at some time during this week to understand their hearts)
- Free with Possessions
Satan had completely failed in his attempted to silence the witness of the church. They prayed together and God’s Spirit had filled them with renewed power. So Luke concludes this chapter in the life of the church with these words…
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them.
Jesus spoke much about money, our use of it, and how it applies and is an example of Kingdom living. It is used as an illustration in 11 of the 39 parables we have recorded. Everyone has heard, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” 1 Timothy 6:10, but Ecclesiastes 10:19 tells us “…money answers all things”
Money is merely a tool and we are called to be good handlers of that tool and the early church learned to be givers and generous so much of the problems in the church could be solved. Because the early church learned to apply these kingdom principles, in all ways. We see needs all around being met. The same could happen today!
The solution that no one talks about is tithing. The average church-goer gives about 3.5% of their income. Can you imagine difference we could make if every Christian actually gave 10%? On his radio show, Dave Ramsey once talked about how different America would be if every Christian tithed. He said, “There would be no more welfare in North America. In 90 days, there would be no existing church or hospital debts. In the next 90 days, the entire world could be evangelized. There would be prayer in schools, because churches would own all the schools.”
Generous giving makes a difference. It changes hearts and lives, especially for the one who gives. In stories of survivors of the Nazi death camps, an attitude of generous giving was one of the things that separated the survivors from those who perished. If a prisoner was on the verge of starvation, but he was still willing to share his crust of bread or scrap of potato with his suffering comrade, he was psychologically and spiritually capable of survival. A survivor of Treblinka described it this way: “In our group we shared everything, and the moment one of the group ate something without sharing it, we knew it was the beginning of the end for him.”
Jesus simply put it this way…
“….‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Generous giving being free with our possessions and paychecks—really does make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Fearless in persecution, faithful in prayer and free with possessions caused the early church to truly make a difference. They made every day count!
When the priest and the elders were persecuting Peter and John recognized them as having been with Jesus….do you think this gave them their boldness?
Do you think that people would know that you are with Jesus?