THE SECOND PICTURE OF THE MOTHER CHURCH IN JERUSALEM
The first picture of the church is recorded in 2:43-47. We have discussed that sketch of the Spirit in Outline VIII. We now must take notice of the second description of the life and activity of the church of Christ. We call your attention, without pretending to be exhaustive, to the following:
The Outstanding Features.
- The Activity of the Apostles. Vs. 33. We notice:
a)That they continue to give TESTIMONY; and that with great power. They do not come with a weak, apologetic gospel. They come in the authority of the prophets. They are very real ambassadors of God and of His Christ. There was convicting power in their testimony. They gave testimony with “great power.” that is, in the Name of that God who ever calls His people out of Egypt, out of the bondage of sin.
b) The central event around which all their testimony revolved was: The Resurrection of the LORD, JESUS! God had made this historical Jesus both Lord and Christ. This wonder, the miracle of redemption God had wrought in Christ is the working of the power of His might (Eph. 1:19) raising Him from the dead and setting Him at His own right hand far above all principalities and might and every name that is named, both in this age and in the one to come! They indeed preached the “full council of God” (Acts 20:7); the full council of God’s thoughts and work of peace and redemption break forth upon us in the resurrection. in which Christ is powerfully demonstrated to be the Son of God. Rom. 1:4.
2. The result of this was “That great grace was upon all.”
a) There was a breaking through of resurrection life, the life of regeneration, the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit—the promise to Abraham. That is the only explanation.
b) This in spite of the fact that the congregation had grown numerically, that had not changed the spiritual constituency of the church in the least. For notice:
1. The Holy Spirit avows through Luke that as to the inner life they were one. With all their different, natural, personal and individual characteristics they are nonetheless one. One in heart and soul. It is the unity of the Holy Spirit. Nothing more and nothing less!
2. And the evidence of this unity of the Spirit was that “they had all things common”. They did not close their bowels of mercy toward one another. There was present a righteousness more abundant than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. I John 3:15, 17; Matt. 5:20.
c) Let it not be forgotten that this was a “multitude of those who believed.” The believers are not mechanically “gathered, but they are a living organism in Christ-Jesus. the one new Man “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before prepared that we should walk therein.” Eph. 2:10. Hence this liberality of the saints is a first-fruit of the life of God’s perfected covenant—the tabernacle of God with man. Compare Heb. 8:8-13; 9:15-17.
A Particular Instance Singled Out.
- We are told of one man in particular that he also sold his possessions and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. He is Barnabas. Of this man we are told the following:
a) That his given, personal name was Joseph. A very common Jewish name indeed. He was of the tribe of Levi. His birth-place was the island of Cyprus. He was a brother of that Mary at whose house Peter called when miraculously delivered from the prison. (Acts 12:12- 14) for he was the uncle of John Mark!
b) Luke writes this document to Theophilus many years later, and tells us that the Apostles surnamed him: Barnabas. Bar-Nebhuah in Hebrew means: Son of prophetic address. The Authorized Version renders it: “Son of Consolation.” The Revised Version translates: “Son of Exhortation” in Acts 13:1. Barnabas is called a “prophet.” As such he is a fellow-servant of the apostles. Possibly in him the Spirit gave the gift of prophecy and that in the form of exhortation At any rate Luke deems it significant enough to merit special notation.
2. The question may be raised why Luke singles out this particular instance.
a) We feel quite certain that it was not because Barnabas was an exception. The rule was that all those who had property sold it and laid the money received at the feet of the apostles.
b) Rather may this be viewed as having its occasion in the fact that already at this time Barnabas showed himself a man approved of God in distinction from Saul. It was Barnabas who spoke a word of recommendation for Paul in Jerusalem after the latter’s conversion and return from Damascus to Jerusalem. Gal. 2:1. And in view of the later references in Acts to Barnabas Luke here singles him out.
Questions: Is the spiritual life of the church on a higher spiritual level when the testimony of the preaching has a clear and convicting ring? Is one who gives a great amount of money to the poor necessarily a “gracious” giver? Luke 21:1-4. Must we see in the liberality of the saints the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament “Year of Liberation” of the slaves? Was this liberality a proof of their liberation from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:1-14) and of being true sons of Sara the free-woman Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all? Gal. 4:21-27. If so does this manifestation of the “one in heart and soul” not perfectly fit with the Pentecostal miracle (2: l ff.) as rooted in the Cross and Resurrection? Does this not form the counterpart of the sabbatic cycle of the 7th day — the 7th week — the 7th this not all point toward the completion, year — the 7th seven years? And does the perfection, the progressiveness of the work of God in the second, the last Adam? Let us not overlook the underlying pattern of the work of God! Fundamentally important is Deut. 15:1-18.
THE “SPOT” IN THE PERFECT PICTURE
The Individuals Involved.
- Since our early childhood days we have heard the story told of Ananias and Sapphira. We will not go into great detail, but feel that the text gives us the following to consider at this time:
a)That Ananias and Sapphira are husband and wife. Whether they had any children we are not told. Acts belongs to the holy Scriptural Canon and was not written for merely the satisfaction of curiosity. Its purpose is to trace for us God’s work in Christ Jesus in the Gospel-course.
b) This couple had affiliated themselves nominally with the church at Jerusalem. Seemingly their heart and soul were also one with the multitude of those who believed. They also professed to participate in the recreative work of the miracle of redemptive grace.
2. In reality these two individuals were a “spot” in the perfect picture. They are the discordant note in the harmony of heaven’s music on earth. For the appropriateness of this description see Jude 12 where the wicked are called “spots in your feasts of charity.”
a) Indeed, they have not repented from their dead works unto the service of the living God. They say to have fellowship with the brethren’s liberality while they have not the truth in them and lie! 1 John 1:5-10. Thus, they have no fellowship with God the Father being alienated from the life of God.
b) There is a terrible contrast between the “great grace upon all” the believers and that which is upon these children of Satan’s lie. On the background of this heinous lie the blessed life of the truth as it is in Jesus must stand in bold relief.
Their Deliberated Lie.
- The form that this lie assumed:
a) It is well to bear in mind that there is quite an essential difference between a lie and an untruth. When one transmits information that is incorrect, which to the best of his knowledge iscorrect, he is indeed telling an untruth but is not telling a lie! A lie always partakes of the Satanic, the diabolical. It always conies in the cloak of truth with the purpose to deceive. It is always conscious, reflective and methodical! This is the case whether it comes directly from the father of the lie (John 8:44; Gen. 3:1-5) or whether it conies from the heart of his children. Rev. 13:11-18; Eph. 4:14.
b) The truth of the latter statement is abundantly evident in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. They desire the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. For notice: 1. They conform outwardly as nearly as possible to the conduct of the saints. They also sell a piece of land. Indeed they bring money at the feet of the apostles. 2. They do this latter in a public meeting before the eyes of the entire assembly. They do it to be seen of men. (Matt. 6:1 ff) As far as man could see these individuals are also partakers of the firstfruits of the Spirit. And this fraud was a conscious, deliberate act! There was the intent to deceive.
2. The essence of this lie. Two matters are mentioned by Peter.
a) It was lying against the God, the Holy Spirit. It was acting before men as though the Holy Spirit were the Author of it. They deliberately walked into the lie and attempted before men to ascribe this to the Spirit Who only leads into the truth.
b) Thus it was a tempting of God. In Scripture men are said to tempt God when they try God out whether He will really punish them! It is man playing with the Living God in Whose hands it is terrible to fall. Only men with hardened hearts do this latter consciously. Satan would have Jesus do it; would have Him play with the miraculous world-renewing power as though it were merely novel and trivial. Matt. 4:1-11. Israel in the desert tempted God. Deut. 6:16: Ex. 17:7; Deut. 9:22; 33:8. In I Cor. 10:1-13 Paul refers to this terrible sin of Israel, informing us that these things were written for our example upon whom the ends of the ages have come, in order that we should not lust as Israel lusted. Ananias and Sapphira the ends of the ages had come upon you and you had the more sure prophetic Word!
c) In attempting to understand this tempting of God we believe the following should be kept in mind:
1) That Satan had filled the hearts of Ananias. He had tempted them even as he tempted Adam and Eve in paradise. They fully did his desires.
2) Scripture, however, always emphasizes that Satan tempts us only when we do not resist him with the full armor of God. Eph. 6:10-17: James 4:7: I Pet. 5:8, 9. In this case Satan must have instigated them to pretend unity with the saints; must have pointed out the wonderful sweetness even for the natural mind of the “power of the coming age” He. 6:5. This constituted the objective element in the temptation, even as the goodliness of the tree in paradise constituted this element in the first temptation. There is a constancy in the form of temptation because the Truth that must be denied, opposed is from everlasting to everlasting the same!
3) Subjectively every temptation passes through the following spiritual-psychological stages: a. We are tempted by our lusts, our rampant desires. The lust of the flesh and the eyes. b. The lust having conceived, becomes fructified by the coveted object, bears sin, the actual departing from the highway of life. c. Sin having run its course to the end ears death! James 1:14, 15. For this latter man is responsible which responsibility is presupposed in the twofold “Why?” of Peter to Ananias and Sapphira respectively. Vss. 3, 4, 9).
The Lie Unmasked.
- We call attention first of all to the manner of it.
a) We notice that this was done publicly. That is as it should be. Was not this tempting of God committed before the face of the congregation. Twice Peter analyzes this act of these people showing its real character. This latter we have studied in the former paragraph.
b) It was also infallible. There was no mistake here. The Holy Spirit who searches the depths of God’s being also knows what is in man.
c) It was final. They both fall dead at the feet of the apostle Peter.
2. The purpose of it.
a) The approximate purpose. That all the church might fear! Twice it is stated that this was the effect upon the congregation. They must know that God’s ways are still in the holy place! Yes, even those who believed not in Christ the LORD, must have somehow bean convinced of His Lordship, even as the Philistines were when the Ark of the Testimony was in their midst!
b) The ultimate purpose. In Prov. 10:4 we read: “The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea the wicked for the day of evil.” God must be justified, if not by the wicked then in the wicked. When we say this we tremble before Thee O God in Holy fear!
GOD’S FAITHFUL WITNESSES ESTEEMED AND FEARED
There are those who fail to see the connection between this passage and the former. Somehow it seems out of place. We believe that if we keep in mind the expansive, progressive nature of the covenant of God and that this is the time and season in which this expansion must take place according to the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 1:9-11) we will not have any difficulty on this score. Acts is not a book of mere logical coherence, but it is a record of the breaking forth of the promise through the Spirit of God that goes through all the earth. Consequently, we find here the following:
The Apostles Ever-Enlarging Orb Of Activity.
- This lies at the surface of our lesson. In this connection three matters merit notice.
a. A constant numerical growth. Men and women in great numbers were added to those believing in the Lord. Vs. 11.
b. There is also a geographical enlargement of the scope of the apostle’s activity. True they do not yet depart from Jerusalem, but the people from the regions surrounding this city are attracted in large numbers! Vs. 16.
c. There was also a stepping up of the tempo of the wonders and signs. In ever greater crescendo the glory of the Name of God resounds in the city where the Lord was crucified. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth is powerfully manifested and attested — without anticlimax! Vs. 16. Rest assured John the Baptist is the manifestation of the one “that was to come” (Matt. 11:2-6). Many prophets have desired to see these things. Blessed are the eyes that are not offended!
2. This ever-enlarging orb is the promise to Noah. Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Gen. 9:27. Along these lines God’s promise was to Abraham. Gen. 12:1-8. And all the prophets from Samuel on have spoken of these days. Acts 2:24! Indeed, this is a large field of testimony.
The Great Esteem of the People Vs.13.
- “The people” (Laos) in both Acts and the Gospels are always the common folk in distinction from the leaders, the priesthood. We may remark here, in passing, that there is an evident separation taking place in Israel. God is separating the Israel of God from the Israel according to the flesh. Rom. 9:7. “For not all those who are out of Israel are Israel!” Let us bear the following in mind:
a. That the “wolves” among whom Jesus sent forth His disciples as sheep are not heathen princes in the first instance, but those who cast out of the synagogue. Matt. 10:16, 17. The wolves are the reprobate wicked in Israel.
b. That the sword of division which Christ instituted is powerfully wielded by Him through the Witness of the apostles and miracles wrought by their hand. As great as was the power and grace, so great must needs be the SWORD OF DIVISION! Matt. 10:34- 42. Think not that Christ came to bring peace on the earth! He is the one that makes division in Israel!
2. These people are therefore the “Called.” They are those whom God sovereignly foreknew. Rom. 8:11,12.
a. God has not permitted His promised Word to be of none effect. Only those whom He foreknew are saved. Thus it was from the days of the Patriarchs. “In Isaac shall the seed be called.” Gen. 21:12; Gal. 4:23.
b. God hath blessed with all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places even as He elected us before the foundation of the world! Eph. 1:3, 4. And this is all our portion to the praise and glory of God’s almighty and saving grace of election!
c. Thus alone must the great esteem or the people for the disciples be understood gathered here in Solomon’s porch! It is esteem born from the operation of electing grace!
The Fear Of The “Rest.”
- The “rest,” we are told in verse 13, dared not affiliate themselves with the believers. In order to understand what this implies we would have you notice:
a. In general it may be said that the term “rest” presupposes two groups of things or of people. The one part is there and the “rest”!
b. This is applied in Scriptures: 1. To a certain part of mankind on the wicked world in distinction from the “rest” of this same wicked world! Thus in Rev. 9:20 and 19:21. But it is also employed to designate, the reprobate wicked in distinction from the elect. Thus in Rom. 11:8 “But the election have obtained it and the rest were hardened!”
c, As may appear from the remarks earlier made in this outline, we believe that also here the “rest” refers to the reprobate wicked!
2. Their fear
a. It manifested itself in not daring join the congregation of the righteous to disturb them. Had not Ananias fallen down dead at the feet of Peter!
b. The nature of this fear was not godly fear, but that of those who unwillingly must admit defeat at the hand of one mightier; this time at the hand of God-Almighty the God of Abraham. Isaac and Jacob! It is the same fear and from the same cause and with the same motive as that spoken of in Matt. 22:46; Mk. 12:34; Luke 20:40. And with somewhat different application in John 21:12.